Recent legislative, legal disputes focus public attention on state laws in Midwest determining effective date of bills

Stateline Midwest ~ May 2012

When can and do bills enacted into law actually take effect?


It is a question that usually merits scant attention outside the walls of state capitols, but over the past two years, the institutional issue has become part of the bigger story over the future of public employee union laws in the Midwest.

The drama first played out last year in Wisconsin, after lawmakers passed and the governor signed a bill limiting collective bargaining rights. The Legislative Reference Bureau subsequently published the act, a move that proponents thought marked the bill’s effective date, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported at the time.

However, Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette delayed publishing the act due to a court order, and under state law, his office must do so before a law can take effect. Another three months elapsed before La Follette published the bill, following a state Supreme Court ruling that overturned the lower court’s order.

Like Wisconsin, every state in the Midwest has its own unique set of laws and practices for determining the effective date of bills (see table below).

Under the Ohio Constitution, for example, 90 days must elapse before a bill signed into law can take effect. That delay gives time for opponents to collect enough signatures to force a statewide referendum on enactment of the law — which is exactly what occurred last year after passage of SB 5, a measure that curtailed collective-bargaining rights for public employees. Though it passed the legislature and was signed by the governor, SB 5 never took effect. Ohioans voted it down in November.

There are exceptions to Ohio’s usual 90-day delay: With a two-thirds a vote in the House and Senate, certain spending measures can take immediate effect, as can “emergency laws necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety.”

In Michigan, a bill generally does not take effect until 90 days after the end of legislative session. However, the state Constitution provides that a bill can be given immediate effect by a two-thirds vote of both houses. And this year, a legal dispute has surfaced in that state over the legislative process being employed.

Use of the immediate-effect clause is nothing new in Michigan, nor is the practice in the House of using a “rising vote”: Members in favor of giving the bill immediate effect rise in support, and the presiding officer determines whether sufficient support exists.

However, House Democrats say they have requested, and have been denied, record roll-call votes. Such votes, they say, would have shown that the majority didn’t meet the two-thirds requirement on two controversial union-related bills. House Republicans counter that the Constitution does not specify which type of votes must be taken, thus leaving such matters to the discretion of the Legislature.

In early April, a Michigan circuit court judge granted the House Democrats’ request for a preliminary injunction. A week later, the state Court of Appeals overturned the injunction, allowing the two laws to take effect while the court heard the case.