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Here’s your guide to what the Michigan Legislature didn’t finish this year

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Here’s your guide to what the Michigan Legislature didn’t finish this year

Nov 19, 2023 | 8:08 am ET
By Anna Liz Nichols Kyle Davidson Jon King Susan J. Demas
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Here’s your guide to what the Michigan Legislature didn’t finish this year
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Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas graphic

The first Democratic-majority Legislature in four decades ended a frenzied year early this month after sending the governor a slew of legislative priorities, including a clean energy overhaul, abortion rights reforms and financial disclosure requirements for state officials.

That came after an even busier first few months that saw Democrats use their narrow majorities to push through pent-up progressive priorities like gun reforms, Right to Work repeal, “pension tax” repeal, anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination and the biggest budget in state history.

But with the Legislature packing it in even before its traditional break for firearm deer season and the Thanksgiving holiday to ensure laws went into effect earlier — namely the Feb. 27 presidential primary — that meant that some big-ticket bills didn’t make it to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk.

Democrats win mayoral races in Westland and Warren — and temporarily lose Michigan House majority

There’s still time next year, as there’s more than half of the 102nd Legislature’s term to go. 

There’s no shortage of bills left to take up, like community solar, FOIA reform, polluter pay, sexual assault statute of limitations, Detroit tax overhaul, charter school reforms and more. The Advance talked with lawmakers and stakeholders about dozens of measures they consider to be priorities for next year.

But with the House set to be deadlocked at 54-54 until special elections are held to fill the seats of state Reps. Lori Stone (D-Warren) and Kevin Coleman (D-Westland), who won their Nov. 7 mayoral primaries, it’s not clear how much headway will be made in the first months of 2024.

Here’s our roundup of key legislation that lawmakers could set their sights on when they come back to the Capitol:

Polluter pay

In late October, lawmakers in the House and Senate put forth a long-anticipated package aimed at tightening up the state’s environmental cleanup standards and increasing polluter accountability.

House Bills 52415247 and corresponding Senate Bills 605611, are known as the “polluter pay” package. The bills aim to implement stricter requirements for cleanups, increase transparency around cleanup sites, prevent the creation of new orphan sites and provide those impacted by pollution with options to seek justice. 

There are currently between 24,000 and 26,000 contaminated sites identified in the state according to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE). 

Michigan’s polluter accountability laws were previously among the strongest in the nation before GOP former Gov. John Engler shifted the state’s focus to managing contaminants rather than removing them, Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) previously told the Advance. Irwin is one of the lead sponsors on the package.  

“We’re trying to revive that history by improving our political accountability laws holding corporations accountable and making sure that the health and the beautiful environment that we have here in Michigan is something that residents can enjoy for generations and generations,” Irwin said at a press conference following the package’s introduction. 

Neither set of bills has made it through the committee process. 

Surrogacy reforms

Surrogacy itself isn’t illegal in Michigan, but participating in contracted surrogacy in any way is and it can carry a hefty fine and prison time.

A Democratic-led package of bills seeks to outline the rights of surrogates, parents and resulting children by defining rules of custody and inheritance and outlining requirements for contracted surrogacy aimed to protect all parties.

Rep. Samantha Steckloff (D-Farmington Hills), lead sponsor of the main bill, HB 5207, told lawmakers at the start of November that her battle with breast cancer cost her her ability to naturally conceive and she is looking to grow her family, but current laws make that difficult.

“There are so many reasons why a family might have an untraditional route to parentage such as health-related issues that make becoming pregnant, impossible, or dangerous,” Steckloff said. “My husband and I and many Michigan families like ours would like to start and grow a family. But in order to do that, legally in this state, many of our parentage laws need to be updated. This package is about parentage, and protecting our families, protecting and dignifying all of Michigan’s children no matter how they were brought into this world.”

Nationally, many states don’t have laws either legalizing or banning components of surrogacy and in Michigan’s case, the laws are broad and limited, but assign criminal penalties for all surrogacy contracts. Participating in a surrogacy contract can result in a misdemeanor charge for those involved, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $10,000 fine. Orchestrating a surrogacy contract is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

Michigan was the backdrop to a surrogacy nightmare that made national headlines back in 2021 when Tammy and Jordan Myers of Grand Rapids were denied custody of their biological children, twins, even with the surrogate on board for them to have custody. It took nearly two years for the couple to gain custody of their kids.

