The Word from Lansing: The “Lame Duck” Legislative Session

Now that the November election is behind us, the steady stream of television commercials and radio advertisements have also come to their conclusion. Thanks to the votes of 3,185,596 Michiganders, newly elected candidates will join with returning elected officials at the local, state, and federal level when the new legislative session begins in January. Some of the new officials just elected, such as U.S. Senator-elect Gary Peters, will succeed those who are retiring, those who were defeated at the ballot box, or those who can no longer serve due to term limits. Others, like Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, will finish out their current term and continue on with their priorities at the start of the year for the next session.

This year’s election results bring five new U.S. Representatives, including State Senator John Moolenaar, former Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, attorney David Trott, former Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence, and the wife of Congressman John Dingell, Debbie Dingell. The Republicans continue to hold a 9–5 advantage in Michigan’s congressional delegation. Additionally, as mentioned above, Michigan will now have Congressman Gary Peters joining Debbie Stabenow as the newest U.S. Senator for Michigan, due to the retirement of longtime U.S. Senator Carl Levin. At the state level, Republicans in both chambers of the Michigan Legislature have gained seats, extending the party’s supermajority in the Senate to 27–11 and 63–47 in the House.

Before the start of the new legislative session, officials at all levels of government will finish out the remainder of their current term. Following the November election and lasting through the end of the year, the Michigan Legislature will move into its “Lame Duck” period. At the conclusion of these two months, the 2013–2014 legislative session will come to an end. When the session is over, all legislation that has not passed will die and will have to be reintroduced next year if a legislator cares to continue working on the issue.

Since Lame Duck is a short window of time to accomplish remaining priorities for lawmakers and political parties, the agenda at times has been both filled and fast paced. In past years, it has included late evenings at the Capitol, compromise and agreement on legislation and, historically, consideration of contentious legislative issues that were not addressed before the election. Leadership could also decide not to rush issues and wait until the new session starts. As such, Lame Duck can be unpredictable.

As a state with a full time Legislature, Michigan lawmakers meet year-round, and as thousands of bills are introduced throughout the session, any one of those measures could receive consideration during Lame Duck. These measures could address policies concerning the state’s infrastructure, policies regarding families, and policies impacting communities all across Michigan, depending on what issues the leadership wants to take up in the remaining time. There has also been legislative discussion regarding religious liberty protections by enacting new laws that would strengthen constitutional rights. Michigan Catholic Conference strongly supports such measures and looks forward to working with elected officials in both parties should such a debate take place.

Lame Duck signals that the November elections are over. At the same time, it demonstrates that the impact of elections are long felt, a feeling that will carry over into the 2015–2016 session. Elected officials make daily decisions that influence the direction and priorities of the state, and their actions are more than just campaign slogans and television commercials. Legislative debates and votes impact the quality of life for Michigan’s citizens, and it is important to monitor the deliberations that take place at the State Capitol through the end of the year and into the next.

Michigan Catholic Conference, as the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in this state, does not promote particular candidates or any one political party but is always committed to working with all lawmakers on issues that matter to Michigan citizens. During Lame Duck, staff will take part in the legislative discussion as a voice for the poor, the unborn, and the most vulnerable in society. Election season may be over, but the work of the Conference and faithful citizens across the state will continue.