The Michigan Association of Timbermen

Legislative Updates

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, there Legislative Consultant

January 2017

This week Governor Rick Snyder presented his seventh State of the State to the Legislature, outlining a path forward for strong economic growth and attracting new talent to Michigan.  Governor Snyder explained that by continuing to invest in our infrastructure, our students, our communities and the mobility industry, Michigan has just a few obstacles left to overcome before being recognized as the most desirable state in the nation in which to live.
“Michigan today is transformed from the Michigan of six years ago,” Snyder said.  “We are successful and confident.  We are proud. Six years ago we watched our family members, neighbors and coworkers leave for jobs in Chicago or California.  To be honest, we were not very hopeful about our future and we suffered from a lot of negative perception.”
Six years of effective reforms, from revising the tax code, establishing the conditions employers need in order to grow new jobs, a strong partnership with state lawmakers and input from residents have led to Michigan’s strongest position as a national leader in decades. Numerous indicators underscore the current strength of our economy, including the creation of nearly half a million private-sector jobs in the past six years and five consecutive years of population increases.
Governor Snyder identified the following priorities to continue the growth of Michigan’s economy while ensuring we have an increased population with skill sets to continue our recent success.
Mobility:
Six years ago, no one could have imagined Detroit would be compared to Silicon Valley.  Now Michigan is leading the nation in autonomous vehicle expansion.  The purchase of driver less cars is within reach.  Once the technology has been tested and certified, manufacturers will be able to offer these vehicles for sale.  The American Center for Mobility, established at the former Willow Run bomber plant, will be America’s leading non-profit testing and product development facility.  Michigan is leading the way in making cars smarter, making them safer and creating new freedoms for people who are currently unable to operate a vehicle due to physical restrictions.  The possibilities for developing new technology are endless.
Education:
The success of Michigan’s economy now depends largely on educating Michigan’s future workforce.  Under a new law, all students who falls behind in reading will receive an individualized plan to ensure that they receive the assistance they need to be successful.  There will be an increased investment in community colleges and skilled trades apprenticeship programs to allow students to gain the skills needed for the careers that will dominate Michigan’s economy in the coming years.
Infrastructure:
Michigan’s infrastructure continues to suffer from decades of under investment, as evidenced by the water crisis in Flint and the sewer line collapse in Fraser.  The governor will focus in 2017 on implementation of an integrated asset management pilot program, improving coordination between cities, utilities and state government when planning upgrades to existing infrastructure.  He will also continue to pursue reforms with the Legislature that go above and beyond federal standards to help ensure a water quality issue like the one in Flint will never happen again in Michigan.
Growing our communities:
Creating downtown spaces where Michiganders can live, work and play is integral to retaining residents and attracting new ones.  Snyder will look for ways to partner with the Legislature on how communities throughout Michigan can unlock private investment to revitalize down towns and main streets. The Governor was alluding to creating private/public partnerships, legislation that failed to pass the legislature last session. The legislation failed because it included a framework for road tollways.

 

 

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

January 2017

The 99th Legislature opened on Wednesday, House Speaker Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt and Minority Leader Sam Singh, D-East Lansing promised to work together and the new members appeared to appreciate that sentiment.
House Speaker Tom Leonard called for more civility and cooperation than in prior years.  “Friends, as we look back at the last election cycle that we had, it probably was one of the most uncivil in our nation’s history, all the way from the federal to the local level,” Leonard said.  “And I believe that over the next two years, the citizens of our state will not only want to see more civility in our political process, I believe they are going to demand it from us.”  Issues Speaker Leonard stated he would like to address this session include mental health, teacher retirement reform, reducing health insurance rates and building the skilled trades workforce.
House Minority Leader Sam Singh, D-East Lansing seconded Leonard’s nomination.  In the process, he proffered the bipartisan olive branch.  “There are many paths this chamber could take over the next two years.  My hope is that the next path will be one of bipartisanship,” Singh said in his remarks.  He remarked that the Democratic caucus will be focusing on issues tied to the economy, investing in our infrastructure and improving education and training.
The first House Bill of the year was introduced by Rep. Lee Chatfield, R-Levering.
HB 4001 would cut the current 4.25 percent income tax rate to 3.9 percent and then decrease the rate by 0.1 percentage point per year until it is eliminated.  Legislation to eliminate the requirement for an individual over 21 years old who can legally own a weapon to have a permit to carry a concealed weapon.  The package of bills, HB 4003, 4004, 4005 & 4006 were sponsored by Rep. Pete Lucido, R-Shelby Twp..
None of the bills were referred to committee because committees and committee memberships have not been set.  The Committee on Committee is charged with assigning 110 members to some 15 committee so membership does not conflict with the time/day of a legislator’s other committee assignment.  A daunting task.
The Senate held a much lower keyed session as they were not up for re-election and all members stayed the same.  Committee assignments and chairmen ships in the Senate will stay the same.  The Senate has been busy moving into their controversial new office building on Townsend Street.  The building has been named  the “Connie Binsfeld Building”, in tribute to former House member, Senator and first woman Lt. Governor under Governor John Engler.  I had the privilege and honor of working with this fantastic lady.  She was the sponsor of our “critical roads” legislation to give areas with shoreline additional road monies.  That fund was put into effect in 1987, but has been raided over the years for other programs.
On Tuesday, January 17, Governor Rick Snyder will deliver his final State of the State address.

 

 

 

 

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

January 2017

The 2017-18 Legislature will commence session on Wednesday, January 11 at noon.  The Senate was not up for re-election so all current 38 members will remain the same.  The 43 “newbie” House members will be sworn in and the re-elected 67 members will be sworn into office for two more years.
Moving crews are in the process of moving the 38 senators to their new and controversial offices in the “Capitol View” Building on Townsend Street, directly south of the Capitol Building.  Four years ago former Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville sealed the deal to move into the $70 million dollar to $134 dollar building.  The Senate is purchasing 7 floors of the building as a lobbying firm is located on the 8th floor and building owner, Boji Group, is located on the 9th floor.  Richardville stated that security and asbestos concerns was why he wanted to move out of the 57 year old Farnum Building.  Repairs to the building were quoted as being around $26 million for the Farnum Building also known as the Senate Office Building.
Governor Rick Snyder is considering implementing some sort of small levy on water as one way to raise $4 billion a year to repair the state’s sagging infrastructure.  That could include a levy on sewer systems, local water bills and a variety of other uses of water that the administration will “brain storm”, as he puts it. The governor’s Infrastructure Commission forecasted a multi-year proposal funded at $4 billion a year to refurbish not only the roads, but the sewer drainage system in the state, the expansion of broadband, the lead pipe water problem and similar issues.  The Governor conceded he does not plan to start with raising $4 billion each year immediately, but rather start small and get bigger.

 

 

 

 

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

December 2016

Increased speed limits in some areas of the state and limitations on seclusion and restraint practices in schools are one step closer to becoming law after being presented to Governor Rick Snyder this week along with the “driveway bills, SB 706, 707 & 708.  The Governor is expected to sign the bills any day now.
The speed limit legislation allows speeds in Michigan to rise to 75 miles per hour for some highways and 65 mph on some highways.  The new maximums are limited to only 600 miles of freeway and 900 miles of what would likely be mostly rural highways where the base speed limit now is 55 mph.  Speed limits could only be changed if a study conducted by the Department of State Police and paid for by the Department of Transportation determined such a change was feasible.  The bills also would allow reduced speeds in hospital zones in some cases.
The bills limiting seclusion and restraint practices in schools were a major initiative for Lt. Governor Brian Calley.  The legislation would prohibit seclusion and restraint in non emergency situations, something Lt. Gov. Calley has said he heard about often on his special education listening tour across the state.  Lt. Calley is the parent of a special needs child.
Julie Calley, wife of the Lt. Governor was elected to represent the 87th House District.  She was the only House candidate who did not have a primary challenge as the district is 85% Republican.  She was chair of the Ionia County Commission and Chair of the Michigan Community Service Commission.  It is expected she will be named to one of the many committees dealing with children, special needs issues issues or mental health issues.  2017 House committee assignments will not be available until sometime in January.
The driveway bills, SB’s. 706, 707 & 708 prohibit a local government from requiring a special permit for a logger to enter/exit a state or federal forest.
HB 4142, legislation to cap fines on truck mis-loads has NOT been presented to the Governor as it has not been vetted by the MSP— as of this writing.
Have a Happy New Year!!

 

 

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

December 2016

Governor Rick Snyder today signed into law the wide ranging energy package that passed last week during the Lame Duck session.  The bills, SB 0437 and SB 438 protect electric choice while still also helping shore up Michigan’s energy market.  It also increases the amount of energy Michigan would need to generate from renewable sources from 10 to 15 percent by 2022.  “This legislation will make it easier for our state to meet its energy needs while protecting our environment and saving Michiganders millions on their energy”, Snyder said in a statement.
A recent report commissioned by Governor Snyder to examine the state’s infrastructure needs showing the state spends $4 billion less than what it must spend to modernize its infrastructure should be seen as a long term guide, said Governor Rick Snyder.  Snyder commented that the $4 billion figure, most of which would need to go to roads, water and sewer services will have to be addressed in pieces. Governor Snyder suggests the work needs to be broken down over a 30 – 50 year time frame and that the $4 billion would come from all sources, not just the state, like a “public private partnership” and bonds, in addition to ongoing funding.
SB 627, sponsored by Senator Mike Kowall, R-White Lake would create public private partnerships, the legislation was put forth at the request of Governor Snyder.  The bill died during the Lame Duck session primarily because it allowed “public private partnerships” to include transportation projects and created a framework for toll roads—which killed the measure.  Governor Snyder wants the bill re-introduced during the 2017 session which Senator Mike Kowall has vowed to do.  We were a large part of the opposition against the bill as it was debated in the House Commerce Committee during the last few days of session.
The 2017-18 House of Representatives will be sworn into office on Wednesday, January 10, 2017.  The Senate will resume session on the same day with no members being sworn in because senators enjoy 2 four year terms as House members are limited to 3 two year terms.
Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

December 2016

The Legislature has recessed for the year so your life, liberty and check book is safe until January 10 when the 2017-18 Legislature convenes and 43 new House members will be sworn in to office.  But before doing so they did the following……
HB 4142, legislation changing how the state assesses truckers for “misloads” of cargo on truck axles from a formula to a simple fine passed the Legislature with MAT and GLTPA being the only interest groups lobbying on behalf of the measure. It was great to work with sponsor Rep. Ken Goike, R-Ray Township one more time as he is term limited, but vows to run for the Senate in two years.  We were able to get this bill moved out of the House Transportation Committee, the full House, the Senate Transportation Committee and the Senate in three short/long weeks–welcome to Lame Duck.
The bill puts a cap on misload fines and is the first step in our efforts to require motor carriers be more reasonable with truckers.  We met a political hurdle as the bill was stuck in the Senate as the Majority Leader was working to gain House votes for the stalled Energy Package as our sponsor was a “no” vote on the package…..we stayed vigilant and pushed through with lobbying harder and getting other senators to demand a final vote on HB 4142.  Nothing like Lame Duck session………
SB’s 706, 707 & 708, legislation to prohibit local governments from requiring a special driveway permit for log haulers to enter/exit a state or federal forest which has proved to be very expensive for log haulers have been sent to Governor Rick Snyder for his signature.  The bills completed legislative action late Wednesday evening after a long, long hard uphill battle.
SB’s 39 & 40, legislation to amend the Land Cap law did not complete legislative action.  Sponsor, Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba and Chair, Senate Natural Resources Committee and House Natural Committee Chair, Rep. Andrea LaFontainne could not reach an agreement on the PILT requirement in the bills. Senator Casperson will re-introduce the bills next session because he is confident there will be a friendlier House committee chair person.
SB 627, sponsored by Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kowall, R-White Lake has finally “died” in the Lame Duck session.  The bill creates Public/Private Partnerships, but included a provision to allow a mechanism to allow toll roads. Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville, House Commerce Committee member, spoke adamantly against the bill and eventually the bill was short votes and died in committee.  Senator Kowall vows to re-introduce the bill next session.
This week the Legislature passed and sent to Governor Rick Snyder legislation to increase the speed limit in certain areas.  The bill allows a 75 mph speed limit on some freeways where it now is 70 and a 60 mph limit on some highways with a 55 limit today.
The last issue for the Legislature to pass today was the Energy Package. Lobbyists pro and con have been hammering legislators all week on the issue.  Governor Rick Snyder was able to get opponents and proponents to the table for a tentative agreement this afternoon allowing the Legislature to adjourn 90 minutes ago.

 

 

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

December 2016

On Monday, Mike Sturgill, Mike Elenz, Lonnie Lutke , (Bill Brand had to cancel) Senator Jim Stamas, R-Midland, Senator Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse city, Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona and I met with high level motor carrier officers in Gaylord to discuss issues our log haulers are having with a certain motor carrier at the Mackinac Bridge.   Our legislative friends were not very happy with how arrogant the motor carrier’s were towards our members.  Among their rationale for not allowing a trucker exit his cab to adjust his load of logs was the environment for law enforcement is so negative today officers have to be extra valiant about protecting their lives from possible shootings.  New officers are taught differently than those who have or will soon retire, the laws have changed over time and it is not their problem that trucks do so much damage to the roads, they still have to enforce the laws. One recommended lower truck weights.  I commented then there would be twice the trucks on the road so what do you gain? No answer.

Following the meeting, Mike, Mike, Lonnie and I attended the Rep. Triston Cole reception and dinner event at the Ostego Club where our loggers had the opportunity to network and dine with the lower northern legislators and the new House leadership team.  I feel the loggers enjoyed the event and luckily they did not expect much from the meeting with the motor carriers, but there was value in having the legislators join the meeting.  It is my opinion that our loggers viewed the time they spent away from their businesses as useful. At the evening event we briefly discussed ways to address the problem and picked up the support of “Central Transport”, lobbyist Paul Opsommer, former term limited House Transportation Committee Chair.  Paul shared that his members are having the same problem at state borders and we plan to team up on the issue and will be following up with our legislative friends to identify a “fix”, but first we needed to address HB 4142.  Today, at the Senate Transportation Committee meeting, Chair, Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba commented on the Monday meeting and issue with the motor carriers.  Senator Schmidt and Stamas shared with him their disdain for the over policing of our loggers.
Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba put HB 4142 on committee fast track and voted the bill out with one hearing.  Denny Olson, GLTPA, testified on behalf of forestry along side of sponsor Rep. Ken Goike, R-Ray Township.  GLTPA and MAT were the only forestry groups submitting support for the bill. The bill does the following.  If a trucker of any commodity is under the allowable GVW but over on the axle weight the following will happen, from 1,000-4,000 pounds overweight per axle the fine would be $200.00 per axle up to 3 axles or a maximum fine of $600.00.  If the vehicle is 4001-8000 pounds per axle overweight the fine would be $400.00 per axle up to 3 axles or maximum fine of $1,200.00.  For all other overweight standard statutory fines apply.
Between Rep. Goike and myself we have gotten support to put the bill on a “fast track” by the full Senate with gaining support of the Senate Majority Leader, the Senate Floor Leader, the Senate Transportation Chair, Senator Stamas and Senator Schmidt—key legislators. I will “chase” this bill next week until it completes legislative action as it is a very important bill to our members.
I have been chasing SB 39 & 40 all week as meetings have been set, canceled and re-set.  The bills adjust the land cap law sponsored by Senator Casperson last session.  Senator Casperson, sponsor and Chair, Senate Natural Resources Committee and House Natural Resources Committee Rep. Andrea LaFontaine, R-Columbus Township disagree on the PILT requirement in the bill and new language to allow local units of government to have input when the DNR plans to purchase a parcel of land—therefore, the bills are dead for the year.  Senator Casperson plans to re-introduce the bills next session when he is confident there will be a friendlier House committee chair person.
SB 627, sponsor Senator Mike Kowall, R-White Lake was NOT reported by the committee for lack of support today.  The bill creates public/private partnerships and includes a section to allow a mechanism to allow for toll roads.  We were made aware of the bill yesterday so quick action was required to lobby committee members to oppose the bill.  Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville, committee member, was very vocal against the bill in his comments to the committee on our behalf and on the behalf of other constituents.  The bill was suppose to be DOA in the House, but this is Lame Duck and anything and everything happens.  Inactive bills can instantly gain “legs” and become active, as evidenced by SB 627.
Last, but not least—SB’s 706, 707 & 708 remain on Second Reading on the House calendar.  The bills prohibit a local government from requiring a special driveway permit for log haulers to enter/exit a state or federal forest which has proven to be very expensive for log haulers. The bills have remained on this reading since last Wednesday–we only have 3 session days left and it is imperative these bills complete House action next week.  I am on it!!
Welcome to another active Lame Duck session!  We have 43 new legislators to meet and greet next session as 43 will exit on December 31.

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

December 2016

The “Lame Duck” session is in full swing as close to 60 – 100 bills are set daily for debate on the House calendar as the 43 lame duck legislators wind down their six years in Lansing and take the final votes for their House legislative career—a sad, sad time as many have become friends to our industry and to me personally.
Republicans will control state government for two more years, enabling Governor Rick Snyder and the Legislature to continue enacting their agenda and leaving Democrats to regroup after another election setback.  At the top of the GOP’s priority list includes for the “Lame Duck” legislative session is public employees’ retirement benefits.
Republican legislators want to switch newly hired teachers into 401 (k) accounts, despite Governor Snyder’s past resistance due to the large upfront costs of closing the pension system to new hires.  New school employees now are provided a combination of a traditional pension and a 401 (k) plan.  Governor Snyder in turn wants to target unfunded liabilities in municipalities that provide health care to their retired workers.  The retirees could instead be given stipends to buy their own insurance, similarly to what happened with Detroit retirees when the city filed for bankruptcy protection, thorough the fate of exchanges established under President Obama’s health care law is uncertain.  Speaker-elect Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt said one of his three top priorities is reforming the “broken” Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System. Very lofty issues for the “Lame Duck” session.
Legislation that could be finalized in December includes a long debated update to energy laws, regulations on ride-hailing companies such as Uber and their drivers, possibly the allowance of a 75 mph speed limit on some freeways where it now is 70 and a 60 mph limit on some highways with a 55 limit today.  Major policy reforms recommended in the wake of the Flint water crisis are unlikely to be considered until next year.
Bills sponsored by Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, dubbed the “driveway bills” are in the process of completing legislative action.  SB 706, 707 & 708, prohibit a local government from requiring a special permit for transporting forest products in and out of a state or federal forest.  These bills are at the top of our priority list of issues to complete legislative action during the “Lame Duck” session.
Legislation to cap the fine for overweight vehicles is also among our priority bills to  complete action during the “Lame Duck”.  HB 4142 was sponsored by Rep. Ken Goike, R-Ray Township.  Our plan is to “slam” the bills through the Senate by the end of the calendar year.
We will be meeting in Gaylord with the MSP, the Mackinac Bridge Authority,
Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, Senator Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City and Senator Jim Stamas, R-Midland to come up with a solution to the problem some of our log haulers are having at the Mackinac Bridge with a certain motor carrier relative to overweight stops and fines.
A “meet and greet” reception and dinner is planned in Gaylord with term limited northern Michigan legislators and “newbie” incoming legislators facilitated by Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, a former truck driver.  Rep. Cole is rumored to be the chair of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee for the 2017-18 session.  I welcomed the invitation by Rep. Cole to participate in the event and look forward to meeting the new legislators and introducing them to our forestry issues.

 

 

 

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

November 2016

Republicans will control state government for two more years, enabling Governor Rick Snyder and the Legislature to continue enacting their agenda and leaving Democrats to regroup after another election setback.  At the top of the GOP’s priority list includes for the “Lame Duck” legislative session is public employees’ retirement benefits.
Republican legislators want to switch newly hired teachers into 401 (k) accounts, despite Governor Snyder’s past resistance due to the large upfront costs of closing the pension system to new hires.  New school employees now are providing a combination of a traditional pension and a 401 (k) plan.  Governor Snyder in turn wants to target unfunded liabilities in municipalities that provide health care to their retired workers.  The retirees could instead be given stipends to buy their own insurance, similarly to what happened with Detroit retirees when the city filed for bankruptcy protection, thorough the fate of exchanges established under President Obama’s health care law is uncertain.  Speaker-elect Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt said one of his three top priorities is reforming the “broken” Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System. Very lofty issues for the “Lame Duck” session.
Legislation that could be finalized in December includes a long debated update to energy laws, regulations on ride-hailing companies such as Uber and their drivers, possibly the allowance of a 75 mph speed limit on some freeways where it now is 70 and a 60 mph limit on some highways with a 55 limit today.  Major policy reforms recommended in the wake of the Flint water crisis are unlikely to be considered until next year.  A legislator I talked to today shared with me that there are over 100 bills scheduled for action on Tuesday before the House of Representatives–Lame Duck is in full swing….
On Tuesday, November 29, 10:30 AM, Room 521, HOB, legislation nicknamed the
“driveway” bills are scheduled for testimony before the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.  SB 706, 707 & 708, sponsored by Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba. The bills prohibit a local government from requiring a special permit for transporting forest products in and out of a state or federal forest.  If you are interested in testifying or attending the hearing, please meet me at 10:00 AM, reception area of the House Office Building so we can review committee testimony. View the legislation at www.legislature.mi.gov

 

 

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

November 2016

Energy reform legislation passed the Senate before the Legislature left town for a two week recess for deer hunting and Thanksgiving. The bills give major utilities an incentive to build new power plants because alternative “choice” electric providers likely would be picking up some of the construction costs.  The bills passed the Senate with support of DTE Energy, Consumers Energy and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.  Alternative electric suppliers (AES), like Constellation Energy, would still be allowed to sell 10 percent of the state’s electricity load, but they claim the bills creates new changes, among other requirements, that would squeeze them out of the market.  Steelcase, Amway, assorted school districts and other AES customers argue the bills turn back the clock on the free market approach that helped drive down electric prices from among the highest in the Midwest.  The bills await action by the full House during the “Lame Duck” session.
The House completed legislation that would allow driver-less cars to be tested on the state’s roadways without a human driver.  The Senate quickly agreed to the House’s changes and sent it to the Governor, who is expected to sign it. “Our society is rapidly evolving with new technology every day.  “Michigan is the automotive capitol of the world and right now we have the opportunity to capitalize on that reputation and play a fundamental role in life-changing, life-saving, and energy efficient means of modern transportation through self-driving cars said Rep. Brad Jacobsen, R-Oxford, primary sponsor of the bills.
Before recessing the House Elections Committee took testimony on legislative term limits.  Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan a self-described “purist” on term limits, introduced three possible changes to the state’s term limits.  One measure extends existing term limits to a combined limit of 16 years that could be distributed in any manner across the two chambers, another measure repeals existing term limits and the third imposes a consecutive limit rather than a lifetime limit.
Current legislative term limits restrict an individual to serving a maximum of three two-year terms in the House and to four-year terms in the Senate.  McBroom said Michigan’s current limits have eroded the Legislature as an institution, blaming ills such as extreme policy swings, low institutional knowledge, large freshman classes and a rise of bureaucratic and lobbyist power.  McBroom described political pressures from within.  McBroom said there are situations within a party’s own caucus where he believes that short term limits increases the threat of being “driven into irrelevance” by leadership for opposing the direction of the caucus.
The Senate Transportation Committee reported out legislation passed by the House that would clear the way for speed limit adjustments on Michigan roadways, including possible increases of up to 75 mph.  The full Senate will complete debate on the bills when they return on November 29.
After the Todd Courser-Cindy Gamrat affair shook up Lansing in 2015, the House Business Office looked into it could do a better job in preparing legislative staff on what is appropriate conduct.  Term limited legislators often mean term-limited staffers, some of who are not the right fit in dealing with constituent issues or working on legislation.  Often staff members, who ended up not being the right fit for a legislative job, are let go in March or April after a couple of months on the job they started in January with a new House member. What is expected of staff? What are some best practices that can be shared with, oftentimes, young professionals that will make member offices or caucus departments work better?  The answer from House Business Office Director Tim Bowlin was a new professional development coordinator position that was filed by veteran legislative staffer Stacey Murray.  It has been reported that one in four (25 percent) of House staffers employed as of May 2, 2016, were on the job as of February 15, 2010.
The DNR has announced it will offer surplus public land for sale by sealed-bid auction between December 6January 10, 20117.  The auction will feature 58 parcels located in counties mainly in central and northern Lower Michigan and in the Upper Peninsula.  Those counties include Arenac, Baraga, Chippewa, Clare, Cadillac, Lake, Mackinac, Manistee, Midland, Newaygo, Ogemaw, Oscoda, Presque Isle, Roscommon and Wexford.
I have been working on lining up votes for the “driveway” bills, SB 706, 707 & 708, the bills await action by the House Transportation Committee.  Bill sponsor and Senate Transportation Committee Chair Tom Casperson has requested a meeting with House Transportation Committee Chair Ben Glardon, R-Owosso to discuss scheduling the bills for debate “soon”.  With only 8 session days remaining in the session, it is imperative to set final action on the bills ASAP!
Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, VC Transportation Committee and assumed Chair of the Transportation Committee next session has set a meeting in Gaylord on December 5 with area legislators, the Mackinac Bridge Authority, the MSP and industry to discuss the problem some loggers are having at the Mackinac Bridge with the motor carrier relative to overweight stops and fines.
A meet and greet reception and dinner is planned for the evening of December 5 with out going northern Michigan legislators and “newbie” incoming legislators facilitated by Rep. Triston Cole, which we have been invited.  This provides a   great opportunity for us to be introduced to the incoming members by the out going members and Northern Michigan Caucus Chair, Rep. Triston Cole.

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

November 2016

Republicans not only retained majority in the state House for the 2017-18 session, but in an election cycle in which they were expected to lose seats, they end up having the same 63 seats they won in the 2014 election.
Wednesday morning 43 new House members arrived in Lansing for two days of activities as they launch their new political careers.  The new members will be seated in January as the term limited 43 members will vacate office on December 3l.
The “newbies” attended their first caucus meeting where the Republicans voted for the new Speaker of the House and Democrats voted for a new Democratic Leader.  Following that they did a run through on which buttons to push for a “yes” or “no” vote, how to address the chair and what the House rules are, etc.  A class in how to deal or not deal with the capitol press corps was held on Thursday morning.  A guided tour of the Capitol Building was held for the “newbies” then they received a crash course on how to draft a bill.
As expected, the incoming Republican caucus voted for Rep. Tom Leonard, R- DeWitt Township to serve as Speaker of the House during the 2017-18 term, the current Speaker is term limited.  The caucus also elected Rep. Dan Lauwers, R-Brockway as the Majority Floor Leader.  Rep. Lee Chatfield, R-Levering was elected as Speaker Pro-tem.  Rep. Leonard commented that the state has come a long way under Republican leadership and he wants to continue on that path.
The House Democratic caucus voted Rep. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing to be their new leader heading into the 2017-18 term.  Our friend Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet barely lost his bid as leader. Rep. Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills will serve as Minority Floor Leader.  The current Democratic Leader, Rep. Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills stepped down after Democrats had a poor showing in Tuesday’s election.  Democrats were shooting for majority but at least expecting to gain seats.  Instead, a Republican wave led by President-elect Donald Trump leaves them with 47 seats, the same number as they have now.  Many political pundits and political pollsters missed the mark in predicting the popularity of Donald Trump and the Republican wave.
The legislature will return for the Lame Duck session on November 29 following deer hunting season and the Thanksgiving legislative recess.
Legislation introduced this week:
HB 6039 – Sponsor, Rep. Bruce Rendon, R-Lake City.  The bill requires registration for foresters.  The bill was referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.
HB 6040 – Sponsor, Rep. Bruce Rendon, R-Lake City.  The bill defines a Registered Forester, creates a Foresters Board and a Foresters Fund within the DNR. The bill was referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.

 

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

November 2016

The Legislature has only 11 days officially scheduled through the end of 2016 and yet members recently introduced 110 bills, most which will not even get a hearing. Many are being introduced as a preview of legislation to be re-introduced next year during the 2017-18 session.
Bills on the Democrats’ wish list include stricter gun control measures and tax credits for student loan payments and renovations made to senior citizens’ homes. Democrats would like to repeal the law that allowed communities to set minimum wages higher than state law.  The Republicans’ list includes doing away with waivers of work requirements for low income residents who get cash assistance, changes to no-fault auto insurance and require background checks for student teachers.
A showdown with Governor Snyder will most likely occur as the Republican led Senate has set up a proposed overhaul of Medicaid financing.  Michigan has been in dispute with the U.S. government over taxes that help pay for Medicaid.  The joint federal-state program that provides health insurance for low income residents. The Senate voted overwhelmingly to continue a 6 % “use” tax on Medicaid managed care organizations, more quickly end a broader health insurance tax that the business lobby dislikes and change the pot of state money that is used to draw federal matching dollars.
Forestry related bills most likely to receive Lame Duck action include legislation to refine the Land Cap Act.  The bill reinstates the cap on state land ownership if all PILT are not received in full and on time.  Legislation to prohibit local government from requiring a special permit for a logger to haul wood out of a state/federal forest is also on the list for consideration.
With so few days left to consider legislation, on top of pressing issues that have been under consideration for months, most of the bills will fade away by the end of the year.  In the two year legislative session, 3,1161 bills have been introduced and only 313 have been signed into law by governor Rick Snyder.  Any bills that have been introduced in this legislation session–2015-16–that are not acted on before legislators adjourn for the year, die at the end of the year and will have to be introduced again next year.

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

October 2016

House Democrats have outspent House Republicans so far in the battle for the majority but the House GOP has a four to one cash on hand advantage going into the final three weeks before Election Day, according to campaign finance reports filed this week.  Republicans have a 62-45 majority in the House with three vacancies.  Democrats need to flip nine seats that Republicans won in the 2014 elections to their side for an outright majority.  As both sides make their final push, the House Republicans are in a strong position with $2.26 million cash on hand to $568,623 cash on hand for the Democrats.
If a battle for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2018 develops between Lt. Governor Brian Calley and Attorney General Bill Schuette, then Schuette is on his way to building up a cash advantage.  Attorney General Schuette has $706,286 cash on hand while Lt. Governor Calley has $557,417 on hand.  Calley is raising the money in his lieutenant governor committee and Schuette in the committee he created to run for attorney general.  But both could transfer the cash from their committees to gubernatorial committees should they decide to run—it is strongly rumored they will face off against each other for the gubernatorial nomination.
This week an Ingham Circuit Court judge rejected a request from a Flint resident and attorney Mark Brewer, former Michigan Democratic Committee chair, to form a one person grand jury to investigate whether Governor Rick Snyder is breaking the law in using tax dollars to pay for criminal defense attorneys to represent him during the investigation into the Flint water crisis.  The court gave no reason for the denial other than to say it was exercising its discretion under the law not to establish a one person grand jury.
Governor Snyder has come under criticism for approving funds to pay for legal representation during the criminal investigation into the Flint water crisis without approval from the State Administrative Board.  His administration has contended he has the authority to approve funds unilaterally in this specific situation.
The Legislature will return to Lansing on November 8 to assess and wins and losses.  The Republicans are working to retain the majority in the House as the Democrats are working to attain the majority.

 

 

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

October 2016

With 17 days to go before the November 8 election, campaign television advertisements are increasing in crucial House districts.  Republicans are attempting to link their opponents to “Obamacare” and higher taxes. Democrats are focusing on GOP candidates allegedly working to benefit corporations, special interests and votes for the $134 million Capitol View Senate office building.
The seven most targeted seats include:
The 71st House District, where former Rep. Teresa Abed of Grand Ledge is attempting to defeat Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville.
The 62nd House District where Democrat James Haadsma of Battle Creek is hoping to unseat Rep. John Bizon, R-Battle Creek.
The the 61st House District with Rep. Brandt Iden, R-Oshtemo and Democrat John Fisher of Portage
The 106th (Pettalia) race between Robert Kennedy, D-Harrisville and Sue Allor, R-Wolverine.
The 101st where Democratic former Rep. Dan Scripps of Northport is taking on Republican Curt VanderWall of Ludington.
The 91st race between Rep. Holly Hughes, R-White River Township and former Rep. Collene Lamonte, D-Montague.
The 108th district where Republican Beau LaFave, Iron Mountain is going up against Democrat Scott Celello of Iron Mountain.
House Republicans are actively working to maintain the majority while Democrats are actively working to attain the majority.
Michigan would be the second state to join in a call for a constitutional convention to impose Congressional term limits if a House resolution proposed this week passes.  Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville sponsored HJR TT hot on the heels of presidential nominee Donald Trump’s call for Congressional term limits.
Trump told supporters this week that he would continue his ethics reform push by advocating for term limits for members of Congress.  The Republican candidate also released this week a five part ethics plan aimed at reforming federal revolving door policies between government officials and lobbyists.
Rep. Barrett’s proposal suggests limiting members of Congress to serving four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and 12 years in the U. S. Senate.
The Senate was in session three days this week attempting to move legislation over to the House for consideration following the November 8 election.  The House was scheduled for a one day session, but no attendance or votes were taken.  Both the Senate and the House will return on November 9 to assess losses and gains and to begin work on their schedule for the “Lame Duck” session.
New Legislation introduced this week:
H.B. 5981, sponsor Rep. Ken Goike, R-Ray Township, requires certain wood products manufacturers provide workers compensation for employees.  Referred to Commerce and Trade Committee.
H.B. 5995, sponsor Robert Wittenberg, D-Oak Park, eliminates the log plate for wood harvesters.  Referred to the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

October 2016

Kirk Steudle, Director, Michigan Transportation Department has briefed Senate Republicans on a proposal to change PA 51, the state’s road funding formula.  The current formula was established in Public Act of 1951.  It provides 39 percent of state dollars to counties, 39 percent to state roads and 22 percent to city and village roads.
The new proposal would abolish the percentage shares for state trunk-line funds for counties and municipalities.  All agencies would receive a base allocation based on their formula distribution in 2015 before snow removal payments.  Any revenue over that base allocation for the state, counties, cities and villages would be based on Federal Functional Class of road, bridge deck area and population.
MDOT contends the outline is part of a discussion that began with Governor Rick Snyder’s 2011 infrastructure special message.  Following the recent veto of legislation that would have changed PA 51 the department began churning out ideas on how to change the formula.  MDOT contends they are NOT trying to seek additional monies for MDOT, that this is a policy discussion about what is best for the distribution of the money that is out there.  The current formula is heavily weighted toward population.  The proposal would still take population into account, but only for counties and medium or large cities or townships with populations of 25,000 or more.
Some Republican senators are highly suspicious of making any changes to PA 51 during the Lame Duck session.  Senator Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge and Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba have been quite vocal about the proposal.
In the last four weeks, close to $196,000 has been spent on House candidates in battleground seats, the 62nd, 66th, 71st, 99th, 101st and the 108th.  Candidates in 108 district Scott Cellelo, D and Beau LaFave, R are going neck in neck to capture the seat of term limited Rep. Ed McBroom. The eternally competitive 91st house district is in play again where Rep. Holly Hughes, R-Montague and Colene Lamonte, D-Montague are neck and neck in that race.  The 71st seat with Jim Haadsma, D running against vulnerable Rep. John Bizon, R-Battle Creek are neck in neck in their race.  Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville and Theresa Abed are battling for the 71st seat.  Rep. Barrett won the race two years ago with a mere 148 votes.
At least 40 new House members will be elected to the House of Representatives due to term limits in Michigan —-In case you did not know–I hate term limits!

