Michigan Legislative Update
Week of March 24, 2016
By Judy Augenstein
This week the task force that Governor Rick Snyder appointed to investigate how the Flint water crisis occurred confirms the message Mr. Snyder and his staff have emphasized for weeks that the crisis resulted from a failure of government at all levels. Governor Snyder and his allies have pressed that message repeatedly, especially pointing to the U.S. environmental Protection Agency, when discussing the Flint water crisis. Snyder has accepted blame for the state's failures, but frequently then couches that fault with the greater "failure at all levels" characterization.
The task force report describes such characterizations as an "inappropriate official public relations efforts. "The statement that the Flint water crisis was a local, state and federal failure implies that blame is attributable equally to all three levels of government." The task force says in its report, "Primary responsibility for the water contamination in Flint lies with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. In addition, at the time of the water crisis, Flint was under the control of state appointed emergency managers, who made key decisions that contributed to the crisis. Because of these two facts, the state is fundamentally accountable for what happened in Flint."
Additionally, the task force criticizes attempts to blame the federal Lead and Copper Rule for the DEQ's decision not to order corrosion control treatment right away once Flint switched its drinking water source to the Flint River. Lack of corrosion control treatment for the more corrosive river water allowed lead in lead service lines to leach into the water.
This week the Legislature passed a series of bills to re-establish a locally elected school board and a Detroit Education Commission with siting authority for schools, including charters, seeking to become a part of the new Detroit Community Schools created in the legislation. In terms of appropriations, only one bill was revised to include $300 million to go specially to the Detroit Public Schools, $200 million of which is expected to be used for "transitional costs." The Legislature passed a bill that would provide just shy of $50 million to help DPS continue to pay its teachers through the end of the school year, but the bulk of appropriations for the district's debt, around $515 million, needs to be passed as part of the upcoming 2016-17 fiscal year budget.
Governor Rick Snyder's DNR budget, HB 5269 was explained to the House budget committee by the DNR. The bill provides $396.9 million gross for the department, a 1.8 percent cut from current funding. Highlights of the bill include $1.15 million additional restricted funds for firefighting equipment replacement and $2.1 million additional monies for the Forest Development Fund to add 7 positions and increase timber supply.
HB 5506, sponsored by Rep. Ken Goike, R-Ray Township, referred to the House Commerce Committee, is legislation to require workers at a company that process wood products in a sawmill or pallet making shop with 3 or more workers are employees and are required to be covered by worker's compensation. A hearing on the bill is expected following the legislative spring recess.
Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, Chair, Senate Natural Resources Committee, held a hearing on SB 706, 707 and 708. The bills provide that a county road commission would not be authorized to require a permit for a logger to haul their product down the road because certain road commissions prohibit them from doing so, prohibiting loggers from getting their product to market. The County Road Association opposed the bill. LSLA, MFPC and MAT supported the legislation. Three loggers testified in support of the bills including MAT President Lonnie Lutke.
The legislature will return to Lansing from their spring recess on April 12.