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PAINTER: Let Michigan voters decide part-time Legislature proposal

• Dec 29, 2017 at 3:00 PM

Should Michigan have a part-time Legislature?

Some officials in Lansing would like to at least allow voters to decide the issue, while others say the full-time legislative system is working just fine.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who has his eyes on being the next governor, earlier this year helped launch a petition drive for a November 2018 ballot proposal to make Michigan’s Legislature part time, according to the Detroit News. He has since turned over the reins to the petition drive to someone else as he prepares for a run at governor. The proposal has yet to be approved for a vote.

Under Calley’s original proposal, if voters approve the measure, the state Constitution would be amended and the Michigan Legislature would meet for 90 consecutive days and have their salaries reduced. The governor, however, could call for emergency sessions.

But not everyone is on board with the ballot proposal idea. Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, as well as others, is opposed to the proposal. According to an article by Michigan Radio, Meekhof said he is concerned that part-time chambers would weaken the Legislature and give too much power to the governor. He also feared that combined with term limits, a part-time Legislature would result in having too many inexperienced lawmakers.

“Are we spending the taxpayer monies the most efficient way possible? That takes experience,” Meekhof told Michigan Radio. “And there’s not a whole lot of other jobs where you actually want to look for the least amount of experience.”

However, proponents of the part-time movement say the proposal would save the state millions of dollars, and would open legislator jobs to people of all walks of life because they would not be required to abandon their careers.

There is also sentiment that if you are going to have a part-time Legislature, then term limits should be expanded or abolished.

In 1992, Michigan voters approved a ballot proposal that limits state senators to two four-year terms, and state representative to three two-year terms. I like term limits, but I also think they should be expanded so that we can keep more experienced lawmakers in office. I once had a lawmaker tell me that it takes two years to become an influential lawmaker.

I can understand both sides of the part-time Legislature proposal. But I personally believe that voters should have a say over whether the state should have a full-time Legislature or a part-time one. I believe that voter input is important in how our government functions. If voters are satisfied with the current system, then that should end any argument for a part-time Legislature.

Michigan is one of 10 states with some form of a full-time legislature, according to the Detroit News. State lawmakers earn an annual base salary of $71,685, the fourth highest rate in the country, the News wrote. California, New York and Pennsylvania have higher salaries. State lawmakers also receive an expense allowance of $10,800 per year.

The part-time proposal calls for lawmakers to earn about $31,000, which is based on the average pay of teachers who work 180 school days. Lawmakers would be paid for 90 days of work.

When I was in college, I once met the daughter of a Michigan state representative, who, at the time, was a part-time legislator. He also owned a grocery store and his family ran the business while the Legislature was in session.

She told me that her father enjoyed interaction with the public and being able to take their issues before the Legislature. That’s exactly what Calley had in mind when he first proposed a part-time Legislature.

“My initiative will make the system more efficient. Get in the important work done and go back home,” Calley was quoted in the Detroit News.

If opponents of the proposal feel adamant about keeping a full-time Legislature, then they can make their case before a vote. At least give the Michigan public a say on this important issue.

— By Len Painter, Tribune community columnist

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