Mich. House panel OKs changes to recall elections
Dec. 4, 2012, 3:51 p.m. EST
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A Michigan House panel has approved legislation that would tighten language related to recall elections and restrict the time period in which people can be voted out of office.
The House Redistricting and Elections Committee on Tuesday voted to send a package of election measures to the full chamber.
One bill would amend a section of state election law to limit recall elections to the two election dates set annually in May and November, and prohibit recalls during the first or last six months of an elected official's term. Another would require that reasons for the recall are stated "factually and clearly," while the current petition is reviewed for "sufficient clarity."
Another proposed change calls for a challenger to compete for the office against the official up for recall.
Snyder, GOP leaders to push right to work in Mich.
Dec. 6, 2012, 11:34 a.m. EST
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican-controlled Legislature's top two leaders say they will push for passage of right-to-work legislation in the next few days.
Snyder says during a news conference in Lansing with House Speaker Jase Bolger and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville that bills will be introduced Thursday.
Snyder says it's about freedom for workers and is not meant to harm unions or collective bargaining.
He said it wasn't on his agenda previously because there were more pressing issues to deal with, but he says now is the time to move.
The legislation will cover both private and public sector workers, although an exception will be granted for police and firefighters.
Police arrest, spray protesters at Mich. Capitol
Dec. 6, 2012, 3:05 p.m. EST
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan State Police say they have used chemical spray on right-to-work protesters who to tried rush into the Senate chamber at the state Capitol, and minority Democrats in the Legislature accuse Republican leaders of taking a "shameful step" to undermine free speech.
State police Inspector Gene Adamczyk says eight people were arrested for resisting and obstructing when they tried to rush past two troopers guarding the Senate door Thursday. He says the troopers used chemical spray after the people refused orders to stop.
Adamczyk says the Capitol was temporarily closed because of safety concerns. He estimates about 2,500 visitors were at the Capitol.
A state Democratic Party statement says Republicans are showing "their true colors" and "shutting down dissent."
The Associated Press left a message seeking comment from Republican leaders.
Democrats protest GOP's Michigan Capitol closing
Dec. 6, 2012, 3:33 p.m. EST
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Minority Democrats have sharply criticized the Michigan Legislature's Republican leadership for the closing of the state Capitol during union protests over right-to-work legislation.
State police used pepper spray Thursday to subdue protesters trying to rush the state Senate after Gov. Rick Snyder and other Republican leaders announced they would press for quick approval of legislation limiting union powers. Police arrested eight people and closed the Capitol to the public.
The Michigan Democratic Party issued a statement calling it "a sad day in Michigan history."
The Democratic statement says Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville and House Speaker Jase Bolger took a "shameful step" to undermine free speech. It says Republicans are showing "their true colors" and "shutting down dissent."
The Associated Press left a message seeking comment from Republican leaders.
Right-to-work protesters take stand at Capitol
Dec. 6, 2012, 4:03 p.m. EST
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Hundreds of protesters locked out of the Michigan Capitol have been chanting "let us in" and other slogans up to the House chamber as they stand on the grounds below.
They were rallying Thursday after Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and fellow GOP leaders of the Legislature announced their plans to quickly pass right-to-work legislation limiting union powers.
Many were clad in union hats, coats and vests. They yelled just near a tent set up by the Michigan chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a champion of the legislation.
Teacher Michelle Cook of the Detroit suburb of Hamtramck says the leaders are "trying to erode our collective bargaining rights."
Police temporarily closed the Capitol because of concerns for the safety of people and the building with hundreds more protesters inside.
Protesters enter Mich. Capitol with court order
Dec. 6, 2012, 5:23 p.m. EST
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Hundreds of chanting and cheering protesters have streamed back into the Michigan Capitol after receiving a court order saying that the building must reopen.
The pro-union crowd walked in as lawmakers were debating right-to-work legislation limiting union powers. The Republican-led House subsequently passed the bill with no Democratic support.
They rejoined other protesters who were in the building when police temporarily closed it hours earlier because of safety concerns.
State police Inspector Gene Adamczyk says a judge ordered the Capitol reopened and authorities did so despite safety concerns.
Many of the protesters chanted "Whose house? Our house!" and stomped as they ringed the Rotunda.
Police earlier arrested eight people who tried to run into the Senate while it was in session.
House Dems leave floor during right-to-work debate
Dec. 6, 2012, 6:54 p.m. EST
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan House Democrats say they walked out as the Republican-led chamber was debating a right-to-work bill to help push for the Capitol to reopen and allow throngs of protesters inside.
House Democratic spokeswoman Katie Carey said Thursday that party members left after an Ingham County judge ordered the building reopened. They sought to persuade Capitol authorities to reverse their decision to close the building as a safety measure.
Michigan State Police officials say they were waiting to see the order before they reopened.