 

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

October 2016

The race for House control is headed into the frantic, final stretch of October and the campaigns now have a clear sense of which candidates have a chance and who has failed to gain traction.  With five weeks to go until Election Day, the overall dynamic remains the same as it has for much of the year as far as the current 62-46 Republican majority.  Originally, the House consisted of a GOP majority, 63-47 before two legislators passed away.  With 40 term limited House members vacating office, we will have at least 40 new House members.  Political pundits predict Democrats will mostly likely gain seats, but Republicans will most likely retain the majority.
The big surprise going into the final weeks is a sense from sources on both sides of the aisle, is that for the first time in many presidential cycles, the presidential race is not having as much down-ballot effect as it traditionally would because of Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump.
Before the Legislature recessed last week, the Senate Natural Resources Committee reported out of committee SB 39 and SB 40, sponsored by Senator Tom Casperson, R-Ecanaba.  The bills limit the amount of land the DNR can purchase and requires them to make payments in lieu of taxes to local governments.  Senator Casperson commented that more work will be done on the controversial bills as they are debated by the full Senate.  If the bills complete Senate action, they will move to the House, be referred to committee and then referred back to the House for final consideration during the Lame Duck session.
Last week, the Legislature gave final consideration to medical marijuana legislation.  which Governor Rick Snyder has signed into law.  The bills enable local governments to regulate marijuana “provisioning centers”, which would be legalized and create a seed to sale tracking system.  Snyder commented,  “This new law will help Michiganders of all ages and with varying medical conditions access safe products to relieve their suffering”.  “We can finally implement a solid framework that gives patients a safe source from which to purchase and utilize medical marijuana.
In 2008, a voter initiated act won approval from voters legalizing medical marijuana, but it limited patients to growing their own or having someone grow it for them and provide it.  Dispensaries, now renamed “provisioning centers”, popped up but were ruled illegal in the courts.  They closed, but returned in large numbers in the past year or two in those communities that decided not to shut them down.

 

 

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

October 2016

The Legislature will return mid month to caucus, assess campaign polling and prepare for the “Lame Duck” session.  Issues most likely to be addressed during  “Lame Duck” which formally starts following the election include:
Energy Reform  —   The Senate Energy and Technology Committee chair stated  that some problem issues were clarified and the package is ready to be addressed.
No Fault Reform —  The perennial issue of making changes to the state’s unlimited medical benefits for catastrophically injured motorists has seen little progress this year, but leadership plans to push the issue forward.
Uber Bills  —  Ride sharing companies are still operating illegally and legislators are hearing from constituents about being ticketed for operating an unlicensed taxi.
3rd Grade Reading   —  Legislation that could result in a 3rd grader who can’t read at grade level being held back remains in conference committee, but could see final action during lame duck.
Civil Service Bills  — A constitutional amendment pushed by Speaker Cotter to ask voters to make it easier for the state to fire poorly performing state workers.
Unemployment Insurance System Reform  —  Legislation to reform UIA fraud.
Bathroom Bills  —  Legislation to require students to use the public restroom of their assigned sex at birth.
Freedom of Information Act Reform  —  Provides a Legislative Open Records Act to allow access to internal records of the legislature.
Indigent Defense Standards  —  A set of standards to address major issues in the state’s indigent defense system.
Mobility and Autonomous Cars  —  Allows driver-less cars.
Criminal Justice Reform  — Attempts to address how to address criminal activity by means other than locking people up.
PA 51 Road Funding Rewrite  —  The objective is to modernize transportation funding, the source, the distribution and the use of road and bridge funds.
Veteran’s Home Reform  —  A comprehensive approach to improving medical care for veteran’s.
Legislation to refine the “Land Cap” law continues to receive heated debate by the Legislature.  The bill would reinstate the cap on state land ownership if all PILT are not received in full and on time.  Sponsor Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba is intent on getting this bill passed during the “Lame Duck” session.
Legislation to tweak the Qualified Forest Act and the Commercial Forest Act “may” see action during “Lame Duck”.
SB 706, 707 & 708, legislation to prohibit local government from requiring a special permit for a logger to haul wood out of a state/federal forest is more likely to receive “Lame Duck” action.
With half of the House of Representatives being termed limited, anything and everything can happen during a lame duck session.  Back burner legislation can suddenly become active as legislation assumed to be a “done deal” can fall out of favor and die during lame duck.  House members are allowed 3, two year terms as Senate members are allowed 2, four year terms.  The House of Representatives is up for re-election in November, the Senate is not.

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

September 2016

This week the House voted to expand and mirror FOIA to include legislative and gubernatorial documents.  The 10 bills mostly end the exemption the Governor has always had from the Freedom of Information Act, with some exemptions, and create the Legislative Open Records Act that declares what records of the Legislature would become newly public and what would remain exempt, similar to FOIA.  The bills are a bi-partisan product of Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan and Rep. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield who have championed the package for much of the legislative term.  Rep. Moss commented “It is time to apply transparency to how we do business in the Legislature”.  The bills now move to the Senate where Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive does not support the bills.
An updated state energy plan remains bottled up in the Senate.  Republican supporters of the plan could pick up Democrat votes if they are willing to require utilities to move to 15 % renewable power.  Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint prefers to see 25% renewables, but would be willing to consider a plan that required 15%.  Senate Minority Leader Ananich will be introducing legislation that would eventually reduce the lead allowed in drinking water in the state to 5 parts per billion.  Current standards, based on federal action levels are 15 ppb.  He said the goal would be a standard of no lead.  Senator Ananich also commented that Democratic votes for the pending state energy plan could be tied to his drinking water proposal.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee met Tuesday where Rep. Ben Glardon, R-Owosso formally took the “gavel” as chair.  It was a sad meeting as a bill Rep. Pete Pettalia, R-Presque Isle had been working all session was debated and voted out of committee.  The bill was vetoed last session by Governor Rick Snyder, but Rep. Pettalia made the necessary changes to the measure to satisfy the Governor this time around.  The bill determines which kinds of auto parts vehicle repair facilities can use on vehicles.  The bill will be debated by the full House and if adopted be sent to the Senate and most likely referred to the Senate Transportation Committee.
This week the Senate Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba took testimony and reported out of committee SB 39 & 40 with GLTPA and MAT support.  We had gone on record at the previous meeting, but there is so much opposition to the bills, I felt it important to support Tom and the bills one more time.  The bills tweak the Land Cap Act and are highly opposed by the DNR and environmental community.  Casperson promised to continue to work with the environmental groups as the bills are debated by the full Senate.
I also met with Senator Casperson about SB 706, 707 & 708, his bills to prohibit local government from requiring a special permit for a logger to haul wood out of a state/federal forest.  The bills completed Senate action in June and now await action by the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee chaired by Rep. Ben Glardon, R-Owosso.  I shared with Casperson that this issue is one of our top priorities for the session which he agreed. I suggested he speak directly to Rep. Glardon about the bills because Chair Glardon has been approached by many lobbyists reciting their “promise” by deceased committee chair Rep.Pete Pettalia to take up “their” bill.  Myself included in that list.

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

September 2016

On Monday of this week our friend Rep. Peter Pettalia, R-Presque Isle was killed in a motorcycle accident in Montmorency County as he was traveling to Lansing for House session.  The crash involved another car driven by a 59 yer old woman as her car turned left into Rep. Pettalia, he died instantly.  The Senate was not in session this week.  The House canceled fundraisers, committee meetings and its normal session for Tuesday.  A memorial service was held today, Friday, Sept. 16, at the Presque Isle Lighthouse from noon to 5:00 PM.  Shuttle buses ushered mourners to and from their cars to and from the site.  Donations can be made to the “Lighthouse Restoration Fund”, 12653 E. Grand Lake Rd., Presque Isle, MI. 49777.
Rep. Pettalia served as the chair of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.  Today, VC Rep. Ben Glardon, R-Owosso was named chair of the committee.  A dark cloud has hung over Lansing all week.  Rep. Pettalia was one of the most liked and respected legislators always with a smile on his face and a kind word for all.  The House will attempt to get back to normal activities next week.  Out of respect for Rep. Pettalia, his House floor desk/chair will be draped in black for many days to come.
In other news, Donald Trump visited a water treatment plant and a church in Flint this week.  Trump’s best line of the day was “It used to be that cars were made in Flint and you couldn’t drink the water in Mexico.  Now the cars are made in Mexico and you can’t drink the water in Flint.  That’s not good.”  As of today, Michigan is in play for the GOP presidential candidate and gaining daily national momentum.
The House sent a marijuana regulation package to Governor Snyder for his signature this week. The bills create a structure for selling medical marijuana after the House signed off on several Senate changes to the bills.  Not much legislative work was accomplished this week in Lansing.  Next week the House and Senate will both be in session and attempt to move forward with their fall legislative agenda.
New legislation impacting forestry:
HB 5882, sponsor, Rep. Mary Whiteford, R-Allegan (replaced Rep. Cindy Gamrat).
The bill requires notification of a prescribed burn to the township supervisor and the 9 -1-1 service and has been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.

 

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

September 2016

The Legislature returned to Lansing this week primarily to re-group, caucus and assess results of the August election.  Issues most likely to be addressed during September and the lame duck session which formally starts on November 9 include:
Energy Reform  —  The first major energy reform package since 2008 flickered out in June, but Senate Energy and Technology Committee chair stated this week that some problem issues were clarified over the summer.
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 Marijuana Act.  Since the bill amends the citizen’s initiative, it requires 28 Senate votes for passage.  Democrats are supportive, many Republicans oppose.
No Fault Reform —  The perennial issue of making changes to the state’s unlimited medical benefits for catastrophically injured motorists has seen little progress this year, but leadership plans to push the issue forward.
Uber Bills  —  Ride sharing companies are still operating illegally and legislators are hearing from constituents about being ticketed for operating an unlicensed taxi.
3rd Grade Reading   —  Legislation that could result in a 3rd grader who can’t read at grade level being held back remains in conference committee, but could see final action during lame duck.
Civil Service Bills  — A constitutional amendment pushed by Speaker Cotter to ask voters to make it easier for the state to fire poorly performing state workers.
Unemployment Insurance System Reform  —  Legislation to reform UIA fraud.
Bathroom Bills  —  Legislation to require students to use the public restroom of their assigned sex at birth.
Freedom of Information Act Reform  —  Provides a Legislative Open Records Act to allow access to internal records of the legislature.
Indigent Defense Standards  —  A set of standards to address some of the major issues in the state’s indigent defense system.
Mobility and Autonomous Cars  —  Allows driver-less cars.
Criminal Justice Reform  — Attempts to address how to address criminal activity by means other than simply locking people up.
PA 51 Road Funding Rewrite  —  The objective is to modernize transportation funding, the source, the distribution and the use of road and bridge funds.
Veteran’s Home Reform  —  A work group is working on a comprehensive approach to improving medical care for veteran’s.
With half of the House of Representatives being termed limited, anything and everything can happen during a lame duck session.  Back burner legislation can suddenly become active as legislation assumed to be a “done deal” can fall out of favor and die during lame duck.  House members are allowed 3, two year terms as Senate members are allowed 2, four year terms.  The House of Representatives is up for re-election in November, the Senate is not.

 

 

 

Monthly Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

September 2016

Anti-politician sentiment carried the day in Michigan’s lst Congressional District as retired Lt. General Jack Bergman came out of relative political obscurity to win a three republican primary against two established political figures.  Bergman ended up winning 39 to 32 % over Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba.  Former State Senator Jason Allen was third with 29 %.  The race in the lst is ultimately to replace U. S. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, who declined to run for re-election.  Bergman served over 40 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, at one time having overseen a $1 billion budget and 100,000 people.  In capturing the district, Bergman benefited from an “outsider” label and history as a Marine. Meanwhile, in the lst Congressional District Democratic primary, former Democratic Party Chair, Lon Johnson defeated former Kalkaska County Sheriff Jerry Canon, 71 to 28%.
In his second Michigan visit within two weeks of each other, Donald Trump, Republican Presidential candidate made an appeal to African-Americans and Michigan factory workers. In his second address,Trump said no other group of people have been harmed by Democrat candidate Hilary Clinton’s policies more than the African-American community.  Trump asked “What the hell do you have to lose by trying something new, like voting Trump?”
Candidate Trump outlined how NAFTA and the proposed TPP trade deals are bad for the country, but particularly for the Michigan economy and auto jobs.  He made a pitch for schools of choice and reaffirmed that “we will build the wall”, a reference to the often mentioned structure he would like to see between the U.S. and Mexico.  Trump delivered a more tailored economic message to the Detroit Economic Club during his first visit.
The former director of the Senate Fiscal Agency, Mitch Bean, now with the Great Lakes Economic Consulting, issued the following analysis. “The money coming into the state’s coffers since Governor Rick Snyder (2011) took office is up 12.4 %, spending on the executive offices of elected officials far exceeds that percentage while spending on K-12 education, prisons, higher education and local governments is well below”.   Bean stated “Everyone who campaigns for election to political office, or runs for re-election, talks about their spending priorities, but if you want to know what those priorities really are you need to follow the money”:
2011-2017 budget increases:
Secretary of State    —   75.4% budget increase
Attorney General’s   —    40% budget increase
Legislature               —    27.6% budget increase
Executive Office       —     22.6% budget increase
Auditor General        —     38.7 % budget increase
Meanwhile the basic per pupil foundation allowance is up 5.1 %, higher education funding is lower than it was in 2011.  Revenue sharing to cities, villages and
townships continue to drop by some $5.5 billion.  State employees have seen a 6.1 % increase, while the Department of Corrections has seen a 2.7% budget increase.  As far as other state departments not headed by an elected official, the General Fund portion of the Agriculture and Rural Department Budget comes across as a big winner.  The FY 2017 GF budget is up 15.9 % and since FY 2011-12 the GF portion is up 71 %. Some of the increase went to fund required inspections and regulations, and some was because of new programs.

Jessie Augustyn, GLTPA and I met with Denise Pallarito, Chief of Staff to Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona to fine tune legislation to be introduced to allow a multiple use permit for truckers tailored after Wisconsin law.  Rep. Cole is required to have his list of priority bills for 2017 presented to the Legislative Service Bureau by the end of the month in order for the bills to be prepared by the first day of the January session.  This issue is his top priority bill.

In August, Denny Olson, GLTPA, Jessie Augustyn, GLTPA and I met with Tim Hoeffner, Director, Office of Rail, MDOT and took the opportunity to discuss the on going lawsuit between MDOT and John Larkin, owner, E& LS Railroad over a $800,000 fine for a dispute over repairs at the Amasa Crossing in the UP and other forestry related issues.
Rep. Ken Goike, R-Township and Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville have requested the chair of the House Commerce Committee schedule a hearing on HB 5506, legislation to require religious sects adhere to the same rules as English sawmills.  The Department of Labor and Regulatory Affairs has signed off on the latest draft bill and will now take a “no position” stance instead of being in opposition of the bill as they have been up until this last draft bill.
SB 706, 707 & 708 sponsored by Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba have passed the Senate and await debate by the House Transportation Committee.  The bills prohibit a county road commission from authorizing an additional permit for a logger to haul their product down the road.  The issue is a priority issue for Senator Casperson for the “lame duck” session.
I continue to work with staff to U.S. Congressman Gary Peters, D-Pontiac, relative to the unfair competition the Amish create for English forest products industry businesses, the on going “slasher” issue and the Future Logging Careers Act; H.R. 1215 awaiting debate by a subcommittee chaired by U.S. Congressman Tim Walberg, R-Jackson.
The formal lame duck session begins November 9, the day following the general election.  Anything and everything goes during “lame duck”, we need to stay vigilant, it is rumored the legislature “may” revisit the gas tax.

 

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

September 2016

As major renovations on the controversial Capitol View building continue in anticipation of the Senate moving most of its offices there, inventory is being taken at the Senate’s current offices so senators and staff can plan their move, with an official up and running estimate of January.  There will be 30 Senate offices and three Senate committee meeting rooms in the new building.  The other eight offices are in the Capitol and the offices will shuffle which senators are in what offices based on which districts occupy certain ranks.  Leadership positions are typically located in the Capitol building as the rest of the senators will occupy the new Capitol View.
The Senate is up for re-election in 2018, at which point some 26 seats will be open and there will be considerable reassignment of senate offices.  The new offices were arranged via a lease as former Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville headed out of the Senate due to term limits in 2014.  Richardville said at the time that the Farnum Building had an array of issues from proper temperature control to asbestos and more.  The deal has come under heavy criticism from the Democratic Party for the costs, but Majority Leader Meekhof has maintained his distance, asserting the negotiations on the controversial move of the senators to the Capitol View happened before he had control of the Senate.
This week I met with staff to U.S. Senator to discuss issues of mutual interest.  We discussed the on going “slasher” issue which the MSP contends is illegal to haul down the road.  U.S. Senator Peters is a member of the Transportation Committee and plans to investigate the problem at the Federal level which MSP bases their complaint.  It is the opinion of staff that federal legislation HR 3283, legislation to allow 16/17 year old kids of logging or mechanized operations be allowed to work in their family business, is on the back burner and will most likely not complete action this year.  U.S. Senator Peters has expressed an interest in the unfair competition religious sects create for the wood products industry and staff was impressed to to learn that his colleague U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin has similar concerns.
The Michigan Legislature will return to Lansing on Wednesday, September 7 to resume their agenda of work.  Many of our forest products industry friends will travel to Oshkosh, Wisconsin for the yearly Logging Expo the same week.  As of this writing, Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba and Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet will be attending the Logging Expo!

 

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

August 2016

In his second Michigan visit in nearly two weeks, Donald Trump, Republican Presidential candidate made an appeal to African-Americans and Michigan factory workers. In his address at the Summit Sports & Ice Complex, Trump said no other group of people have been harmed by Democrat candidate Hilary Clinton’s policies more than the African-American community.  Trump asked for the vote of African-Americans and outlined how the African-American communities have suffered under Democratic control and ask “What the hell do you have to lose by trying something new, like voting Trump?”
He outlined how NAFTA and the proposed TPP trade deals are bad for the country, but particularly for the Michigan economy and auto jobs.  He made a pitch for schools of choice and reaffirmed that “we will build the wall”, a reference to the often mentioned structure he would like to see between the U.S. and Mexico.  Trump delivered a more tailored economic message to the Detroit Economic Club two weeks ago.
The former director of the Senate Fiscal Agency, Mitch Bean, now with the Great Lakes Economic Consulting issued the following analysis this week……”The money coming into the state’s coffers since Governor Rick Snyder (2011) took office is up 12.4 %, spending on the executive offices of elected officials far exceeds that percentage while spending on K-12 education, prisons, higher education and local governments is well below”.   Bean stated “Everyone who campaigns for election to political office, or runs for re-election, talks about their spending priorities, but if you want to know what those priorities really are you need to follow the money”:
2011-2017 budget increases:
Secretary of State    —   75.4% budget increase
Attorney General’s   —    40% budget increase
Legislature               —    27.6% budget increase
Executive Office       —     22.6% budget increase
Auditor General        —     38.7 % budget increase
Meanwhile the basic per pupil foundation allowance is up 5.1 %, higher education funding is lower than it was in 2011.  Revenue sharing to cities, villages and
townships continue to drop by some $5.5 billion.  State employees have seen a 6.1 % increase, while the Department of Corrections has seen a 2.7 budget increase.  As far as other state departments not headed by an elected official, the General Fund portion of the Agriculture and Rural Department Budget comes across as a big winner.  The FY 2017 GF budget is up 15.9 % and since FY 2011-12 the GF portion is up 71 %. Some of the increase went to fund required inspections and regulations, and some was because of new programs being added to the department.

This week Jessie Augustyn, GLTPA and I met with Denise Pallarito, Chief of Staff to Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona to fine tune legislation to be introduced to allow a multiple use permit for truckers tailored after Wisconsin law.  Rep. Cole is required to have his list of priority bills for 2017 presented to the Legislative Service Bureau bytomorrow, Friday, September 26, in order for the bills to be prepared by the first day of the January session.  This issue is his top priority bill.

Denny Olson, GLTPA, Carmel Olson, Jessie Augustyn, GLTPA and myself attended a brief awards ceremony for Lauri Olsen, Transport Permits Division, MDOT where Denny surprised her with a signed/framed picture of the 2015 State Christmas Tree.  Lauri assisted him with obtaining the proper permits last year for delivery of the state tree.  We also met with Tim Hoeffner, Director, Office of Rail, MDOT and took the opportunity to discuss the on going lawsuit between MDOT and John Larkin, owner, E& LS Railroad over a $800,000 fine for a dispute over repairs at the Amasa Crossing in the UP.
The Legislature returns to Lansing to resume their agenda of work on September 7 and plans to work for three weeks then recess for two weeks.  The formal lame duck session begins November 9, the day following the November 8 general election.  Anything and everything goes during “lame duck”, we need to stay vigilant—it is rumored that the legislature “may” revisit the gas tax issue.

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

August 2016

Donald Trump, Republican presidential candidate is scheduled to be in Eaton County tomorrow, which is where I live.  He is scheduled to speak at 3:30 PM at the “Summit Sports Center.  Attendees are are encouraged to line up starting at noon.  Even though tickets are required, people will be seated first come first serve.  Senator Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge will be attending the event, but Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville will not be attending as he is in Grayling involved in flight training with the National Guard.  Senator Mike Green, R-Mayville is expected to attend as he has been appointed to Trump’s agricultural advisory committee.  Green is the Senate Natural Resources budget chair and a farmer before politics.
Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump is running an “unprofessional and unstrategic campaign” in dire need of major changes including toning down the rhetoric in hopes of to appealing more to independent and female votes said political pundits speaking on the “Off the Record” Tv program this week. The pundits say Trump has only 24 percent of the female vote in this state which is really astonishing.  Trump continues to do well with white, married men with a high school education but there might not be enough votes in that group to put Trump in the Oval office some pundits predict.  Prior GOP candidates for president have nailed down over 80 percent of the Republican vote, but Trump hovers in the 70 percent range.  Though both candidates receive high disapproval rate from voters, Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary is still doing much better than Trump with her party base. Clinton and Trump appear to be neck and neck in the state’s blue color regions.
The Senate Natural Resources Committee will hold an advice and consent hearing for new Department of Environmental Quality Director Heidi Grether in September.  Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, chair of the committee, said he had already had a chance to talk with Ms Grether upon her appointment, so the hearing is more for the rest of this committee and the general public to get to know her.  “I am impressed and I want to make sure everyone wants to get to know her, to have a chance to ask her some questions,” said Casperson.”
Tom commented that because she worked as a lobbyist for oil giant BP it is not an issue to him.  Casperson stated that he knows that the Office of the Governor had vetted that process.
In the eight months since Governor Rick Snyder declared a pause on accepting Syrian refugees in wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, Michigan has resettled more Syrian refugees than the precious years combined.  Between Nov. 15 and today, 557 Syrian refugees moved to the state, which is more than any other U.S. state, according to U.S. Department of State statistics.  California was second with 453.  Arizona is third with 360, Ilinois is fourth with 326.
After a November killing spree by ISIS, Snyder was part of a stampede of governors calling on pauses to the Syrian refugees coming into their states after the announcement.  Snyder decided to suspend things until he had a chance to talk with the Department of Homeland Security to verify that they were comfortable with the procedures and that they were doing the best work possible from their perspectives.  Refugees are resettled with or near families already living in the United States when possible.  If a refugee has no family in the United States, they are resettled in communities already called home by people of the same national, cultural or linguistic background.

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

August 2016

Michigan has requested a stay of ruling against the straight ticket repeal.  The Department of Attorney General asked the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this week for an emergency stay within a week of a lower court ruling striking down Michigan’s new law ending the option for voters to choose a political party’s slate of candidates with a single mark on the ballot.  The state asked the appeals court to stay U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain’s ruling through the November election.  In its motion, the state says Mr. Drain’s proposed schedule, coupled with the deadline at the end of the month for printing ballots, necessitates emergency action.

Democrats are tagging the Republican’s lst Congressional nominee as an out of stater who did lobbying like duties for a for profit education outfit with a dubious history.  It turns out that Republicans could use a similar attack on the Democratic candidate.  The difference is Democrat Lon Johnson was actually registered to lobby in Washington D.C. and Republican Jack Bergman never did register as a lobbyist.  While Bergman’s Watersmeet residency has come into question, the Republican has actually been registered to vote in the lst Congressional District longer than Democrat Johnson.  Bergman said he registered in 1998, Johnson registered in the district in 2011.

Congressional records indicate that Johnson registered to lobby for the Michigan League for Human Services from 2001-2008.  Bergman insists he had nothing to do with Education Management Corporation’s recruitment practices.  He says he was hired to make sure veterans returning to school were making a smooth transition to civilian life.  This campaign continues to be controversial and dicey.  Political pundits contend the winner of this race is a 50 – 50 guess.
An audit this week notes that the DNR lacks control over Commercial Forest Lands.  The DNR is charged with qualifying parcels under the CFA program, but it does not have all the legal or personnel resources needed to conduct that oversight, Auditor General Doug Ringler said in a recent report.  The performance audit of the CFA and the Forest Development Fund for the period October 1, 2012, through June 30, 2015, also found the department as not ensuring it had certifications from all landowners involved in the program.
Auditors found three of 32 parcels for which the department did not have a certification on file that the parcel qualified.  One of those, auditors found, was too small to qualify, but because the larger parcel from which it was divided had been certified, the new owner had continued to pay the $1.25 per acre tax allowed under the program.  Auditors did note the DNR does not have sufficient resources to monitor activity on commercial forest lands to be sure they all comply.  The department also does not have the authority needed to collect all property transfers.  A 2013 statutory change moved the mandate to notify the departments from the property owner to the county and DNR officials said counties are not uniformly complying with that requirement. The audit also noted the department does not have the authority to mandate that property owners provide copies of their forest management plan or their deed to show the parcels qualify.  Law only requires that they provide the forest management plan certification.
This week Jim Maeder and I had a 2 hour conservation with Michelle Lange, legislative liaison to Governor Snyder and Kirstie Sieloff, Lt. Governor’s policy staff regarding the latest draft of HB 5506.  Legislation to create a level playing field between Amish and English sawmills.  It is clear they have done their research strictly through LARA.  They contend that the Amish organize within the law, but agree that they structure their businesses differently than the English do.They believe that LARA investigates both Amish and English mills fairly.
They were familiar with the Local Emphasis Program, developed in 2013 and that since that time 10 Amish mills have been inspected and 8 were cited for violations.  We shared with them that out of 360 mills registered with the DNR that 117 are Amish. Staff had no comment on the over inspection of some of our mills or that 30% of Michigan mills are Amish or what will happen if most all mills end up being purchased by the Amish.
The most important thing we learned this week is that both the Governor and Lt. Governor would take a “no position” on the new bill language instead of “oppose”, which is progress.  I shared this information with sponsor Rep. Goike and his chief of staff and asked them to request a hearing on the bill.  I shared the new position by LARA and the Governor with staff to Rep. Graves, Chair, House Commerce Committee where the bill resides and requested they set a hearing on the bill.

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

August 2016

After Tuesday’s primaries, key general election match ups have taken shape with the Democrats seeking a nine seat gain to take control of the House and Republicans remaining confident they will keep control.  All State House incumbents won their primary elections.
Anti-politician sentiment carried the day in Michigan’s lst Congressional District as retired Lt. General Jack Bergman came out of relative political obscurity to win a three Republican primary against two established political figures.  Bergman ended up winning 39 to 32 percent over Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba after finishing a strong second to Casperson in the Upper Peninsula and then dominating in the Lower Peninsula.  Former State Senator Jason Allen was third with 29 percent.  The race in the lst is ultimately to replace U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, who declined to run for re-election.
Bergman said that having an honest, straight-forward message resonated with voters in the lst District.  What he’s heard from voters is they were looking for leadership capabilities in their elected officials and that is something he feels he has proven in his background.  Bergman served 40 years in the U. S. Marine Corps, at one time having overseen a $1 billion budget and 100,000 people.  In capturing the district, Bergman benefited from an “outsider” label and his history as a Marine, something he played up in TV ads that have been running since late June.  Bergman also ended up spending more than Casperson and Allen, digging into his own pocket for a $270,000 loan.  Overall, he reported spending $309,000, as of July 13 to Casperson’s $270,000, Allen had spent $119,539.
Meanwhile, in the lst Congressional District Democratic primary, former, Democratic Party Chair, Lon Johnson defeated former Kalkaska County Sheriff Jerry Cannon, 72 to 28 percent. Bergman’s victory benefits Democrats in the sense that any Republican attack on Johnson being from outside the district rings hollow since Bergman has spent most of his adult life away from the Upper Peninsula.  Democrats were concerned about facing the more politically moderate Senator Casperson, who was expected to poll well in the UP.

 

 

 

 

Monthly Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

August 2016

1st Congressional Race Too Close to call—-

The 1st Congressional district is tough to comprehend since it spans 24,875 miles.  The district takes in the entire Upper Peninsula; it also includes a big chunk of the top of the mitten. There is not a single city with even 25,000 people. Every congressional district in a state is required to have the same population as measured by the last census, and it took a lot of space to round up the 710,000 people needed to form this district.

United States Representative Dan Benishek (R-Iron River) kept a campaign pledge to retire after three terms. That means it is an open seat – the only one in the state where either party’s nominee has a chance to win. Republicans do seem to have a four-to-five point advantage here. But Bart Stupak, a moderate-to-conservative Democrat, had no trouble holding the seat from 1993 to 2011.

Four years ago, Benishek was barely reelected, beating former State Rep. Gary McDowell by fewer than 2,000 votes. The Democrat might have won, except that President Obama was far less popular here than in most parts of Michigan. This year, there are tough and bitter primary races in both parties. Former State Senator Jason Allen of Traverse City, 53, expected to be the nominee six years ago–but lost the GOP primary that year to Benishek by a mere 15 votes.

Jason Allen, R-Traverse city is running again, this time against State Senator Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba). Casperson, 56, has also run for this seat before; he was the GOP nominee in 2008, when he lost in a 2-1 landslide to Mr. Stupak. If Tom does not win he will continue as state senator and chair of the House Transportation Committee and the Senate Natural Resources committee. There is a wild card in the race, too: A little-known retired three-star U.S. Marine Corps General named Jack Bergman, 69, who lives in the little town of Watersmeet in the western Upper Peninsula. It isn’t clear whether the general, who holds very conservative views, has enough funds for his campaign, but he does have the slogan “Marines come to win.”

Some political pundits seem to favor Allen, since about 58 percent of the population lives in the Lower Peninsula where he lives, but voters in this district are unpredictable. On the Democratic side, the contest is likely to finally make or end the career of Lon Johnson, the controversial former state party chair. Johnson, 44, has a family home and is an official resident of Kalkaska, in the Lower Peninsula, but freely admits he grew up in blue-collar Flat Rock, south of Detroit.

Johnson later had a successful career as a campaign organizer in a number of states and then, in 2013, ousted Mark Brewer, the longtime state Democratic Party chair. He spent barely two years in the job. He worked hard, but was unlucky in that 2014 was an enormous year nationwide for Republicans. Johnson is proud that Michigan was the only state in which Democrats won an open seat in the U.S. Senate, when Gary Peters soundly defeated Terri Lynn Land.  The keystone of Johnson’s strategy was a campaign to greatly boost absentee ballot turnout which flopped.  In fact, it was worse than four years before. Shortly after he was reelected as party chair last year, Johnson resigned to seek the congressional seat.  Ironically, that meant he’d have a nasty primary fight against the man he recruited to run for the job two years ago, retired Kalkaska County Sheriff Jerry Cannon who feels betrayed by Johnson for entering the race.  Johnson has the financial backing to win where Cannon does not.

