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What Can Get Done In 20 Session Days?

August 30, 2016

Twenty or so days, that’s all that is left for Michigan’s 98th Legislature.

The official posted scheduled for the House lists 20 session days before that chamber gavels to a close. The Senate’s session schedule is slightly more ambitious, listing 23 days of session before the lights are turned out.

So, with that shortened timeframe in mind, MIRS examined what major items were left undone in June and combined that list with other items identified by the Governor’s office, the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader’s office as possible items.

Included is also a “blacksheep” issue. While certainly not exhaustive, the list gives a good peek into what might fill those 20 or so days of life left in the 98th.

Warmed Up Spring Leftovers

The following are nine items that MIRS identified in June as left over. Where possible, we added a late summer status update.

1. Energy Reform The first major energy reform package since 2008, and undoubtedly Lansing’s current full-time lobbyist employment project, flickered out in the Senate last June. At the time, the upper chamber’s lead advocate said he believed he’d found a landing spot with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce on its final outstanding issue. 

Sen. Mike Nofs (R-Battle Creek), the chair of the Senate Energy and Technology Committee, said he received positive feedback on a plan to create competitive bidding on projects $50 million or more by combining the certificate of need and Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) processes.

“I was hoping we could get agreement on the language and we just couldn’t do it in two days,” Nofs said in June.

Greg Moore, legislative director for Nofs, told MIRS this week some issues were “clarified” over the summer that didn’t represent anything “wholesale new.” He said the plan is for the Senate to take up the legislation most likely during the second week the Senate will meet Sept. 20-22.

“We’ve had some developments over the summer with a couple of reports from MISO. I think members are getting close to recognizing we’re getting close to the edge. How much longer do we want to take that risk that it [the electric supply] might be there for us when we need it?” Moore asked.

As far as a House buy-in to the Nofs’ plan, Moore said his boss and House Energy Policy Chair Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton) have been talking but there’s no timeline on when the House might take up the issue.

Key bills:  SB 0437HB 4297HB 4298

2. Medical Marijuana Reform – A key issue the Legislature has struggled with politically is setting up a proper regulatory structure for the 2008 voter approved Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA).

At the end of June, the Senate GOP caucus couldn’t wrap it’s arms around HB 4210, legislation that required a three-fourths super majority to pass a measure dealing with medical marijuana medibles.

Since the bill amends the citizens’ initiative, it requires 28 Senate votes for passage. The Democrats are in support of the bills, but don’t want to break it up from the other piece of the medical marijuana package, so they are holding out on the rest of the bills until the votes are there for the medibles.

Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) told MIRS this week a Senate vote is looking positive.

“It’s all up to [Senate Majority Leader] Arlan Meekhof of course, but all indications are there will be a vote this fall on the Medical Marijuana package that came over from the House and been substituted with the work I’d done,” Jones said. He added that changes he made to the package either brought local government groups and law enforcement groups to a “support” or “neutral” stance.

Key bills: HB 4209HB 4210HB 4827 — the Medical Marihuana Facilities Act

3. No Fault Reform – The perennial issue of making changes to the state’s unlimited medical benefits for catastrophically injured motorists has seen little progress in the 98th.

Two Senate bills have cleared that chamber and are pending on the House floor.

Also in the House, Rep. Jason Sheppard (R-Lambertville) pledged earlier this year to spend the summer touring the state to promote his legislation that would address the cost of the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association fee that all motorists pay. That legislation has yet to be introduced.

Sheppard told MIRS he’ll be dropping a blue back in the first days of September session that would create options for motorists on the personal injury protection (PIP) levels in their auto insurance. Options would include $250,000 in coverage, $500,000 in coverage, $1 million in coverage and unlimited. Those opting for the $250,000 or $500,000 in coverage would have their MCCA fee waived. Those at $1 million or more would pay a fee into the MCCA. He argues he’s seeing residents move to Ohio to take advantage of much lower auto insurance rates.

“We have to be more competitive for sure,” Sheppard told MIRS.

Pete Kuhnmuench of the Insurance Institute of Michigan doesn’t hold out much hope for no-fault reform this fall. “I don’t think the sense of the Legislature is to do anything this fall.”

Key Legislation: SB 0248 and SB 0249 with Sheppard’s bill yet to be introduced

4. Uber Bills – Ride sharing companies are still operating illegally in Michigan and lawmakers are starting to hear from constituents about being ticketed by police for operating what is being viewed as an unlicensed taxi. State transportation officials have also stressed to MIRS their desire to see the issue resolved by lawmakers.

