Legislative Flint Water Committee Formed, $30M Supplemental Confirmed
March 1, 2016
A six-member House-Senate committee was charged with taking a look at the various investigations in the Flint water crisis and making policy suggestions to prevent future lead-poisoning disasters.
Sen. Jim Stamas (R-Midland) will lead the Joint Committee Flint Water Public Health Emergency, which will also include Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) as a co-vice chair. The head of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) is the other co-vice chair.
The panel was created the same day the Senate concurred in the House substitute for a $30 million appropriation for Flint, which passed unanimously.
Republicans stressed that the committee would not be holding an investigation, rather providing oversight for future policy decisions that can be made to prevent similar crises from happening in the future.
“We’re not an investigatory body — those that are doing that, they’ve had plenty of time to do that,” said Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive). “(Our job) is to figure out what the public policy will be going forward.”
House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant) said he’s put together a long list of federal and state agencies investigating the crisis. He said he wasn’t sure it was worth adding another investigation on top of all that when the Legislature is fundamentally an oversight, not investigative, body.
“I’ve been committed to holding the hearings, but what were we going to accomplish at that point?” he asked.
“What happened in Flint is a tragedy, and the people who are affected deserve answers,” Cotter said. “People were hurt by widespread government failures, and changes need to be made as soon as possible. I am committed to doing everything I can to provide answers and prevent future disasters.”
Stamas said he hasn’t gotten to the point of choosing who he would ask to testify, but said he plans to hone in on how to make sure state departments improve communications and updating infrastructure not only in Flint, but throughout the state.
Hearings will likely begin once the reports from the Auditor General and the Governor-appointed task force are made public, Stamas said. A hearing in Flint at some point is likely.
He said he doesn’t think subpoena power for the body is necessary, a move Ananich has repeatedly called for.
“This to me is not an investigation, but a way to make sure the Legislature takes a hard look as we move forward in making policy that we find the right ways to make sure we’re doing that for all of Michigan,” Stamas said.
Meekhof spokesperson Amber McCann said the last time the Senate exercised its subpoena power was for the expulsion hearings of former lawmaker David Jaye.
Ananich said he feels the committee is a step in the right direction, even though he pushed for equal Republican and Democratic representation as well as subpoena power. He said he plans to prepare a resolution offering subpoena power just in case the committee chair changes his mind.
“Once these individuals have been lied to as many times as I have, they’re going to want it — I’m going to have it ready for them,” he said. “Hopefully, we can get to the bottom of what happened so we can make good policies going forward to make sure this never happens again.”
The difference between whether the hearing is “oversight” or “investigation” is merely semantics, Ananich said, although he said it’s necessary to look back in order to make sound public policy recommendations moving forward.
“I think once we have these hearings and once we start asking people questions, whether it’s oversight or whether its investigations, it’s really going to be the same things at the end of the day,” he said. “I think it depends on the type of questions you ask.”
He said he hopes to hear about the culture of the DEQ, when people knew, why people didn’t take appropriate steps to address the situation and then determining how to fix the problem.
Other members of the committee include Rep. Ed Canfield (R-Sebewaing), Sen. Joe Hune (R-Fowlerville) and Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor). Cotter said he asked House Minority Leader Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) to select the member of his choice. Irwin was it.
Also made public today was a response from the Auditor General’s office to specific follow-up questions Ananich had regarding the DEQ’s response to the Flint water crisis.
Although there were no findings released today that showed a major mistake or intention to delay responses in addressing the crisis within the department, Ananich said there were certain questions that went unanswered that highlight the rationale for having a hearing.
“If you look at the report they can’t talk about motive, they can’t talk about culture and they didn’t really talk about capability . . . because of their limited abilities and powers,” he said. “They don’t have subpoena power either. There’s a need for it in this hearing.”