Tammy Myers testified in support of the package this month saying, “I think it’s hard to understand a broken process like this until it’s something that does impact you. … It’s just really important and I’m really passionate about making it better for other people.”

Here’s your guide to what the Michigan Legislature didn’t finish this year
Rep. Samantha Steckloff (D-Farmington Hills) listens to testimony during a House Judiciary Committee on October, 25, 2023. (Photo: Anna Liz Nichols)

Prescription Drug Affordability Board

Legislation that would create an independent, nonpartisan board to evaluate prescription drug prices and set upper payment limits in Michigan came out strong, but didn’t get over the finish line in 2023.

Senate Bills 483, 484 and 485, sponsored by state Sens. Darrin Camilleri (D-Trenton), Veronica Klinefelt (D-Eastpointe) and Kristen McDonald Rivet (D-Bay City) respectively, were introduced in September to establish the Prescription Drug Affordability Board (PDAB). 

Within three weeks they passed through the Senate, although along party lines, and were referred that same day to the House Insurance and Financial Services Committee.

Despite Whitmer in August listing the board as one of her top priorities “for the fall and beyond,” and more than 100 Michigan doctors, members of the Committee to Protect Health Care, a nonprofit advocacy organization that works to expand health care access, expressing support for the trio of bills, they remain there, awaiting a hearing. 

Among those opposing the legislation even before it was introduced was the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), which said in August the board would be an “unelected board of government bureaucrats” making decisions about medicine’s value. 

More recently, Gary Puckrein, the president and chief executive officer of the National Minority Quality Forum, wrote an op-ed Tuesday in The Detroit News expressing concern the board’s decision making power over pharmaceutical reimbursements to hospitals and doctors would unfairly impact “hospitals in poorer areas of metro Detroit … already drowning in a sea of red ink. PDAB price limits would make it financially difficult for these providers to stay afloat.”

Organized labor also was divided on the bills, which posed concerns for some Democratic lawmakers.

However, Dr. Rob Davidson with the Committee to Protect Health Care told the Advance that the problems experienced by the current system are being felt right now across all populations.

“Our current system isn’t working, particularly for Michigan’s communities of color who have more difficulty accessing prescription drugs than their white counterparts,” he said. “I see everyday how many patients are forced to forgo the drugs I’ve prescribed them due solely to cost. The PDAB is a commonsense solution that will meaningfully bring down prices for lifesaving prescription drugs for patients of all backgrounds across our state, including in underserved areas that need it most.”

In addition to the Committee to Protect Health Care, PDAB legislation is supported by the AARP Michigan, Michigan Association of Health Plans; Michigan Nurses Association; Michigan State Medical Society; Michigan Pharmacists Association; and the Michigan League for Public Policy.

Hate crime expansion

While Whitmer signed legislation this year banning discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation with expansion of the 1976 Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA), other bills aimed at protecting marginalized communities didn’t make it to Gov. Whitmer’s desk.

Introduced in April bysState Rep. Noah Arbit (D-West Bloomfield), House Bill 4474 would expand the state’s definition of hate crimes by enacting the Michigan Hate Crime Act to make it easier to prosecute individuals who target others for their ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability. While it passed the Michigan House in June, it has remained in the Senate Civil Rights, Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.

The bill was companion legislation to House Bill 4476, the Institutional Desecration Act, which will create penalties for causing damage to places like mosques, schools, cemeteries and businesses. It passed through both houses of the Legislature with bipartisan support last week and awaits the expected signature of Whitmer for final approval.

Arbit, who is both gay and Jewish, previously told the Advance that one of the motivations for proposing the update was because he believed the state’s ethnic intimidation statute was vague and insufficient.

“The law is basically not worth the paper it’s written on because prosecutors so often don’t want to charge under it because the evidentiary threshold to proving a crime of bias in court is so substantial, and the penalties are so weak, that it’s just not worth the resources to devote,” he said.

Soon after it was introduced in the Senate, opponents claimed it made a felony out of misgendering someone. Arbit vehemently denied that, calling it “far-right fiction,” and noting the word misgender isn’t even in the text of the law. 

While Arbit declined to characterize why he thought the bill had failed to move to a Senate vote, he told the Advance he retained an unwavering commitment to see it become law.