Will the resolution of the election in November give lawmakers enough breathing room to resolve this issue, since some highly influential contributors within the GOP don’t want Uber and Lyft regulated won’t have a pending election increasing their leverage?

Key legislation: HB 5951

5. 3rd Grade Reading – Legislation that could result in a 3rd grader who can’t read at grade level being held back remained in conference committee at the end of session. It’s been there since April. Both House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant) and Senate K-12 Appropriations Subommittee Chair Goeff Hansen (R-Hart) are conferees on the bill.

D’Assandro said Cotter “is still working with the Senate on what a compromise version would look like.”

Key legislation: HB 4822

6. Civil Service Bills – A constitutional amendment pushed by Cotter to ask voters to make it easier for the state to fire poorly performing state workers won’t make the Nov. 8 ballot according to D’Assandro, but “it’s still worth doing if we can get it done.”

Key legislation: HB 5677 and HJR MM

7. Unemployment Insurance System Reform – Rep. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan), chair of the House Oversight and Ethics Committee, pledged to continue working over the summer on legislation to turn around an Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA), which let a computer determine if someone was committing UIA fraud.

McBroom tells MIRS this week that “there was a tremendous amount of interest” in the work the subcommittee did on UIA reform. He added that “members are tired of how many constituents” are calling them or talking to them this summer about problems with the agency.

“I’m very hopeful that legislation will move quickly this September,” McBroom said. “Folks need relief and that department needs some direction.”

Key legislation: HB 4982

8. Bathroom Bills – Is legislation putting into law a requirement that public schools require students use the public restroom of their assigned sex at birth still possible? A ruling this week by Texas U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor halting the administration of President Barack Obama from putting into effect an order compelling public schools to regulate restroom and locker use based on gender identity is the latest wrinkle in this issue.

Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) and Rep. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) have pushed the state legislation carrying the “birth assigned sex” requirement.

D’Assandro said the House is still “waiting to hear back from the State Board of Education” on the issue. “They keep pushing back what they want to do,” he said.

We’ll see if this controversial item moves or is left for other states and the courts to deal with.

Key legislation: SB 0993

9. Freedom of Information Act Reform – D’Assandro identified action on the Legislative Open Records Act as a possibility yet for the fall. Noting the work McBroom did on the measure, he said, “That’s something we’re still looking at.”

The question is, with heat from the Flint water crisis receding, will lawmakers opt not to expose internal office documents that heretofore have been protected from public disclosure?

McBroom told MIRS he’s been speaking with leadership over the summer about the issue and that a lot of his House colleagues are “anxious to vote on it. I’m optimistic the House will get a chance to vote on it in September.”

As for whether he’ll get Senate buy-in, McBroom said he hasn’t met with the upper chamber to talk about the prospects for the package.

10. Indigent Defense Standards – The Michigan Indigent Defense Commission released a recommended set of standards to address some of the system’s major issues. The changes address the training and education of counsel and the initial client interview. The recommendations, in part, come from a survey the Commission did that found only 6 percent of district courts require attorneys to appear at both the bail hearing and arraignment of indigent defendants and only 15 percent of indigent defense systems report requiring attorney participation in Continuing Legal Education courses.

In June, the Michigan Supreme Court adopted conditionally the standards. D’Assandro listed legislative action on the issue “if there’s good progress to be made.”

Items The Governor’s Office Indicates As Fall Priorities

11. Mobility And Autonomous Cars – Gov. Rick Snyder’s office identified this as a key fall initiative. Specifically, the office will be working in the Capitol on any necessary rule and regulation changes to pave the way for autonomous cars.

Also on the docket will be continuing work on the American Center for Mobility, which was announced in March. The center, located in Ypsilanti, is a 335-acre facility for commercial-sale automotive testing.

12. Criminal Justice Reform – Communications Director Ari Adler lists answering the question “how can we address the root cause of criminal activity besides simply locking people up in jail?” as a key fall effort of the administration.

13. PA 51 Road Funding Rewrite – The objective is to modernize transportation funding — the source, the distribution and the use — in Michigan, according to Adler. “There are many challenges faced by the state and local municipalities, particularly in terms of roads and bridges,” he said. “Piecemeal fixes to PA 51 over the past six decades have failed to maintain a system that can keep up with the demands of modern travel.”

Snyder wants to work with legislators, the Michigan Department of Transportation and local road agencies to determine the wants and needs at every level so we can create a modern funding and distribution mechanism that can keep up with the demands of a modern transportation network.

Black Sheep Issue?

14. Veteran’s home reform — a legislative work group has been working this summer on a comprehensive approach to improving the provision of medical care for the state’s veteran population. If they can come up with a complete package, that issue might make the list of fall items, as well.

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