by Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Dec. 28, 2018
Lansing — Term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Snyder went on a veto spree Friday, rejecting 41 lame-duck bills, including a controversial measure that would have given the GOP-led Legislature greater authority to intervene in legal battles next year as Democrats take over top statewide offices.
The proposal, which generated national attention as a power play move to limit the authority of Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General-elect Dana Nessel, sought to guarantee that the Michigan House or Senate could join any court case challenging the constitutionality or validity of a state law or any action by the Legislature.
Snyder called it a “well-intentioned” plan to ensure laws passed by the Legislature are properly defended in court. But the governor is responsible for managing the “litigation position of the state as an entity,” and the legislation would “serve only to complicate the management of that litigation,” the governor wrote in his veto letter.
Michigan legislators already have options to intervene in legal battles and can ask for court permission to file briefs. That process has “seemingly worked well,” Snyder wrote. “Were this legislation in place during my term as governor, I believe it would have limited my office’s ability to coordinate and manage the defense of the state in lawsuits.”
Nessel was a vocal opponent of the legislation, which critics contend would have blurred a longstanding separation of power, and said in a Friday statement she is “grateful to Gov. Snyder for demonstrating his integrity and commitment to upholding the Michigan Constitution.”
Supporters had argued the plan would ensure the Legislature has a chance to defend its laws. On the campaign trail, Nessel suggested she may not do so for statutes she views as unconstitutional, including a 2015 law that allows faith-based adoption agencies to decline to work with gay residents. Same-sex couples have sued the state over the law, and the litigation remains in court.
The governor, who is set to leave office next week, spent his Friday deciding the fate of more than 220 of the nearly 400 bills lawmakers sent to his desk earlier this month during a busy lame-duck session. He signed a slew of bills, including a $1.3 billion supplemental spending plan and a heavily debated measure that will toughen rules for petition drives to initiate legislation and ballot proposals.
Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer in a statement released late Friday criticized Snyder’s approval of the petition drive rules, but said she was pleased to see his veto of the legislative intervention provisions “that were part of the effort to undermine” the authority of the incoming Democratic administration.
“I hope the new Republican leaders in the Legislature are ready and willing to work together to get things done in a way that positively impacts the people of Michigan,” Whitmer said.
Snyder’s veto spree took down a sweeping bipartisan package that would have legalized Internet gambling through casinos and a controversial GOP measure that would have permanently prohibited doctors from using an Internet web camera to prescribe abortion-inducing medication.
Snyder also rejected a separate measure to clarify that “memorandums of understanding” remain in effect after a governor leaves office. In his veto letter, Snyder said the proposal “appears to have a noble purpose — transparency” but argued the GOP legislation “has the potential to lead the way toward more routine legislative encroachment into regulating the activities of future governors.”
Another bill Snyder vetoed would have made it a misdemeanor for public officials to force nonprofit charities and politically active groups to disclose their donors for government review. The governor said it’s a “laudable” goal to protect nonprofit donors from political retaliation but called the GOP measure a “solution in search of a problem that does not exist in Michigan.”
Nessel also praised that veto, noting the attorney general’s office is tasked with “protecting the integrity” of charitable organizations and charitable giving. Snyder has “preserved a valuable tool in our arsenal, ensuring donor transparency and shining a light on dark money donations,” she said.
Snyder also rejected bills that would have shortened the window for criminal prosecution of campaign finance violations, changed tinting rules for car windows and prevented local units of government from banning pet shops.
In his veto of the internet gambling package, Snyder noted that months of work went into the bills but cited “unknown budget concerns” including the potential that allowing online gambling on poker and other casino games could depress Michigan Lottery revenue that supports K-12 schools.
“This legislation merits more careful study and comparisons with how other states have, or will, authorize online gaming,” Snyder wrote in his veto letter. “To be blunt, we simply don’t have the data to support the change at this time.”
Michigan would have become the fifth state in the country to legalize online gambling under the legislation, which would have authorized Detroit and tribal casinos to operate web portals. It could have also paved the way for potential sports betting in the wake of a May ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Supporters argued that residents are already finding ways to gamble online and that legalizing betting through casinos would keep revenues in the state. But Snyder said he was concerned the legislation would encourage more gambling by “making it much easier to do so.”
The Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling praised Snyder’s veto, saying the governor put “the best interests of addicts, families and schools above the special interests of the online gambling industry.”
The telemedicine abortion legislation would have extended a temporary ban that Snyder signed in 2012. In his veto letter to legislators, the governor said objective research now shows “that medical abortions are safe and that a virtual consultation with a physician is as effective as (an) in-person consultation.”
Snyder said Michigan has a “first-class” medical community that regularly makes thoughtful and deliberate determinations on the safety of health care delivery methods. Telemedicine for medical abortions should not be any different, he told legislators.
“Telemedicine gives patients, including those in rural areas of Michigan with limited access, greater access to medical care,” Snyder wrote. “Ultimately, providing patients with the ability to remotely receive safe and proper medical care, at a time-sensitive period for the patient, is significant.”
Current Michigan law set to expire Dec. 31 requires women to physically visit a doctor to obtain prescriptions for pills to induce an abortion. Right to Life of Michigan had pushed to extend the law, calling it a safety measure for medication that can have side effects.
On social media late Friday, Right to Life Michigan noted Snyder’s veto of the bill that would have made the webcam ban permanent. The current law’s expiration next week, the group wrote, will let “Planned Parenthood expand and make it so that a woman never has to meet an abortionist before taking the dangerous abortion pill.”
“Eight years ago Snyder claimed to be prolife, but that was a cynical lie,” Right to Life wrote on its Facebook page.
The federal Food and Drug Administration prohibits women from filling a prescription for mifepristone at a retail pharmacy as part of a “risk evaluation and mitigation strategy.” But groups like the American Medical Association have urged the federal agency to lift the restrictions.
Nineteen other states ban remote prescriptions for abortion pills, according to Right to Life of Michigan. But there is no obstetrician-gynecologist in nearly one-third of Michigan’s 83 counties, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, whose national affiliate has challenged prescription restrictions in other states.