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Senate committee considers constitutional amendment to boost government oversight

The Michigan Capitol building in Lansing, featuring a lamppost and the Gov. Blair statue.
Emma Winowiecki
Michigan Radio
The Michigan Capitol building in Lansing.

A joint resolution to put a constitutional amendment before voters got a hearing Tuesday before the Michigan Senate Oversight Committee.

If approved, it would create a permanent, bipartisan joint oversight committee made of eight members from both chambers of the Legislature.

Senator Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) sponsors the resolution. He said the group would create more consistent government supervision.

“What we don’t have in the Legislature right now is an explicitly bipartisan place for ideas to come out. And when ideas were to come out of that explicitly bipartisan place, they’re going to have greater gravity, they’re going to have greater legitimacy, and I think that increases the power of the Legislature,” Irwin said.

The proposed joint oversight committee would be responsible for requesting and reviewing audits into state government agencies.

Under the state constitution, the Office of the Auditor General “post audits of financial transactions and accounts of the state and of all branches, departments, offices, boards, commissions, agencies, authorities and institutions of the state established by this constitution or by law, and performance post audits thereof.” The Auditor General’s responsibility wouldn’t change under the proposed amendment.

Lawmakers can also currently request the OAG to investigate specific issues as well.

Senate Oversight Committee Chair Ed McBroom (R-Waucedah Twp) said the new committee would prevent the findings of those reports from being lost on lawmakers.

“What we’re trying to establish here is a consistent pattern to go forward to maintain a robust level of oversight. One that weathers every storm of partisan structure within this Legislature, one side or the other, division between the executive and the Legislature. Let the process consistently keep moving,” McBroom said.

The resolution would need to receive two-thirds majority votes from both the state House and Senate to get on the fall ballot.

Along with Irwin’s resolution, McBroom is sponsoring a bill that would set the framework for how the proposed committee would work, should voters approve the constitutional amendment.

Majority and minority leadership in both chambers of the Legislature would be responsible for appointing two members to the committee. Either two or four co-chairs would take turns becoming chair, rotating between parties every three months.

During Tuesday’s hearing, questions arose over whether that would be too often for the committee to gain its footing, and what would happen if the co-chairs couldn’t get along.

“Theoretically, the two people could hate each other so much that they can’t talk to each other and then they get nowhere. But then that’s going to be the case whether they share chairmanships or not anyway because it’s still bipartisanly structured in a such way that neither party has the advantage,” McBroom said, adding he didn’t see interpersonal deadlock as a likely outcome.

When asked about a timeline on getting the resolution and bill before the full Senate, McBroom mentioned he’d like to see the effort voted out of committee within a week.