No need to rush in the lame-duck session

Last-minute legislative flailing rarely produces positives

The word “lame” is all we really need to describe many political flailings that have become synonymous with the final gasps of each year’s legislative activities.

The aptly named lame-duck session in the state legislature — the weeks following Election Day when lawmakers often pass bills by the shovel load on their way to the door — has trained Michiganders to expect the worst. It is a window prior to the holidays when the slow cogs in the state’s lawmaking machine hit high gear.

Long-stalled or near-dead bills find new life while others materialize from out of the blue and receive little more than a passing glance from most senators and representatives before they cast votes. There certainly have been a few diamonds amid the debris during past session-ending sprees, but excellence is the exception not the rule.

Last year a pair of elections bills fired through in the final days of the 2015 session eroded voters’ rights by eliminating straight-ticket voting and severely restricting local governments’ ability to communicate information about ballot questions. One, passed late in the evening of the last day before the legislature’s holiday break, included dozens of pages of amendments lawmakers admitted they didn’t lift a finger to read.

That legislative miscarriage was later signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, effectively handcuffing school districts, counties, cities and townships from disseminating even nonpartisan information about ballot measures within 60 days of an election.

This year’s close likely will feature the same flurry of activity as the Dec. 15 final session moves closer. And history shows no year would be complete without at least a few slipshod bills hitting the floor for a vote.

Such sloppy showings seem to be par for the course during the fleeting days of each session. They are the kinds of actions that give government a bad name and leave many asking “what’s the rush?”

Bills that earn nary a second glance during the lame-duck days surely would pass during a regular session if they were examples of sound lawmaking.

So it is paramount that our northern Michigan lawmakers, even if it isn’t popular with their peers, pause to ask a few prudent questions before they cast an affirmative vote: “What’s the rush?” and “Do I understand this bill?”

Those are queries every taxpayer asks before signing his or her name to any legal document, so why shouldn’t our representatives in Lansing run their house with the same scrutiny and skepticism?

They are questions we, and their constituents likely will ask after the dust settles in the New Year and the laws passed during the lame-duck session are viewed with clear eyes.

We expect our representatives and senators will do their best to excise the “lame” from lame duck.

— TRAVERSE CITY RECORD-EAGLE