“I promised the people of West Bloomfield, Commerce and the Lakes that I would move heaven and earth to strengthen and reform Michigan’s hate crime law,” he said. “My bill, the Michigan Hate Crime Act, passed the House in June in a historic vote. I remain as committed as I ever have to getting my policy across the finish line and to the governor’s desk in 2024.”

The Advance also asked Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) about the bill’s failure to move forward. 

“Michiganders from all walks of life absolutely deserve effective protections from hate crimes. Bills to address this issue were introduced in both the Senate and the House, and we have a shared interest in getting this legislation across the finish line,” she told the Advance. “Now is always the right time to stand up against hate of any variety, including that based on race, religion, sex, and more. And we certainly must take into account the many Michiganders who feel vulnerable during this time of heightened tensions due to the conflict in the Middle East. People should be able to live their lives free of intimidation, and we look forward to continuing our work on this legislation to ensure it is as effective as possible.”  

Brinks did point to passage of the Institutional Desecration Act as work they were able to complete and said they will continue to look at additional ways they can protect Michigan residents from hate crimes.

However, Arbit said current events only serve to highlight that the time to move his bill forward is sooner rather than later. Experts say antisemitic, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hate crimes have increased since the Israel-Gaza war began last month.

“Addressing rising hate crimes is what the people of West Bloomfield sent me to Lansing to accomplish, and I have been nothing but relentless in communicating with my colleagues in both chambers of the Legislature that this issue is my number one priority, and that I simply will not allow this term to end without getting it done,” he said. 

“Particularly as we are experiencing a rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia, I believe that message has resonated, and I am more optimistic now than I have been in several weeks, that we will finally get the Michigan Hate Crime Act passed. I will not stop fighting until it becomes law. My community — and all communities across the state — deserve nothing less.”

Here’s your guide to what the Michigan Legislature didn’t finish this year
State Rep. Noah Arbit (D-West Bloomfield) speaks during a Lansing press conference on bills to strengthen hate crime laws, April 26, 2023 | Laina G. Stebbins

Statute of limitations reform (Nassar bills)

Since 2017, as the criminal cases against serial pedophile and ex-Olympic and Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar concluded, lawmakers have introduced a host of legislation in the interest of never having another tragedy like that ever happen again. 

Many of these “Nassar bills” have passed in these last four legislative sessions. This session, Whitmer signed into law several measures including a permanent revocation of medical licenses for penetrative criminal sexual conduct under the guise of medical treatment, prohibiting individuals with professional authority from preventing a person from reporting child abuse or criminal sexual conduct and other guardrails to prevent sexual violence, notably to children.

Danielle Moore, a survivor of Nassar’s abuse who serves on the board of The Army of Survivors, an advocacy group created by survivors of sexual violence told the Advance after some of the bills were signed by the governor that the bills, which are championed by survivors of Nassar’s abuse are critical for empowering children to seek help.

“We’ve been waiting for these types of changes. This is what we wanted. We’ve had gradual steps in the right direction, but I think this is a huge one. I hope other states follow,” Moore said.

But Moore noted this summer that many of the “Nassar bills” get left behind year after year, or “chopped up” to get some parts of the policies through.

Amongst other bills, legislation to eliminate statutes of limitations for more sexual violence charges and expand the amount of time victims get to sue their perpetrators (House Bills 4482, 4483 and 4484) were left behind this year, as well as other measures, though they made it on the House agenda during a marathon session this month.

The issues have a history of bipartisan support, with Republicans spearheading reforms to end Michigan’s governmental immunity shield, where governmental entities are immune tort liability, a big conversation as the state Attorney General investigated employees at Michigan State University for their knowledge of Nassar’s abuse prior to it becoming public.

The fight for the bills is not over, Rep. Julie Brixie (D-Meridian Twp.) told the Advance when the bills were passed over this session with significant opposition from Republicans. And there are parts of these bills that are non-negotiable, she said.

“When people have made suggestions about, ‘Why not change this; why not change that?’ I began to realize that I needed to ask myself a question: If we had the laws that we’re about to pass, in 2017, would the people at MSU who had been abused by Larry Nassar had had an avenue to just go through the normal process of the justice system and seek justice for what had been done to them? And if the answer is no, then the bills aren’t right,” Brixie said.

Local control bills

Democrats also took a look at repealing former Gov. Rick Snyder-era policies preempting local control over labor standards, as well as certain types of containers. 

