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Michigan’s economy has made a huge comeback in the last eight years, and businesses in the state want to keep the momentum going. Many feared what they saw as reckless ballot proposals that could slow down the growth, and they got the Legislature involved. Now lawmakers must figure out what's next after adopting two wage-related measures.

Lawmakers have some serious work to do on the forced paid leave and hiked minimum wage initiatives to make them palatable for employers and workers while respecting the bounds of the Michigan Constitution.

And they should do it before the end of the year.

That was the rationale behind a pro-businesses coalition that pushed the Legislature to step in and adopt the two proposals earlier this month. Small Business for a Better Michigan includes a wide array of support: the Michigan Chamber, National Federation of Independent Business, the Small Business Association of Michigan and the Michigan Restaurant Association, among others.

The coalition didn’t like either ballot measure, but members feared what would happen if voters approved them in November.

Forced paid leave would create an additional regulatory burden on employers, and the coalition claims that policy, along with a higher minimum wage, would ultimately lead to fewer jobs. Plus, an estimated 75 percent of businesses already offer some form of paid leave without the government intervening, says Tony Daunt, executive director of the Michigan Freedom Fund and a coalition member.

GOP lawmakers also were concerned they’d have much less ability to modify the proposals once they became enshrined in the constitution.

So they pursued what they perceived as the lesser of two evils.

Democrats and proponents of the referendums say modifying the proposals would subvert the will of the voters. Yet the Constitution allows for the Legislature to step in and adopt proposals before they go before voters. Once they do, the proposals become law -- and can be treated like any other laws passed by lawmakers. That means they can be altered.

The business coalition and GOP lawmakers are confident they can legally modify the adopted initiatives --likely in the lame duck session. Mark Brewer, legal counsel for the One Fair Wage committee and former chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, has threatened a lawsuit if Republicans make changes. He’s using a 1964 opinion from former Attorney General Frank Kelley, a Democrat, who wrote that the Legislature can’t both pass and amend an initiative proposal in the same session.

But there are other legal experts who think Kelley’s opinion on “adopt and amend” is flawed and won’t stand up to scrutiny in court.

According to a Honigman law firm memo: “Legislatively adopted initiatives are to be treated exactly the same as laws enacted by the Legislature in the normal courts. Such laws may be amended by a majority vote at any time.”

Compromise is going to be key in the lame duck negotiations, as rolling back the initiatives entirely isn’t plausible. Finding middle ground while protecting employers and jobs must be the goal.

 

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