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Michigan Legislative Update

Week of March 17, 2016

By Judy Augenstein

This week three new representative's elected in special elections last week were officially sworn in on Tuesday and cast their first votes.  Rep. Mary Whiteford, R-Casco Township, Rep. Gary Howell, R-North Branch and Rep. David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids are now officially legislators. LaGrand replaces now Michigan Democratic Party Chair Brandon Dillon.  Howell replaces former Rep. Todd Courser and Whiteford replaces former Rep. Cindy Gamrat.  Courser and Gamrat coincidentally were in court Tuesday for actions that led to her expulsion and his resignation.

The new special committee on the Flint water crisis met this week for the first time with the initial topic a discussion on the auditor general's report on the Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance's shortcomings, especially as they relate to Flint, but there seemed more questions from committee members than were answers by the meeting's conclusion. 

A $48.7 million supplemental appropriation for Detroit Public Schools cleared the House Appropriations Committee this week tie-barred to another bill that would expand the scope of the Financial Review Commission to oversee fiscal management of the district.  The funds will go to the DPS to keep the district open for the remainder of the school year.  Former bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes, the transition manager at DPS told the committee last week the district will not be able to pay its teachers after April 8.

Governor Rick Snyder officially created the 21st Century Infrastructure Commission.  The commission, created under Executive Order 2016-5, is tasked with finding the best way to upgrade the state's transportation, water and sewer, energy and communications infrastructure.  

The House DNR budget sub-committee is again proposing to cut funds for the Michigan Conservation Corps, putting the budget $1 million less than Governor Rick Snyder's recommendation.  Either the House or Senate subcommittees have attempted to eliminate the program that provides summer jobs for urban youths in DNR conservation programs for the past couple of years, but the funding has eventually been restored in the final budget.  The Governor has recommended again to eliminate the cord mandate and every year we lobby to retain it in the budget as we are doing again this year.  

As presented, HB 5269 would provide $396.9 million gross for the department, a 1.8 percent cut from current funding.  The $38.56 million in General Fund would represent a 2.5 percent cut.  Among the highlights is $4 million ($3.9 million restricted and $100,000 federal) for a new land ownership tracking system to make that information Internet accessible, $1 million GF for Asian carp prevention programs, $1.15 million additional restricted funds (for $1.58 million total) for firefighting equipment replacement, and $2.1 million additional Forest Development Fund (for $31.2 million total) to add 7 positions and increase timber supply.   

Jesse Augustyn, GLTPA and I met with Rep. Peter Pettalia, R-Presque Isle, Chair, House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, MDOT and the MSP to discuss  details of a draft bill for a multiple use permit, tailored after Wisconsin's permit.  It appears we do not have all the "kinks" worked out as we anticipated before the meeting.

Work continues on legislation to require workers at a company that processes wood products in a sawmill or pallet shop with 3 or more workers are employees or principals.  All those workers will be considered to be employees subject to the requirements for worker's compensation coverage.  Rep. Ken Goike, R-Ray Township will introduce the bill next week.  This week we worked on gathering co-sponsors for the bill, at last count we had approximately 12 co-sponsors sign on to the bill. The bill represents our latest effort to require certain employers to pay workers compensation.

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