By state Rep. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake
Sometimes you come across a state law that is so absurd that it makes you wonder – what were they thinking?
At least that’s what I recently thought while the House debated passage of a good piece of legislation, Senate Bill 281, which ends what can only be described as an irrational sweetheart deal for bailiffs in Detroit’s 36th District Court.
The Senate bill changes the segment of state law enacted in 1981 when Common Pleas Court of Detroit became the district court. The existing law enables the court’s bailiffs to hold their offices until death, retirement, resignation or removal from office for malfeasance.
In other words, they have lifetime employment with benefits regardless of their physical or mental ability to do the job. And although their salaries are reasonable – $20,000 a year – they charge a fee for every civil action they serve. That added-value fee pushes their reasonable salaries to a mind-boggling $250,000 a year. You read that right – they have lifetime jobs that pay more than one quarter of a million dollars annually.
Reforming that 1981 law – which passed in the House by a 67-36 vote – is exactly the kind of common-sense legislation the House and Senate should focus on. Taxpayers are forced to pay court employees who may not be able to carry out their duties. And if that’s the case, there is no recourse to end their employment unless they resign, violate the public trust or die.
I cannot fathom how the majority of the Legislature 34 years ago could have voted in favor of the existing bill. How could responsible lawmakers not see the quandary they would leave taxpayers in should the bailiffs not be able to perform their jobs?
What boggles the mind even more is how lawmakers in 2015 can vote against a reform bill that will save taxpayers money. Thirty-six of my colleagues, including most Detroit representatives, voted against SB 281. They want to retain an employment arrangement that one of my Republican colleagues called “bizarre.” I agree wholeheartedly.
I know the Legislature has worked hard for the past five years to eliminate ridiculous laws such as the one that grants the bailiffs lifetime employment and benefits. As I serve on the House Committee on Judiciary, I will continue to strive for good legislative reform that eliminates irrational and costly laws like the one we recently voted to abolish.