Nov. 12 | This Week in Government: Michigan To Receive $10B From Federal Infrastructure Bill; Two-Year Vehicle Registration Signed Into LawNovember 12, 2021
- Michigan To Receive $10B From Federal Infrastructure Bill
- Two-Year Vehicle Registration Signed Into Law
- Legislation Again Looks To Allow Community Colleges To Offer BSNs
- Illegal Garbage Dumping Bill Moves To House Floor
- Out-Of-State Police Recruitment High Priority Under $250M Supplemental
Michigan To Receive $10B From Federal Infrastructure Bill
More than $10 billion will be headed Michigan’s way for road, bridge and other infrastructure upgrades and repairs following passage Friday night of a long-discussed and negotiated $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure package.
Passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act adds another multi- billion-dollar pot of federal money for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration to negotiate with the Republican-controlled Legislature, even as various supplemental appropriations bills are still being hammered out regarding though how to spend billions in federal coronavirus relief funds.
Included in the $1.2 trillion package is $550 billion in new spending over five years for infrastructure investments in roads, bridges, water, energy and broadband investments, as well as for public transportation systems.
The state will receive more than $7.3 billion for road repairs and $563 million for bridge replacement and repair.
President Joe Biden is expected to sign the bill soon and hailed its passage on Saturday as a “monumental step forward for the nation” after months of negotiations between the Democrats’ moderate and more liberal factions.
It passed by a 228-206 vote, with 13 Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Saint Joseph) supporting and six Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), voting no. Upton and Tlaib were the only members of the Michigan delegation to break from their caucus.
Michigan stands to receive $1.3 billion for water infrastructure upgrades through the bill, which can include replacing lead water lines.
Also included for Michigan is $1 billion for public transportation systems, $110 million for electric vehicle infrastructure expansion and $100 million for expanding high-speed internet access to underserved areas.
How these funds would be used was not immediately clear Monday.
The approval of an infusion of billions more for roads and bridges comes just days after the State Transportation Commission adopted the Department of Transportation’s Five-Year Transportation Plan for fiscal years 2022-26.
MDOT spokesperson Jeff Cranson said the bill would provide Michigan with about $340 million annually in highway funding for fiscal years 2022-26. The surface transportation program would be reauthorized for five years, providing sustainable and predictable funding for that period. There would be $563 million for the Bridge Replacement, Rehabilitation and Preservation Program.
In addition to the funding for highways, bridges and electric vehicle charging infrastructure, an additional $8.7 million would be provided for the Ferry Boat Construction Program.
Cranson called the additional funding welcome after years of short-term reauthorization and will also complement the $3.5 billion in bonding for roads pushed by the administration. He added that the $110 million electric vehicle charging infrastructure funding is also a positive at a time when the state is working to further support the growing industry.
Negotiations continue on several supplemental appropriations bills to spend billions in COVID-19 relief funding. Proposals include $2.5 billion for water infrastructure, nearly $1 billion for state and local parks infrastructure upgrades and $350 million for integrating the state’s physical and behavioral Medicaid services.
The response to passage in statements released following the vote was as nearly split along party lines as the vote.
Whitmer on Saturday praised Congress’ passage of the bill, saying she was ready to get to work with the Legislature to put the funds to use.
“The bipartisan infrastructure plan is a win-win for Michigan because it will create countless good-paying, blue collar jobs, while helping us fix even more roads and bridges across the state,” Whitmer said. “The infrastructure plan will put our tax dollars back to work in our state to make game-changing, historic investments toward upgrading our state’s roads, bridges, water infrastructure, and so much more.”
U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) echoed the governor in the positive impact the bill could have in the state.
“There is so much in here of critical importance to Michigan – from rebuilding roads and bridges, to the removal of lead pipes, to high-speed internet in every corner of Michigan, to the largest single investment ever made in the Great Lakes,” Stabenow said.
The bill includes $1 billion over five years for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
Upton on Twitter following Friday’s vote called the bill “commonsense legislation that will support critical infrastructure projects in MI without raising taxes or increasing the debt.”
“I regret that this good, bipartisan bill became a political football in recent weeks. Our country can’t afford this partisan dysfunction any longer,” Upton said.
Tlaib said passage of the infrastructure bill separately from the proposed Build Back Better legislation that is still being negotiated eliminated leverage for the latter bill. She said the bill that passed Friday, while it contains positive elements, would make areas she represents less safe and less healthy.
“I fear that we are missing our once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in the American people,” Tlaib said.
U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) called passage of the bill Friday a signal that bipartisan agreement is still possible.
“After decades of talk about rebuilding our infrastructure, tonight we got it done,” Slotkin said.
U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland) ripped the bill, calling it an irresponsible spending spree. He said tying the infrastructure bill with other trillion-dollar bills the Democrats have pushed through largely along party lines is a “spending monstrosity.”
“I will not support legislation that spends more than necessary and opens the door for trillions upon trillions of spending on liberal and socialist priorities,” Huizenga said.
Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes said Biden and congressional Democrats delivered for Michigan in the bill.
