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A little revenge politics at the state House

The state House passed the Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) yesterday and it’s fair to say it was a little dose of Republican Speaker JaseBolger’s “here’s-how-bad-it-can-get-if-you-don’t-play-along.”

The RFRA was supposed to move in tandem with a measure that would add protections based on sexual orientation to the state’s civil rights law. That was a version that Bolger said he would accept, as long as there was a separate bill that would provide some cover for people who have religious objections to gay rights.

But LGBT advocates said there also should be explicit protections for transgender people. Bolger said he wouldn’t support that.

So, Bolger got the RFRA passed last night, without moving on the LGBT protections, showing the LGBT community just what can happen when you cross him.

The LGBT community is absolutely opposed to the RFRA because, as they say, it’s a faith-based “license to discriminate.” Now, they’re faced with the possibility of everything they don’t want out of a deal to add LGBT protections to the state's civil rights act and nothing they do want.

Take it to the voters

LGBT advocates do have an alternative, they could try and get the question of adding protections to the civil rights law on the 2016 ballot. However, that’s an expensive and cumbersome process. And, depending on what the U.S. Supreme Court does with Michigan’s same-sex marriage case, they might prefer to focus on repealing the gay marriage ban in two years.

Road funding

All of this is an example of why, love him or hate him, Jase Bolger has been such an effective speaker. He uses every lever of power to get his way and he’s glad to show you how miserable you might be if you don’t play along.

And, as another example of Bolger getting his way, last night House Republican passed a road funding bill; a plan that is supposed to be a “no-new taxes” option. The sales tax on fuel sales would basically be shifted from schools and local governments to roads.

Needless to say, the school lobby doesn’t like it. Neither does Governor Rick Snyder.

Can we compromise?

So, now it’s Bolger versus the Senate road funding plan and Governor Snyder.

But we suspect the House passage yesterday is a tactical move. The Senate will likely reject the Bolger plan. The House will reject the Senate-passed gas tax increase.

That would send the issue to a conference committee made up of three House members and three Senate members to pound out a proposal that would have to be voted up or down. No amendments. No new negotiations to change the bill.

If that happened, it would certainly be a signal that they’re serious about getting transportation funding done in “lame duck.”

What happens next?

In fact, how all of these controversies are handled will signal how serious they are about getting things done in the last few weeks of session -- every negotiation, every side deal can be used to persuade a Democrat to vote for a tax increase so a Republican won’t have to, or to persuade a Republican so they don’t have to make more concessions to Democrats.

State House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel, in fact, says he wants road funding to be the very last thing to be done in “lame duck” if Republicans want the Ds to vote for it. He wants all those other deals, whatever they might be, to play out before the final vote on the main event.

Some of them might be agreements to do things -- but look at what else Republicans have put out there. There’s the RFRA, of course, but also auto no-fault, barring local wage and sick day ordinances, an overhaul to Michigan’s Electoral College system, to name just a few, and there’s still a little bit of time left to put more things out there, to put more things on the table so the negotiations will also be about what won’t happen.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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