House OKs bill allowing Legislature to intervene in court

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel

Lansing —The Michigan House approved Wednesday in a 58-50 vote a bill that would allow the Legislature to intervene in any court case, potentially positioning Michigan’s lawmakers in opposition to Democratic Attorney General-elect Dana Nessel.

GOP Rep. Rob VerHeulen of Walker said he introduced the bill to give the Legislature a voice in court and maintained that the legislation does not encroach on the authority of the attorney general.  

The bill would allow the Legislature to intervene in cases where the state has a right or interest, such as a pending lawsuit challenging House floor procedures during the repeal of prevailing wage earlier this year.

“We’re seeing more and more public policy issues decided in the courts,” VerHeulen said, noting that the bill’s association with other legislation that would challenge the powers of incoming politicians is “regrettable.”

Five Republican representatives voted against the bill: Rep. Julie Calley of Portland, Rep. Larry Inman of Williamsburg, Rep. Dave Maturen of Brady Township, Rep. Dave Pagel of Berrien Springs, and Rep. Brett Roberts of Eaton Township.

The bill was opposed by Democratic House lawmakers, who characterized the bill as an “unconstitutional power grab” that would subvert the will of the people who just elected Nessel. 

“This legislation tramples on the rights of private citizens,” said Democratic Rep. Tim Greimel of Auburn Hills, noting that the legislation would allow the House or Senate to intervene in lawsuits among private parties if it is deemed in the interest of the state.

Speaker-elect Lee Chatfield agreed with the criticism about the timing of the bill, less than four weeks ahead of the inauguration of a Democratic governor, attorney general and secretary of state.

But the legislation is necessary for the Legislature to have a voice in court, where “legislation through litigation” is more and more common, he noted. The courts currently can allow the Legislature to make a filing in a case, but judges are not required to do so.

"We need to have the opportunity to express our view in a courtroom," Chatfield said.

The bill provides some leeway for the chambers to decide how they would vote to intervene in a court case. VerHeulen said Tuesday the decision likely would be made by a majority vote of the House or Senate.

Opponents have said, at best, the legislation duplicates the representation already available to the House and Senate. At worst, it is an effort to dilute the power of the incoming attorney general, they said.

The legislation seems to challenge the judiciary’s discretion regarding whether the Legislature has standing in a case, House Minority Leader Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, said Tuesday.

The bill passed shortly after a Senate committee Wednesday approved bills that would move the campaign finance responsibilities of incoming Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to a bipartisan commission.


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