Michigan lawmakers to return to session this week
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Republican-led Michigan Legislature returns for voting this week after a three-month summer break, with plans for an abbreviated calendar before the crucial November election determines which party controls the House.
Both chambers will have three weeks in session before the election, or nine days. The House schedule is frontloaded to September, while the Senate – whose members are not up for election for another two years – will be in session off and on into October.
There could be a lot on the docket, but lawmakers may leave until the post-election “lame duck” period final resolution of some of the highest-priority, most contentious items: energy and criminal justice legislation.
The Senate resumes session on Tuesday while the House returns on Wednesday.
A rundown of what will, or will not, be on the agenda:
Because the state budget taking effect in October has already been enacted, there is little, if anything, that absolutely must be passed now. But legislators will want to make progress on some bills or risk them being crowded out by more pressing issues when crunch time comes late in November and December. Legislation not enacted will die when the two-year session expires in December.
Top priorities for GOP legislative leaders and Republican Gov. Rick Snyder continue to be an update of energy laws and changes in parole and probation policies. Lawmakers have been unable to resolve issues that ultimately affect consumers’ bills – competition in the electricity market, how much power should come from wind and other renewable sources, and whether to require energy-efficiency markers.
The last energy rewrite in 2008 was enacted in October of an election year, but lawmakers appear to be more at odds this time around, making a pre-election deal a tall order. Bills have not yet cleared the House or Senate. A nonprofit connected to Michigan’s two major utilities, DTE Energy and Consumers Energy, spent $7.4 million in 2015 to influence the debate primarily with advertising, according to a recent analysis by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.
The fate of various criminal justice measures is uncertain. The House has passed bills that would give the parole board less leeway to keep prisoners locked up past their earliest release date and raise the age for adult offenders from 17 to 18, but prosecutors and county governments have concerns. The Senate has approved a package focused on reducing and defining recidivism and limiting the re-incarceration of offenders who violate their probation terms.
Senators will resume session Tuesday. Majority Republicans plan to revisit the energy legislation and marijuana bills in a private caucus meeting.
House-passed measures would tax and regulate medical marijuana, which is legal under a 2008 voter initiative, in a tiered licensing and distribution system while allowing dispensary shops and non-smokable forms of the drug. Some senators were undecided about the marijuana legislation before they adjourned in June.
The Senate plans to quickly pass bills that would allow for public sales and operation of self-driving cars, a significant expansion beyond an existing law that sanctions such vehicles for testing only.
The legislation would allow for the operation of autonomous vehicles on public roads without anyone at the wheel. It is a priority for Snyder, who told The Associated Press in a recent interview that “everybody wants to see Michigan be a leader in” intelligent vehicles.
“One of the things the legislation would allow us to do is make sure Michigan’s a leader in understanding the safety issues and making sure it’s done the most appropriate way,” Snyder said. “I’d rather rely on us for making sure we’re doing good safety than other parts of the country because we actually know how to make cars. … Some of these other places, they talk a good game but they don’t make near as many vehicles.”
A spokesman for House Speaker Kevin Cotter said a House-Senate conference committee may be close to a compromise on an early literacy bill that has been caught up in a dispute over making third-graders repeat a grade if they lag too far behind in reading.
The House, which returns Wednesday, could at some point vote on legislation that would no longer exempt the governor, lieutenant governor and executive office employees from the Freedom of Information Act.
Another bill would make legislators subject to public records requests through a new Legislative Open Records Act. Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof has not embraced the bills, which gained momentum in the wake of the Flint water crisis.
It has been nearly four months since a special legislative committee concluded investigative hearings into the lead contamination that began when the financially strapped city’s water source was switched under state management.
The Legislature has allocated $240 million. But policy recommendations, including potential revisions to the emergency manager law, have yet to be released – sparking questions from Democrats on the GOP-controlled panel. Republicans now could wait to make recommendations, originally due in May, until after the election.
Democrats fighting to win the House majority for the first time since 2010 have tried to tie GOP lawmakers to the crisis by criticizing them for not calling Snyder to testify and allowing public money to be spent on lawyers helping him with Flint-related legal matters.