Last night, I posted something about a procedural trick being employed by Michigan Republicans in Lansing in order to speed their legislation into effect, bypassing traditional waiting periods, in apparent violation of state law. As luck would have it, this morning, Jeff Irwin, one of the Democrats in the Michigan House who is leading the fight against this abuse of power, visited the site, and left the following comment. As we don’t often get visited by State Representatives, I thought that I should move it up here, to the front page.
Mark, thanks for bringing up this important issue. As one of the plaintiffs in the suit against the Speaker, I am obviously very frustrated with the willful disregard my Republican colleagues have for our Constitution and the important limits that our Constitution put on the legislature. I know they have the votes to pass terrible legislation. I also know that they don’t have the 2/3rds majority required by the Constitution for passing terrible laws that go into effect immediately.
The Constitution seems pretty clear and the Republican’s argument is extremely weak. Here’s a summary and I would encourage you to look at the actual language:
– The Michigan Constitution, Article 4, S 18 says that the yeas and nays shall be recorded in the official record at the request of one-fifth of the members. We’ve requested roll call votes several times in writing and on the floor. Exhausting those reasonable means took some time and a lawsuit was our last resort.
– Article 4, S 16 says that each chamber can set it’s own rules except as otherwise provided in the Constitution.
Our argument is that Michigan House Republicans have ignored our requests for an accounting of the votes under the terms provided by the state’s Constitution. Their argument is that the House can set it’s own rules and that one of our rules is that the Speaker has to call on you in order to make a proper motion. Since they have never called on us at the proper time and since they are never obligated to call on us whatsoever, there has been and could be no Constitutional violations. In effect, they’re arguing that House rules can be used to subvert or nullify Constitutional provisions.
To me, it could not be more clear that this is unjust. The people of our state voted for a Constitution that put certain limits on the power of the legislature. One of those important limitations is the 2/3rd super-majority required for immediate changes to the law. This sort of limitation on the power of the state is a core principle of American government that transcends partisanship. My hope is that the courts will recognize the fundamentals of the argument rather than the partisanship of the combatants.
Irwin later returned to answer a question about whether or not Democrats, when they had been in power, had also claimed falsely to have a super-majority in order to hasten the implementation of legislation they favored. Here’s his response.
Has this been done before? Yes. Violating the clear terms of the Constitution has become commonplace in the Michigan House of Representatives. The big difference now is that since the Senate follows the Constitution, there was always one chamber where immediate effect votes would be counted and extremely divisive bills would not earn immediate effect in the Senate.
Today, Michigan Republicans have a 2/3rds majority in the Senate as well as a simple majority in the House. Therefore, House procedure has a real impact on important issues and these procedural shenanigans have been used to cut children off of welfare and gay families off of health benefits, all with no meaningful time to plan a transition (for example).
Another difference that is important to me is that I’m new to the Michigan House and I’ve always thought this practice of declaring votes successful without any actual voting is bogus.
For those looking for more background… Irwin’s brief, explaining the case against House Republicans, which was co-authored by State Representatives Richard Hammel, Kate Segal, Mark Meadows, Woodrow Stanley, and Steven Lindberg, can be found here. And, the subsequent temporary injunction against Republicans, which was issued on April 2 by the Honorable Clinton Canady III, can be found here.