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Michigan Dems’ big year: Sweeping new laws, no vetoes and an early end

capitol dome
(Nagel Photography /
  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer worked with fellow Democrats on hundreds of new laws in 2023, including gun control and clean energy rules
  • Dems also repealed several significant laws, including right-to-work, abortion regulations and GOP tax code changes
  • Whitmer is poised to end the year without vetoing a single policy bill, which hasn’t happened since 2015

LANSING  — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Democratic lawmakers this year took complete control of all branches of government for the first time in four decades, and used their power to pass sweeping reforms, repeal Republican-backed laws and approve the largest state spending plan in Michigan history. 

And then the Legislature called it quits — ending session nearly two months early after Democrats temporarily lost their voting majority in the state House, and allowing a series of new laws to take effect in February, including Michigan’s earlier presidential primary date. 


Despite the early ending, Democrats contend their year of power ranks among the most consequential in Michigan history with the approval of gun reforms, clean energy laws, repeal the state’s Right-to-Work law and new protections for gay rights, among other things. 

“We'll look back and say this is probably the most productive year we've ever seen,” House Speaker Joe Tate, a Detroit Democrat who became the first-ever African American to hold that post, told Bridge Michigan. 


Republicans see it differently, of course. 

Democrats used narrow two-seat majorities in each chamber to advance a “left-wing agenda” that does not reflect the political diversity of the state, said Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt, R-Porter Township.

“I don't think there's a greater example of how partisan the majority is than that the minute there's an even bipartisan split in the House, 54-54, the Democrats head out of town,” he said. 

So how productive was the year, really? What laws did Whitmer and the Democratic-led Legislature finalize, and what did they fail to accomplish before adjourning? Where did they work with Republicans? 

Here’s a recap.

In with the new

Motivated by mass shooting on Michigan State University’s campus in February, the Democratic-led Legislature finalized gun control reforms, including a “red flag” law that would allow judges to seize weapons of those deemed a danger to themselves or others, a law requiring parents to safely store guns and universal background check laws that will take effect next year. 

Democrats also wrote anti-discrimination protections for gay and transgender residents into state law, which largely codified prior court rulings. And they added parts of “Obamacare” to Michigan law, including consumer protections for consumers with pre-existing conditions and the ability of young people to stay on parents’ insurance until 26 years-old. 

One of the most controversial packages of the year was among the last to pass: New laws will require Michigan utilities to generate 100 percent of their power from clean energy sources by 2040. 

Democrats also voted to allow the state to override local officials who decide to block wind, solar or other clean energy developments.

Democrats also used their final weeks of the year to finalize voting changes intended to prevent a repeat of the 2020 election controversies and challenges.

The new laws will expand voter registration, criminalize poll worker intimidation, regulate political ads that use artificial intelligence and tighten the post-election certification process, among other things. 

While some progressive Democrats hoped to stop continued “corporate welfare,” Whitmer ultimately got what she asked for in her State of the State Address: A new law guaranteeing an annual $500 million deposit into a business incentive program that aims to lure big projects. 

Out with the old

In one of the first major policy votes of the year, Democrats repealed Michigan’s so-called pension tax and expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit for lower-wage workers, reversing some 2011 tax code changes made by then-Gov. Rick Snyder and a GOP-led Legislature. 

The tax law will add up to nearly $1 billion in annual savings for Michigan seniors and lower-income workers, but Republicans opposed the plan in an attempt to preserve a broader income tax cut that Democrats later declared will last only one year.

Whitmer also worked with new Democratic majorities to repeal Snyder’s Right-to-Work law, which since 2013 has prohibited union contracts mandating that employees pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment. 

Democrats also formally repealed a 1931 abortion ban that had nearly been activated after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and repealed a series of other abortion regulations that Whitmer argued were medically unnecessary. 

A record budget with continued ‘pork’

Whitmer in July signed a record $81.7 billion budget that expanded funding for K-12 education, affordable housing and more. It also included plenty of pork — more than $1 billion in earmarks for pet projects in lawmaker districts, including some to for-profit businesses. 

