Michigan Legislative Update
Week of December 5, 2015
by Judy Augenstein
Top 9 Legislative Issues In The Last 9 Session Days Of '16
Before anyone pushes the panic button, Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike KOWALL (R-White Lake) wants to remind everyone that the next couple weeks is not a lame duck. Any bills that don't pass by Christmas will still be around in 2016.
So if anyone thinks that either Kowall or Senate Majority Leader Arlan MEEKHOF (R-West Olive) will be rushing through any non-time sensitive legislation based on the calendar can think again.
Meekhof said this week he'd prefer to see legislation that could potentially holdback an elementary school student who can't read proficiently by the 3rd grade, for example, held rather than see it passed before it's ready just because the calendar year's end is nearing.
"People who have been around this town a while knows that when we hurry stuff, we don't do it well," Meekhof said. "I don't want to put an artificial timeline on anything. Let's do it well."
Likewise, House Speaker Kevin COTTER (R-Mt. Pleasant) said on Monday he isn't putting a rush on many issues before their time.
With that in mind, here are nine prominent issues still hanging over the Legislature in the last nine days of session ranked on the chances they move to the Governor's desk by year's end.
1. Data Center (Pyramid Project)
As Meekhof put it, when an emerging technology company wants to drop $5 billion in your state, "You need to pay attention." Both the House and Senate have scheduled parallel committees on legislation creating tax breaks for Switch, the company looking at moving into and expanding upon Steelcase's old Pyramid building in Kent county.
The only question that seems on the table at this point is how expansive will the legislation be? Will it include all data centers? All new ones? And what will the cost to the state be?
Passing this legislation and clearing the way for this significant investment is about the only sure bet this coming month "
2. Third Grade Reading
With the Governor's blessing, legislation that could hold an elementary school student back a grade if he or she can't read proficiently by the third grade appears poised to clear the Senate after having already received an OK from the House.
While Kowall said he was optimistic, saying he believes HB 4822 "should pass," Meekhof was a little bit more cautious, noting the bill doesn't have a time element attached to it, but that he seemed comfortable with it.
3. Medical Marijuana Regulation
Sen. Rick JONES (R-Grand Ledge) spoke up the need for House-passed medical marijuana regulation to prevent the current "wild west" scenario playing out.
But Kowall said some members remain uncomfortable with signing off on new regulations because it's still illegal in the eyes of the federal government. Meekhof added that, "There's a fair amount of education that needs to take place on this."
4. Straight Ticket Voting/Elections Reform
The Senate-passed bill to end the state's straight ticket voting option may be stalled in the House as some members look at tying it to the creation of no-reason absentee voting Cotter said he's fine with looking into that, but the Meekhof said that's off the table for him.
Meanwhile, Meekhof wants legislation that would have the Oakland County executive elected in gubernatorial years, but Cotter isn't as fired up about it, meaning there could be negotiating that needs to take place
5. Energy Reform
It's still possible the Senate could take up energy reform legislation even if the House passes something over this week or next (see related story). Some Republicans are taking the "In Nofs We Trust" approach to the bill, in reference Senate Energy and Technology Committee Chair Mike NOFS(R-Battle Creek), whose been working on this issue for years.
So if Nofs and his counterpart in the House, Rep, Aric NESBITT (R-Lawton) are OK with a final product, it's possible legislation could move, but the high number of contentious issues involved means it's more likely to be kicked into January.
6. Presumptive Parole
Jones is calling the House-passed reforms to the criteria the Parole Board uses to release parole-eligible inmates "dead" (see related story). Meekhof and Kowall wouldn't go that far, but both said any corrections reform package would -- at best -- only include pieces of the House plan. At this read, it's unclear what a Senate offering could look like.
7. Abortion Ban After 2nd Trimester
The House calendar includes a pair of bills that would ban 2nd Trimester abortion and "it's possible" the bill could move this year, Cotter said.
However, Meekhof said since he doesn't see a timeline attached to it, so he's not inclined to see it move by New Year's Day even if the House gets around to it.
8. Detroit Public Schools Reform
Meekhof said the Senate is willing to tackle the issue, but the goal at this point is to try to get the Detroit-area senators on board before any significant movement is made
The issue has a tough road among Republicans, Kowall said, because there's a strong feeling that Detroit Public Schools "stole" public money years ago and there's "a great deal of frustration" over it. At this point, bills won't be introduced until Dec. 8, at the earliest, meaning quick passage is become more unlikely by the hour.
