Michigan Democrats may adjourn for year next week, plan flurry of legislation
- Michigan Democrats are rushing to finalize major bill packages because they may end their legislative year next week
- Democrats could soon lose majorities in House if two members win mayoral races
- The Legislature must adjourn early if Michigan Democrats want to follow through on national party plans to move up 2024 presidential primary
LANSING — Michigan Democrats are racing against their own clock to finish major bill packages in the face of presidential politics and the prospect of losing their House majority for the remainder of the year.
Tuesday's mayoral elections and a deadline to finalize Democratic National Committee plans to move up the state’s presidential primary set up a unique scenario in which Democrats likely must act next week if they want to wrap up their fall priorities — or punt them to next year.
The Michigan House and Senate combined to pass more than 90 bills over a three-day span this week, none larger than an energy law overhaul plan approved by the House early Friday morning that would require utilities to meet a 100 percent clean energy standard by 2040.
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Senate Democrats must still give final approval to that plan, which is backed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and would give the state authority to override local opposition to solar and wind farms. Lawmakers also hope to settle on new personal financial disclosure rules for themselves and other officials, as required by voters who approved ballot Proposal 1 last fall.
“We’re doing a lot of good work.” state Rep. Kelly Breen, D-Novi, said Thursday.
They walked off the floor Thursday night in the House as Democrats proposed more than 20 last-minute amendments to an energy package that conservatives contend would raise rates for residents and businesses.
Democrats hold a two-seat majority in the House but are already preparing for the possibility that edge will soon evaporate if Reps. Kevin Coleman of Westland and Lori Stone of Warren win mayoral races in their respective cities in Tuesday’s municipal elections.
Stone, who is competing in an open race to succeed Warren Mayor Jim Fouts, told Bridge Michigan that next week will be her last in the Legislature should she win the mayoral race.
Passionate about education, Stone said she had figured her best fit was in the Legislature. She changed her mind when local supporters approached her to run, and she doesn’t see other candidates in the primary she would support.
"It was time to put up or shut up," Stone said Wednesday at the Capitol during a break in a 12-hour House session. "You put your resume in the pile, and in the end, residents will decide where your talents are used best."
She faces Warren human resources director George Dimas.
In Westland, Coleman said that if he beats interim Mayor Mike Londeau, he would stay on in the Legislature “a couple more weeks” until the results are certified.
"Public service, to me, is not really about what I want to do, it's about what my constituents want me to do," Coleman said, noting his post in the state House could be filled by a special election early next year.
Regardless of those mayoral race outcomes, Democrats are running out of time if they intend to follow through on national party plans to move up the state's presidential primary to Feb. 27, the fifth in the nation.
The Legislature approved the date shift in January, but Republicans withheld votes required to give the bills "immediate effect," meaning the law will not become official until 90 days after the Legislature adjourns for the year.
Democratic leaders would have to adjourn by late November – ending a month early their first full year in power for four decades – if they want to move up the primary from its traditional date in early March.
Complicating matters is the Legislature's annual two-week break for the start of gun hunting season and the Thanksgiving holiday.
Next week is the last before that break is scheduled to begin.
Legislative leaders are still not saying when they will adjourn for the year, but the end of next week appears increasingly likely.
The final decision would be up to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks and House Speaker Joe Tate, said Amber McCann, a spokesperson for House Democrats.
But, she acknowledged: "I think that the end of session will be earlier than maybe we're typically used to."
‘Abdicating’ their responsibility?
Democrats this week finalized several significant bill packages and kept other proposals alive heading into what could be the final week of the legislative year.
Bills now awaiting Whitmer’s signature include:
- Education changes: A plan to change the state’s teacher evaluation system by reducing reliance on student performance, and a $616 million spending plan that will retire debt for schools in Ypsilanti, Muskegon Heights, Pontiac Benton Harbor and the former Inkster district.
- Gun reform: A proposal to prohibit people convicted of domestic violence crimes from possessing guns for up to eight years (One of three bills in that package still needs final Senate approval.)
Bills requiring Senate sign-off include:
- Clean energy: A slew of House amendments made this week to bills the Senate already approved requiring utilities to get all their power from clean sources by 2040.
- AI disclosure: The House approved bills that would require disclaimers on political ads generated using artificial intelligence
- Election intimidation: House-approved bills would make it a crime to intimidate election officials or poll workers
Several other major bill packages appear unlikely to see action this year, including: overhauling the state’s business incentive program, banning guns at polling places and extending the statute of limitations for sexual assault charges.
Showdown over disclosure rules?
With the clock ticking, lawmakers must also finalize personal financial disclosure rules for themselves -- and they have little choice there.
Proposal 1, approved last fall by 66 percent of Michigan voters, requires the Legislature to finalize rules by the end of the year or open themselves up to lawsuits for failure to comply.
The Senate approved a version of the financial disclosure bills this week despite what Republican Sen. Ruth Johnson called "loopholes the size of Texas." A coalition of House Democrats and Republicans are making a serious push to toughen the rules, however, prompting leadership to delay final votes.
House Minority Leader Matt Hall, R-Richland Township, said Thursday he opposes the current personal financial disclosure package, suggesting it will not receive the wide bipartisan support it won in the Senate.
"It's unfortunate they're putting us in this position where we're going to have to decide against a deadline of next week just because they want to have a Democrat presidential primary earlier," Hall said, questioning why Democrats care so much if incumbent President Joe Biden is going to run for re-election.
“Our members are going to have to make a decision whether we support a weak ethics bill because it’s better than doing nothing,” he said.
Several House Democrats have also signaled plans to withhold votes for the financial disclosure package if their leaders do not agree to amendments.
Without legislative action this week, courts could order lawmakers to draft new rules next year or potentially even impose the kind of disclosure rules Congressional candidates and members are required to comply with.
“Will Democrats adjourn next week … without an ethics package in place, just abdicating their responsibility?” Hall asked. “We’ll see.”
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