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Here’s the top 10 legislative leftovers

January 19, 2016

Courtesy of MIRS News Service

Plenty of high-profiled issues were stuffed in the freezer at the close of the first half of the 98th Legislature, many without a firm timeline on their expiration date.

With the notable exceptions of a Detroit Public Schools answer and the annual push to get the coming year’s budget finished before June 1, nothing could theoretically happen on the remaining eight legislative leftovers of 2015 until late 2016, if at all. 

Seeing that predicting the defrosting intentions of the Legislature this early in the year can be a hazardous exercise, the MIRS team opted to list the 10 meatiest leftovers from 2015 and leave the predicting on shelf lives for another time. 

1. Detroit Public Schools – The school district is projected to run out of money by April, barring legislative action. Gov. Rick Snyder and Sen. Goeff Hansen (R-Hart) will be introducing their solution within the next few days, but will Republicans, sickened themselves by the massive “sickouts” from DPS school teachers, be driven to do anything with it? 

Letting creditors drive the train on how the state responds to DPS’ $3.5 billon in outstanding debt essentially pushes the culpability of having to use general School Aid Fund (SAF) money from the Legislature to a judge. 

2. Budget – The Governor may be ask for a supplemental appropriation for Flint in advance of his Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 budget, but even if he doesn’t, response money for the lead-sickened city will be thrust on the table with plenty of other items. 

Snyder wants $700 million for DPS over a period of years. The Health Insurance Claims Assessment (HICA) hasn’t passed the Senate, yet. And don’t forget about another General Fund allocation for roads likely will be needed. 

3. Energy – Choice advocates are convinced the energy reform package that popped out of committee last fall will choke off the non-incumbent electric market. They reportedly have enough House Republicans agreeing with them to keep HB 4298 bottled up for now. 

House Energy Policy Committee Chair Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton) and Senate Energy and Technology Committee Chair Mike Nofs (R-Battle Creek) are juggling multiple issues in their electric reform packages. And with lawmakers not buying the urgency trumpeted by the state’s incumbent electric providers, it’s not clear how quickly the issue will appear on either chamber’s general session calendar. 

4. Flint – Is a legislative response needed? Is a long-term plan on the state’s aged underground water lines in order? 

The lead poisoning in Flint should be a major part of the Governor’s State of the State, and if he’s not calling on the Legislature for something, House Republicans may want to be proactive or risk having the issue used as a rhetorical hammer against them in the fall elections. 

5. Corrections Reform – The House-passed presumptive parole package was presented to a skeptical Republican caucus, where it was promptly roasted on an open fire. Senate Republicans are interested in moving forward on some criminal justice reform, but limiting the Parole Board’s ability to keep violent parole-eligible prisoners behind bars isn’t one of them. 

6. Medical Marijuana – Suddenly, Senate Judiciary Chair Rick JONES (R-Grand Ledge) seems interested in pushing a long-needed state regulatory structure on medical marijuana, but the Senate leadership isn’t interested in moving lightning fast. 

Legalized recreational marijuana died hard in Ohio last fall, causing a chilling effect among deep-pocketed entrepreneurs who saw dollar signs in driving the train on marijuana growing, distribution and sales. A pair of marijuana legalization efforts dried up, taking the urgency off immediate legislative action. 

7. No Fault Insurance – The question for the state’s split car insurance lobby remains how much change to the state’s unlimited catastrophic coverage for car accident victims they are willing to take now. And to what degree are Detroit-specific changes stirred into the pot to get 54 voters (56 after March 8) needed for passage? 

Not enough House Republicans are willing to swallow the whole enchilada of reforms Snyder supported years ago. So will marginal cost controls at the hospital and attendant care levels be good enough reason to pull the trigger on something, or does it depend on what the partisan make-up of next year’s House look like? 

8. Prevailing Wage Repeal – The Michigan Freedom Fund and the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) are committed to forcing the House and Senate to vote on a repeal to the state’s prevailing wage law through the citizens initiative process since a Governor’s signature isn’t needed for it to become law. 

Advocates for a repeal say the votes are there in the House. Opponents say they are not. Would Dick DeVos and other interest groups spend money on a second signature collection effort if they weren’t? 

9. Uber-Lyft Regulations – So is Uber the 2016 version of a taxi service? And if it is, shouldn’t it be regulated like a taxi? Or should taxi regulations be updated to what the 2016 version of the taxi looks like? While the administration and lawmakers bat around that philosophical question, ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft continue to operate without state regulatory oversight. 

Uber and Lyft want state regulation . . . as long it fits with their stock regulatory recommendations they’ve gotten in other states. 

10. 3rd Grade Reading – Holding 3rd graders back if they can’t read by grade level isn’t anything policymakers want to see, but if that’s the stick needed to get kids reading better in Michigan, the House was willing to give it a try. 

Whether Senate Education Committee Chair Phil PAVLOV (R-St. Clair) and the rest of the Senate agrees may depend on where this fits on the priority list with DPS seemingly No. 1.

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