June 9, 2023 | This Week in Government: Starting June 30, Drivers Must Put Down Their PhonesJune 9, 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.
Starting June 30, Drivers Must Put Down Their Phones
PLYMOUTH – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation Wednesday that requires drivers to keep their hands off their phones while behind the wheel, sealing the deal on legislation advocates have urged for several years.
“Today, I’m really proud to be signing a package with bipartisan bills that will reduce crashes and save lives,” Whitmer said. “These bills will ban the use of a phone while driving, including sending a text, watching and recording videos, or using social media.”
The change takes effect on June 30.
Distracted driving crashes have taken too many lives and shattered so many families, Whitmer said. Whitmer noted that this year there had been 322 fatalities on Michigan roads, and Memorial Day marked the beginning of the 100 most dangerous days on the road.
PA 41 (HB 4250) prohibits the holding or using of a mobile electronic device while operating a motor vehicle. PA 39 (HB 4251) makes changes regarding commercial motor vehicles, driving record points, and driver improvement courses. The law removes the provision preventing points from being assessed against a driver’s driving record if they are using their phone while driving.
PA 40 (HB 4252) amends state law to add language from PA 41 so it can be applied to individuals with a level 1 or 2 graduated license (driving permit).
Rep. Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth) sponsored HB 4250. He thanked former Rep. Mari Manoogian for sponsoring previous legislation, as well as his fellow bill sponsors Rep. Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit) and Rep. Mike Mueller (R-Linden). He, too, said the legislation would save lives.
“States that have enacted similar legislation, I’ve seen distracted driving-related accidents fall by anywhere from … 9% all the way up to 20%,” Koleszar said.
The bills were signed at the Mitchel Kiefer Memorial Rink inside the USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth. The rink was dedicated to Kiefer, who lost his life to a distracted driver in 2016. His father, Steve Kiefer, is the founder and chairman of the Kiefer Foundation, which advocates for phone-free driving.
“Now, we obviously can’t bring our loved ones back, but this legislation will help save hopefully all of your loved ones,” Kiefer said. “I will just tell you, in all the states where we’ve had these laws put in place, the biggest determinant of success is how good the campaign is and how good the enforcement is. So, starting today, you’re going to see huge information, huge awareness campaigns to make sure everyone is aware that this law is in place.”
Following the press conference, Whitmer told reporters her office is working on a variety of methods of communicating the law changes, and there would also likely be state signage on the road alerting drivers to the changes.
House Panel Discusses Stricter State Regulations Than Federal Law
A House committee discussed a Senate bill that would allow state departments and agencies to implement regulations more strict than federal laws, with the committee on Thursday hearing both support and opposition as the bill continues its trek toward the governor’s desk.
Before the House Natural Resources, Environment, Tourism, and Outdoor Recreation Committee for testimony only was SB 14, sponsored by Sen. Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo), which would undo the 2018 law preventing state departments and agencies from promulgating rules more stringent than federal regulations.
“Every state has unique needs, and our state, the Great Lakes State, is certainly no exception,” McCann said. “These kinds of federal guidelines are inherently meant to be only the lowest standard states must be. However, Michigan has a history of going above and beyond these federal standards to protect public health and natural resources.”
McCann recalled how in 2018, Michigan, through administrative rules, implemented a lead and copper rule that had the nation’s most stringent standards for drinking water. Similarly, Michigan also set a standard on PFAS and was only allowed to set its own standard because the federal government did not regulate PFAS at the time.
“We know no state is monolithic, nor does every state experience the same environmental and public health issues,” McCann said.
Current law allows the state to set regulations stricter than federal regulations in the case of an emergency, such as the Flint water crisis. Initially introduced in January, the bill has seen support from Democrats and environmental groups as protecting the state’s natural resources. Republicans and business groups have opposed the bill, citing concerns about regulations turning businesses away from Michigan.
SB 14 passed the Senate along party lines, 20-18, in May.
