An article in Mother Jones recently revealed the threat to abortion coverage under the Affordable Care Act in Michigan. So far, 23 states have adopted the so-called "Stupak Amendment," named for U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI). The amendment forces women to purchase separate insurance policies that cover abortion. It also allows employers to choose not to offer their employees these separate programs, thereby preventing some women from accessing abortion coverage. It is a clever way of working around one of the ACA's most important provisions for women, and it is especially concerning that the original idea came from a House Democrat. Michigan's Governor, Republican Rick Snyder, has already vetoed a bill that is nearly identical to a bill that is about to come before the Michigan state legislature after being petitioned by an organization called Michigan Right to Life.
That would seem to ease the concerns of pro-choice Michiganders, but a bizarre provision of the state's constitution makes it possible for the bill to become law without ever seeing Governor Snyder's desk. In Michigan, citizens may send a bill to the legislature with only 3% signing a petition in favor of it. After that, only a simple majority in the legislature is necessary for the bill to pass. The Governor's signature is not necessary. With the state legislature controlled by Republicans, this seems to be a done deal. Michigan's constitution effectively makes the veto pivot, the filibuster pivot, and the median voter the same legislator. As Republicans hold the majority in the legislature, it is safe to assume that the median voter is a Republican who will support this bill. Thus, as the article points out, the best case scenario for Michigan Democrats and supporters of a woman's right to choose is that there is no vote on this bill.
Not only does it change our usual thinking about the gridlock interval and pivotal legislators, this provision in Michigan's state constitution also raises some concerns about representation. Under the constitution, a mere 3% of Michigan's population can push through legislation if it lines up with the preferences of the median voter in the state legislature. That is not to say that that is what's happening with the Stupak amendment--perhaps 51% of people in Michigan support the measure. But let's say that proposition X is a radically conservative proposal and the Michigan state legislature is also far more radical than the state's population in general on the particular issue that proposition X addresses. In that instance, 3% of the state could force a radical new law on the other 97% without the Governor's signature as a check on the legislature's power. It would be interesting to explore how this provision made its way into the state's constitution and what its benefits might be, but on its face it seems problematic.