Michigan GOP lawmakers pass bills before Dem governor starts

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Republicans early Friday were poised to pass bills that would toughen rules for ballot drives and automatically give lawmakers the authority to intervene in court cases, pushing lame-duck legislation that critics said would weaken the power of voters and Democrats.

The intervention bill, approved 26-12 almost entirely along party lines in the Senate on Thursday, was expected to move to the desk of GOP Gov. Rick Snyder following a final vote from the House in the closing hours of a marathon session day that stretched overnight.

It was criticized by opponents as an attempt to undercut Dana Nessel, who will be the first Democratic attorney general in 16 years and who has said she may not defend state laws she believes are unconstitutional. Republicans disputed the allegation, saying the legislation would ensure that the legislative branch has a voice as more laws are challenged in the courts. Currently, only the attorney general can automatically intervene in cases.

"This is an intentional effort to undermine the role of the attorney general's office," said Democratic Sen. Steve Bieda of Warren, adding it would let lawmakers "butt in places that quite frankly they don't belong. ... Founding fathers are rolling over in their graves right now."

Nessel's transition spokeswoman issued a statement saying the proposal was never properly vetted and warning it would have a "disastrous impact."

Another item on the GOP agenda was a bill that would make it harder to qualify citizen initiatives for the ballot. It follows voters' passage of Democratic-backed proposals last month and Republicans' unprecedented move to weaken minimum wage and paid sick time laws that began as ballot initiatives.

The legislation and the laws already signed by Snyder could curb the left's power at the ballot box, while sweeping laws in Republican-controlled Wisconsin will weaken incoming Democratic officeholders.

Also Thursday, the House passed a bill that would implement a voter-approved ballot initiative to expand voting options, over opposition from critics who said it would overly restrict same-day registration. Proposal 3, which was enacted last month, allows citizens to register by mail closer to Election Day — 15 days or more out — and "in person" at any time, including on Election Day.

The measure would limit such in-person registration to the local clerk's office. Democrats said 15 of the 16 states with same-day registration allow it in precinct locations or satellite clerk offices.

"It is a disservice to every Michigander to rush through these changes without regard for the consequences," said Rep. Vanessa Guerra of Saginaw, who said residents of large cities like Detroit would have just one place to register in person close to or on Election Day.

House Republicans countered that authorizing registration at polling places would make lines longer. They also questioned the need for satellite offices since another part of Proposal 3 requires people to be automatically registered when they conduct business with the secretary of state regarding a driver's license. And they estimated that 95 percent of voting-age adults already are registered.

"I don't buy that as being unreasonable if you're registering on the same day" as an election, House Elections and Ethics Committee Chairman Aaron Miller of Sturgis said of using a clerk's office.

One bill pending on Snyder's desk could hamper his successor. It would make it harder for Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer to set environmental and other regulations that are tougher than those mandated by the federal government. He vetoed a similar measure seven years ago.

Michigan Republicans this week dropped an attempt to strip power from the incoming Democratic secretary of state.