June 16, 2023 | This Week in Government: Dems Eye Repeal on Local Employer Regs; Gov Confident GOP Will Back BudgetJune 16, 2023
Each week, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Government Relations team, in partnership with Gongwer, provides members with a collection of timely updates from both local and state governments. Stay in the know on the latest legislation, policy priorities, and more.
Dems Eye Another Snyder-Era Repeal On Local Employer Regs
By Dan Netter
The House Labor Committee on Thursday took up a bill that would repeal a Governor Rick Snyder-era policy by rolling back a 2015 ban on local governments implementing ordinances that could include wage and benefit requirements with testimony at times becoming contentious.
HB 4237, introduced by Rep. Joey Andrews (D-St. Joseph), would repeal PA 105 of 2015. The law bans municipalities from passing labor-related ordinances that come into conflict with certain state labor statutes, such as making a local minimum wage higher than the state minimum wage, regulating strike activity or requiring more time for paid or sick leave.
Although Democrats and other supporters of the bill argued local governments are better situated to make decisions around wage and leave-time policies, business groups and Republicans said a patchwork of ordinances would be problematic.
Andrews, in his testimony, said the repeal of the labor ordinance ban would reflect the diversity of the state and allow for localities to experiment with policy so the rest of the state can learn. He called PA 105 “blanket legislation,” which he said was a problem because what is good for Detroit may not be good for southwest Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. The repeal of the bill would free up city councils and township boards to respond to local pressures and costs of living.
Andrews emphasized the difficulties of being subjected to state regulation for communities on the border of Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin. He said teachers in New Buffalo, a border-town in his district, will work in New Buffalo schools but live in Indiana because the cost of living in New Buffalo is too high for their wages.
“Clearly, restricting and tying the hands of our communities and limiting the ability of our workers to negotiate has not been a net positive,” Andrews said.
Warren City Councilmember Angela Rogensues testified in favor of the repeal, maintaining that local city officials are better suited to adjust labor regulation and can respond to their constituents concerns over housing costs and other local issues more effectively.
Rep. Tom Kunse (R-Clare) asked Rogensues if the city decided to become a “Mecca and pay unsustainable wages,” and then go bankrupt, would taxpayers cover the bailout?
Rogensues said that she was not going to answer hypotheticals and, after prompting from Rep. Dylan Wegela (D-Garden City), said she would not make decisions to bankrupt the city. She said if she, or the city council, started to make decisions that financially endangered the city, her constituents would unseat the people in charge.
Kalamazoo County Commissioner John Taylor argued that the repeal would cede back local control. Kunse asked Taylor if the county commission would want to set a minimum wage for Kalamazoo County if given the ability.
Taylor said he would entertain discussions for county projects, but he said he wouldn’t set a blanket minimum wage for the entire county. He said that would be the same as what the 2015 law is doing now.
The meeting became heated when Kunse asked Berrien County Commissioner Chokwe Pitchford a hypothetical question about allowing localities to raise their minimum wage to $100 an hour. Pitchford asked why a local government would make such a wage and said the hypothetical makes it seem like his community is not competent.
“Any municipality – now we’re on dangerous hypothetical ground again – any municipality can pay their employees any wage they want, under the current law,” Kunse said.
Pitchford said he was not sure where the question was going.
“It’s a simple yes or no, can they pay what they want,” Kunse said.
“What your premise is, is that a municipality is going to go and try to pay $75 an hour to their employees, go into these project labor agreements and try to pay $200 an hour and push businesses out – no one is going to do that,” Pitchford responded to Kunse. “By devaluing local government to make us seem like we’re running around like chickens with our heads cut off–not understanding our communities and the work we want to do– you are devaluing even the people that you represent because you’re saying they’re not going to be able to make good decisions unless you have some part of it. And that’s not true.”
Rep. Mike Mueller (R-Linden) had similar comments to Kunse, saying that a local government could mismanage its finances and then the state would be responsible.
Testifying against HB 4237 was Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs Directors Marcus Keech and the Michigan Retailers Association’s Government Affairs Vice President Amy Drumm.
Keech said if the labor ordinance ban was lifted, it would create confusion for businesses in the state as they try to navigate “an often arbitrary line” between municipalities. He said that Michigan’s 1,800 localities could develop their own regulatory policy, which would lead to businesses not having confidence in the state and hurt economic growth.
Drumm said the members of Michigan Retailers understood how difficult it was to comply with varying regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic when counties had differing rules surrounding health screening and mask mandates.
