2017-06-14 / Front Page

Part-time legislature?

Former, current lawmakers air opinions
810-648-2684 • skovac@mihomepaper.com

Paul Muxlow Paul Muxlow The slow-simmering effort to change the state legislature from full-time to part-time heated up when Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley announced he would spearhead the drive.

The ballot proposal to amend the Michigan Constitution that Calley is promoting for the 2018 election would limit the yearly legislative session to 90 consecutive days.

It would also cut legislators’ pay about in half, and further curtail the state’s liability for lawmakers’ pensions and retirement health insurance benefits.

Such reforms have been slow coming in Michigan, getting started in 1997 when future legislative pensions were eliminated in favor of a 401(k) system, followed by the elimination of government paid retirement health insurance for lawmakers elected after 2010.

A 2014 citizens’ initiative to put a proposal for a part-time legislature on the ballot failed for lack enough valid signatures.

Shane Hernandez Shane Hernandez To appear on the 2018 ballot, Calley’s proposal would need 315,654 signatures.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Michigan lawmakers are the fourth highest paid in the country behind Pennsylvania, California and New York.

Including Michigan, only 10 of the 50 states have full-time legislatures.

The large, fast-growing state of Texas has a two-house (bicameral) legislature which meets only every other year, as does Montana, North Dakota and Nevada.

John Espinoza of Croswell represented Sanilac County in the Michigan House of Representatives from 2004 through 2010, when he was term-limited out.

Espinoza, a Democrat, does not support the proposal.

“I’d have to say I’m opposed to it. It’s not a part-time job if you are going to do your job seriously,” he said.

John Espinoza John Espinoza “You don’t just work in Lansing,” said Espinoza. “Most of your work is with your constituents in your district. It’s a 7-days a week 365-days a year job.

“I suppose you could do all of your legislative work in 90 days, but there’s a lot more to it than just being in session. You would still need a full-time staff.”

Espinoza continued, “A part-time legislature would limit the types of people who could run for the office to those with a flexible schedule like owners of businesses and lawyers. Also, I could see how lobbyists would be a lot more influential.”

Paul Muxlow of Brown City, who represented Sanilac County in the legislature from 2010 to 2016, worries that coupled with the effects of term limits, going part-time might be too much.

“I support term limits,” said Muxlow, a Republican who now serves as a county commissioner. “But I don’t think six years is sufficient time to really get to know your way around the legislative process. I still had some things, especially for K-12 education, that I wanted to get done, but I ran out of time.

Phil Pavlov Phil Pavlov “The idea of a part-time legislature is a nice talking point. It sounds good. It is an easy sell. But it would hurt representative government. We’d end up with an all-powerful executive branch.”

Muxlow continued, “I also believe it would allow only a narrow cross section of the public to run and serve. It would be pretty tough for someone in the midst of their working years to be able to get the time off in order to attend for 90 days.”

Muxlow concluded by saying, “Members do a lot of things for the people back home throughout the year. Going part-time does not seem real sensible to me.”

Senator Phil Pavlov is in his second and final four-year term in the Michigan Senate because of term limits. Prior to that he served three two-year terms in the state House of Representatives.

Pavlov, whose 25th District includes Sanilac County, told the News, “I think part-time legislature could work. But I wouldn’t support it if it shifted more power to the executive branch, which typically happens in those situations.

“The balance of power and checks and balances are very important and must stay in place,” said Pavlov. “The legislative branch is the people’s voice. I wouldn’t support anything that weakens the people’s voice.

“I’m always willing to talk about government reform and improvement, but I don’t know that a part-time legislature does this. I believe it’s a political gimmick.”

Pavlov also said, “It’s a fallacy to believe that people could just go and come back to their jobs after serving 90 days straight in Lansing. I couldn’t have done that.”

The idea of Michigan having a parttime legislature is nothing new to first-term state Representative Shane Hernandez.

He told the News, “I’ve supported it for a long time. I campaigned on it. And from what I have seen in the five months that I’ve been serving there, I have been confirmed in my opinion.”

Hernandez, a Port Huron Republican, was elected in November 2016 to represent the 83rd District which includes Sanilac County.

“This job was not meant to be a career,” said Hernandez, who grew up in Croswell.

“I believe a part-time legislature meeting for 90 consecutive days would force us to prioritize what we do. There is so much wasted time. As it stands now, a member can introduce a bill at any time. Most of those bills don’t address the major issues confronting the people we represent. Yet we spend a lot of time on them.

“Now, we meet from about January to June and from September to December about three days a week,” said Hernandez. “From what I have learned, most years we are not in session for 90 days. That means we are already parttime.”

The legislative calendar shows that in 2014 the House met for 88 days and the Senate met for 87 days. In 2015 the House met for 105 days and the Senate convened for 113 days. In 2016 the House met for 80 days and the Senate met for 83 days. The 2017 calendar schedules 101 days.

The typical worker laboring 5 days a week for 50 weeks (assuming a two-week vacation) works 246 days per year.

When asked about all the extra time required to take care of the people back home, Hernandez said, “It is at home in the district where you see the people. With more time in the district, I feel I can do constituent service better than now. We could leave a year-round staff in Lansing.”

Hernandez did not see a problem with a potential restriction of who could run for office, saying, “Depending on the time of year the 90 days is scheduled, many farmers could likely get away to serve, as well as small business owners and professional people.

“Ninety consecutive days would likely be less disruptive to their work lives than the way we do things now.”

Commenting on the idea that a parttime legislature would abandon Lansing to the lobbyists, Hernandez stated, “If that were so, why am I being urged so hard by lobbyists to oppose a part-time legislature?”

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