In late September, the Senate Labor Committee voted in favor of a set of bills (Senate Bills 170 and 171) that would repeal bans on local project labor agreements and a preemption on local government’s ability to set higher-than-state minimum wage and other potential benefits. Advocates have called them the “Death Star” bills.

While the bills were placed on general orders in the Senate, they have yet to receive a vote. 

The House Natural Resources, Environment, Tourism and Outdoor Recreation Committee also voted to advance a bill that would restore a local government’s ability to regulate or place fees on plastic bags and other reusable or single-use containers. 

State Rep. Felicia Brabec (D-Pittsfield) said the issue was one of local control. 

“To be clear, this bill does not require any communities to ban plastic bags or auxiliary containers. It merely gives folks the options to,” Brabec told the committee.

Here’s your guide to what the Michigan Legislature didn’t finish this year
The Michigan AFL-CIO placed a Star Wars arcade cabinet on the Capitol Building steps on Sept. 27, 2023 to encourage the passage of bills that would repeal a 2015 law preempting local control of labor regulations. | Kyle Davidson

No-fault insurance reform fix

Ever since Whitmer signed bipartisan legislation in 2019 to allow drivers to opt-out of Michigan’s unlimited lifetime personal injury protections to try and lower insurance rates in Michigan, the change has been met with resistance.

Namely, auto crash survivors and those who care for them have railed against one element in the change that slashed medical care providers’ ability to get paid for providing services, thus causing some to stop providing certain forms of care. 

Part of the auto no-fault fix set a new fee schedule for health care providers to receive reimbursement for services using their respective Medicare code. But providers and families say many of the services auto accident survivors require don’t have Medicare codes and were cut to a 55% reimbursement rate of the amount providers were charging at the start of 2019.

The Michigan Senate passed legislation (Senate Bills 530 and 531) at the end of October to “fix the fix” and raise up reimbursement rates so care providers who specialize in services for spinal cord injuries or traumatic brain injuries for crash survivors don’t shutter their doors.

“Literally, since 2019, we’ve been begging for an opportunity to “fix the fix,” state Sen. Sen. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) said after the Senate voted through the bills. 

Now the bills have a murky future. Even if they gained the support of the now 54-54 House, the Department of Insurance and Financial Services (DIFS) has expressed disapproval of the legislation, so it’s unclear if Whitmer would sign it.

DIFS Director Anita Fox sent lawmakers a letter in opposition ahead of the Senate vote.

“… [T]he broad-brush reimbursement rate increases proposed in these bills would substantially impact auto insurance affordability across the state…Increased insurance rates would likely lead to more uninsured drivers and less competition in the insurance marketplace, which could further increase insurance rates,” Fox said in the letter.

Community and rooftop solar

While Democrats successfully passed a number of policies aimed at furthering the state’s transition to clean energy sources, some policies that would increase access to solar energy were left on the table. 

Included in these efforts were bipartisan bill packages in the House and Senate that would enable communities to create community solar projects with up to 5 megawatts in capacity and provide community members who subscribe to the project with a credit on their energy bills.

Independently owned community solar projects do not currently have the policy framework needed to ensure the system can be connected to an energy company’s power grid and community members can receive credits on their bills. 

While the House Energy, Communications and Technology committee heard testimony on Nov. 8 on House Bills 4464 and 4465, neither the House nor the Senate package has gone to a vote within committee. 

Rep. Rachel Hood (D-Grand Rapids), one of the sponsors of the House’s community solar package, told the Advance that community solar fills a critical gap in recently passed clean energy policies. 

“It fills the spot to encourage a smaller-scale implementation of solar with communities that are proactive in wanting and desiring to have this as part of their energy choices,” Hood said. 

“It provides avenues for energy autonomy in communities that are underserved and experiencing significant disruptions and lack of reliability, and it can be rapidly deployed to solve those problems where some of the larger scale, utility scale projects that we’ll see will take three to four years to stand up,” Hood said.

Additionally, policies aimed at removing the state’s cap on distributed energy generated also stalled in the Legislature.  

State Rep. Greg Markkanen (R-Hancock) introduced a bill earlier this year to repeal the 1% cap on distributed energy generation, like rooftop solar panels. Advocates have long argued that this cap serves as a barrier to individuals looking to generate their own energy.

Under current state law, energy companies are only required to purchase 1% of their average yearly peak load from customers generating their own energy. However, recently passed clean energy legislation would raise that cap to 10%. 

