Feb. 25 | This Week In Government: One-Time $1.5B Appropriation Would Go Toward Pension, Debt Relief; Fair Lending Petition Campaign Kicks OffFebruary 25, 2022
- One-Time $1.5B Appropriation Would Go Toward Pension, Debt Relief
- Fair Lending Petition Campaign Kicks Off
- Corrections: COVID Outbreaks Diminishing, Staff Vacancies Still High
- House GOP Tax Plan: New Retirement Break, $1.8B In Cuts Possible
- Leonard, DePerno Throw Jabs In Alpena GOP Attorney General Debate
One-Time $1.5B Appropriation Would Go Toward Pension, Debt Relief
House Republicans unveiled a plan Thursday to use $1.5 billion in one-time funding toward pension plans for local governments, the State Police and road commissions and then reported a bill with the proposal.
HB 5054 was one of two bills to come before a joint meeting between the House Appropriations Committee and the House Tax Policy Committee on Thursday (see separate story).
Sponsored by Rep. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, the bill would deposit $1.5 billion into the state treasury to be doled out into three pots: $900 million for local unit municipal pension principal payment grants, $250 million for pension best practices and debt reduction grant program and $350 million for a deposit into the state police retirement system.
Prior to being reported, Democrats on the panel tried to introduce a series of 25 amendments, each of which was voted down along party lines. These involved fire and safety efforts, such as funding for paramedic training, bias and de-escalation training and to handle a backlog of cases dealing with firearms.
“This bill will ensure that our children and our grandchildren are not going to foot the bill for benefits… services they did not even receive,” Albert said. “Right now we have roughly $4 billion of General Fund that’s on our balance sheet, and we’re taking a relatively small portion of that $1.5 billion to pay down debt to put our state on more solid financial footing going forward.”
When speaking with reporters following committee, he added that this has been a priority on the House’s side for years, saying that there was “not really any more responsible way that we could find to spend the surplus funds right now.”
For the $900 million pot of money, the Department of Treasury would be required to establish and operate a grant program which would provide grant awards to qualified entities for deposit into their qualified retirement systems.
Eligible entities include those with a retirement system with a funded ratio at or below 60 percent. Retirement system deposits are required to be in addition to the local entity’s actuarially determined contribution. Grant awards would be capped at $100 million.
Requirements associated with use of these funds include that the deposit be in addition to the actuarially determined contribution; that the recipient of the grant award certify that it adopted certain retirement system practices and that the Department of Treasury develop and publish program guidelines, application process and application materials for interested parties.
It also requires Treasury establish an application period and required date for disbursement of grant awards, that any funds not awarded be reallocated and redistributed in a manner that generates the greatest average funded ratio and that Treasury distributes funds in a manner resulting in the greatest average funded ratio if funds are insufficient.
Definitions for “qualified retirement system” and “qualified unit” are included within the bill.
Regarding the best practices grant program, those funds would be awarded to local governments for depositing into their retirement system if the local government agreed to adopt certain retirement system conditions. Those eligible include entities with a retirement system that has a funded ratio at or above 60 percent. Retirement system deposits would be required to be in addition to the local government’s actuarially determined contribution.
Funds could be used for other debt reduction and infrastructure matching if the retirement system obtained a funded ratio of at least 100 percent. These awards would be capped at 5 percent of available funding.
Deposits into the State Police retirement system would come with the requirement that the money be in addition to the actuarially determined contribution and that the funds would be prohibited from being used toward that contribution.
The move seemed to be well received by most on the panel, save for a smattering of Democratic lawmakers who took issue with the fact the hearing had only been called 12 hours prior to meeting.
“I think we think about this as stewards, what would be the best type of investments, this makes a great deal of sense to me,” Rep. Ben Frederick (R-Owosso) said. “These local governments are political subdivisions of the state and at the end of day, their problems do become our problems.”
There was some concern from Rep. Julie Rogers (D-Kalamazoo), though, over why there was a stipulation that a qualified entity couldn’t provide contractual benefit enhancements for a 10-year period immediately following the receipt of a grant award.
The bill does allow for benefit enhancements during the after period only if the government can certify its qualified retirement system has a funded ratio of at least 80 percent and that the contractual benefit enhancement is 100 percent prefunded. Failure to meet this condition would require repayment of the grant.