The Michigan League of Conservation Voters and Clean Water Action spoke in support of the bill. Like previous testimony, conservation groups argued it was better to be proactive rather than reactive to environmental concerns.
Ethan Petzold, southeast Michigan regional coordinator of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, told the committee the federal standards should be the floor, not the ceiling, for environmental concerns.
“If you look at going forward, there’s several challenges, things that we foresee, like needing to address cumulative air pollution standards and risk assessments that currently we cannot do effectively under this law. And there’s so many things that we might not even know about that we need to make sure that our state agencies can be proactive and swift in addressing,” Petzold said.
The Michigan Manufacturers Association and the Michigan chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business spoke in opposition. The business groups suggested the current law ensures the state is on the same playing field as others when attempting to attract businesses to Michigan.
“By eliminating this language, SB 14 would communicate a very different message going forward. It would say to existing businesses and potential investor that federal regulations may be considered a suggestion, and we will be considering additional regulations moving forward,” said Caroline Liethen, director of environmental and regulatory policy of MMA.
House Gets to Work on Prop 2 Implementation Bills
Legislation that would enact the voting provisions enshrined by the passage of Proposal 22-2 last fall saw its first action in the House on Thursday.
The House Elections Committee heard testimony on bills that would provide for early voting, absent voter ballot drop boxes, expanded definitions of voter identification, permanent mail ballot voters, signature matching and curing, and expanded precinct sizes.
Rep. Penelope Tsernoglou (D-East Lansing), who chairs the committee and is the sponsor of several bills in the package, called it a “massive effort to expand voting access.”
Deputy Secretary of State Aghogho Edevbie said it was “another step in the right direction [to] ensure each voter has the flexibility they need to cast a ballot and have their voices heard in Michigan’s elections.
“First and foremost, we believe that these bills provide the flexibility needed by clerks in counties, cities, and townships of all sizes across our state to implement Proposal 2 in the ways they need to do it,” he said. “These bill level the playing field by giving every voter the right to return their absentee ballot to a secure drop box, by mail with pre-paid postage, or to use an early voting site. … These are national best practices to ensure that the amendment is enacted in a way that maintains the fairness, accuracy, and security that Michigan voters demand.”
HB 4695, sponsored by Tsernoglou, would provide for and clarify early voting procedures. Under the bill, municipalities could work together or with their county to provide early voting access. Most restrictions on where polling places can be held would also be removed to allow for the nine days of early voting required by Proposal 2.
HB 4696, another sponsored by Tsernoglou, would provide sentencing guidelines for early voting violations.
Republicans on the committee raised concerns about ensuring the security of ballots during early voting.
Rep. Jay DeBoyer (R-Clay) also questioned the expansion of polling locations and asked if clerks would be given unilateral authority to select venues.
“When we’re dealing with something as significant as modifying, fundamentally, the election process, I think we need to be much more specific,” he said.
HB 4697, sponsored by Rep. Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth), would modify requirements for absent voter ballot drop boxes. Under the legislation, every municipality would have to have at least one drop box and at least one drop box for every 15,000 registered voters. The bill also outlines drop box security requirements but removes the current requirement that drop boxes located outdoors must have video monitoring.
Rep. Rachelle Smit (R-Shelbyville) asked why the requirement for cameras was being removed.
Edevbie said that although the Department of State still believed there should be a requirement for video surveillance, the goal was to provide flexibility for rural communities that may not have the necessary broadband access.
“There are major parts of the state that don’t have any internet access,” he said. “One of the things we have to think about is how much is it going to actually cost to have cameras across the state at every single drop box in a way that conforms with the existing law, and we certainly are welcome to figuring out other approaches to make sure that drop boxes are secure and voters can have confidence in the system.”
HB 4698, sponsored by Rep. Kara Hope (D-Holt), would expand what identification is accepted for election purposes to include a current military photo identification card issued by the state of Michigan, a current photo identification card issued by a local government, and a current student photo identification card issued by an education institution in Michigan.
Those who testified in support of the bill clarified that the identification required to register to vote would be different from the identification voters were required to present before voting.