Expect this race to be one to watch right down to Election Night …if not beyond. If you live in the 1st Congressional District it is important to vote for our own Senator Tom Casperson and to take/convince 10 friends of your friends to vote for Tom because of the competitiveness of this race.  Tom has supported us in Lansing and he is the right person to support us in Washington.  Please Vote!

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

July 2016

While Republican candidates in swing districts are mostly ahead of Democratic candidates when it comes to cash on hand, Democrats lead in some key seats they want to flip in 2016 in an effort to gain control of the House.  Of the 21 swing districts in 11 the Republican candidates have more cash on hand than the Democratic candidate, though in some cases there are still upcoming primaries.  In three, the candidates are essentially tied and in seven, the Democratic candidate is ahead.
Lon Johnson, the former Michigan Democratic Party chair, showed his fundraising strength this second quarter as he runs in the lst Congressional District for Congress. .  Johnson has out raised all of the Republican candidates he could face in the general election with $361,075.89 for the quarter.  In a close second is former Marine Jack Bergman running on the GOP side, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant general from Watersmeet.  Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba and Jason Allen are only $10,000 apart in fundraising for this quarter.  It is important to send your personal contribution to “Casperson For Congress”, PO Box 499, Escanaba, MI 49829.  Tom is our candidate and it is important we all do our share to help get him elected so he can advocate for us in Washington!
It has been a tense year so far between Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette, with the two heading in opposite directions on a host of major issues, from Great Lakes water diversion to the Federal Clean Power Plan to teacher benefits to the Flint water crisis.  For those watching the campaign for governor in 2018, it has all the appearances of Mr Schuette looking to publicly differentiate himself from Governor Snyder, whose popularity has fallen sharply in the wake of the Flint crisis. That got more fuel last week when Mr. Schuette spoke to the Republican National Convention and gave an address about his investigation into the Flint water crisis and the need to support law enforcement as opposed to the typical rah-rah convention fodder.
Lt. Governor Brian Calley plans to enter the GOP primary race against Mr. Schuette for the 2018 governor’s race.  It is rumored that Governor Snyder will resign at the end of his term to give Lt. Governor Calley an advantage—politics in Michigan is always exciting!

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

July 2016

Many Republican legislators are in Cleveland at the Republican National Convention. Our own Attorney General Bill Schuette gave a speech on the opening day of the event.  Our Lt. Governor has also been attending the event.  Next week our Democratic leadership and other democrats will be attending the Democratic National Convention.
The lst Congressional District race is a very, very important race for us and our issues.  Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba is running against former Jason Allen on the Republican ticket and Lon Johnson, former Democratic Party Chair is running against Kalkaska Sheriff Jerry Cannon on the Democratic ticket.  The primary for the 1st District has proven to be a tough, bitter and nasty campaign.  Please vote for Senator Tom Casperson as he not only supports our issues, but leads on many of them and has been our voice in Lansing.  We now have the opportunity to support him to be our voice in Washington.  If you live in the lst Congressional District it is important to vote for Tom and to encourage/convince 10 friends and family members to vote for Tom.
This week Governor Rick Snyder shifted leadership in the agency at the heart of the Flint water crisis, naming Heida Grether to head the Department of Environmental Quality.  DEQ Interim Director Keith Creagh is returning to his post as director of the Department of Natural Resources.  He became interim director after Snyder asked former DEQ Director Dan Wyant to resign in the wake of the Flint water crisis.
Ms. Grether is currently deputy director of the Michigan Agency for Energy, where she led state efforts to comply with new federal carbon rules.  But, the bulk of her career was spent working for the oil company BP, mostly as a lobbyist as its state government affairs director.  She helped head up the company’s response to the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico and eventually rose to general manager of Gulf Coast External Affairs for the company.  She holds a master’s degree in natural resource economics and policy and a bachelor’s degree in political science and public administration, both from MSU.

 

 

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

July 2016

This week on Wednesday the Senate was in session for one minute and the House was in session for 24 minutes.  The House Oversight and Ethics Committee chaired by Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan reported out a bill to overhaul the Unemployment Agency, a House GOP priority for this session.  The bill changes how the UIA deals with potential fraud by shortening the statute of limitations, requiring the use of certified mail to contact certain claimants and prohibiting certain discrepancies from being identified solely by a computer.  The bill is now awaiting full debate by the House and then will move to the Senate for further action.  Some business groups do not support the bill as reported out of committee.
This week Senator Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, Senator Tory Rocca, R-Sterling Heights, Senator Steven Bieda, D-Warren and Senator Curtis Hertel Jr., D-E. Lansing announced they are crafting legislation that would include in the state’s hate crime law protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gender individuals.  The plan is to introduce the bill this session.  Senators are not up for re-election and most have four more years to represent their Senate district.
To ensure truck drivers transporting fuel across Michigan can do so in a timely manner, the federal government approved an extension to Michigan’s existing energy emergency until September 9.  This is the second extension of the energy emergency at the end of May in response to the shutdown of the West Shore Pipeline in Wisconsin, which is still closed.  The federal waiver waives the hours of service requirements for motor carriers and drivers transporting fuels, allowing them to number of hours and days they are allowed to operate consecutively.
I continue to attempt to identify possible House of Representative winners in the August and November elections and attend their events . All 110 House members are up for re-election, half of them are term limited so House members are either campaigning for themselves or campaigning for others.  I have been supporting and attending events for Ben Fredericks, R-Owosso, former chief of staff to Rep. Joel Johnson, R-Clare who is term limited so Ben is out of a job.  Ben, if elected will replace Rep. Ben Glardon, R-Owosso who is term limited.  Rep. Glardon is the House Transportation Committee VC and Ben Fredericks has a lot of experience working with that committee which if elected, could land him a spot on the Transportation Committee.  I attended a $100 event for Fredericks this week.
I also continue to do campaign efforts for Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville, an active supporter of our effort to require the Amish to be accountable for business taxes as other forest products interest.   It will be much easier to identify district candidates following the August primary.  Right now, we have 4-7 candidates in each race for term limited candidates which will be narrowed to one Republican and one Democrat.

 

 

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

July 2016

 

The two candidates seeking to lead the House Republican caucus next term have mostly voted the same on key issues during their tenure with insurance and energy remaining the key difference between Rep. Robert VerHeulen, R-Walker and Rep. Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt.  Rep. VerHeulen and Rep. Leonard voted the same way on Medicaid expansion, both voted no.  On the Detroit Grand Bargain and the Detroit Public School bailout both voted yes and on roads, both voted yes.  However, VerHeulen voted yes on a state exchange under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act while Rep. Leonard voted no.  Because of term limits, Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant will end his role as Speaker on December 31.  Lansing political pundits contend the race for Speaker of the House is neck and neck.
A commission tasked with examining Michigan’s strengths to create a vision for its economic future was created under an executive order signed by Governor Rick Snyder.  The Building the 21st Century Economy Commission, comprised of 23 members, will not only set metrics and benchmarks to measure Michigan’s economic success, but it will also identify potential industry growth, create strategies to assist current industries and offer recommendations of ways to make Michigan a center for innovation, a statement by the governor’s office indicated.
“Michigan has made great strides in economic prosperity and job growth, but we can never become complacent,” Mr. Snyder said.  “We must focus on the future to set Michigan up for success in the 21st Century economy.  This commission will help us get there as it works to establish a strategy for growth that will help new and existing industries thrive in our state.”
The state’s disaster and emergency fund will now be able to hold $10 million, rather than $4.5 million as a result of legislation (P.A. 220/2016) signed this week by Governor Rick Snyder. The state has had to go to the Disaster and Emergency Contingency Fund for the Flint water crisis and severe storm clean-ups, so increasing the limit on the fund will allow the state to be better prepared to respond to emergencies, according to the Governor’s office.
This week, I met with staff to Lt. Governor Brian Calley to present her with information on the unfair competition the Amish create for English sawmills and other forest products industry businesses in preparation for our meeting with the Lt. Governor.  Kristie Sieloff, policy staff to Lt. Governor Calley has been assigned to investigate current law and the facts surrounding the issue.  This week, I provided background information on legislation to create a multiple use permit to staff to Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, member of the House Transportation Committee and leading contender to Chair the House Transportation Committee next session.  I also met with staff to Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville to share background information relative the unfair competition the Amish create for another legislative effort relative the Amish.  Rep. Barrett is a key member of the House Commerce Committee where legislation is sent to review bills impacting religious sects.  I am working to get our legislative issues lined up for the remainder of this session and for the 2017 session.
I predict that SB 706, 707 & 708 will be the main centerpiece of forestry legislation during the lame duck session.  The bills prohibit local governments from requiring loggers to obtain special driveway permits to access state/federal forests.  Legislation to amend the CF/QF programs (SB 651,652 & 653) may or may not finish lame duck activity along with changes to the land cap bill, SB 39 & 40.

 

 

Monthly Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

July 2016

Before recessing for the summer the Legislature sent a Detroit Public School bailout package to Governor Rick Snyder among a slew of other bills. Key items left to be resolved include a no fault insurance reform package, repealing the prevailing wage, Urber Bills–ride sharing companies are operating illegally and some are being ticketed for operating as an unlicensed taxi. Legislation to determine when a 3rd grader would be held back for not being able to read at grade level and a constitutional amendment asking voters to make it easier to fire poorly performing civil service employees, legislation to revamp the Unemployment Insurance Agency and legislation to require trans-gender individuals use the public restroom of their assigned birth are also on the agenda.

The House is up for re-election as House members are allowed three, two year terms.  We will lose at least 40 House members to term limits.  The Senate is not up for re-election as they are allowed two four year terms; although quite a few senators are posturing to run for Congress.
Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba has launched his first television ad in the 1st U.S. House District Republican race.  Casperson, featured in the ad, says Washington officials often do not listen to constituents.  “So when Washington bureaucrats wrote a rule that would virtually end the use of wood stoves for people’s heat, I passed a law to stop them”, he says in the 30 second spot.  Tom notes in the ad that he started his professional life in the logging industry.  The ad is slated to run throughout the district.  Senator Casperson faces former Senator Jason Allen and Jack Bergman in the GOP primary to succeed U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls.  Political pundits contend the reace is between Allen and Casperson.  Pundits contend Allen has strength in the lower northern and Casperson has a majority of support in the Upper Upper Northern and the UP.
Legislation to tweak the Qualified Forest Act and the Commercial Forest Act “may” see action during the “lame duck”session.  SB 706, 707 & 708, legislation to prohibit local government from requiring a special permit for a logger to haul wood out of a state/federal forest is more likely to receive “lame duck” action.  Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona is preparing a bill to allow a multiple use permit to be introduced next session if Rep. Pete Pettalia, R-Presque Isle is not able to move the issue through the legislative process this year.
Recently, I held a fundraiser event for Rep. Tom Barrett, Chair, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, member House Commerce & Trade Committee, Communications & Technology, Energy Committee and the Insurance Committee.  Rep. Barrett is my legislator and is a co-sponsor of legislation to require the Amish to pay workers compensation.  Barrett is being touted for a key leadership position next session since the current leadership team is term limited.
John Fowler, MAT and Gary Melow, Michigan Biomass attended the event as did 54 other association representatives and constituents.  John Fowler was introduced by Rep. Barrett to our special guest Lt. Governor Calley, R-Portland.  John had the opportunity to share his experience with the unfair competition the Amish have created for his business with Rep. Barrett and the Lt. Governor.  Before the Lt. Governor left the event, he asked me to set a meeting with him to further discuss the unfair competition issue the Amish create for the wood products industry.   See the attached picture of the event which includes Rep. Tom Barrett, Karole White, Michigan Broadcasters Association, Lt. Gov. Calley, myself and Senator Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, my senator.  I am very proud to have had the opportunity to host this event for GLTPA, MAT and myself as a constituent.

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

June 2016

This week mayors of 13 cities around the state issued a statement opposing legislation that would limit residents to using the public bathroom that comports with their gender at birth.  The mayors, including Detroit Mike Duggan and Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalyn Bliss, said the bills SB 993 and HB 5717 would make it more difficult to attract new residents to their communities.  They noted that North Carolina, with similar legislation, has seen companies and events move out of the state since the legislation was enacted.  “the proposed bathroom inspection bills simply do not reflect who we are nor who we want to be as Michiganders,” the mayors said in a statement to legislators.
Equality Michigan, which publicized the statement, joined the mayors in urging other local government officials to come out against the legislation.  “Community leaders, like these mayors, are helping Equality Michigan advance pro-equality policies on the local and state level,” the group said in a statement.  “Their support is critically important.”
Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba announced this week that he has launched his first television ad in the 1st U.S. House District Republican race.  Casperson is featured in the ad says Washington officials often do not listen to constituents.  “So when Washington bureaucrats wrote a rule that would virtually end the use of wood stoves for people’s heat, I passed a law to stop them”, he says in the 30 second spot.  Tom notes in the ad that he started his professional life in the logging industry.  The ad is slated to run throughout the district.  Senator Casperson faces former Senator Jason Allen and Jack Bergman in the GOP primary to succeed U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls.
On Monday of this week, I held a fundraiser event for Rep. Tom Barrett, Chair, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, member House Commerce & Trade Committee, Communications & Technology, Energy Committee and the Insurance Committee.  Rep. Barrett is my legislator and is a co-sponsor of legislation to require the Amish to pay workers compensation.  Barrett is being touted for a key leadership position next session the current leadership team is term limited.
John Fowler, MAT and Gary Melow, Michigan Biomass attended the event as did 54 other association representatives and constituents.  John Fowler was introduced by Rep. Barrett to our special guest Lt. Governor Calley, R-Portland.  John had the opportunity to share his experience with the unfair competition the Amish have created for his business with Rep. Barrett and the Lt. Governor.  Before #2 (Calley) left the event, he asked me to contact his office to set a meeting to further discuss the unfair competition issue the Amish create for the wood products industry.  We are in the process of selecting a date for the meeting.  See an attached picture of the event which includes Rep. Tom Barrett, Karole White, Michigan Broadcasters Association, Lt. Gov. Calley, myself and Senator Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, my senator.  I am very proud of having had the opportunity to host this event for GLTPA, MAT and myself as a constituent.

 

 

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

June 2016

Last week when the Legislature recessed early to campaign at least seven key items were left on the agenda.  The Legislature is scheduled to return to Lansing onWednesday, July 13 to continue “some” work.  The House is up for re-election as House members are allowed three, two year terms.  We will lose at least 40 House members to term limits.  The Senate is not up for re-election as they are allowed two four year terms.  Although quite a few senators are posturing to run for Congress.  Expect a heated contest for the Congressional 1st District as Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba will be pitted against former Senator Jason Allen, R-Traverse City.  Lansing “pundits” contend Allen has strength in the lower northern and Casperson has a majority of support in the Upper Upper Northern and the UP.
Key items left to be resolved include a no fault insurance reform package, repealing the prevailing wage, “Uber Bills’–ride sharing companies are still operating illegally  and some are being ticketed for operating what is being viewed as an unlicensed taxi.  At the top of the agenda is legislation to determine the circumstances a 3rd grader would be held back for not being able to read at grade level.  Speaker Cotter’s constitutional amendment that asks voters to make it easier to fire poorly performing civil service employees, legislation to revamp the Unemployment Insurance Agency and legislation to require transgender individuals use the public restroom of their assigned birth.
On the very last day of the session a bill was passed to transfer 3 million dollars from the Forestry Development fund to the First Responders Fund, a new cancer worker’s compensation fund, allegedly to be funded by the upcoming marijuana debate which is held over until the fall “lame duck” session.  Rep. Jon Bumstead, R-Newaygo, DNR budget chair and Senator Mike Green, R-Mayville, Senate DNR budget chair both fought hard against the transfer which was spearheaded by the House and Senate Appropriation Committee Chairmen.
Legislation to tweak the qualified Forest Act and the Commercial Forest Act “may” see action during the “lame duck” session.  SB 706, 707 & 708, legislation to prohibit a local government from requiring a special permit for a logger to haul wood out of a state/federal forest are more likely to receive “lame duck” action.
We continue to work towards moving legislation to require the Amish to provide worker’s compensation.  New bill language prohibits a wood products industry employer from being eligible for exclusions from the Act.  We intend to discuss the Amish issue with Lt. Governor Brian Calley at the upcoming campaign event being held at my house for Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville.  Rep. Barrett supports our efforts to make the Amish accountable and is a member of the committee considering the bill.

 

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

June 2016

Two bills making major changes to Michigan’s utility and electric system, but still maintaining some provisions from the 2008 energy legislation especially with small generators of alternative energy, were reported to the full Senate this week by the Senate Energy and Technology Committee.  The bills call for the state to achieve 35 percent of its “electric needs” through a combination of energy waste reduction and generation of renewable resources.  Supporters of greater choice have blasted the package as killing overall electric choice.  The full Senate is expected to debate the controversial bills next week.
A proposed constitutional amendment to simplify the discipline procedure for the state’s classified civil service workers was reported this week by the House Workforce and Talent Development Committee.  The resolution and bill sponsored by House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant and Rep. Dan Lauwers, R-Brockway, cleared the committee on party line votes without any discussion or changes.  Since they were reported without Democratic votes, it appears the resolution and bill are jeopardy of full House passage since they require a two-thirds vote and Democrats oppose the measures.
The resolution would change the Constitution to say a principle department head could discipline or dismiss an employee for conduct that directly and negatively affects the department’s ability to accomplish its statutory duties in a fair, timely, equitable and transparent manner, which is defined as “just cause” in the bill.  The bill also outlines an appeal process for the employee.  The package was introduced partially because the DEQ director was unable to terminate certain employees over the Flint water crisis.
In a surprise move on Wednesday, the House passed legislation to allow some rural expressways to see increased speed limits up to 75 mph, NOT 80 as originally stated in the bill.  There are an estimated 600 miles of highways in the state where speed limits could go to 75 mph within a year of the legislation becoming law, and another 900 miles of trunk lines that could go from 55 mph to 60 mph.
Legislation to prevent state departments from adopting regulations more stringent than the federally mandated standard is awaiting full House action.  HB 5613, sponsored by Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona would prevent agencies from setting rules that are more stringent than the rules of the federal government, unless the director of the agency can prove there is a “clear and convincing need” for a stronger rule to be in place, or there is a statute to allow the more stringent rule.
SB 39 & 40, sponsored by Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba continues to await further action by the Senate Natural Resources Committee.  The bills reinstate the cap on state land if all PILT are not received in full and on time.  SB 651, 652 & 653 before the House Tax Policy Committee, allow an easier path to withdraw from CF to QF, remain bottled up in committee.  SB’s 706, 707 & 708 have passed the Senate and were referred to the Senate Transportation & Infrastructure Committee and will most likely not see action until after the August primary because of “politics” surrounding the bills. The bills prohibit local governments from requiring loggers to obtain special driveway permits to access state/federal forests.

 

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

June 2016

As officials continue to work out the 2016-17 fiscal year budget agreement, the state’s universities would see about $200 million less than what Governor Rick Snyder originally recommended earlier this year and with prison inmate levels falling, the state will close a prison.  Other high level budget items that have not logistically been worked out include the $80 million tax credits for insurance companies.  Governor Snyder’s infrastructure fund (roads and bridges) which he recommended at $165 million, is in jeopardy.
Officials are working to reduce the overall budget as revenues came in less than expected.  Between the reduction in revenues forecast compared to the January revenue conference and increasing Medicaid and human services caseloads, there is $460 million less available than projected earlier this year.  It also appears the Detroit Public Schools legislation will not be specifically tied to the budget.  Governor Rick Snyder and House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant both said the Legislature would act separately on that legislation.
More on my favorite topic…..term limits.
Legislative term limits not only causes a loss of institutional knowledge with throwing out House members after six years and Senators after eight years, it also wipes out valuable experienced legislative staff.
About 20 percent of all current Senate staffers were in the chamber on March 1, 2007 and 12 percent on January 2, 2003.  In all, 30 of the Senate’s 254 salaried employees have more than 13 years continuous service on the job and more than half of them are in non-partisan support, human resources, sergeants, maintenance staffs, clerks, information systems or similar non-legislative positions.
Six former legislative staffers commented in a recent interview that term limits create a fluid environment that does not lend itself to job security.  New legislators tend to bring in the loyal campaign workers who helped them get elected, leaving the previous staff with nowhere to go.  Talented staffers are identified quickly by the private sector, the lobbying corps, state departments or the Governor’s office and are swept away within a few years.  Pre-term limit legislators commented that new staffers just do not have the benefit of time and experience.  Legislative staffing jobs end up being a stepping stone to a longer term career.  As a result, the experience in Lansing in the term limits world is not with the staff, it is with the lobbyists and the bureaucrats, who have job security and stay in positions for a career.  The turnover in staff has become beyond extreme as “newbie” legislators rotate through the revolving legislative door so do experienced staffers.
Legislation to refine the so called “Land Cap” Law continues to receive heated debate by the Senate Natural Resources Committee.  SB 39 & 40, sponsored by Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba would reinstate the cap on state land ownership if all PILT are not received in full and on time.
Legislation to amend the Qualified Forest Act and the Commercial Forest Act, sponsored by Senator Tom Casperson, are bottled up in the House Tax Policy Committee.  The bills allows private landowners an easier path to withdraw from CF to QF.  Most members of the Tax Policy Committee do not understand the need for private land owners to properly manage their forests and to put their timber up for sale.  Also, many committee members are reluctant to support SB 651, 652 & 653 because the QF program does not allow public access.
SB’s 706, 707 & 708, sponsored by Senator Tom Casperson have passed the Senate and have been referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.  We are in the process of working with Casperson and others to refine these bills so they will be more palatable to all groups involved. The bills prohibit local governments from requiring special driveway permits to access state forests.  Many loggers are having problems with local governments making unreasonable permit demands prohibiting loggers to get their state and federal timber to market.  Therefore, the bills were crafted to address the problem.

 

 

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

May 2016

Governor Rick Snyder declared a state of energy emergency in Michigan this week to allow drivers transporting fuel to spend more hours on the road to ensure gasoline and diesel fuel is available across the state for the holiday weekend.  Executive Order 2016-10 is in response to a fuel pipeline in Wisconsin being shut down and an unplanned outage at the Marathon refinery in Detroit.
The executive order suspends all state and federal regulations tied to hours of service for drivers carrying transportation fuels in Michigan, and in doing so, will allow such drivers to exceed the typically allowed number of hours and consecutive days they can spend operating a commercial motor vehicle.
“We want to make the fuel Michiganders need for their travels to work, school or a long weekend trip is available, said Governor Snyder.  “This executive order will help ensure there are no artificial shortages of fuel impacting the state’s residents or visitors.”  According to the release, the executive order is now in effect and will Last until it is rescinded or it expires at 11:59 p.m. on June 6, whichever occurs first.
As officials continue to work out the 2016-17 fiscal year budget agreement, sources said this week that the state’s universities would see about $200 million less than what Governor Rick Snyder originally recommended earlier this year and with prison inmate levels falling, the state will close a prison.  Other high level budget items that have not logistically been worked out include the $80 million tax credits for insurance companies.  Governor Snyder’s infrastructure fund (roads and bridges) which he recommended at $165 million, is in jeopardy.
Officials are working to reduce the overall budget as revenues came in less than expected.  Between the reduction in revenues forecast compared to the January revenue conference and increasing Medicaid and human services caseloads, there is $460 million less available than projected earlier this year.  It also appears the Detroit Public Schools legislation will not be specifically tied to the budget.  Governor Rick Snyder and House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant both said the Legislature would act separately on that legislation.
SB’s 706, 707 & 708, sponsored by Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, were passed by the Senate and referred to the House Transportation Committee this week.  Senator Tom Casperson facilitated a work group meeting today with CRAM, the MFPC, Kurt Bisballe, MAT, Lonnie Lutke, MAT and myself to discuss a possible “path” to a compromise on the bills.  The bills were crafted to address a problem some loggers are having with local governments making unreasonable permit demands prohibiting loggers to haul out of a state or federal forest in order to get their timber to market.
The meeting was similar to many before which all agreed more education on the part of local governments and loggers is necessary so it was the same dialog, different day.  All from industry agreed we need to actively lobby the bills through the House of Representatives.  It is important to attend district fundraiser events this summer in an effort to discuss the importance of the legislation with your legislator and especially members of the House Transportation Committee..

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

May 2016

This week Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant, announced the introduction of a constitutional amendment that would make it easier to fire state government workers.  The resolution, set to be introduced today, would make it easier for department directors to fire employees when their conduct “directly and negatively impacts the department’s ability to accomplish its statutory duties in a fair, timely, equitable and transparent view”.  Governor Rick Snyder was not able to fire certain people at the DEQ following the Flint water crisis because of Civil Service, so Cotter is trying to change the situation from happening again.
If the proposal does not make it through the legislative process by the deadline to make it on the 2016 ballot, Speaker Cotter said it would be on the next general election ballot.  A constitutional amendment needs a vote of two-thirds majority of the House and would need 73 yes votes for approval which means Cotter needs 10 Democrats to support the proposal.
This week, Mitch Bean, the former House Fiscal Agency Director commented that with the various business tax changes, cuts and credits parceled out by legislators new and old has drained the state’s General Fund of more than a $1 billion for this fiscal year.  Bean commented “It makes you wonder how anything gets properly funded moving forward.  Someone will have to clean up the future budget mess that’s been created after the current crop of legislators is term-limited.”  The legislature is looking to scale back the Fiscal Years 2016-17 budgets by $460 million through budget cuts in response to revenue estimates announced this week.
This week, the Senate passed legislation to create a veteran’s ombudsman and
also created the Michigan Infrastructure Fund in the wake of the Flint water crisis.
Legislation to prohibit expelling kids solely for truancy was debated this week.  Schools would no longer be permitted to expel or suspend students solely for being truant or chronically absent under legislation discussed in the House Education Committee.
SB 39 and 40 sponsored by Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba received more testimony Wednesday.  The bills are attempting to refine the so called “Land Cap” Law.  The primary concern of the bills is that they put more restrictions on state land ownership especially since issues with payments in lieu of taxes have not been resolved.  The bills would reinstate the cap on state land ownership if all PILT are not received in full and on time.  GLTPA and MAT have submitted a position of support on the bills.  More hearings will be schedule to continue debate on the bills.
SB 651, 652 & 653 await further debate by the House Tax Policy Committee.  The bills make amendments to the CFA and QFA.  MAT and GLTPA have entered positions of support.  The bills allow private land owners an easier path to withdraw from CF to QF.  As of today’,we have 6 yes votes out of 13 committee members.  The Tax Policy committee consists mostly of south east legislators and do not understand the need to get private land owners to properly manage their forests.  Rep. Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, the only northern Michigan legislator is not engaged in forestry issues, but today finally came on board with the bills and is a “yes” vote.  Next week I plan to contact the remaining 7 committee members to explain the need for QF and to encourage them to support the bills.
Sb 706, 707 & 708, (Casperson) known as the “driveway” bills moved from General Orders of the Senate calendar today to Third Reading.  Next week Senator Casperson will have to convince his Senate colleagues the need to prohibit local governments from prohibiting loggers access to state forest roads–driveways.
 Last, but not least, we have another new Amish bill draft.  Rep. Goike requested a bill draft to address exclusions from workers compensation instead of trying to define employer.  This draft says the wood products industry would not be eligible for exclusions from the act. Stay tuned—Rep. Goike just never gets up, never lets the departments give him the run around and continues to find a way to get things done–just saying.

 

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

May 2016

This week a Senate committee approved the sale of beer and wine for gas stations.  Gas stations around the state would be able to sell beer and wine under legislation reported Wednesday from the Senate Michigan Competitiveness Committee.
A lawsuit seeking damages for unemployed workers who say the state improperly determined they fraudulently obtained unemployment benefits can continue to trial and the attorney for the plaintiffs in the case said upcoming discovery should produce long sought answers. A spokesman for the UIA, when asked if the agency would appeal, said the state is reviewing the decision and will consider its options.
Senate Energy and Technology Committee Chair Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek said he believes he has the votes to move his two bill energy reform package out of committee and to the floor, where he puts its odds of passage before the summer recess at 70 percent.
This week the House Regulatory Reform Committee discussed legislation requiring registration and licensing of athlete agents.  The sponsors testified that Michigan has fallen behind in the practice.  According to the Uniform Law Commission, 40 states as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia have already enacted some form of the Uniform Athlete Agents Act.
Legislation to limit the amount of land the DNR could own and require certain conditions on its payments in lieu of taxes to local governments on such land saw heated testimony Wednesday in the Senate Natural Resources Committee.  Neither SB 39 (Casperson)or SB 40 (Booher) were reported from the committee, but the committee did adopt S-1 substitutes to both bills.  Many of those came to testify on the bills were opposed to them, including the MUCC and the DNR.  Some residents and local governments most directly affected by payments in lieu of taxes especially were supportive of the measures.
A visibly angry Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba blasted the MUCC executive director during his committee testimony, having felt the group misrepresented in a membership flier his bills to tighten the ability of the DNR to buy Northern Michigan land.  After the meeting, Casperson said the MUCC’s “Action Alert” misleads its members into thinking the bill forces large scale public land sales, among other distortions of the bills.  Casperson stated ” I would have voted against my own bill if it did what they clam”.
Other groups opposing the bills include the Back Country Hunters and Anglers of Michigan, Heart of the Lakes, Ruffed Grouse Society, U.P. Whitetails of Marquette County, Straits Area Sports-men’s Club, Trout Unlimited, Cedar Rod and Gun Club, Michigan Sierra Club, Michigan League of Conservation Voters, Michigan Environmental Council and more.
Groups supporting the bills include the Upper Peninsula Sports-men’s Association, Oswald’s Bear Ranch, Hudson Township Supervisor, Lakes States Lumber Association, Michigan Association of Timbermen, the Great Lakes Timber Producers Association, the Michigan Forest Products Council and the Michigan Townships Association. Casperson plans to schedule the bills for more debate next week.
SB 651, 652 and 653, legislation to “tweak” QFA and CFA were before the House Tax Policy this week for debate.  Sponsors Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba and Senator Darwin Booher, R-Evart explained the bills which appear to have an uphill battle in this committee.  Chairman Jeff Farrington, R-Utica clearly does not understand QFA and/or CFA or the economics of managing timber. The chair and other committee members wonder a tax incentive would be allowed for a QF landowner since they do not have to give public access to their land.
MUCC supported the bills, the Michigan Department of Ag and Rural Development (MDARD) supported, MAT, GLTPA, MFPC, Weyerhaeuser, the UP Bear Hunters Association, the Michigan Hunting Dog Federation supported the bills.  The bills will be scheduled for further debate sometime soon.
SB 706, 707 & 708, sponsored by Senator Tom Casperson remain on the Senate calendar for further debate.  The bills are crafted to solve a problem loggers are having with getting access to timber.  The goal is to prohibit county road commissions from requiring special drive way permits for loggers.  Staff to Casperson told me today that they expect the bills will receive Senate action next week. We are working with Casperson and key House members to develop a plan to get the bills referred to a friendly committee for consideration and passage
ASAP.
Rep. Ken Goike, R-Ray Township has requested a “new” final draft of legislation to deal with the Amish WC issue.  The plan is to amend a different section of law which deals with the exclusions from WC instead of the definition of an “employer” which has been an issue with LARA.  It would “simply” require that the wood products industry would not be eligible for exclusions from the act.  We have to give Goike credit for continuing to jump through the hoops presented by LARA and to continue to work towards a resolution to our WC issue with the Amish.

 

 

Monthly Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

May 2016

This week the House Oversight and Ethics Committee held a meeting on legislation to expand the Freedom of Information Act to include the governor’s office and open up most legislative communications to the public.  The bills have received little criticism.  The bills deal with expanding FOIA to the executive officers of both the governor and the lieutenant governor, which is done in most other states, Michigan is one that does not.
A special subcommittee was created this week to make recommendations on the Unemployment Insurance Agency, the subcommittee has been given a 30 day time line.  The panel will seek to make the UIA more effective and efficient after two scathing audits and two lawsuits pending against the state’s automated system for uncovering alleged fraud in unemployment claims.
After 16 hours on the House floor, four Republican caucuses and essentially two sessions the House “dragged” its Detroit Public Schools reform plan into passage at 4:28Thursday morning.  As expected, the package passed with zero Democratic support and the bare minimum of 55 House votes on the bills.
Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof and his lead on Detroit Public Schools reform, Senator Goeff Hansen, said they are still reviewing the proposal on DPS the House sent to the Senate.  It is clear that the Senate has apprehension over the House plan.  Senator Goeff Hansen commented that the House disregarded months of his negotiations and work and hundreds of hours he put into the Senate plan.
A Fiscal Year 2017 Omnibus state government spending plan dubbed “solid” by legislative leaders pass the Senate this week.  The Senate also passed an education specific spending plan for FY 2017 known as the “School Bus” and an emergency Flint funding supplemental also passed this week.
The Upper Peninsula had at least 618 wolves this past winter, according to the DNR biennial census released this week.  That is down from the 636 estimated in 2014, but officials said the numbers are within the margin of error of the survey.  Currently, the deer numbers in the U.P. are at lows not seen in decades and some wonder if the decline in wolf numbers are a result of this reduction in their primary source of prey.  Officials noted that the population is substantially above the 100 minimum population for wolves to be considered recovered in the state.  Efforts to remove wolves from the federal endangered species list are moving through the federal appeals courts.
The forestry tour to educate US Senate Gary Peters, D-MI about forestry this week was a huge success.  I want to thank Henry Schienebeck, Bill Hennigan, Jerry Grossman, Bill Brand, Jack Thomas, Karen and other workers from “Northland Harvesting, Inc.”, Anna Frampton, Jim Maeder and Brian Nelson for amazing contributions to the event.  All contributed above and beyond to make the event a success and very educational for the senator. I was very proud of “all” involved and to have had the opportunity to show the senator how we can all pull together to get the job done.
The highlight of the event for me was when Bill Brand challenged Senator Peters to take the harvester controls as did former US Congressman Hoekstra, R-MI when he ran for governor.  Senator Peters had to take the challenge.  I ran into our other US senator, Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-MI today and told her about the tour and she now wants to challenge Senator Peters harvester operating skills at the next forestry tour.
Staff to Senator Peters shared with me that staff tries to “top” each other with providing the most educational and fun events for the senator.  Elise Lancaster, Director of State Affairs/Staff, told me that driving the harvester was at the top of the list for Senator Peters.  Better than driving a “drone” and even better than flying a Coast Guard helicopter.
Thanks guys for really stepping up for this event!

