By DAVID EGGERT/Associated Press
LANSING, Mich. (AP) – The Republican-controlled Michigan Senate flexed its political muscle Tuesday, voting to end straight-ticket voting and paid union leave for public workers and to switch the date for electing a suburban Detroit county’s executive.
The bills, which Democrats decried as blatantly partisan, were sent to the GOP-led House mostly along party lines, with some Republicans in opposition.
One measure, approved 23-13, would prohibit people from voting for the party of their choice with a single check-off mark. Michigan is among 10 states to allow straight-ticket voting, which is seen as helping Democratic candidates, particularly down the ballot.
The sponsor, Republican Sen. Marty Knollenberg of Troy, said people could still vote for all Democrats or all Republicans but should not be able to do so in a singular swoop.
“Reformers have done away with political machines and party bosses. We should do away with their broken method of electing candidates with one vote,” he said, adding that voting should be more about “the people and less about political parties.”
The bill drew opposition from Democrats. And local clerks said it would lengthen waiting times in polling places.
“You’re serving your own self-interest by making it harder to vote,” Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich told Republicans across the chamber.
The legislation would also appropriate $1 million for the Department of State to assess the impact of straight-ticket voting, assist in election fraud prevention, conduct precinct audits and provide equipment to “facilitate the integrity of the election process.” The funding allocation makes the measure immune from a voter referendum, drawing criticism from Democrats.
The Legislature twice voted to eliminate straight-ticket voting, in 2001 and 1964. But voters defeated both laws in referendums.
The Senate also voted 20-17 for a bill that would prohibit public employers and unions from signing contracts that let employees take paid time from work to attend to union matters such as workplace grievances or contract administration. Another bill, approved 25-12, would discontinue the ability of such workers on release time to accrue service credit toward their pension.
Knollenberg, who also sponsored the union bills, said “taxpayers shouldn’t foot the bill for union work.”
Sixty-seven of the state’s 541 school districts have employer paid leave or release time for union officers in their collective bargaining contracts, costing about $2.7 million a year, according to the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency.
Opponents said the legislation would have ramifications for what should be a collaborative process between management and unions, predicting delays in addressing workplace issues.
“This bill will hurt more than just unions – it will hurt a lot of the supervisors,” said Democratic Sen. Vincent Gregory of Southfield. “It will create more of a problem than what it will help to resolve.”
Said Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook: “Those school boards that negotiate with local associations for release time do so because they believe it is necessary for the efficient operation of their school district. Politicians in Lansing should not be dictating to local boards how to run their districts.”
Another measure, passed 25-11, would switch the election of Oakland County’s executive to midterm instead of presidential years.
Proponents said it makes sense for the county to elect its top leader at the same time as neighboring Wayne and Macomb counties to promote regional cooperation. Democrats said the measure is a politically motivated bid to help Republicans retain power in Oakland whenever longtime Executive L. Brooks Patterson retires. His term ends in 2016.
Under the bill, the 2016 election winner would hold office for two years rather than four. The following Oakland executive election would occur in 2018.
The legislation, which also applies to Bay County, would give county commissioners until April to choose to remain on the current cycle. Republicans control Oakland’s board.
“What’s good for the Wayne and Macomb county goose is good for the Oakland County gander,” said the sponsor, Sen. David Robertson of Grand Blanc, whose district includes parts of Oakland.
But Sen. Steve Bieda, a Warren Democrat, said it is a “patently political … almost criminal” bill that usurps local decision-making.
Tuesday was the Legislature’s last session day until December.
Senate Bill 13: http://1.usa.gov/1Np2Sw3
Senate Bill 279: http://1.usa.gov/1Pnhz8R
Senate Bill 280: http://1.usa.gov/1NIfqTC
Senate Bill 110: http://1.usa.gov/1Hw7nYT
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