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Legislation on paid sick time, abortion, wetlands, and more move forward during lame duck session

On top of an already busy day for legislators, parts of the Capitol were temporarily evacuated Tuesday due to a bomb scare.

Tuesday was a busy day for legislators in Lansing.

Lawmakers are pushing through bills at a breathtaking pace before the new Legislature, and Democratic leaders, take office in January. Protesters were also at the Capitol most of the day – they’re frustrated with controversial bills moving quickly through the Legislature.

On top of that, a suspicious package was found near a downtown office across the street from the Capitol, causing parts of the state Capitol and the Senate Office Building to be evacuated for a short while. The Michigan State Police sent out a robot – which opened and cleared the package – after an explosive detection dog sniffed out a partial hit.

Here's a round-up of the major moves the Legislature made Tuesday:

Changes to minimum wage and earned sick time measures pass through state House committee

Voter initiated laws that haven’t gone into effect yet are just a few steps away from being permanently changed.

Last September, the Legislature adopted initiatives to keep them off the November ballot. They would increase the state’s minimum wage to $12/hour by 2022 and require that employers offer earned sick time.

Now, Republicans in the Legislature are fighting to change that.

Senator Dave Hildenbrand is a bill sponsor of the minimum wage changes.

“When you have artificial wages, just basic economics means you’re driving prices up for everybody else. Employers are forced to pay, then, wages that aren’t typically in the marketplace and that forces higher costs for services and goods for everybody else in the state,” he says.

The changes to sick time include requiring more work for time off and exempt small businesses. The minimum wage would still hit $12 hour, but not for 8 years longer than under the original measure.

Attorney General Bill Schuette has given the thumbs up to lawmakers amending measures.

In his opinion, Schuette said there is nothing in any part of the state Constitution that prevents the Legislature from adopting and amending the measures. Schuette says that the measures are, “on equal footing with ordinary legislation.”

The opinion contradicts an opinion from former Attorney General Frank Kelly in the 1960s.

Court intervention bill passes in state House committee

A state House committee passed a bill that would let the House and Senate intervene in any court proceeding it deems necessary – without first getting permission from the judge. Opponents say it’s a power grab by the Republican Legislature against incoming Democratic Attorney General, Dana Nessel. Supporters say the Legislature is an elected body and this will help them represent the people better.

Republican Representative Rob VerHeulen is a bill sponsor. He says this doesn’t take any power away from the Attorney General.

“We’re simply saying that there are times when the House or the Senate or both may wish to have its own unique view heard in a court of law,” says VerHeulen.

The bill is now waiting for a full House vote.

Senate panel passes initial framework for redistricting commission

A state Senate panel has approved a bill which would create a framework for a citizen commission to oversee legislative redistricting. Under the bill, the Secretary of State determines how to distribute applications and provide rules for who is eligible to be selected. It would also create criteria to determine affiliation with political parties.

Nancy Wang is the president of Voters Not Politicians, the anti-gerrymandering group behind Proposal Two on the November ballot. She says the bill is an attempt to shirk the will of Michigan voters, who overwhelmingly supported the proposal at the polls.

“This bill is a direct attack on the will of the voters," says Wang. "It and any other attempt by this Legislature, particularly during a lame duck session to re-insert themselves into the registering process, subverts the will of the voters and is anti-democratic.”

Residents who apply to be a member of the 13-person commission and who are not truthful about their political affiliation could be subject to a $500 fine. The commission will include four Republicans, four Democrats, and five Independents.

Abortion telemedicine bill passes out of House committee

A state House health policy committee passed controversial abortion legislation that would permanently prevent women from using telemedicine to obtain abortion medication.

Opponents say the legislation would restrict access to medication for abortions. Amanda West is Director of Government Relations for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan.

“This means that women, especially rural women, aren’t going to have access to the care that they legally deserve and that they need in so many cases,” she says.

Right to Life of Michigan – an anti-abortion group – supports the legislation. It says the abortion medication can be dangerous and women should have a doctor present and readily available if they take it.

Controversial wetlands legislation passes state Senate

The state Senate passed a bill that would eliminate some protections for wetlands and inland lakes. It would get rid of some permit requirements for landowners looking to build on wetlands.

Republican Senator Tom Casperson proposed the legislation. He says the current law is prohibitive to farmers and gives too much discretion to state regulators.

“The farmer, what is he going to do? He’s in trouble now because he can fine them… he can fight it. He can hire consultants. He can can hire lawyers. He can lawyer up and spend thousands of dollars over a three acre parcel that the rules said he was good to go," he says.

Wetlands protect shorelines from the impacts of floods, absorb pollutants, and provide habitat for plants and animals. The bill now goes to the House.

Some Nassar-inspired bills head to governor’s desk

Legislation meant to protect young people from sexual abuse and assault has cleared the Michigan Senate. The bills aim to stop future criminal acts similar to those of former MSU sports doctor Larry Nassar.

One of the bills would require the Attorney General to expand the state’s “OK-2-SAY” reporting line for K-12 students to include offenses of sexual abuse, assault, and rape.

Other bills would make penalties tougher for sexual assault and abuse, as well as for viewing, distributing, or producing child pornography. And they would allow criminal courts to consider a defendant’s past history of sexual assault, even if it occurred more than 10 years before the charged offense.

The bills now go to Governor Rick Snyder’s desk.

This post was updated Tuesday, December 4 at 7:00 p.m.

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R
Emma is a communications specialist with the digital team at Michigan Radio. She works across all departments at Michigan Radio, with a hand in everything from digital marketing and fundraising to graphic design and website maintenance. She also produces the station's daily newsletter, The Michigan Radio Beat.
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