 

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

April 2016

The U.S. Department of Education has made a $25 – $30 million claim against Detroit Public Schools for using federal grant funds designed to go toward teacher pensions for other purposes, DPS emergency Manager Steven Rhodes reported to Treasurer Nick Khouri earlier this week.
The top brass in the state’s two departments held most responsible for the Flint water crisis fielded questions from lawmakers on Monday, some of whom were not convinced their responses showed a significant enough culture change was afoot.
The latest substitutes adopted in the Senate Energy and Technology Committee for the Senate’s energy proposals pay lots of attention to the rules and regulations guiding utilities and their operation matters, but fewer changes were made for non-incumbent utilities.  The Senate stated this week what is expected to be another fairly lengthy round of debate and discussion on its energy policy proposals after six months of much behind the scenes work.
The House Tax Policy this week began hearing testimony on legislation to address so-called “dark stores” that would clarify the criteria to be used by the Michigan Tax Tribunal during an assessment dispute, specifically focusing on comparable properties and ensuring they have the same “highest and best use”.
Two UP schools have adopted trans-gender student policy Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba is considering for state legislation.  Some LGBT advocates say it runs afoul of Department of Education regulations.  Senator Casperson commented this week that two schools have worked out an arrangement where trans-gender students use faculty or administrative bathrooms as opposed to the facilities set aside for the gender to which they identify.
Rep. Ray Franz, R-Onekama is working on a bill to create a multiple use license plate to haul equipment on a low boy and Rep. Pete Pettalia, R-Presque Isle continues to work on a bill to create a multiple use permit to haul equipment.  the plan gives us two bills with twice the opportunity to get one through the legislative process during the “Lame Duck” session.
Rep. Ken Goike, R-Ray Township met with LARA in an effort to develop language which would meet with LARA approval.  LARA refuses to to assist with drafting language acceptable to them, but we keep trying.  Rep. Ken Goike, Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet and Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville continue to urge Rep. Joe Graves, Chair, House Commerce Committee to set HB 5606 for a hearing in an effort to move the legislation forward.  Rep. Graves strongly wants LARA approval.  Some legislators allow the departments to run their committee some do not. The bill requires an employer with three or more employees to provide workers compensation.
Rep. Bruce Rendon, R-Lake City and Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba continue to work towards passage of SB 706, 707 & 708.  The bills prohibit county road commissions from requiring special drive way permits for loggers.  The bills await full Senate action and are expected to reach the House sometime next week.  We will actively be lobbying the bills as they continue their travel through the legislative process.
I attended the fundraiser for Rep. Ken Goike this week and was proud that we provided funding at the $500 level.  Ken plans to run for the Senate in two years and it is important to do all we can to assist in getting him elected.

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

April 2016

The Legislature returned to the Capitol this week to resume their spring agenda of work.  The Flint water crisis continues to dominate attention by the Governor and the Legislature.
“Two Michigan DEQ employees and one Flint official face a combined 13 felony and five misdemeanor charges from actions they allegedly took that led to or contributed to the Flint water crisis.” said Attorney General Bill Schuette this week.  The charging of the two DEQ employees most closely linked to the decisions that led to the Flint water crisis, as well as a top city of Flint water department employee, are the first of many charges to come state AG Schuette.
Ever since Schuette named attorney Todd Flood the special prosecutor to handle the investigation into any criminal and civil wrongdoing in the events that led to Flint’s water becoming contaminated with lead and possibly conducive to a deadly Legionnaire’s disease outbreak, one of the dominant questions throughout state government has been would Schutte actually bring charges which he did this week.
This week the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously moved to the Senate floor a roughly $148 million supplemental spending bill for Flint above and beyond the millions that were appropriated before the legislative spring recess.
Governor Rick Snyder will consume filtered Flint water every day for at least the next 30 days in a move to convince the city’s residents that the water is safe to drink through a filter.  The major impediment to reducing lead levels in Flint’s water now is insufficient use of the system.  That prevented corrosion control treatment from re-coating the interior of the water lines.
In a recent MSU State of the State survey, Governor Rick Snyder’s approval ratings have plummeted to the lowest since he was elected.  Some political pundits predict the Republicans may lose their majority in the House of Representatives in November due to the Flint water crisis.
This week I met with Rep. Ray Franz, R-Onekama to further discuss the possibility of developing a multiple use permit/plate, but crafting it in such a way it could be referred to the House Regulatory Affairs Committee, chaired by Rep. Franz.  This way we will have two bills in the legislative hopper with twice the opportunity to get one through the legislative process during the “Lame Duck” session.  I will re-group with Jennifer Smeltzer, chief of staff to Franz next week to review where we are in the process of crafting a bill.  Jennifer and I will most likely require a conference call with Henry Schienebeck next week.
Work continues on the Amish issue.  Staff to Rep. Ken Goike, R-Ray Township will request another meeting with the WC Agency to discuss the reasons they oppose HB 5506, legislation to require WC in certain cases when an employer has three or more employees. I suggest that we request the department give us  “specific” acceptable language for the next re-draft bill.
This week I met with two forestry friendly legislators who are willing to approach the safety aspect of the issue and investigate why MIOSHA requirements are not met.   I collected Amish work place accident articles and met with the legislators to present my collection primarily involving children.  One of the legislators contacted LARA every day this week with no response.  While I met with him today he called the department and told staff that he and other legislators are tired of the run around and were in the process of preparing a news conference to announce the problem and ask why the State does not follow through with inspecting these accidents.  Within one hour—he received a call back from the office of the director. we expect to meet with him or his surrogate as soon as next week. Jim Maeder has agreed to attend the meeting.
I plan to set a meeting with the Speaker of the House, Rep. Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant to discuss HB 5506 and the multiple permit/plate issue.  Jim is a constituent and attends district campaign events for the Speaker of the House.  Maeder recently provided a sawmill tour for the Speaker who supports our efforts to secure a level playing field for tax paying businesses. I assume we will be involved in a very active “Lame Duck” session especially since we will be losing at least 40 legislators to term limits—.

 

 

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

April 2016

Citing “significant public concerns”, the state has proposed not limiting its list of air toxics to review in permit applications, in a set of pending rule changes.  The announcement made by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is a departure from the DEQ’s initial proposed revisions to its air toxics regulations. The DEQ had proposed criteria for defining toxic air contaminants, which would have resulted in a list of roughly 600 chemicals to review during the air permit application process.
The current rules have the state examining all the chemicals proposed in an application, except those on an exemption list.  Environmental groups opposed the change, saying the resulting list would be reduced from what were originally about 1,200 substances up for review.  Industry groups have applauded the DEQ decision.
The state had said the change would allow regulators to focus their attention on the most toxic chemicals, and that the state would still have discretion to review any chemical it wants in a permit.
Rep. Ken Goike had a mild heart attack last Friday.  I spoke to him on Monday and he had just left a meeting with Governor Rick Snyder and others complaining about in Ken’s words “the bottomless pit of money the legislature is providing for the Detroit Public Schools and the Flint water crisis.”  Ken will be unable to attend the April 11 GLTPA spring meeting, but is planning to attend the MAT, April 14 -15 annual meeting.  Rep. Goike is prepared to give a legislative update on the Amish issue/legislation.
The Legislature returns to Lansing on Tuesday, April 12 to complete their agenda of work before they recess for the primary election.  I am hopeful we will be able to advance legislation to allow a multiple use permit tailored after Wisconsin before the end of the legislative session.  I fear the November “Lame Duck” session with be another legislative nightmare!

 

 

Monthly Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

April 2016

Governor Rick Snyder, already dealt several major blows as a result of the state’s mishandling of the Flint water crisis, suffered more damage when it was revealed that his entire top staff knew of the severity of the city’s water crisis for at least a year, yet nothing was done to address the problem.  The release of 5,533 pages of emails exchanged among the Executive Office staff and documents attached to those emails was that virtually every staffer in Governor Snyder’s inner circle had the information necessary to galvanize a response to Flint’s water problems long ago and that did not happen.  Between the Flint water crisis, the Detroit Public Schools issue and the Grand Rapids Veteran’s Hospital mess, the Governor’s rating is at an all time low.

It is important to develop good relationships with “newbie” legislators and candidates who will be replacing the over 40 term limited legislators we lose at the end of this year.  I am working to develop a closer working relationship with Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona who is close to Rep. Pete Pettalia, R-Presque Isle and will most likely Chair the House Transportation Committee next session. I recently attended a campaign event for Rep. Cole.
I continue to work with Rep. Tom Barrett who is in line for a leadership position. I joint ventured a fundraiser for him in December and will be holding a campaign event at my house in June.  We have four more years with Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet and Rep. John Kivela, D-Marquette.
Rep. Rendon’s (R-Lake City) wife is running for his seat.  I will continue to develop a closer working relationship with her.  Rep. Tom Leonard, R-Lansing is the Speaker Pro Tempore. I occasionally work with him now and plan to step up working with him.
All the Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee are term limited. If Senator Casperson, R-Escanaba is elected to Congress, there will be a new chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee which I believe will be Senator Mike Green, R-Mayville who we already work with.  I plan to also step up working with Senator Jim Stamas, R-Midland.  I work with Senator Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City and expect to work more with him especially if Casperson moves on to Washington.  I hate term limits; we will lose over 40 legislators, many friends to forestry.
As we get closer to the election, I will learn more about possible winning candidates. I suggest we get to know them and attend their campaign events.  The problem with primaries since term limits is that we end up with 6-8 candidates in the primary.  That being said, leadership typically will have a good sense of who the likely winners will be as we get closer to the election.  Have I mentioned I hate term limits!
Three new representative’s were officially sworn into office in March.  Rep. Mary Whiteford, R-Casco Township, Rep. Gary Howell, R-North Branch and Rep. David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids are now officially legislators.  LaGrand replaces now Michigan Democratic Party Chair Brandon Dillon, Howell replaces former Rep. Todd Courser and Whiteford replaces former Rep. Cindy Gamrat.  Courser and Gamrat coincidentally were in court the same day as the swearing in of the new members for actions that led to her expulsion and his resignation.
HB 5506, sponsored by Rep. Ken Goike, R-Ray Township, referred to the House Commerce Committee, is legislation to replace 4579, legislation to require religious sects to pay workers compensation.  To address concerns of the Commerce Committee chair a new bill was required.  The new bill (HB 5506) requires workers at a company that processes wood products in a sawmill or pallet making shop with 3 or more workers are employees or principals and are required to be covered for worker’s compensation.  The same day the bill was introduced, I met with Rep. Joe Graves, R-Linden to request a hearing following the legislative spring recess and also requested Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville, key committee member, to make the “ask” to Graves for a hearing.  The bill will most likely receive changes as it travels through the legislative process.
Governor Snyder’s DNR budget bill (HB 5269) was presented and explained to the budget committee by the DNR.  As presented, the bill would provide $396.9 million gross for the department, a l.8 percent cut from current funding. Among the highlights of the bill is $4 million ($3.9 million restricted and $100,000 federal) for a new land ownership tracking system to make that information Internet accessible, $1 million GF for Asian carp prevention programs, $1.15 million additional restricted funds (for $1.58 million total) for firefighting equipment replacement, and $2.1 million additional Forest Development Fund (for $31.2 million total) to add 7 positions and increase timber supply.
Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba held one hearing on SB 706, 707 & 708.  Legislation to amend a county road law, to provide that a county road commission would not be authorized to require a permit for a logger to haul their product down the road because certain road commissions prohibit them from doing so, prohibiting loggers from getting their product to market.  The County Road Association opposed the bill.  LSLA, MFPC and MAT supported the legislation.  Three loggers testified in support of the bill including MAT President Lonnie Lutke.
I am concerned that with close to half of the House being termed out and scrambling to find new jobs in Lansing either in lobbying or government that the completion of most of our work and the work of other interests will be accomplished during the “lame duck” session.
Again, I hate term limits!

 

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

March 2016

This week the task force that Governor Rick Snyder appointed to investigate how the Flint water crisis occurred confirms the message Mr. Snyder and his staff have emphasized for weeks that the crisis resulted from a failure of government at all levels.  Governor Snyder and his allies have pressed that message repeatedly, especially pointing to the U.S. environmental Protection Agency, when discussing the Flint water crisis.  Snyder has accepted blame for the state’s failures, but frequently then couches that fault with the greater “failure at all levels” characterization.
The task force report describes such characterizations as an “inappropriate official public relations efforts. “The statement that the Flint water crisis was a local, state and federal failure implies that blame is attributable equally to all three levels of government.”  The task force says in its report, “Primary responsibility for the water contamination in Flint lies with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.  In addition, at the time of the water crisis, Flint was under the control of state appointed emergency managers, who made key decisions that contributed to the crisis.  Because of these two facts, the state is fundamentally accountable for what happened in Flint.”
Additionally, the task force criticizes attempts to blame the federal Lead and Copper Rule for the DEQ’s decision not to order corrosion control treatment right away once Flint switched its drinking water source to the Flint River.  Lack of corrosion control treatment for the more corrosive river water allowed lead in lead service lines to leach into the water.
This week the Legislature passed a series of bills to re-establish a locally elected school board and a Detroit Education Commission with siting authority for schools, including charters, seeking to become a part of the new Detroit Community Schools created in the legislation.  In terms of appropriations, only one bill was revised to include $300 million to go specially to the Detroit Public Schools, $200 million of which is expected to be used for “transitional costs.”  The Legislature passed a bill that would provide just shy of $50 million to help DPS continue to pay its teachers through the end of the school year, but the bulk of appropriations for the district’s debt, around $515 million, needs to be passed as part of the upcoming 2016-17 fiscal year budget.
Governor Rick Snyder’s DNR budget, HB 5269 was explained to the House budget committee by the DNR.  The bill provides $396.9 million gross for the department, a 1.8 percent cut from current funding.  Highlights of the bill include $1.15 million additional restricted funds for firefighting equipment replacement and $2.1 million additional monies for the Forest Development Fund to add 7 positions and increase timber supply.
HB 5506, sponsored by Rep. Ken Goike, R-Ray Township, referred to the House Commerce Committee, is legislation to require workers at a company that process wood products in a sawmill or pallet making shop with 3 or more workers are employees and are required to be covered by worker’s compensation. A hearing on the bill is expected following the legislative spring recess.
Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, Chair, Senate Natural Resources Committee, held a hearing on SB 706, 707 and 708. The bills provide that a county road commission would not be authorized to require a permit for a logger to haul their product down the road because certain road commissions prohibit them from doing so, prohibiting loggers from getting their product to market. The County Road Association opposed the bill.  LSLA, MFPC and MAT supported the legislation.  Three loggers testified in support of the bills including MAT President Lonnie Lutke.
The legislature will return to Lansing from their spring recess on April 12.

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

March 2016

This week three new representative’s elected in special elections last week were officially sworn in on Tuesday and cast their first votes.  Rep. Mary Whiteford, R-Casco Township, Rep. Gary Howell, R-North Branch and Rep. David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids are now officially legislators. LaGrand replaces now Michigan Democratic Party Chair Brandon Dillon.  Howell replaces former Rep. Todd Courser and Whiteford replaces former Rep. Cindy Gamrat.  Courser and Gamrat coincidentally were in court Tuesday for actions that led to her expulsion and his resignation.
The new special committee on the Flint water crisis met this week for the first time with the initial topic a discussion on the auditor general’s report on the Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance’s shortcomings, especially as they relate to Flint, but there seemed more questions from committee members than were answers by the meeting’s conclusion.
A $48.7 million supplemental appropriation for Detroit Public Schools cleared the House Appropriations Committee this week tie-barred to another bill that would expand the scope of the Financial Review Commission to oversee fiscal management of the district.  The funds will go to the DPS to keep the district open for the remainder of the school year.  Former bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes, the transition manager at DPS told the committee last week the district will not be able to pay its teachers after April 8.
Governor Rick Snyder officially created the 21st Century Infrastructure Commission.  The commission, created under Executive Order 2016-5, is tasked with finding the best way to upgrade the state’s transportation, water and sewer, energy and communications infrastructure.
The House DNR budget sub-committee is again proposing to cut funds for the Michigan Conservation Corps, putting the budget $1 million less than Governor Rick Snyder’s recommendation.  Either the House or Senate subcommittees have attempted to eliminate the program that provides summer jobs for urban youths in DNR conservation programs for the past couple of years, but the funding has eventually been restored in the final budget.  The Governor has recommended again to eliminate the cord mandate and every year we lobby to retain it in the budget as we are doing again this year.
As presented, HB 5269 would provide $396.9 million gross for the department, a 1.8 percent cut from current funding.  The $38.56 million in General Fund would represent a 2.5 percent cut.  Among the highlights is $4 million ($3.9 million restricted and $100,000 federal) for a new land ownership tracking system to make that information Internet accessible, $1 million GF for Asian carp prevention programs, $1.15 million additional restricted funds (for $1.58 million total) for firefighting equipment replacement, and $2.1 million additional Forest Development Fund (for $31.2 million total) to add 7 positions and increase timber supply.
Work continues on legislation to require workers at a company that processes wood products in a sawmill or pallet shop with 3 or more workers are employees or principals.  All those workers will be considered to be employees subject to the requirements for worker’s compensation coverage.  Rep. Ken Goike, R-Ray Township will introduce the bill next week.  This week we worked on gathering co-sponsors for the bill, at last count we had approximately 12 co-sponsors sign on to the bill. The bill represents our latest effort to require certain employers to pay workers compensation.

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

March 2016

In the most stunning upset of the 2016 presidential election cycle thus fr, U. S. Bernie Sanders of Vermont won the Michigan Democratic primary on Tuesday in a tightly contested race over former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Virtually every expectation and virtually every poll showed Clinton winning the Michigan primary, and by handy margins.  One poll days before Election Day showed her winning the state’s Democrats by better than 30 percent.
Donald Trump delivered on expectations he would win the Michigan Republican presidential primary, putting together a coalition of working class Republicans and doing well enough among wealthier and evangelical voters to take a plurality of 36.5 percent of the vote.
This week the Legislature worked on a $50 million supplemental for the Detroit Public School crisis.  The Detroit School District faces the prospect of running out of money in less than one month.  Governor Snyder proposed the $50 million bail out which Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof stated this week has to be resolved soon because the Senate will recess in two weeks.
The latest batch of emails released from Governor Rick Snyder on the Flint water crisis show state officials concerned about how to structure Flint’s water finances when it eventually joined a new water system, as well as about what could have been seen as a threat from the then Detroit Water and Sewage System.
Both the House and Senate held hearings on Thursday to hear testimony on a recent audit blasting the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans and in doing so, legislators expressed interest in taking up legislation creating a veterans ombudsman.  Some highlights of that audit were failing to meet staffing needs 81 percent of the time and home officials providing documentation that falsely claimed it was performing member local checks when those were not occurring 43 percent of the time.  The Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Homeland Security Committee and a joint meeting of the House Oversight and Ethics Committee and the Military and Veterans Committee held hearings on the audit to hear from the public.
This week Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba held a hearing on SB 706, 707 & 708.  Legislation to amend a county road law, to provide that a county road commission would not be authorized to require a permit for a logger to haul their product down the road because certain road commissions prohibit them from doing so loggers cannot get their product to market.
Ed Noyola, County road Association opposed the bill. MDP was neutral, SteelPro supported.  Testimony was given in support from Weyerhaeuser, Bisballe Forest Products, Inc, Lonnie Lutke, Lutke Forest Products, Inc. T.R. Timber Co., J.M. Longyear LLC, and Chris Muma Forest Products.  A position of neutral support was submitted by the MTA.  Cards of support were entered by LSLA, MFPC, Chris Muma Forest Products, Muma Logging Inc., Verso Corp and Michigan Farm Bureau.
Thursday, Rep. Ken Goike, R-Ray Township and I began to identify and request legislative co-sponsors for legislation which will require state workers at a company that process wood products in a sawmilling or pallet-making facility if 3 or more of the workers are employees or principals.  All those workers are considered to be employees subject to this Act’s requirement for worker’s compensation coverage.
The new language satisfies Rep. Joe Graves, R-Linden,Chair, House Commerce Committee.  The plan is to request a committee hearing on April 19,10:30 AM, the week after the legislature returns to Lansing from their spring recess.

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

March 2016

Governor Rick Snyder already dealt several major blows as a result of the state’s mishandling of the Flint water crisis, suffered more damage this week when it was revealed that his entire top staff knew of the severity of the city’s water crisis for at least a year yet nothing was done to address the problem.  The release of 5,533 pages of emails exchanged among the Executive Office staff and documents attached to those emails was that virtually every staffer in Governor Snyder’s inner circle had the information necessary to galvanize a response to Flint’s water problems long ago and that did not happen.  Between the Flint water crisis, the Detroit Public Schools issue and the Grand Rapids Veteran’s Hospital snafu the Governor’s rating is at an all time low.

It is important to develop good relationships with “newbie” legislators and candidates who will be replacing the over 40 term limited legislators we lose at the end of this year.  I am working to develop a closer work relationship with Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona who is close to Rep. Pete Pettalia, R-Presque Isle and will most likely Chair the House Transportation Committee next session. I attended a campaign event for Rep. Cole this morning.
I am working with Rep. Tom Barrett who is in line for a leadership position, I joint ventured a fundraiser for him in December and will be holding a campaign event at my house in June.  We have four more years with Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet and Rep. John Kivela, D-Marquette.
Rep. Rendon’s (R-Lake City) wife is running for his seat.  I already know her and will continue to develop a closer working relationship with her.  Rep. Tom Leonard, R-Lansing is the Speaker Pro Tempore and I work with him now and plan to step it up.
All the Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee are term limited. If Senator Casperson is elected to Congress there will be a new chair of Senate Natural Resources which I believe will be Senator Mike Green, R-Mayville who we already work with a lot.  I plan to also step it up with Senator Jim Stamas, R-Midland.  I work with Senator Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City and expect to work more with him especially if Casperson moves on to Washington.  I hate term limits, we will lose over 40 legislators, many forestry friends.
As we get closer to the election and I will learn more about possible winning candidates, I suggest we get to know them and attend their events.  The problem with primaries since term limits is that we end up with 6-8 candidates in the primary.  That being said, GOP leadership typically will have a good sense of who the likely winners will be as we get closer to the election.  Have I mentioned I hate term limits!
Rep. Pettalia promised me this week that MDOT is working in good faith to tweak the bill draft to allow a multiple use permit bill mirrored after Wisconsin to be sponsored by House Transportation Committee Chair Rep. Pettalia, R-Presque Isle.
Rep. Pettalia and his staff met with MDOT on Wednesday and I met with Pettalia on Thursday to emphasis the importance of the issue and how important it is to have a bill available for the MAT annual meeting since he will be awarded one of the MAT legislator of the year awards.  The other award will be given to Rep. Bruce Rendon, R-Lake City, both legislators have been helpful to forestry and are term limited.
HB 4579, legislation to require religious sects to pay workers compensation continues to await committee debate.  MAT purchased a ticket to a fundraiser held this week for Rep. Joe Graves, R-Linden, chair, House Commerce Committee where HB 4579 awaits debate.  Rep. Graves assured me that once we get the language “tweaked” gain support for the bill he will set it for a hearing.  I am working on NFIB to support the bill, they did last session.  I am hopeful that MAT will be able to gain the support of SBAM and the MFPC.
I fear that with close to half of the House being termed out and scrambling to find new jobs in Lansing either in lobbying or government that the completion of most of our work and the work of other interests will be accomplished during the “lame duck” session.
Again, I hate term limits!
New legislation to be reviewed:
SB 827, was sponsored by Senator Tom Casperson. The purpose of the bill is to give oversight on environmental rules so they do not become more strict than the statute.  view at www.legislature.mi.

 

Monthly Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

March 2016

The top new laws of 2015 included a law to abolish gun boards, civil asset forfeiture reform, adoption bills, early warning system for school finances, a tax exemption for a particular data center to woo it to settle in Grand Rapids, changes to the campaign finance laws, legislation to overhaul how teachers are evaluated, a bill to allow straight ticket voting only, road funding, three resolutions passed to support Marquette against EPA actions and a plan to outline how to spend monies by the MNRTF.  Most forestry legislation awaits final legislative action before the end of the 2015-16 session.
Snyder’s budget proposal for the 2016-17 year includes $195 million to deal with the Flint water crisis and funding increases for education.  Snyder proposed a funding increase to K-12 education using the 2x formula where the lowest funded districts will receive $120 more per pupil and the highest funded districts $60 more per pupil.  Universities will receive $61 million bringing them back to the funding level they had prior to the 2010-11 fiscal year when they suffered a 15 percent cut.  The Governor recommended $165 million for infrastructure and millions for the Detroit Public School debacle.
The Board of State Canvassers has approved one of the 10 petitions to recall Governor Snyder over the Flint water crisis.  The board voted along party lines to approve the one, tied on a second, but unanimously disapproved eight as not factual.  More petitions to recall Snyder are in the works.
The U.S. Supreme Court put on hold new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules that require coal fired power plants put in place new pollution controls until the courts rule whether the federal guidelines step on the states’ rights to oversee the industry within its border.  President Obama’s administration had pushed the Clean Power Plan, which is expected to close as many as 50 coal fired plants across the country, as a way to cut down on the air pollution that arguably contributes to global warming. The Supreme Court order, issued on a 5-4 vote, means the case is now under review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, with a hearing set for June 2.
Attorney General Bill Schuette, one of the parties who had challenged the Clean Power Plan, said the Obama run EPA “has once again been stopped from an attempt to push beyond its constitutional powers”.  Schuette further commented that “The EPA continues to show that they don’t take the real world into account when they make sweeping rules that change daily life for average Americans.  If allowed to move forward, the Clean Power Plan will cause the price of electricity to increase, placing jobs and paychecks at risk and costing Michigan families more.”
We have approval from the Legislative Service Bureau relative to the legality of wording to add to HB 4579, legislation sponsored by Rep. Ken Goike, R-Ray Township to require religious sects to pay workers compensation. The language/section is as follows:
(G) Workers at a company that processes wood products in a saw-milling or pallet-making facility if 3 or more of the workers are employees or principals.  lf those workers are considered to be employees subject to this act’s requirements for worker’s compensation coverage. We are now working to get other interest groups on board to support the bill.
SB 651, 652 & 653, legislation to tweak the Qualified Forest Act completed Senate action and now awaits debate by the House Tax Policy Committee, Chaired by, Rep. Jeff Farrington, R-Utica.  The bills are referred to as the “Commercial Forest/Qualified Forest Transition Bill package”.
Small landowners would like to transfer from the CF to the QF without facing the current penalty.  The allowance to transfer without penalty ended in September 2015.  Some are reluctant to make the transfer until something is done to address the increase to present day taxable values.  The bills allow for a transition to present day taxable values when CF land goes to QF and removes the sunset for allowing a CF landowner to transfer to the QF program with no penalty.
HB 4423, 4424, 4425, 4426 and 4427, primary sponsor Rep. Brad Jacobsen, R-Oxford have been passed by the House Transportation Committee, but are “stalled” on the House floor.  The bills increase the speed limit on certain highways to 80 mph, increase a truck with a gross weight of 10,000 or more, a truck tractor, or a truck tractor with a semi trailer or trailer or a combination of these vehicles to 70 mph in certain areas.
HB 5275, sponsored by Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona was passed by the House Tourism and Recreation Committee, Chaired by Rep. Bruce Rendon, R-Lake City. The bill allows ORV’s and horses the use of forest roads in the lower peninsula as allowed on U.P. forest roads, unless the road is marked closed by the NR.  The bill also requires a forest road inventory.  The bill awaits action by the full House.
HB 4142, sponsored by Rep. Ken Goike, R-Ray Township modifies fees for over sized/weight trucks and awaits action by the House Transportation Committee.  We are awaiting approval from MDOT of language we requested for a multiple use permit bill mirrored after Wisconsin to be sponsored by House Transportation Committee Rep. Pete Pettalia, R-Presque Isle.
On February 22 the DNR released its 2015 Forest Health Highlights report showing what the state is doing about the insects and diseases threatening both urban and rural forests.  The report breaks down the health of the state’s approximately 20 million acres of forest land and its health risks by examining diseases and insects and forest decline.
Highlights include the DNR’s efforts to control oak wilt, which threatens the state’s red oak resource; and Hemlock woolly adelgid, an exotic invasive insect that kills hemlock trees which was found in the west central lower peninsula in 2015.  “The key to preventing and slowing the spread of exotic invasive organisms in Michigan’s forests is public awareness”, said Bob Heyd, DNR, forest health specialist.  “The Forest Health Highlights report provides timely information about the condition of our forests and what is being done to protect them”, contends Heyd.

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

February 2016

On Wednesday Governor Rick Snyder closed all “nonessential” state offices because by noon 14 inches of snow had fallen.  The State Emergency Operations Center remains open as it responds to the Flint water crisis.  Secretary of State Ruth Johnson also closed all Department of State offices in the Lower Peninsula. The House and Senate canceled session for Thursday.  The Senate metWednesday morning and senators starting leaving town around noon while the House held a very short session at 1:30 PM and they too headed out.
This week news broke about lawmakers inadvertently giving auto insurers a tax break worth $80 million a year.  Now, the legislature wants to end it and use it to either bail out Detroit’s state managed school district or to address other priorities at a time Flint’s water emergency could cost the state at least $236 million over this fiscal year and next.  Other possible funding source for Detroit is Michigan’s settlement with tobacco companies, a well worn tactic when the state is in a pinch for cash.
House Appropriations Committee Chair, Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, is pushing to fix the 2012 law so insurance companies no longer are eligible for the tax credits they were given unintentionally.  Auto insurers are fighting attempts to reverse the tax credit.  Industry leaders, upset that insurers pay disproportionately higher business taxes compared with other sectors, concede it was handed out by mistake but warn drivers’ premiums will go up.
The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) in their “New Market Developer” newsletter, Forest Products Edition provided an article about the Michigan State Trade Export Promotion Program. MI-STEP is a grant program, funded in part through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), providing direct reimbursement to qualified small and medium sized companies to develop or expand export related activities.  The MI-STEP program is designed to spur job creation by empowering Michigan small and medium size enterprises to export their products.
The program has three primary objectives:  Increase the dollar value of Michigan exports, expand the number of Michigan companies that export and introduce current exporters to new foreign markets and buyers.  The program provides 50% reimbursement to qualified small and medium sized companies for allowable expenses related to export marketing activities.  Eligible companies may qualify for up to $12,000 reimbursement during a fiscal year to grow their export operations in Michigan.  Contact Donna LaCourt (517) 614-5518lacourtd2@michigan.gov for more information.

 

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

February 2016

This week the state announced it is backing off complying with new federal standards for power plant pollution.  The U.S. Supreme Court last week rejected the so-called Clean Power Plan, which are new U.S. environmental Protection Agency rules aimed at curbing carbon emissions from coal power plants.  A multi-state law suit, which Attorney General Bill Schuette is a part of, had moved to block the rules from implementation.
The Michigan Agency for Energy examined what SCOTUS handed down last week and announced it would “suspend activities to comply with the rule and its time line for submissions” as it waits for resolution through the courts.  Originally, the MAE indicated it would develop a Michigan specific plan to comply with the CPP.  An initial report was due to the EPA in September 2016.  MAE will continue to complete the modeling project it’s already paid for, and will continue to maintain it informational website dedicated to the issue.  Some health and environmental groups are not pleased with the state’s timeout on complying with the Clean Power Plan.
This week Governor Rick Snyder joined with a bipartisan group of 17 governors in announcing the Governor’s Accord for a New Energy Future.  A joint commitment to take action to promote clean energy, clean transportation choices and a modern electric grid.  “This is a great collaborative effort.  States across the country have shown leadership and used different tools to improve their energy in ways that work at home for their residents.”  Snyder stated.
The Accord provides participating governors, a bipartisan coalition representing 127 million Americans, with a platform through which their states will collaborate learn from one another and leverage partnerships in energy planning and policy making.
SB 651, 652 and 653, legislation to tweak the Qualified Forest Act completed Senate action today and were forwarded to the House Tax Policy Committee for more review.  No forestry related bills were debated by the House Natural Resources Committee or the Senate Natural Resources Committee this week.
The bills to increase the speed limit in certain areas is stalled in the House.