She also was concerned over communities in the middle of a multi-year negotiated contract, questioning when precisely this bill would take effect in that case.
Albert said that it would come down to the communities to adopt policies within their pension plans, on the day they apply for the grant, which would spell out when they would make payments on an annual basis. This would apply as well for plans needed for benefit enhancements.
As for a repayment timeline, should municipalities fail to meet expectations, Albert said that was undefined.
The bill was immediately hailed as a win by groups like the Michigan Municipal League, which touted the bill as “a moment of great leadership and investment for the people of Michigan and the communities they call home.”
“The economic capacity and strength of our ‘main street’ communities is at the core of a vibrant Michigan. Thriving cities lead to strong regional economies and regional prosperity contributes to a healthy state economy,” CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin said in a statement. “The action taken by the House Appropriations Committee today to pass HB 5054 strengthens the state at its very heart – our local communities. We thank Rep. Albert and Rep. Hall for their leadership and look forward to working with them and others to equitably help all Michigan communities and secure passage of this important legislation.”
Fair Lending Petition Campaign Kicks Off
Michiganders for Fair Lending officially started its journey to gather signatures from voters on Wednesday as the organization hopes to cap payday lending annual interest rates at 36%.
During a virtual press conference, supporters of the ballot initiative discussed how payday lenders take advantage of individuals by trapping them in a cycle of debt. Jessica AcMoody, policy director for Community Economic Development Association of Michigan, said payday lenders are currently allowed to charge interest rates that exceed 370% APR.
“Data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau shows that 70% of payday borrowers in Michigan reborrow the same day they pay off a previous loan,” AcMoody said. “We also know that the average payday loan customer is stuck in 10 loans over the course of a year, usually taking out one loan immediately after another.”
AcMoody also said 75% of payday lenders’ revenue comes from borrowers caught in 10 interest loans per year. Having direct access to a borrower’s bank account allows lenders to recoup their money which ultimately forces borrowers to borrow again to pay their other bills, she said.
Dallas Lenear, Project GREEN (Grassroot Economic Empowerment Network) executive director, said he has heard stories as a pastor in Grand Rapids of residents trapped in cycles of debt due to payday loans and spoke about the lenders’ predatory nature targeted at members in his community.
“Michigan payday lenders disproportionately locate their stores in communities of color statewide,” Lenear said. “There are 5.6 payday stores per 100,000 people in Michigan, but in Black communities that figure is actually 25% higher and in Latino communities the number is 18% higher.”
The 36% cap is a fair lending standard currently used in 18 other states and the cap used by the Military Lending Act to protect vulnerable veterans. Gabriella Barthlow with Veteran Services of Macomb County said the Military Lending Act caps rates for active-duty service members and dependents as a result of many noticing payday lenders crowding around military bases for new clientele.
“We need to make sure veterans here in Michigan are given that same protection and the way to do this is by passing this initiative because many are in financially challenging situations,” Barthlow said. “Veterans use payday loan services at a far higher rate than civilians. As a targeted community for predatory lending, it’s critically important that veterans understand the risk associated with payday loans and the importance of a 36 percent interest rate cap.”
Campaign spokesperson Josh Hovey said capping payday interest rates has been a long-standing issue in the state and the nation. He said legislation mimicking the ballot language was introduced in Nebraska last year and the same policy has seen overwhelming bipartisan support.
“State lawmakers have been urged for years to put a stop to predatory lending practices,” Hovey said. “The people being harmed by these loans cannot afford to wait any longer. That’s why we’re bringing the issue directly to voters this November.”
A similar bill, HB 5097, was introduced during the 2019-20 legislative cycle. The bill would have allowed lenders to grant $2,500 loans with an interest rate cap at 11 percent per month, equivalent to 132 percent annual interest rate. After a hearing in the Senate Regulatory Reform Committee, the bill did not see much momentum.
Michiganders for Fair Lending hopes to gather the minimum 340,047 valid signatures from registered voters by the end of May and have it before voters on the November ballot. The deadline is 5 p.m. June 1. When asked by reporters how circulators would be paid and where they would be stationed, Hovey said they can expect to be paid hourly and will be located in populous areas.
