Eye on Lansing Republicans use advantage in Michigan Legislature

By Tim Martin

Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Republicans are making the most of their majority in Michigan's state government, approving an above-average number of new laws in the first 11 months of the state Legislature's 2011-12 session.

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley have combined to sign 231 new public acts since taking office in January. The bills were sent their way by a Legislature that has Republican majorities in both the House and Senate.

The new laws affect a broad range of topics from the state budget to schools to how financially struggling local governments are managed. About 95 percent of the new laws come from legislation whose primary sponsor was Republican.

Legislative productivity has been aided by the Republican majority and a relatively good working relationship between Snyder, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville and House Speaker Jase Bolger. The three Republican leaders typically meet once a week and talk more frequently than that.

"Getting things done is always easier when you have that kind of cohesion," said Ari Adler, a spokesman for Bolger. "We have a very open line of communication between those three leaders."

Michigan's Legislature operates in two-year cycles. The first year of a legislative session produces fewer new laws than the second year, when lawmakers are hurrying to complete work before their proposals expire at the end of a two-year cycle.

But the legislative output so far in 2011 is fairly high for the first year of a session.

Lawmakers and the governor, on average, have approved fewer than 200 new laws in the first 11 months of a legislative session since the late 1990s. The most productive first 11 months in terms of new laws approved came in 2005, when the Republican-led Legislature and then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, combined to adopt 244 new public acts.

Snyder may be able to nearly match that total, depending on how many more bills he signs before Dec. 1. But Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said the governor is focused on the quality, not the quantity, of the new laws.

Wurfel said that many of the new laws "have paved the way for Michigan's comeback and laid a solid foundation for the future" by improving the state's budget situation and business climate.

Republicans have enacted sweeping tax code changes that take effect Jan. 1. The changes reduce overall business taxes but will raise taxes in some other areas, including on some forms of retirement income.

Other laws are aimed at management of financially struggling cities and schools. State-appointed emergency managers have broad new powers, including the ability to toss out labor contracts in some situations.

Lawmakers this year have successfully completed work in a few areas that previous Legislatures could not or would not finish. That includes a law that will end retiree health care coverage for many current and future state lawmakers and changes to binding arbitration laws for police and fire departments.

Democrats argue that many of the Republican-backed changes have favored businesses over working families or haven't had much to do with improving Michigan's economy.

"It is very concerning that the leadership in Lansing continues to make the bottom line for corporations more of a priority than enacting legislation that will create jobs and help get Michigan's economy back on track," House Democratic Leader Richard Hammel said in a statement.

Published: Tue, Nov 29, 2011

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