GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – How did right-to-work get through Michigan’s legislative process in just a week?
There were a couple of things that happened to circumvent the hearings and comment periods you might find in what some would consider a normal bill.
First, political experts believe the lawmakers devised a strategy to find a “vehicle bill” to move right-to-work through quickly. Strategists say the second big factor in this vote was term limits: some lawmakers won’t have to face voters about their decision and so, in theory, they don’t care what may happen to them after their vote Tuesday.
The strategy for passing right-to-work was likely hatched weeks ago, says Devin Schindler at Cooley Law School. “I know for a fact the Republicans have been talking about this for years, not just weeks,” says Schindler.
Right-to-work opponents note that there were no committee meetings or public hearings which typically take place when bills are considered. Schindler says that’s because the bill’s supporters used a practice allowed by Michigan law in a lame duck year. “(It’s) very common that we see these highly controversial bills get pushed through during the lame duck session.”
Schindler and other law professors say the strategy works like this. Lawmakers decided to use a number of “vehicle bills” with much different content. Those bills had already been read and had their public hearing. They took the bills and stripped out the old language, then drastically re-wrote them, adding the right-to-work language. They bypassed the public hearing process, because the bills were already read before the right-to-work language was added.
Schindler says it’s a clever strategy.
“In light of the fact that it’s a lame duck session over the holiday season, the media glare tends to be a little less. In addition, we have a number of Republican lawmakers who either did not win reelection or who are not going to run again. (They) no longer have to worry about the political fallout for voting for this bill.”
Jon Hoadley of Kalamazoo, who works with the lobbying group, Main Street Strategies, says there are 57 lawmakers who voted on the legislation that will not have to face public accountability for their vote because they are term-limited, lost their elections, or are retiring. House Democratic Floor Leader Kate Segal of Battle Creek says 25 percent of the lawmakers voting Tuesday won’t be back in January.
Schindler says that if citizens are as unhappy as the protesters were Tuesday, they won’t be able to vote out the law through a referendum, because the lawmakers attached a million dollar appropriation to it which blocks the people from doing that.
Although that won’t be able to use a referendum, those who oppose the bill can try to amend the state constitution through a public vote. “Michiganders can always amend the constitution,” says Shindler. “Nothing stops the amendment process from occurring.”
In November, voters turned down a constitutional amendment that guaranteed collective bargaining rights.