Should the group gather the necessary signatures, the measure would first go to the Legislature, which would have 40 days to either enact the proposal, put a competing measure alongside it on the ballot or take no action and let voters decide.
Hovey was also asked if he was concerned voters would be confused by the petition and if he was worried circulators would struggle to relay the intent of the initiative.
“This is an issue that voters understand very clearly and I have no concern there,” Hovey responded.
Corrections: COVID Outbreaks Diminishing, Staff Vacancies Still High
Officials with the Department of Corrections told members of a Senate panel Tuesday the total number of corrections officer vacancies has slowly grown over the past couple of years, but there have been thousands of hires during that time offset by turnover.
Before the Senate Oversight Committee for the second time in recent weeks was Department of Corrections Director Heidi Washington and the department’s legislative liaison, Kyle Kaminski.
Washington took questions earlier this month about the recruitment and retention of corrections officers.
The most recent data on corrections officer vacancies was 770. Further data provided to committee members Tuesday showed the number of vacancies was at 815 in 2018 before dropping to 640 in 2019. From there, there were increases to 642 vacancies in 2020 and 665 in 2021.
“We’ve recruited extremely aggressively,” Kaminski told the committee.
He said thousands had been hired in recent years and that retention will be the long-term issue. Kaminski said the staffing issues have also come during the coronavirus pandemic, which has impacted all professions.
Washington told the committee the current academy for corrections officers has 190 people in it and graduation is scheduled for next month. Recruitment for the next academy is well underway.
She also said there has been a rapid decline in the number of COVID-19 cases within the prison system between prisoners and staff since appearing before the committee earlier in the month.
MDOC went from nearly every facility being in full outbreak status three weeks ago down to 10 facilities as of Tuesday.
Washington said the total number of inmates with COVID-19 dropped from more than 5,000 three weeks ago down to 732.
She added that only one facility still has not resumed programming for inmates, that being Chippewa Correctional Facility. In-person visitation with inmates has also resumed and has slowly increased in recent weeks.
“We are certainly moving in the right direction,” Washington said.
Washington during questioning from the committee said the department does not keep track of violations of its 32-hour rule in which employees shall not be required to work mandatory overtime within the 32-hour period following the beginning of their last overtime shift of more than four hours.
“It would seem that keeping track of the 32-hour rule violations could provide some relevant data points to the department as far as how staffing is going,” Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan), the committee chair, said.
The director said in those circumstances when their supervisor is notified the employee who is working is to be the first person to be relieved when relief arrives.
“That is their relief. They’re being compensated and they are relieved in terms of they are allowed to leave first,” Washington said.
Kaminski added that there are attempts being made to find relief when such situations arise.
House GOP Tax Plan: New Retirement Break, $1.8B In Cuts Possible
Taxpayers 62 and older could be eligible for an increased exemption level on retirement income, if they qualify after exercising the standard deduction under a House Republican plan, proponents of which say will provide relief for all Michiganders – not just for some.
Wednesday saw House Republicans roll out their plan to cut taxes as well as a proposal to use $1.5 billion of state surplus revenue toward payments into retirement system obligations.
A House Fiscal Agency analysis said if the Republican plan were to become law, the state would either need to cut $1.8 billion in spending or return $1.8 billion in federal State Fiscal Recovery Fund monies to the federal government.
A big focus of a joint committee meeting was the new structure for how retirement income would be taxed.
Before a joint House Appropriations Committee and the House Tax Policy Committee meeting Thursday was HB 5838 , the tax proposal, sponsored by Rep. Matt Hall (R-Marshall). It eventually was reported from the latter panel in a 9-0-6 vote, with all Democratic lawmakers passing on the legislation.
The two panels also reported HB 5054– sponsored by Rep. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell), chair of the Appropriations Committee – which would appropriate $1.5 billion from the General Fund for local government retirement systems and the State Police retirement system, among other things (see separate story).
Hall’s bill would amend a portion of the Income Tax Act to lower the income tax rate to 3.9 percent from where it currently sits at 4.25 percent, effective January 1, 2022. This would be the same effective date for an increased exemption level for taxpayers aged 62 and older on retirement income, again only if they qualify after exercising the standard deduction.
