Last week Michigan’s electorate voted in Democrat Gretchen Whitmer as Michigan’s Governor, breaking eight years of solid GOP governance in Michigan. Not to mention the state Republican Supreme Court as well. Employers, overall, have enjoyed a pro-business environment for quite a long time where governance has been pragmatic and not by “gotcha” legal and regulatory enforcement.
But what comes next? The Governor’s office oversees the state’s regulatory agencies and can enforce existing laws as they interpret them. When Governor Granholm was in office it seemed that employers were regularly confronted with regulatory enforcement by Michigan Occupational Safety and Health (MIOSHA) and Michigan Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA). No doubt, Governor Whitmer will look to her office’s agencies to tighten up enforcement of existing laws and regulations because it will be unlikely she will be able to pass new laws through the Republican controlled Legislature. Or could she?
The Governor’s office will have the bully pulpit. There have been many pro employee bills introduced and languished in Republican controlled Committees going nowhere for years. These bills will no doubt be introduced again. This time the Governor’s office could be a megaphone for the legislation putting more pressure on the GOP-led legislature to consider the laws and perhaps even pass one (or more) compromise pieces of employee-favorable legislation.
Currently, there are two pieces of pro-employee legislation that had to be passed on the run. They are the Minimum Wage and Paid Time Off laws. Michigan Legislators pulled these laws from the ballot box and passed them into law legislatively earlier this year. They did this in order to ensure the legislators could more easily amend these anti-business laws. If passed by the electorate, it would have required a 2/3 majority to amend it to a more moderate law acceptable to business interests. These two laws will no doubt be amended or repealed before Governor-elect Whitmer gets the chance to join in the debate as Governor. The House and Senate GOP needs to repeal or pass amended Minimum Wage and Paid Time Off laws so Governor Snyder can in turn pass the legislation into law before Governor Whitmer takes office.
Once Governor Whitmer takes office it is first, unlikely new pro-employer legislation will make it into law and second, pro labor and pro employment legislation will be introduced or re-introduced. The proposed legislation, if nothing else, will probably see more debate and discussion by the Democrat Governor and Democrat Legislators. But will have to be run through the GOP committees and majorities in both State Houses.
Michigan employers should expect legislation addressing pay equity, LBGT anti-discrimination, pro-labor legislation addressing re-instatement of prevailing wage, and even right to work repeal.
Before the new Governor takes office, ASE encourages employers to contact their state legislators to advocate amendment or repeal of the Michigan Minimum Wage law and the Paid Time Off law that is moving through the Michigan House and Senate during this lame duck session. In particular, the Paid Time Off legislation is very expensive, particularly for small employers. This may be the last time employers will be heard by the all branches of state government for some time to come.