Similarly, Sens. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) and Rosemary Bayer (D-Keego Harbor) introduced a set of bills to remove the cap on distributed generation, and restore net metering, where customers generating their own energy are paid for excess electricity at the same rate an energy company would charge for electricity. 

“We have to have a free, fair and functional system and the law must allow people to plug in and contribute to our clean energy future,” Irwin said at an August press conference. “So to ensure that we meet these ambitious climate goals, we absolutely need to lift the cap on distributive generation.”

Here’s your guide to what the Michigan Legislature didn’t finish this year
Solar panels at the East Lansing Community Solar Park, June 26, 2023 | Kyle Davidson

FOIA reform

In the final days of this year’s legislative session, senators brought forth a new bipartisan effort to subject the governor’s office and the state Legislature to Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). 

Sens. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) and Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) have worked on Senate Bills 669 and 670 to improve government transparency since both legislators served in the House. 

According to a statement, these bills differ from past efforts by including the Legislature in the Freedom of Information Act rather than creating separate acts for the House and Senate. 

“At a time when faith in government institutions is at a historic low — in Michigan and across the nation — it is critical for our state to shine greater light on the actions of officeholders. We must expand the Freedom of Information Act to include lawmakers and the governor,” Moss said in the statement.

House Republicans also introduced a package of ethics and transparency bills in March. The bills would expand FOIA to include the governor and the Legislature, create constitutionally required financial disclosure forms for lawmakers, prohibit lawmakers from casting votes when it would personally benefit themselves or a family member, and prevent lawmakers and government department heads from becoming lobbyists until two years after the end of their term. 

The package has gone untouched by Democratic leadership in the House.

Driver’s licenses for all

Despite repeated calls for action from undocumented workers, families and their allies, a slate of bills that would allow undocumented immigrants to receive a driver’s license or state ID remains in committee in both the House and Senate. 

House Bills 44104412 and Senate Bills 265267 are otherwise known as the Drive SAFE bills.

While a 1995 opinion from Democratic former Attorney General Frank Kelley found that undocumented immigrants could not be denied driver’s licenses, the opinion was later reversed by Republican former Attorney General Michael Cox in 2007. 

Lawmakers later passed legislation blocking undocumented individuals from receiving driver’s licenses or state IDs.

The lack of a license can create issues while applying for a loan or a rental lease and opening a bank account, alongside creating financial strain and limiting the economic opportunities of undocumented individuals, members of Movimiento Cosecha — a movement fighting for permanent protection, dignity and respect for all immigrants — told the Advance.

Additionally undocumented immigrants can be deported if they are caught driving without a license, with 20,000 individuals deported in 2019 having been convicted of a traffic-related offense. 

“The Democrats promised in their campaigns to the Latinx community to pass Licenses for All and they have the majority in both chambers and Governor which means that they have the power to fulfill their promises but the bills are collecting dust in committees,” Gema Lowe, an organizer with Cosecha Michigan, said in a statement ahead of an Oct. 31 protest calling for action on the bills. 

Here’s your guide to what the Michigan Legislature didn’t finish this year
Rally for undocumented immigrants in Detroit | Ken Coleman

Fertility fraud

For the last two sessions, Rep. John Roth (R-Interlochen) has attempted to criminalize doctors using their own sperm without the consent and knowledge of the patient in assisted reproduction. 

The package, (HB 4178, 4179, 4180, 4181 and 4182), which has had bipartisan support this session and last, would in totality criminalize deceiving a patient about any element of the reproductive materials in use and require that a patient receive the egg, sperm or embryo they consented to receive.

The House Judiciary Committee passed the bills in May, but they have not been passed by the full House.

It was one of Roth’s constituents that made him aware of the lack of protections for patients when it comes to, what proponents of the legislation call, “the wild west” of assisted reproduction.

Jaimie Hall told lawmakers this summer that her mother, who went to now deceased metro Detroit doctor Philip Peven, was the victim of fertility fraud. 

Hall and her older sister were told that her older sister’s biological father was their dad, as Peven was able to inseminate their mother using their dad’s sperm and Hall was born using a donor of her parents’ choosing.

But Hall said late in life, using DNA ancestry testing, her and her sister discovered that their parents had been deceived. Hall was the biological child of Peven and her sister was the offspring of another doctor working with Peven.