“Under other plans that have been proposed, we saw corporations benefit. We saw certain people benefit – select few, but not everyone,” said Hall, chair of the Tax Policy Committee, speaking to reporters following the hearing. “Under this plan, everyone benefits. All workers, all seniors all families, and it’s a plan that the people of Michigan can understand because it cuts the rate for everybody.”
It was in this same scrum that Albert chimed in that Democratic plans regarding retirement savings for seniors was “the most inequitable plan that could be created,” adding it was hypocritical of them to cry foul when their idea “benefits only certain seniors based on whether or not they support Democrats – traditionally support Democrats, I should say.”
That is a reference to the Democratic proposal to revert to tax policy on retirement income before the 2011 tax changes, meaning pension income from public sector jobs would again be exempt from the personal income tax. A large exemption for other retirement income also would return.
Asked how this model would be sustainable once surplus funds dry up, Hall and Albert were both adamant that there would be ways to cut future budgets.
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way. …. We can look through the budget and find surpluses,” Albert said. “Not all the revenue we have is one-time revenue. We have a lot of new, ongoing revenue as well.”
That thought was lambasted by Rep. Joe Tate (D-Detroit), minority vice chair of the Appropriations Committee, in a statement following the hearing in which he said that the cuts would only serve the wealthy while gutting Michigan’s General Fund in the process.
“This $400 million revenue shortfall will have to be made up for elsewhere, and Michiganders cannot afford cuts to schools, infrastructure and public safety in exchange for a tax cut mostly benefiting the state’s wealthiest residents,” he said. “This is a $12 tax cut for everyday working people of Michigan and a $5,000 windfall for the richest people in the state and it will cost Michigan $6 billion over the next two years. The Republicans on this committee are trading tax cuts for rich people today for devastating cuts to essential public services in the future.”
Retirement income is currently taxed in a three-tiered system, depending on the taxpayer’s birth date. Under tier one, pertaining to taxpayers born before 1946, public pension and Social Security income is tax exempt and eligible individuals in this tier may subtract private retirement income.
However, the exemption for private retirement income or for a combination of private retirement income and tax-exempt public retirement income cannot exceed a specific limit. For tax year 2021, that’s $54,404 for single filers and $108,808 for joint filers.
Tier two taxpayers, those born between 1946 and 1952, are eligible for an exemption against retirement income of $20,000 for single filers and $40,000 for joint filers. They are eligible for an exemption against all income of $20,000/$40.000, however, but only if they do not choose to claim a military or railroad pension exemption.
The final tier is for taxpayers born after 1952 but how that affects a person is based on whether they are at or over the age of 67. For those younger than that (the bulk of this strata) Social Security, railroad pension and military pension income is tax-exempt. These taxpayers are also ineligible for retirement income exemptions.
Similar to taxpayers in tier two, once those people turn 67, they are eligible for an exemption against all income of $20,000 for single filers and $40,000 for joint filers if they claim no military or railroad pensions exemption.
Unlike taxpayers in the second tier, however, they would also be unable to claim a Social Security or personal exemption. Or they could choose to receive the Social Security, military or railroad pension and personal exemptions, but not the overall exemption for $20,000/$40,000. As such, tier 3 taxpayers are subject to less favorable tax treatment than tier two taxpayers.
The date of birth of the older spouse determines the tax treatment of income reported jointly under this system regardless of the date of birth of the younger spouse.
That would all change under HB 5838, which would absorb tier three into tier two and lower the eligibility age for the retirement tax deduction. As tier one individuals cease to file returns, the tiered system will be eliminated in favor of a single system for retirement income deductions for those aged 62 and older.
Once a taxpayer reaches age 62, they would be eligible for a $20,000 deduction against all income for a single return and $40,000 deduction for a joint return. As in tier two currently, a taxpayer could not take the $20,000/$40,000 exemption along with a military or railroad pension exemptions, but could still claim Social Security and a personal exemption in addition to the $20,000/$40,000 exemption – such as the case in tier three currently.
Furthermore, if a taxpayer who has taken the $20,000/$40,000 deduction still has retirement or pension benefits that the person would otherwise be able to deduct as retirement or pension benefits from a state or federal public retirement system or a retirement annuity policy, the taxpayer could take an additional deduction of those benefits of up to $20,000 for a single return or $40,000 for a joint return.
