Michigan Legislature: New session begins
LANSING (AP) – Michigan lawmakers convened a new two-year session Wednesday by pledging to move past acrimony that left Republicans and Democrats bitterly divided over the quick and unexpected passage of a right-to-work law a month ago.
But signs of turbulence remained at the GOP-controlled Capitol, where hundreds of protesters reminded new legislators and returning veterans of their displeasure with the law that prohibits requiring workers to pay union dues or fees.
Inside the House chambers, the mood was mostly cheerful as 110 members – 28 of them new because of term limits or incumbent defeats – took the oaths of office and chose desks. The Senate had less pomp because its 37 members are halfway through four-year terms.
Speaker Jase Bolger, chosen to lead the House again on a 107-2 vote, gave a 12-minute speech in which he said relationships were strained in 2012 but “we can and should leave that past behind.”
The Marshall Republican said both parties worked together on a host of issues before the right-to-work fight – binding arbitration for police and firefighters, insurance coverage for autistic children, school bullying prevention and a streetlight plan for Detroit.
“Disagreeing with someone on a single issue should not taint the discussion of the next issue or the resolve to deliver results for Michigan,” said Bolger, who mentioned job creation, road funding and early childhood education as top priorities.
In a break from long-standing tradition, the vote for speaker was not unanimous. Two Democrats voted against Bolger, whose role in a former Grand Rapids lawmaker’s switch from Democrat to Republican in May is under scrutiny. An Ingham County judge acting as a one-person grand jury is collecting evidence to decide whether to charge Bolger or anyone else in the scheme. A Kent County prosecutor found that he broke no laws but said a fraud was perpetrated on voters.
While there was talk of Democrats en masse objecting to Bolger’s re-election as speaker, it never materialized.
New House Minority Leader Tim Greimel seconded his nomination, saying while they have had and will continue to disagree on issues, “I have tremendous respect for this institution and for the history of this institution.”
The Auburn Hills Democrat told reporters that working with Republicans does not mean Democrats have forgotten the GOP’s right-to-work law. It was passed and signed in just five days with no committee hearings despite Republican Gov. Rick Snyder saying it was not on his agenda.
“We are going to be doing everything we can in the years to come to change that terrible policy,” Greimel said.
Republicans have touted the law. The state’s economic development arm bought a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal Tuesday contending it will make Michigan a preferred place to do business. Liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan, however, criticized officials for linking the right-to-work law with the “Pure Michigan” tourism campaign.
To get to unofficial swearing-in ceremonies held before the official afternoon session, some House members walked by union protesters holding signs with Republicans’ photo next to the word “shame.”
Kim Dennison, a 52-year-old occupational health nurse from Lansing, said she wanted to tell new legislators that “what happened in December wasn’t right” and let returning lawmakers know they would be held accountable.
Another protest is planned the day of Snyder’s Jan. 16 State of the State address in Lansing.
The right-to-work law is a positive in one respect, Dennison said.
“The people that I’ve spoken with, they’re much more in favor of unions now than ever before. Even people who were on the fence before the election in November have expressed a desire to not be pushed around,” she said. “We’ll have to see.”