Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Most lame duck bills quack and die

By JULIE MIANECKI
Capital News Service

LANSING – The phrase ‘lame duck’ was originally used to depict the lack of power and influence of bankrupt businesspeople in the 18th century.

It describes the same characteristics in legislative sessions today, which raises questions about why senators and representatives still bother to introduce legislation during this largely ineffective post-election period.

“Hope springs eternal,” said Jack Holmes, a professor of political science at Hope College. “If it’s fairly routine and noncontroversial, it may have a better shot in lame duck than it does when some fundamental changes are being made in Michigan government in January.”

That’s the reason Rep. John Walsh, R-Livonia, said he introduced a bill that would allow NASCAR race sites to apply for a single liquor license covering all the venues that sell alcohol.

Currently, each venue must apply for a separate license, although the same company owns and operates all of them.

“It’s noncontroversial. We just weren’t able to find a bill to add it to earlier,” Walsh said. “We all know it needs to be done. Now we have the time to do it, so why not do it?”

Walsh unsuccessfully tried to add the measure to a package of bills regarding liquor control passed earlier this month.

He predicted the new bill will make its way to the governor’s desk before the end of the year since the Senate already passed one version.

Walsh added that although he was re-elected, he chose not to wait until next year because there will be more important issues to discuss then.

“Bills like this can be introduced, but I’ve got to be spending my time on things like the budget, tax issues and regulatory reform in the new year,” Walsh said. “So let’s do the small stuff now.”

Not all legislation introduced in the lame duck period is likely to pass, however.

Sen. Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, recently introduced the “Hunting Heritage” bill that would eliminate the minimum hunting age and provide training to educate parents and their children on safe hunting practices.

Two years ago, the minimum hunting age for firearm deer season dropped from 14 to 12.

Richardville acknowledged he doesn’t expect the latest bill to pass.

“I think that it will require more attention and public commentary,” Richardville said. “My guess about what’s going to happen is that it will bring people’s attention, and it will be reintroduced next session.”

Sen. Judson Gilbert, R-Algonac, also predicted that his recently introduced legislation won’t pass this year. It would transfer leftover sales tax revenue from aviation fuel and products to the state aeronautics fund.

“We need a lot of infrastructural work on airports,” Gilbert said. “But the reality is there’s no chance that this is going to be passed because there’s not enough time to get it through this year.”

Gilbert won’t return to the Senate in January since he is term-limited, but said he’d been approached during the election break and asked to introduce the proposal.

“Hopefully it will create some discussion because a lot of legislators aren’t quite aware of the problem,” Gilbert said.

During this lame duck period, legislators have also introduced bills such as the “Puppy Protection Act” by Rep. Fred Miller, D-Mount Clemens, which would regulate treatment of dogs at large breeding kennels, and a bill by Sen. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi, that would eliminate Michigan’s film incentives. Both are term-limited and couldn’t seek re-election this month.

Hope’s Holmes, said introducing bills during the lame duck period without expecting them to pass is common, and agreements that wouldn’t happen during normal sessions may happen during lame duck periods.

“Sometimes they’re just trying to make a point,” Holmes said, “but sometimes there’s a compromise that wouldn’t happen regularly. There’s so much to be done – the incoming governor has got to make some very critical and difficult decisions, and legislators might feel they might not have as much attention to these noncritical things during that time.”

Walsh, of Livonia, agreed that the Legislature will shift its focus on Jan. 1 when Republicans control the House, Senate and governorship.

“My intention in January, and I think this is the intention of all of us that have been elected, is that we have serious work to do, and we need to get to it immediately,” Walsh said.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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CNS reporters cover state government — issues and personalities.



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