Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives her third State of the State address, Jan. 27, 2021 | Whitmer office photo
State lawmakers have introduced bills on topics ranging from providing relief from the COVID-19 pandemic to changing how candidates for the State Board of Education are selected so far in February.
Republicans control both chambers of the Legislature, in the House with a six-seat margin and the Senate with a four-seat margin. Two additional Senate seats that were previously held by Republicans are currently vacant.
Here are some of the most noteworthy pieces of legislation.
COVID rules and relief
Senate Republicans have proposed their plan to allocate $1.2 billion of federal COVID-19 relief funds that were approved last year.
Senate Bill 114, sponsored by state Sen. Jim Stamas (R-Midland), would spend more than the $868.5 million allocated in a plan passed by the House but remains smaller than the $3.6 billion plan that Democrats have called for.
Instead of allocating the funds all at once, as Democrats proposed, Republicans instead plan to break them into quarterly supplementals.
Unlike the legislation passed by the House, the Senate plan does not include a requirement that recipients of a COVID-19 vaccine administered using funds from the supplemental be informed if development of the vaccine utilized aborted fetal tissue.
The plan would, however, require the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to send a report to the House and Senate demonstrating that previously allocated funds have been fully expended and illustrating how the additional funds would be utilized.
Legislators would receive a quarterly report of how much COVID-19 relief funding has gone to their districts under House Bill 4162, sponsored by Rep. Cynthia A. Johnson (D-Detroit).
Two House bills – HB 4181 and HB 4259 – would prohibit residential evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The former is sponsored by Rep. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing), while the latter is sponsored by Rep. Brenda Carter (D-Pontiac).
Residents would be protected from energy shutoffs during a declared emergency under HB 4073. The plan would require energy companies to allow monthly repayments over an amount of time not to exceed one year.
Businesses that experienced economic hardship as a result of the pandemic who failed to pay their summer 2020 property taxes on time would see their interest and penalties waived under HB 4185 or SB 112, sponsored by Rep. Rachel Hood (D-Grand Rapids) and Sen. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids), respectively, if the taxes are paid in full by Feb. 26.
Senate Bill 125, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Daley (R-Lum), would prorate the cost of club licenses to account for any effective period of the license during which the business was prohibited from offering indoor service due to pandemic emergency orders.
Businesses ordered to close under DHHS emergency rules would be allowed to continue operating as long as they follow all of the restrictions applied to a different business type that the order allowed to continue operating under HB 4268.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Luke Meerman (R-Coopersville), also prohibits DHHS from issuing any orders restricting the capacity of a place of worship or restricting any worship, including the administration of a sacrament.
House Resolution 26, sponsored by Rep. Kara Hope (D-Holt), would amend the rules of the House of Representatives to require face masks be worn in the House chamber.
At least a dozen members of the Michigan Legislature had tested positive for COVID-19 by the end of 2020. Some legislators, staff members and reporters have expressed discomfort with the lack of mask wearing in the Capitol over the course of the pandemic.
Public universities would be urged to make their dormitories, arenas, parking lots and other facilities to be used as medical surge facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic under HB 4258.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) introduced SB 97 to establish a board to create and oversee the MI Supply Infrastructure Facility, which would design, manufacture, assemble and warehouse PPE, ventilators, flood remediation supplies and other emergency equipment intended to prepare Michigan for future health crises.
“Just a short time ago our state was scrambling to secure ventilators, medical masks, gloves and gowns,” Ananich said. “The administration was doing everything humanly possible to secure these needs, but nothing could change the fact that we were in a bidding war with other states and the federal government to procure these lifesaving items. By making and storing these items right here in Michigan, my legislation would take us out of the waiting game, allowing us to immediately begin delivering relief next time a disaster strikes.”
Election reforms and restrictions
A bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate would move Michigan’s primary election from August to June, giving candidates more time to campaign in the general election.
Senate Bill 130 – sponsored by Sens. Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton) and Paul Wojno (D-Warren) – has the support of Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson as part of her 2021 legislative agenda.
Two bills introduced by Reps. Matt Hall (R-Marshall) and Julie Calley (R-Portland) would require the secretary of state to begin purging certain voters from the qualified voter file.
House Bill 4127 would require the secretary of state to send postage to every registered voter with a placeholder date of birth in the qualified voter file.
The voter would then have to return the card with their birth date at least 15 days before the next election, or otherwise may be required to affirm their birth date in writing before being allowed to vote.
If the voter fails to confirm their birth date after two November general elections, they would have their registration cancelled.
Election law in Michigan prohibits cancelling a voter’s registration based solely on a failure to vote.
Instead, HB 4128 would require the secretary of state to send a notice to registered voters who have not voted since 2000 that they have to fill out and return the enclosed card within 15 days of the next election if they wish to remain registered.
