Government

Bills flow through legislature with little chance of passage

But there are many reasons why they are introduced.

November 3, 2012
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LANSING — The end of the political year is coming soon, but some lawmakers are still proposing bills, even if they might not pass this term.

“It is not impossible, but it is hard, really hard,” said Sen. Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw, “especially for a newly introduced bill.”

Kahn introduced a bill on Oct. 17 to allow the sale of marijuana through licensed facilities. The bill would control an individual’s possession and use of the drug.

He was asked to introduce it because he is a physician. “I understand this situation and think this is a meaningful bill.” He said the bill may pass this year, but the possibility is small.

“There are only eight session days left. Then very likely it will be reintroduced next year,” Kahn said. “It would be the hope of the people who particularly want to see that bill passed.”

Sen. Mark Jansen, R-Grand Rapids, said it’s reasonable for legislators to introduce bills at this time of the year.

“Right now you might be thinking, ‘OK, I have a new idea,’” he said. “You may introduce it because you just want to get people’s attention to talk about it, to be interested in it. Next year you will be able to fix what people don’t like about the bill.”

Jansen said those who are leaving their positions as representatives at the end of December hope other representatives might reintroduce their bills next year.

“The point is, you can educate people by introducing those bills,” said Sen. John Gleason, D-Flushing, “After the election when House members return, you will get two months to re-educate them.”

Gleason is the only senator who is leaving his position at the end of this year. He will be on the ballot for Genesee County clerk on Nov. 6.

“You never retire from your career, just retire from jobs,” he said.

Among 110 representatives, 14 face the end of their terms in Lansing.

It is Rick Olson’s, R-Saline, last year as a representative and he is still trying to get a bill passed that he introduced on Oct. 17. It would reduce the power of the Civil Service Commission.

“I think any legislator is trying to push his bill as soon as possible, whether it is in the beginning or the end of the term,” he said.

He also said it is a good way to get support from other representatives and the public.

“Once you introduce a bill, people will either support or oppose it. And you learn a lot from that,” Olson said.

But there are emergencies when lawmakers want a bill to pass — even at the end of their term.

For example, Olson introduced a bill related to transportation funding and he is not sure whether it will pass before he leaves the job.

“This year, $1.4 billion is needed to maintain roads and bridges in Michigan and the cost goes up annually,” he said. “Next year the number will increase to $1.8 million, according to a just-released report.”

He said there is an emergency need to figure that out and keep roads and bridges in better condition as soon as possible.

Kahn said passage of a bill depends on three things: 20 votes from the Senate, 56 votes from the House and the governor’s signature. “And even that is not enough because the courts can overturn it,” he said.

So far this year, representatives introduced 1,985 bills and senators introduced 1,356 bills.

However, among them, only 319 have become laws — 182 of them introduced in the House and 137 from the Senate, legislative statistics show.

Kahn said that apart from the quality and the idea of a bill, the mechanics of getting it passed depend on where supporters get those 20 votes in the Senate.

“The bill should be introduced by somebody who is relatively knowledgeable in particular areas,” he said.

Jansen said a lot of bills right now suffer from lack of research.

“I work on different things. Sometimes I have to ask myself whether I will introduce it because it depends on how much I have going on now,” he said.

And Olson noted: “It is an election year.”

Olson said under certain circumstances, bills can be introduced for publicity purposes.

“People may not have time to do research. We are faced with multiple issues, so there are many different topics. You cannot be an expert on every of them,” Olson said. “Few representatives can say they are a expert on any of them.”

He said most bills tackle complicated issues, like insurance and taxes.

Besides that, time is always limited and it is difficult to go deeply into those complicated issues, according to Olson.

“For a no-fault insurance bill I have been working on, there are four different economic reports. Among them, no one agrees with each other,” Olson said. “I don’t know how much other representatives read before they agree or oppose it.”

He also said, “Some minority parties don’t have a chance to get any bills passed. They will introduce something to show ‘yes, I am trying,’ even if they don’t have anything in mind. Unfortunately, politics is all that kind of stuff.”

Kahn agreed.

“Some bills are introduced just for show,” he said. “You are just putting it out there so people can get an idea what it is. You are

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