“That uncertainty and confusion is not the kind of environment we want to see replicated post-pandemic,” Drumm said. “It is often the details and the different requirements, definitions and record keeping that quickly become complex to administer and can be contrary even between neighboring communities.”
The National Federation of Independent Business, The Small Business Association of Michigan and the Michigan Manufacturers Association were also among the groups opposing the bill that did not have time to testify during Thursday’s hearing.
PROJECT LABOR AGREEMENTS: The panel also took up a bill that would repeal a 2011 labor policy that prohibits state and local governments from requiring a bidder or contractor to be in an agreement with organized labor to bid on a construction contract.
Rep. Jenn Hill (D-Marquette) introduced HB 4231, which would roll back 2011 PA 98. The act was signed by Snyder and took aim at Project Labor Agreements, or PLAs, when a government is looking to hire contractors for building. The possible repeal rallied business groups and contracting associations against it, although only Hill testified before the committee Thursday.
“PLAs increase economic mobility, not only by ensuring fair wages according to local standards but also by requiring employee training,” she said. “PLAs discourage unscrupulous contractors from betraying public trust through inflated profits, lowball bids, cutting corners or abusive employment practices.”
In a memorandum to lawmakers, business and contracting groups, led by the Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan, the coalition said current law prevents construction workers, apprentices and businesses from being denied based on their labor status and called PLAs “discriminatory.”
Whitmer, Anthony Confident Budget Will Receive GOP Backing
By Nick Smith
The Governor and chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee told reporters Thursday they are confident the budget will be passed this month with the necessary Republican support for immediate effect, with the latter saying to expect GOP priorities to be seen within the final product.
Sen. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) said Democratic leadership has been working well together on ironing out differences in the budget while seeking to develop a final product that Republicans will support.
The senator was asked about Republicans stating that some of their minority vice chairs have been left out the process at times at not apprised of their respective budgets’ contents.
“I cannot speak for any Republican and their feelings, but I will say that we’ve worked really hard to over-communicate, and at the end of the day we want to make sure it’s a bipartisan budget,” Anthony said. “You’ll see many of their concepts and ideas reach the final product, but … the people did decide that they wanted to take our state into a different direction, and I think our budgets will reflect the will of the people.”
Her comments and those of the governor on the budget to reporters came following the signing of legislation banning hair discrimination in the state (see separate story).
Senate Republicans have repeatedly voiced concerns that some subcommittee chairs have not kept their GOP minority vice chairs in the loop on budget matters, first when the initial budget bills came before subcommittees and now with a target agreement having been reached by Democratic leadership.
As to Republican concerns over not yet receiving information on the budget target agreement reached by Democrats, she said there is still plenty of time for members to receive information on the technical details of the budget.
The Senate GOP has also repeatedly listed items related to education, infrastructure, and fully funding the State Park Endowment Fund as areas where both parties could find agreement in a final budget product. Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Township) has repeatedly pushed these in recent days and called for bipartisan negotiations (See Gongwer Michigan Report, June 14, 2023).
In the final weeks of budget negotiations, the question remains as to whether Senate Republicans might deny immediate effect on the budget. If this move were to be taken it could prompt the Democratic-controlled Legislature to adjourn sine die for the year to provide immediate effect in time for the October 1 start of the new fiscal year.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer, when asked how she would respond if Republican legislative leadership were to withhold immediate effect on the budget, she said historically both sides always negotiate.
“I am confident that leader Brinks and leader Nesbitt are having those conversations,” Whitmer said.
She said her office has prepared for all possibilities related to the budget, adding her hope would be that both sides can come to an agreement and not display the dysfunction that she said many people see as plaguing Congress.
On the question of what Democrats might be willing to negotiate with Republicans on to get their buy-in on the final product, she said: “we’ve negotiated on a number of fronts that I think are aimed at building robust bipartisan support.”
She acknowledged there have been lists of priorities submitted by Nesbitt and House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Township), and her understanding is that conversations involving their priorities are ongoing.
“At the end of the day, a bipartisan budget with immediate effect is in every one of our best interests, and certainly, most importantly, it’s in the interest of the state of Michigan and all the great people who depend on the Legislature to do their job and to get it done,” Whitmer said.
Anthony was asked about whether she was concerned about not getting votes from Republicans on immediate effect, to which she said she was not.
“It’s all a part of the process … we are working closely with our Republican colleagues, and, honestly, the budget is about give and take,” Anthony said.
Anthony said under the new Democratic majority there is a desire to get the budget right and ensure the final product reflects the values members ran on last year, but she was confident they will land in a good spot.
