Six bills that died in Michigan's lame-duck Legislature

In spite of the politics, a group of school kids visiting the Capitol lay on the floor of the Rotunda while demonstrators make noise and chant as the Michigan Senate and House of Representatives consider bills during the "lame duck" session in Lansing on December 12, 2019. Docents encourage kids to lie on the floor, which gives them an unparalleled view of the spectacular ceiling of the Rotunda.

Lansing — Although the Michigan Legislature sent more than 400 bills to Gov. Rick Snyder in the past month, there were some high-profile bills that died in the lame-duck session.

The measures all were sponsored by Republicans since the GOP controls the state House, Senate and governorship. But the bills that were criticized by Democrats as being too extreme or otherwise unacceptable didn't make it through both chambers to the term-limited governor's desk.

Union recertification

A fast-tracked Senate Republican plan would have required Michigan public employee union members to vote every two years on if they want to maintain or disband their union. It was a move that critics argued could cause “chaos” in schools, police and fire departments.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, personally sponsored the union election bill and said it would ensure that public-sector workers have the opportunity to “affirm that they still want their union to represent them” by requiring an election every other year.

If less than 50 percent of members vote to recertify, the union certification would be ended. Employee contracts bargained by the union would continue until they expire, except for any provisions related to union responsibilities.

But the House didn't go along. Michigan law already allows public workers to push for union decertification if a majority of members want to do so, said Julie Rowe of the Michigan chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.

No-fault insurance reform

An effort to resurrect no-fault auto insurance reform died after Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert tried to resurrect efforts in the state House.

A draft amendment to Senate legislation would have created a tiered system of medical coverage from which auto insurance customers could choose. The legislation also would let seniors covered by Medicare opt out of personal injury protection, limit family-provided attendant care to 84 hours per week and mandate an audit of the Michigan Catastrophic Association.

But Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who has opposed recent efforts, slammed the last-minute push as an “act of arrogance” by Gilbert. House lawmakers gave up on Thursday.

“We’ll be right back after the first of the year — full-throttle, working to roll back the out-of-control costs, once and for all,” Republican state Reps. Tom Barrett of Potterville and Joe Bellino of Monroe said in a joint statement, noting four decades of climbing costs and increasing public support for reform.

Gilbert's team has said he may take the issue to the ballot in 2020 if legislators do not act this year or next.

Shifting campaign finance oversight

The House this week effectively killed a controversial Senate bill that would have shifted campaign finance oversight away from Democratic Secretary of State-elect Jocelyn Benson. The development was first reported by The Detroit News.

The campaign finance proposal from Sen. Dave Robertson, R-Grand Blanc, would have created a bipartisan committee, comprised of members recommended by each major political party, to oversee compliance with state disclosure laws.

Supporters said the proposal was modeled after the Federal Elections Commission and would have required bipartisan cooperation. But critics, including Benson, argued the 3-3 panel would routinely deadlock along party lines.

It created a firestorm among Democrats and gained nationwide attention. Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer said the campaign finance bill and other measures were a “last-ditch effort to undermine the results of this election.”

"I don’t want to speak for individual members, but from what I heard, support was lacking,” said Rep. Aaron Miller, the Sturgis Republican who chaired the House Elections Committee.

Home-grow pot ban fizzles

Michigan Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-Grand Haven Township, tried to ban marijuana home grows that would otherwise be allowed under a recreational use legalization law approved by voters this month.

The Senate leader argued that the recreational marijuana legalization initiative that voters approved Nov. 6 made pot “basically ... unregulated.”

But the idea never took hold in the Legislature, where it takes three-quarters approval by all legislators to change laws approved at the ballot box. The recreational marijuana law took effect Dec. 6 and allows adults over the age of 21 to grow up to 12 plants each in their homes "for personal use," which Meekhof predicted would encourage sales on the black market.

State Sen. Coleman Young II, D-Detroit, disputed Meekhof’s characterization that the law lacks regulations and called the bill a “slap in the face of voters.”

Tree removal policing

State lawmakers sought to rein in local government rules that limit tree removal or force a business to pay replacement fees.

The Senate approved legislation that would allow local governments to regulate the cutting of some large “heritage” trees but ban more aggressive ordinances regulating smaller trees and vegetation in industrial, business, commercial or agricultural zones.

But critics argued the proposal was an overly broad response to a local battle in Canton Township, which sued businessmen Gary and Matt Percy. The Wayne County township alleged they cleared an estimated 1,500 protected trees from an industrial property without seeking approval through a local permitting process or paying to plant replacements on public property.

Canton officials asked the brothers to pay up to $550,000 into a “tree fund” — more than the Percys paid last year for the full 16-acre property, which "essentially was blighted" and plagued by an invasive species, said attorney Michael Pattwell, who argued the legislation is a “narrowly tailored” way to prevent abusive local rules.

The legislation didn't clear a House committee.

Banning union release time

Michigan’s Republican-led Senate voted to ban contract provisions that allow public school employees to conduct union business during their work day, but the House never voted on it.

Senate Democrats decried the proposal as an attack on organized labor.

“I think the taxpayers are expecting that teachers are teaching in the classroom, not to be doing union business,” said sponsoring Sen. Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy.

Union representatives could still do union business, but not be taxpayer-subsidized, Knollenberg argued.