Analysts with the House Fiscal Agency anticipate the bill would have implications for the General Fund. The School Aid Fund currently receives approximately 23.81 percent of gross income tax revenue. However, because the earmark percentage is a function of the income tax rate, the percentage adjusts automatically to hold the School Aid Fund harmless against rate changes.
Decreasing the rate to 3.9 percent would increase the earmark to 25.95 percent of gross income tax revenue. Since the bulk of the revenue impact stems from the rate reduction, the majority of the overall revenue reduction would be absorbed by the General Fund.
Based on estimated tax revenue reductions and HFA estimates of actual versus baseline tax revenues in the 2021-22, 2022-23 and 2023-24 fiscal years, it is estimated that the bill would result in actual tax revenues falling below baseline revenues in the 2022-23 fiscal year by an estimated $1.8 billion and in the next fiscal year by approximately $1.1 billion.
If these amounts were not paid for by alternative revenue increases or spending reductions, then an equivalent amount of State Fiscal Recovery Fund would be subject to recoupment in the 2022-23 and 2023-24 fiscal years.
During questioning, Democratic members of the House Tax Policy committee laid into the fact that the lowest earning 20 percent of individuals (those making less than $23,000) would only see about $12 under this plan while the top 1% of earners (those making $539,000 or more) would see close to $5,000 in savings.
These figures were cited as coming from a study by the Institution of Taxation and Economic Policy requested by the Michigan League for Public Policy.
Hall later rebuffed this, saying he was unaware of where Democrats were pulling their “funny numbers” from. He believed the average lower income household would be more likely to see $140 in savings under his plan.
Rep. Tenisha Yancey (D-Harper Woods) and Rep. Julie Brixie (D-Okemos), particularly, tried to press Hall on the idea that just because it was fair to give all Michiganders – regardless of tax bracket – a cut didn’t necessarily mean it was equitable.
Yancey didn’t seem moved, asking Hall: “How much do you think the top 1% are actually struggling?”
Hall, instead, again emphasized that everyone should receive a tax cut and not just some.
“The main thing here is this: What we’ve heard in our communities want relief for all people. Not just some people,” he said. “It’s unfair to give relief to a select few and not to everyone.”
Yancey tried again: “But is it equitable, though?”
To that, Hall said yes.
“It is an equitable plan, and the reason for that is because there are no gimmicks here,” he said. “You know, a lot of these people are proposing these gimmicks, but we are talking about lowering the rate for everyone. … And they need it.”
Brixie also repeatedly questioned Mr. Hall on “how much relief will millionaires get” from the tax cut. This resulted in Rep. Steve Johnson (R-Wayland) jumping in to say that richer individuals wouldn’t be “making” any amount of money since it was their own money.
“(This) bill, it doesn’t give a single penny to millionaires and billionaires. What this does is let them keep their own money,” he said. “So, there’s kind of twist in the narrative here of ‘this is going to give money to millionaires and billionaires.’ Well, no. It just means we’re going to let them keep their own money.”
Following the committee, movement of the bills was immediately applauded by groups like the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Its director, James Hohman, said in a statement that it was good to see law makers make this and paying down pension debts a priority.
“State revenues have grown throughout the pandemic, so it’s good to see that lawmakers have made it a priority to lower taxes and pay down pension debts,” he said. “The tax cuts will make Michigan more competitive, encourage small business development, and will help the state attract more residents. Paying down pension debts will protect retirees and taxpayers alike.”
Not all were enthused, however. MLPP President and CEO Monique Stanton said in a statement that the “stark contrast is clear” in terms of who and what Republicans prioritized offering tax relief to, versus who Democrats did.
“Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has proposed targeted tax relief for residents who are struggling the most by increasing the EITC, and historic budget investments in all of the areas kids, residents, businesses and communities rely on,” she said. “Legislative Republicans are pushing for sweeping, across-the-board tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthiest residents and businesses while significantly decimating our current and future state budgets in the process.”