If the voter fails to return the card after two November general elections, their registration would be cancelled.
House Bill 4129, sponsored by Rep. Steve Marino (R-Harrison Twp.), would require the secretary of state to publicly post the name of each county, city and township clerk who is not current with their election education training.
The secretary of state would have to notify the clerks by June 1 of odd-numbered years, ahead of the list being posted on July 1. If the clerk becomes current before July 1, their name would no longer appear on the list.
Knowingly filling out and submitting an absent voter ballot application containing another person’s name and personal ID information, or false information or a forged signature, would become a felony under HB 4132. Similar bills passed the House and Senate last year but were vetoed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
The maximum size of precincts would be raised from 2,999 to 5,000 voters starting in 2022 under HB 4134, sponsored by Rep. Ann Bollin (R-Brighton). The bill would also require local clerks to maintain a permanent absent voter list.
House Bill 4163, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Berman (R-Commerce Twp.), would remove the requirement to disclose the address of the person or organization paying for campaign materials, while HB 4196, sponsored by Rep. Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield Twp.), would require automated campaign telephone calls to identify who paid for the call.
The State Board of Education would be divided into eight geographic regions from which political parties would be required to nominate candidates ahead of statewide elections under SB 121, sponsored by Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan).
In the 2022 election and every eight years after, the parties would be required to nominate candidates from regions four and eight. Region four would include Bay, Genesee, Huron, Lapeer, Saginaw, St. Clair, Sanilac, Shiawassee and Tuscola Counties. Region eight would consist of Wayne County.
In 2024 and every eight years after, the parties would nominate candidates from regions six and seven. Region six includes Clinton, Eaton, Hillsdale, Ingham, Jackson, Lenawee, Livingston, Monroe, and Washtenaw Counties. Region seven includes Macomb and Oakland Counties.
In 2026 and every following eight years, the parties would select candidates from regions one and two. Region one would include Alger, Baraga, Chippewa, Delta, Dickson, Gogebic, Houghton, Iron, Keweenaw, Luce, Mackinac, Marquette, Menominee, Ontonagon, and Schoolcraft Counties. Region two would include Alcona, Alpena, Antrim, Arenac, Benzie, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Clare, Crawford, Emmet, Gladwin, Grand Traverse, Iosco, Kalkaska, Lake, Leelanau, Manistee, Mason, Missaukee, Montmorency, Ogemaw, Osceola, Oscoda, Otsego, Presque Isle, Roscommon and Wexford counties.
In 2028 and every eight years thereafter, the parties would nominate candidates from regions three and five. Region three would include Gratiot, Ionia, Isabella, Kent, Mecosta, Midland, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana, and Ottawa Counties. Region five would include Allegan, Barry, Berrien, Branch, Cass, Calhoun, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph and Van Buren counties.
Michigan’s state superintendent would become a gubernatorial appointment under House Joint Resolution C, a position currently appointed by the Board of Education. Hornberger is the sponsor.
The amendment would require a two-thirds majority in each chamber before being presented to voters as a ballot proposal.
Suspending or expelling students for being chronically absent or truant would be prohibited under SB 68, sponsored by Sen. Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo).
Senate Bill 102 would prohibit various actions that could shame students for receiving free lunches.
School districts would be prohibited from requiring a pupil to wear a wristband, handstamp or other identifying marker to indicate that they owe a school meal debt.
Students who cannot pay for a school meal or who owe a school-meal debt could not be made to perform chores or other work to pay for the meals under the plan.
Employees would not be allowed to make a student dispose of a school meal after it has been served because they are not able to pay for it or because they owe a school meal debt.
The school district would not be able to communicate with the student directly about a school meal debt unless they first make several attempts to contact the parents. If they do have to communicate directly with the student, it would have to be done in private.
Schools would be allowed to accept philanthropic donations to pay school meal debts under the plan.
Rep. Cynthia Neeley (D-Flint) introduced HB 4248 to establish a testing program for lead in school water. The bill would require test results to be posted publicly online.
House Bill 4156 would, introduced by Rep. Felicia Brabec (D-Pittsfield), would require school districts to hire at least one counselor for every 450 enrolled students.
School buses could be equipped with a stop-arm camera system under HB 4202 sponsored by Rep. Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit). Photos or videos captured on the camera would be admissible as evidence if a driver did not stop at least 20 feet from a stopped school bus, as they are legally required to do.
House Bill 4199 would repeal the requirement that schools not start classes before Labor Day, while HB 4262 would prohibit collective bargaining of school calendars and schedules. Both are sponsored by Hornberger.
Legislators introduced a number of bills to roll back decades-old laws and more recent controversial Republican plans.
