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Nessel pushes ruling on Michigan minimum wage, sick leave laws to high court

dana nessel
First-term Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel says she would join a court fight to protect President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate.

Attorney General Dana Nessel announced she won’t issue a legal opinion on the legality of new state laws to raise Michigan’s minimum wage and require employers to provide paid sick leave.

Nessel, a Democrat, said Thursday that she declined a request from state Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, to issue an opinion on whether Republican changes to the laws were constitutional because the Michigan Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.

The state’s high court has asked Nessel to submit legal briefs on both sides of the issue as part of its review. Those briefs will incorporate 111 comments the attorney general’s office received from individuals and organizations on both sides of the issue, Nessel spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney said.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the minimum wage and sick leave laws July 17, but did not commit to issuing an opinion.

The issue stems from actions taken last year by the Republican-controlled state Legislature, which adopted citizen-initiated proposals progressive groups were trying to put on the November ballot. One initiative would have raised the state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2022; the second would have required employers to provide 72 hours of paid sick leave annually to workers.

The Legislature preemptively approved the measures last September before they reached the ballot, only to gut both laws in December, just weeks before the legislative term ended.

At issue is whether the state constitution allows the Legislature to adopt, then amend, citizen initiatives in the same legislative term. Progressive groups, outraged by the lawmakers’ tactics, argue that their actions were unconstitutional. Business groups had supported the Legislature’s revisions, arguing that the original terms would have been overly burdensome for businesses and set back economic progress made by the state since the Great Recession.

The lame-duck changes were signed into law by outgoing Republican Gov. Rick Snyder days before leaving office. Under the changes, Michigan’s minimum wage won’t reach $12 (now $12.05) until 2030, eight years later than originally intended. And employers are now required to offer 40 hours of sick leave, instead of the originally proposed 72, while businesses with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from being forced to offer any sick leave.

Lawmakers also kept a lower minimum wage for employees who receive tips as part of their job, such as restaurant servers, rather than gradually increase the wage as the ballot committee Michigan One Fair Wage proposed until all minimum-wage workers earned the same hourly rate.

Both revised laws took effect in March, but the legal battle continues.

Republican lawmakers in February asked the Michigan Supreme Court to issue an advisory opinion on whether the amended laws are legal and whether the constitution allows the Legislature to adopt and amend citizen legislation in the same term.

The Supreme Court does not have to issue an opinion. In fact, the court has rejected more requests than it has granted in the last decade. The last time the court issued an advisory opinion was in 2011, related to Snyder’s inquiry about the constitutionality of a new tax on some retirement income.

Chang could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday about Nessel’s decision related to her request.

Should the Supreme Court decline to issue an opinion on the minimum wage and sick leave laws, someone could submit a new request for an attorney general’s opinion in the case, said Rossman-McKinney, Nessel’s spokeswoman.

Separately, Nessel’s office said Thursday it will consider a request from the Michigan Civil Rights Commission to reconsider an opinion issued in 2017 by Nessel’s predecessor, GOP Attorney General Bill Schuette, related to wages paid to agricultural workers on small farms.

The issue is whether some farm workers are allowed to be paid less than the state’s minimum wage if they work for small employers who are exempt from the federal minimum wage law.

Nessel’s office said the public may submit input on the farmworker wage opinion request by May 16 to, with “ATT: Opinions Division” in the subject line.

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