Once the pro-union group was allowed to rejoin other protesters, Democrats returned to the House to vote against the bill. They were unsuccessful in overcoming the GOP majority for the union-limiting legislation.
The judge's order was sought by Michigan Education Association President Steve Cook and others.
Mich. legislators defy unions, OK right-to-work
Dec. 7, 2012, 3:09 a.m. EST
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — In an audacious flex of political muscle, Republicans in a single day reached the brink of a goal that for years has seemed an all-but-impossible dream: making the labor bastion of Michigan a right-to-work state.
The GOP majority used its superior numbers and backing from Gov. Rick Snyder to ramrod legislation Thursday through the House and Senate, brushing aside denunciations and walkouts by helpless Democrats and cries of outrage from union activists who swarmed the state Capitol hallways and grounds. At one point, police used pepper spray to subdue demonstrators who tried to rush the Senate chamber.
"Shame! Shame on you!" protesters chorused from the gallery as the Senate voted. Earlier, security guards removed a man who yelled, "Heil Hitler! Heil Hitler! That's what you people are." Another shouted, "We will remember in November."
Rules require a five-day wait before the House and Senate vote on each other's bills, which would prohibit making payment of union fees a condition of employment. They are scheduled to reconvene Tuesday, when Michigan could become the 24th state with right-to-work laws if the measures are quickly enacted and Snyder signs them, as he has pledged to do.
A victory in Michigan, a cradle of organized labor, would give the right-to-work movement its strongest foothold yet in the Rust Belt, where the 2010 election and tea party movement produced assertive Republican majorities that have dealt unions one body blow after another.
But compared with Indiana and Wisconsin, where votes to curb union rights followed weeks or months of pitched battles, Michigan acted in the blink of an eye. GOP legislative leaders were saying as late as Wednesday it was uncertain whether the issue would come up in a lame-duck session moving toward adjournment. Snyder had said repeatedly since his election two years ago the topic was divisive and not on his agenda.
Thursday morning, however, the governor called a news conference with House Speaker Jase Bolger and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville to announce that not only would right-to-work legislation be considered, it would be placed on a fast track. By sundown, bills had been introduced and passed without committee votes or public hearings.
Republicans insisted the measures had been given adequate consideration, saying the topic was familiar — particularly after the protracted campaign that preceded voters' overwhelming November rejection of a proposed constitutional amendment that would have barred right-to-work laws.
"We've come to the point where this issue is on the table," Snyder told The Associated Press in an interview. "It's time to step up and make a decision and not let this fester."
He and legislative leaders denied opponents' contention that the bills were designed to weaken unions by depriving them of funds needed to bargain effectively or were retaliation for the ballot initiative, which organized labor spearheaded. They said a "freedom to work" law would make unions more responsive to members' needs and give employees freedom to decide whether to accept union representation.
"This does not change collective bargaining and this is not anti-union," Bolger said. "It is pro-worker."
Senate Majority Floor Leader Arlan Meekhof said a number of factors influenced the decision to push ahead, including Snyder's endorsement and the ballot initiative, which put right-to-work in the spotlight. Primarily, however, Republicans recognized they had enough votes to capture a long-sought prize, he said.
"I wouldn't say there was a sense of urgency, but a sense of opportunity," Meekhof said.
Democrats contended Republicans, who lost five House seats in the November election, wanted to act before a new legislature takes office next month. In passionate floor speeches, they accused the majority of ignoring the message from voters and bowing to right-wing interest groups.
"These guys have lied to us all along the way," Senate Democratic leader Gretchen Whitmer said. "They are pushing through the most divisive legislation they could come up with in the dark of night, at the end of a lame-duck session and then they're going to hightail it out of town. It's cowardly."
Eight protesters were arrested for resisting and obstructing, state police Inspector Gene Adamczyk said. At one point, officers barred entry to the Capitol as a safety measure, saying the building was overcrowded. It was reopened after unions successfully petitioned Ingham County Circuit Judge Joyce Draganchuk for an order overturning the move.
In the end, the bills sailed through — even though some Republicans were opposed. The Senate approved a measure dealing with private-sector workers 22-16. As Democrats stormed out of the chamber, a second bill applying to government employees was passed, 22-4.
The House approved a private-sector employee bill 58-52. Both chambers are expected to approve two identical measures next week. Leaders said they would include exemptions for police and firefighters, who are covered by existing law requiring binding arbitration for their labor disputes.
A $1 million appropriation was tacked onto the bills for what a House spokesman described as implementation and worker education activities. Spending bills are legally protected from being overturned by statewide referendums.
United Auto Workers President Bob King, who joined the protesting crowd, said the bills' passage was "a very partisan, polarizing attack."
A White House spokesman said President Barack Obama continues to oppose right-to-work laws.
"Michigan — and its workers' role in the revival of the U.S. automobile industry — is a prime example of how unions have helped build a strong middle class and a strong American economy," the spokesman said.