GREAT LAKES BEACON

What Snyder Is Reviewing Post-Lame Duck

The state legislature concluded its lame duck session late last week, having sent over 400 bills to Governor Rick Snyder to decide to either pass or veto.

Here’s a rundown of what we know about some of the more controversial bills sent to the outgoing Republican governor:

 

Unions

There were two sets of bills taking aim at unions onlookers were watching. The first would have prohibited members of a public employee union from taking leave time to conduct business, and that legislation did not make its way to the governor.

The other union-related legislation would have required unions to hold recertification elections every other year, and was linked to the American Legislative Exchange Council, also known as ALEC, a conservative bill mill that has been linked to the billionaire Koch brothers. That legislation also died in lame duck.

 

Tax Credits

The Legislature also sent a bill to Snyder allowing companies to receive tax credits from Michigan for “job creation,” even if those jobs go out of state.

“This attack on Michigan’s working families provides no assurances to grow our state economy, but instead ensures our jobs will be taken by out-of-state workers — and that our tax dollars will pay for it,” Rep. Robert Wittenberg (D-Huntington Woods) said of the move. “Once again, Republicans have chosen to rob working families in Michigan of their livelihoods and dignity, only to give everything and more to the wealthy corporate interests driving their agenda.”

 

Environment

Several pieces of legislation that could substantially affect Michigan’s environment flew through the state House and Senate chambers throughout lame duck. The legislature did nothing to address the prevalence of PFAS – a chemical substance harmful to public health – which has been found in more than 30 sites in at least 15 communities across Michigan. Worse, a report released during the height of lame duck determined Michigan’s standard for PFAS contamination may not be sufficient to protect public health.

Meanwhile, the legislature did send a bill – whose lead sponsor, Sen. Jim Stamas (R-Midland) will lead the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee next term – to Snyder weakening standards for cleaning up toxic sites. Nearly 100 employees at the state’s Department of Environmental Quality are even calling on Snyder to veto it, according to a report by Bridge Magazine.

The legislature also sent Snyder a bill gutting protections for wetlands, inland lakes, rivers and streams. That was spearheaded by outgoing, term-limited Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba).

The House also got a bill to the governor to prevent the state from adopting regulatory standards that are any tougher than current, federal standards.

While this affects a lot, one of the first things that comes to mind is the affect it would have on acceptable lead and copper levels.

Since the Flint water crisis, it has largely been agreed upon by scientists that no level of lead in water should be considered acceptable. After a long back-and-forth effort, the state did adopt a better action level for lead and copper in water, but it’s barely less than the federal level. Still, if Snyder signs the “no stricter than federal” legislation – which has also been linked to ALEC in some capacity – then Michigan would go back to accepting higher, less safe levels of such substances in its water, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not updated the Lead and Copper Rule in decades.

Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, said the detrimental legislation “directly contradict(s) our Michigan way of life and would threaten the health of communities across our state.” She urged the governor to veto the “dangerous and irresponsible proposals.”

 

Abortion

The legislature also sent Governor Snyder a bill permanently banning the use of telemedicine for women seeking a prescription for abortion pills over the phone.

“It’s bad enough to restrict women’s access to basic reproductive health care. It’s disgusting to do it while we sleep,” said Lori Carpentier, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan. “Until now, lawmakers at least had the decency to do it in the daylight, but even they knew this was a step too far. Telemedicine is the future of medical care and a way to expand access to every corner of this state. What legislative conservatives did was single out a safe procedure and limit access to care for millions of women.

“If 2018 has taught us anything, it is that women don’t forget. We elected women to lead our state, and this is a clear reminder why,” Carpentier said.

 

Power Grabs and Ballot Proposals

Legislation limiting the powers of incoming Democratic Secretary of State-Elect Jocelyn Benson died in lame duck, but limiting the powers of Democratic Attorney General-Elect Dana Nessel (and subsequently, Governor-Elect Gretchen Whitmer) did get sent to Snyder. The AG limitations bill was led by Rep. Robert VerHeulen (R-Walker).

The legislation is so bad that even some Republicans have come out against it, including Republican former Attorney General Mike Cox, who called it a “naked power grab.”

And while Snyder has already signed legislation gutting proposals that would have increased the minimum wage and allowed employees to earn paid sick time, respectively, he will also get the opportunity to review legislation weakening key elements of what voters approved in November as Proposal 3 to increase voters’ rights. That bill was led by outgoing Republican Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kowall (R-White Lake).

“This bill is not about protecting against voter fraud or ensuring audit security, as its proponents claim … it’s about upholding a system of voter suppression that Republicans have been working to implement the last eight years, one that voters overwhelmingly rejected on Election Day,” said Rep. Adam Zemke (D-Ann Arbor).

Legislation limiting the power of what was Proposal 2 to create an independent redistricting commission died in lame duck, but legislation making it harder to collect signatures for petition drives at all – which also saw some unlikely foes in some Republicans or conservative groups – did get sent to Snyder. The Republican-led legislature passed the limitations on petition drives around 6 a.m. Friday morning, according to the Detroit News, and was one of a flurry of bills passed throughout a legislative session exceeding 20 hours in length.

 

Education

Lawmakers also passed a supplemental appropriations bill – usually used to balance the current year’s budget – overnight raiding the School Aid Fund, whose primary purpose is to fund K-12 education.

Specifically, as this legislature wrote the bill, Michigan would use new online sales tax revenue for road repairs instead of diverting it to the School Aid Fund, Detroit News reported.

“This is a detestable final act by lame-duck Republicans to further starve our students of the resources they so desperately need in our classrooms. The majority hijacked this bill at the 11th hour and raided our schools when they could have worked with Democrats on a solution to keep our environment clean and fix our roads without sacrificing the well-being of Michigan’s kids,” House Democratic Floor Leader Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills) said. “

This is nothing but a partisan shell game, gambling with our children’s future so Republican leadership and Governor Snyder can feel good about themselves before leaving office, and the people of Michigan deserve better,” she said.

Snyder can line-item veto parts of the legislation, and incoming Governor-Elect Gretchen Whitmer is watching his moves closely: She told Gongwer News Service, a Lansing-based subscription news service, that the state Constitution specifies “an appropriation is not a mandate to spend.”

Snyder also has the chance to sign or veto legislation setting up an A-F grading system for schools. The legislation has long been supported by the wealthy DeVos family, which has had substantial influence in electing Republicans in Michigan.

 

Campaign Finance

Michigan ranks last in the nation in transparency of its elected officials, and majority Republicans did not help that cause any by sending Snyder a bill prohibiting the release of names of donors who pay for certain political attack ads.

That bill was sponsored by incoming Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake).

Danielle Emerson

Danielle Emerson