Michigan’s Record-Breaking Lame Duck Session Has Ripple Effects A Year Later

The state is still grappling with the implementation of many of the 300-plus laws that flew through the lame duck Legislature in 2018.



It’s been a year since the Michigan Legislature’s record-breaking lame duck session that saw more than 300 bills fly through the House and Senate.

Lawmakers approved controversial measures making it harder to launch successful citizen petition campaigns, removing protections for wetlands, and gutting the state’s new minimum wage and paid sick leave laws, among hundreds of other things.

Lame duck sessions occur after legislative elections in even-numbered years, so there’s no lame duck in 2019. But there’s plenty to sort out as a result of the last one 12 months ago.

Click on the player above to hear MichMash hosts Cheyna Roth and Jake Neher talk about how the state is still grappling with the implementation of many of those laws.


Gutting petition initiatives to raise minimum wage and guarantee paid sick leave

The Republican-led Legislature and then-Gov. Rick Snyder brazenly gutted two citizen initiatives during the last lame duck session, one that would have boosted the state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2022, and one that would guarantee paid sick leave for Michigan workers. The state Legislature gets first crack at petition initiatives (which are separate from proposed amendments to the state constitution, which go directly to the ballot), and can approve those proposals themselves. In 2018, lawmakers did exactly that and then quickly passed bills that crippled the effects of the new laws.

In the year since this happened, Democrats and advocates for these proposals have been fighting in court to reverse those actions and end this practice of “adopt and amend.”

Additionally, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, who both took office after last year’s lame duck session, have filed briefs in court opposing the practice.

Just this week, the Michigan Supreme Court declined to rule early in those cases after hearing arguments over the summer. It could still rule in those cases when a lawsuit makes its way through the courts.

RELATEDWill MI Supreme Court Offer Clarity on Minimum Wage, Sick Leave Laws?

Making it harder for citizen groups to launch successful petition initiatives

Lawmakers made it harder for groups to put measures in front of the Legislature or voters by collecting signatures, in part by capping the percentage of signatures that could come from each congressional district in Michigan.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel issued an opinion that said that and other provisions of that law were unconstitutional. In September, a judge said Nessel was correct and ordered two parts of the law to be removed. An appeal is likely.

Burying Enbridge Line 5 under the Straights of Mackinac

Another blockbuster from December of last year was the plan to decommission the section of Enbridge’s Line 5 oil and gas pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac and replace it with a new section of pipeline entombed in a tunnel buried under the Straits. This plan was endorsed by Gov. Rick Snyder and bills to make it possible sailed through the GOP-dominated Legislature. 

The plan has split Democrats, with some trade unions supporting the plan in order to create construction jobs. Many other Democrats oppose it, pointing primarily to environmental risks. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel have both made moves to delay construction of the pipeline.

Since then, the plan has mostly been tied up in court. The Court of Claims ruled in October that the legislation allowing construction of the pipeline was constitutional, and Enbridge has started preliminary work on construction of the tunnel. Nessel is currently working on an appeal of the Court of Claims decision.

Efforts to hamstring Democratic leaders continue

In December of 2018, Democrats flipped the three most powerful executive offices in the state. After the lame duck session was over, the governor, the attorney general, and the secretary of state would all be Democrats. Republicans in the state Legislature introduced bills that would take some powers away from the governor’s office, the attorney general’s office, and the secretary of state’s office. Those efforts proved unsuccessful in the end, but efforts to restrict other executive powers continue a year later.

Budgets proposed by Republicans in the Legislature included provisions attaching strings to funding for the attorney general’s office. In the secretary of state’s budget, lawmakers did not fully fund the implementation of the state’s new redistricting commission. And a big part of the budget fallout this year centered around the GOP’s desire to limit the governor’s control of the State Administrative Board, which she used earlier this year to move money around in the state budget without legislative approval.


  • Cheyna has interned with Michigan Radio and freelanced for WKAR public radio in Lansing. She's also done some online freelancing and worked on documentary films.

  • Jake Neher is senior producer for Detroit Today and host of MichMash for 101.9 WDET. He previously reported on the Michigan Legislature for the Michigan Public Radio Network.