There is a nonbinding July 1 deadline in statute lawmakers enacted a few years ago, with the state’s fiscal year beginning October 1.
Conference committee meetings had not yet been posted as of Thursday evening.
Some Crossover On Prop 2 Bills In Senate; House Passes Party Line
By Elena Durnbaugh and Nick Smith
Nearly identical packages enacting provisions of the voting rights constitutional amendment adopted last year passed the Legislature on Wednesday with some Republican support in the Senate and party line in the House.
A lead sponsor of the package praised the bipartisan work that went into crafting the eight bills it, saying residents will have greater access to choosing their leaders when the law changes are implemented. Five of the eight passed the Senate with 10 Republicans supporting.
Some Republicans in both chambers voiced opposition, arguing the changes are unconstitutional while one senator outlined several concerns while stating the implementation bills go too far and would weaken voter integrity rather than the other way around.
Proposal 22-2 created a nine-day window for early in-person voting, allows voters to show an ID or a signed affidavit to verify their identity, requires pre-paid postage for absentee voter ballots and additional days for absentee ballots overseas to have their ballots returned.
Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) said the legislation would help county and municipal clerks implement key provisions including the nine days of early voting.
“This package is part of a methodical and deliberative process to implement last year’s voter-passed Proposal 2,” Moss said. “I’m especially proud of our work on early voting that provides Michigan with an additional way to access their ballots.”
Moss also thanked stakeholders who helped in crafting the package.
“Increasing early access to the ballot through in-person voting, required drop boxes, easier absentee signup, and more in Proposal 2, will uplift voting rights in Michigan by giving citizens more options to have a say in their governance,” Moss said. “It will also result in the reporting of accurate election results much quicker and instill confidence that our system is efficient and effective.”
Among the bills that cleared the Senate include those setting up the nine days of early voting (SB 367), making it a felony to disclose election results prior to election day (SB 368) and allowing voters to fill out a single application to be provided absentee ballots in all future elections (SB 369).
Further changes include the state covering the cost of pre-paid return postage for absentee voter applications and ballots (SB 370), outlining penalties for forged absentee ballot signatures (SB 371), having at least one absentee ballot drop box available for every 15,000 registered voters (SB 372), outlining voter identification provisions (SB 373) and raising precinct sizes from a cap of 2,999 to 5,000 per precinct (SB 374).
In the House, seven of the eight bills (HB 4695, HB 4696, HB 4697, HB 4698, HB 4699, HB 4700 and HB 4701) passed along party lines in a 56-53 vote. HB 4702, which provides for larger voting precincts, passed 62-47.
Republicans were critical of the legislation, with many saying it was written and passed in a partisan manner. Rep. Jay DeBoyer (R-Clay) and Rep. Rachelle Smit (R-Shelbyville), who both serve on the House Elections Committee and formerly served as clerks, were especially critical of the process, as was Rep. Ann Bollin (R-Brighton), another former clerk.
“We have been working with the group Promote the Vote … as well as the secretary of state’s office and the municipal and county clerks association,” she said. “The municipal and county clerks association is a very bipartisan group representing many Republican clerks around the state, and we have incorporated everything that they have brought to us… so I do consider these very bipartisan since they were fairly and fully represented.”
Bollin said that she’s talked to clerks across the state who disagree.
“I would say The Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks were a few select clerks representing clerks, but I have had conversations with local clerks and county clerks across the state as recently as yesterday. They say they were not given an opportunity for input,” she said. “What they were given, very late in the game, was an opportunity to react.”
Tsernoglou did say that there wasn’t much time to work on the bills between committee and bringing them to the floor because clerks wanted the legislation to be passed quickly so that they can begin implementing it in the fall.
“Clerks wanted this to happen before the break so that they could begin implementing it in the fall and pilot all of these new changes, which will be a heavy lift for all of our local clerks,” she said. “We did receive a number of possible amendments, and I did personally go through all of them, as did all or our stakeholders that were part of that group, and unfortunately we could only feel comfortable accepting a couple of them.”
SENATE ACTION: Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Groveland Township) spoke in opposition to SB 367, SB 370 and SB 373.
“I feel the legislation before this body today goes far beyond what’s required by Proposal 2 and on many fronts, it weakens the integrity of Michigan’s elections,” Johnson said.
Johnson said a major concern was that the secretary of state would have “unprecedented power” to set procedures for early voting without going through the formal rulemaking process.
Other concerns she raised included what she said was a lack ability for the public to weigh in administrative rules, a lack of signature matching requirements for absentee ballots and with voter ID.
