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House, Senate Leaders Name Legislative Priorities For 2018

January 9, 2018

Getting rid of driver responsibility fees sooner and reforming mental health services in Michigan would count among House Speaker Tom Leonard’s (R-DeWitt) legislative priorities for 2018.

Getting the skilled trades package, which passed through the House just before Christmas, through Senate and paying down long-term debt would round out his list. 

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) is “focused on continuing the eighth year of a budget done ahead of schedule,” according to spokesperson Amber McCann. Meekhof is also looking at the impact of the new federal tax plan on Michigan taxpayers. He wants to make sure “taxpayers benefit” from any adjustment to Michigan tax code. 

Finally, the Senate Leader “would like to reach consensus on the driver responsibility fee legislation.” 

The Senate and House have competing versions of driver responsibility fee (DRF) elimination bills. The Senate version frees drivers from unpaid DRFs of six or more years. It also allows those with fees issued more recently a chance to keep their driver’s licenses if they pay their outstanding fees off. 

The House version wipes away all DRFs from all drivers, giving them a clean slate as of Oct. 2018. 

“Something that is near and dear to my heart, I want to see a resolution to this driver responsibility fee situation that we have right now,” Leonard said. “We’ve got over 300,000 of our citizens who are currently driving without a driver’s license. It is time we got that addressed.” 

But opponents of total elimination say that would cost the state budget too much. 

“The time is over for excuses,” Leonard responded. “Again, we’ve got 300,000 residents that need to get their driver’s licenses back and I believe we have waited long enough. As you have seen, we had nearly $280 million in lapsed dollars from that the last budget cycle. This is something we can afford. It is the right thing to do. We need to get these people their driver’s licenses back.” 

Leonard told reporters at the end of session just before the Christmas break that he’s also eager to take up reforms to mental health services. 

“I would like to get some bills dropped,” he said. “The task force was out for the past several months meeting with interest groups and having their town halls so I would like to see those put into bills.” 

Referred to as the Community, Access, Resources, Education and Safety (CARES) Task Force and headed up by Rep. Hank Vaupel (R-Fowlerville) and Rep. Klint Kesto (R-Commerce Twp.), the group held hearings across the state. Vaupel has said there are good mental health services in the state, but that services are not consistent and differ in every county. He expects drafts to be submitted shortly. 

Leonard’s spokesperson, Gideon D’Assandro, added passage of the five bills in the skilled trades package to the list of legislative priorities. HB 5141, HB 5142, HB 5143, HB 5144 and HB 5145 are intended to boost career tech courses in public schools for students not college bound. The most controversial piece in the package was HB 5141, by Rep. Bronna Kahle (R-Adrian), that would allow licensed professionals to teach courses in their area of expertise without a teaching degree. 

“When you look at what the Michigan unemployment rate is right now, we are essentially at full employment,” Leonard said. “The problem right now is we don’t have enough skilled individuals to take a lot of these skilled trade jobs.” 

Paying down debt for MPSERS, State Employee Retirement , the State Police and other long-term liabilities counts as another priority, D’Assandro said. Some $8.5 billion has paid down since 2011, he said. About $6.61 billion of that is additional payments the legislature has made to get ahead on the long-term debts. 

McCann said another priority for Meekhof in the Senate is “monitoring the proposed laws that may come before the legislature in the form of citizens’ initiatives.” 

So far, three initiative petitions have been submitted for the 2018 ballot regarding legalization of recreational marijuana, redistricting and repeal of the prevailing wage law.

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