HB 4699, sponsored by Rep. Erin Byrnes (D-Dearborn), would allow voters to register as permanent mail ballot voters. That means people who submit a signed absent voter ballot application could receive an absent voter ballot by mail for all future elections.
Once the application for all future elections was verified, the voter wouldn’t have to apply again unless the application was rescinded.
HB 4700, sponsored by Rep. Carrie Rheingans (D-Ann Arbor), would provide for signature matching and curing for absent voter ballot applications and return envelopes, allowing for voters to be placed on a permanent absent voter list. The bill is tie-barred to SB 339.
The final bill in the package, HB 4702, also sponsored by Tsernoglou, would increase the maximum number of electors in a precinct from 2,999 to 5,000.
“This is an important bill, and we have been asking for this since the passage of Proposal 3 of 2018 with the large increase of the number of people who are voting by mail,” said Lansing Clerk Chris Swope. “It has decreased the turnout in the precincts, and now, with the addition of the nine days of early voting, it’s important that we have this and that we have it enacted soon.”
Rep. Dylan Wegela (D-Garden City) questioned if the bill would negatively impact voter turnout by increasing lines to vote, but Swope said the decision would be left up to local clerks who would make decisions in data-driven ways.
Smit spoke in support of the bill and emphasized the importance of making decisions that helped voters have timely access to the polls.
“It’s just extremely important to make sure that all of our voters have accessibility in a reasonable amount of time,” she said.
Several clerks testified in support of the bills in the package, urging the Legislature to act quickly so that they could begin preparing for the 2024 elections.
No further action was taken on the bills.
“This work, with these work groups and having all the stakeholders on the same page, and the House and Senate in complete alignment on these bills, is a very collaborative effort that I hope we can continue,” Tsernoglou said.
Bills Curbing Housing Crisis Discussed by Senate Committee
A Senate bill that would expand a Michigan State Housing Development Authority program to provide financial assistance for middle-income housing and a House bill that would allow cities with populations of 50,000 to establish a land bank authority were discussed by a Senate committee Thursday.
MSHDA administers the Michigan Housing and Community Development Program to make financing available for low-income households. The bill, SB 293, would expand the program to include financing to be made available to middle-income households.
Sen. Kristen McDonald Rivet (D-Bay City) spoke before the Senate Economic and Community Development Committee along with MSHDA Executive Director Amy Hovey about the bill. McDonald Rivet said she has heard from constituents across the state about the need for new and affordable housing, saying her bill would directly target workforce housing.
In response to the housing crisis, Hovey said Michigan approved its first-ever housing plan last year and created regional housing partnerships to help MSHDA implement their housing plan.
“We want to fund those regional plans,” Hovey said. “And the changes in this bill will allow us to do that. We get different funds depending on the year, depending on what the federal government is doing, and also some of the great appropriations that we’ve received from the state in the last couple of years. And sometimes the targets that are in this housing community development fund right now, we don’t need the funds in those areas.”
Hovey said during COVID-19, MSHDA was able to put out a large Notice of Funding Availability for permanent housing for the state’s most vulnerable populations. During that year, MSHDA might not need the 25% set aside because we have other funds that are dealing with that crisis at that point, Hovey said.
“We’d love the flexibility to use these funds to meet other needs that are rising to the top where there are not other programs that are meeting those needs,” Hovey said.
Committee Chair Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) asked Hovey to expand on the “missing middle” and middle-income housing. Hovey said currently, the state is about 190,000 housing units short and with the new jobs and economic development projects expected to start in the state, Hovey said there is not enough housing for the workforce.
Sen. Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia) asked if by expanding the funding to middle-income housing, then would fund for low-income housing would be reduced.
“We have new pots of money that are coming to MSHDA in addition to the funding for the housing and community development fund,” Hovey said. “So the community development block grant dollars that were previously at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation are moving to the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. In addition, there is a great tool that you all have that’s now in the House, this tax increment financing for housing subsidy.”
McDonald Rivet emphasized the bill would not mean the reallocation of all the funding that’s made available, saying it’s specific to “one pot of money” and the only source that has the flexibility to allow the department to fill in missing gaps of money.
The Michigan Municipal League, the Home Builders Association of Michigan, and the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness supported the bill. The Michigan League of Public Policy was opposed to the bill as written.
Sponsored by Rep. Kristian Grant (D-Grand Rapids), HB 4375 would modify the definition of qualified city. The bill would amend the Land Bank Fast Track Act to allow a city with a population of 50,000 or more to create a local land bank authority as long as the city is not located in a county that already has a county land bank authority.
This bill is similar to one that was introduced last session but did not receive a full House vote. In this session, the House moved the bill by a 57-50 vote.
Grant said her city of Grand Rapids has had to work with the state land bank to create any change and work with property that has fallen into land bank ownership. This also affects the surrounding areas of Kentwood and Wyoming, Grant said.
In addition to the three cities in Kent County, St. Clair Shores, Sterling Heights, and Warren in Macomb County and Ann Arbor in Washtenaw County would also be eligible to have a local land bank authority.
Sen. Mary Cavanagh (D-Redford Township) asked Grant what would happen if the county decided to create its own land bank after the fact. Grant said the city would maintain jurisdiction of the properties foreclosed within its city borders, and the county would have authority over the other cities within county lines.
Sen. Jonathan Lindsey (R-Coldwater) said he had an issue with the 50,000-population threshold, asking why a city with 20,000 could not enact its own land bank authority. Jennifer Rigterink, assistant director of state and federal affairs for the Michigan Municipal League, spoke in support of the bill and said the MML would be in support of removing the population threshold.
Snyder, Parfet to Head Up House GOP Fundraising
Former Gov. Rick Snyder and Kalamazoo business executive Bill Parfet will serve as the chair and executive chair of the House Republican Fundraising Committee throughout the 2024 election.
Snyder was elected governor in 2010, beating out then-Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero with 58% of the vote. He was reelected in 2014 over former U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer. More recently, Snyder started a cybersecurity business in Ann Abor called SensCy.
Parfet is a business executive from Kalamazoo. Currently, he is the chair and CEO of the Northwood Group. The heir to the Upjohn pharmaceutical company fortune, Parfet was a prolific donor to Snyder and the Michigan GOP.
In 2022, Parfet was a donor and supporter of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
In a press release about the appointments, House Minority Leader Rep. Matt Hall (R-Richland Township) said he is excited to have Snyder and Parfet take up the roles.
“Bill Parfet and Gov. Snyder have created jobs and helped make our economy competitive, and they know that Michigan needs a House Republican majority to provide check-and-balances and refocus our government on the issues that matter to Michigan families,” Hall said.
The release touted the House Republican fundraising numbers from the first quarter of 2023. House Republicans had $1.35 million for cash on hand while House Democrats reported having $1.27 million.
Parfet and Snyder’s committee will be the fundraising arm of the House Republican Campaign Committee. Rep. Andrew Beeler, who heads up the HRCC, said the Republicans have “gained a solid footing” to retake the majority in 2024.
“Gov. Snyder and Bill Parfet will help us continue spreading our message throughout the state, and we are grateful to have them supporting our efforts,” he said.
Snyder praised House Republicans as good leaders who are bringing about positive results for Michiganders and invoked a key phrase of his during his last term – “Relentless Positive Action.”
“I’m looking forward to partnering with House Republicans to raise critical resources and communicate their vision and plan of action to Michigan voters,” Snyder said.
Whitmer and the new Democratic majority have substantially changed or repealed several Snyder initiatives during their first five months in power, including the expansion of the income tax on retirement income, right-to-work, reduction in the Earned Income Tax Credit, the retention of third graders not scoring proficiently on reading and the A-F grading system for schools.
Snyder largely has not been involved in politics since leaving office. He steered clear of statewide elections in 2022 and famously did not endorse in the 2018 general election for governor between Whitmer and then-Attorney General Bill Schuette.
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