Lame duck session is a loser for voters

Lame duck is the several months of limbo between old administrations and new, the period between the voters’ decisions and the cleaning out of offices that follows.

It should be a time for emergency procedures, or tying up loose ends of issues that have been given a full public hearing. It’s a time of housekeeping, closure and preparing for new beginnings.

What’s happening in Michigan is not that.

One recent letter writer called it “a session on steroids” and we agree. Dosing our government with last-minute, adrenaline-fueled policy injections on the way out the door isn’t healthy, neither is an attitude of thumbing noses at the political process to score points with the party and leaving a snarled mess for the new administration.

Hundreds of issues are being rammed through — on short notice, without proper hearing or public percolation — like the Line 5 Bridge Authority (Gov. Rick Snyder has since backed down), cellular tower subsidies for telecoms and the pruning of local tree ordinance protections.

All of the victorious state ballot proposals — recreational marijuana, voting ease and setting up an anti-gerrymandering commission — are up for “tweaks.”

These add a host of new measures to the recreational pot measure, including killing the homegrown pot provision, add restrictions to the voting measures and a tack a fine on to redistricting committee members who don’t properly identify their partisanship.

Other bills breezing through include watering down the power of State Attorney General’s Office and Governor’s office in legal proceedings, handcuffing the State Attorney General’s office investigations of fraudulent charity organizations, moving campaign finances to the $92,000 benefit of two senators, and reducing current wetlands protections.

And let’s not forget the referendum measures on minimum wage and sick leave that were taken off the ballot with promised legislative action, only to be gutted in lame duck.

To be fair, we don’t like groups from California and other states coming in and funding and coordinating ballot proposals to change our state’s constitution either.

Ballot proposals were intended to be rare adjustments to our constitution. But now they have become the easy answer to get sometimes very badly written issues past our legislature.

It would be better if ballot proposals in Michigan were actually homegrown out of desire to improve Michigan, which hasn’t always been the case.

Either way, you may agree with these revisions — but we contend that lame duck is not the time to make them.

We understand that it’s nothing new for the party with legislative power to gird up its loins for the change in administration. We know it’s not new for the other party to cry foul, and for these roles to change with the balance of power.

But while it’s nothing new doesn’t mean we shouldn’t recognize its place in governance.

Lame duck finagling was a problem in 1933, when it prompted the 20th amendment to the Constitution to curtail corruption and shorten the time when lawmakers don’t feel accountable to voters, recently wrote governance fellow James Wallner of “R Street.”

From that point it was accepted practice that lame duck sessions were to be only used sparingly, in times of emergency and war.

Wallner points out that there have been 21 lame duck sessions since the Constitution was amended to eliminate the practice. The majority — 13 — have been since 2000.
Lame duck flurries are bad governance — and its dark magic has a way of backfiring on those who use it.