If you can’t win on your own ideas, steal someone else’s
Michigan Republicans have made it patently clear that they have no intention of letting Democrats score any legislative victories whatsoever. In the recent House appropriations legislation debates, for example, Democrats introduced over 70 amendments and every single one of them was shot down by the House Republicans. But even Republicans don’t think that EVERY idea that Democrats have is a bad one. It’s just not something they want the rest of Michigan to believe. So, in order to deny Democrats any legislative victories in the current session, Republicans have begun using an approach that I haven’t heard of before: introducing legislation that is identical to a bill that was introduced by a Democrat and then supporting that legislation instead.
I’m not kidding.
I spoke with Rep. David Knezek (D- Dearborn Heights) about this at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner this past Saturday night. His first foray into introducing new legislation came in the form of two Joint House Resolutions that would amend the state constitution to allow Michiganders serving our country in the military to be considered residents with regard to tuition rates at public universities.
Specifically, House Joint Resolution L (pdf) says:
The Board of an institution described in subsection (1) shall be considered a student enrolled in that institution a resident of this state for determining his or her tuition rates if the student is an active duty member, reserve member, or honorably discharged veteran of the armed forces of the United States.
It’s a great idea. With his background as a two-time Iraqi veteran with the Marine Corp, Knezek knows a little bit about the challenges that face returning vets. In fact, Knezek told me that he had a number of Republicans approach him after he introduced HJR L on February 28th to tell him they thought it was a great piece of legislation. Then, in early March, Republican State Rep. Jim Stamas (R-Midland) came to him and told him he’d have to pull HJR L.
“Why?” asked Knezek.
“Because I’m taking it,” Stamas told the dumbfounded freshman lawmaker.
And take it he did. Just a week after Knezek had introduced HJR L, Stamas introduced House Joint Resolution N (pdf). You might think that with such a blatant theft Stamas would have added his own spin to the resolution. You would be wrong. HJR L and HJR N are identical, word-for-word.
When I commented how bold and audacious a theft this was, Knezek said, “You know, it’s a good bill and at the end of the day I don’t care who gets credit for it as long as our military veterans are protected. But, yeah, it’s frustrating.”
Think that’s a one-off, something that is out of the ordinary? Apparently not. Democrat Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) had one of his bills stolen as well. Singh introduced House Bill No. 4351 (pdf) that would allow postponement of jury duty service to “full-time students enrolled in and attending a college, community college, or university.” It was introduced on February 28th. A month and a half later, Republican Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) introduced House Bill No. 4570 (pdf), a virtually identical bill to Singh’s. It is barely altered from the original but the intent is identical and the language in the bill nearly so.
This may be the lamest, most pathetic thing Republicans have done yet. Rather than allow Democrats any victory at all — and let’s face it, in a legislature as heavily dominated by Republicans as Michigan’s, victories are few and far between — they’d rather steal the Democrats’ ideas and pretend they are their own. The statement this makes about Michigan Republicans’ ethics and the integrity or, rather, the lack thereof, is profound.
UPDATE: As it turns out, this practice is not particularly uncommon and happens in both directions. Why? So that legislators can go to their constituents and say, “See?! I was all over this issue for you guys.” The rub is that the party in power calls the shots and decides which version of the legislation gets passed and, at the moment, that’s the Republicans across the board.
Here’s another example that reflects just as poorly on the Democrats as it does the Republicans:
On January 29th, Republican Joseph Graves introduced House Bill 4130 (pdf), legislation to repeal the tax on senior citizens’ pensions.
On February 5th, Democrat Bert Johnson introduced a Senate version that is literally the exact same bill, Senate Bill 145 (pdf).
On March 20th, Republican Rick Jones introduced an identical bill, Senate Bill 280 (pdf) that has additional language involving restoring the homestead property tax for certain groups. Chances are if you dig through the legislation, there is a Democratic version of the rest of that bill, too.
Finally, just last week on April 16th, Democrat Theresa Abed in the House introduced an bill identical to the original House bill introduced in late January, House Bill 4564 (pdf).
This doesn’t make it any less offensive that Republicans, who know full well that they are going to get every single thing they push for, are stealing Dems’ bills to deny them any victories whatsoever. But what it very clearly does is to cast a septic light on the whole goddam place.
By the way, this isn’t a Michigan-specific thing. From the feedback I’m getting on Twitter and in my email, this happens all over the USA.
Oh, one final thing: one Michigan Senate staffer told me off the record that the Dems had recently proposed a piece of legislation that was pretty bipartisan. They presented it to the Governor’s chief of staff to get their take on it and were ready to go. Then, a short time later, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville informed them that he was giving it to a Republican instead. So you can’t always trust who is “first to file” a bill because legislation often gets discussed and revised prior to its formal introduction in the legislature.
Isn’t this fun?
(More of my take on this in my post “This is why we can’t have nice government”.)
UPDATE; This story has been updated HERE.