State laws raising the minimum wage and setting new requirements on employers for paid sick leave go into effect toward at the end of this week, unless Michigan’s attorney general or highest court say otherwise.
Laws that legislators first enacted following petition drives and subsequently amended in the lame-duck session at the end of 2018 are the subject of requests to both state Attorney General Dana Nessel and the Michigan Supreme Court. At issue is whether the legislature has the ability under the state Constitution to amend laws in the same legislative session in which they were originated through citizen petition.
Proponents of the changes to ease the burden on businesses with both laws say legislators were within their rights. Organizers of the petitions drives contend they were not.
The state House and Senate in February passed resolutions asking the Michigan Supreme Court to rule on the issue, while state Sen. Stephanie Chang, a Democrat from Detroit, sought an opinion from Nessel’s office.
With both laws are set to take effect March 29, and as potential rulings on them remain pending, the net result for employers is a period of uncertainty.
“This feels a lot like a tick-tock sort of situation with a lot of uncertainty,” said Wendy Block, vice president of business advocacy at the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. “There is so much uncertainty surrounding this. This thing is in the clouds.”
The Michigan Chamber, representing more than 6,000 employers across the state, has been telling members to comply with both laws beginning March 29, “unless they hear otherwise,” Block said.
“Unless one of them acts, the law is settled at the moment,” Block said.
The Michigan Chamber holds the position that legislators acted properly under the state Constitution when amending the laws, she said.
Under one law legislators amended in December, the state’s minimum wage increases from $9.25 to $9.45 per hour on March 29. Subsequent increases will occur Jan. 1 of each year until the minimum wage reaches $12.05 in 2030.
The petition drive originally sought to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2022.
The amended law also raises the minimum wage for minors who are 16 or 17 years old from $7.86 to $8.03 an hour as of March 29, and from $3.52 to $3.59 an hour for tipped employees.
The other law in question allows eligible workers at companies with 50 or more employees to earn one hour of paid medical leave for each 35 hours worked, up to 40 hours per benefit year.
The original law adopted by legislators in response to a petition drive would have required all employers to offer 72 hours of paid sick leave.
After proponents of each issue submitted petitions, lawmakers opted to adopt both rather than put them to voters as ballot proposals. The move made it easier to amend the laws through simple majority votes, which the Republican-controlled state. House and state Senate did in the lame-duck session. If adopted by voters, the laws would have required a three-fourths vote of each chamber in the legislature to amend.
Charles Owens, state director of the Michigan office of the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), called the changes made in late 2018 by lame-duck lawmakers a “vast improvement” over what was originally enacted from the petition drives.
“If we’re going to have one, we certainly prefer the one the legislature passed,” said Owens, noting that the NFIB generally opposes such mandates.
NFIB members have been calling for advice on what they should do as March 29 approaches, he said.
Advocates on both sides of the issue await an attorney general’s opinion or a Michigan Supreme Court advisory opinion, that latter of which hinges on whether justices are even willing to rule on the question.
“What I say (when members call) is ‘I don’t know,’” Owens said. “That’s not real encouraging to them.”
Owens worries the uncertainty lingering over both laws could “throw a wet blanket” over the state’s business climate and lead employers to curtail hiring. The NFIB hopes to see “some signal” next week on whether an attorney general’s opinion or state Supreme Court ruling may come before March 29.
On March 13, the NFIB filed an amicus brief along with other business advocates working as a coalition known as Small Business for a Better Michigan. The amicus brief asked the state Supreme Court for an immediate advisory opinion.
The amicus brief supported the legislature’s request and asked the state Supreme Court to “affirm that the Michigan Constitution allows the Legislature to amend an initiated law at the same session in which it was adopted.”
The Small Business for a Better Michigan Coalition includes the Michigan Manufacturers Association, Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, NFIB, Small Business Association of Michigan, Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Associated Builders and Contractors, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Homebuilders Association of Michigan, Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Michigan Farm Bureau, Michigan Retailers Association, West Michigan Policy Forum, and the Michigan Freedom Fund.