“This fraud … that happens to women, I wish I could say it was just a once in a while thing, but it’s not. I have siblings that were born in the 50s like myself, I have 60s, the 70s. I also have siblings that were born in the 80s. He did this for over decades throughout his practice, and he’s not alone. There’s other doctors that have done this,” Hall said.

Days after her father died, Lynne Spencer said her mother dropped a bombshell on her: Her dad was not her biological father.

“Initially I felt a great sense of relief because so many things made sense all of a sudden,” Spencer told lawmakers this spring. “Over time though, depression set in, confusion, anger at the lies, a burning need to figure out who my biological father was and wondering if I had any other siblings.”

And Spencer said she found them: 74 half-siblings, to be exact.

“It is overwhelming having so many siblings, nieces and nephews. I had to make a spreadsheet to keep track of who my brothers and sisters are,” Spencer said. “Each time someone new appears on the DNA sites, we have to support them through the process of finding out this new information about themselves and that they are now part of a large tribe of people who are all related.”

Spencer said the doctor told her parents that the donor was a medical student when in fact he had a ninth grade education. Her parents were told that the donor would be used for six to eight families, but she’s aware of 66 families so far who were given his sperm. 

Charter school reforms

When Democrats took control of both the Michigan House and Senate following the historic 2022 election, education advocates said they wanted to see changes to how the state’s charter schools were operating.

At the top of that list was increasing oversight of charter school management, as outlined by state Sen. Dayna Polehanki, a former public school teacher, who posted to social media immediately after the election 

“For-profit charter schools? Get ready to open yer books!,” she said. “We’re finally gonna see where taxpayer money goes!”

More than 80% of Michigan’s nearly 300 charter schools contract with private, for-profit management companies which are able to shield from the public how much of the public tax dollars they receive are actually used for educational purposes, including what they pay their teachers and support staff. That same information, however, is currently required to be posted online by all traditional public schools.

But neither the financial transparency issue nor another priority, capping the number of charter schools in Michigan, have made it through either chamber.

When asked why, Polehanki, who chairs the Senate Education Committee. told the Advance it was definitely not a lack of enthusiasm that prevented those goals from being realized this year. 

“It’s absolutely a priority,” she said. “We just frankly ran out of time. We knew there was a chance that the House Dems would win their mayoral elections. So last Tuesday was really our date that we were shooting for to get everything that we wanted done.”

Stone and Coleman won their respective mayoral elections last week and will have to resign their positions. However, the 54-54 tie that creates is expected to only be temporary until special elections are held in their two districts, both Democratic strongholds.

Despite that, Polehanki remains optimistic they’ll get the charter school reform through in 2024.

“So when, I’m not saying if, but when we get our full majority back, I do anticipate that [House Education Committee Chair Matt] Koleszar (D-Plymouth) will crank these out and then send them over to me and then we will get it done. It’s been a priority for many Democratic legislators since we took office and had to deal with the minority and not getting anything done. So, yeah, absolutely you’re going to see action on these.”

One piece of legislation that already has a head start is Koleszar’s House Bill 5269, which would require Michigan charter schools to tell the public how much they pay their teachers and support staff. It was introduced last month and awaits action in the House Education Committee.

Here’s your guide to what the Michigan Legislature didn’t finish this year
Woodward Academy, a charter school, closed in 2017. One of the state’s oldest, it opened in 1996. It was housed in the former Lafayette Clinic, a state mental health center that former Gov John Engler had closed in 1992. | Ken Coleman

Environmental review boards

An attempt to eliminate a number of Snyder-era environmental review boards was also left on the table as the Legislature adjourned for the year. 

A group of bills from both chambers (Senate Bills 393 and 394 and House Bills 48244826) looked at eliminating the State’s Environmental Permit Review Commission, Environmental Science Advisory Board and the Environmental Rules Review Committee, with representatives from the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) and members of some of the boards arguing the committees are “ineffective.”

“It doesn’t seem like [the Environmental Permit Review Commission is] meeting the needs of anyone: the applicants, the department or the general public of Michigan,” Travis Boeskool, EGLE’s deputy director, said during a hearing on bills to eliminate the committee. 

At another hearing on bills to eliminate the Environmental Rules Review Committee, Boeskool noted that EGLE is the only department subject to additional oversight boards. Even after rules are approved by the committee, they still sit for 15 session days before the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, which oversees rulemaking for all other state agencies. 

