Mich. Senate OKs bills repealing local businesses rules

Gary Heinlein
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan Senate passed legislation Thursday that would limit local governments’ ability to set their own nondiscrimination rules and minimum wages or adopt other regulations that would affect businesses in their communities.

The proposed Local Government Labor Regulatory Limitation Act, already passed by the House, says a local government can’t adopt an ordinance or policy, including a minimum wage rule, exceeding state or federal requirements.

It would wipe out so-called living wage rules, adopted by a number of local governments, that exceed state or federal wage mandates. Michigan’s hourly minimum wage is $8.15, higher than the $7.25 federal minimum, and is to rise to $9.25 in 2018.

Progressive groups say 38 Michigan communities also have nondiscrimination regulations that include protections for gays, which could be affected by the legislation. Lawmakers have rejected proposals to expand Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination against gays.

The bill passed on a 22-16 vote hours after being sent to the full Senate by its Michigan Competitiveness Committee. An amendment intended to assure local governments still would have the power to do such things as conduct criminal background checks on door-to-door solicitors or regulate adult entertainment was added to the bill, so it has to go back to the House for approval of the changes.

Its sponsor, Republican Rep. Earl Poleski of Jackson, says a patchwork of local rules makes it more difficult for employers to expand and hire workers in Michigan.

Senate Competitiveness Committee Chairman Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said that’s particularly true for businesses that have offices or plants in several communities whose local rules may differ regarding pay, benefits and other policies.

The bill contains a statement that the state Legislature “finds and declares that regulation of the employment relationship between a nonpublic employer and its employees is a matter of state concern and is outside the express or implied authority of local governmental bodies to regulate, absent express delegation of that authority to the local governmental body."

Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, said more local governments are passing “burdensome regulations” that could slow an economic recovery that’s creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. “Let’s get government out of the way,” she added.

Republicans, who hold a 27-11 Senate majority, defeated a series of Democratic amendments that would have modified the impact of the legislation.

One, from Sen. Rebekah Warren, would have allowed local communities to enact their own rules by holding elections. The Ann Arbor Democrat said there are “many different kinds of communities in Michigan with different needs. Our constituents do know what’s best for their communities,” she said.

The bill is opposed by unions and some local officials who say it’s a state intrusion on the rights of municipalities and their citizens. City councils in Ann Arbor and Jackson have passed resolutions against the bill.

“Cities like Jackson need the freedom and flexibility to adopt policies that create good jobs for local workers that pay fair wages,” said its mayor, Jason Smith. The proposal “guts local control and makes it harder for local communities to pass ordinances that protect working families and small businesses,” he said.

Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber blasted it as a “blatant power grab by Lansing Republicans” that “takes power away from our local communities, and hands it over to politicians and special interests in Lansing.”

Opposition also comes from Michigan League for Public Policy Vice President Karen Holcomb-Merrill, who said the proposal blocks local rules that could help low-wage workers advance.

Work rules allowing paid sick leave or time off to care for an ill child “are luxuries for too many low-paid workers who have to choose between going to work sick and paying their rent,” Holcomb-Merrill said.

GHeinlein@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3660