State House OKs resolution aimed at curbing lame duck legislation controversy

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

The Michigan House passed a resolution Wednesday that would bar the Legislature from passing any bills in the lame-duck session — essentially, the last two months of a two-year session — without a two-thirds majority approval in the House and Senate. 

House Speaker Jason Wentworth's resolution passed 102-7 in the House, and it needs two-thirds majority support in the state Senate. The seven House opponents were all Republican lawmakers. 

It then would go to the voters, where it would need approval by a majority to become law.  

If passed by voters in 2022, the new requirement likely would not take effect until the 2024 lame duck session.

Michigan House Speaker Jason Wentworth

The bill would curb close, party-line votes during lame duck session, the roughly two-month period at the end of a two-year session when the Legislature tends to pass some of its most controversial bills as lawmakers' terms come to an end.

The argument of this practice is outgoing legislators won't suffer political reprisals for their votes because their terms are ending and they won't face the voters again. Requiring two-thirds majority support is expected to curb the contentious end-of-session lawmaking.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said he welcomes discussions with Wentworth on the issue.

“There are a number of reasons lame duck sessions aren’t viewed very favorably, and I share many of the concerns voiced by my colleagues in both chambers on this issue," Shirkey said in a Wednesday statement. "We should be looking at anything that promotes accountability of elected officials to their constituents and policies that support the legislative process, which is designed to encourage deliberation and debate.” 

During lame duck, "bills are coming at you all hours of the day and night," and it makes it difficult to vet policy before taking a vote, Wentworth told the House Elections and Ethics Committee last week. 

"This will put a stop to last-minute, late-night partisan deal-making in the few months after an election," said Wentworth, R-Farwell. "It will help make sure government is fair, transparent and accountable to the taxpayers."

Rep. Graham Filler, R-DeWitt, who voted against the resolution, expressed concern that some members might attempt to hold important bills "hostage" in a time of crisis. Wentworth said it was a valid concern, but good policy should be able to pass by a two-thirds majority.

"Difficult situations come up all the time and we figure out a way to get it done," he said.

Rep. Pauline Wendzel, R-Watervliet, also said she was worried about the legislation and how it might hamstring efforts during lame duck, especially in light of the pandemic powers the governor and health department have exercised over the past year.

"Why would we as a Legislature want to give up our ability to hold this administration and any future administrations accountable by passing this?" Wendzel said. 

But Rep. Terry Sabo, a Muskegon Democrat who had proposed a similar law, supported the idea.

“We have a problem when it comes to transparency and trust and this is a great first step of many to address that,” Sabo said. “...This is not a Republican lame duck issue. This is not a Democratic lame duck issue. This is about what is right.”