Gov. Rick Snyder on Friday signed laws to significantly scale back citizen-initiated measures to raise Michigan's minimum wage and require paid sick leave for workers, finalizing an unprecedented Republican-backed legislative maneuver that opponents blasted as shameful.
To prevent minimum wage and earned sick time initiatives from going to voters last month, GOP lawmakers approved them in September so they could be more easily altered after the election with simple majority votes rather than the three-fourths support that would have been needed if voters had passed the proposals.
The tactic — never done until now — was pushed by the business community as necessary to avoid jeopardizing the economy. But it was criticized as an unconstitutional attack on voters' will at a time Republicans in Michigan are trying to dilute the powers of incoming elected Democrats.
In another Midwest state, GOP Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Friday signed a sweeping package of legislation that restricts early voting and weakens the Democratic governor and attorney general.
Michigan's Snyder signed the bills in private and issued a statement calling them a "good balance" between what the ballot drives proposed and what legislators drafted initially as replacements.
"They address a number of difficulties for job providers while still ensuring paid medical leave benefits and increased minimum-wage incomes for many Michiganders," he said, saying he did not want to put at risk the state's economic turnaround.
But state Rep. Christine Greig of Farmington Hills, who will lead House Democrats in the next two-year term, blasted his action.
"With a flick of his lame-duck pen, Gov. Snyder chose to rob the people of Michigan of the strong paycheck and good benefits they deserve," she said in a statement. "It is shameful that this governor, who is just counting down the days to the end of his tenure, would use this opportunity to hurt the people of Michigan one last time."
One law slows down a boost in Michigan's $9.25 minimum wage, so it will gradually rise to $12.05 by 2030 instead of $12 by 2022 as mandated by the citizen-proposed measure. It repeals an existing provision that ties future increases to inflation, and it reverses a provision that would have brought a lower wage for tipped employees in line with the wage for other workers.
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.
The group that led the minimum wage ballot drive promised to sue. And paid sick time advocates recently took steps toward a 2020 ballot drive to fully reinstate the law that made Michigan the 11th state to require employers to provide paid time off to workers who are sick or who have ill family members.
Snyder said the laws he signed offer the majority of workers up to a week off without pay and keep Michigan's minimum in the top third of states nationally. The initial measures, without changes, "would have taken an economic wrecking ball to Michigan's overall competitiveness," said Michigan Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rich Studley.
But MI Time to Care, the coalition that pushed the medical leave initiative with financial backing from a liberal nonprofit, said Snyder and legislators "simply ripped paid sick time away from people who need it most." The minimum wage ballot committee One Fair Wage — which was funded primarily by a group that works to improve conditions in the restaurant industry — said it "is a truly sad day for anyone who believes in the constitution, the rule of law and the democratic process."
Republicans will not be able to use a similar "adopt-and-amend" strategy in 2020 because Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, a supporter of paid sick days and a higher minimum wage, will be governor.
It is uncertain if other GOP-backed legislation — to strip or dilute the authority of incoming elected Democrats and make it harder to organize ballot drives — will reach Snyder's desk or if the governor, who is more politically moderate than Walker, would sign any of those measures. They have passed either the House or Senate, with one week remaining in the session.
One bill would strip Democratic Secretary of State-elect Jocelyn Benson of her campaign-finance oversight power and shift it to a new commission. Others would let the GOP-led Legislature intervene in lawsuits in case it disagrees with the legal views or strategy of Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General-elect Dana Nessel.
Democrats on Jan. 1 will jointly hold all three offices for the first time in 28 years.
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