Leonard, DePerno Throw Jabs In Alpena GOP Attorney General Debate
Three candidates seeking the 2022 Michigan Republican Party nomination for attorney general squared off in a debate Friday evening, which saw former House Speaker Tom Leonard and attorney Matthew DePerno, in particular, throwing jabs at one another across the lecterns.
The debate featuring Leonard, DePerno and Rep. Ryan Berman (R-Commerce Township) was hosted by the Alpena Republican Party.
Leonard is seemingly positioned as the establishment favorite in the race, while DePerno is a relative newcomer who has made a name for himself shopping and raising money off various 2020 election conspiracies. Berman has name recognition as a two-term member of the Legislature but is still introducing himself to voters outside the 39th House District which he represents.
Whereas Leonard has netted a swath of important endorsements, including a nod from Right to Life of Michigan, DePerno received a coveted boost from former President Donald Trump, who has endorsed the attorney and elevated his presence in the race.
With the former House speaker and one of Trump’s Michigan acolytes leading the pack, sparks flew between them on Friday while discussing everything from election integrity, commitments to pressing issues important to the party’s grassroot and Trump loving base, and electability against their ultimate opponent, Attorney General Dana Nessel.
On election integrity, which has become a key campaign note for several seeking office within the Michigan Republican Party, DePerno said he was the only candidate on stage who has rallied for full “forensic” audits of computer systems, vote tabulators, server equipment and paper ballots collected and counted during the 2020 election. He’s also been among several who said they’ve been investigating and researching the subject since November 3, 2020, and it was for that Mr. Trump gave him his endorsement.
While many, including himself, have called for 2020 audits and investigations – even as Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has said her office conducted several such audits and found no indication of large-scale fraud – DePerno said “we don’t need to know what happened. I did the work. I examined the systems.”
He then turned to Leonard and Berman, asking “where were you when I was standing outside the steps of the Capitol?”
To that, Berman said the attack was in poor taste, citing the fact that he and other colleagues in the Legislature when the October 12, 2021, rally featuring DePerno and other Trump-backers seeking a forensic audit occurred were at a funeral. While Berman did not name the deceased colleague, news organizations reported that October 12, 2021, was the day of Rep. Andrea Schroeder’s funeral. Berman also cited various resolutions and pieces of legislation he championed seeking such an audit.
Further, Berman said DePerno had claimed over the past year that elected officials had been ignoring his calls and emails while seeking support in his movement for an audit, but the representative said it was him who called DePerno seeking more information about the computer and tabulator systems in question – a phone call and message that was never returned, Mr. Berman claimed.
“You called us out (for that). I think that was in poor taste,” Berman said. “Listen, I respect that you are going after, and are passionate, and are helping with this issue. But disparaging other elected officials such as myself who are on the same side, I don’t think that’s the way to go. My office has done more, probably more, than any other office on this issue.”
At one point, DePerno cited a Crain’s Detroit Business article in which Leonard was interviewed, and characterized his response in a way that made it seem like Leonard was hiding in his basement and “submitting” to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s then-in-effect coronavirus state of emergency orders.
That prompted Leonard to say that he was working with an overseas medical company that was seeking approval on a revolutionary cancer treatment to be installed in Grand Rapids. While he did not say what the company was, Leonard is currently a partner at law firm Plunkett Cooney. The firm and Leonard last year had been working with BAMF Health to get Legislative approval to create exemptions in Certificate of Need regulations to allow the use of cyclotron PET scanners in the state. That bill was SB 440, which later became PA 53 of 2021 when Whitmer signed it late last year.
In a question round from precinct delegates, one asked the trio why anyone who wasn’t on the frontline of the party’s election integrity fight should be taken seriously in the race for attorney general. DePerno doubled down saying he was the one who did some of the research that conspiracy theorists are now using to loosely connect the dots on alleged 2020 election fraud.
Leonard said that when elections were happening in 2010, the party had deployed teams of attorneys on the ground in key election regions like Flint and Detroit and even deployed attorneys in various federal courts should they need to file a lawsuit immediately if irregularities arose.
The candidate and former House speaker said the that in a call about having such an attorney on the ground in Flint, the Trump administration did not have one there, leading him to believe that despite whatever may have or may not have happened on November 3, 2020, the party was not prepared for it. With that in mind, Mr. Leonard reiterated that his experience in these matters and others puts him in the best position to defeat Nessel in November.
