Michigan Senate seeks court opinion on wage, sick leave changes

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, speaks with reporters following the Senate session on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019, in Lansing,

Lansing — The state Senate on Wednesday formally asked the Michigan Supreme Court to determine if the Republican-led Legislature acted legally last session when it adopted and then weakened minimum wage and paid sick leave initiatives.

A GOP resolution, adopted by voice vote, seeks to prevent a prolonged legal fight over the rare maneuver that kept more aggressive proposals off the November ballot.

“Why leave the state in the condition of uncertainty? Let’s just take it all the way to the Supreme Court, which is within our prerogative to do, and get it taken care of as soon as possible," said Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake.

Shirkey acknowledged he has “no clue” if the Supreme Court will grant the request for a legal opinion. The Michigan Constitution gives the Legislature or governor the ability to request a determination on the constitutionality of legislation before it takes effect, but justices are not required to weigh in.

The House Government Operations committee advanced a similar resolution Wednesday morning, and the full chamber could vote on it later in the day.

Democrats did not demand a roll call vote on the Senate resolution, and there were only a few shouts of “no” during the voice vote.

Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, said she is still looking forward to a new legal opinion from Attorney General Dana Nessel, which she requested last week.

“I think there are a lot of folks who believe what happened was unconstitutional,” she said. “One thing that nobody denies is that this is a very rare thing that happened, and so I think that’s why so many people are asking so many questions.”

Republicans have expressed confidence they acted within the bounds of the state Constitution when they amended the minimum wage and sick leave initiatives, which they contend would have otherwise overly burdened Michigan businesses.  

Organizers collected hundreds of thousands of petition signatures to send the paid sick leave and minimum wage proposals to the Legislature, which has constitutional authority to adopt initiatives within 40 days or allow them to go to the ballot.

Under the revised law, Michigan’s minimum wage will increase from $9.25 to $12.05 per hour by 2030, slowing the march to $12 by 2022 called for in the initiative. The minimum wage for tipped restaurant workers will rise to $4.58 by 2030 instead of $12 by 2024.

The paid sick leave law will exempt more than 160,000 small businesses that collectively employ more than 1 million workers from a mandate that would have otherwise applied to every company in the state.