April 14, 2023 | This Week in Government: Work Begins to Ban Motorist Mobile Device UseApril 14, 2023
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.
Work Begins to Ban Motorist Mobile Device Use
New legislation would make it illegal for people to drive in Michigan while on their phones.
The House Transportation, Mobility, and Infrastructure Committee heard testimony on HB 4250, HB 4251, and HB 4252, which would prohibit holding or using a mobile electronic device while driving. HB 4250, sponsored by Rep. Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth), would bar people from using a mobile device while driving. HB 4251, sponsored by Rep. Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit), would assign points to a person’s driving record for violations. HB 4252, sponsored by Rep. Mike Muller (R-Fenton), would require the Department of State Police to submit a report on violations to ensure it was enforced properly and fairly.
“This legislation is designed to save lives,” Koleszar said. “What we have found is that the law says there is no texting while driving. Unfortunately, the law has not kept up with the technology.”
Current Michigan law doesn’t prevent drivers from being on their phones while behind the wheel. This bill package would change the law so people could only use their phones hands-free or car mount.
Rep. Pat Outman (R-Six Lakes) said that he previously had philosophical objections to distracted driving legislation.
“Kind of the big hand of government approach to things,” he said. “And I have family members that don’t buy new vehicles, so there were some concerns in regard to that.”
Although he has always supported the premise of the legislation, he said that the testimony he heard on Tuesday convinced him that passing new distracted driving laws was necessary.
“I just can’t stand to see lives continuing to be taken when we can do something about it,” he said. “Some of the concerns I’ve had in the past – forcing people to buy a new vehicle or various things like that – but the safety factor I think trumps all of that, and I just want to see people be safe, and I’m just getting tired of seeing people die at the hands of distracted driving. It’s just really tragic, and I hope this helps.”
Outman said he expected that the bill package would likely be moved forward to the governor’s desk in a timely fashion.
“I wasn’t privy to a lot of this testimony beforehand,” he said. “That certainly played a factor in it, but I’ve just been doing a lot of soul-searching and self-reflecting on this … I’ve certainly changed my position and would like to see this go through.”
Steve Kiefer and Paula Kiefer, along with their daughter, Lexi Kiefer, testified in support of the legislation. Kiefer’s son, Mitchell, was killed by a distracted driver in a car crash in 2016.
Kiefer said that he has testified in support of similar legislation before and that the time had come for Michigan to update its distracted driving laws.
“I think maybe if they had been successful in the past maybe we wouldn’t be here today, and Mitchell would be,” he said. “We know that if we can get these bills signed into law by Memorial Day, have a massive campaign, have enforcement, we can save lives this summer.”
The period between Memorial Day and Labor Day is known as the “100 Deadliest Days,” and is infamous for fatal crashes among teenagers.
Kiefer spoke about the pain of losing a loved one in a distracted driving crash.
“I can’t tell you the devastation you feel,” she said. “For such a senseless, mindless, stupid thing as somebody on the phone, driving down the highway at 82 miles per hour and not paying attention to the road. Paying more attention to their phone. And so many people are guilty of it.”
Jim Santilli, CEO of the Transportation Improvement Association, also said current laws aren’t enough to address the problem of distracted driving.
“The problem with it is it’s specific to texting,” he said. “Our law really is archaic at this point, and it needs to be updated.”
Santilli said that since 2016 there had been 121,203 crashes involving a distracted driver and 440 people have died.
“These aren’t numbers. These are real people who were taken away from their loved ones, family members and their friends. This could have been prevented,” he said. “It’s time we take action.”
Santilli said that there has been a lot of public education to let people know that distracted driving is dangerous and that it was time to update the law so it can be enforced.
“We talk a lot about education. People are aware this is a dangerous behavior,” Santilli said. “But it’s time that we update the law … it’s long overdue … the goal is for drivers to keep your eyes on the road and hands on the wheel.”
Jane Horal from the League of Michigan Bicyclists told the committee her husband was killed in 2019 by a distracted driver while he was riding his bike in a state park.
“Where is it safe to be a pedestrian or a cyclist?” she said. “No one should have to endure deaths from a distracted driver.”
Jerome Reide, representing the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, testified in opposition to HB 4250. He said he was concerned that the legislation, as written, would create a pretext for racial profiling during traffic stops.
“It doesn’t provide for explicit training, and we think that that is something that will strengthen this policy,” he said.
Officials from the Department of State Police, AAA, General Motors, MichAuto, the Detroit Regional Chamber, the League of Michigan Bicyclists, Toyota Motors North America, and SEMCOG also supported the legislation.
Rep. Nate Shannon (D-Sterling Heights), who chairs the committee, issued a statement in support of the bill package on Tuesday.
“With so much instant communication in our daily lives, from our cell phones, smartwatches and tablets, it is easy for anyone to get distracted while driving. It is important we secure legislation that requires driver accountability to keep eyes on the road and keep our fellow passengers, cyclists and joggers safe,” he said. “As committee chair, I’m grateful for this legislation to help protect Michiganders and promote driver accountability combating against distracted drivers — safe laws make safer roads.”
Shannon said he expects the committee to vote on the legislation in the coming weeks.
842,593 See Convictions Set Aside as Auto Expungement Begins
Laws enacted in 2020 that automatically expunge a wide range of convictions from people’s records took effect Tuesday, resulting in 842,593 people seeing a total of nearly 1.2 million convictions set aside.
The Department of State Police launched its new automatic expungement program, which is designed to search the state’s criminal record database daily for convictions eligible for expungement.
During the 2019-20 term, the Legislature passed several bills to enable the expungement of certain criminal offenses from person’s records when those crimes were committed before they turned 18. One of those, PA 361 of 2020, requires automatic expungement of some offenses starting two years after the bill’s effective date without the person having to apply for expungement.
Only nonpublic records, in some cases, would be kept on the offenses.
Several offenses are not eligible: arson, first-degree criminal sexual conduct, first-degree murder, any crime punishable by life in prison, any crime in which the juvenile was tried as an adult, felonious assault, child abuse, manslaughter, stalking, sexual intercourse under the guise of medical treatment, willful killing of an unborn child by injury to the mother, death due to explosives and others.
“My department has been travelling the state for years, hosting expungement fairs to help eligible residents clear their records in the hopes of improving employment and housing eligibility, as well as significantly reducing the chances of that resident winding up back in the court system. Today, that process becomes a whole lot easier,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement. “I am grateful to our partners in law enforcement and the Legislature who have worked diligently alongside us to make expungements more accessible to the Michigan public. These efforts will undoubtedly lead to a stronger state.”
State Police spokesperson Shanon Banner said 842,593 persons had at least one conviction set aside. That involved 105,078 felony convictions expunged and 1,077,788 misdemeanors expunged. There were 252,417 people who became conviction-free as a result.
Banner noted these figures represent only those convictions on the criminal history record maintained by the State Police. Courts will set aside misdemeanors punishable by less than 93 days in jail, and the State Police will not have that data.
Residents can have up to four misdemeanors punishable by 93 days or more in jail expunged once seven years have elapsed since the sentencing date. There is no limit on misdemeanor expunctions when the sentence is less than 93 days other than the seven-year waiting period.
For felonies, up to two convictions can be automatically expunged 10 years either after the sentencing date or the completion of a prison term in a Department of Corrections facility, whichever is later.
John Cooper, executive director of Safe & Just Michigan, called Tuesday a historic step forward for the state. Michigan is just the third state to implement automatic expungements, he said in a statement.
“This reform will deliver immediate and automatic impact for more than a million people, all of whom are likely to see their access to housing and jobs improve overnight,” he said.
A statement from Safe & Just Michigan said it expects between 100,000 to 200,000 people annually going forward to have what it called “low-level, non-violent” conviction records sealed.
Banner said an algorithm will run daily on the state criminal history record to set aside offenses that become eligible on that date.
Tate and Hall Look Ahead to the Spring Session, House Passes ‘Taps’ Bill
The House returned on Tuesday for a brief first day of session following the spring recess, but Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit) and Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Township) said that they expected more heavy work ahead for the chamber.
“The first quarter of this legislative session is likely the most productive legislative session that we’ve had in the history of the state of Michigan, so we’re really excited about that,” Tate said.
The House will tackle the budget next, Tate said.
“That’s going to be really important for what we do in terms of the values that we want to communicate and how are we going to be doing that through the fiscal year budget,” Tate said. “There’s going to be a focus around ensuring … we’re putting people first, but specifically around safe and strong communities.”
Education, housing, jobs, and public safety are all going to be top priorities, Tate said. The funding will go toward providing a world-class education for Michigan students, creating more affordable and working-class housing, connecting people with well-paying careers, and supporting community violence intervention, mental health support, and first responders.
“That’s where the rubber meets the road in communities across the state of Michigan,” he said. “We’re going to be hashing it out as we go along for the next several months.”
Tate did not set a firm timetable for the budget, though he said he hopes to get it done within a reasonable timeframe for local governments and school districts to be able to set their budgets.
“We want to make sure that we’re getting it done for their planning purposes,” he said.
A nonbinding statute requires the Legislature to complete the budget by July 1. There is usually a big push to at least complete the K-12 School Aid portion prior to that date since school district fiscal years run from July 1 through June 30.
Hall said that before the House turns to the budget, there are loose ends that need to be tied up from before the recess, specifically tax bills negotiated as part of the supplemental passed with Republican support at the beginning of the month and that included $650 million for the Ford EV plant in Marshall (See Gongwer Michigan, March 23, 2023).
“The first things we’ve got to do, to rebuild trust to move forward so we can get things done for the people of Michigan, is to honor the deal,” Hall said.
Six bills were part of the package, including HB 4054, HB 4055, HB 4039, HB 4253, HB 4219, and HB 4137. Although all the bills were passed by the House, not all were passed by the Senate, and none of them have advanced to the governor’s desk.”If we don’t honor our word, then how are we going to get this budget? How are we going to get all these very tight policy matters done moving forward?” Hall said.
Hall said he planned to have conversations with Tate and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer about getting the legislation into law.
“It’s going to be very hard to get any Republican votes for a budget when these guys don’t honor their word on agreements,” he said.
Tate said the bills were something other than what should worry Hall.
“You saw what we did when we worked in a bipartisan fashion to get those bills out of the chamber. That’s a show of bipartisanship. There’s not anything being held up at all, because that’s something that we supported in a strong fashion,” he said.
Extreme-risk protection legislation for guns is also expected to come before the House as early as this week. The House Judiciary Committee
is scheduled to meet on those bills – HB 4145, HB 4146, HB 4147, and HB 4148 – Wednesday. Tate said there wasn’t a set timeline for when the bills, known as red-flag laws, would see a vote on the House floor.
“This has been something that’s been incredibly important for us,” Tate said. “We’re making sure that we’re getting it right … I think there is a strong appetite, but we want to make sure that we get this legislation right because it’s too important for us not to.”
Hall said he expected that the Republican caucus would be unified in its opposition and speculated that the House hadn’t voted on the legislation yet because the Democratic caucus didn’t have enough votes to pass the bills.
Tate said that there was an ongoing and open dialogue on what should be in the legislation.
“We want to make sure we have the best legislation, and sometimes that takes a little bit of time,” he said.
Even after red-flag laws pass, Tate said gun violence prevention legislation would continue to be a conversation in the Legislature.
Manufacturer immunity was stripped from the safe storage bills that were ultimately passed by the House and the Senate, and Tate said there were ongoing discussions around that issue (See Gongwer Michigan, March 22, 2023).
“In terms of gun violence prevention, this is just kind of the foundation that we’re laying. There’s going to be more work that’s going to be done,” he said. “We know this is not the end all be all.”
In response to federal court decisions on access to abortion medication and other provisions of the Affordable Care Act, Tate said there was interest in enshrining those protections in Michigan law (See Gongwer Michigan, April 4, 2023).
“This is incredibly important to residents of Michigan,” he said. “There’s still conversations that can be had, but know that this is going to be a top-of-mind issue for this chamber because it’s important to residents of Michigan.”
Looking ahead toward the rest of the spring session, Hall said he expected that Democrats would continue to advance “partisan legislation.”
“We had the first tranche, which was Whitmer’s agenda. Now the second tranche are all these liberal committee chairs that have been waiting for months to be able to finally push through their policies,” he said.
HOUSE PASSES TAPS LEGISLATION: The House passed HB 4157 to allow for excused absences for students playing Taps at military funerals. The bill passed in a vote of 103-5, with Rep. Steve Carra (R-Three Rivers), Rep. Neil Friske (R-Charlevoix), Rep. Matt Maddock (R-Milford), Rep. Josh Schriver (R-Oxford), and Rep. Mark Tisdel (R-Rochester Hills) voting against it.
HB 4157 came up for a vote prior to the spring recess but was pulled from the board ahead of the introduction of a resolution condemning comparisons between gun regulations and the Holocaust (See Gongwer Michigan, March 23, 2023).
Panel Debates Bill Allowing Stricter Environmental State Regulations
A bill that would allow state agencies to enact more stringent rules and regulations than federal guidelines was thoroughly discussed by the Senate Energy and Environment Committee on Thursday.
Up for testimony only was SB 14, sponsored by Committee Chair Sen. Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo), which would amend the Administrative Procedures Act to delete provisions requiring an agency to adopt rules less rigid than those at the federal level, and would add a provision specifying the restrictions do not apply to the amendment of the “special education programs and services rules.”
McCann said the state has a history of going above and beyond federal standards. Prior to the provisions restricting state regulations in 2018, Michigan enacted a lead action level lower than the federal regulation, McCann said.
“These kinds of federal guidelines are inherently meant to be the lowest standard states must meet,” he said.
Charlotte Jameson, chief policy officer for the Michigan Environmental Council, spoke in support of the bills, saying the organization strongly opposed the adoption of the law during the lame duck session in 2018.
Currently, under state law, a state director can only exceed federal regulation in the case of an emergency. Jameson said the biggest impact of the 2018 change is the new “avenues” for lawsuits that challenge the regulation.
“For example, it is very difficult to sort out what exactly constitutes as an applicable federal standard. That’s not clear legal terminology,” Jameson said, saying it is also difficult to determine when a regulation is more stringent than a federal standard.
Sen. John Damoose (R-Harbor Springs) said he saw the chilling effect on regulatory agencies and on rule promulgation as a good thing. Rule promulgation should only be used when it’s absolutely needed, he said.
Damoose also asked about the current process that allows for the state to exceed federal regulations. Jameson replied that if an agency has promulgated rules in its emergency powers, that is allowed. Agencies would also have to prove that there is a clear and convincing need for more stringent rules; however, Jameson said this is often something that can be challenged.
Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) thanked Jameson for her testimony and the mention of how the lack of strict regulation of air pollutants has affected communities such as the ones in Chang’s district that reside next to a Stellantis facility. For the past several years, Chang, along with U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), have called for the shutdown of the facility Downriver due to residents’ complaints of asthma and other respiratory infections.
“At the end of the day, I think most, the great majority of our environmental regulation is public health regulation. That’s what it’s about, protecting people,” Jameson told Chang. “And so essentially, when we are limiting our regulatory ability to adopt those protections, we are tying the hand for regulators to protect public health.”
A few other advocates from environmental groups, including the Sierra Club of Michigan and the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, also testified in support of SB 14. Still, the Michigan Manufacturers Association testified in opposition to the bill.
Caroline Liethen, MMA director of environmental and regulatory policy, said manufacturers do not often compete with other companies, they compete with the lowest cost location. MMA advocated for the passage of the 2018 changes to help the state attract new investments, Liethen said.
“Deservedly or not, Michigan has a long-term reputation among Michigan businesses and importantly among potential outside investors, that Michigan is a heavily regulated state,” Liethen said. “Industry surveys of current and potential investors have demonstrated the perception, and as such, this negative reputation has served as a barrier to attracting investment.”
Sen. Kristen McDonald Rivet (D-Bay City) asked Liethen for concrete examples of businesses that have come to the state in the past five years after the 2018 change was adopted. Liethen simply reiterated that unless there is a need to exceed federal regulations, there is no reason to do so.
The Michigan Chemistry Council said it was neutral on the bill. A representative with MCC said the industry is already regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and many of the MCC’s members already work with agencies to set standards.
At one point during testimony, Sen. Roger Hauck (R-Mount Pleasant) asked what he would tell his farmers if state regulations became so strict they could not use enough phosphorous to break down waste. Gongwer News Service asked McCann what he thought of Hauck’s question and if he and other stakeholders would work with farmers on regulations if the bill were passed.
“I think I heard that the Farm Bureau is opposed to the legislation, and I understand that,” McCann said. “But I think that … this is really about giving more latitude to the department. … They’re still going to have an input in the process that talks about how we set rules. There’s going to be the JCAR process, in some cases, joint committee on administrative rules. … I just think that this going to be back to where it was before (2018).”
Trends in Enrollment Data Mimic Declining State Population
The decline in PreK-12 enrollment reflects the decrease in the state’s overall population and, despite a major hiccup caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, trends are moving upwards, presenters told the State Board of Education on Tuesday. There has been a gradual decline in public school enrollment for more than a decade, aligning with the demographic trends in Michigan. In the fall of 2020, the state saw the largest decline in enrollment largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent lockdowns.
By the fall of 2022, Mike McGroarty, director of the office of analytics and reporting, said total enrollment and many trends began to stabilize toward pre-pandemic norms.
The overall population of five to 17-year-olds hit 1.6 million in 2020 after 10 years of consistently falling from the 2010 threshold of 1.65 million school-aged children. It inched up in 2021 to slightly above 1.6 million.
K-12 enrollment, however, continues to decrease. The largest decrease happened from 2018-19 to 2020-21, with McGroarty noting a decline of 1%. The headcount currently sits at 1,383,889 in 2022-23, down from 1,392,700 in 2021-22.
Pre-K enrollment, on the other hand, continues to bounce up. In 2020-21, the enrollment dropped by 33.1%, falling from 47,614 to 31,853. In 2021-22, it bounced back up to 43,470 and continues to gain traction, with enrollment numbers reaching 46,170 in 2022-23.
Lauren Paluta, PK-12 data manager, discussed the trends for special education transition services which help students ages 18 to 26. Unlike the other enrollment trends, special education transition enrollment continues to trend downward as of 2020.
McGroarty and Paluta went over enrollment shifts. For new or returning students in grades 1-12, there was a large influx of students in fall 2021. For fall 2022, Paluta said the enrollment trend seems to be stabilizing.
Exits to nonpublic and homeschool reached a peak in fall 2020, with more than 10,000 students being homeschooled in 2020 during the pandemic. However, it dropped drastically down in fall 2021 and reached below 5,000 students in 2022.
Charter school enrollment continues to slowly increase. In the fall of 2018, a total of 146,506 students were enrolled in charter schools. By fall 2022, the number reached 150,305, with at least 10.9% of the K-12 student count being enrolled in charter schools.
Virtual schools, on the other hand, were starting to trend downward since hitting a peak in the fall of 2021. In fall 2018, there were 13,590 students fully virtual. By fall 2021, that number jumped to 29,622 and sits at 23,959 students fully virtual in fall 2022. This accounts for 1.7% of the student count.
Enrollment in full virtual school, nonpublic, and homeschool all have declined. Enrollment, however, remains above pre-pandemic levels.
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