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

February 2016

Governor Rick Snyder’s budget proposal for the 2016-17 year includes $195 million to deal with the Flint water crisis and funding increases for education.  Snyder proposed a funding increase to K-12 education using the 2x formula where the lowest funded districts will receive $120 more per pupil and the highest funded districts $60 more per pupil.  Universities will receive $61 million bringing them back to the funding level they had prior to the 2010-11 fiscal year when the suffered a 15 percent cut.  The governor recommended $165 million for infrastructure and millions for the Detroit Public School debacle.
The Board of State Canvassers this week approved one of the 10 petitions to recall Governor Snyder over the Flint water crisis.  The board voted along party lines to approve the one, tied on a second, but unanimously disapproved eight as not factual.
The U.S. Supreme Court put on hold new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules that require coal fired power plants put in place new pollution controls until the courts rule whether the federal guidelines step on the states’ rights to oversee the industry within its border.  President Obama’s administration had pushed the Clean Power Plan, which is expected to close as many as 50 coal fired plants across the country, as a way to cut down on the air pollution that arguably contributes to global warming. The Supreme Court order, issued on a 5-4 vote, means the case is now under review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, with a hearing set for June 2.
Attorney General Bill Schuette, one of the parties who had challenged the Clean Power Plan, said the Obama run EPA “has once again been stopped from an attempt to push beyond its constitutional powers”.  Schuette further commented that “The EPA continues to show that they don’t take the real world into account when they make sweeping rules that change daily life for average Americans.  If allowed to move forward, the Clean Power Plan will cause the price of electricity to increase, placing jobs and paychecks at risk and costing Michigan families more.”
No forestry related issues were scheduled for debate this week.  We did get approval from the Legislative Service Bureau relative to the legality of wording to add to HB 4579, legislation sponsored by Rep. Ken Goike, R-Ray Township to require religious sects to pay workers compensation. The language is as follows:
(G) Workers at a company that processes wood products in a saw-milling or pallet-making facility if 3 or more of the workers are employees or principals.  ll those workers are considered to be employees subject to this act’s requirements for worker’s compensation coverage.
We are now attempting to get the insurance companies and the Michigan Home Builders on board to support the bill so when we get the bill scheduled for debate we will have a “line up” of supporters.  We need to bring on board the MFPC, NFIB and SBAM.

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

February 2016

The Flint water crisis has become a major national story and it will get a major moment in the spotlight on March 6 with Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders agreeing to a debate in the city just two days before the Michigan presidential primary.  Details on time, venue and which television network will air the debate have not yet been determined.
This week legislation was reported out of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to allow 75 – 80 mph zones in certain areas of the state for “cars”.  The bill allows trucks with a gross weight of 10,000 or more, a truck tractor, or a truck tractor with a semi trailer or trailer or a combination of these vehicles to 70 mph.
These bills give MDOT and the MSP the power to set increased speed zones on 600 to 900 miles of rural “M” designed highways.  The bills are now receiving debate by the full House.  If adopted by the House they will move to the full Senate, the Senate Transportation Committee, back to the full Senate and then back to the full House for concurrence.  It is expected many changes will occur to these bills, HB 4323, 4424, 4425, 4426 & 4427, before they complete final legislative action.
Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona has introduced HB 5275.  The bill allows ORV’s access to “forest roads”.  Rep. Cole contends that ORV’s are currently allowed on forest roads in the U.P., unless the road is marked closed by the DNR.  Rep. Cole is attempting to allow the same ORV access in the northern lower part of the state.
I have discussed the bills with Bill O’Neill, State Forester, who indicated that ORV’s are allowed on certain county roads if the county allows them access.  Bill O’Neill will study the bill and get back to me next week with his assessment.
SB 651, 652 & 653, legislation to tweak the QF program have been adopted by the Senate Natural Resources Committee and are being debating by the full Senate.
This week I discussed the inequities the Amish create for legitimate businesses with a legislator, specifically about a recent accident in an Amish pallet factory where a 14 year old boy lost his hand operating a machine illegally under OSHA regulations.  The legislator indicated interest in introducing a bill to amend MIOSHA law to prohibit an employee under 18 years old from operating power driven woodworking machinery in Michigan.  John Fowler and I are providing him with as many stories of children being injured in similar Amish mills.  Please forward to me any stories you might have to assist us with this effort.
I expect a draft of HB 4579 with new language incorporated to make the bill more binding to be available soon.  I have been working with bill sponsor Rep. Ken Goike, R-Ray Township and other legislators to move this legislation forward.  The bill requires religious sects to have workers’ compensation insurance as other legitimate wood products industry businesses are required.

 

Monthly Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

February 2016

A sometimes emotional Governor Rick Snyder accepted blame at the State of the State address for the state’s role in lead contamination in some parts of Flint, proposing $28 million for short-term aid and promising to spend the remaining three years of his administration healing the city’s wounds.  Governor Snyder delivered his sixth State of the State address facing circumstances unlike any governor has faced.
The governor, his staff and entire administration are under siege for how they responded to concerns about water quality and lead contamination in Flint’s drinking water.  The task force Snyder created to figure out what went wrong said in its preliminary findings the main responsibility fell to the Department of Environmental Quality for failing to ensure corrosion control treatment once the city switched from the Detroit water system to the more corrosive Flint river as an interim water source.
During the State of the State address Republicans whooped and hollered to support the governor while Democrats sat in silence for most of the speech.  Outside the Capitol Building, hundreds of protesters roared their disapproval throughout the speech.  In the 49 minute address, using a prepared text for the first time in the annual speech instead of an outline, Snyder spoke for 15 minutes on Flint.
Governor Snyder also devoted a chunk of his speech to the crisis in the Detroit Public Schools, which could run out of money before the end of the school year and risk defaulting on some obligations to vendors.  A somewhat surprising amount of the the speech was devoted to other topics including the creation of commissions to recommend changes to governance and finance in public education and enhance the economy.
Snyder said he is establishing a commission to make recommendations on upgrading the state’s infrastructure with a report due in September.  Water lines, natural gas lines, sewage pipes, water pumps, electrical lines and more are urgent needs.  Snyder plans to issue an executive order requiring MDOT to confer with local officials and utilities on every new road project because that is the best time to fix broader infrastructure, which often runs beneath roads.
Governor Snyder said he wants to create commissions on 21st century education and building the 21st century economy.  He put a little more detail on the education commission, saying he wants it to study the many goals and recommendations from the multitude of task forces and studies on education and develop recommendations on a public education structure, governance and finance.
The Legislature is working to find funding for the Detroit Public School situation while Detroit school workers continue to hold “sick outs” (calling in sick) canceling school at most Detroit area schools.  The Legislature has appropriated $20 million towards the Flint water crisis and more funding is expected. These two issues are the top legislative issues being addressed at this point.
That being said, we continue to position and move our issues forward.
view web page at www.judyaaugenstein

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

January 2016

This week the Legislature has been focused on the Detroit Public School crisis and the Flint water crisis.  Governor Rick Snyder is stepping up the presence of his office in Flint to help manage the water crisis with longtime adviser Rich Baird named to head up the state’s efforts and Snyder contends that Lt. Governor Brian Calley will be spending a significant amount of time in the city as well.  This week the governor announced the appointments to the new Flint Water Inter Agency Coordinating Committee and they include the two outside expert who proved instrumental in rousing the state to recognize lead was leaching into Flint’s water, doctor Mona Hanna-Attisha and Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards.
On Thursday, the House gave final approval to the $28 million supplemental for Flint to aid in its efforts to combat the water crisis, with a focus on providing services for children with lead poisoning.  The bill saw some changes as the amount of water bottle donations to Flint prompted the Senate to move $1.7 million from the Department of Health and Human Services for more water to the Department of Education for Early On Program assessments for babies and toddlers.
This week Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona introduced HB 5275 and referred to the the House Tourism and Outdoor Recreation Committee.  The purpose of the bill is to allow ORV’s and horses the use of forest roads in the lower peninsula and to require a forest road inventory.  View the bill atwww.legislature.mi.gov
No forestry related bills were scheduled for debate by the House Natural Resources Committee or the Senate Natural Resources Committee this week.

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

January 2016

A sometimes emotional Governor Rick Snyder accepted blame Tuesday at the State of the State address for the state’s role in lead contamination in some parts of Flint, proposing $28 million for short-term aid and promising to spend the remaining three years of his administration healing the city’s wounds.  Governor Snyder’s delivered his sixth State of the State address facing circumstances unlike any governor has faced.
The governor, his staff and entire administration are under siege for how they responded to concerns about water quality and lead contamination in Flint’s drinking water.  The task force Snyder created to figure out what went wrong said in its preliminary findings the main responsibility fell to the Department of Environmental Quality for failing to ensure corrosion control treatment once the city switched from the Detroit water system to the more corrosive Flint river as an interim water source.
During the State of the State address Republicans whooped and hollered to support the governor while Democrats sat in silence for most of the speech.  Outside the Capitol Building, hundreds of protesters roared their disapproval throughout the speech.  In the 49 minute address, using a prepared text for the first time in the annual speech instead of an outline, Snyder spoke for 15 minutes on Flint.
Governor Snyder also devoted a chunk of his speech to the crisis in the Detroit Public Schools, which could run out of money before the end of the school year and risk defaulting on some obligations to vendors.  A somewhat surprising amount of the the speech was devoted to other topics including the creation of commissions to recommend changes to governance and finance in public education and enhance the economy.
Snyder said he is establishing a commission to make recommendations on upgrading the state’s infrastructure with a report due in September.  Water lines, natural gas lines, sewage pipes, water pumps, electrical lines and more are urgent needs.  Snyder plans to issue an executive order requiring MDOT to confer with local officials and utilities on every new road project because that is the best time to fix broader infrastructure, which often runs beneath roads.
Governor Snyder said he wants to create commissions on 21st century education and building the 21st century economy.  He put a little more detail on the education commission, saying he wants it to study the many goals and recommendations from the multitude of task forces and studies on education and develop recommendations on a public education structure, governance and finance.
This week the Senate Natural Resources Committee took testimony on SB 651, 652 & 653.  The bills are called the “Commercial Forest/qualified Forest Transition Bill Package”.  Small landowners would like to transfer from the CF to the QF without facing the current penalty.  The allowance to transfer without penalty ended in September 2015. Some landowners have been reluctant to make the transfer until something is done to address the increase to present day taxable values.  The new “Act” allows for a transition to present day taxable values when CF land goes to QF and removes the sunset for allowing a CF landowner to transfer to the QF program with no penalty.
At the Wednesday Natural Resources Committee meeting the bills were explained by Senator Darwin, R-Evart, primary sponsor of the bills.  MUCC submitted a neutral position with concerns, the Department of Ag (MARD) took no position, LSLA supported, MAT supported, MFPC supported, Michigan Biomass supported and GLTPA remained neutral.  The meeting was over in 20 minutes, the bills will be discussed again in the near future.

 

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

January 2016

The Legislature returned to session at noon on Wednesday for two short session days.  The top three Senate Republican priorities remain reforming Detroit Public Schools, energy policy, non-fault insurance and the Flint water crisis. HB 4724, legislation to allow non-reason absentee voting will be front and center in the Senate next week.
It appears there will be a trailer bill to amend SB 571 (PA 269) that local government dubbed the “gag order” law. Schools and local government and library groups mounted a furious counterattack on the language in PA 269 barring them from (communicating/lobbying) using taxpayer funds for ballot proposals within 60 days of an election. Supporters of the issue contend that if government employees and officials want to communicate about a ballot proposal, they should do so by forming an official ballot committee, NOT by using taxpayer monies to push their position.
Legislation to allow a multiple trip permit for Michigan tailored after Wisconsin is being crafted by Rep. Pete Pettalia, R-Presque Isle, Chair, House Transportation Committee and should be available next week for review.  It is important for us to review the bill before it is dropped into the legislative hopper in an effort to avoid as much opposition/ problems with the bill.  Rep. Pettalia and Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona will be the lead on the bill.
I will lobby/assist with lining up co-sponsors for the bill as soon as we have approved wording.  I want to get as many House Transportation Committee members and UP/northern Michigan legislators to co-sponsor.  Once a legislator has co-sponsored a bill, it is difficult for him/her to go back on their commitment to the issue.  Since the bill will include all “haulers” I am confident the Michigan Trucking Association, the Michigan Farm Bureau, NFIB, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, etc. will support the effort—we will see.
HB 4579, sponsor Rep. Ken Goike, R-Ray Township and House Commerce Committee Chair Rep. Joe Graves, R-Linden are working on language to “tweak” the bill to make it acceptable to LLC’s and other business.  The intent is not to harm LLC’s, but to require religious sects pay business taxes and adhere to MIOSHA standards as English companies are required.  The language should be available next week at which time I will share with you.
I met with Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville, committee member, this week to request he express to Rep. Graves the importance of this bill to his constituents and other wood products industries in the state.  I continue to inch this issue forward and we are getting closer and closer as more legislators/people become award of the unfair competition religious sects create for our members. We have met with Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant a few times, including having him tour the Maeder Sawmill to get a better understanding of the costs involved in running a legitimate sawmill business.  Once we approve the new language and the bill is ready we will be meeting again with the Speaker of the House for his assistance—which he has already committed.
New legislation introduced this week:
SB 706   –   Sponsor Senator Tom Casperson. Referred to the Senate Transportation Committee.  The bill prohibits a local unit of government from requiring a special permit for vehicles transporting forest products if the vehicle is not in excess of size, weight or load maximums.
SB 707   –   Sponsor Senator Tom Casperson. Referred to Senate Transportation.
The bill re-defines constructed or reconstructed of the Act regulating driveways and does not include maintenance activities performed on a driveway, including, but not limited to, the placement of additional gravel.
SB 708   –   Sponsor Senator Tom Casperson. Referred to the Senate Transportation Committee.  Clarifies the authority of county road commissions to not require a permit for vehicles transporting forest products.

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

January 2016

Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter has four chief priorities as he prepares to lead a temporarily smaller but more unified Republican caucus into his second and final year as House Speaker, and an overhaul and bailout of Detroit’s financially and academically failed school district is NOT among them.

Auto insurance changes, an update to energy laws, criminal justice spending and the broader state budget will top the agenda.  Cotter is deeply concerned with a key component of Governor Rick Snyder’s education plan which creates a a commission of gubernatorial and mayoral appointees to hire a manager who could close or reconfigure poor performing Detroit Public schools, regardless of whether they are traditional ones, independent charters or those overseen by a turnaround entity.

“Charter schools that are performing well, do not need to be tangled up in that mess,” Cotter said in a recent interview.  It is Cotter’s opinion that charters offer a tremendous opportunity to families who choose them.

Snyder outlined his Detroit Public School proposals last spring and again last fall, but no legislation was introduced before legislators adjourned for the 2015 year.  Snyder contends the most urgent issue is providing $715 million in state funds over a decade to pay off the district’s debt and spin off a new district, a tough sell for legislators a year after they helped bail out bankrupt Detroit.

Speaker Cotter enters the 2016 session months after a turbulent period in which the House expelled one Republican and forced the resignation of another over their extramarital affair and a strange attempt to make it less believable if it was exposed, apparently by the husband of one of the legislators.  Two former legislative aides to the legislators recently sued the House, alleging they were wrongfully fired and publicly humiliated after reporting the affair and other misconduct to Cotter’s office.

Cotter contends the 61 member GOP caucus is much more effective than when it had 63 representatives, saying that the group is tighter and more willing to work together.  Republicans are favored to fill the two vacant seats in March special elections.

Late last year House Republicans mustered enough votes to approve a road funding plan, including increased fuel tax and vehicle registration fees, without Democratic support.  Republicans also voted mostly along party lines for a bill to hold back third-graders lagging behind on state reading tests and most recently sent Snyder legislation to eliminate the straight ticket option from ballots which was signed into law by Governor Snyder this week.

The House’s most immediate issue when it returns next week may be energy bills, which have not cleared either chamber despite pressure from major utilities to act on the bills in 2015.   School districts and some big companies are fighting the legislation they fear would further limit competition in a partially deregulated power system.  State law guarantees DTE Electric, Consumers Energy and smaller utilities 90 percent of electricity sales in their regions.  Alternate suppliers can sell the remaining 10 percent.

The Legislature returns to Lansing next week on Wednesday, January 13.  I plan to attend the board meeting next week with a list of legislative issues we should be pushing this year.  This year is the last year of the two year session and a campaign year which surely guarantees an active lame duck session where anything can be accomplished.

 

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

January 2016

While the energy debate and resolving Detroit Public Schools’ debt are sure to be main headlines in 2016, Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof also plans to continue work on auto insurance reforms sent to the House with some help from House Speaker Kevin Cotter.

“We have some of the highest auto insurance rates. Some of it is related to the medical side, some of it is related to the collision side – we’re just trying to find a better path,” Mr. Meekhof (R-West Olive) said in a recent interview. “This has been an ongoing battle, especially for seniors and folks who don’t drive their car much.”

Mr. Meekhof said one thing he and the speaker are looking to avoid is “something like Colorado, who went totally away from auto no-fault and it significantly raised their Medicaid rates,” the majority leader said.

“My preference would be not to get rid of no-fault. I think there’s pieces of it that are really, really good but we need to do it better,” he said. “The courts have made some rulings that have made it difficult where we didn’t make it clear so we need more clarification.”

The Senate sent a pair of bills (SB 248 and SB 249) over to the House in April, 2015 and the House Insurance Committee reported them shortly thereafter, but there has been no action on the bills since the end of April.

Mr. Meekhof said those are the bills he and Mr. Cotter are working to try to figure out: “Either amend them and send them back, or concur in pieces of it to get it done,” he said.

One point of difference, though, between the House and Senate priorities is on the issue of retail “dark stores.” The House has put together a work group on the issue, but when asked if that would be an item on his list for 2016, Mr. Meekhof said it hadn’t come up as a caucus issue just yet.

“But it probably bears a lot of scrutiny, especially in these communities where there’s a lot of property owned by the public where they don’t have as much opportunity to make up that tax base if something happens,” he said. “It’s a significant issue in many communities.

He said Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) was at the forefront of that issue last term and could be the point-person on it again. The issue wasn’t resolved, Mr. Meekhof said, simply because other things were in front of it. Mr. Casperson again has introduced legislation on the bill.

“There was no effort to keep it back,” Mr. Meekhof said.

ENERGY AND DPS: Mr. Meekhof was not shy in stating two major policies as the likely focus for 2016: crafting the right energy policy and getting bipartisan support for a package of bills that would help resolve the request of Governor Rick Snyder to provide $715 million for Detroit Public Schools’ debt over 10 years.

Mr. Meekhof said he was unsure when the full Senate could vote on an energy policy, “but it’s likely Senator Nofs will introduce something in January,” he said of the Senate Energy and Technology Committee chair..

“This is one of those policy areas in which if we make some changes here, it has ramifications for 10, 20 and 30 years,” Mr. Meekhof said.

On Detroit Public Schools, the majority leader said the first hurdle the policy has to get over is finding sponsors from the other side of the aisle, “folks that actually represent that geographic area,” Mr. Meekhof said.

“Not that they’re reluctant, it’s just this is difficult stuff. You’re talking about peoples’ kids” he continued. “Sen. Hansen has done a terrific job walking through this, trying to find a spot to get it introduced. … The (number one) item to me is performance for those kids – how do we get in front of them performance improvement, that they want to improve, that qualifies them to get those cool jobs in Detroit that continues to attract and build Detroit?”

Mr. Meekhof said part of the discussion between Senate Democrats and Mr. Hansen, among others involved in the issue, is the question of the governance structure. Democrats have been adamant that they want to try to return power to school boards and locally elected officials who are closest to the situation in the city.

MORE ON ROAD FUNDING: When the Senate finished its work on a road funding solution for the state, Mr. Meekhof indicated that there would likely be more to come yet on the issue in 2016.

“There’s a small group that had a few ideas that didn’t make it into the package that they still want to work on,” he said. “What I hope doesn’t happen is there’s something critical that happens, a bridge fails and we have to re-allocate or do something differently.” But he said he has confidence in the Department of Transportation to know and be held accountable to accomplishing the most critical things first.

GUBERNATORIAL RUN: As most candidates currently holding office with time to spare would say, Mr. Meekhof said in response to a question about his interest in running for governor in 2018 that he is “very happy” in his current role as majority leader.

“I’ve said, if I do this job well, I have plenty of opportunities. And that’s not why I’m doing this job. I think every one of my colleagues would agree – in the normal course of business, they probably made more money. Nobody cared what they did on the weekend. And people didn’t demand you be at every parade and everything like that when you weren’t an elected position.

“The burden of leadership is great, but it’s also an opportunity to shape Michigan for the future,” Mr. Meekhof said. “For most of my colleagues that are my age, a lot of those opportunities may not exist like they do for our kids and grand kids, and we try to make it better for their opportunities.”

View monthly reports at www.judyaaugenstein.com

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

December 2015

The resignation of Dan Wyant, MDEQ Director this week came the same day a special task force primarily blamed the department for the contamination of Flint’s water supply.  Governor Snyder’s administration continues to face criticism over its handling of increased lead levels in Flint’s drinking water.  Snyder accepted the resignation of Dan Wyant on Tuesday of this week.

The special task force set to study the Flint water issue told the Governor the MDEQ helped lead to water contamination in Flint.  The task force wrote, the department’s Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance needs a “culture change”.  The letter also flagged the tone of the DEQ’s initial response to concerns about Flint’s water as one of “aggressive dismissal, belittlement and attempts to discredit” those voicing the concerns.  “What is disturbing about MDEQ’s responses, however, is their persistent tone of scorn and derision,” the task force wrote.  In fact, the MDEQ seems to have been more determined to discredit the work of others, who ultimately proved to be right, than to pursue its own oversight responsibility.”

The House Committee on Energy Policy approved an energy plan in December aimed at providing reliable affordable energy for Michigan families.  The legislation was proposed in part to give Michigan more control of its energy policy as the federal government places more mandates on states, and ensure a reliable energy infrastructure between the states two peninsulas.  With several coal burning power plants to be shuttered in the near future, the plan focuses on energy reliability.  Many House members did not support the bills as reported from committee because elements of the legislation jeopardize energy choice so many legislators opposed them as written.  Many House legislators are waiting on floor amendments which would retain energy choice for schools, local government offices and hospitals at a minimum.

Governor Rick Snyder has signed into law a bill creating a Good Samaritan exemption in Michigan law for minors who seek medical attention for themselves or others believed to have overdosed.  This effort to encourage minors to seek medical attention narrowly shields minors from criminal possession of small amounts, but not other related charges.

In January, the House will be reviewing legislation that would allow prisoners considered to be medically frail a chance to be paroled, a move that could save the state money.  The bills allow the parole board to grant parole to disabled prisoners who agree to be placed in secured medical care facilities, saving the state up to $12 million a year and providing proper care without eroding public safety.

When the Legislature returns to Lansing on January 13 there will be plenty for them to do over the final months of the 2015-2016 session.  At the top of the list will be resolving the Detroit Public School financial crisis, finishing up work on the energy bills, auto insurance reform and yes—more on road funding!

Specific to forestry will be legislation to allow a multiple trip permit for large trucks to be sponsored by Rep. Pete Pettalia, R-Presque Isle, HB 4142 sponsored by Rep. Ken Goike, R-Ray Township which modifies fees for over sized /weight trucks, legislation to require religious sects to adhere to Michigan laws and any other legislation that “sneaks up” which could impact forestry.

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

December 2015

Michigan is well on its way to compliance with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan on reducing emissions, says a preliminary review by the Michigan Agency for Energy and Department of Environmental Quality, and could continue maintaining business as usual for at least another decade.
The two agencies announced Tuesday they completed preliminary baseline modeling showing that if Michigan maintains the status quo with 1 percent annual energy waste reduction per year – less than the amount utilities are actually achieving at around 1.4 percent – and the state’s electric demand doesn’t exceed 1.2 percent growth per year,it is set to be in compliance with the EPA rule through at least 2025, and in one scenario, 2028.
The announcement was the first step in a series of actions the two agencies will take before finally submitting a draft proposal to the U.S. EPA in September 2016. At that time, it will also request a two-year extension on compliance. The deadline for a fully enforceable plan is September 6, 2018.
If the request is denied, DEQ Director Dan Wyant said Michigan would be unable to comply with the federal rule, but he and Ms. Brader, Director MAE, are cautiously optimistic about their chances given the provision was something that was added after extensive input from all the states on the Clean Power Plan.
“We think they understand that is required,” he said. “That’s a decision they’ll have to make at that time but the construction of the rule recognized that giving any less than three years would make it difficult for states, including Michigan, to comply.”
And some investments would need to be made prior to 2025 in order to continue compliance for the federal rule, Ms. Brader said. The federal rule hopes to achieve 32 percent less carbon pollution than industries had contributed in 2005 by 2030 when the Clean Power Plan is fully implemented.
Michigan specifically is expected to reduce its emissions 31 percent by 2030. Ms. Brader said the initial outlook considered previously announced coal plant retirements, and in fact that is one of the reasons Michigan can rest easy for a little while. Between 2013 and 2020, 25 different coal units will retire in Michigan, Ms. Brader noted.
“In addition, the continuation of our energy waste reduction is helpful,” she said, as is the fact that Michigan already has some renewable energy units to help adapt to demand.
DTE Energy on Monday announced it would break ground in the spring of 2016 on 45 megawatts of new solar generating capacity at two projects sites in Lapeer – enough to generate power for 9,000 average-sized homes.
The only potential downside of the announcement by the MAE and DEQ is that it assumed natural gas prices would remain relatively low, and some did not agree with that assumption.
“We urge Governor Snyder and his team not to rely too heavily on natural gas at the expense of clean, renewable energy like wind and solar when it comes to meeting Michigan’s energy needs,” said Liesl Clark, president of the Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council. “The initial Clean Power Plan modeling released this week by the state of Michigan assumes the lowest-cost scenario for natural gas, which also poses the greatest risk for residential and business ratepayers. Clean energy will reduce that risk should the ‘best-case’ scenario for energy prices fail to materialize.”
But the announcement is indeed only the first step in a longer process. Ms. Brader said the state will launch its carbon rule website in mid-January, which will include information on how to be involved in the stakeholder process and offer opportunity to comment on plan development. It will also have the compliance process time-line, results of state modeling efforts, news, documents and more.
She expects to take the first round of public input between January and March, and a summary of reports should be available by late April. The DEQ will submit a draft proposal September 6, 2016.
Ms. Brader said they will continue looking at different modeling to see what Michigan will have to do after this decade of basic compliance as well as how Michigan could fare if it had more renewable energy units that emit far fewer carbon emissions. But she said she would expect that given how cheap renewable energy projects are coming for incumbent utilities that they would continue moving in that direction with or without a mandate from the state.
Some legislators have introduced legislation to allow the Legislature to review whatever greenhouse gas emissions plan the administration comes up with before it sends it to the federal government (SB 439* and SB 465*). That legislation came on the heels of Ms. Brader and Mr. Wyant saying the state would develop its own plan on greenhouse gas emissions, and a plan that would not need legislative approval.
Some helpful points in legislation currently before the House and still being debated in a Senate committee are the provisions for allowing for a greater planning process. The House proposal also allows the state to look at reliability, affordability, adaptability and other variables in that planning process, she said.
Sen. Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) is the sponsor of one of those bills to require legislative input on the plan, though he notes that input is different from approval. He said he and Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) still view their legislation as a high priority.
“We ran out of bandwidth (in 2015) and it’s a high priority in 2016 because of things like this,” he said. “We’re going to be faced more and more with federal requirements and states having to respond.”
He said there is a tendency for the state or bureaucrats to fix an issue themselves and that’s the reason for the legislation, so the Legislature has a chance for a real review of a major issue.
He also questioned the true level of urgency to address Michigan’s energy policy if what the two departments said is true in terms of the state’s ability to maintain the status quo.
“If that’s the case, then we’ve been fed some interesting information from incumbent utilities when they claim all the problems we’ve got to address. It just adds further skepticism to what urgency there is to us having to upgrade our energy policy,” Mr. Shirkey said. “That’s not to say it’s not time for us to do it, it’s just I’m not convinced it’s the emergency (some would have us believe).”
The Legislature will return on January 13 to resume their agenda of work—

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

December 2015

The Legislature recessed this week after passionate debate on an array of issues. The debate on medicinal marijuana was active, but the bill did not complete legislative action.  The Senate did not take up the energy bills passed by the House. The Flint water issue, fracking, the Health Insurance Reform Claims Tax (Obamacare) and campaign finance reform were all laid over to 2016.

Senate Democrats accused majority Republicans on Wednesday of trampling over Senate protocols in an effort to limit debate on controversial legislation to end the straight ticket voting.  Senate Democrats were especially heated with their colleagues across the aisle on when, after hours of recessing and no voting, Republicans decided to vote on a bill eliminating straight-ticket voting at the eleventh hour.
The day in the Senate began as running through its tentative agenda that had been sent out on Tuesday night after another 12-hour-plus session. By noon on Wednesday, the chamber had whizzed through that agenda and recessed until 2 p.m.
Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) after session on Tuesday had already indicated his caucus would follow the lead of Senate Elections and Government Reform Committee Chair Sen. Dave Robertson (R-Grand Blanc), who was adamantly opposed to the tie bar included by the House of the elimination bill, SB 13*, with HB 4724*, providing for “secure” no-reason absentee voting. The tie-bar was allegedly critical for the House GOP – it eventually reversed course and assented to dropping it – but never settled well in the Senate.
Several hours passed when the Senate returned from recess in mid-afternoon, and by roughly 5:30 p.m., Senator Meekhof’s spokesperson indicated that the caucus would be waiting on another bill, SB 571*, to come from the House, but would not do straight-ticket voting elimination that day. She also said the Senate would adjourn for the year, meaning the issue would not be taken up again for about a month while the Legislature was on break for the holiday.
And all seemed to continue heading in that direction too, as Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kowall (R-White Lake Township) made a motion for statements shortly thereafter. The statements from both sides of the aisle were generally jolly in nature, wishing best wishes to colleagues and complimenting one another on the professional tone of the Senate for its first year of most of the senators’ second terms.
Senator Meekhof, in his speech, even noted how the Senate had passed more than 400 bills together in 2015, many in a bipartisan fashion. Then just as it seemed the Senate would adjourn, Mr. Kowall asked for a “very brief recess.”

The tone changed dramatically over the next three hours, and with it came creeping insecurities from straight-ticket voting elimination opponents that the bill would still come up.  First, Senator Robertson called for a Senate Republican caucus. Upon emerging from it, Senator Kowall then made a motion to concur in the House substitute on SB 13, and proposed amendments lit up the list of actions that would need to be fulfilled before taking a concurrence vote. Among those amendments was one by Senator Robertson that, as Senator Meekhof suggested the night before, broke the tie-bar with HB 4724.

Two democratic amendments were defeated, and for at least an hour after that, Senate Republicans and Democrats dusted off their procedural rules books. Mr. Kowall had earlier excused Sen. Mike Green (R-Mayville) from the balance of session, which opened a can of worms when he then decided after Mr. Knezek’s amendment to make a motion for a call of the Senate – which locks the doors of the chamber and forbids senators from leaving the chamber – and ordered that all Senate staff “except for the Senate majority” be removed from the floor.
That was a rarely, if ever, seen move that deprived minority Democrats of any staff on the floor. And that, as much as anything, triggered the furious Democratic response that ensued.

Under that call of the Senate, the sergeants “may arrest any or all of the senators absent without leave,” which would seem to have included Mr. Green, and Senate Minority Floor Leader Morris Hood III (D-Detroit) fought for his inclusion in the call of the Senate and to be present on the Senate floor. But the rule does note that those senators allowed leave do not have to attend, and ultimately, Mr. Green was granted an excuse despite Mr. Hood’s objections.

But Senator Hood continued objections and “point of order” calls for removing staff from the floor and the eventual decision by Lt. Governor Brian Calley, presiding as the president of the Senate, to cease all further debate on SB 13. Democrats had about seven more amendments after the chamber adopted Robertson’s amendment breaking the tie-bar that Kowall moved to be considered en bloc, forcing one single vote to wipe out all the amendments and prevent further debate on them, for or against.

“This episode today is so embarrassing on how the Senate is handling itself and how the majority party is handling itself that you really truly should be ashamed,” the normally mild-mannered Senator Steve Beida, D-Warren in his no vote explanation. “This is really disgusting. You restrict the ability of people to speak on amendments, it wouldn’t have cost you much to stay another half hour or so to at least listen to some debate!

“But no, you decided to cut it off, and it’s a big disregard to each of the voters that sent each one of us up here. And they’d be ashamed to see this tonight. I’m sure they would be, because you have to be honest when you’re dealing in this Legislature. You have to be transparent.   Senator Bieda said he had never seen such an infringement on the right of elected officials to speak to an issue.
“Well, I guess my colleagues on the other side of the aisle really enjoy irony, because the reason we were told this bill was important was so people wouldn’t make strong, partisan decisions, and that’s what everybody in this room just did,”  Hertel said. “We were told people should take the time to go line by line and consider each vote. And then you, in the idea of expediency, threw all of our amendments to one vote for yourselves. So I guess you guys get a straight ticket. So that’s fun. Merry Christmas to the rest of us in this state.”
Senator Hertel ripped Republicans for talking just hours before about bipartisanship, the Christmas spirit, “and the strong work we’ve done together” that was “ripped apart in one night.”
Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) spoke to reporters after session about the ordeal, saying “it’s extremely egregious when they rig the rules in order to rig the system,” and that “that’s really telling and unfortunate,” he said.
Speaking with reporters after session,Senator Meekhof defended the tactics his caucus took in discussion of SB 13.

