Part-time possibility concerns local lawmakers

By Cory Smith • Last Updated 11:50 am on Tuesday, January 29, 2013

SIDNEY — With a new bill recently introduced in the State Senate, the debate between a full-time and part-time Legislature is now beginning to gain traction across the state of Michigan.

Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, told the Detroit Free Press for a story Sunday that he has introduced legislation that would let voters decide whether lawmakers should work only 90 days a year.

Backers of the bill say the Michigan Legislature is only one of four in the nation to be on the job full time. They argue there’s no reason they can’t do their work in fewer days and with fewer dollars

“I know there is a difference of opinion on this and some of my colleagues will have plenty to say about it,” St. Joseph Republican Sen. John Proos told the Detroit Free Press for a story Sunday. “But this is a reform that makes good common sense. We’re having to find savings and solutions to problems on a daily basis.”

On Monday, Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, and Rep. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, spoke openly against the idea of a part-time Legislature during the monthly legislative luncheon meeting at Montcalm Community College.

“If you look at it, just from the time you are in session, there is validity to that claim,” Outman said of the idea of a part-time Legislature. “But I put in more hours here, I would say, than I ever did in owning my own businesses.”

According to the Detroit Free Press, the Legislature worked 81 days in 2012.

Outman compared the position of working in the Michigan Legislature to that of a school teacher, using examples such as teachers grading papers and tests from home — working away from the physical school building.

“It’s the same way here,” he said. “I spend more time in the district than I do in Lansing.”

But outman said his biggest problem with a part-time Legislature is about the “balance of power” in Lansing.

“The other problem I have with a part time Legislature is that the balance of power has been shifted with term limits,” he said.

Outman said that staffers, lobbyist and some of those who work in the executive branch of government do not work with term limits, as state representatives and senators do, giving them extra power.

“The bureaucracy is there for 20 or 30 years,” he said. “What’s happened is, we’ve shifted the balance of power to people who are not elected, to people who are not elected by voters. If you want to further exacerbate that problem, go to a part-time Legislature.”

Outman referenced the amount of savings the state would receive by switching to a part-time Legislature as just “pennies to the dollar.”

“We’re your first line of defense,” he said. “Your concerns come to us 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Who do you call if we’re not in session? That’s my number one job, is listening to your concerns and being that person that can help.”

Emmons agreed with Outman, adding that she has never been in favor of term limits, which she believes, in combination with a part-time Legislature, could create unfavorable results.

“I never was a proponent of term limits because it is doing exactly what we anticipated,” she said. “It is giving more power to bureaucrats and lobbyist to the point where they are information holders.”

Emmons said those bureaucrats and lobbyist are gaining a “historical perspective” that legislators are no longer afforded, due to term limits.

Emmons added she believes there is a misperception about a part-time Legislature compared to a full-time Legislature.

“The buildings in Lansing wouldn’t be empty, the only people missing would be your advocates, the people who represent you,” she said. “Our staff would still be here to take your phone calls and your issues would still be here year round.”

Emmons said she understands the reasons for a part-time Legislature, but believes too much would be given up in the process.

“It depends on what you want to accomplish with a part-time Legislature,” she said. “If it is to save money, you’ll save a little bit. If it is to reduce legislation, you’ll probably do that too. But on the other side of the coin, you’ll give an inordinate amount of power to the administrative branch.”

Emmons cited a recent example involving bills with the Education Achievement Authority, which were denied and failed to pass during the lame-duck session in December.

“If we hadn’t been there and been right on top of what was occurring with that legislation, it very well might have gone right through,” she said. “If it’s a part-time Legislature, you’re just not going to be as up to speed with issues as you are when you are there every day.”

According to the Detroit Free Press, Gov. Rick Snyder said last week he doesn’t support changing to a part-time Legislature.

The Detroit Free Press and Associated Press contributed to this story. 

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