by Félix Pérez
A coalition of worker and civil rights groups filed a lawsuit against the state last week, charging state officials violated the state’s open meetings law in December when they passed a right-to-work law while locking the public and the media out of the state Capitol.
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The lawsuit, filed January 31 in Ingham County Circuit Court, alleges the decision to lock down the Capitol “deprived the public of their right to participate in the legislative process.” The lockout, which lasted for more than four hours, violated the Open Meetings Act, the First Amendment and the Michigan Constitution, charges the complaint.
By allowing state police to block citizens from entering the Capitol, Lansing politicians not only violated the basic American principles of open and transparent government, they also violated specific state and federal laws designed to protect the rights of citizens, said Steven Cook, an education support professional and president of the Michigan Education Association, which is a plaintiff in the complaint.
Republican leaders rammed through the right-to-work law without any public input or amendments. On the day the bill was signed into law, more than 17,000 workers stormed the halls and grounds of the Capitol to protest the bill, which is expected to drive down wages for all workers by about $1,500 annually.
Workers believe the law is a politically motivated attack on their rights by Gov. Rick Snyder and GOP leaders appeasing their wealthy donors and anti-worker business titans Dick DeVos, Amway heir, and billionaire CEOs David and Charles Koch, also known as the “Koch Brothers.” DeVos, the Koch Brothers, and other wealthy, right-wing extremists are bankrolling anti-worker legislation that does nothing to restore balance to the economy or solve the problems of the middle class.
“The closure of the entrance to the Capitol while contentious right-to-work legislation was being debated and voted on inside unquestionably impaired the rights of the public to witness and influence the affairs of their government. Hundreds of concerned citizens from all over Michigan were prevented from accessing the Senate and the House of Representatives to watch the proceedings, make their presence known, communicate with and lobby their representatives, and report to others what they observed,” according to the complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The lawsuit stems from Dec. 6, 2012, when the Capitol doors were locked to prevent additional people from coming to witness or engage their legislators while right-to-work bills were being debated on the House and Senate floors. The public, including some journalists, were locked out while legislators debated and voted on the bills. While individuals already in the Capitol could stay, people waiting outside were not allowed to enter. In addition, the galleries overlooking the House floor were intentionally packed with legislative staffers so that the public could not participate.