If Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill today that not a single Michigan Republican legislator supported, when do you think it would officially be on the books as a law?
The type of bill doesn’t matter. It could be the state budget. It could be the next presidential primary date. Whatever.
Assuming the Legislature adjourns when it typically does in late December, the state Constitution has the new law taking effect in late March … of 2024.
Not this March, next March. More than a year will pass before that law takes effect.
In order for any Michigan law to take effect immediately, the Constitution requires a special, non-recorded vote in which two-thirds of the House and Senate say “yes.”
For at least 20 years, the House (whether it’s a Republican or Democratic majority) has played fast and loose with this rule. The presiding officer takes a sloppy voice vote for immediate effect. Nearly every time, he or she estimates that two-thirds of the members are in support, even when the “nays” are clearly louder than the “yeas.”
The Democrats sued over it about 10 years ago. The courts said the Legislature can determine how it counts these votes. So, no relief there.
Over in the Senate, the chamber has always taken a vote on its electronic voting board so the Lord and everybody can see if two-thirds of the chamber (26 senators) really supported giving the bill immediate effect.
Like the filibuster rule in the U.S. Senate, this immediate-effect rule allows the minority party to hold up the immediate implementation of whatever the majority wants.
The subject is relevant as the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate start pushing through their long list of reforms and Republicans push back.
For such subjects as the governor’s tax plan, which I wrote about two weeks ago, none of the 18 Senate Republicans want it because it likely holds up an income tax rate rollback from 4.25% to 4.05%.
Until this is settled, everything is on ice. Those $180-per-household checks? The immediate implementation of a larger Earned Income Tax Credit? Both are in jeopardy.
The Democrats could change the rules and count votes in a raucous, see-what-we-want-to-see matter. They’d need 20 votes for that, and they don’t have them. Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, was a lead plaintiff in that aforementioned lawsuit challenging immediate effect when he was in the House. He isn’t about to change his strict adherence to the Constitution, even though the shoe is on the other foot.
At some point, once Democrats publicly ridicule Republicans for stopping these $180 checks, the two sides will negotiate a final deal on the governor’s tax plan.
In the meantime, the two sides should negotiate a constitutional amendment that ends this foolishness.
Michigan’s current law that stops signed bills from becoming law until 90 days after the final session day (except if they get an immediate effect) comes from the horse-and-buggy era. Back then, it took days for news to travel to the Upper Peninsula or other far-flung locations.
Also, back then, the Legislature adjourned for the year in late May or June. Ninety days from June 1 is Aug. 30.
When former Speaker Will Ryan started the modern-day trend of the Legislature’s meeting all year in about 1969, lawmakers should have asked voters to change when newly signed laws should be allowed to take effect.
A reasonable proposal by Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Waucedah Twp., would allow all bills to go into effect 90 days after the governor’s signature.
If a real two-thirds vote of the Legislature gives a bill immediate effect, the new law can go into effect quicker.
Under this scenario, most bills wouldn’t need immediate effect anymore. The minority couldn’t hold up a new law for a year.
It could stop the House from chronically breaking the Constitution with its ridiculous immediate-effect votes.
More important, it could prevent the state Senate from even thinking about it.
(Email Kyle Melinn of the Capitol news service MIRS at email@example.com.)
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