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Posted on 01.08.2016 Under Legislative

Legislative Report for MAT

Judy Augenstein, check 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.

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