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

December 2015

Kosowski, Cole Pitch Electric Choice Option
Two lawmakers — a Democrat and a Republican — are trying to strip the energy reform legislation of proposed requirements that choice advocates believe will ultimately scare away alternative suppliers from Michigan.
Rep. Triston COLE (R-Mancelona) and Rep. Robert KOSOWSKI (D-Westland) not only want to preserve the electric choice law as it’s written today.
Kosowski said the schools in his district count on electric choice to keep their electricity bills low. Losing choice is a $400,000 proposition for his school district at a time when the district is putting 30 kids in a classroom and more teachers are being let go.
Cole and Kosowski are swimming upstream with their plan to change the legislation that locks the door for electric choice to future applicants and mandates that choice customers wishing to return to a regulated utility live with that decision for at least 15 years.
The bill also mandates that all electric service providers show state regulators every year that it is bringing in enough power to service their clients for the coming few years while also having access to extra electricity for the hot summer days when customers use the most energy.
The version of HB 4298 that moved out of the House Energy Policy Committee is designed to make sure alternative energy suppliers have the supply they need to service their customers, said House Minority Floor Leader Aric NESBITT (R-Lawton).
Also, it’s designed to make sure customers of the state’s utilities — DTE and Consumers — aren’t subsidizing lower rates for the customers of an alternative energy supplier.
On the subject of competitive bidding, Nesbitt said the bill allows the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) to entertain proposals from those who believe they have a cheaper way to provide electricity.
Even though the committee chair opposes the amendment Rep. Cole said it’s in the interest of free market businesses to have an open competitive bid process for new generation while also preserving the state limit of having 10 percent of the state’s electricity coming from an alternative source.
Originally, The bills were to receive final House debate this week,but those plans have been postponed, Nesbitt said, as he works with lawmakers on improving the legislation.
Straight-Ticket Option Elimination Bill Survives Close House Vote
 
After a procedural fight with Democrats and a day of searching for yes votes, House Republicans found just enough to approve ending automatic straight-ticket voting in Michigan.
By a vote of 54-51, Republicans got the minimum amount of support needed to send a revised version of SB 0013 back to the Senate.
Like the Senate version, the bill would still remove the option to automatically vote a straight ticket from ballots. But the House tie-barred SB 0013 and HB 4724, which would bring a form of no-reason absentee voting to the state.
While some Senate Republicans have concerns about it, that tie-bar was championed by House Elections Chair Lisa Posthumus LYONS (R-Alto). And with it in place, the House was still able to pass the bill by only the slimmest of margins.
Two House Republicans were absent for this evening’s vote. Five House Republicans joined all 46 House Democrats in opposition.
Republicans emphasized that elections should be more about individuals than parties. Only nine states still have the automatic straight-ticket option. And Rep. Al PSCHOLKA (R-Stevensville) called the practice “antiquated.”
House Elections Chair Lisa Posthumus LYONS (R-Alto) spoke out for the bill, focusing on the fact that the bill is still tie-barred to a bill to bring a form of no-reason absentee voting to the state.
The question continues to be whether the lawmakers can bridge the gap between Lyons, the House elections chair, who wants the elimination of straight-ticket voting tied to no-reason absentee voting, and Senate Republicans who don’t like the no-reason absentee proposal.
Health Claims Tax OK’d By Senate Approps
 
The Senate Appropriations Committee voted to send to the Senate floor legislation to extend for another eight years a health insurance claims tax that produces about $250 million for the state.
 HB 5105, which passed the House 83-23 Tuesday, would shift the sunset on the Health Insurance Claims Assessment (HICA) from Dec. 31, 2017 to Sept. 30, 2025.
No changes were made to the version passed out of the House Committee. Chair Dave HILDENBRAND (R-Lowell) said the bill would be discussed in caucus soon, adding that there’s a good chance it could get done before the end of the year.
The money HICA currently produces at a .75 percent rate is used along with money from the Use Tax on Medicaid managed care organization to provide the required state match for federal Medicaid dollars. Together, the two produce more than $400 million.
Without HICA, lawmakers would have to find the $250 million it produces somewhere else in the budget or through a different means. And the federal government has already informed the state that Michigan’s Use Tax on Medicaid managed care organization needs to be discontinued by the end of Dec. 31, 2016.
Once the Use Tax is discontinued, the HICA rate would revert back to the original 1 percent rate. The Senate Fiscal Agency projects the bill would increase HICA revenue by $247.5 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2017-18 and $340 million in FY 2018-19. Savings to the GF are expected to slowly increase over time under the bill until FY 2024-25, the new sunset date.
Business groups such as the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Manufacturers Association (MMA) have opposed the bill on grounds that it keeps an assessment in place that adds to the cost of health insurance.
The administration has expressed support for the legislation.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chair ildenbrand said many Republicans have concerns with the legislation, but pointed out that the sunset extension leaves the HICA assessment open for reconsideration at a later date.
“Everything can always be changed down the road,” he said “This is just a proposal that’s out there now . . . we can get some certainty in the short term, and down the road we can change it if that’s the will of those serving at that time.”
House Appropriations Chair Al PSCHOLKA (R-Stevensville), the sponsor of the bill, pushed back against the argument made by business groups like the Michigan Chamber of Commerce that the bill is a tax increase.
Instead, Pscholka said the proposal is a freeze on the HICA rate for eight years.
“What lobby math can be used to try to make this look like an increase?” Pscholka asked.
“This is the same rate going forward until 2025,” he continued. “The one thing I hear from businesses is ‘We want predictability.’ I don’t think you can get any more predictability than this.

 

Monthly Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

November 2015

Road Funding Done: After more than two years of effort and controversy, the Michigan
House and Senate passed a road funding plan on November 4, 2015. The Governor has
indicated that he will sign the legislation. The $1.2 billion plan is a 50/50 mix of $600
million in new revenue in the form of pump tax and registration fee increases and $600
million in future earmarks of the state’s general fund revenue.

While the plan still increases registration fees and fuel prices at the pump, it is a far
cry from the original proposals that sought to more than double registration fees and the
pump tax on fuel. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) was the only
business group that opposed efforts to raise more than $1.6 billion in road funding
through tax hikes and registration fees alone. Small business owners recognize the need
for good roads and adequate funding but this is a difficult time for tax and fee
increases on Michigan small business job providers. While these tax increases are
disappointing, lawmakers did listen to the concerns of small business and the plan they
passed dedicated a substantial portion of future general fund revenue to road
construction and maintenance in order to avoid funding the roads with hikes in the gas
tax and vehicle registration alone.

The plan includes $200 million in tax relief via expansion of the Homestead Property Tax
credit. An income tax rollback formula is also included in the proposal. The income tax
rollback would occur when general fund revenue growth exceeds the rate of inflation times
1.425. The rollback does not go into effect until January 1, 2023 and it is questionable
if it would ever go into effect as a future legislature could change the terms of the cut
before 2023.

The gasoline tax will increase by 7.3 cents per gallon and diesel taxes would increase to
be on par with gasoline taxes (an 11.3 cent increase per gallon) beginning January 1,
2017. Registration fees would increase by 20 percent on passenger vehicles and trucks
also beginning January 1, 2017. The earmarking of general fund revenue to roads would
phase-in over the next five years.

Prevailing Wage Restart: Petition Drive Falls Short – New Drive Planned: On October 27,
2015, 388,000 signatures were turned in to the Board of State Canvassers for the
initiative petition to repeal the state’s prevailing wage law – an avenue that does not
require the Governor’s signature to become law (he would veto it otherwise). However, the
vendor hired to collect and process the signature petitions did not remove duplicate
signatures as part of the validation process prior to handing them over to the Board of
State Canvassers (BSC) for review.

Under Michigan law, when there are duplicate signatures, all of those signatures are
thrown out including the original. The validation process was supposed to remove the
duplicates so that the original signatures would still count in the final tally toward
meeting the required signature count. Because this was not done, the Bureau of Elections
recommended the Board of State Canvassers (BSC) not approve the petition for
certification as there were only 229,629 valid signatures after the duplicates were
removed. The Board of State Canvassers needs to verify that 252,523 signatures are valid
before it can be sent to the Legislature for further action.

Plans are being made to start over on collecting signatures for a ballot initiative by
the end of November or early December 2015. The deadline to get a legislative initiative
to the state for consideration is June 1, 2016. Ballot committees get 180 days, or
roughly six months, to collect signatures, and six months would be April 2016. The Bureau
of Elections and Board of State Canvassers validation process would then take at least
two months and if the signatures and petitions are approved, the Legislature would
consider the measure for 40 session days. If no action is taken or it’s rejected, it
would then go to a vote of the people at the next general election in November 2016.
Stay tuned for further developments.

Franchise Protections Pass Senate: On the last session day before the Thanksgiving break
(November 10, 2015) the Michigan Senate passed two bills that would clarify the
relationship between franchisor and franchisee employees. Senate Bills 492 sponsored by
Senator Jack Brandenburg (R-8) and 493 sponsored by John Proos (R-21) amend the Franchise
Act and the Workers Disability Act to clarify that franchisors and franchisees are treated
as separate businesses under Michigan law.

This legislation is necessary because of a recent ruling by the federal NLRB (National
Labor Relations Board) that expanded the definition of a ‘joint employer’ to make a
franchisor responsible for a franchisee’s employees even in areas where they do not
exercise direct control over employees of the franchisee. The bottom line is that the
NLRB actions were encouraged by the Obama administration in order to make it easier for
big labor unions to strike and organize franchise business employees and small
independent businesses.

On August 27, 2015 the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a ruling concerning
franchise arrangements. The agency issued a radical reconstruction of the “joint employer
rule” which has been settled law for decades. In its ruling the NLRB expanded the
definition to include both indirect, direct, and even potential, unexercised control over
employees in a joint employer determination. Previous to this ruling, franchisors and
franchisees were considered to be separate businesses and were joint employers only when
they shared direct control over the terms and conditions of employment for the same
employees.

The Michigan Senate is taking action to be sure that, in matters of state law, the ruling
by the NLRB will not affect the traditional and correct interpretation of the employer
and employee relationship that has governed franchise law in our state for decades.

Federal legislation has also been introduced in Congress to nullify the actions of the
NLRB. The “Protecting Local Business Opportunity Act” HR 3459 is sponsored by U.S.
Representative John Kline from Minnesota. Michigan Congressmen John Moolenaar, Tim
Walberg, Bill Huizenga and Mike Bishop are all co-sponsors of the bill. In the U.S.
Senate an identical bill, S.2015, is sponsored by Senator Lamar Alexander from Tennessee.
Also, companion House Bills 4901 sponsored by Representative Joe Graves (R-51) and 4902
sponsored by Representative Daniela Garcia (R-90) have also been introduced. More bills
will be forthcoming as other state laws are examined to determine if the clarification is
necessary.

Civil Asset Forfeiture Bills Signed Into law: This legislation was signed into law
(Public Act 153 of 2015) on October 20th by Governor Snyder. The bills will make it more
difficult for government to confiscate private property and they passed both chambers
with strong bi-partisan support. The reform package includes new reporting provisions to
track “civil asset forfeiture” seizures and also raises the standard of proof for seizing
assets from a “preponderance of the evidence” to a “clear and convincing” standard. We
will be asking our members on the 2016 State Ballot for their position on further reforms
that would require a criminal conviction before any private property could be seized.

Loser Pays in Rule Disputes Bills in the Hopper: We have been working on Senate bills 189
and 190, sponsored by Senators Tom Casperson (38th District) and David Robertson (14th
District), that would require a state agency to pay the legal costs of the prevailing
party when that state agency loses a lawsuit involving a regulatory issue.

New Issue: “Dark Store” Property Tax Valuations: This is an emerging issue that is
gaining traction and will involve changes to Michigan’s General Property Tax Act. Here is
a summary of the issue:

Many “big box” retail stores have been successful in lowering their local property taxes
by appealing their current tax assessments under a “dark store” valuation approach. This
approach uses an assessment based on comparable big box properties that are often vacated
and empty rather than the approach used by most local governments of valuation based on
the cost of construction – less depreciation. This dark store approach has been upheld in
most appealed cases by the courts and the tax tribunals. These appealed cases have
reduced local property tax revenues by about $74 million since 2013. The supporting
concern is that local governments may come after small business to make up the revenue
shortfalls. The opposing concern is that local governments will use the tax changes
directed at big box stores against small business as well.

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

November 30th, 2015

If the House gains nine seats in the 2016 elections they would take over the House and match their highest gain of seats in the term limit era, and they say are in it for the long haul to get to 56.

With less than a year until the election, Democrats feel good about their recruitment in many key seats, particularly in the 108 District where Rep. Ed McBroom (R-McBroom) cannot seek re-election.

Rep Tom Leonard, R-Dewitt, who chairs the House Republican Committee, says he feels confident House Republicans will keep the majority, though he is taking nothing for granted.

For the first time in a decade, in fact, for the first time since Michigan last increased its tobacco tax tobacco tax revenues increased during 2014-15 fiscal year.

And the increase does not appear related to more people smoking.  Rather the increase seems due to lower gasoline prices, which means people can use their gas savings for extra packs of cigarettes.

After reaching an agreement with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles on its Michigan Economic Growth Authority Credit this week and the same for Ford Motor Company earlier this year, Steve Arwood, MEDC President, said he is hoping to have one more announcement this year, but he would not say if it was the last of the Detroit automobile makers, General Motors. Three amended credits was all he expected by the end of the year, a difference from the six Mr. Arwood had originally hoped for when the state amended its MEGA Credit with Ford Motor Motor Company back in June.

Beware the Legislature returns December 1 to continue on their working agenda!

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

November 20th, 2015

The Legislature is on recess this week, but meetings and decisions are still being made.  Supporters of enabling more refugees from Syria in Michigan sharply criticized Governor Rick Snyder’s decision to suspend state efforts on that front in response to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Lebanon, while several Republicans praised the move, saying bringing the refugees was a horrible idea from the beginning.

Governor Snyder has made a big point during his nearly five years in office of labeling himself the most pro-immigrant governor in the country.  And in the wake of the Syrian civil war, now raging for four years, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the country as refugees, some 200,000 to Europe and another 4 million in other Middle Wast countries, according to the United Nations.

The Governor’s administration had been working with Lutheran Social Services of Michigan to intensify the state’s efforts to place Syrian refugees, but those will now be put on hold. Snyder said he is asking the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to review its procedure on vetting refugees to enter the country to determine whether strengthening is needed.

Next month the House Appropriations Committee will take up bills that would allow prisoners deemed medically frail a chance at parole, stated House Appropriations Committee Chair Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville.  Pscholka ad two other legislators ar the primary sponsors of the four bill package, which they say is a way to reduce state costs while not increasing public safety risk.

One bill allows the Parole Board to grant parole for prisoners determined to be medically frail if the prisoners agree to be placed in an appropriate medical facility.  One bill allows for medical parole ad would allow victims to address the Parole Board on such instances of when parole is being considered. The finally bill makes it a misdemeanor crime for someone to help a medically frail parole leave a facility where the parole had agreed to be placed.  The plan is to address the package before the end of this year.

Progress Michigan announced this week it would launch a new website as part of a broader “Sunshine Squad” campaign seeking to make the Legislature more accountable on the heels of a report that indicated Michigan ranked last nationally when it comes to ethics and transparency laws. The website features every member of the Legislature, not including the seats yet to be filled by special elections, broken down by committee assignment and House and Senate district.  Each legislators’ specific page currently features committee assignments and searchable financial contributions so residents can find where their legislator’s financial support is coming from, the group said in a statement.

“Our elected officials in the legislature have gotten away with shielding themselves from public scrutiny for too long.This campaign will shine some light on their action and who is putting money into their campaign coffers.”  Executive Director Lonnie Scott said.  The Sunshine Squad is intended to promote transparency, increase public disclosures and to hold our lawmakers accountable.

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

November 9th, 2015

The Legislature has finally passed a road budget plan.  This week the Senate revised the House road budget plan sent to them last week and the House adopted the changes late last night. The plan would increases the gas tax to 26.3 cents per gallon on January 1, 2017, a 7.3 cents per gallon increase.  The amount paired with bringing the current 15 cent per gallon diesel fuel to the same level, is intended to generate $400 million in revenue inflationary increases would begin January 1, 2022.

The registration fee increases, previously scheduled to be 40 percent across the board in the House plan, decreased to 20 percent for passenger vehicles and trucks, which would generate an estimated $200 million.  Both the gasoline tax increase bill and the vehicle registration bill will take effect on January 2017.  The Income Tax rollback would occur when General Fund growth exceeds the rate of inflation, then multiplied by 1.425.  The rollback could occur on January 1, 2023.

The lock box included in the Senate plan is back in the final deal.  Under the original Senate plan, the legislation would have locked up the last 7 cent increase on the gas tax annually until the lock box is opened via passage of a concurrent resolution.  Under the new plan, it would lock up the first $100 million of gas/diesel fuel tax increase until unlocked via the passage of a concurrent resolution.

The General Fund dedication in fiscal year 2019 is $150 million, then $325 million in fiscal year 2020.  In fiscal year 2021, the GF dedication would be $600 million. The plan keeps the House provision to expand the Homestead Property Tax Credit . The income multiplier is 3.2 percent in tax year 2018 and the maximum credit $1,500 that same year. It also increases the renter credit.  There is also an MDOT administrative cap of 8 percent, competitive bidding and warranty assurances and public transit flexibility.

The House Energy Policy Committee just reported out legislation which basically puts stricter requirements on alternative energy suppliers and their “choice” customers by locking the door on future applicants and mandating that choice customers wishing to return to a regulated utility live with that decision for 20 years.   Amendments passed tonight include a provision which includes a “goal” for utilities to reach 30 percent of production through renewable sources and energy efficiency by 2025.

Changes also include not requiring alternative energy suppliers to provide an outlook unless certain circumstances occurred.  Under an amendment there would be no changes to requirements on the alternative suppliers unless the Public Service Commission made certain determinations involving capacity.  Language was added to make changes to the renewable portfolio standard, removing what the federal government does not consider renewable energy.  Another amendment tightens up the definition of renewable energy, but expands the definition from the current law, including biomass, geothermal and paralysis.  New language would ensure pet coke, hazardous waste, coal waste and scrap tires were not included in the renewable energy definition.  Chairman Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton promised Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet that more work could be done on biomass once the bill starts debate by the full House.

Utilities and state government called the shots on this fast track package of bills.  The bottom line is that the Utilities, the DEQ and other state agencies will have the power to create Michigan’s renewable and energy efficiency standards through a collaborative process between them, as opposed to a set renewable standard, like the current one that requires 10 percent of the state’s energy come from renewable energy starting this year.  The package will now go to the House for full consideration and then on to the Senate for more debate.

HB 4575 sponsored by Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona was also reported out of the Energy Policy Committee.  The bill creates a seven member Michigan Electric Infrastructure board within the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs and task it with ensuring that adequate resources be able to reach Michigan electric consumers through the construction of transmission infrastructure that will reduce congestion and energy prices, provide for additional transmission capacity, ensure reliable and efficient operation of the integrated electrical transmission system and support the state’s energy policy goals.

The duties of the board is to identify counties in which transmission facilities have experienced constraints causing congestion in the preceding five years, leading to increased electricity prices.  A main priority is to increase the electrical connectivity between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas beyond the capability provided by the two circuits connecting the peninsulas on the bill’s effective date by adding additional circuitry beyond the normal power carrying capacity of those circuits to enable the formation of one resource adequacy zone within the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) footprint in the state.  Initial priority would be given to proposals for a transmission line that accomplishes this goal.

Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet proposed an amendment to clarify the purpose of a “study” to find if the transmission line program for the Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula is useful, feasible and affordable, the amendment was voted down with support from Rep. John Kivela, D-Marquette and Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan.  Dianda also offered an amendment that would allow a customer to only pay for what they use and not any more, but that was also voted down with support from Kivela and McBroom.

Three Senate bills to prevent unfunded mandates were debated by the Senate Government Operations Committee this week.  SB 388, SB 389 and SB 390 sponsored by Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, Senator Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, and Senator David Robertson, R-Grand Blanc.

The bills would revamp state law to be more in compliance with the Headlee Amendment, which bans the state from mandating a new program or requirement without providing adequate funding for it.  Creates the “Paul Harvey Transparency Act, which stipulates that no local government would be obligated to provide new or increased services unless a fiscal note had been prepared and sufficient funding has been appropriated and disbursed.  The last bill in the package allows a taxpayer or a local unit of government to bring an action in the Court of Appeals to seek monetary damages for failure to fund state required services.  If the courts find the state has not met its funding obligation, the Legislature would have to appropriate sufficient funding, eliminate or rescind the requirement or change the subject requirement in a manner that allows the state to provide sufficient funding.  The Senate Government Operations Committee plans to continue debate on the bills next week.

House Republicans are divided on how if to intervene in “Dark Store” tax losses.  Three bills have been introduced by Rep. John Kivela, D-Marquette, Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet and Senator Tom Casperson, R- Escanaba.  House Tax Policy Chair Jeff Farrington, R-Utica agreed to general testimony this week on the issue, but not on specific legislation.   Chair Farrington commented “Whether we can resolve this issue is another issue.”

Local governments are begging the state to take action to rein in a strategy that big box stores are allegedly using more to slash their property taxes.  But Republican lawmakers stand divided on whether a policy change is warranted.  The name “dark stores” comes from the allegation that more and more open and operating big box retailers in Michigan, like Lowe’s and Meijer, are using the market values of long closed stores to argue down their tax assessments.

On top of using closed stores to argue down assessments, local government officials also allege the problem is complicated by strict deed restrictions on how retail properties can be used in the future.  Those restrictions, which come as part of purchase agreements, are helping to keep retail properties vacant and driving prices down, local government groups say.  The Michigan Municipal League calls the situation a “gaping tax loophole scheme exploited by big box stores”, the Michigan Retailers Association disagrees saying the big box stores lose value the minute they’re built.  They also contend that creating a special standard for assessing the value of one kind of property, big retailers, would be unconstitutional.  The Constitution requires that property be uniformly valued and uniformly assessed stated the attorney for MARA.  Legislators seem to be all over the map on this issue.

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

November 2015

The Legislature is on recess this week, but meetings and decisions are still being made.  Supporters of enabling more refugees from Syria in Michigan sharply criticized Governor Rick Snyder’s decision to suspend state efforts on that front in response to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Lebanon, while several Republicans praised the move, saying bringing the refugees was a horrible idea from the beginning.

Governor Snyder has made a big point during his nearly five years in office of labeling himself the most pro-immigrant governor in the country.  And in the wake of the Syrian civil war, now raging for four years, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the country as refugees, some 200,000 to Europe and another 4 million in other Middle Wast countries, according to the United Nations.

The Governor’s administration had been working with Lutheran Social Services of Michigan to intensify the state’s efforts to place Syrian refugees, but those will now be put on hold. Snyder said he is asking the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to review its procedure on vetting refugees to enter the country to determine whether strengthening is needed.

Next month the House Appropriations Committee will take up bills that would allow prisoners deemed medically frail a chance at parole, stated House Appropriations Committee Chair Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville.  Pscholka ad two other legislators ar the primary sponsors of the four bill package, which they say is a way to reduce state costs while not increasing public safety risk.

One bill allows the Parole Board to grant parole for prisoners determined to be medically frail if the prisoners agree to be placed in an appropriate medical facility.  One bill allows for medical parole ad would allow victims to address the Parole Board on such instances of when parole is being considered. The finally bill makes it a misdemeanor crime for someone to help a medically frail parole leave a facility where the parole had agreed to be placed.  The plan is to address the package before the end of this year.

Progress Michigan announced this week it would launch a new website as part of a broader “Sunshine Squad” campaign seeking to make the Legislature more accountable on the heels of a report that indicated Michigan ranked last nationally when it comes to ethics and transparency laws. The website features every member of the Legislature, not including the seats yet to be filled by special elections, broken down by committee assignment and House and Senate district.  Each legislators’ specific page currently features committee assignments and searchable financial contributions so residents can find where their legislator’s financial support is coming from, the group said in a statement.

“Our elected officials in the legislature have gotten away with shielding themselves from public scrutiny for too long.This campaign will shine some light on their action and who is putting money into their campaign coffers.”  Executive Director Lonnie Scott said.  The Sunshine Squad is intended to promote transparency, increase public disclosures and to hold our lawmakers accountable.

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

November 2015

The Legislature has finally passed a road budget plan.  This week the Senate revised the House road budget plan sent to them last week and the House adopted the changes late last night. The plan would increases the gas tax to 26.3 cents per gallon on January 1, 2017, a 7.3 cents per gallon increase.  The amount paired with bringing the current 15 cent per gallon diesel fuel to the same level, is intended to generate $400 million in revenue inflationary increases would begin January 1, 2022.

The registration fee increases, previously scheduled to be 40 percent across the board in the House plan, decreased to 20 percent for passenger vehicles and trucks, which would generate an estimated $200 million.  Both the gasoline tax increase bill and the vehicle registration bill will take effect on January 2017.  The Income Tax rollback would occur when General Fund growth exceeds the rate of inflation, then multiplied by 1.425.  The rollback could occur on January 1, 2023.

The lock box included in the Senate plan is back in the final deal.  Under the original Senate plan, the legislation would have locked up the last 7 cent increase on the gas tax annually until the lock box is opened via passage of a concurrent resolution.  Under the new plan, it would lock up the first $100 million of gas/diesel fuel tax increase until unlocked via the passage of a concurrent resolution.

The General Fund dedication in fiscal year 2019 is $150 million, then $325 million in fiscal year 2020.  In fiscal year 2021, the GF dedication would be $600 million. The plan keeps the House provision to expand the Homestead Property Tax Credit . The income multiplier is 3.2 percent in tax year 2018 and the maximum credit $1,500 that same year. It also increases the renter credit.  There is also an MDOT administrative cap of 8 percent, competitive bidding and warranty assurances and public transit flexibility.

The House Energy Policy Committee just reported out legislation which basically puts stricter requirements on alternative energy suppliers and their “choice” customers by locking the door on future applicants and mandating that choice customers wishing to return to a regulated utility live with that decision for 20 years.   Amendments passed tonight include a provision which includes a “goal” for utilities to reach 30 percent of production through renewable sources and energy efficiency by 2025.

Changes also include not requiring alternative energy suppliers to provide an outlook unless certain circumstances occurred.  Under an amendment there would be no changes to requirements on the alternative suppliers unless the Public Service Commission made certain determinations involving capacity.  Language was added to make changes to the renewable portfolio standard, removing what the federal government does not consider renewable energy.  Another amendment tightens up the definition of renewable energy, but expands the definition from the current law, including biomass, geothermal and paralysis.  New language would ensure pet coke, hazardous waste, coal waste and scrap tires were not included in the renewable energy definition.  Chairman Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton promised Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet that more work could be done on biomass once the bill starts debate by the full House.

Utilities and state government called the shots on this fast track package of bills.  The bottom line is that the Utilities, the DEQ and other state agencies will have the power to create Michigan’s renewable and energy efficiency standards through a collaborative process between them, as opposed to a set renewable standard, like the current one that requires 10 percent of the state’s energy come from renewable energy starting this year.  The package will now go to the House for full consideration and then on to the Senate for more debate.

HB 4575 sponsored by Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona was also reported out of the Energy Policy Committee.  The bill creates a seven member Michigan Electric Infrastructure board within the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs and task it with ensuring that adequate resources be able to reach Michigan electric consumers through the construction of transmission infrastructure that will reduce congestion and energy prices, provide for additional transmission capacity, ensure reliable and efficient operation of the integrated electrical transmission system and support the state’s energy policy goals.

The duties of the board is to identify counties in which transmission facilities have experienced constraints causing congestion in the preceding five years, leading to increased electricity prices.  A main priority is to increase the electrical connectivity between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas beyond the capability provided by the two circuits connecting the peninsulas on the bill’s effective date by adding additional circuitry beyond the normal power carrying capacity of those circuits to enable the formation of one resource adequacy zone within the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) footprint in the state.  Initial priority would be given to proposals for a transmission line that accomplishes this goal.

Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet proposed an amendment to clarify the purpose of a “study” to find if the transmission line program for the Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula is useful, feasible and affordable, the amendment was voted down with support from Rep. John Kivela, D-Marquette and Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan.  Dianda also offered an amendment that would allow a customer to only pay for what they use and not any more, but that was also voted down with support from Kivela and McBroom.

Three Senate bills to prevent unfunded mandates were debated by the Senate Government Operations Committee this week.  SB 388, SB 389 and SB 390 sponsored by Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, Senator Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, and Senator David Robertson, R-Grand Blanc.

The bills would revamp state law to be more in compliance with the Headlee Amendment, which bans the state from mandating a new program or requirement without providing adequate funding for it.  Creates the “Paul Harvey Transparency Act, which stipulates that no local government would be obligated to provide new or increased services unless a fiscal note had been prepared and sufficient funding has been appropriated and disbursed.  The last bill in the package allows a taxpayer or a local unit of government to bring an action in the Court of Appeals to seek monetary damages for failure to fund state required services.  If the courts find the state has not met its funding obligation, the Legislature would have to appropriate sufficient funding, eliminate or rescind the requirement or change the subject requirement in a manner that allows the state to provide sufficient funding.  The Senate Government Operations Committee plans to continue debate on the bills next week.

House Republicans are divided on how if to intervene in “Dark Store” tax losses.  Three bills have been introduced by Rep. John Kivela, D-Marquette, Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet and Senator Tom Casperson, R- Escanaba.  House Tax Policy Chair Jeff Farrington, R-Utica agreed to general testimony this week on the issue, but not on specific legislation.   Chair Farrington commented “Whether we can resolve this issue is another issue.”

Local governments are begging the state to take action to rein in a strategy that big box stores are allegedly using more to slash their property taxes.  But Republican lawmakers stand divided on whether a policy change is warranted.  The name “dark stores” comes from the allegation that more and more open and operating big box retailers in Michigan, like Lowe’s and Meijer, are using the market values of long closed stores to argue down their tax assessments.

On top of using closed stores to argue down assessments, local government officials also allege the problem is complicated by strict deed restrictions on how retail properties can be used in the future.  Those restrictions, which come as part of purchase agreements, are helping to keep retail properties vacant and driving prices down, local government groups say.  The Michigan Municipal League calls the situation a “gaping tax loophole scheme exploited by big box stores”, the Michigan Retailers Association disagrees saying the big box stores lose value the minute they’re built.  They also contend that creating a special standard for assessing the value of one kind of property, big retailers, would be unconstitutional.  The Constitution requires that property be uniformly valued and uniformly assessed stated the attorney for MARA.  Legislators seem to be all over the map on this issue.

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

November 2015

Today the Senate revised the House road budget plan sent to them last Thursday and forwarded it on to the House this afternoon for more work.

The Senate plan would increase gas tax to 26.3 cents per gallon on January 1, 2017, a 7.3 cents per gallon increase.  The amount paired with bringing the current 15 cent per gallon diesel fuel to the same level, is intended to generate $400 million in revenue inflationary increases would beginJanuary 1, 2022.

The registration fee increases, previously scheduled to be 40 percent across the board in the House plan, decreased to 20 percent for passenger vehicles and trucks, which would generate an estimated $200 million.  Those take effect January 1, 2017, one year after what the House had originally proposed.  Both the gasoline tax increase bill (HB 4738) and the vehicle registration bill (HB 4736) passed on votes of 20-18.

The Income Tax rollback would occur when General Fund growth exceeds the rate of inflation, then multiplied by 1.425.  The rollback could occur on January 1, 2023.

The lock box included in the Senate plan is back in the final deal.  Under the original Senate plan, the legislation would have locked up the last 7 cent increase on the gas tax annually until the lock box is opened via passage of a concurrent resolution.  Under the new plan, it would lock up the first $100 million of gas/diesel fuel tax increase until unlocked via the passage of a concurrent resolution.

The General Fund dedication in fiscal year 2019 is $150 million, then $325 million in fiscal year 2020.  In fiscal year 2021, the GF dedication would be $600 million.

The plan keeps the House provision to expand the Homestead Property Tax Credit largely as outlined by the House.  The income multiplier is 3.2 percent in tax year 2018 and the maximum credit $1,500 that same year. It also increases the renter credit.

There is also an MDOT administrative cap of 8 percent, competitive bidding and warranty  assurances and pubic transit flexibility.  Now the last remaining question is if the plan can pass the House.  The House had preferred to raise more of the new revenue from vehicle registration fee increases.  As of this writing the House is still in session working on the plan. The Republicans are in caucus trying to muster votes for the road plan sent to them this afternoon by the Senate—stay tuned!

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

November 2015

The fall Legislative session is proving to be active with many issues being debated, but not resolved. The latest road budget proposal has been passed by House Republicans and is now receiving debate and criticism by the Senate.  The new House plan is an effort to address the $1.2 billion road fix which has been debated back and forth by the House and Senate for months if not years.  The crux of the House GOP plan is shifting $600 million in existing state dollars to roads, increasing all vehicle registration fees to create $600 million and increasing the gas tax to create $200 million.  The plan would also provide tax relief in the form of a potential income tax cut and an expansion of the Homestead Property Tax Credit.

