Michigan panel OKs scaling back minimum wage, sick time laws

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LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan's Republican-led Legislature began voting Wednesday on bills that would substantially scale back citizen-initiated minimum wage and paid sick leave laws that a business lobby criticized as too expensive and burdensome, setting up expected court challenges.

The Senate Government Operations Committee voted 3-2 along party lines to advance two bills to the full Senate, which was expected to vote on them later Wednesday.

One measure would delay increasing the minimum wage to $12 an hour to at least 2030, instead of 2022, and repeal provisions to tie future increases to inflation and bring a lower wage for tipped employees in line with the wage for other workers. The current minimum wage is $9.25.

Another bill would exempt employers with fewer than 50 employees from providing paid medical leave and limit the amount of required leave to 36 hours a year at larger employers, instead of up to 72 hours for many businesses as required under the existing law that is scheduled to go into effect in March. Democrats said many large companies and public entities already offer paid sick time, so the changes would effectively "gut" the requirement for people who work at smaller businesses.

To prevent the citizen initiatives from going to voters earlier this month, where they would be much harder to change if voters had passed them, Republican legislators preemptively passed them in September so that they could alter them after the election with simple majority votes in each chamber.

Since the approval of the 1963 state constitution, legislators have adopted seven citizen initiatives but amended just one - and it was not in the same legislative session and came in response to a court ruling. Democrats and backers of the ballot drives say making the changes this year, before Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer takes office, would be illegal.

"Gutting the One Fair Wage proposal after it was adopted is blatantly unconstitutional and will likely will lead to costly, time-consuming court challenges," said Pete Vargas, campaign manager for the minimum wage ballot drive.

But the sponsor of the bill to water down the wage law, Republican Sen. Dave Hildenbrand of Lowell, said he has heard from workers who are "very concerned" about the provision related to those who make tips. He said his legislation reflects discussions with job providers while "preserving the goal of reaching a $12 minimum wage."

The minimum wage is scheduled to rise to $10 in 2019, $10.65 in 2020, $11.35 in 2021 and $12 in 2022, with yearly inflationary adjustments afterward. Under the legislation, the wage would increase by 23 cents annually beginning in 2019 until it hits $12 in 2030 - later if the unemployment rate is 8.5 percent or higher.

The committee also voted Wednesday to remove a provision in the paid sick time law that would let workers get paid time off to care for or help any individual related by "affinity" to the employee and whose close relationship is the equivalent of a family relationship.

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