Finley: Lawmaker renews push for part-time Legislature

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Michigan lawmakers introduced 55 new laws last week, ranging from creating a new Michigan Day holiday to lifting the tax on tampons.

It was not an exceptional week. Each day they are in session, legislators arrive at the Capitol with their backpacks stuffed with new bills.

Most never get beyond introduction. But that doesn’t discourage the lawmakers, who measure their worth by their prolificness.

They have too much time on their hand. And they fill it by making laws to address their pet peeves. Or that have no urgency. Or would be better handled as rules from state departments and agencies.

For example, last week Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, floated a bill to require academic credit for internships. And Sen. Ian Conyers, D-Detroit, asked support for a bill to create a model food education field trip.

Talk about addressing the state’s burning needs.

Lawmakers also paper the Capitol with proposals to please various voting constituencies. Last week saw a flurry of bills aimed at veterans and senior citizens.

Meanwhile, what the Legislature isn’t doing is coming up with solutions for the state’s sorry education performance and its crumbling infrastructure.

They have the luxury of putting off those more pressing matters because they spend so much time in Lansing.

State Rep. Michael Webber, R-Rochester Hills, wants to see less of his colleagues. He is calling for a resolution that make the Legislature a part-time body beginning in 2019.

Webber’s proposal would limit lawmakers to a 90-day session each year.

“People have made it clear that they don’t think a full-time Legislature is needed to complete the work necessary to keep state government effective and efficient,” Webber said in a statement. “With only 90 days in which to do the people’s business we can focus on those issues that are of most importance to the state and make the tough decisions that are demanded.”

Only nine states have full-time legislatures. Some very big states, including North Carolina, Virginia and Texas, manage to to do their business with part-time lawmakers. Part-time bodies also employ fewer staffers, according to the National Council of State Legislatures, giving taxpayers some financial relief.

In the unlikely event that Webber’s resolution gets the support of two-thirds of the Legislature, it would go on next year’s fall ballot.

Most likely, a change like this will have to be driven by a citizen’s petition drive, since lawmakers aren’t going to kill their own golden goose.

A ballot measure should go beyond part-time status. It should also lengthen term-limits so lawmakers can develop the experience and expertise to make effective legislation. Many come and go from Lansing without ever reading the state constitution.

Michigan will get one shot at getting this right. It should take care of both problems at once.

But give Webber credit for having the courage to push the issue. Unlike most of the other measures introduced so far in the new session, this one has some legs.

Nolan Finley’s book “Little Red Hen: A Collection of Columns from Detroit’s Conservative Voice” is available from Amazon, iBooks, and Barnes & Noble Nook.