Politics & Government
2:25 pm
Fri December 7, 2012

5 things about Michigan's fast-moving 'right-to-work' bills

Yesterday, lawmakers in Michigan did something unusual.

They moved fast.

In one day, three brand new 'right-to-work' bills saw the light of day, and were passed by both the Republican-controlled State House and Senate.

It was a process that would've made this guy's head spin:

Briefly, here's what happened yesterday:

11:00 a.m. - Gov. Snyder and Republican leaders unveil their intentions to enact a right- to-work law at a press conference.

~12:00 p.m. - Leaders use "vehicle bills" to put the new legislation into the full House and Senate. These were bills previously introduced into the full chambers and their language was substituted with the new right-to-work bills.

~4:45 p.m. - Despite loud protests and a brief walk out by Democrats, the Michigan House passes HB 4054.

~7:45 p.m. - Amid more protests, the Michigan Senate passes SB 116. Democrats walk out and are not present for the Senate's passage of the third right-to-work bill, HB 4003.

1. What's next? Hurry up and wait

Now that the three bills have passed each chamber, they must be taken up and passed in the opposite chamber in order to be passed by the Legislature.

By the "Five-Day Rule" of the Michigan Constitution:

No bill can become law at any regular session of the Legislature until it has been printed and reproduced and in the possession of each house for at least five days.

So the Michigan House and Senate are expected to take up the right-to-work legislation again next Tuesday, December 11.

That's five days after yesterday's passage.

2. But wait, there is a hitch in the House

MPRN's Rick Pluta tells me the Democrats in the House made a motion to reconsider that chamber's right-to-work bill (HB 4054).

The motion must be dealt with prior to it moving over to the Senate for a vote.

Pluta says after they deal with that motion, it could then go to the Senate, but it would be another five days before they could vote on it.

So that could push things to, at the earliest, next Saturday, December 15 (they would have to call a special session for a vote).

3. A way around the hitch

These three bills are like pieces to a full 'right-to-work' puzzle. All are needed to pass the law.

However, since the Senate passed two bills, SB 116 and HB 4003, the House could take up both these bills next Tuesday and make an amendment to add the language from the slower moving bill (HB 4054).

If that's done, the Legislature could pass the full right-to-work legislation next Tuesday.

Once the clerks proofread the bills, and deliver them to Gov. Snyder, he has 14 days to put his stamp of approval on them.

4. How long will it take for the effects of right-to-work law to be felt?

The law goes into effect 90 days after the governor signs it. There's little reason for Republican legislators to try to make the law go into "immediate effect."

That's because Michigan's new right-to-work law could not get rid of existing contracts.

So if an employer is operating a 'union shop' (meaning all employees must support the union financially), then that stipulation will remain in effect until the contract expires.

Many auto workers are operating under contracts that expire in in the fall of 2015, so this right-to-work law would have no effect on those workers until the contract expiration.

5. Not possible for voters to repeal this law through referendum

Voters struck down Michigan's emergency manager law (PA 4) last November.

But this right-to-work law could not be struck down in a similar fashion.

That's because there are appropriations attached to the legislation.

When money is attached to a bill, voters can't get rid of it by rule of the State Constitution:

The power of referendum does not extend to acts making appropriations for state institutions...

Michigan Radio's Zoe Clark wrote about how legislators have used this rule to make controversial bills stick.

In her post How state lawmakers are making sure you can't repeal their laws, Clark points out that the rule is being used more frequently.

Interesting enough, the bills that lawmakers have attached appropriations to so far this year have all been pretty controversial bills. It’s a cunning way to make sure that unpopular laws cannot be repealed by unhappy voters. Understand, though, this is not the first time that lawmakers, in both parties, have used this political maneuver. What’s newsworthy, now, however, is the fact that it’s being used with such frequency.

However, Rick Pluta points out that it is possible for voters to pass a voter initiated law that would supersede a right-to-work law.

So, the bottom line.

  • Right-to-work is likely to pass next Tuesday, Dec. 11 (though it could be delayed)
  • It won't affect workers in a 'union shop' until their current contract expires
  • Voters will not be able to repeal the law through a referendum

*Correction - An earlier version of this story referenced a 'closed shop' where 'union shop' was meant. A 'closed shop' was outlawed in 1947 by the Taft-Hartley Act.

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