9. Concealed Weapons In School
The Governor has said he will veto any legislation that would legalize someone carrying a gun concealed in schools, so at this point lawmakers aren't in a hurry to pick another fight over it
As both sides of the debate dig in for an end-of-the-year fight, House Speaker Kevin COTTER (R-Mt. Pleasant) says he hopes an overhaul of state energy policy will be signed into law some time in January.
To help make that happen, Cotter commented this wee k he expects to get an energy package through the House some time in early December. Then, it will be up to the Senate to act.
“I think there's a real interest across the board in getting something done and signed by early next year,” Cotter said. “And hopefully, early is some time in January.”
With nine session days left in 2015, energy reform is one of the top issues before the Legislature.
The House Energy Policy Committee advanced a three-bill package to the full House on Nov. 5 (
Supporters of the package say action soon is “critical” to maintain Michigan's control over its electricity generation. But opponents say there's really no crisis necessitating the Legislature to act now.
That's just one of a myriad of disagreements.
Supporters of the House plan explain their urgency by saying that because of old age and federal regulations, nine coal plants are slated to shut down in the next year. Within four years, they say, 25 plants are slated to shut down.
The plan currently before the House would keep the state's 10 percent electric choice cap, which allows customers representing up to 10 percent of utilities' sales to access the retail open access market.
However, the legislation would put stricter requirements on alternative energy suppliers (AES) and would provide more financial certainty for the incumbent utilities going forward. It's also designed, according to supporters, to ensure that new generation is built in Michigan.
During a roundtable discussion with reporters this morning, Ken SIKKEMA, former Senate majority leader and current senior policy fellow for Public Sector Consultants, said the closure of the coal plants is what's “driving” the bills in the House.
The main bill in the package is HB 4298.
“I would argue that Michigan is better off with a Michigan-based policy to get control of our own destiny,” Sikkema said.
Also speaking out for the press conference at Truscott Rossman today were former Senate Majority Leader Randy RICHARDVILLE, Middle Michigan Development Corp. President Jim McBRYDE and Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council Legislative Director Patrick “Shorty” GLEASON.
Richardville said the average age of a power plant in Michigan is 55 or 56 years old.
“And while some men reach their prime at 55, 56 years old, it's not necessarily the case with power plants,” he said.
Gleason said if the state imports electricity, it would be exporting jobs. He also noted that it would take a $15-billion investment over 10 years to transform the generation that will soon be retired.
“If we don't get this done, there's going to be a loss of tens of thousands of jobs,” Gleason said.
But opponents of HB 4298 continue to push back, arguing that the plan puts unfair limitations on customers in the 10 percent choice market and that it would take a roundabout route to killing choice.
They also say that the state's electricity regulations should spur more open competition.
Maureen McNULTY SAXTON, spokesperson for Energy Choice Now, said today's press conference was “more of the same.”
“It's simply dishonest to say the House plan to say the Legislature must act now,” she added. “There is no crisis. There never has been one.
“And by forcing 90 percent of Michiganders to pay the electricity rates that have been set by the utilities -- nearly 30 percent higher than all other states in the region -- Michigan's already lost an estimated 800,000 jobs by taking revenue away from Michigan job-makers and giving it to the utilities.”
In a radio interview on Patriot Voice Radio, Rep. Gary GLENN (R-Midland) said he will be attempting to stop the legislation if it's advanced as it's currently written.
Glenn said he would like to see amendments that eliminate threats to the 10 percent choice market and that allow for competitive bidding for new future electricity generation.
“For the ratepayer, what we're talking about is competition, choice and low electricity rates,” Glenn said.
The package also includes a stronger energy efficiency program and a goal that 30 percent of the state's power comes from renewable sources and "energy waste reduction" by 2025.
The House Energy Policy Committee had essentially been debating the bills -- HB 4298, HB 4297 and HB 4575 -- all year up until holding votes in early November.
Initially, this week was targeted for votes on the House floor. But Gideon D'ASSANDRO, spokesperson for Cotter, said it looks like members may need additional days to study the legislation.
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