August 2019: Michigan GOP files new suit to stop independent redistricting commission
Update: Michigan Republicans advance bills on campaign finance, voting, education
Dec. 21: That's a wrap! What bills passed, died in Michigan lame duck for the ages
Related: See what Michigan lame-duck bills we're tracking
Michigan state senators say they’re codifying the will of the people. Leaders of constitutional amendments overwhelmingly approved by voters in November disagree.
The back-and-forth came during yet another whiplash day of action during the Legislature’s lame-duck session Wednesday, as the GOP-controlled Senate voted to create laws allowing an independent commission to oversee political redistricting and expand access to voting.
Republicans say the bills merely codify Proposals 2 and 3, which voters overwhelmingly approved Nov. 6.
“This just puts in some precautions and does not in any way affect what the voters approved,” Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair, said on the Senate floor prior to a vote on a bill to enact the redistricting proposal.
Volunteers who worked on the proposals say the measures are rushed and lawmakers don’t have the authority to set policy on the redistricting commission, which is meant to operate independently of the Legislature.
“I’m really concerned about the speed with which this legislation is moving, and that may very well undercut the will of the voters,” said Erica Peresman, an executive committee member of the Proposal 3 ballot committee, Promote the Vote, in a Senate committee Wednesday.
“That seems to me to be a timeline that’s based on politics, and not good policy.”
Some of the rules the GOP-sponsored bills may affect incoming Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s role in implementing both the redistricting commission and the voting changes.
For instance, Senate Bill 1254, introduced by Pavlov, would define party affiliation as it relates to an applicant for the redistricting commission.
The commission, as approved by voters, will seat four Democrats, four Republicans and five people who are not affiliated with either major party.
That party affiliation requirement — namely, how someone could be considered an independent — was one of the biggest concerns among Proposal 2’s critics ahead of the November election.
The Senate voted 25-12, mostly along party lines, on Wednesday to adopt Pavlov’s bill. Two Republicans — Sens. Patrick Colbeck, of Canton Township, and Tory Rocca, of Sterling Heights — joined Democrats in opposing the bill.
“This bill is just unnecessary,” state Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, said prior to the vote. “We have to ask ourselves: Why are we making this so hard? You are just setting up your lawsuit.”
That is the argument of the Voters Not Politicians ballot committee, which circulated petitions to get Proposal 2 on the ballot.
The group contends the constitutional amendment does not give lawmakers the authority to put any constraint on the commission’s role via statute.
An analysis from the group’s attorneys, Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP, released Wednesday contends “this constitutional amendment is self-executing and any action by the Legislature to limit the process by which commissioners may be selected is unconstitutional.”
Senate Bill 1254 now moves to the House for consideration.
Also Wednesday, a state Senate committee sent a package of bills that would enact Proposal 3, which enshrines voting rights into the state constitution, to the full Senate along party lines. A floor vote has not yet been scheduled.
Senate Bills 1238 through 1242, sponsored by Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, would require the Secretary of State to automatically register Michigan residents to vote when they apply for a driver’s license or state ID card, unless they specifically decline.
The bills would enact in state law other provisions of Proposal 3, including same-day voter registration, no-reason absentee voting and requiring the Secretary of State to conduct election audits.
Kowall’s bill package also would require an applicant for a state driver license or personal ID card to also declare whether he or she is a U.S. citizen for purposes of automatic voter registration.
Kowall said during Wednesday’s committee hearing the intent of the legislation is to clarify and allow for the implementation of Proposal 3.
“Nothing in these bills conflict with any rights guaranteed under Proposal 3,” Kowall said.
The Secretary of State’s office did not take a position on the bills, testifying that having legislation to implement the proposal is appropriate.
Associations representing county and municipal clerks said they haven’t had time to review the bills.
Still, some Democrats said they believed the bills work against what hundreds of thousands of Michiganders wanted when they signed petitions to get the proposals on the ballot.
“What is our job? Our job is to represent these folks out here. And I think we’re falling short on our duties,” Sen. Morris Hood III, D-Detroit, said during the committee hearing. “The people have spoken overwhelmingly and we’re going behind their backs. … If it’s good legislation today, it’ll be good legislation tomorrow.”
More Michigan gerrymandering stories: