Detroit Regional Chamber > Advocacy > Feb. 24, 2023 | This Week in Government: With Karamo in Charge, What’s Next for the GOP?

Feb. 24, 2023 | This Week in Government: With Karamo in Charge, What’s Next for the GOP?

February 24, 2023
Detroit Regional Chamber Presents This Week in Government, powered by Gongwer, Michigan's home for Policy and Politics news since 1906

Each week, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Government Relations team, in partnership with Gongwer, provides members with a collection of timely updates from both local and state governments. Stay in the know on the latest legislation, policy priorities, and more.

With Karamo in Charge, What’s Next for the GOP?

On the first business day new Michigan Republican Party Chair Kristina Karamo was in charge, the phone in the Lansing office went unanswered as speculation builds on what the new leadership will mean for the party apparatus and the GOP in Michigan.

Karamo struggled to raise any money in her run for secretary of state, which ended in a 14-point loss to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. The MIGOP, under its last iteration of leadership, also said significant donors were less likely to contribute to the state party as they did not want to fund candidates chosen by former President Donald Trump. Karamo was one of those candidates.

The other one, Matt DePerno, lost in a surprising rout on Saturday at the MIGOP’s convention. Karamo took 58% of the vote compared to 42% for Deperno.

A key difference between the two candidates is Karamo never conceded despite her 14-point loss, and Deperno admitted defeat.

“Why would I concede to a fraudulent process,” Karamo said to delegates on Saturday.

The only public communication from the party since Karamo’s victory was a tweeted press release on Tuesday listing the winners at the party’s convention and a prepared statement from Karamo saying the party is “headed to a great start for the 2024 election cycle.” The statement promised to provide updates “as we work together to strengthen and embolden our party in the coming days ahead.”

Besides the non-answer at the phone line at party headquarters, the state party’s website also had yet to be updated as of Tuesday, still showing Ron Weiser, now the former party chair, as chair, and Meshawn Maddock, now the former co-chair, as co-chair.

The status of the Michigan Republican Party as a functioning entity was doubted by several Republican sources with years of working in Michigan Republican politics and the state party itself. These sources said basic functions like paying the bills to keep the party headquarters in Lansing functioning and continuing its biennial Mackinac conference in the fall are in doubt. Others raised questions about handling the accounting and legal needs of the operation without the funds to pay professionals for those activities.

These sources said the party’s traditional donors, lambasted as RINOs by the new leaders of the state party, have no interest in funding the party apparatus. One quipped that Karamo might have run because she saw a chance for a good salary as Chair but might not realize she would need to raise the funds to pay herself. It’s been known since the election that the state party was short of money and running on a skeleton crew of staff. Whether the party will have the funds to have paid staff going forward also is an open question.

One source said Karamo and her backers have made it clear they do not want traditional donor support and will likely get their wish.

“I don’t know where she raises any money from,” this source said.

Karamo’s victory continues to push the MIGOP in a direction that has seen the party lose all three statewide offices, several congressional races, and the majority in both the House and Senate, some Republicans said.

“We went from controlling everything to controlling literally nothing,” said Jason Cabel Roe, former executive director of the MIGOP.

Rusty Hills, a Republican operative who served as a MIGOP chair about 20 years ago, said Michigan Republicans engaged in an experiment in 2022 to nominate every candidate endorsed by Trump, and those candidates lost.

“A party that wants to win is going to nominate common sense conservatives with an appeal to independent and swing voters,” Hills said. “Instead, what happened is the party has doubled down on a strategy that lost them every statewide race and control of the House and the Senate. This is madness.”

Among several sources who have spent much of their careers on electing Republicans, they described sadness as Karamo and what they called a fringe element taking control of the party. But there was also a determined sense to find other outlets to advance Republican candidates and causes.

While several Republicans expressed dismay at the election of Karamo, many delegates – she, of course, won the vote of 58% of them – expressed confidence in her and cited God in their support of her candidacy.

“Everything was stacked against Kristina Karamo and Malinda Reese Pego, BUT GOD was with us! Yes miracles DO happen,” Benj Spencer, a Muskegon County Republican, posted on Facebook. “Thank you Jesus and to YOU be all the glory!”

Hills said Karamo and her team are going “to be very, very challenged.”

During his time as chair with former Gov. John Engler in office, a Republican secretary of state, majority in the congressional delegation, and the Legislature, Hills said there were flush times but still difficult times.

“And that was with all hands on deck,” he said.

Now, Republicans don’t have as many elected officials as they did then, Hills said.

“Then you start to antagonize really good people in the donor base (and) you are setting yourself up for failure,” he said.

Roe said it will be very difficult to maintain party operations without the large donors. Just bringing in small donations costs money, he said, whether that is through mail or digital operations.

While Roe said the strategy for the new leadership is not a winning one, it is not the end of the world for Republicans who want to win in 2024. Then, the GOP will be looking at competitive congressional seats, the open U.S. Senate seat, and the Michigan House.

“I think sometimes folks overstate the role of the party,” he said. “More than anything it is an accounting mechanism to move federal money to state. … It is a lot easier to organize when you have central organization. We are not going to have that.”

But, he said, federal groups and donors will work directly with candidates and the House Republican Campaign Committee. The HRCC, in the last cycle, appeared to have a fractured relationship with the state party, anyway.

“You are just going to end up taking the MIGOP out of the chain of command,” Roe said. “They are going to be sitting on the sidelines.”

Hills said, though, the state party does make a difference. They get a bulk-mail discount that saves money. Anything candidates are doing in their own operation that the MIGOP could do is a delegation of time and resources that could have been covered by the party.

When he was chair, Hills said, former Attorney General Mike Cox won his first race by a little over 5,000 votes. Former U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers won a congressional race by a few hundred.

“On the margins, the party makes the difference,” he said. “All sorts of things the party does are very hard and very expensive to duplicate.”

He also said it puts Republicans at a competitive disadvantage with the Michigan Democratic Party led by “juggernaut” Lavora Barnes, Hills said.

Among the entities, sources said traditional donors might use the House Republican Campaign Committee, the Republican State Legislative Committee, the Michigan Freedom Fund, and the Great Lakes Education Project, among others. One source said new groups are not needed but existing groups will need to do more.

This source also said other states have had to grapple with fringe elements taking control of state parties and Republicans working around them to win elections. This is just new for Michigan, this source said.

Another source said an interesting factor to watch is Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, who still lives in Michigan and has made a point to look out for her home state in Republican politics. How McDaniel interacts with Karamo and what she does to direct national support to Michigan – and what entities in Michigan – will be closely watched, this source said.

Moving forward, Hills said, Republicans need to accept Michigan is a purple state. To win, the GOP needs to put forward “commonsense conservatives,” in the mold of former Attorney General Bill Schuette, former Gov. Rick Snyder, or former U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer.

He said getting a win in the U.S. Senate in 2024 would be key for the right-of-center Republicans in the state taking control of the party.

“I think it’s possible to win,” he said.

As to the future and wresting control of the party from the faction that elected Karamo – the culmination of a 12-year mission of what began as the Tea Party in the 2010 cycle – several sources said there are discussions, but it’s early and a daunting task. One source said it will be interesting to see how the newcomers who supplied the energy and votes to elect Karamo respond if the party withers and suffers major defeats in 2024.

The August 2024 primary will provide the next opportunity to elect new precinct delegates that make up the potential pool of state convention delegates to elect the party chair and nominate candidates for various offices like secretary of state, attorney general, and the education boards, as well as lieutenant governor. One source said it would take multiple elections for those disturbed at the party’s current direction to reverse it.

“It’s that far gone,” this source said.

Lawmakers Seek to End Hair Discrimination Through CROWN Act

Legislation to ban discrimination based on a person’s display of their natural hair in the workplace is needed to allow people to be their authentic selves and not risk denial of employment or other opportunities, bill supporters said following the introduction of a bill on Tuesday.

Sen. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) said 20 other states have passed laws to end discrimination based on their hair, such as denied jobs over their hairstyle and health care and athletic opportunities during a press conference.

Introduced on Tuesday, SB 90 would enact the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act. “This has an emotional connection to many of us,” Anthony said. “It has a financial connection – it impacts our pocket books. It impacts our self-esteem to be told that ‘you are not worthy; that you are not okay the way you show up as your true and authentic self.’”

Under SB 90, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act would be amended to add language stating that “race” is inclusive of traits historically associated with race, including “hair texture and protective hairstyles.” Those protective hairstyles would include braids, locks, and twists.

Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor), chair of the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus, said denying people access to extracurricular activities, health care, or employment over their hairstyle “is something that we should not permit and something that we should not allow to exist.”

Geiss said it causes economic harm and psychological harm.

“This is not solely a gender issue,” Geiss said, adding it impacts Black men and boys as well.

She said her hope is to have the CROWN Act passed sometime this legislative term, adding what an individual brings to the table should be more important than how people perceive others.

Anthony said that in 2019, supporters of the bill were told such discrimination does not exist, so supporters began to collect examples as proof.

Cameo King experienced such discrimination in her first journalism job out of college. She spoke during the press conference about how she was told her hair would prevent her from being able to advance in television journalism and was urged to change her hairstyle.

“Who knew the sight of Black hair would restrict my career options,” King said.

She referenced an expert who said that the length and texture of a Black woman’s hair can impact their opportunities professionally, for education, and in job opportunities.

Rep. Stephanie Young (D-Detroit) echoed other speakers, referring to one of her teachers who could not get a job because she had an afro. When she pressed her hair and made it straight, the teacher was able to get a job immediately. Young encouraged others to be their authentic selves.

The bill was referred to the Senate Civil Rights, Judiciary, and Public Safety Committee.

Justice Reform Advocates Tease Juvenile Lifer, Parole and Bail Packages

Bills to align the state’s juvenile life without parole laws with U.S. Supreme Court precedent, give anyone in prison a “second look” for parole eligibility after 10 years, and addressing bail reform were highlighted at a criminal justice forum held Thursday.

The forum was a part of the National Day of Empathy, which brings together families affected by the criminal justice system with lawmakers to highlight reforms. The local observance was hosted by Safe & Just Michigan with a virtual forum.

Moderators included Pete Martel with the American Friends Service Committee’s Michigan Criminal Justice Program and Policy Manager Josh Hoe. Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) and Rep. Donavan McKinney (D-Detroit) were also featured on panels dealing with parole-oriented and bail reform packages, respectively.

Regarding juvenile life without parole, Martel noted that the federal high court ruled that mandatory life without parole for juvenile defendants was unconstitutional under Miller v. Alabama nearly a decade ago. That spurred the state to eventually start working toward getting those individuals resentenced, but the process has been slow.

A set of bills addressing that issue and to make juvenile sentencing laws reflect the high court’s precedent were introduced in the previous legislative term and will be reintroduced in the latest session, Irwin said. The legislator added that he believed continuing to sentence juvenile life without parole, which is still allowable in Michigan law, amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

“It’s been very frustrating to me as a legislator to see that process, not just get slowed down by the former Attorney General, Bill Schuette, but also by county prosecutors, and now, it’s been over a decade and we still have folks who haven’t had a chance to make it through that process,” Irwin said. “We still have a law in the books here in Michigan that calls for or that allows a juvenile life without parole, which, as Martel said is unconstitutional, the Supreme Court ruled. As a result, we have I think an obligation and opportunity in Lansing to align our statute with that constitutional requirement.”

The bills, which have yet to be reintroduced, will focus on creating guidelines for sentencing to a term of years for juvenile defendants with a clear chance at parole during that time as opposed to a blanket life without parole sentence. Irwin also said that it needed to be extended to juvenile defendants under 19 years old or who were still 18 years old when they committed a crime.

“We believe in rehabilitation. We want to provide opportunities for rehabilitation, and we particularly want to make sure that people who commit their offenses when they’re very young, get those opportunities and get those opportunities regularly during their time,” Irwin added. “We also want to make sure that our statutes align with the data that shows that these individuals, these folks who were sentenced to juvenile life without parole are very successful when they get out. That’s true here in Michigan, and it’s true all over the country.”

The issue facing Michigan has mainly been the slow pace of processing resentencing of existing juvenile life without parole offenders.

Irwin said the bill would have been introduced this week had it not been for the ice storm that pummeled a large swath of the state on Wednesday and into Thursday morning. If passed in the form they are written, the focus would be on a term of years with a first consideration of parole at 10 years into a sentence. The bills would also be applied retroactively in their current form.

The second look legislation would operate similarly, giving offenders – regardless of their original conviction – with long sentences and without a clear chance of release a second look at their sentences, reconsidering term length after they’ve served 10 years.

Martel said that could affect a range of inmates, from those serving just 12 years to life sentences. The bills would allow an inmate the chance to go before the judge that sentenced them or their successor and attempt to show they’ve been using their time wisely and productively, warranting an earlier release.

The bills would not depend on brain science, like many of the new rules for approaching juvenile life without parole, nor would they contemplate priority considerations for prisoners of a certain age. Getting a second look wouldn’t be a one-time shot either, Martel said, adding that if the review was denied, you could appeal further down the line.

Statistics show that people often age out of committing crimes and that older individuals are the least likely to re-offend, said Sophie Ordway, a legal research analyst with the Detroit Justice Center. Many inmates who were sentenced to juvenile life without parole that have been resentenced were among this cohort, Ordway said, adding that such was the case with those who committed serious violent crimes.

Irwin added that the political ramifications of appearing soft on crime are difficult, despite there being a lot of philosophical support for juvenile life without parole and second-look legislation. But he was quick to say that statistics show that the nation is at a historic low for violent crime despite hordes of political operatives and media personalities saying otherwise.

He suggested to those watching the forum reach out to their legislators and show them that the public supports these measures if they wanted to see them get across the finish line.

BAIL REFORM WOULD END CASH BARRIER ON DETAINMENT: Advocates are also eyeing the elimination of cash bail as a barrier to pre-trial release, which would also secure judges’ abilities to detain a defendant before a trial if they are still believed to be a threat to the community or a general flight risk.

Details of the proposal were presented by Hoe and Erin Keith, the managing policy counsel for the Detroit Justice Center, the latter of whom said that Michigan’s current cash bail system meant “paying money or leveraging assets to gain freedom while you await trial, while a person who cannot afford bail has to use a bondsman or remain incarcerated.”

“It’s our position at the Detroit Justice Center that no one should be subjected to wealth-based detention,” she said, adding that the bills would be introduced soon. “I think it kind of elucidates a larger problem, which is bail is not necessarily a mechanism for ensuring public safety or any of that because it really comes down to how much money you have.”

The key component of the pre-trial package includes a speedy trial provision that would institute a penalty if a case has gone 18 months, the defendant is still incarcerated, and the case has not proceeded. Keith did not clarify whether that meant that trial proceedings had not been held or scheduled. She did say that the penalty would be dismissal with prejudice.

Another component of the package would define a difference between those who willfully skip court dates or abscond to avoid prosecution versus a defendant who cannot attend court due to a life circumstance.

McKinney also said that the Legislature is also discussing potential solutions to citizen guideline reform, right to counsel, and other things in the bail reform package, adding that advocates should stay tuned to see the contents of the package.

“Trust and believe that we’re working on this issue,” he said.

MEDC Floats Another $750M for Battery Plant

Following the Ford Motor Company’s announcement last week of a $3.5 billion investment to build a battery plant in Marshall, the Marshall Area Economic Development Alliance, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and other partners are requesting an additional $750 million in funds from the state to prepare the site.

That’s on top of an initial $210 million incentive from the state’s Critical Industries Program. All $960 million would be funded through the Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve Fund and require approval from the House Appropriations Committee and Senate Appropriations Committee. Representatives from Ford, the MEDC, and Marshall gave a presentation to the House Appropriations Committee

on Wednesday to discuss funding for the project. They did not discuss the $750 million request at the meeting, but information about it was provided to committee members, and MEDC officials confirmed the additional request after the meeting. “We need jobs like this,” Marshall City Manager Derek Perry told the committee.

The $750 million from the state’s Strategic Site Readiness Fund will go toward purchasing land and preparing it for construction, water and wastewater facilities, fiber optics, roads, highway, and rail, officials said.

“Not a dime of this will go to Ford,” MEDC Chief Executive Officer Quentin Messer told the committee. “And we’re going to monitor and make sure that there’s progress, and if there’s not progress, there will not be payment.”

Of the $750 million, $75 million would go toward land acquisition. Another $224.7 million have been requested for site improvements, including above and below-ground demolition and remediation, tree clearing, grading, utility relocation, interior roads, and storm water management system installation. The Marshal economic alliance and the City of Marshall are requesting $100 million to extend water mains and expand a wastewater treatment plant and partner with Battle Creek to supply treated water. The request also includes $330 million for the Department of Transportation and the Marshall Economic Alliance to improve roads, $15 million to Alliance and Norfolk Southern Corp. for rail improvements, and $5 million to the alliance and Marshall to contract for full-time permit processing and inspections staff for up to five years and to waive building permit fees for Ford.

The incentives for Norfolk Southern, which has had two major train derailments this month, including one in Michigan and another with major environmental ramifications in Ohio, prompted criticism from some Republican legislators.

Ford announced last Monday it would invest $3.5 billion to build a lithium iron phosphate battery plant in Marshall at a site near the intersection of I-94 and I-69, which has long been eyed as a potential development mega-site. The facility will support the company’s goal of producing two million electric vehicles annually by 2026. The investment will construct and equip a new 2.5 million-square-foot facility to manufacture batteries that will go into several of the company’s key electric vehicles. Ford anticipates the project will create 2,500 jobs during the next several years.

The Michigan Strategic Fund has already approved more than $1 billion in incentives, including a $250 million performance-based critical industry program grant, and designated a Renaissance Zone that will reduce real and personal property taxes for 15 years with a waiver of the PILOT requirements, valued at an estimated more than $700 million. The board also approved a $36 million Michigan Investment Fund MSF Loan for the Marshall Area Economic Development Alliance to purchase, improve and convey Marshall site parcels in and around Calhoun County (See Gongwer Michigan Report, Feb. 13, 2023).

Prior to the presentation on Wednesday, Rep. Angela Witwer (D-Delta Township), who chairs the committee, spoke about the importance of the investment and how the state’s economic incentives have made projects like this battery plant possible.

“We understand that the automotive industry is at a critical juncture as it undergoes a transition from gas powered vehicles to electric vehicles. And I’m pleased to see Ford has chosen Michigan for this transformative project,” Witwer said. “It was not that long ago that Michigan was not even on the shortlist for these types of projects. But now, thanks to the Legislature’s bipartisan efforts from last session to improve Michigan’s economic development tools, we’re not only competing, but we’re winning.”

Witwer also said she hoped the hearing would dispel the misinformation around the project, including the level of Chinese involvement.

Last month, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin said his administration stopped pursuing the automaker’s investment due to concerns about the Chinese Communist Party’s influence on the project.

Several Republican members of the House have also expressed similar concerns (See Gongwer Michigan Report, Feb.17, 2023).

Ford is expected to use technology and services from the Chinese battery company Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd. The company is the world’s largest producer of electric vehicle batteries and has 13 factories of its own in Europe and Asia.

Chris Smith with Ford told the committee that CATL is going to be a technical service provider and that the project will be owned, operated, and run by a subsidiary of Ford. The relationship with CATL will not be a partnership or a joint venture, and the company is the only one qualified to provide the technology at the scale Ford needs.

“The employees are being hired by Ford. We’re going to be building batteries in Michigan to put in Ford manufacturing in the United States,” Smith said. “This is not a joint venture. Ford is simply licensing technology to make these battles. The government of China has no role in the project and no tax dollars will go to the company licensing us the technology. LFP battery technology will help make electric vehicles more accessible and affordable for customers.”

Building the battery plant in Michigan is expected to strengthen the American supply chain for lithium phosphate batteries, Smith said, which is critical for the future of the auto industry.

“Instead of having to import those components from other countries, we’re going to build them here in Michigan,” he said. “With this, we hope to improve American competitiveness, strengthen supply chain resilience and sustainability and reduce the US reliance on foreign imports.”

Some representatives also objected to providing funds for the Norfolk South Corporation for rail improvements.

“Norfolk Southern, as I understand it, is the railroad that’s currently poisoning the people and the environment in Palestine, Ohio,” Rep. Andrew Fink (R-Hillsdale) said during the meeting. “How can we justify a $15 million piece of this project going to Norfolk Southern now?”

Rep. Jim DeSana (R-Carleton) and Rep. Jamie Thompson (R-Brownstown Township) also put out statements Wednesday afternoon objecting to the $15 million that could be provided to the company as part of the investment package.

“Considering its recent safety record, the government should be giving this company special scrutiny – not special favors,” DeSana said.

Smith said that the reliability of services from Norfolk Southern was currently in question.

“It just highlights the need to be choosing providers that are consistent with the future of economic growth and the health and safety of our communities,” he said.

But the City of Marshall needs the investment, Perry reiterated.

During the last 20 years, the Marshall area has lost around 2,000 jobs with the departure of companies, including the Eaton Corporation and State Farm, Perry said. The battery plant is expected to reverse that trend by bringing in 2,500 new jobs, generating additional traffic for local small businesses, and attracting investments in roads and infrastructure.

“This project will pay dividends for years to come. This project is a win for Marshall, the region and the state of Michigan. This kind of opportunity does not come along often. And it’s critical that our leaders do everything they can to make sure it happens here,” he said.

Perry said that Marshall needs investment to jumpstart the local economy.

“The city of Marshall … is pretty much at the crossroads of Michigan. I-69, I-94. A community of about 7,000. However, over the last 10 years, we’ve been losing population, and as part of that, young folks don’t have the economic opportunities or employment opportunities that their parents had living in a small town in America. We need jobs like this,” he said. “Things have changed over time. Part of it was probably COVID, part of it is the way the economy has gone over recent years, but it feels like we’re just kind of in a pause. (Residents) are looking for something that will break that pause and bring renewed economic benefit to our city, our regions and our state.”

In addition to the 2,500 direct jobs, the facility is expected to attract new businesses for industrial cleaning companies and janitorial services as well as new restaurants and recreational opportunities to support the additional income in Marshall.

“We believe that there’s a lot of positive externalities, not only in the city of Marshall, Calhoun County, southwestern Michigan, but throughout the state,” Messer said. “This is about how do we grow our tax base, and also how do we grow our population, and we believe that this will be very beneficial in both camps.”

Smith said that Ford plans to partner with the community to preserve the character of Marshall and enhance the city to make it somewhere people want to live.

“We’ve got a 450-acre conservation easement that we’ve already set aside to ensure that we’re not only building a plant that’s creating jobs and economic activity, but we’re also preserving some of the existing character of that side of that area for the people who live and work there,” he said. “Jobs (are) a big part of it, but a big multiplier for us is in that economic activity is making sure that we’re creating a place where people want to live.”

Rep. Ann Bollin (R-Brighton) questioned whether there was enough available workforce housing in the Marshall area to support what would be needed.

Messer said that housing was something that those working on the project were considering and that workforce housing was a challenge being addressed by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. He also said that the MEDC was working with partners in Calhoun County, including the city of Marshall, the Marshall Area Economic Development Alliance, Battle Creek Unlimited, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, to address housing needs as well as other necessary infrastructure, such as water and wastewater.

The state is working with utilities, including ITC, Consumers Energy, Marshall, and rail companies, to make sure the infrastructure requirements for the project will be satisfied by the time the plant is ready to go online in 2026, Messer said.

Representatives also asked how the jobs Ford would be bringing to the area would attract workers and provide the community with something different.

“What are you creating that makes Michigan pull these people here that’s different than the continuing jobs at our local factories Up North, where I’m at, or our cities that are having trouble,” said Rep. Timmy Beson (R-Bay City). “Are you doing a hybrid job? I need to know if it’s something besides standing in the business for an eight or a 10-hour period. Otherwise, you’re not creating anything different.”

Messer said the project was focused on creating a “holistic opportunity” by working with the executive branch and the Legislature to increase participation in the workforce.

“We also believe that there are Michiganders, expats, who are looking for the opportunity to come back home to Marshall. To come back to the Battle Creek/Kalamazoo MSA. Young graduates who are finishing from all of our Michigan universities who wish to stay in Michigan and now have an exciting opportunity to be part of creating the vehicles of the future,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but it’s a holistic approach.”

Rep. Rachel Hood (D-Grand Rapids) also questioned the project’s ability to attract young people.

“Respectfully, those aren’t the types of jobs that are going to attract people back home or keep young professionals in the area,” she said. “Will these manufacturing jobs attract and retain the type of jobs that get individuals above $50,000 a year and into higher level wages and the types of jobs that, again, bring back that talented workforce who have been seeping out of the state looking for other opportunities?”

Smith said the project was expected to bring a wide variety of jobs, including jobs in automation and information technology. Messer said that the battery plant in Michigan was likely to attract new research and development opportunities.

“There’s going to be a very wide range of skill sets that you need to run out of the battery plant,” Smith said. “In terms of indirect jobs, again, a variety of jobs, small businesses, entrepreneurial jobs, new opportunities to start new business models and services. All the things that we need to support the community that’s going to be rising up around this $3.5 billion investment, and all that economic activity right now does not exist.”


COA: Acceptance of Worker’s Comp Benefits Doesn’t Block Tort Suit

An individual’s acceptance of worker’s compensation benefits doesn’t automatically bar a negligence suit against the employer, the Court of Appeals ruled in a published decision this week. In Wittenberg v. Bulldog Onsite Solutions, LLC (COA Docket No. 359424), Scott Wittenberg was injured while working as a rigger for Bulldog. He received some benefits through worker’s compensation and then brought a negligence suit against the company. The trial court provided a summary disposition in favor of the employer.

The panel ruled the trial court erred as it did not determine if Wittenberg, an independent contractor, could be considered an employee of Bulldog Onsite Solutions.

The panel – Judge Noah HoodJudge Thomas Cameron, and Judge Kristina Robinson Garrett – remanded to the trial court to evaluate in the first instance if Wittenberg was an employee.

Additionally, the lower court erred in finding Mr. Wittenberg was subject to the exclusive remedy provision in the Worker’s Disability Compensation Act because he received benefits through Bulldog.

“The trial court’s reliance on Wittenberg’s receipt of worker’s compensation benefits to grant summary disposition was misplaced. … It is undisputed that Wittenberg received worker’s compensation benefits for at least some of his medical bills,” the decision said. “Under MCL 418.831, the fact that the insurer paid, and Wittenberg accepted, worker’s compensation benefits does not automatically render him Bulldog’s employee or bar a tort suit.”

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