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‘Common Sense’ reforms dominate Senate Republican agenda

February 3, 2015

Courtesy of MIRS News Service

If there’s one thing Senate Majority Leader Arlan MEEKHOF (R-West Olive) wants his caucus to be known for, it’s common sense.

That, and the fact that his “super, super majority” is hoping to kick off the year by passing a series of reforms he deems reasonable for both lawmakers and the communities they serve. 

“We believe in common sense, and it’s not all that common in government,” he said, while discussing the caucus’ short-term agenda with reporters this morning. “If we’re able to, in our four years, put common sense things in place, it just makes the most sense for the taxpayer and for the operations of the state.” 

The Senate Republican caucus’ initial agenda covers little new ground, piggybacking off of several unfinished concepts from last session. The goal is to pass the bulk of caucus priorities through the Senate within the next 60-90 days, Meekhof said, although he acknowledged that could be a tall order on more complicated issues such as tax relief or energy reforms. 

Items fall into four overarching themes: job creation and economic development; government efficiency, transparency and reform; education and quality of life. 

Reforms in the education arena are of particular importance to the caucus, considering the Legislature’s lack of success in passing third grade reading requirements, teacher evaluations and early warning system legislation last session. 

Meekhof said there were great ideas and discussions last session, but noted legislators “ran out of time” despite significant effort. 

Sen. Phil PAVLOV (R-St. Clair), chair of the Senate Education Committee, said he’s committed to picking up where his committee left off on teacher and administrator evaluations and said there’s a good chance of agreeing on that subject in Meekhof’s projected time frame. 

Pavlov said concrete policy surrounding early literacy and third grade reading could take more time, however, especially considering the possibility of putting together a commission to study those issues. 

“These concepts are nothing new — most people have heard the framework of those proposals,” Pavlov said. “It’s hard to set the clock, but there’s always the best intentions.” 

Also high on the caucus priority list are a series of environmental issues, including reducing the impact of invasive species and promoting job creation in the mining and forestry industries by figuring out better ways to use state land. 

“If you look at the forestry industry as it is now, we do a really good job on private property — replanting the trees and growing them again and using them again — we don’t do a very good job on natural forests or state land,” Meekhof said. “We can use those resources they’re renewable we should use them in a smart way.” 

Efficient land use is a concept Sen. Tom CASPERSON (R-Escanaba) has pushed for years and was something he tried to address last session in a bill that would have barred the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) from blocking off forests from timber harvests or development based on biodiversity concerns. 

Snyder vetoed the legislation after the concept received considerable pushback from environmentalists, saying in his veto letter that it could “potentially put Michigan’s natural resources at risk” (See “Snyder Vetoes Biodiversity Bill,” 1/15/15).  

Casperson said the renewed interest in state land use “hinges back on what we were trying to do” with that bill, with a greater focus on specific targets and goals for state-owned land. 

If departments continue to place restrictions on wilderness areas without a concrete management plan, the “ability to use natural resources as part of a way of life will shrink, not grow,” Casperson said. 

Potential changes to the state’s natural resources trust fund are also expected to be on the table as part of the land use strategy discussion, although the caucus has yet to take a unified position on the matter. 

Meekhof said budgetary concerns would also take precedent over the next few months, especially concerning the recent projected shortfall. As part of that discussion, the caucus plans to focus on pushing for further financial accountability from all state departments and additional government transparency. 

On the quality of life front, Meekhof said one of the biggest goals this quarter will be to increase funding for state crime labs to tackle the backlog in rape testing kits. He’s not sure how exactly how that will be addressed as of yet, but he said leaving them be is “a crime twice” that the government is responsible for fixing.

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