Sen. Jonathan Lindsey (R-Coldwater) spoke in opposition to the entire package, saying his reason for voting no was simple.
“Portions of our Michigan Constitution that were added by Proposal 2 of 2022 as well as some other provisions violate the United States Constitution,” Lindsey said.
Johnson offered an amendment to SB 372 that would require all absentee ballot drop boxes to have security cameras installed to monitor the boxes. It was adopted by voice vote.
Four of the bills (SB 368, SB 369, SB 371 and SB 372) passed 30-8 with 10 Republicans joining the Democrats. The bill with the most bipartisan support was SB 374, which passed 32-6.
A single Republican, Huizenga, sided with Democrats in the 21-17 vote on SB 370.
Moss told reporters the bill package is the result of using truth and data to craft election policy, contrasting the package with what he referred to as chaos in the wake of the 2020 presidential election.
“I’m very, very proud to have led this package and see the end result be stripped of partisanship, to allow Michigan voters more options to cast their ballot here,” Moss said.
When asked if the bills are unconstitutional as Lindsey had stated, Moss said: “absolutely not; they’re in our Constitution.”
Johnson minced no words when asked about the constitutionality of the bills passed Wednesday in remarks to reporters.
“They certainly are un-American, a lot of them,” Johnson said.
When asked to clarify, Johnson repeated her concerns about the administrative rules process, calling Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson “the most partisan secretary of state in the history of Michigan,” an attack that has been levied by Republicans in the past.
She also spoke about what she said was a lack of a photo identification requirement in the new law while referencing a Detroit Regional Chamber poll showing about 80 percent of residents supporting voter ID. The poll was often referenced by opponents of Proposal 2 during last year’s election cycle. The amendment passed by voters in November keeps the status quo when it comes to voting without ID. Voters will be required to sign an affidavit, as they were required to do before Proposal 2.
As to the strong Republican support for several of the bills, Moss said it was due to holding a hearing on the legislation “grounded in truth” in which the Senate Elections and Ethics Committee that he chairs went through the bills at length.
“It was very hard to oppose this package today, and some folks really strained to find reasons to oppose some of the measures,” Moss said.
HOUSE ACTION: Tsernoglou said many of the amendments offered by her Republican colleagues would make the voting process more complicated for clerks and electors.
“We did consider the input, and I hope that going forward, we will have more opportunities to work together,” she said. “I think we just have different philosophies on what we wanted to do.”
Republicans were also critical of the legislation, saying that it went beyond what was required by the constitutional amendment.
Tsernoglou said she didn’t see that as a criticism.
“I am more than happy to say that we have gone above and beyond to increase voting access and enact the will of the people,” she said.
The cost of implementing Proposal 2 is expected to be high, Tsernoglou said, but the exact cost hasn’t been nailed down.
That’s a concern, Bollin said.
“The voters voted on this. This is our obligation, also, because it’s very time sensitive, but it places great financial burden on the state,” she said. “These clerks are concerned about how it will be funded.”
Floor amendments were made to HB 4697 and HB 4699. HB 4697 is sponsored by Rep. Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth) and outlines the requirements for absent voter ballot drop boxes. HB 4699 is sponsored by Rep. Erin Byrnes (D-Dearborn) and outlines provisions for permanent mail ballot voters.
Rep. Denise Mentzer offered the amendment to HB 4697 which would require video surveillance for absent voter ballot drop boxes. Currently, video surveillance is required for drop boxes, and the legislation made it optional. The amendment restored those requirements.
Republicans criticized the legislation during committee because that requirement was removed, but Tsernoglou said that the amendment wasn’t offered because of GOP concerns.
“It was what our partners wanted. The secretary of state said that was important, and so we also felt that it was important to make sure that we included it,” she said.
Tsernoglou offered the amendments to HB 4699. The first amendment added language regarding the process for rescinding absent voter ballot applications for permanent mail ballot voters and the second amendment was a technical change.
The House didn’t take up two of the bills reported by the House Elections Committee on Tuesday, HB 4569, which would allow 16-year-olds to pre-register to vote, and HB 4594, which would create an absent voter ballot and application tracking system.
Tsernoglou, who chairs the Elections Committee, said that HB 4569 was being rescheduled as it wasn’t part of the Proposal 2 package.
“It was originally a part of the voting access package, so I’m hoping that we’ll bring that package back together at another time when we can focus more on that,” she said.
Tsernoglou also said due to timing, the House planned to vote on the Senate’s version of the absent voter ballot and application tracking system instead.
