Lawmakers arrived in Lansing this week for Michigan’s 100th legislative session following a turbulent lame duck session.
Protestors crowded the steps and rotunda of the Statehouse for several days of the lame duck session and national media attention. It was the busiest in Michigan’s history with lawmakers passing nearly four hundred bills in a three week period.
But, despite the flurry of activity this session didn’t prove as controversial as past sessions when things were all said and done.
Bill Ballenger is a former Republican representative and Senator and a longtime observer of the legislature. He said, there’s only one lame duck session that last year can really be compared to.
“I would say 2012 is the most significant lame duck year we’ve had. This year rivals 2012, some might say it eclipses.”
Some of the most controversial bills that critics alleged would strip power from Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel, died in the legislature or were vetoed by former Governor Rick Snyder.
In the second week of the session, the Protect Our Families rally drew hundreds of protestors from all over the state.
Kathy Murphy is a retired schoolteacher from Kalamazoo. She said December’s lame duck felt like lawmakers were taking away her vote.
“The way that they’ve taken on this whole feeling that is at the national level too, that they can do whatever they want and it doesn’t matter. Either they’re leaving office, and they’ll get a job with one of their lobbyist firms or whatever... And they don’t care what we think, it’s pretty obvious.”
The biggest controversies coming out of this lame duck session were over bills that amended changes to minimum wage and paid sick leave that had already been adopted by the legislature.
And, another bill that green lighted the building of a tunnel for an oil pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac that Governor Snyder had championed but Governor Gretchen Whitmer ran against.
Former legislative staffer and political consultant Adrian Hemond worked at the capitol through several Lame Duck sessions. He says December’s protests don’t hold a candle to 2012.
“I don’t think those can be fairly compared to the Right to work protests, there were a lot more people there for the right to work protests.”
In 2012 thousands of people came out to protest the legislative session, compared to the hundreds of people that protested at the Capitol in December.
Many of the protestors at the Capitol in December criticized Lame Duck sessions as a way to jam legislation through quickly without much time for public comment, legislative review, or oversight.
They point to Right to Work and the Emergency Manager Law, both pieces of legislation passed following the 2012 session, as examples.
Governor Whitmer was state Senate Minority Leader back in 2012 when she opposed that legislation. She spoke out against the laws being passed in a lame duck session.
“They began this two year session attacking Michigan workers and their families with their emergency manager legislation and now for one of their final pieces of business in the legislative calendar, they want to pass Right to work legislation.”
Right to Work and the Emergency Manager Law were passed by then Governor Snyder.
Both Ballenger and Hemond agree, those are the two pieces of lame duck legislation that have had the most impact on the State of Michigan.
But now the tide has turned in Michigan politics. Governor Whitmer was inaugurated on the first of the year, and while there’s a Republican majority in the statehouse, all of Michigan’s top statewide executive offices are held by Democrats.
Hemond doesn’t think the bitterness of December’s contentious Lame Duck session will carry over into the new one hundredth session for lawmakers or protestors.
“They’ll be some residual bad feeling. But frankly, the environment in Michigan and in the country right now, is so absolutely bitterly partisan that I don’t know that most folks who don’t watch their legislature regularly are really going to notice any difference from the outside looking in.”
This year nearly a third of the one hundred forty eight state legislators are new. And, many of the lawmakers who proposed some of the most controversial bills were term-limited.
One of this session’s first bills was backed by Republican House Speaker Lee Chatfield and Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel. For now in Michigan it’s a new year, new state legislature.
Follow Abigail Censky on Twitter: @AbigailCensky