House Bills 4175 sponsored by Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D-Brownstown Twp.) and 4176 sponsored by Rep. Terry Sabo (D-Muskegon) would repeal Michigan’s Right to Work laws, which make the payment of union dues voluntary for private-sector unions and most public-sector unions. Former Gov. Rick Snyder signed the laws in 2012.
Another House plan, HB 4157, sponsored by Brabec, would repeal a law signed by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley in 2016 prohibiting local governments from banning plastic bags.
Republicans in the Legislature passed citizen-initiated legislation to guarantee paid sick time in 2018, keeping the proposal off the ballot. But they quickly gutted the law, reducing the amount of sick time earned per hour worked. House Bill 4177 sponsored by Rep. Padma Kuppa (D-Troy) would roll those changes back, restoring the legislation to its original status as petitioned by voters.
A plan passed by Republicans during the 2018 lame duck session prohibiting state regulations from being more stringent than federal standards would be repealed under SB 147 sponsored by McCann.
Senate Bills 70 sponsored by Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) and 73 sponsored by Brinks would repeal a 1931 ban on abortions that is still on the books, though not presently enforced due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling.
House Bill 4237 sponsored by Rep. Steven Johnson (R-Wayland) would repeal the estate tax, while legislation introduced in both chambers of the Legislature – SB 153 sponsored by Brinks and HB 4270 sponsored by Rep. Tenisha Yancey (D-Harper Woods) – would repeal the “tampon tax,” exempting feminine hygiene products from the collection of sales tax.
Whitmer powers, civil rights and more
Judges on the Court of Claims would be more geographically diverse under HB 4222 sponsored by Rep. Graham Filler (R-DeWitt), which would require that at least one Circuit Court judge in each of the four Court of Appeals districts is assigned the Court of Claims. The bill would further require that at least one judge be from a county with a population of less than 60,000, while not more than half of the judges be from counties with populations of more than 250,000.
Displaying the Confederate flag on the grounds of the state Capitol would be prohibited under SB 75 sponsored by Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit).
House Bill 4275 sponsored by Rep. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) would prohibit discrimination based on traits historically associated with race, such as hair texture.
Handicap parking signs would be modernized under a bipartisan House plan. House Bill 4076 sponsored by Rep. Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain) would require that the signs use a variation of the international symbol of access, which must “depict a dynamic character leaning forward in a wheelchair with a sense of movement.”
House Bill 4246 sponsored by LaFave would require stickers showing the state and federal gas tax rates to be posted at gas pumps statewide.
A rarely used mechanism through which the governor can reorganize some funds after they are budgeted by the Legislature using the State Administrative Board would be addressed under HB 4082 sponsored by Rep. Ben Frederick (R-Owosso).
The bill would limit the transfers to not more than 3% of the total appropriation or $125,000, whichever is greater, and would require that the transfer not increase or decrease an appropriation by more than $200,000 in the aggregate.
Whitmer and former Gov. John Engler have both used the maneuver to shift funds towards their priorities.
House Resolution 33 would call on the Michigan Senate to continue rejecting gubernatorial appointments in protest of Whitmer’s orders intended to slow the spread of COVID-19. The Senate has already rejected more than a dozen of Whitmer’s appointments, and the Senate Advice and Consent Committee has a hearing scheduled for Thursday on the nomination of Elizabeth Hertel to be MDHHS Director.
The Michigan National Guard could only be activated for 28 days unless the Legislature voted to extend its activation under SB 150 sponsored by Rep. Steve Carra (R- Three Rivers).
Use taxes levied on cigarettes would be cut in half under HB 4114, from 100 mills per cigarette to 50 mills per cigarette. Rep. Matt Hall (R-Marshall) is the sponsor.
Local governments would be allowed to vote to adopt a resolution allowing late night liquor permits under HB 4115, which would give local businesses the ability to serve alcohol between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. Current law prohibits the sale of liquor from 2 a.m. to 7 a.m. Rep. Ryan Berman (R-Commerce Twp.).
Minors would be allowed to serve alcohol under HB 4232, which would lower the minimum age from 18 to 17. Rep. Michele Hoitenga (R-Manton) is the sponsor.
House Bill 4255 sponsored by Rep. Tommy Brann (R-Wyoming) would allow a vendor to refuse to sell alcohol to a customer if they disclose that they are pregnant.
The maximum fine for an oil spill in the Great Lakes would be increased from $25,000 per day to $500,000 per day under HB 4170 sponsored by Rep. Bill Sowerby (D-Clinton Twp.).
Senate Resolution 15 sponsored by Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) would urge the Natural Resources Commission and the Department of Natural Resources to authorize and organize wolf hunting as part of the state’s population management efforts.
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