Anthony At Bill Signing: CROWN Act ‘The Floor’ In Equality Push
By Nick Smith
The sponsor of a bill signed into law Thursday that bans discrimination based on a person’s display of their natural hair said it is a first step in addressing issues facing Black people and other people of color in Michigan.
Sen. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing), sponsor of SB 90, now Public Act 45 of 2023, told an exuberant crowd gathered inside Moneyball Sports in Lansing that much more work needs to be done to improve equality in the state.
“The CROWN Act has always been the floor, but the ceiling is all the other places that we want to create space and ensure that Black Americans, that all Michiganders have a seat at the table,” Anthony said. “We are not going to stop.”
Shortly after the senator’s words and with a stroke of Governor Gretchen Whitmer‘s pen, Michigan joined 21 other states in banning discrimination based on a person’s display of their natural hair.
The new public act creates the Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act, or CROWN Act. It also ties the definition of race in the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include traits historically associated with race, including hair.
Twenty-one other states have passed the CROWN Act.
Supporters of the CROWN Act during its journey through the Legislature spoke of people being passed over for jobs or promotions based on their hairstyle. There were also examples cited of students being sent home or disciplined in school for the same reason.
Those who spoke Thursday told similar, personal stories, including Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II, who said hair discrimination is embedded into the experiences of Black people.
He spoke of when he was eight years old and his family moved from the east side of Detroit to a northwest suburb and went from a second grade class of nearly all Black students to an elementary school where he was the only Black student. Gilchrist said it was a quick learning experience.
The lieutenant governor spoke talked his first experience of having a white adult come up to him without his permission and “rub my arms to see if something came off” and put hands through his hair to see what it felt like.
“This unfortunately is almost universal to the Black experience,” Gilchrist said.
Gilchrist called it great to have leaders like Anthony pushing on such issues as the CROWN Act as well as parents and Black women who have led the fight to pass such legislation.
He called the signing of the bill into law as being one step to help make Michigan “be a place where there is a little bit less discrimination, a little bit less hatred, a little bit less racism and a lot more justice.”
Whitmer thanked lawmakers for their work to make Thursday’s bill signing possible.
“In Michigan we are showing the world that we are taking action to make sure that this state is a more equitable and inclusive place,” Whitmer said.
The governor urged people to come to Michigan who may feel they are being discriminated against in other states based on policies being enacted where they currently live.
Anthony said her first attempt at introducing the legislation was met with a dismissive response, but she continued the fight. The bill signing Thursday was the culmination of work by those seeking to address an issue specific to Black people, she said.
Anthony said other items that need to be addressed for Black people and other people of color including improving educational attainment, closing the wealth gap between white people and people of color and eliminating health disparities for people of color.
“This is just the beginning, y’all,” Anthony said.
MI Jobless Rate Inches Down In May
By Alyssa McMurtry
The jobless rate went down a tenth of a percentage point to 3.7 percent in May with the Department of Technology, Management and Budget estimating the statewide labor force increased by 26,000 during the month.
In a release, DTMB said the state’s labor level force was the largest since July 2020, with approximately 4.89 million residents employed. Total employment rose by 0.7 percent in May, and the state labor force participation rate also saw a rise, increasing by three-tenths of a percentage point to 60.5 percent.
“Michigan’s declining unemployment rate has signaled a strong job market so far in 2023,” Wayne Rourke, labor market information director for the Michigan Center for Data and Analytics, said in a statement. “Payroll employment has risen for the seventh consecutive month as businesses continue hiring workers.”
Compared to April, the employment rate improved by 0.5 percent in the Detroit metropolitan area. The Detroit metropolitan area also demonstrated a labor force gain of 7,000 jobs.
Across the state, seasonally adjusted nonfarm jobs rose by 15,000, or 0.3 percent. The leisure and hospitality sector saw the largest employment growth, with employment increasing by 6,000, or 1.3 percent. This same sector has also experienced the largest over-the-year employment increase, up 4.3 percent.
DTMB noted that payroll jobs remained 10,000 lower in May 2023 than the pre-pandemic level recorded in February 2020.
Retail trade saw the next largest increase, up 0.6 percent from April, and the information sector saw an increase of 0.5 percent and the construction sector and professional and business services sector both saw an increase of 0.4 percent.
In a statement, Governor Gretchen Whitmer said the state’s “strong economic momentum” is continuing, pointing out the declining unemployment rate.
“Our unemployment dropped to 3.7 percent, remaining below 4 percent for only the third period in nearly 50 years,” Governor Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement. “With our strong labor market, working people can keep finding good-paying jobs, companies can grow in Michigan, and families have more money in their pockets for the kitchen-table essentials.”
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