Michigan minimum wage won't hit $13 as appeals court blocks ruling, says 2018 legislature's move was legal

The Michigan Court of Appeals has reversed a lower court decision that would have increased the state's hourly minimum wage to $13.03 starting in February.

In 2018, Michigan voters approved a petition to raise the state's minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2022. The petition, however, was blocked by the Republican-led legislature in a lame duck session in December of that year. 

The GOP-controlled Legislature engaged in "adopt and amend," a controversial and unprecedented strategy. To prevent minimum wage and sick time ballot drives from going to the electorate, after which they would have been much harder to change if voters had passed them, legislators approved them so they could be made more business-friendly after the election with simple majority votes and the signature of the outgoing Republican governor, Rick Snyder.

At issue in front of the court was whether that "adopt and amend" strategy was legal in the state of Michigan.

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In July 2022, a judge on the Court of Claims threw out those changes but entered an order staying the effect of this decision until February 19, 2023, to give employers and the relevant state agencies time to accommodate the changes required by the ruling. That ruling was appealed with the decision coming down on Thursday.

The three court panel – Judges Christopher Murray, Michael Kelly and Michael Riordan – ruled that the state's constitution did, in fact, allow for the strategy to be utilized.

Murray wrote the opinion and was joined by both Kelly and Riordan in agreement. However, Kelly's two-page consent included several scathing notes about the legislature, where he called the action made by the legislature "anti-democratic".

I concur with the majority that it does. Although this procedure is permissible under the language of our constitution, this ploy—adopting an initiative into law so as to prevent it from going onto the ballot and then promptly and substantially amending that law in a manner that has left it essentially defanged—is anti-democratic. I cannot believe that this drastic action is what the drafters of our constitution even contemplated, let alone intended," he wrote.

He also said decisions like the one made by the legislature are a reason that public opinion polls of politicians are so low.

"It is a direct assault on one of the rights our founding fathers and the drafters of our state constitution held dear: the right of the citizens to petition their government," Kelly said. "When the history of this legislature is written, it is difficult to imagine anybody saying that this was their finest hour."

Murray's 20-page opinion outlines that the ruling by the trial court was not in line with the state's constitution and must be overturned.

The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association President (MRLA) issued a statement praising the ruling, saying it will save thousands of jobs:

"We are relieved and appreciative of the unanimous ‘Adopt and Amend’ decision out of the Court of Appeals today that will allow Michigan and its 18,000 restaurants and hotels to move forward with greater certainty as to their operating future. Through this ruling, countless restaurants and 50,000 hospitality jobs have been at least temporarily saved. We are optimistic that the Michigan Supreme Court will recognize the same and allow this industry to redirect its focus to the daunting task of recovering from a pandemic that decimated it so completely."