Michigan Compiled Law may be the preferred way to cite state law

There is more than one way to cite state law. There are several reasons to use the MCL citation over the Public Act number.

Typical courthouse law library of Michigan Compiled Laws, Annotated.  MSU Extension Kurt H. Schindler.
Typical courthouse law library of Michigan Compiled Laws, Annotated. MSU Extension Kurt H. Schindler.

It may be better and easier to refer to state laws using the MCL number, rather than using the Public Act (PA) number. Often when writing about government and public policy issues, we refer to Michigan Statutes. When doing so, we often reference the state law by use of the Michigan Compiled Laws (MCL) number. People often talk about the public act number, such as PA 110 of 2006 when referring to the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act. But there is good reasoning for using MCL number instead of PA 110 of 2006. 

MCL is reference to the statute as adopted and amended (always). It is easy to find a statute by MCL. At the Michigan legislature website you just type in the MCL number, and you can find the statute (as currently exists). There is not as good or efficient corresponding search capability for statutes by PA number. The MCL is much easier for the non-attorney to use to find what one is looking for. MCL is like a Dewey Decimal system. Based on the MCL number to the left of the decimal point (.) you can quickly see what the broad subject matter is that the statute is about at the legislative web page. Some broad MCL categories (the numbers to the left of the decimal point in the MCL number) concerning community and local government are: 

  • Chapters 41-43 on township government 
  • Chapter 45-54 on county government (county board, auditors, treasurers, prosecutor, clerk sheriff, coroners, register of deeds, surveyors 
  • Chapters 61-79 on villages 
  • Chapters 81-115 on fourth class cities 
  • Chapter 117 on home rule cities 
  • Chapter 119 on metropolitan districts 
  • Chapter 120-124 on ports, water authorities, local government and municipalities generally 
  • Chapter 125 on planning, zoning, housing, economic development 
  • Chapter 128 on cemeteries 
  • Chapter 129-141 on public funds, and municipal finance 
  • Chapter 168 on Michigan election law 

Very often one might hear someone say that one should see “PA 110.” But that is an incomplete citation. Michigan became a state in 1837. That means there could be as many as 178 different “PA 110s”, one for each year the state legislature has been in session and adopted at least 110 different laws. 

A “PA” might be a creating a new statute or it might be an amendment to another statute, or an appropriation bill. The result is the reference may be referring only to an amendment, and not the intended entire statute. For example, PA 556 of 2014 is an amendment to PA 110 of 2006. It is not the entire MZEA. PA 556 of 2014 is only about one page long, and only is about amateur radio short wave antennas. 

Further “PA 110 of 2006” is the MZEA as originally adopted and effective July 1, 2006. It technically does not include all the subsequent amendments. If one really wants to refer to the current up to date MZEA the citation would be “PA 110 of 2006, as amended.” Then one must also search for all nine amendments to PA 110 of 2006. 

It may be easier to just cite the law as “MCL 125.3101 et seq.” The “et seq.” is an abbreviation from the Latin meaning “starting at 125.3101 and through to the end”). Or use the MCL number to cite a specific section or subsection of a statute, such as “MCL 125.3201(2)” (subsection (2) of Section 201 of MZEA). The MCL always reflects adopted amendments incorporated into its text and is always the current version of the law. Use of MCL also does not provide an opportunity to omit the year as is easy to do, and often done, with Public Act numbers. 

Michigan State University Extension has training programs on the topics of these laws. Such programs are some of the many MSU Extension offerings for local government and community, economic development officials. Contact your local government and public policy Educator to sponsor such training in your county.

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