The Michigan Association of Timbermen
Posted on 01.05.2016 Under Legislative

Monthly Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, medical Legislative Consultant

January 2016

While the energy debate and resolving Detroit Public Schools’ debt are sure to be main headlines in 2016, more about 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, pills 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.”

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