It was easily the biggest spending plan in Michigan history, surpassing what had been a record $77 billion budget the year prior. The budget was $24.9 billion larger than the $56.8 billion budget Snyder signed his last year in office.

The broad investments helped the budget win at least some bipartisan support, despite some Republicans blasting it as an irresponsible spending spree. All sides agree the largesse is likely to end next year as federal stimulus and pandemic recovery funds dry up.  

What stalled: Paid leave, prescription drugs

While Whitmer appeared to control much of the legislative agenda, she did not get everything she wanted. 

Democratic lawmakers failed to finalize two big packages the governor had called top fall priorities: A mandate for employers to provide paid family and medical leave to all workers, and creation of a new Prescription Drug Affordability Board to try and rein in prices.

The paid leave proposal effectively went nowhere amid uncertainty over how to pay for — Republicans panned an initial plan that would have effectively created a payroll tax for workers across the state. The prescription drug plan passed the Senate but not the House. 

Opposition from a lone House Democrat also tanked Whitmer-backed bills that would have repealed a 24-hour wait-period for abortions and allowed the government-funded Medicaid insurance program to cover the procedure. 

Earliest adjournment since 1968

The Michigan Legislature took final votes on Nov. 9 but officially adjourned for the year on Nov. 14. That was the first pre-December adjournment since 1968, when lawmakers called it a year in August, according to state records

Still, the 323 bills sent to Whitmer's desk was the most since 2020, according to a Bridge Michigan review. It nearly matched the 325 bills passed by Republican legislators when the GOP controlled the House, Senate and governor’s office.

The pace was slower than the 389-bill average over the past decade, which was inflated by the whopping 690 bills that Republicans sent Sndyer in 2018, including a flurry of laws finalized during the so-called lame-duck period when the GOP knew Whitmer was on the way. 

Zero vetoes

While the governor has not yet made a final decision on every bill, Whitmer has yet to veto a single piece of legislation sent to her desk this year by Democratic majorities. 

If that holds, 2023 would be the first year without a veto since 2015, according to a Bridge Michigan review. But even then, Snyder did something Whitmer has not: He used his line-item veto power to cut two provisions in the state budget as he signed the rest of it into law.

The no-veto feat shows Democrats "worked really hard to stay focused" on policies that both the Legislature and governor could both support, said Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids.

"It's been so long since we've had a democratic trifecta," the "list of things that we could choose from, that we all agree on, was pretty long," Brinks said. 

Nesbitt, the Republican minority leader, argued the lack of vetoes shows the Legislature is simply doing Whitmer's bidding as she builds a national profile for a potential presidential run. 

"One of the most surprising things I've seen is that the governor seems to control both the executive office and the Legislature,” he said. 

Fewest unanimous votes since 1850

Democrats won at least some bipartisan support on a number of key items, including the state budget and the safe storage gun law, which was supported by House Minority Leader Matt Hall, R-Richland Township.

But overall, bipartisan cooperation was rare. In fact, only 19 bills passed the Legislature with unanimous support — the fewest since 1849, according to a detailed analysis by the subscription-based Michigan Information & Research Inc.

That's not entirely the fault of Democrats, however. 


Republican members of the House Freedom Caucus voted against almost every bill that reached the floor, including an approved ban on child marriage. They made their hard-line position known in January, when they broke precedent to vote against the election of House Speaker Joe Tate, D-Detroit, which has traditionally been a ceremonial event. 

Not much action on transparency

It took almost all year, but Democrats last month finalized legislation to implement personal financial disclosure rules required under a ballot proposal voters approved last fall. The plan will shed at least some new light on potential conflicts of interest for elected officials and candidates.

But Whitmer and legislative leaders effectively blocked a push from progressive Democrats and Republicans who sought to close “loopholes” by requiring full disclosure of spousal assets and travel paid for by political nonprofits that do not disclose donors. 

Whitmer also again failed to follow through on her 2018 campaign promise to voluntarily open her office to public records requests. But the governor and legislative leaders plan to begin debate next year on bills that would expand the state Freedom of Information Act to apply equally to both the Legislature and governor’s office, both of which are currently exempt.

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