Nessel asked to review how wage, sick day laws were gutted

Posted at 6:39 PM, Feb 13, 2019

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel was asked Wednesday to review the constitutionality of Michigan Republicans’ unprecedented maneuver to significantly scale back minimum wage increases and paid sick leave requirements, which are due to take effect in six weeks.

To prevent the measures from going to the electorate in November, after which they would have been much harder to change if voters had passed them, GOP legislators preemptively approved them in September so they could be pared back after the election with simple majority votes and the signature of then-Gov. Rick Snyder .

Former Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, endorsed the legality of the contentious strategy in December. But his opinion differed from one issued in 1964 by former Attorney General Frank Kelley, a Democrat.

In asking for a new opinion, Democratic Sen. Stephanie Chang of Detroit said the “plain language” of the state constitution limits the Legislature’s ability to change a legislatively enacted initiated law in the same session. She cited wording that says lawmakers can enact a proposal, reject it — putting it to a statewide vote — or propose an alternative to appear alongside the measure on the ballot.

“Nearly 400,000 people signed each of these petitions,” she said after the Senate session Wednesday. “There’s clearly a lot of public support behind the original public acts that the Legislature passed in September. … I have a lot of concerns about what happened.”

If Nessel issues an opinion, it would bind state agencies that will enforce the new laws, unless her opinion was reversed by a court.

“Something’s going to take effect next month,” Chang said. “Obviously our state government needs to be able to know what to do.”

Her request was applauded by the groups that organized the ballot drives. The laws are the third and fourth that were enacted by the postelection lame-duck Legislature and Snyder, and are now under review by Nessel , who pledged to carefully evaluate Chang’s request.

One gradually increases the state’s $9.25 minimum wage to $12.05 an hour by 2030 — maybe later in the case of a recession — instead of $12 by 2022 as was initially enacted.

The other new law exempts employers with fewer than 50 employees from having to provide paid sick days, a change that is estimated to leave up to 1 million employees without the benefit. It also limits the amount of annual mandatory leave at larger employers to 40 hours, instead of 72 hours as proposed by the initiative.

Business groups have praised the GOP-led Legislature’s moves, saying Michigan would have been an outlier in the Midwest and its economic competitiveness would have been jeopardized without the revisions.

“We did our due diligence with several attorneys on this issue in 2018 and feel exceedingly confident that the Legislature was operating within its constitutional rights when it enacted Public Act 368,” said Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association, which pushed for the minimum wage changes.