The crossfire between DePerno and Mr. Leonard did not end there. The former has said on the campaign trail that he would arrest Ms. Whitmer and potentially his opponent Nessel for misconduct in office – the governor over her COVID-19 orders directed at nursing homes and Nessel for opting to not investigate the matter, which he claimed amounted to a cover up.
Each candidate was asked if they would do so. DePerno said yes. Leonard said that there needs to be an investigation and cautioned that promising to arrest an official without a clear body of evidence into any criminal wrongdoing or official misconduct is a profound assault on the justice system, which he said he respects too much to make those promises.
“I can stand here before you tonight and I can give you talking points that I’m going to arrest so and so on day one. But let me be clear here. I respect our system of justice. Does there need to be an investigation on day one? Absolutely, and I’ve been very clear that there needs to be an investigation on what happened with this nursing home tragedy. But for me to stand here or any person who’s running to be the chief law enforcement official in the state of Michigan, to stand here and say they’re going to arrest somebody on day one does not respect our system of justice,” Leonard said. “In fact, if there were ever charges brought against that individual, I can tell you what the first thing that the defense counsel’s going to do. They are going to play the videos of that attorney general on the campaign stump making political promises and they’re going to arrest somebody and throw them in jail. And that case is going to be thrown out or that person is going to be acquitted. That is not justice for those that perished.”
Berman also said it was irresponsible and unethical to do so without knowing all the facts, but agreed wholeheartedly that an investigation was warranted.
DePerno also said that the MIGOP would rally around Leonard, who he described simply as a lobbyist, because he would protect party interests. He cited an alleged conversation with a group of county party chairs who told DePerno that he would never be attorney general because he won’t protect the party.
He then mentioned the growing shadow of former House Speaker Lee Chatfield’s ongoing scandal involving the alleged sexual assault of his sister-in-law and possible financial crimes also alleged against Chatfield. DePerno not only tried to tie Leonard to Chatfield and his current legal troubles, but said Democrats would do the same and would “take him down” on that very issue in campaign messaging.
The debate topics eventually turned to the possibility of Roe v. Wade being overturned, what that would mean for Michigan and if the three candidates were willing to uphold Michigan’s current abortion that was nullified by decades of U.S. Supreme Court precedent.
Berman said he was a rule of law candidate and would enforce all of Michigan’s laws, including the abortion ban that could be back in effect if the high court upends Roe.
DePerno said the language of Roe essentially created privacy rights that didn’t exist, and that he too would enforce that law if Roe was no longer in effect. He also attacked Leonard’s stance on the issue, alleging that he killed a “life at conception” bill in 2015-16 when it came through the House.
Leonard in turn said that he though Roe was decided incorrectly, but took offense to DePerno’s jab, saying that it was baseless and didn’t happen. He also touted his endorsement from The Right to Life of Michigan.
In a similar vein, another precinct delegate asked for the trio’s thoughts on Griswold v. Connecticut, in which a 7-2 U.S. Supreme Court majority in 1965 ruled that the U.S. Constitution protects the right of marital privacy against state restrictions on a couple’s ability to be counseled for the use of contraceptives.
Leonard said he thought that too was decided incorrectly and infringes on state’s rights. Berman said similarly, adding that he was for state’s rights and eliminating federal judicial “activism.” DePerno also said that it was a state’s rights issue.
Nessel followed along with the debate that was livestreamed on Facebook, tweeting responses to the various candidates, and particularly in response to the Griswold comments.
“All 3 Republicans running for Michigan Attorney General just stated that they oppose the ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut which outlawed prosecuting married couples for using contraception,” Nessel wrote. “You read that right. Terrifying.”
Sharing a snippet of the debate regarding Griswold, Nessel added that, “each of the radical Republicans running for Michigan AG want to overturn the right for married couples to use contraception without being prosecuted.”
“With that same-sex marriage, relations between unmarried people, even the right to non-missionary sex becomes illegal in our state,” she continued. “These laws are already on the books in Michigan. All it takes is one Supreme Court decision to make them enforceable again. The party of ‘limited government’ wants direct involvement in everything you do in the bedroom. The Handmaids Tale is no longer dystopian fiction.”