BY AJ TRAGER
LANSING – In an attempt to create uniform community benefits ordinances throughout the state, a Michigan lawmaker has waged war against the 38 municipal LGBT civil rights ordinances that have been passed in cities across Michigan.
A Michigan House committee is considering House Bill 4052, the “Local Government Employer Mandate Prohibition Act,” that seeks to limit the units of local government to adopt, enforce or administer certain local mandates for employers.
The Committee on Commerce and Trade held a meeting on the bill that would prohibit local units of government from creating a “community benefits ordinance” under which contractors or developers would enact new rules for engaging in business with other companies; prohibit local units from establishing any requirement related to employee wages or benefits except as provided by law; and void any community benefits ordinance or similar ordinance adopted by a local unit in violation of the act.
Michigan does not have protections for sexual orientation and gender identity listed under the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
Local government bodies would therefore be prohibited from adopting, enforcing or administering an ordinance, local policy or resolution regulating the relationship between an employer and its employees or potential employees if the resolution contains requirements exceeding those imposed by the state or federal government. Opponents of the bill have coined it the “Death Star” bill because it would impose strict state control over municipal governments.
“Essentially what it aims to do is eliminate a whole series of local ordinances around the state that deal with employer-employee relationships. I’m a former city councilman, and we enacted a whole slew of ordinances designed to protect the middle class and vulnerable communities like LGBT citizens. There is an attempt by House Republicans to undo all of those protections,” Rep. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, said. “Included among that could be the elimination of all anti-discrimination ordinances around the state.”
Moss is one of seven Democrats on the 19 member committee and also sits on the Local Government Committee.
Coincidentally, a resolution was recently introduced into the Local Government Committee that had only GOP partisan support. The resolution, Moss describes, calls on the U.S. Supreme Court to respect 10th Amendment rights and to respect state’s rights to individual needs, customs and values in anticipation of an affirming ruling that would set marriage equality as the national standard.
“How come when it comes to the Supreme Court, we have to hold onto our local customs and values but we totally disregard local customs and values of our local municipalities,” Moss asked the sponsor of HB 4052.
The bill was put on the agenda last minute, one day before the committee hearing. Which concerns Moss, who recognizes that a last minute effort suggests obvious problems within the language of the bill and that HB 4052 needed to be vetted further.
Not all testimony was presented to committee members May 12. The Michigan Municipal League and Equality Michigan were among many who did not have a chance to voice their concerns.
On May 19 the committee will meet again to hear additional testimony regarding HB 4052. Representatives from several chambers of commerce were present and spoke in favor of the bill and how this legislation will amend the discrepancies that local ordinances provide when allocating wages and employee rights.
History is moving in one direction, Moss says, referencing a nationwide GOP push towards passing religious freedom restoration acts to protect the sanctity of religious beliefs in non-religious arenas.
Michigan has two other anti-LGBT bills currently pending a vote. The Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act (HB 5958), which is similar to the RFRA bill passed in Indiana and a three-bill package that passed out of the Senate Families Seniors and Human Services Committee that could be voted on by the Michigan Senate, would allow for faith-based adoption agencies to refuse to serve prospective parents based on their religious beliefs.
East Lansing Mayor Nathan Triplett posted on his Facebook May 12 that “this legislation is a sweeping usurpation of the local control prerogative of Michigan communities. It flies in the face of both the Michigan Constitution’s general grant of authority to cities and villages (Const. 1963, Art. VII, SS 22) and our proud history of home rule.”
East Lansing was the first city to enact a municipal ordinance adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classed under the city’s civil rights ordinance. Michigan recently added Grand Rapids to the list of now 38 cities across the state to have LGBT protections added to city civil rights ordinances.
“East Lansing’s comprehensive nondiscrimination ordinance, for example, makes it unlawful for an employer to “(l)imit, segregate, classify, fail or refuse to hire, to recruit, to discharge, or otherwise discriminate against an individual with respect to employment, compensation, or a term, condition, or privilege of employment, including a benefit plan or system…” based on, among other categories, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and student status. “Since none of these categories are currently protected by either Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act or any federal nondiscrimination law, our ordinance provisions ‘exceed’ those imposed by both state and federal law and would be invalidated by HB 4052,” Triplett said.
The bill was introduced by Rep. Earl Poleski, R-Jackson, on Jan. 22 after he introduced a similar bill in the Michigan Competitiveness Committee in December 2014.
“This has become a business vs. employee conversation. Which, ultimately, we need to recognize that these employees are also citizens,” Moss said. “In state and certainly local government, we have a responsibility to protect citizens and boost citizens’ ability to stay in and enter into the middle class. It is illogical for this to be taken up and for it to be gaining support in the business community.”
BY AJ TRAGER