Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

January 30, 2013

Editorial: Full-time legislative body is unnecessary

A proposal to make the Michigan Legislature part-time is a good idea for a host of reasons. One of the best can be summed up in one word: Lobbyists.

Right now, even with the copious amounts of time off lawmakers give themselves, the time they spend in Lansing makes them easy prey for the hundreds of influence peddlers whose only job is to promote their employers' interests, even to the point of writing many of the bills the Legislature enacts every year.

Virtually every day when the Legislature is in session some special interest group or another is hosting a breakfast or lunch for lawmakers to pitch new laws or urge changes in regulations they don't like. Then there are the private dinners or just drinks after work, all with aim of making law someone likes.

Because of term limits lawmakers don't have the experience they once had, which makes them more dependent than ever on bureaucrats and lobbyists to explain — and even set — the agenda.

And it's not as if lawmakers put in a real year's worth of work.

The Legislature worked a measly 81 days in 2012 and put in just 10 days from mid-June through the end of November; most of the remaining time was spent campaigning for re-election. They capped the year with the now-infamous three-week lame-duck session, when they rammed through 282 bills, most with little or no public input. It was a lobbyists' dream.

For the record, lawmakers were in session for a paltry 100 days in 2011, a non-election year. Compare that to the 240 days most of us — those lucky enough to have four weeks of vacation — work in an average year.

For the most part, then, the Legislature is already working just part-time but with full-time pay and benefits.

The Senate bill sponsored by Sen. John Proos of St. Joseph would let voters decide if lawmakers should work only 90 days a year. A similar bill to be introduced in the House would cut lawmakers's annual salary of $71,685 by 75 percent.

Of the top 10 most populous states, only three others — California, Pennsylvania and New York — have full-time legislatures. Three have semi-full-time legislatures that generally don't meet year-round. Most states have lawmaker sessions limited to 90 days or fewer, and some don't even meet every year.

If Michigan had a track record of fair, well-conceived laws that put the populace first and a Legislature that honestly addressed real problems like jobs, crumbling roads or poverty, a full-time body might be justified.

But we don't; and it isn't.

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