Governor Rick Snyder and Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive have been pushing for a much different plan focused on $800 million in new revenue and only $400 million in existing revenue.

The gas tax increase bill, HB 4738, would increase the gas tax by about 3.3 cents per gallon, passed 56-60.  The registration fee increase bill, HB 4736, would increase registration fees by 40 percent including all specialty plates, passed 55-51.  HB 4370, the Homestead Property Tax Credit bill passed 62-44.  HB 4737 dealing with road construction warranties passed 101-5. HB 4614, which goes along with the main gas tax bill passed 56-50 and SB 414 the income tax “trigger” bill passed by 61-45.  The bills passed primarily along party lines.

The State Christmas tree has been delivered to Lansing.  A 66 foot spruce from Wakefield in the Upper Peninsula will serve as the state’s Christmas tree this year.  Florence Daniels is donating the tree to the state in memory of her husband, Jim Daniels, a former teacher and youth sports coach.  The tree will be illuminated at the annual Silver Bells in the City celebration that Lansing holds to kick off the holiday season.

A bill to increase the speed limit to 80 mph is “stalled” in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.  A compromise of 75 mph on certain rural limited access freeways has been suggested, but action has not been taken.

Rep. Pete Pettalia, R-Presque Isle, Chair, House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, continues to be committed to legislation to allow large trucks to apply for a “multiple permit” to haul equipment.  Chair Pettalia promises to address the issue once the road funding debate is completed.  I predict we will end up battling this issue during the “lame duck” session.

The Senate is considering legislation to prohibit the open carrying of firearms in gun free zones and allow those with concealed pistol licenses to carry on a concealed basis in those zones.  SB 442, was sponsored by Senator Mike Green, R-Mayville. Gun free zones consist of schools, houses of worship, day care centers, sports stadiums, bars, hospitals and most buildings on college or university campuses.  Concerns about open carrying on K-12 school property prompted the bill.  Schools have gone into lock down upon seeing someone openly carrying a firearm on school property, fearing a shooter.

Michigan would join a compact to develop and adopt a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution under SB 306, sponsored by Senator Mike Green, Mayville.  The bill passed the Senate 26 – 11 along party lines.  A total of 38 states are required for the compact to take effect.  It is estimated that the amount of debt at the end of the Obama term will be close to $20 trillion.

Now that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has officially published its Clean Power Plan on future emissions requirements, Attorney General Bill Schuette joined a lawsuit against the EPA with some two dozen other states.  A.G. Schuette has been blasted for being part of the lawsuit against the air quality rules. Schuette is among critical voices of the proposal that asks the states to reduce carbon emissions an average of 32 percent by 2030 and said he would join other states in attempting to overturn the new rules despite Governor Rick Snyder and his administration has stated they would comply with the carbon reduction plan.

Governor Snyder has stated that if A.G. Schuette joins the lawsuit against the EPA, he would not be representing the state of Michigan in doing so.  Schuette is concerned about yet another executive order taken by President Obama and the EPA that violates the Clean air Act and causes the price of electricity to increase, placing jobs at risk and costing Michigan families more.  The lawsuit is being led by West Virginia and so far includes 24 states.

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

October 2015

The Senate did not hold a vote this week on legislation to raise funding for roads, a complete reversal from expectations earlier in the week.  It was thought that the Senate would find the 20 votes needed to pass a slightly amended version of what the House passed last week.  A gradual ramp up to $1.2 billion in greater spending for roads through a mix of higher taxes, higher fees and more money from the General Fund.

The major problem for Senate Republicans was that the House plan relies heavily on a substantial increase in vehicle registration fees.  The plan the Senate passed in July relied heavily on increasing the gasoline tax.  For some senators who voted for the Senate plan, the idea of passing a vehicle fee hike, which motorists would see annually in one big payment, instead of a higher gas tax with motorists paying a little more with each fill-up, makes no sense.  House Republicans have strongly indicated that they have no interest in taking up major changes to what they passed, creating the latest jam on the issue.

Now that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has published its Clean Power Plan on future emissions requirements, Attorney General Bill Schuette has been blasted for being part of the lawsuit against the air quality rules.  Schuette is among critical voices of the proposal that asks the states to reduce carbon emissions an average of 32 percent by 2030 and said he would join other states in attempting to overturn the new rules despite Governor Rick Snyder and his administration has stated they would comply with the carbon reduction plan.

Governor Snyder stated that if Schuette joins the lawsuit against the EPA, he would not be representing the state of Michigan in doing so. A.G. Schuette is concerned about yet another executive order taken by President Obama and the EPA that violates the Clean Air Act and causes the price of electricity to increase, placing jobs at risk and costing Michigan families and businesses more.  The lawsuit is being led by West Virginia and so for includes 24 states.

For years, police officer have used portable Breathalyzers to check drivers’ blood alcohol level, but there’s never been a portable marijuana testing equivalent at the officers’ disposal.  That could change, according to Senator Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, who is sponsoring a bill with Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba and Senator Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek to allow on-site drug checks.  The legislation will authorize Michigan State Police to collect Breathalyzer test results and saliva samples during a traffic stop for a yearlong pilot program to be implemented in three Michigan counties, checking drivers not only for alcohol levels, but also drugs.

Michigan could have an official state airplane under a bill passed by the Senate.  One that lives on in history as a famous World War II airplane produced by women who served as the inspiration of Rosie the Riveter.  The B-24 Liberator was the most produced U.S. wartime aircraft and was used in each of the major theaters of World War II by each branch of U.S. armed forces as well as several Allied forces.  Although the United States stopped using the planes shortly after the war ended, the model remains a famous and highly prominent feature in the country’s wartime history.

Around 40,000 employees built more than 8,600 of the planes in Michigan at the Willow Run Bomber Plant in Ypsilanti.  The plant, operated by Ford Motor Company, is also famous for hiring many women to work in the factories and inspiring the “Rosie the Riveter” imagery.  The official Rosie the Riveter, Rose Will Monroe, worked at the plant.  The legislative effort to honor the B-24 Liberator was headed by Senator Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor (most liberal senator) and Senator Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton ( most conservative senator) they joked on the Senate floor this week that it is one of the few times they have strongly agreed on an issue.

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

October 2015

With negotiations on a bicameral, bipartisan road funding plan essentially stalled, House Republicans took the lead yesterday by crafting and adopting their own $1.2 billion transportation proposal.  The crux of the new House plan is shifting $600 million in existing state dollars to roads, increasing all vehicle registration fees to create $400 million and increasing the gas tax to create $200 million.  The plan would also provide tax relief in the form of a potential income tax cut and an expansion of the Homestead Property Tax Credit.

Governor Rick Snyder and Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive have been pushing for a much different plan focused on $800 million new revenue and only $400 million in existing revenue.

The gas tax increase bill, HB 4738, would increase the gas tax by about 3.3 cents per gallon, passed 56-60.  The registration fee increase bill, HB 4736, would increase registration fees by 40 percent including all specialty plates, passed 55-51.  HB 4370, the Homestead Property Tax Credit bill passed 62-44.  HB 4737 dealing with road construction warranties passed 101-5. HB 4614, which goes along with the main gas tax bill passed 56-50 and SB 414 the income tax “trigger” bill passed by 61-45.  The bills passed mostly along party lines with most Republicans voting “yes” and Democrats voting “no”.  Now the bills move over to the Senate for concurrence–and most likely much conversation and debate.

A 66 foot spruce from Wakefield in the Upper Peninsula will serve as the state’s Christmas tree this year.  Florence Daniels is donating the tree to the state in memory of her husband, Jim Daniels, a former teacher and youth sports coach.  The tree will arrive October 31 in Lansing.  As per longtime tradition, the tree will be illuminated at the annual Silver Bells in the City celebration that Lansing holds to kick off the holiday season on Friday, November 20.

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

October 2015

Leadership discussions on an annual $1.2 billion road funding package hit an impasse this week over an income tax rollback component Republican leaders want included in the final deal.  GOP legislators want some form of an income rollback to make the final deal as a way to give some relief to taxpayers who would pay more in state gas taxes and registration fees.  Democrats want a higher Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and/or Homestead Property Tax Credit exemption, tax cuts they see as benefiting the middle class as opposed to an income tax cut which they see benefiting the wealthier taxpayer.

The alleged road plan is $800 million in new taxes and $400 million in budget cuts. Governor Snyder and the Democrats opposes budget cuts.  They contend there is no “fat” in the current budget and many programs would be stressed.

This week, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee took more testimony on a bill to raise the speed limit to 80 mph.  This week a compromise maximum of 75 mph on certain rural limited access freeways was suggested.  The idea of pilot projects for the speed limit reforms was floated.  Some say, that way, the state could see the impact of the changes before expanding them further.  The committee will continue debating the measure next week.

This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee reported a bill that would prohibit the open carrying of firearms in gun free zones and allow those with concealed pistol licenses to carry on a concealed basis in those zones.  SB 442 was reported by a vote of 4-1, with Senator Steve Bieda, D-Warren in opposition.  All four Republicans on the committee voted “yes”.

Gun free zones consist of schools, houses of worship, day care centers, sports stadiums, bars, hospitals and most buildings on college or university campuses.  Concerns about open carrying on K-12 school property prompted the bill.  Schools have gone into lock down upon seeing someone openly carrying a firearm on school property, fearing a shooter.

After a teacher’s life was threatened by a student in Grand Rapids with no apparent recourse for the school district without the threat of being sued, Senator Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell
introduced legislation that would require a school board to expel a pupil in grade six or above who threatened to kill a school employee, volunteer or contractor.   Under SB 208, school boards would be required to report all such threats to law enforcement officials and prosecutors.

Next week, Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba will hold a Senate Natural Resources Committee meeting to allow Mark Rudnicki, MTU present the REFORGE proposal.
The proposal is a plan to support, diversify and expand Michigan’s forest products industry.

The following week, the DNR and the Timber Advisory Council are hosting the “Governor’s 2015 Forest Products Summit”.  In 2013, over 125 forest products business leaders gathered in Lansing as part of the Governor’s 2013 Forest Products Summit to discuss ways to move the industry forward.  Working goals are established to encourage growth of the forest products industry.  The goals were identified as:

**Increasing the economic impact of the timber industry on state and regional economies      from $14 billion in 2011 to $20 billion by 2018.

**Increasing timber-related careers by 10 percent.

**Supporting existing industry, and

**Encouraging community based industry development.

The 2015 Summit will feature a series of speakers to report on progress made toward these goals and discuss additional constraints and opportunities for greater success.  See you there!

 

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

October 2015

House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant says he believes legislative leaders are on a path to get a road funding plan to the House floor sometime this month.  Governor Rick Snyder and quadrant leaders have been meeting on and off for weeks to try to develop a $1.2 billion road funding deal.  Leaders are currently working on a plan that would feature about $800 million in new revenue and $400 million in existing state dollars shifted to roads.

MDOT will be spending more time being quizzed by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee as legislators look for an additional $1.2 billion in road funding.  The Committee will hold a series of hearings this fall to grill MDOT over issues previously examined.  Such as issues brought up in a state audit on the department’s warranty program and a set of unused rail cars the department has maintained.  Rep. Pete Pettalia, R-Presque Isle, committee chair, wants to hear about projects the department has completed and projects planned for the future.  Pettalia wants a “year end report” from MDOT.

Rep. Marilyn Lane, D-Fraser, minority chair of the committee also wants MDOT back before the committee.  Rep. Lane is looking for budget efficiencies across state government as part of the push for a $1.2 billion road funding plan.  Both Rep. Lane and Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet have been critical of MDOT and an explanation from MDOT on issues such as spending spend $2.3 million to place new mulch along I-696.  Rep. Dianda says that achieving transportation reforms is key to getting his support for any upcoming road funding plan as does Rep. Lane.

Last week a five bill package that includes a proposal to hike the state’s current maximum speed limit to 80 mph was debated by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.  This week the Michigan Municipal League and the Michigan Townships Association both testified in opposition to the bills.  These bills are not going to “speed” out of committee.

A controversial issue in the House this week was the medical marijuana debate. Medical marijuana patients would pay a 9 percent tax on the drug, but would be allowed to purchase it from a licensed dispensary and be permitted to use topical or edible forms of the drug legally under the bills approved by the House on Wednesday.  The bills now move to the Senate for further debate.

This week Jim Maeder, John Fowler and myself attended the Octoberfest House Republican Caucus event hosted by Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant.  The Speaker will be touring Maeder Brothers, INc., Weidman in early November.  We met up later with Rep. Scott Dianda,D-Calumet, Rep. Marilyn Lane, D-Fraser, Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township and Senator Rebekak Warren, D-Ann Arbor at a local restaurant where Denny and Carmel  OLson and others were dining.  Denny and others are in town today for the special Vietnam Veterans ceremony at the Capitol today.

 

Legislative Report for MAT
Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant
September 2015

Governor Rick Snyder has revealed his administration is “exploring” the idea of bringing an unknown number of refugees from the Middle East to Michigan.  One of the state’s largest refugee organizations is pushing Michigan to accept more of the refugees that have been streaming over the borders of Syria and other Middle Eastern countries. Snyder would not reveal what countries he is referring to or how many refugees Michigan would take.  Snyder wants to make sure if there is an opportunity to help that Michigan be proactive.

A five bill package that includes a proposal to hike the state’s current maximum speed limit to 80 mph is not going to speed out of committee.  The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee began taking testimony on the package this week.  The bills are spear headed by Rep. Brad Jacobsen, R-Oxford.  Committee chair, Rep. Pete Pettalia, R-Presque, said the panel is a long way from voting the bills out of committee.  The proposal includes how speed limits should be set, defines how school zones should be handled and how some low level speeding tickets would be handled.  Chair Pettalia commented, “There are just so many aspects of this that have to be brought out”.

The Quadrant (the four leaders) and Governor Rick Snyder continue to discuss a mutual road funding package—but no solution was found again this week.  Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba shared with me this week that a resolution to the road funding dilemma is “expected” by the end of October.

Senator Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge has introduced SB 534 which would end benefit opportunities for unmarried partners of state employees and their dependents.  The current system, which extends many state employees’ health benefits to other eligible adult individuals they live with, was approved by the Civil Service Commission in 2011.  The agreement to include unmarried live-in partners in health benefits was seen at the time as a means to legally incorporate same sex couples.  Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled same sex marriage is legal throughout the country.  Senator Jones hopes to end that program with SB 534.  Jones said if barriers to same sex marriage were the reason the system was changed in the first place, those issues are now resolved and taxpayers should not have to be on the hook for the benefits of unmarried couples.

This week, I met with staff to Rep. Ken Goike, R-Ray Township and Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville and his staff to discuss the ongoing unfair competition the Amish create for tax paying wood products businesses.  Rep. Barrett has received a commitment from Rep. Joe Graves, R-Linden, Chair, House Commerce Committee to have the committee tour Johnson Lumber in Charlotte.  We are in the process of finding a day to do the tour.  This tour will NOT replace the tour of Maeder Brothers located in the district of the Speaker of the House, Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant.  John Fowler, Jim Maeder and I will be attending a fundraiser for the Speaker next Wednesday, October 7.  We are attempting to cover all bases in our effort to be successful with the effort to level the business playing field for our members.

 

Legislative Report for MAT
Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant
September 2015

Discussions continue on how to fund the state’s ailing roads. The one thing that seems to be gaining footing is that the final solution will be solely focused on roads and transportation issues.  Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof commented that the plan has to be a “clean” plan by not loading it up like the plan that “sunk” Proposal 1.  Meekhof stated that voters indicated that they accept the idea of paying more for roads but only if paying more is just for roads.

Senate Meekhof denied that the major hang up in discussions among the Legislative Quadrant was at what rate to cut current spending.  The Senate had proposed $750 million and the House countered with $600 million, but Governor Rick Snyder does not like either of those figures because he thinks it would put too much pressure on the General Fund.  Meekhof commented that “There’s other things to talk about, how much do overweight trucks pay?  How much do electric and hybrid vehicles pay if they’re not paying for fuel?”  Senator Meekhof said those issues are related and have to be addressed in transportation funding.

Michigan would join a compact to develop and adopt a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution under SB 306, sponsored by Senator Mike Green, R-Bay City.  The bill passed the Senate 26-11 along party lines.  A total of 38 states are required for the compact to take effect. It is estimated that the amount of debt at the end of the Obama term will be close to $20 trillion.
Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive told reporters that “It is wrong to pile debt upon our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren and we need to find a way to balance the budget, grow the economy and pay down those debts.

The Michigan Campaign Finance Network stated this week that in the first seven months of the year, lobbying firms spent $21 million on efforts to lobby legislators.  Leading the way on spending was Government Consultants Services, at $947,832, followed by Karoub Associates, Kelly Cawthorne, RWC Advocacy, the Michigan Health Hospital Association, Public Affairs Associates and Muchmore Harrington Smalley Associates.

In a meeting with Rep. Ken Goike, R-Ray Township this week I obtained a copy of a letter to Rep. Joe Graves, Chair, House Commerce Committee, where HB 4579, legislation to require religious sects pay workers compensation, is awaiting debate.  Mark Long, Director WCA, outlines their concerns with the bill and contends the Amish are working within the law as written.  Staff to Rep. Graves has requested I provide him a list of Michigan sawmills in order to determine what percentage are Amish.  I have requested sponsor Rep. Ken Goike, R-Ray Township and Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet to research the question.

Rep. Ken Goike has also prepared a bill to require employers verify work comp insurance if they are on site for an investigation or inspection.  I added to the request that the employer also have MIOSHA requirements posted as other employers are required.  Sometime ago, I was told by a senator that the Amish told him to get a message to me that they will NOT publish the MIOSHA safety poster.  We continue to make the departments and the Amish “nervous” about our lobby efforts regarding the Amish.

The Legislature is not in session today because of “Yom Kippur.  The Legislature will return to Lansing on Tuesday, September 28.

 

Legislative Report for MAT
Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant
September 2015

Legislative leaders from both parties say they are hopeful that talks have been progressing toward a possible agreement on how to dedicate at least another $1.2 billion a year toward roads.  They also commented that the changed mathematics in the House where both Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat were emphatic “no” votes about raising new revenues to spend on roads cannot hurt.  Counting the earlier resignation of Rep. Brandon Dillion, D-Grand Rapids, the House now has 107 members with a 61 to 46 Republican majority and 54 votes are needed to pass a road deal.

This week U. S. Senator Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls announced he will not seek a fourth term in office, opting to retire instead to spend more time with family.  The decision is a sudden reversal from last March, when he announced he would be breaking his self-imposed term limit pledge of six years to run for a fourth two year term.  Benishek commented he wants to focus his time and attention on helping our veterans and working to make things better for the families and workers through Northern Michigan and to devote more time to his family.

Senator Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, Rep. Pete Pettalia, R-Presque Isle, former Rep. Greg MacMaster, R-Kewadin, Rep. Lee Chatfield, R-Levering and former Senator Jason Allen, R-Traverse City are the most likely “suspects” to file as Republican candidates for the lst Congressional District race.  Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson is running on the democratic side for the 1st Congressional seat, others may jump into the race, it is early, but the race is on!

New Legislation:

SB 439 -. Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba. sponsor. Air pollution—a state greenhouse gas plan would be required to be submitted to the legislature for review before submission to the federal government,  The bill is referred to the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

SB 464 – Senator Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, sponsor, requires any greenhouse gas plan be submitted to the legislature for their review before it is forwarded to the federal government.  The bill was referred to the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

 

Legislative Report for MAT
Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant
August 2015

The House has sent three road funding bills to a House/Senate conference committee where a final deal could eventually be hashed out.  After many closed door meetings, the House did not concur in Senate changes made to HB 4612, dealing with registration fees, HB 4613, which concerns warranties and HB 4615, which could raise the diesel tax to put it on par with the gasoline tax.  A final deal has not been been formed, but a rough outline of a plan including $600 million in new revenue has been floated by Speaker Cotter.

The conference committee includes Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant, Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevenville, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee and Rep. Marilyn Lane, D-Fraser, House Transportation Democratic chair.  Senate conference committee members are Senator Geoff Hansen, R-Hart, Assistant Majority Leader, Senator Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, member Appropriations Committee and Senator Morris Hood, III, D-Detroit, member Government Operations Committee.  Speaker Cotter contends Democrats are more serious about negotiations and sees the formation of the conference committee as progress.

The plan previously passed by the Senate would have shifted $700 million from the General Fund to roads and increased the gas tax by 15 cents per gallon. the original House transportation plan would have increased only the diesel tax by 4 cents.  The diesel parity combined with registration fee increases would have generated $45 million in new revenue.

The legislature recessed today until September 9 without a road budget deal.  Governor Rick Snyder wanted the House to include additional millions for the Health Insurance Claims Assessment because of a shortfall.  Democrats wanted more road dollars dedicated to Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties and a guarantee to safeguard the state’s prevailing wage.  Speaker Cotter was short GOP votes to increases road taxes to include these demands in the mix.  Speaker Cotter is still confident he will garner votes for a “clean” road funding agreement in September.

This week Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet set a meeting with Martha Yoder, Director, MIOSHA, Mark Long, Director, Workers Compensation Agency, Marnee Wills, LARA lobbyist, John Fowler, Jim Maeder and myself to discuss the competition the Amish create for wood products businesses.  Martha Yoder commented that unless the department receives a complaint about a child being harmed, MIOSHA does not have authority to get involved.  It was suggested we discuss the issue with the Department of Education, Ben Williams who enforces youth employment.  Rep.Dianda is especially interested in finding out how many MIOSHA inspections have occurred in the Mt. Pleasant area since over 40 new “families” have settled there this year and has directed staff to identify how many inspections have been held in that area.

We also discussed the issue of tax dollars lost by the state by ignoring the fact that religious sects are unwilling to pay workers compensation and unemployment compensation.    Rep. Dianda was shocked to learn that over 50% of sawmills are now owned by the Amish. Rep. Dianda plans to set a meeting with Ben Williams, Dept. Education,  Director Youth Services, Sally Durkee, new Deputy Director Treasury.  Sally recently left Governor Snyder’s office as his chief lobbyist to take the Deputy Director job at Treasury.   Once the necessary research is completed, Rep. Dianda will facilitate the meeting with the Dept. of Ed, Treasury, Rep. Ken Goike, R-Ray Township, HB 4579 bill sponsor, legislation to require religious sects to pay workers compensation, Rep. Joe Graves, R-Linden, Chair, House Commerce Committee and MAT/GLTPA to discuss the unfair competition religious sects create for our industry.

 

Legislative Report for MAT
Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant
August 2015

Ballot language asking to hike the state’s corporate income tax (CIT) was given the thumbs up by the Board of State Canvassers. The approval clears the way for union backed groups “Citizens for Fair Taxes” to begin circulating petitions for their legislative initiative, which would hike the CIT rate from 6 to 11 percent. If the group garners enough signatures before the deadline next June and gets another sign off from the BSC, the proposal would first go to the Legislature. If it is not approved, the proposal would find its way to the November 2016 ballot. The group contends the proposal would raise $900 million to be put toward roads. the business lobby is heavily opposed to the measure as is Governor Rick Snyder.

The Board of State Canvassers also approved language for a group pushing a proposal that would require companies to provide paid sick leave, as well as language for a group hoping to have voting by mail added to the state constitution.

A scandal involving two House Republicans may have stolen the spotlight from the push to improve Michigan’s roads this week, but the work on the issue from some lawmakers, including the House Transportation Chair, Pete Pettalia, R-Presque rolls on. Pettalia spent the last two weeks traveling the Upper Peninsula, meeting with every road commission along the way. Pettalia is confident that legislators will ultimately find a solution.

According to many estimates, the state needs to invest an additional $1.2 billion in its transportation infrastructure each year. Brock Swartzle, new Chief of Staff to Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant listed roads as the top thing he wants to get done in his new role as chief of staff to Speaker Cotter.

The House passed a $1 billion plan that relies heavily on shifting current state revenues to roads and included about $117 million in revenue from tax increases. However, the Senate has passed a $1.4 billion plan that shifted current revenues to roads, but also included $700 million included in tax increases. including a phase-in 15 cent per gallon gas tax increase.

The Legislature plans to resume normal session days next Tuesday, August 18.

 

Legislative Report for MAT
Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant
August 2015

This week Moody’s Investor Services announced Michigan’s credit rating for 2015. for the first time since 2004, Michigan’s credit rating has improved to the level of Aa1. States that receive an Aa rating typically are high quality and subject to low levels of risk. Aa3 ratings have higher risk levels than states with Aa1 ratings. Republicans credit the rating change due to the economic growth, sound budget practices and the reduction of overall state debt. Republicans also contend that as Michigan continues its comeback path, factor such as an improved credit rating will help play a large role in determining the future of the state.

Both the House and the Senate have introduced individual plans to regulate energy in Michigan. Both plans will affect citizens differently and are expected to be voted on during the fall session.

HB’s 4298 through 4302 are sponsored by Rep. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, Chair, House Energy Police Committee. This bill package would restore Michigan to a fully regulated electric market by eliminating customer choice provisions and prohibiting alternative electric suppliers from entering into new contracts with retail customers. Other changes in this package would include revising the way that refunds are given to customers that overpay for their utilities, reducing the time period that the Public Service Commission can reach a final decision on a rate change; and requiring electric utilities to provide an integrated resource plan to be approved every five years by the PSC.

SB’s 437 and 438 are sponsored by Senator Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek, Chair, Senate Energy & Technology Committee and Senator John Pros, R-St. Joseph. The two bills would keep the choice that 10% of energy to be available to consumers from sources other than Consumers or DTE. This bill would require that providers must prove they have enough supply to meet demand, as well as show they have room to grow. These bills also include the phase-out of energy reduction waste credits by January 1, 2019, as well as reducing the decision time for the PSC and requiring an integrated resource plan to be approved by the PSC every five years.

House Bills 4298 through 4302 were introduced in March and are currently in the House Committee on Energy Policy. Senate Bills 437 and 438 were introduced in July and are in the Senate Committee on Energy and Technology. Both of these packages are expected to be voted on during the fall session.

Michigan’s roads and infrastructure are in desperate need of repair and a long term funding solution is still being discussed by the House, Senate and the Executive Office. Both the House and the Senate have passed separate versions of road repair and maintenance funding. The Senate’s plan relies heavily on using increased gas taxes and General Fund dollars to fund road repair, while lowering the Michigan income tax rate to help offset the burden on tax payers. The House plan takes a different route and redistributes existing tax dollars to fund roads instead of increasing taxes.

In July, the House convened to analyze the Senate road package and to determine the best course of action going forward. While some progress was made in these meetings, there is still work that needs to be done to finalize a solution for fixing the roads in the state. Coming up with a road funding solution that takes the best of the House and Senate plans is a top priority of the Legislature.

This week I attended a fundraiser event for Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Grand Ledge, member House Commerce Committee. Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant was the special guest and I had the opportunity to “break bread” with him and discuss the competition the Amish create for wood products companies, such as Maeder Brothers in his district. I shared that Rep. Barrett is working on our behalf to get the Commerce Committee to tour Johnson Lumber in Charlotte. The Speaker agreed to join the committee tour if time permits.

Both the House and Senate will be back in session on August 18.

 

Legislative Report for MAT
Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant
January 2015

The 2013-14 Lame duck session is over and I am thrilled! The Senate adjourned at 6:19 AM Friday, December 19 and the House adjourned at 6:48 AM. All bills not related to the road budget proposal finished action by mid night Thursday and it took 6 hours to muster votes to support the road budget package. The formal end of session referred to as “Sine Die” took place on December 30 at 11:30 AM. Only a few legislators attended the formal end of the year session. Typically, the area legislators attend the 30 minute sign off.

The road plan passed by the Legislature is proposed to ensure that our roads have the $1.2 billion in additional funding needed. The plan does the following:

Repeals the sales tax on gas
Replaces it with a new motor fuels tax that is dedicated to funding transportation
Increases the state sales tax so our schools and local governments have the funding they need
Provides tax relief to lower income citizens

Michigan citizens will be asked to vote on a ballot proposal in May 2015 that will enact changes; including increasing the state sales tax by 1% (from 6% to 7%), raising $1.34 billion in revenue, eliminating the sales tax on motor fuels, saving $752 million. The legislature also passed bills which included a wholesale tax on motor fuels, vehicle registration increases, ($45 million more from vehicle tags and an additional $50 million from heavy trucks) new transportation related reforms which include measures on warranties and competitive bidding, and the restoration of the earned income tax credit which will provide tax relief for low income citizens. The EITC relief was required in order to muster democratic votes. Nothing will take effect if the May 2015 ballot proposal does not pass. The log plate and truck weights were maintained intact.

The plan is outlined to have the following results:

$1.2 billion for roads and bridges
$112 million for transit and rail
$300 million for schools ($200 per pupil)
$94 million for local governments
$260 million in tax relief for lower income citizens

Senate Bill 78, sponsored by Senator Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) was passed by the Legislature during the last night of the Lame Duck session and awaits signature by Governor Rick Snyder. The bill is known as the “biodiversity bill”. Brenda Owen, MAT, testified in committee that the bill is designed to balance economic values while managing our forests for all aspects”. Henry Schienebeck, GLTPA testified that biodiversity “means measures for maintaining, managing or enhancing biological diversity while ensuring accessibility, productivity and the use of the natural resources for present and future generations.”

 

Northern Long Eared Bat Comment Period Open until March 17th

February 13th, 2015

If you have not spent the time to comment on the need for the US F&W to use the utmost flexibility in managing the habitat areas of the northern long eared bat, please do so NOW with the link at the bottom of this text block. The future of the forest industry hangs in the balance and we need EVERYONE to participate in this discussion. Please take a moment to use the links below to submit comment urging rule makers to use the utmost flexibility in

“White-nose syndrome is having a devastating effect on the nation’s bat populations, which play a vital role in sustaining a healthy environment and save billions of dollars by controlling forest and agricultural pests,” said Service Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius. “We need to do what we can to make sure we are putting common sense protections in place that support vulnerable bat species but are targeted to minimize impact on human activities. Through this proposed 4(d) rule, we are seeking public comment on how we can use the flexibilities inherent in the ESA to protect the bat and economic activity.”

Please send comments on the proposed rule on or before March 17, 2015. If you already submitted comments previously, they ask you to not do so again.

Comment here
COMMENT HERE: http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=FWS-R5-ES-2011-0024-3212

Under the ESA, an endangered designation indicates a species is currently in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range; a threatened designation means a species is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. The act and the Service’s implementing regulations prohibit take, including harming, harassing and killing, of endangered and threatened species unless otherwise permitted.

For species listed as threatened, the Service may issue a 4(d) rule to provide protections that are deemed necessary and advisable for conservation of the species. Such a rule ensures private landowners and citizens are not unduly burdened by regulations that do not further the conservation of the species and are exempted from take prohibitions when conducting activities that actively benefit the species.

 

Michigan Truck Weights Maintained

December 3rd, 2014

After a Lame Duck vote on the Senate Floor on Tuesday, December 2nd, Senate Bill 1150 was defeated. Vote count was 15 yes, 22 no. You can go here to see who voted for and against: ROLL CALL

SB1150 would have reduced the hauling weights in Michigan to a straight 80,000 gross vehicle weight, eliminating the per axle weights for hauling up to 164,000lbs.

The vote was nearly straight down party lines with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans against. Three Republicans crossed over with the 12 Democrats in favor of the bill. Senator Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton Township, Senator Tory Rocca, R-Sterling Heights and Senator Jack Brandenburg, R- Harrison Township voted with the democrats supporting the bill. All those that crossed party lines were all from the districts surrounding Detroit. It seems we have a need for higher level of contact and information about our industry to those districts in particular.

Prior to the 10 am Tuesday session hearing for SB1150, members started calling their Senators urging them to vote no. Timbermen, GLTPA, and many other groups circulated letters of opposition to all Michigan Senators prior to the 10 am session.

In normal session for Michigan Legislature, SB1150 would have spent some time in the Transportation Committee but Senator Steven Bieda, District 9, Warren, MI was able to get it on the session schedule to be voted on right from the Senate Floor. Had it followed normal procedure, this bill would have likely been defeated at the committee level.

We are grateful for the resounding support of the Senators that defeated this bill. If you are not receiving email alerts about Timbermen issues, please call the office to be on the circulation list or email us and tell us to add you. 906-293-3236 or email: timbermen1972@gmail.com

 

2014 MICHIGAN ELECTION RESULTS


Governor Snyder has won a second term. “We’re not going to stop today. We’re going to keep moving forward–we’re going to keep accelerating–tomorrow, and on Thursday, and on Friday, and for the next four years!” said Governor Rick Snyder during his victory speech.

House of Representatives
State House Republicans will hold 63 seats in the next legislative session while Democrats will hold only 47. The Republicans grew their caucus from last session 59 to 63, netting four additional seats.

Senate
In the Michigan Senate, Republicans – who already had a super-majority of seats – will gain a seat and have a 27-11 majority in 2015.
Michigan Republican candidates also held on to all of the Congressional seats in play keeping the current delegation split of 9 – 5 the same.

• Representative Kevin Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant) will be the next Speaker of the House.

• Senator Arlan Meekof (R-West Olive) glided into the Senate Majority Leader spot for next session with no opposition.