“While it’s no surprise that a vast majority of GOP lawmakers from Michigan voted against their constituents by opposing this bipartisan deal, it’s clear to Michiganders that it’s Democrats that have delivered where Republicans failed to – and voters won’t forget it,” Barnes said.
Two-Year Vehicle Registration Signed Into Law
Starting in October 2022, Michigan motorists will have the option to register their vehicles for two years instead of one under a bill signed Wednesday by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Whitmer signed HB 4117 (PA 112), which she said would simplify registrations for Michigan motorists interested in the option.
Whitmer also signed SB 220 (PA 110, immediate effect), which allows for free registration renewal for some agricultural and industrial vehicles.
In a joint statement from Whitmer and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, Benson praised the convenience of the two-year registration. She did say, though, that SB 220 is “not implementable as written” but will be “once the Legislature requires insurance companies to provide the Department with electronic access to their policies for agricultural vehicles.”
Whitmer also signed HB 4059 (PA 111, effective February 7, 2022) that will make clear a child with a confirmed diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder does not need a reevaluation for continued eligibility for behavioral health treatment unless medically necessary.
The governor also signed HB 4281 (PA 113, immediate effect), which assures that cities with fewer than 15,500 residents are eligible for public safety funding.
Legislation Again Looks To Allow Community Colleges To Offer BSNs
The fight between community colleges and public universities on whether the former can offer a Bachelor of Science in Nursing continues under a pair of bills introduced Tuesday.
The bills, HB 5556 and HB 5557 sponsored by Rep. John Roth (R-Traverse City) and Rep. John Damoose (R-Harbor Spring), respectively, would allow community colleges to offer a four-year nursing program.
The bills would leave it to the community college’s board of trustees to create the program, but the trustees could not eliminate any associate degree programs to establish the BSN unless they determine there is not student demand for the associate’s program.
BSN programs would have to meet specific requirements prior to offering education to students, and the community college itself would need to hold a national professional nursing accreditation – or be in the process of obtaining that accreditation – from an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
There is a bipartisan appetite for the effort, with Rep. Tenisha Yancey (D-Harper Woods) and Rep. Stephanie Young (D-Detroit) signed on to each bill as cosponsors.
Roth and Damoose, during a press conference Wednesday on their legislation, said the impetus for the package was the current nursing shortage not just in Michigan but across the country.
“Many community colleges have the infrastructure. They’re doing the work today,” Roth said. “They have great RN programs that work. … We just have to empower them through law, and that’s what we’re doing here today.”
He acknowledged, however, that it would be an uphill fight against public universities – as past legislative attempts on the issue have seen.
Those battles are already shaping up.
Dan Hurley, CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities, told Gongwer News Service following the announcement that he believes the bills “have no upside, but a ton of downsides.” He pointed to the 68 registered nurse programs offered throughout the state – 37 of which offer BSN degrees – as proof there was no shortage of nursing programs.
If the demand for nurses was not being met despite all these offerings, he questioned the benefit from offering the opportunity at community colleges. He also questioned how the package would affect the nursing shortage now given that, if allowed, most community colleges would need to build facilities and programs prior to offering the degree.
“I think this is the seventh session in a row that a bill, or one similar to it, has been introduced,” Hurley said. “The reason it hasn’t passed in the last six session is it’s still bad public policy. … There is no unmet need in the state. If an individual wants to enter the nursing profession and get a BSN, then there is ample opportunity.”
At least one institution – North Central Community College in Petoskey – said it stood ready to offer a BSN as early as next year should the package be signed into law.
Illegal Garbage Dumping Bill Moves To House Floor
A bill that would provide stiffer criminal and monetary penalties for unlawful dumping in the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act was reported to the House floor Tuesday by the House Judiciary Committee.
Sponsored by Rep. Cynthia Johnson (D-Detroit), HB 4084 was reported 13-0 with an H-3 substitute that removed the definition of railroad property and clarified that the monetary penalty would be a reimbursement to property owners where trash is dumped instead of a civil fine.
Railroads had been the biggest component of the bill as Johnson said during testimony in October that railroads had experienced the brunt of illegal dumping across the state. Michigan Railroad Association President Jon Cool also testified on the scope of the problem.
Rep. Steve Johnson (R-Wayland) asked then if the bill could include all companies, not just railroads, in the reimbursement language, which Johnson said then she’d be willing to entertain.
The committee on Tuesday also took testimony HB 4894, HB 5117, HB 5394 and HB 5395.
Sponsored by Rep. Greg VanWoerkom (R-Norton Shores), HB 4894 would create a similar system for bad checks as is currently used for debit or credit cards with insufficient funds, which he said would allow small businesses to avoid a civil process and would make it easier to recoup payments made with bad checks. It also makes passing a bad check evidence of intent to defraud. Nonpayment of insufficient funds within five days of notice would also be evidence of intent to defraud a bank or other financial institution.
Rep. David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids) argued that five days was a “short fuse” to wrap people into fraud disputes with banks and credit card companies. He added that while it appears great for banks, it would essentially criminalize the poor or those who do not know how to manage their finances.
