A bill that would give both houses of the Michigan Legislature the right to intervene in certain lawsuits is headed to Gov. Rick Snyder.
The state Senate passed HB 6553 Thursday afternoon 26-12 along mostly party lines. Only one Republican, Sen.Tory Rocca of Sterling Heights, voted against it. In the early hours of Friday, the House added its approval as well.
Since it was introduced, the bill has been tightened to allow the Legislature to intervene only in lawsuits in order “to protect any right or interest of that body" when someone challenges the constitutionality or validity of a law.
Defenders say the bill is necessary because many laws now are decided in court, and the Legislature should have a voice in those suits.
"The Legislature has a distinct view and ... should have the right to engage and have that view heard," bill sponsor Rep. Rob VerHeulen, R-Walker, told a committee recently.
The arguments don't wash with foes like Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, who said lawmakers should "write better legislation" if they fear lawsuits.
“It’s that simple,” Bieda said after the vote.
The bill has been criticized by Democrats as an attempted power grab from incoming Attorney General Dana Nessel. They argue it would create confusion over who represents the people of Michigan in court and would give the Republican-led legislature more power when Democrats take the state’s highest offices.
Nessel "has been — and continues to be — deeply concerned and troubled by the hasty legislative efforts to push through a proposal that was never properly vetted and appears to be an intentional and partisan effort on the part of some legislators to undermine the role of the state’s Attorney General," said Nessel spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney via email.
Two Democratic senators proposed amendments to the legislation right before the vote. Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., D-East Lansing, proposed changing the bill so the state would be required to pay the cost of the Legislature’s intervention as a “deterrent against using this tool for political purposes.”
He argued the bill would not just affect businesses with large legal teams to handle lawsuits. This legislation “will truly bear out terribly for Michigan families,” who could go bankrupt due to legal fees, Hertel said.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, proposed two amendments which would have only allowed the Legislature to intervene once a year and would have required a two-thirds majority vote.
All three amendments failed.
In a committee hearing earlier in the lame-duck session, the bill was abruptly passed to the House floor under the raucous applause of liberal spectators responding to a question by Rep. Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, to VerHeulen.
“When we have roads to fix and schools to fund, how can you possibly justify setting up this parallel organization when we already have a process in place to take care of these issues?” she asked.
Bridge reporter Lindsay VanHulle contributed to this report.