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One representative's plan to overhaul legislature, end partisanship

Aug 10, 2015

The Next Idea

As public frustration with government mounts in response to the road funding impasse, some members of the state legislature are now joining in on the calls for reform. 

State Rep. Martin Howrylak, R-Troy, has a plan to dramatically overhaul the structure of the state legislature, and he's received support from both Republicans and Democrats.  The idea:  A state constitutional amendment that would combine the House and Senate into one body of 110 members chosen in nonpartisan elections.

State Rep. Howrylak says the proposal's intention is to remove partisan barriers to good ideas.
Credit User CedarBendDrive/Flickr

The proposal known as House Joint Resolution Y seeks to address multiple aspects of the state legislature that Howrylak considers harmful, such as the power of chamber leaders to restrict bills and the impact of term limits on partisanship.

If this all seems drastic, the representative is quick to point out that his proposal is not unprecedented. It is certainly rare though, as Nebraska is currently the only state operating with a non-partisan, unicameral legislature.

“The principle of it, and I think the beauty of it, is the non-partisan element of it,” Howrylak tells Cynthia Canty on Stateside. “We have a long history in Michigan of bipartisanship -- people wanting to make sure that Michigan moves forward and we make good policy decisions. And I do think that's kind of eroded over the last 20 years with term limits. So what I'm saying is that if you want to have term limits, you really need to have the parties out of it.”

I think there's a willingness to have the conversation, to at least self-evaluate: Are we doing the best we can for the state of Michigan?

The proposal would also address how bills get taken up by the legislature, with Howrylak noting that, as it is now in both the House and Senate, “there is absolute control of bill flow from the leader of that chamber.” In Howrylak’s proposed nonpartisan legislature, a Speaker would be selected by consensus and the body would have more power in taking up a bill that may not be supported by the leadership.

“Right now, and actually always, we've had a situation where the Speaker of the House or the Senate Majority Leader, if they don't want a bill to move forward, it doesn't in that chamber. And I don’t think the general public in Michigan is aware of that,” Howrylak says.

This message has resonated on both sides of the aisle -- Resolution Y received more co-sponsors and signatures than Howrylak expected. Even if the system doesn’t change, he thinks the proposal has already inspired important conversations and self-examination within the legislature.

“On an individual level, I really truly believe that the members in both the house and senate are trying to do the best they can,” says Howrylak. “And so I think deep down inside everybody wants to have a system that works as best it can for the state of Michigan.”

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