Rep. Rodney Wakeman (R-Saginaw Township) said his HB 5117 would amend the Estates and Protected Individuals Code to clarify timely authorization and who has authority to direct the final disposition of deceased individuals. Wakeman, co-owner of the Wakeman Funeral Home, said if a person with the highest priority to direct disposition fails to authorize disposition within seven days, his bill would give the next person in line of priority that right.
He said EPIC guides funeral directors on who has priority to give final authorization to begin final disposition, and while the system works in most circumstances, there have been times when delays in granting authority have in turn caused delays for funeral directors to properly care for the deceased.
Wakeman called his bill a clear and concise remedy for the problems funeral directors face in often sensitive and grave circumstances.
Rep. Kyra Bolden (D-Southfield) questioned the seven-day limit. Phil Duma, executive director of Michigan Funeral Directors Association, said it was imperative to receive directive within seven days after a person’s death because after that it becomes disrespectful to the deceased to not move forward and seek authorization from someone outside the family or a personal representative.
Sponsored by Rep. Sue Allor (R-Wolverine) and Rep. Ranjeev Puri (D-Canton), respectively, HB 5394 and HB 5395 aim to walk back penalties and sentencing guidelines for the possession of the drug etizolam, a central nervous system depressant used to treat anxiety. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not authorized the drug, but neither has it regulated it through the national drug schedule.
Puri noted that Allor’s HB 4089– which was passed in the House in April and now sits in the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. – would include etizolam as a Schedule 1 controlled substance under Michigan law. Several states have in the past few years added the drug to their narcotics schedules.
Possession of a Schedule 1 substance can result in a potential lengthy prison sentence along with sometimes astronomical fines, Puri said. The bills would make possession of the drug, if added to Michigan’s drug schedule, a misdemeanor. Manufacture and distribution of the drug would remain a felony.
Out-Of-State Police Recruitment High Priority Under $250M Supplemental
Incentivizing police officers to move to Michigan to work for state and local police agencies is slated to see the largest amount of funding under a roughly $250 million substitute unveiled by Republicans at the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.
While the substitute was adopted, no vote was taken on reporting the bill to the full House.
The supplemental, HB 5522 sponsored by Rep. Mike Mueller (R-Linden), would fund police training, recruitment and supports through $156.3 million in General Fund and $93.8 million from federal funding.
Of the total, $57.5 million General Fund would be allocated to Move to Michigan Incentives, which would help local law enforcement agencies attract out-of-state officers by paying up to two years of their maximum pension contribution for individual or family coverage into a health savings account.
If an out-of-state officer has a defined contribution plan at their current employer and are not vested, the money could be used to pay match employer contributions that officer would forfeit upon moving to Michigan. Finally, the funding could reimburse hunting and fishing licenses fees and recreation passports for those relocating officers.
Committee Chair Rep. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell) told reporters after the meeting that incentivizing police officers to come to Michigan for employment was “a huge priority” and that the biggest barrier was retirement benefits.
“If we keep shifting officers from one department in Michigan to another, we’re not really helping. We need to grow the pool of applicants that we have,” he said. “We’re seeing throughout the country a lot of officers with a lot of experience that are on the sidelines right now, so we want them to come here, and we want that experience here.”
In addition to relocation incentives, the substitute would include $40 million in public safety academy assistance programs, $25 million in grants for communication towers and other communication equipment, $10 million for more school resource officers and $10 million for public safety retention bonuses up to $5,000.
Another $15 million is slated to expand the Police Athletic League, $10 million would give signing bonus grants to new public safety officers and first responders – both who live in-state or relocate from out-of-state – and another $10 million would go toward new riot gear and body armor grants for local law enforcement agencies.
There would be several smaller allotments, such as $7.5 million for grants for body-cameras, $7.5 million to cover training fund revenue lost during the pandemic and $7.5 million, all federal funds, to the Department of Health and Human Services for mental health support.
The Department of Corrections would receive $12 million under the substitute, $4 million of that from General Fund: $5 million for officers to complete collegiate courses needed to work for MDOC, $2.5 million in correction officer signing bonuses (up to $5,000 per person), $2.5 million in correction officer retention bonuses (up to $5,000 per person) and $2 million for a pilot electronic monitoring program in Genesee County.
This funding is a staunch increase from the $32 million Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called for in late October to fund police recruitment and retention. That came from a proposal in August to utilize $75 million of federal monies from the American Rescue Plan for law enforcement investments and initiatives.
While Albert said he had not talked to the governor’s office about the plan, Republicans are already heralding the potential investment as a win.
“I am very encouraged by the investment in law enforcement that House Republicans proposed today. … This investment will remove some of those hurdles and give them the support they need to keep us safe,” Tom Leonard, candidate for attorney general, said in a statement. “In an era where too many of our leaders support defunding our police while violent crime increases, it’s encouraging to see common sense proposals that will actually benefit our communities.”
House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell) added that the funding was meant to reflect that “men and women in uniform deserve to know that they are a priority and that their work is important to us.”
“In an era when far too many people are attacking law enforcement and looking for ways to defund the police, we chose to stand with them and find solutions together,” he said in a statement. “Using their experience and their expertise, we built a plan that will rebuild the ranks, train them up to a higher level, and give our local heroes all the tools they need to do the job.”