Editorial: Align Michigan Constitution with practice

The Detroit News

It should be the most basic expectation that state lawmakers adhere to the state constitution. But for 50 years, the Michigan Legislature has been ignoring a constitutional provision governing how new laws take effect.

The Constitution, adopted in 1963, states clearly that laws passed by the Legislature will not take effect until 90 days after a legislative session ends.

Since sessions last two years, it's quite possible that a new law passed early in the session wouldn't go into effect until nearly two years and 90 days after it was approved.

There's an escape clause written into the Constitution allowing lawmakers to grant a law immediate effect with a super-majority vote of two-thirds of the Legislature.

Over the past 50 years, 90 percent of all laws have been given immediate effect, according to a new report from the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, a non-partisan group that examines the impact of state policy and practices.

The CRC correctly notes that lawmakers are violating the spirit of the law, if not the actual language.

While the state Senate requires a recorded vote to give a bill immediate effect, the House uses a voice vote, with the speaker using his or her discretion to determine whether the measure received the required support.

That's led to a great deal of controversy over the years and too often makes a mockery of the Constitution's super-majority requirement.

Lawmakers have good reasons for granting immediate effect. For one thing, some problems addressed by legislation have a certain urgency that can't wait until beyond the end of a session.

From a political standpoint, immediate effect allows them to appear responsive to their constituents, and that's particularly useful in advance of an election.

But drafters of the Constitution intended immediate effect to be a rare occurrence for a reason. The document also allows citizens to challenge the implementation of a new law through a petition drive.

Immediate effect impairs the ability of citizens to mount a referendum to repeal a law before it is implemented.

The CRC doesn't take a position on whether immediate effect is the right or wrong way to put a new law on the books.

It does, however, rightly recommend that the constitution should be amended to align it with common practice. Citizens deserve that clarity.

Lawmakers should put a measure on the ballot asking voters to amend the constitution to either grant all laws effective immediately after passage, or set a standard waiting period — 30, 60 or 90 days — for implementation. A reasonable waiting period, say 60 days, is the most appropriate approach.

Ignoring the Constitution is a poor practice for lawmakers sworn to uphold the law. Either obey the law, or ask voters to change it.