Tuesday, November 22, 2016

End Lame Duck in Michigan

An awful lot of people are confused as to just what is meant by a lame duck Congress. It’s like where some fellows worked for you and their work wasn’t satisfactory and you let’em out, but after you fired ‘em, you let ‘em stay long enough so they could burn your house down. ~ Will Rogers, Dec. 8, 1932
It's clear when you read the many quotes from Will Rogers that he had little respect for politics. But substitute "Michigan House and Senate" for Congress, and the same applies to one of the most misused and abusive policymaking tools ever used in the Mitten State -- lame duck.

The term “lame duck” refers to an official leaving office due to retirement or an election loss. "The term 'lame duck' originally applied to bankrupt businessmen in 18th-century Britain 'who were considered as "lame" in the sense that the impairment of their powers rendered them vulnerable, like a game bird injured by shot. By the 1830s, this expression had migrated to America 'to describe politicians on their way out of office.'" (Dangers of Lame Duck Sessions)

You may recall the mess from the 2014 version of lame duck over the road funding battles, but at least the legislature found time in that short session to pass a very important bill that allows people to use their golf cars on residential streets without having to purchase no-fault insurance on the carts. I'm sure the gated-community folks were celebrating that victory!

That year, the legislature approved a $1.2 billion legislatively referred constitutional amendment to raise more money for the state’s roads but the voters ultimately rejected it as bad policy and a confusing mess. A whole lot of things were traded over this Frankenstein proposal. It proved a waste of time.

Most of what gets considered and either passes or fails in lame duck never receives any type of formal public hearing. Often, the legislators themselves don't get a copy of the bill until the last minute, but that doesn't seem to slow things down; they're usually too busy horse-trading on the bills they are pushing or supporting and don't have time for such trivial details. Regardless of which party is in power, lame duck is often seen as a way to quickly and sometimes quietly usher controversial bills through a polarized legislature.

Some reasonable members of the legislature and others interested in furthering an ethical legislative process have called for an end to lame duck sessions, in Michigan as well as other states. They point to states, particularly those with part-time legislatures, who make a point of adjourning the legislative session before the fall election. In Illinois, “You have situations where legislators’ district phones have been turned off because they’re leaving office, but they’re still voting on important policy issues. That’s not representative government.”

In March of 2015, Representative Joel Johnson (R-97) introduced a resolution that would put an end to lame duck in Michigan. House Joint Resolution M (2015) was introduced on March 26 and referred to the Committee on Government Operations where it surely was relegated to an early grave. The resolution proposed an amendment to the state constitution that would, if passed, read:
EXCEPT AS OTHERWISE PROVIDED IN THIS SECTION, EACH regular session shall adjourn without day, on a day determined by concurrent resolution, at twelve o'clock noon. IN EVEN-NUMBERED YEARS, THE REGULAR SESSION FOR THAT YEAR SHALL END ON THE FRIDAY BEFORE THE FIRST MONDAY IN NOVEMBER.
There are no committee records of any hearing or testimony on this resolution, but the House Republican caucus web page provided justification for passage of this resolution:
Rep. Johnson believes that regardless of the party in power, the lame duck session process damages efforts to proceed in a deliberate and thoughtful way on important legislation, and also leads to understandable cynicism from voters. 
“Our constituents expect us to make the tough decisions in a transparent and thoughtful way,” Johnson said. “Late-night sessions and last-minute votes without a thorough committee process damages the credibility of the Legislature, because the political will or consensus is present on legislation or it’s not.” 
“The oft-used tactic of ‘waiting for lame duck’ must come to an end.”
Source: The Times Dispatch, March 7, 1911
According to State Rep. Andy Schor, D-Lansing, "Anything's possible in lame duck." If I might clarify that bit of sage wisdom from Rep. Schor: anything but well thought out, publicly-vetted good policy.
Never blame a legislative body for not doing something. When they do nothing, they don't hurt anybody. When they do something is when they become dangerous. ~ Will Rogers, undated
You can bet there'll be a whole lot of "something" done in the upcoming lame duck session. Whether good or bad remains to be seen.

Source: Newspaper clippings retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2014/11/12/a-history-of-lame-duck-sessions-and-complaining-about-lame-duck-sessions/

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