• House Minority Leader Tim Griemel (D-Auburn Hills) will serve another term as the leader of the Democratic caucus.

• But the caucus will have a new Floor Leader with Rep. Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) chosen to fill that position.

• Senator Jim Anianch (D-Flint) was named Senate Minority Leader for the 98th legislative session today; putting him at the helm of the smallest minority the party has had in the Senate since 1954.

NATIONAL ELECTION RESULTS IMPACTING MICHIGAN

In one of the nation’s most competitive races U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek held on 52% to 45% over his Democrat rival in a district that includes all of the Upper Peninsula and part of northern Michigan.

Washington will see some new faces from Michigan as two of the Republican seats were open contests due to retirements (Mike Rogers in the 8th and Dave Camp in the 9th).
Former State Senators Mike Bishop and John Molenaar won both races respectively.

In the 11th U.S. House District, Dave Trott, who defeated U.S. Rep. Kerry Bentivolio in the primary also defeated his Democrat opponent in the general election and will be a freshman lawmaker in the next Congress.

 

Legislative Report for MAT – Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant – September 2014

The cast of characters for the general election is set now that the primary election is over. Michigan will know which party will control the Michigan House during the 2015-16 legislative session in November. Democrats hope to somehow turn their 51 seats into at least a 56 seat majority. At the same time, Republicans hope to grow their 59 seat caucus into something even bigger. The primary brought positives for both efforts.

For the House Republicans the Democrats lost their preferred candidates in two key districts. Meanwhile, the Republicans were able to get their preferred candidates through in two swing districts. For the Democrats, however, some key GOP candidates had to spend big to get through messy primary elections, which could take a toll on them in the general election.

Also, a trio of outspoken Tea Party conservatives won their Republican primaries putting seats on the Democrat’s radar that normally would never cross their minds to be competitive. If elected the Tea Party GOP candidates who won primaries against establishment backed opponents vow they will shake up the Republican caucus, one candidate even plans to run for Speaker of the House.

Supporters of a sales tax increase for road and infrastructure funding plan to push for a vote during the “lame duck” session. Some groups have backed an increase in the state’s sales tax by 1 percentage point to 7 percent per dollar. Lawmakers failed to reach an agreement on road and infrastructure funding before leaving for the primary election campaign. The House passed a proposal that would allocate more than $400 million to roads and infrastructure, but the Senate did not act on it. Some contend that a sales tax increase would also affect individuals that do not drive or use public transportation because their goods are delivered to their shopping centers and residences.

An increase in the sales tax requires approval by a two-thirds majority of both houses of the Legislature and an affirmative vote of the public. Seeing such a proposed increase put on the November ballot would be a stretch because the Legislature would have to act within days to make the deadline to do so. If a proposal is moved the earliest it would likely come would be in March, which would mean some legislative action on the issue during the lame-duck session. We know that anything and everything goes during lame duck. Issues on the back burner for two years immediately become active while issues moving smoothly along become stalled. It can be the “most wonderful” time of the year or the most depressing, depending on what side of the issue you are pushing or working to stall.

 

Legislative Report for MAT – Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant – August 2014

According to a recent Lansing survey fixing the state’s roads and bridges is now the problem voters are most concerned about, more than education funding and the state’s economy which are included on the priority list. The statewide survey of registered voters found that out of nine issues, improving the quality of education and increasing funding was third at 16%.

The other responses included: Controlling government spending, providing affordable health care for everyone, controlling crime and drugs, keeping state and local taxes low, protecting our air and water and addressing the Detroit bankruptcy. The poll show Republicans, Democrats and Independents all have roads at the top one or two of their concerns.

Governor Rick Snyder has signed into law legislation that would pay benefits to hundreds of injured former Delphi workers owed more than four years of worker’s compensation benefits. In concert with the bills, the Legislature appropriated the necessary $15 million of additional funding. The issue stems from an error by the state when it failed to file a claim against Delphi when the company filed for bankruptcy in 2005. When it was released from bankruptcy in 2009, the company stopped paying worker’s compensation claims. The total cost to meet the claims is now at about $42.5 million. The bills allow part of the costs be paid by increasing the assessment companies that self-insure/group insure for worker’s compensation coverage pay to the self-insurance fund from 3 percent of their obligations to 4 percent for 2015-2018.

Earlier this year Governor Rick Snyder signed into law HB 4242, sponsored by Rep. Ken Goike (R-Ray Township). The bill was requested by GLTPA and was in response to a 2012 Supreme Court decision where an Idaho couple won their case and will be allowed to challenge the EPA over a wetland issue. The purpose of the law is to require all administrative rules be necessary and not be overly burdensome to an individual.

Governor Snyder vetoed legislation to eliminate the licensed forester statute. At the beginning of Snyder’s term he requested the Office of Regulatory Reinvention to review all licensing boards and to consider the necessity and function of those boards. ORR submitted a report to the governor recommending the deregulation of certain occupations which included deregulation of foresters. Snyder has concluded that the licensed forester statute is necessary, but needs to be updated and improved. Governor Snyder has directed the DNR to work with the legislature in crafting an oversight role that modernizes and elevates Michigan’s regulatory system for professional foresters.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) has appointed a six person work group to develop a plan for transportation funding. The work group will hold its first meeting following the August primary election. Members of the group include:

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) – term limited

Senate Floor Leader Arland Meekhof (R-West Olive) – leading contender for senate majority leader next year

Senator Mike Kowall (R-White Lake Township) – member Senate Transportation Committee

Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing) – term limited

Senator Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor) – Senate Transportation Committee and leading contender for Dem leader

Senator Burt Johnson (D-Highland Park)

Most of the House road budget proposal did not pass the Senate during the last week of the spring session which is the reason Richardville set a work group. Of particular interest to our members, bills to increase overweight truck fees to $500 and the bill to double the fines on over weight and over sized vehicles did not pass. The log plate and farm plates did remain intact.

The road budget proposal will be the priority issue to be considered during the lame duck session. Democrats will be even more difficult to bring on board with any plan since they feel they had a deal with Republicans to link their votes on a gas tax hike to a partial restoration of the homestead exemption which did not happen so their votes went south the last week of the spring session. House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel (D-Auburn) vows that “heavy trucks” must pay their fair share” and he cannot support any gas tax increase unless it is linked to legislation that increases overweight truck fees. As I stated, a House bill to increase overweight truck fees passed the House, but got stalled in the Senate.

The reciprocity agreement between Michigan/Wisconsin appears to be resolved administratively similar to the former agreement which had to be updated because Wisconsin’s truck weight limit was increased to 98,000 pounds.

Representative Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) is working with Congressman Dan Benishek (R-Crystal Falls) to amend the federal highway transportation funding bill to provide for an exemption from the braking requirements under the FMCSA for slasher saws and portable conveyors. As long as legislative/congressional work continues on the issue MDOT has promised to not site truckers for hauling a slasher down the road. I have named this issue “the gift that just keeps on giving.”

A bill has been drafted by Rep. Ken Goike (R-Ray Township) to require the Amish to pay workers compensation tailored after a Montana law which mandates religious groups as employers and those who work for them are employees. Goike plans to introduce the bill when the legislature returns following the August primary.

The fall/winter “lame duck” session will be very interesting and busy!

 

Provided by:  Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant for MAT

August 15th, 2014

The Legislature was in session today, the House did not take roll call or hold votes so there was no legislative business while the Senate held a full day of tension held debate. It is clear the gubernatorial contest between Democratic Mark Schauer and Governor Rick Snyder has begun.


About 36 hours after the heaviest one day rainfall to hit Detroit in almost 90 years, Governor Rick Snyder declared a state of disaster today for the state’s three largest counties. Macomb, Oakland and Wayne and said he would ask for federal assistance to aid those areas. Yet even as the state coped with one of the most significant flooding events ever to hit its most populous region, the 2014 election lurked in the background. A few hours before Snyder’s announcement, his Democratic opponent, Mark Schauer, urged Snyder declare a state of emergency and then once Governor Snyder did so, Schauer announced that Governor Snyder had acted only after Schauer weighed in. Although Governor Snyder interrupted his trip through the U.P. on Tuesday to visit the Detroit area via helicopter, and returned to the U.P., some Democrats stepped up their needling on how Mr. Snyder handled the flooding disaster.

Meanwhile in the Senate today, Republicans gave the green light to a citizen’s initiative that would permit a wolf hunt to take place in Michigan by continuing to let the Natural Resources Commission designate such animals as game, though opponents of the measure charged Republicans were making a habit of circumventing voters’ rights to decide on such issues. If passed, the initiative establishes the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, which in addition to allowing the game designation by the NRC would also appropriate $1 million to Asian carp prevention and allow for free hunting and fishing licenses to military veterans. The appropriation makes the initiative void from being challenged in another referendum and the final passage would render moot two other referendums on the November ballot that oppose wolf hunting.
An advocate for “Keep Michigan Wolves Protected” commented that politicians are exaggerating and fabricating stories about wolf incidents and that two-thirds of all wolf incidents in the U.P. occurred on a single farm where the farmer baited wolves with cattle and deer carcasses. He further commented that voters should be allowed to hear arguments from both sides and make an informed judgment in November. The issue is now in the hands of the House and today the Speaker of the House commented that no date has been set to debate the issue. If the House takes no action by September 2, then the proposal will go on the November ballot. The House plans to meet on August 27 for a full day of legislative activity.
Term limited Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe today expressed optimism about a group of six senators slated to meet again on Thursday to discuss possible resolutions to funding the state’s infrastructure as he dodged criticism from the other side of the aisle about addressing flooding in metro Detroit. Richardville is hoping the members of the work group will bring some new ideas to the table, as he has also developed some of his own that involve a combination of different things.. Richardville commented that “Originally we were going to try to do just a gas tax increase but, there probably is a better solution than just that, I certainly hope so, but there are other issues regarding transportation that we were not going to consider then, before the primary, that we are now going to consider such as truck weights, load limits, fines, fees and other things that were not on the table before, but we are going to start talking about them now in a comprehensive way.”
Richardville also commented that “The problem is that it gets so politically complicated because this geographic area versus this population base versus where people travel the most. Nobody’s been able to fix it in over 50 years.” Richardville hopes to have some kind of a road consensus sometime in the fall—most likely after the November election.

 

Youth Careers In Logging

June 6th, 2014

Are you concerned about the future of the timber industry? If not, you are most likely in the minority. Mill closures, mergers, high cost of raw materials, shortage of qualified operators, the constant barrage of government regulations, and the overall high cost of running a business today are just a few of the many hurdles that we all must navigate in order to stay afloat. While the American Loggers Council (ALC) can’t solve all these issues, they are currently working on many of them and will continue to do so into the future.


When my term as ALC President started last fall, I listed a set of goals that I wanted to accomplish. The issue at the top of that list was to address the entrance of the next generation of timber harvesters into our industry. In order for this industry to survive, we must have a qualified and competent work force to not only operate equipment but to also take over the reins of running the business when the current owner decides to step away. This issue is one that the ALC has been working on for a number of years now and just started to gain some momentum with the introduction of H.R.4590 and S.2335.

The Future Logging Careers Act – H.R.4590 was introduced by Rep. Labrador (R-ID ) while the Youth Careers In Logging Act -S.2335 was introduced by Sen. Risch (R-ID) and Sen.Crapo (R-ID ). Both of these bills would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 so that 16 and 17 year olds would be allowed to work in mechanized logging operations under parental supervision.
Timber harvesting operations are similar to family farms – but with sophisticated and expensive harvesting equipment that requires young men and women to learn how to run the business, including equipment operation, maintenance and safety prior to the age of 18. However, young men and women in families who own and operate timber harvesting companies are denied the opportunity to work and learn the family trade until they reach adulthood. The potential next generation of professional timber harvesters are being denied the opportunity to make logging their career of choice until after they turn 18 because of outdated Child Labor Law Regulations while the agriculture industry is exempt from said regulations.

While much progress has been made in just the last couple of months, there is still a lot of work to be done if we want to see these bills passed into law. A vast majority of bills introduced in Congress end up dying in committee, so it is critical that we all do our part to ensure that these bills are passed out of committee and eventually signed into law.
Regardless of whether you work as a logger, work in a mill, or work for a timber company this issue has the potential to affect the entire wood supply chain because as current loggers leave the business there needs to be a new generation coming in or eventually our industry will cease to exist.

H.R.4590 has been referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce while S.2335 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
It is imperative that we contact directly as many House and Senate offices as possible and ask them to support the bill, so please pass this alert along to anyone who you feel is willing to respond, including other organizations and vendors who you do business with. We will need a majority in both the House and Senate to pass the bill once it comes to the floor for a vote!
If you are unsure of who your congressional delegates are then please contact the ALC office or go to the ALC website to find their contact information. I urge everyone in the timber industry to either make a call or send an email to their respective Senate and House members to get them to support this very important issue to our industry. The more Senate and House members hear from us the more likely they will be to support this and the more of them that support this the better chance we have of moving it forward.

Until next time
Log Safe

Brian Nelson

Brian Nelson is the current President of the American Loggers Council and he and his brother David and father Marvin own and operate Marvin Nelson Forest Products, Inc. based out of Cornell, Michigan. Brian is also the Immediate Past President of the Michigan Association of Timbermen.

The American Loggers Council is a non-profit 501(c) (6) corporation representing professional timber harvesters in 30 states across the US. For more information, visit their web site at www.americanloggers.org or contact their office at 409-625-0206.

 

Legislative Report for MAT – Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant – June 2014

The Senate has addressed and substituted part of the House road proposal and added a few new bills to the mix. The Senate amended HB 4630, the registration bill by adding the farm/log plate back into the bill for vehicles under 8,000 pounds, but requires vehicles to have signage displaying name of business operating the vehicle. House Bill 5477 which repeals the current fuel taxes (19 cents a gallon on gas and 15 cents a gallon on diesel) was changed to a 6 percent tax by the House, but the Senate added a gradual increase on 9.5 percent beginning January 1, 2015 to 13.5 percent beginning January 1, 2017, and beginning January 1, 2018, the rate would increase to 15.5 percent.

Senate Bill 6 was added and designates 18% of the 4% tax collected on motor fuel to be earmarked for transportation funding. Senate Bill 149 allows monies collected from the sales tax to be credited to the Michigan Transportation fund. The bills to increase permit fees for overweight trucks to $500, HB 5452, and legislation to double fines for overweight and over-sized vehicles, HB 5453 remain in the Senate Infrastructure and Modernization Committee for further debate.

The DNR budget conference committee has not yet scheduled a meeting to iron out the differences between the House and Senate bills. Representative Jon Bumstead (R-Newaygo) has informed me that at least a portion of the $4 million for fire protection will be restored. Senator Mike Green (R-Mayville) reported the Senate bill with the $4 million intact, the House deleted the provision at the request of Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall).

The reciprocity agreement between Michigan and Wisconsin appears to be resolved administratively similar to the former agreement. Governor Walker (R-Wisconsin) signed legislation to increase the Wisconsin weight limit from 90,000 to 98,000 so we had to revisit the Wisconsin side of the reciprocity agreement with Michigan. Representative Scott Dianda (D-Calumet) will still introduce a bill to keep them “honest.”

Work on the slasher issue continues. If Senator Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) and Rep. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) cannot work out the concerns the MSP have with hauling a slasher down the road without air brakes, another bill may have to be introduced to solve the problem. Slasher “3” will most likely define a “slasher” and state clearly it is NOT a motorized vehicle making it clear that the MSP have no jurisdiction over a slasher. Senator Casperson is so annoyed with the situation he is willing to take the issue directly to Governor Rick Snyder.

 

Legislative Report for MAT – Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant – May 2014

The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee heard testimony from the Speaker of the House, Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) regarding his plan to provide $450 million for road repair. The plan includes taking the portion of the sales tax that currently goes to the general fund from fuel sales as well as part of the use tax monies as part of an overall plan to generate road funds.

In order to reach the $1.2 billion projected road repair the plan includes ending the 19 cents per gallon tax on gas and 15 cents per gallon on diesel fuel and replacing them with a 6% tax on the price of fuel at the wholesale level. The plan dedicates one-sixth of the revenue generated by the 6% use tax to roads. Speaker Bolger views this part of the plan as “the parity” piece.

Other provisions of the proposal include:
1) Dedicating late payment fees to road funding

2) Simplifying vehicle registration code “by ending special deals.” Some committee members have referred to the farm plate and log plate as “special deals.” The concern is more over the farm plate for road vehicles not used for farming and log plates for road vehicles rather than for actual logging activities.

3) Applying newly purchased vehicle value immediately upon transferring plate.

4) Increasing overweight and over-sized permit fees.

The House Transportation Committee will consider, debate and “tweak” the road plan over the next few weeks. Speaker Jase Bolger would like to see a package of road repair bills pass the House before the summer recess. It will be interesting to monitor the debate as many interest groups line up to comment and make suggestions for the committee to consider. It is reasonable to assume the plan will see many changes as the primary election grows closer.

 

Submitted by MAT Legislative Consultant, Judy Augenstein

March 17th, 2014

A supplemental bill was unanimously adopted by the legislature this week and now is on the desk of Governor Rick Snyder for his signature. The bill includes $125 million for roads. $100 million for special winter road maintenance and $115 million for priority road projects, both general fund monies. Governor Snyder commented ” I appreciate the Legislature’s working together to approve this budget supplemental that provides much needed funding to help fix Michigan’s deteriorating roads. This has been a significantly harsh winter on many fronts and particularly devastating in terms of potholes. While the funding will be of great benefit in the short-term, Michigan still very much needs a comprehensive long-term solution to fix our state’s aging roads and bridges. This remains a priority and I am confident that we can work together on a solution.”

Rep. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, a huge supporter of the forest products industry, chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said he is encouraged by the funding provided for roads in the supplemental and that it was a good “first down payment.” Schmidt also commented that “I would like to see more funding for roads and I think by this supplemental and using general fund monies it shows a commitment by the Legislature on where we stand on road and bridge funding. It also sets a good tone to make sure we get our federal match back and sets the table for hopefully some long range funding options”.

In his 2014-15 DNR budget request, Governor Rick Snyder has recommended a $4 million increase in funding to the wildfire protection program to offset $4 million of forest development fund revenue that would be redirected to forestry management increasing funding for that program program by $ 4 million. The use of the new forestry funding would include enhanced technology for programs, increased contracts and agreements with forestry partners, increased timber cutting from state lands and the hiring of 10 additional foresters. I have discussed the increased budget request with House DNR budget committee chair, Rep. Jon Bumstead, R-Newaygo and Senate DNR budget chair, Senator Mike Green, R-Mayville and Senator Darwin Booher, committee member. All three of the legislators support the recommendation and will include it in their budget recommendations.

Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, chair, Senate Natural Resources, Environment & Great Lakes Committee, has scheduled a hearing for Thursday, March 20, 9:00 AM to hear from forestry relative to the health of the forest products industry. The House Natural Resources Committee will address bills dealing with hazardous industrial waste and a bill on agricultural fertilizer at their meeting next week.

 

Submitted by MAT Legislative Consultant Judy Augenstein

March 7th, 2014

Doubt is mounting among House Republicans about using the state’s surplus funds for tax relief with momentum building to instead use the funds for road repairs as the pressure from constituents builds to improve the state’s crumbling roads.

This week the House passed its version of the budget supplemental bill for the current fiscal year that includes $215 million for road funding. Rather than covering the Health Insurance Claims Assessment shortfall which was included in the Senate version and other projects, the House directed those monies to the Roads and Risks Reserve Funds for priority road projects and an additional $100 million General Fund monies for winter road maintenance. The bill is expected to go to conference committee where the respective chambers will hash out the points of differences. As of this writing, the Senate does not support the transfer of funds from other programs to roads.

The executive’s of the state’s three biggest counties held a press conference to urge legislators to reject proposed changes to the state’s auto insurance system which would reduce unlimited medical care for those injured in vehicle crashes. Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall has proposed changes to the law which would include a fee schedule to limit charges instead of allowing unlimited medical care.

A letter signed by 43 legislators has been sent to Governor Rick Snyder urging him to oppose the 2012 Federal Energy code changes which would encourage foam sheathing over wood sheathed walls. The letter included signatures by UP, northern Michigan and other area legislators. A leading Lansing legislative reporting service included an article titled “U.P. Lawmakers Taking Building Material Issue to Governor” in one of their daily reports this week.

The House DNR budget committee met Thursday and heard a DNR presentation on the state’s Forestry Program. Governor Rick Snyder has recommended a $4 million increase in the forestry budget for the upcoming budget year. Committee Chair, Rep. Jon Bumstead, R-Newaygo supports the proposed increase. The Senate DNR budget committee, chaired by Senator Mike Green, R-Mayville, heard the same presentation on Tuesday and Senator Green also supports the DNR budget boost.

Legislative Report for MSTA Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant February 2014

A new twist on expanding term limits…

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) will be term limited out of  the Legislature after 2014, but he wants to create a “work around” for term  limits that will help those who come after him. “I would like to look at some  way to modify term limits and make sure that it does not affect those of us that  are term limited this year, so it is not self serving and intended to extend my  career. I would have the implementation date be after the filing deadline of  this year, said Richardville, in a recent interview.   Speaker of the House Jase  Bolger (R-Marshall) is also term limited after 2014, but has not yet embraced  the Richardville plan.

As far as leaving his mark on term limits, Richardville said he believes it is  one thing that would leave the institution better off and would involve the  voters. His proposal would require the same number of signatures that are  required for a recall election. If a member is a term limited legislator and  gathers the same number of signatures in their district that wanted him to run  again, they would be able to run again. The number of signatures needed for a  recall election is 25 percent of the total vote for governor in the most recent  election in that district. The plan would stay away from putting specific dates  or years on term limits. The plan would also make sure legislators who wanted to  be elected again were in touch with their districts and putting time in with  constituents. It would also solve the problem people face when they say they  like term limits, but they also like their current legislator. Richardville  contends that not including the current crop of term limited legislators could  push the proposal forward. The plan would have to go before the voters for  approval.

Representative Andrea LaFontaine (R-Columbus Township), chair, House Natural  Resources Committee has agreed to schedule for debate HB 4874, sponsored by Rep.  Ken Goike (R-Ray Township). We fondly refer to the bill as the “2025/choice  bill. The measure will eliminate the ban on storage facilities by 2025 and allow  haulers to haul to the receiving facility of their choice. Goike has also been  requested by the DNR to sponsor legislation to require a statewide sanitary  code. The DEQ will present Goike with a proposed draft which he will consider  and “tweak” to provide a balanced bill. The statewide sanitary code proposal  will not be considered until the 2025/choice bill is addressed.

 

Submitted by Judy Augenstein, MAT legislative consultant

Dec. 19th, 2013

The Natural Resources Trust fund has approved 76 projects for the coming fiscal year totaling $27.68 million. Of the total, 32 of the grants ($19.03million) were for land acquisition and 44 grants ($8.64 million) were for development projects.


Among the acquisition grants, the largest was $3.4 million to Detroit to purchase rail right-of-way for its Inner Circle Greenway. The largest grant to the state was $3.03 million for additions to the Holly Recreation Area. The smallest grant was $26,400 to Manistique for additions to its Manistique River Waterfront, though that was one of three grants toward that project totaling $253,700. Among the development grants, 12 received the $300,000 maximum grant. Many of those projects were trail construction and improvement, including facilities along the Belle Isle to Wisconsin trail proposed by Governor Rick Snyder.
Recent appointments by the Agriculture Director to the Agriculture Environment Assurance Program Advisory Council include Todd Johnson, representing the forest products industry, Lee Mueller representing consulting foresters and Warren Suchovsky representing the logging industry. All for terms expiring March 31, 2017.
Henry Schienebeck, GLTPA, Jay Verhulst, Foundation for Common Sense, Rep. Ken Goike, R-Ray Township, staff to Goike, staff to Senator Mike Green, R-Mayville, the bill drafter and I discussed the “Coordination” legislative effort in a conference call for close to two hours in an attempt to clarify the issue . “Coordination” is a process which requires governments to coordinate on an action if there is disagreement between the federal government and local governments. The “coordination” status is authorized by almost every federal statute relating to management of land, resources, and the environment. All a local government has to do is formally accept the congressional invitation to “coordinate” and the federal agencies have no choice but to agree. Many local governments are unaware they have the ability to request federal agencies to “coordinate”.
Governor Rick Snyder has signed into law HB 4242 sponsored by Rep. Ken Goike, R-Ray Township. The bill requires new administrative rules be necessary and not overly burdensome to an individual. The law is now Public Act 200 of 2013.
This week I met with the chief of staff to Rep. Matt Lori, R-Constantine to discuss efforts to require religious sects be accountable for workers’ compensation insurance and other costs of doing legitimate business including MIOSHA standards. I shared with staff the pictures of Amish companies prepared by MATSIF. She was surprised to learn there were so many Amish companies located in northern Michigan. Staff and Rep. Lori completely understand the unfair competition these companies present to legitimate wood related businesses. Rep. Lori recently met with a group of Amish from his district to get them to consider participating in a program similar to a group self insurance fund. They refused to compromise, were quite stubborn and set in their belief that because of their “religion” they should be exempt from Michigan laws. The group went as far as to explain to Rep. Lori how they “circumvent” the laws of Michigan. Rep. Lori agrees with us that the issue is not about religion, but business. Rep. Lori has prepared legislation to require religious sects belong to a separate fund similar to a group self insurance fund which will be introduced in January.

 

Submitted by MAT Legislative Consultant – Judy Augenstein
Nov. 21, 2013
The deal to raise more money for roads, one of Governor Rick Snyder’s top priorities, looks to be dead, again, following a closed door meeting this week between the governor and the four leaders of the legislative caucuses.  Snyder, Senate Majority Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall and House Minority Leader Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills periodically meet for what is known as “quadrant meetings.
Whitmer and Greimel informed the Republicans that “trust is gone” in road funding negotiations.  That is because what they see as purely partisan politics with Snyder signing legislation moving the Court of Claims from its perch in Democratic Ingham County, and the GOP led Senate creating a committee to investigate unions’ response to Right to Work.  Staff to Governor Snyder commented that these quadrant meetings and other efforts and discussions are valuable in keeping the dialog going and working to find common ground and that it is part of the governor’s Relentless Positive Action mind set.

The deal to raise more money for roads, one of Governor Rick Snyder’s top priorities, looks to be dead, again, following a closed door meeting this week between the governor and the four leaders of the legislative caucuses.  Snyder, Senate Majority Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall and House Minority Leader Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills periodically meet for what is known as “quadrant meetings.
Whitmer and Greimel informed the Republicans that “trust is gone” in road funding negotiations.  That is because what they see as purely partisan politics with Snyder signing legislation moving the Court of Claims from its perch in Democratic Ingham County, and the GOP led Senate creating a committee to investigate unions’ response to Right to Work.  Staff to Governor Snyder commented that these quadrant meetings and other efforts and discussions are valuable in keeping the dialog going and working to find common ground and that it is part of the governor’s Relentless Positive Action mind set.
 At the start of this legislative term, Snyder said one of his top priorities was raising more than $1 billion annually for Michigan roads.  Several ideas have been tossed around, including raising registration fees, increasing the sales tax and hiking the gas tax and adjusting its formula.  Another idea is letting voters decide to raise revenue, not the Legislature, via a ballot measure. The bottom line is that it is hard to raise serious money without fee and/or tax increases, which makes the politics bad for Democrats and Republican alike heading into the 2014 election.  So, the Governor has said that he would settle for a piecemeal approach, although it is not ideal.  Privately, he told leaders, “just get something done” this year. It is assumed that if anything happens it will happen in the Senate because both Whitmer and Richardville are term limited.
For the duration of this calendar year it is important to closely monitor the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee where HB 4925 resides.  The bill was sponsored by Rep. Marilyn Lane, D-Fraser and lowers truck weights to 80,000 lbs.  I have requested committee chair Rep. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City to keep the bill on the back burner and NOT schedule it for debate.  Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, Senate Transportation Committee is aware of the bill and stands ready to assist.
On the last day of the fall session HB 4242, legislation sponsored by Rep. Ken Goike, R-Ray Township advanced to final reading in the Senate.  The bill is scheduled for a final vote when the Legislature returns from the Thanksgiving/deer hunting recess.   The bill is response to a 2012 Supreme Court decision where an Idaho couple won their case and will be allowed to challenge the EPA over a wetland issue.  The purpose of the bill is to require all new administrative rules be necessary and not be overly burdensome to an individual.
Senator Mark Jansen, R-Grand Rapids plans to meet with the LARA Director and a representative from MIOSHA after the Thanksgiving recess in an effort to determine why LARA treats religious sects differently than they do other businesses.   Based on new information, I expect Rep.Matt Lori to introduced a bill to exempt religious sects from carry workers compensation insurance.   Rep. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City expects his bill to require religious sects to carry workers compensation insurance to be ready for introduction soon.

 

TIME TO ACT and ACT FAST!

June 10th, 2013

State Representatives of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee have proposed the elimination of the LOG and FARM PLATE in Michigan along with all other specialty plates.  Their initial proposal is to remove the Log Plate and have log trucks placed under the commercial gross vehicle weight (GVW) class at 50% of that fee.  This would change your yearly plate fee from around $300 to around $1200 PER TRUCK.

They need to hear from YOU about the importance of the LOG PLATE and what it means to keeping your business viable.  They also need to hear from loggers and mill owners who rely on the log truck drivers to get raw material to the mills.  An increase in the plate fees would have catastrophic effects on the industry.  Please take a few moments and let these committee members know how you feel in YOUR OWN WORDS.  Handwritten notes are fine and even carry a stronger message.  Form letters are NOT suggested; they carry little strength.  If you need help developing your thoughts into a letter, contact the Newberry office.  We are here to support you at every opportunity.  906-293-3236 or email Brenda at:  owen.brendalee@gmail.com

Members of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee:
Rep. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, Chair
Rep. Ben Glardon, R-Owosso, VC
Rep. Kevin Daley, R-Lum
Rep.   Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth
Rep  Bradford Jacobsen, R-Oxford
Rep. Dan Lauwers, R-Brockway
Rep. Mike McCready, R-Bloomfield Hills
Rep. Margaret Obrien, R-Portage
Rep. Pete Pettalia, R-Presque Isle
Rep. Marilyn Lane, D-Fraser (strongest proponent to the elimination of the log plate)
Rep. Tom Cochran, D-Mason
Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet
Rep. Gretchen Driskell, D-Saline
Rep. David Rutledge, D-Ypsilanti
Rep. Charles Smiley, D-Burton
Address:   PO Box 30014, Lansing, MI 48909

Legislative Report for MAT
Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant
February 2013

Sold to the public 20 years ago as a way to attract “citizen lawmakers,” term limits in Michigan are instead a launching pad for lobbyists, government officials and serial political candidates, a recent news paper analysis shows. Seventy percent of those elected to term-limited offices cling to the political system after they leave, remaining as politicians or bureaucrats in government or parlaying their Capitol experiences into jobs as lobbyists or consultants. “Lansing is like a big deck of cards,” said one former legislator who served six years in the House and now manages a golf course. “Everyone is still there, but it is all shuffled and people are in different positions.

Former lawmakers from both parties say officeholders get so focused on jockeying for their next move that they sometimes lose sight of why they are there. The analysis supports research suggesting that term limits failed to attract a new breed of lawmaker. Of the 291 elected between 1992 and 2004, one hundred and seventy-seven (61 %) had held elected office elsewhere. Of the 114 who had not, at least 21 listed their previous occupations as legislative aides. The revolving door raises conflict of interest concerns. For example, two lawmakers, one Democrat, one Republican, who chaired the House committee that handles energy legislation, went directly to work for utility companies when their terms expired.

The term limit constitutional amendment aimed to empower voters by getting rid of career politicians in the clutches of special interests. Critics say it instead shifted power away from inexperienced elected officials to bureaucrats and lobbyists. One former Speaker of the House commented that “The dirty little secret, the irony of term limits, is the voting public has diminished their oversight, rather than increased it.” That legislator is now a registered lobbyist. Another former legislator commented that term limits empowers the executive branch and that citizen power and voice has been cut because legislators are not skilled enough and schooled enough to hold their own.

In 1992, lifetime limits of three two year terms for House members and two four year terms for senators, and statewide officeholders, including governor, were approved by 60 percent of state voters. The vote came amid an anti-incumbent mood fueled by financial controversies in Congress and perceptions of an old boys club among powerful committee chairs in the Legislature. The measure was aimed not just at state lawmakers, but also at members of Congress. The federal piece did not survive a court challenge.

One contributor to the report commented that “Term limits seem to increase political ambition and attract career politicians who see the state Legislature as a springboard to other offices.” The results can be more than a distraction, said one former UP senator and that term limits creates some potential conflicts as legislators are jockeying for their next employment where they may want to take an issue that a special interest is eager to get through the Legislature, on the promise of employment.

Critics say it is not just the issue of lawmakers looking for jobs at the end of their terms. They say a cozy relationship between sitting lawmakers and lobbyists is now even cozier. Term limits fill the Legislature will “newbie’s” who do not have a clue as to what they are doing said one former legislator. Many lobbyists hate term limits partly because they mean more work and limit opportunities for long term relationships. Every two years, you have got to get to know 30 or 40 new legislators commented many lobbyists — including myself.

Judy Augenstein
716 E. Scott St., Grand Ledge, MI 48837
Phone 517-242-3043 Fax 517-627-2186
http://www.judyaaugenstein.com/
www.augensteingee.com

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