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Michigan Legislative Update

Week of November 17, 2016

By Judy Augenstein

Energy reform legislation passed the Senate before the Legislature left town for a two week recess for deer hunting and Thanksgiving. The bills give major utilities an incentive to build new power plants because alternative "choice" electric providers likely would be picking up some of the construction costs.  The bills passed the Senate with support of DTE Energy, Consumers Energy and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.  Alternative electric suppliers (AES), like Constellation Energy, would still be allowed to sell 10 percent of the state's electricity load, but they claim the bills creates new changes, among other requirements, that would squeeze them out of the market.  Steelcase, Amway, assorted school districts and other AES customers argue the bills turn back the clock on the free market approach that helped drive down electric prices from among the highest in the Midwest.  The bills await action by the full House during the "Lame Duck" session. 

The House completed legislation that would allow driver-less cars to be tested on the state's roadways without a human driver.  The Senate quickly agreed to the House's changes and sent it to the Governor, who is expected to sign it. "Our society is rapidly evolving with new technology every day.  "Michigan is the automotive capitol of the world and right now we have the opportunity to capitalize on that reputation and play a fundamental role in life-changing, life-saving, and energy efficient means of modern transportation through self-driving cars said Rep. Brad Jacobsen, R-Oxford, primary sponsor of the bills.

Before recessing the House Elections Committee took testimony on legislative term limits.  Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan a self-described "purist" on term limits, introduced three possible changes to the state's term limits.  One measure extends existing term limits to a combined limit of 16 years that could be distributed in any manner across the two chambers, another measure repeals existing term limits and the third imposes a consecutive limit rather than a lifetime limit.

Current legislative term limits restrict an individual to serving a maximum of three two-year terms in the House and to four-year terms in the Senate.  McBroom said Michigan's current limits have eroded the Legislature as an institution, blaming ills such as extreme policy swings, low institutional knowledge, large freshman classes and a rise of bureaucratic and lobbyist power.  McBroom described political pressures from within.  McBroom said there are situations within a party's own caucus where he believes that short term limits increases the threat of being "driven into irrelevance" by leadership for opposing the direction of the caucus.  

The Senate Transportation Committee reported out legislation passed by the House that would clear the way for speed limit adjustments on Michigan roadways, including possible increases of up to 75 mph.  The full Senate will complete debate on the bills when they return on November 29.

After the Todd Courser-Cindy Gamrat affair shook up Lansing in 2015, the House Business Office looked into it could do a better job in preparing legislative staff on what is appropriate conduct.  Term limited legislators often mean term-limited staffers, some of who are not the right fit in dealing with constituent issues or working on legislation.  Often staff members, who ended up not being the right fit for a legislative job, are let go in March or April after a couple of months on the job they started in January with a new House member. What is expected of staff? What are some best practices that can be shared with, oftentimes, young professionals that will make member offices or caucus departments work better?  The answer from House Business Office Director Tim Bowlin was a new professional development coordinator position that was filed by veteran legislative staffer Stacey Murray.  It has been reported that one in four (25 percent) of House staffers employed as of May 2, 2016, were on the job as of February 15, 2010.

The DNR has announced it will offer surplus public land for sale by sealed-bid auction between December 6 - January 10, 20117.  The auction will feature 58 parcels located in counties mainly in central and northern Lower Michigan and in the Upper Peninsula.  Those counties include Arenac, Baraga, Chippewa, Clare, Cadillac, Lake, Mackinac, Manistee, Midland, Newaygo, Ogemaw, Oscoda, Presque Isle, Roscommon and Wexford.

I have been working on lining up votes for the "driveway" bills, SB 706, 707 & 708, the bills await action by the House Transportation Committee.  Bill sponsor and Senate Transportation Committee Chair Tom Casperson has requested a meeting with House Transportation Committee Chair Ben Glardon, R-Owosso to discuss scheduling the bills for debate "soon".  With only 8 session days remaining in the session, it is imperative to set final action on the bills ASAP!

Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, VC Transportation Committee and assumed Chair of the Transportation Committee next session has set a meeting in Gaylord on December 5 with area legislators, the Mackinac Bridge Authority, the MSP and industry to discuss the problem some loggers are having at the Mackinac Bridge with the motor carrier relative to overweight stops and fines.

A meet and greet reception and dinner is planned for the evening of December 5 with out going northern Michigan legislators and "newbie" incoming legislators facilitated by Rep. Triston Cole, which we have been invited.  This provides a   great opportunity for us to be introduced to the incoming members by the out going members and Northern Michigan Caucus Chair, Rep. Triston Cole.

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