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Snyder signs bills that weaken Michigan minimum wage, sick leave laws

July 17: Michigan Supreme Court hears debate on minimum wage, sick leave laws
July 17: What to know about the Michigan minimum wage law before the Supreme Court​
July 17: Paid sick leave: What to know about the Michigan law before the Supreme Court

Editor’s note: This story has been changed to reflect the date the new minimum wage law takes effect. The effective date is 91 days after the end of the 2018 legislative term in December, which is in March, not Jan. 1.

Outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder on Friday signed two bills that gut citizen-initiated laws to raise Michigan’s minimum wage and require employers to offer paid sick leave.

The move was no surprise. Republican lawmakers and leaders of business groups said they expected Snyder, a fellow Republican who has championed pro-business policies in Michigan, would give both measures the green light.

His signature came over the objections of Democrats and advocates for workers who circulated petitions that collected hundreds of thousands of signatures to get the laws enacted. Once the wage and sick leave initiatives qualified for the November ballot, the Republican Legislature preemptively adopted them in September so they could weaken them post-election.

Dec. 21: That's a wrap! What bills passed, died in Michigan lame duck for the ages
Feb. 18, 2019: Medicaid work rules another test for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republicans​
Related: GOP on lame duck bills: You’ll thank us later, Michigan

Critics, who promised to sue if Republicans weakened the laws, called the lame-duck bills signed by Snyder an effort to sabotage laws Republicans don’t like, and a subversion of the people’s will.

“Gov. Snyder has just added to his legacy of ignoring the health needs of families in our state,” Danielle Atkinson, co-chair of MI Time to Care, the coalition behind the paid sick leave effort, said in a statement.

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, a Democrat from Flint, ripped the bill signings as a betrayal. 

“If it wasn’t clear before, it should be clear now that this governor has zero respect for the voters," Ananich said. "I’m gravely disappointed, yet not surprised, to see this governor once again sign legislation drafted and motivated by the extreme wing of his party. It appears that he has decided what he wants his legacy to be.”

Snyder said in his own statement accompanying the signings that he considered the bills through the lens of whether they are sound policy for the state of Michigan.

“The two bills I signed today strike a good balance between the initial proposals and the original legislation as drafted,” Snyder’s statement said. “They address a number of difficulties for job providers while still ensuring paid medical leave benefits and increased minimum-wage incomes for many Michiganders.”

The GOP-sponsored bills cleared the Legislature last week along mostly party lines. Republicans and business leaders said the laws as written would have made compliance challenging for businesses, especially for smaller companies.

In announcing his signature, Snyder touted the state’s economic comeback under eight years of complete Republican control in Lansing, including low unemployment and per-capita income growth, adding: “We need to continue our forward momentum while making sure all Michiganders are participating in the comeback.”

Snyder said he believed the laws as written, while well-meaning, could have undermined the state’s economic recovery, a message echoed by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

“Without improvements to the new minimum wage law, Michigan would have had one of the highest minimum wage rates in the country, thereby making our state uncompetitive in the race for jobs and forcing many employers to make tough decisions, including cutting back staffing hours, increasing costs and reducing other investments in employees or their business,” Wendy Block, vice president of business advocacy for the chamber, said in a statement Friday.

The organizations behind the original citizen initiatives said they would have helped low-income workers across Michigan earn livable wages and allowed them to stay home when they or a family member are ill without fearing the loss of their job. They argued that the laws would also help businesses by reducing turnover and improving worker productivity.

Advocate groups also vowed to sue if the measures were dismantled, citing a 1964 opinion from then-Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelley arguing that the Legislature can’t adopt and amend citizen initiatives in the same legislative term they were passed. If Kelley’s legal interpretation were followed, the House and Senate would have had to reintroduce the bills next year, when a Democrat, Gretchen Whitmer, is governor and likely would veto them.

Attorneys for business groups, as well as current Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette, dispute Kelley’s argument, contending no such prohibition exists.

MI Time to Care recently filed a petition to launch a 2020 ballot drive with the same paid sick leave proposal lawmakers changed this year. Atkinson, the co-chair, said the committee will look at legal action even as it begins to collect signatures on its new petition.

“Starting Jan. 1, we will have a governor and attorney general who care more about people than political action committee checks,” she said. “We are confident by the end of 2020, all Michigan workers will be able to stay home when sick without worrying about losing a paycheck or being fired.”

Sick leave

Senate Bill 1175 will allow employees to accrue leave time immediately and be able to use it within 90 days, similar to what was in the citizen-initiated law.

Employees will be able to accrue one hour of leave time for every 35 hours worked, rather than for every 30 hours worked as the citizen-initiated proposal would have allowed. And employers must offer up to 40 hours of sick leave per year, rather than 72 hours in the law as originally drafted.

One of the biggest changes from the citizen version is that the sick leave law will not apply to businesses with fewer than 50 employees. The law as written required businesses with fewer than 10 employees to offer at least 40 hours of paid sick leave, with another 32 hours of unpaid leave.

Minimum wage law

Senate Bill 1171 as signed into law will raise Michigan’s minimum wage from $9.25 this year to $9.45 in March, instead of increasing to $10 under the citizen initiative.

Under the law as changed by Republicans, the full minimum wage will rise to $12.05 in 2030, instead of $12 by 2022, eight years longer than the original citizens’ initiative.  The Republican version also did not include adjustments for inflation, as the original initiative called for.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, also restores the tipped wage paid to workers who collect tips as part of their jobs. The tipped wage currently is 38 percent of the full minimum wage, or $3.52 per hour. That generally applies to restaurant servers, who are some of the biggest proponents of raising the wage.

The citizen-backed law, if allowed to take effect, would have gradually raised the tipped wage until it equaled the full minimum wage rate. Instead, the tipped wage will remain at 38 percent of the full minimum wage.

“We are saddened to learn Gov. Snyder has signed this disgraceful bill that subverts the will of 400,000 Michiganders who supported raising the minimum wage," said Alicia Renee Farris, steering committee chairwoman with the Michigan One Fair Wage ballot committee that proposed the minimum wage law, in a statement. "It is clear he and Republican politicians care more about appeasing special interest groups than upholding the constitution. Senate Bill 1171, like many bills jammed through during this lame-duck session, is blatantly unconstitutional and will lead to costly, time-consuming court challenges. This is a truly sad day for anyone who believes in the constitution, the rule of law and the democratic process."

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