LANSING, Mich. — Advocacy groups in Michigan collected enough signatures in 2018 to put two measures on the ballot: one to increase the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2022 and one that would have required employers to provide paid sick leave.
Voters never got to weigh in on them.
Instead, the Republican-led legislature adopted both measures, keeping them off the November ballot, and watered them down after the election was over.
Alicia Farris, the chief operations officer for Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan, which helped lead the initiative to raise the minimum wage, said "there was sort of a motive, a hidden motive."
"They came back in the lame-duck session and gutted them," said Mark Brewer, the former chair of the Michigan Democratic Party and an Attorney with Goodman Acker law firm.
Brewer is the attorney for "Mothering Justice V. Nessel," a lawsuit seeking to declare what the Legislature did in 2018 unconstitutional.
"My clients have been very patiently trying to get her to do the right thing, but our only option at this point, our last resort is to sue," Brewer said.
The defendant in the case is Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. In a recent press release, Nessel said she also thinks what the legislature did was unconstitutional but that "She is not the proper party against whom to bring any of the complaints.”
Nessel declined to be interviewed for this story. Former state Attorney General Bill Schuette, who said in 2018 that the legislature's actions passed constitutional muster, did not respond to request for an interview. Nor did the Michigan Republican Party, the Legislature's communication team or Speaker of the House Mike Shirkey.
Michigan legislature had never made a move like it before. They weren't been able to.
Brewer says, in the 1960s, Attorney General Frank Kelly said that this sort of scheme was unconstitutional. In order to go through with it in 2018, the Republican-controlled legislature went to Schuette for help.
They asked Schuette to override Kelly's opinion and he did. That decision has stood since.
But Schuette is no longer the state's attorney general. Nessel is.
"We'd like to see the attorney general either supersede the Schuette opinion by issuing her own, or at least rescind it," Brewer said, "stop her efforts to dismiss our lawsuit and instead join with the plaintiffs because she says she agrees with us. Stop trying to block our lawsuit. Instead, join with us on the way to the Michigan Supreme Court where we try to do justice for all these workers."
Currently the "Mothering Justice V. Nessel" lawsuit is in the lowest level of Michigan courts, the Court of Claims.
Once the team gets a decision on the lawsuit, they expect an appeal by the losing side and hope to make it to the Supreme Court.
Once there, if the Supreme Court overturns Schuette's 2018 actions, if they agree that the strategy known as "adopt and amend" is unconstitutional, then that 2018 ballot initiative, to raise the minimum wage to $12 and hour and give all Michigan workers the right to earn paid sick leave, would become law.
"I think we have good arguments, I think are very good arguments," said Brewer. "We're hoping that the court will see that and say the legislature can't do this, they either have to adopt it, or they have to let it go to the voters. They can't, again, adopt it and then sabotage it."
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