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Michigan Legislative Update

Week of May 6, 2016

By Judy Augenstein

This week the House Oversight and Ethics Committee held a meeting on legislation to expand the Freedom of Information Act to include the governor's office and open up most legislative communications to the public.  The bills have received little criticism.  The bills deal with expanding FOIA to the executive officers of both the governor and the lieutenant governor, which is done in most other states, Michigan is one that does not.

A special subcommittee was created this week to make recommendations on the Unemployment Insurance Agency, the subcommittee has been given a 30 day time line.  The panel will seek to make the UIA more effective and efficient after two scathing audits and two lawsuits pending against the state's automated system for uncovering alleged fraud in unemployment claims.

After 16 hours on the House floor, four Republican caucuses and essentially two sessions the House "dragged" its Detroit Public Schools reform plan into passage at 4:28 Thursday morning.  As expected, the package passed with zero Democratic support and the bare minimum of 55 House votes on the bills.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof and his lead on Detroit Public Schools reform, Senator Goeff Hansen, said they are still reviewing the proposal on DPS the House sent to the Senate.  It is clear that the Senate has apprehension over the House plan.  Senator Goeff Hansen commented that the House disregarded months of his negotiations and work and hundreds of hours he put into the Senate plan.

A Fiscal Year 2017 Omnibus state government spending plan dubbed "solid" by legislative leaders pass the Senate this week.  The Senate also passed an education specific spending plan for FY 2017 known as the "School Bus" and an emergency Flint funding supplemental also passed this week.

The Upper Peninsula had at least 618 wolves this past winter, according to the DNR biennial census released this week.  That is down from the 636 estimated in 2014, but officials said the numbers are within the margin of error of the survey.  Currently, the deer numbers in the U.P. are at lows not seen in decades and some wonder if the decline in wolf numbers are a result of this reduction in their primary source of prey.  Officials noted that the population is substantially above the 100 minimum population for wolves to be considered recovered in the state.  Efforts to remove wolves from the federal endangered species list are moving through the federal appeals courts.

The forestry tour to educate US Senate Gary Peters, D-MI about forestry this week was a huge success.  I want to thank Henry Schienebeck, Bill Hennigan, Jerry Grossman, Bill Brand, Jack Thomas, Karen and other workers from "Northland Harvesting, Inc.", Anna Frampton, Jim Maeder and Brian Nelson for amazing contributions to the event.  All contributed above and beyond to make the event a success and very educational for the senator. I was very proud of "all" involved and to have had the opportunity to show the senator how we can all pull together to get the job done.  Jack Thomas did an amazing job of organizing and coordinating the event and a special "thank you" goes to Northland for providing the harvesting site and equipment.

The highlight of the event for me was when Bill Brand challenged Senator Peters to take the harvester controls as did former US Congressman Hoekstra, R-MI when he ran for governor.  Senator Peters had to take the challenge.  I ran into our other US senator, Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-MI today and told her about the tour and she now wants to challenge Senator Peters harvester operating skills at the next forestry tour. 

Staff to Senator Peters shared with me that staff tries to "top" each other with providing the most educational and fun events for the senator.  Elise Lancaster, Director of State Affairs/Staff, told me that driving the harvester was at the top of the list for Senator Peters.  Better than driving a "drone" and even better than flying a Coast Guard helicopter.

Thanks guys for really stepping up for this event!

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