Supporters of eliminating these boards argue it would streamline the permitting process and reduce delays in the rulemaking processes. 

While the bills to eliminate the Environmental Permit Review Commission, Environmental Science Advisory Board have passed the Senate, they are awaiting review by the House Natural Resources, Environment, Tourism and Outdoor Recreation Committee. 

The bills to eliminate the Environmental Rules Review have passed the House and await testimony in the Senate Finance, Insurance and Consumer Protection Committee as well as the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Agriculture. 

Homeless Bill of Rights

A bill granting unhoused people protections from discrimination based on their housing status also remains in committee as lawmakers break for the year. 

House Bill 4919, introduced by Rep. Emily Dievendorf (D-Lansing) revived previous efforts to create a “bill of rights for the homeless.” 

The bill states “An individual’s rights, privileges, or access to public services must not be denied or abridged solely because the individual is homeless or perceived as being homeless. An individual who is homeless shall be granted the same rights and privileges as any other citizen of this state.”

It includes a right to move freely in public spaces, a right to equal treatment by all state and municipal agencies, freedom from discrimination in employment due to a lack of a permanent mailing address and the right to emergency medical care, among other provisions. 

If these rights are violated, individuals can take civil action, where the court can award appropriate injunctive and declaratory relief, actual damages and reasonable attorney fees and costs to the person who brings the case.

The bill, which Dievendorf says is part of a larger housing package, sits in the House Committee on Economic Development and Small Business.

Here’s your guide to what the Michigan Legislature didn’t finish this year
‘Big Red’ of Detroit arrives on Friday at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in downtown Detroit. The church operates a warming center for homeless residents. | Ken Coleman

Water affordability and shutoff protections

Efforts in the House and Senate to create a statewide water affordability program and instituted and prevent shutoffs will also sit idle until the Legislature reconvenes in the new year. 

Committees in both the House and Senate have heard testimony on the sets of bills, however neither have voted to refer the bills back to their respective chambers. 

The proposed program would cap water bills at 2% of the average household income in a water provider’s service for households at up to 135% of the federal poverty level. For households in between 136% and 200% of the federal poverty level, bills would be capped at 3% of the average household income in the area.

The program would be funded by a $2 fee on each retail water meter included on a customer’s monthly water bill, which could be increased to $3 if needed.

The package also includes provisions for the forgiveness of water bill debt and funding for plumbing repairs. 

Other bills in the package would introduce protections for water shutoffs for customers with unpaid bills, and would reduce the penalty for someone reconnecting their water after a shut off from a five-year felony to a civil infraction.

Expanding state holidays

Legislation to establish seven new holidays as official state in Michigan made it through the House, but failed to advance past a Senate committee.

The package, consisting of House Bills 4446, 4447, 4448, 4449, 4544 and 4545, would add Diwali, Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Fitr, Lunar New Year, Rosh Hashanah, Vaisakhi and Yom Kippur to the 13 holidays already being observed:

  • New Year’s Day, Jan. 1.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, third Monday in January.
  • President’s Day, third Monday in February.
  • Memorial Day, last Monday in May.
  • Juneteenth, June 19.
  • Independence Day, July 4.
  • Labor Day, first Monday in September.
  • General Election Day, the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November in even-numbered years.
  • Veterans Day, Nov. 11.
  • Thanksgiving Day and the day after, the fourth Thursday and Friday in November.
  • Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Dec. 24 and 25.
  • New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31. 

Diwali is a Hindu religious festival, which celebrates the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. This celebration lasts five days and is observed by people around the world. 

Eid al-Fitr marks the completion of Ramadan, an Islamic month of fasting, spirituality and charity, while Eid al-Adha celebrates Prophet Abraham and his son’s servitude and faithfulness to God. It also falls during the annual Holy Pilgrimage, Hajj, in which Muslims travel to the holy city of Mecca, the most sacred site in Islam. The holidays are marked by group prayer, spending time with family and friends and gift-giving.

Lunar New Year is a celebration of the arrival of spring and the beginning of a new year on the lunisolar calendar. It is one of the most important celebrations of the year among East and Southeast Asian cultures, including Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean communities, among others.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are two Jewish religious holidays that mark the start and end of the High Holy Days. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins a 10-day period of introspection and repentance that culminates in Yom Kippur, also referred to as the Day of Atonement, which is set aside to seek forgiveness for wrongdoings over the past year.

Vaisakhi is celebrated by both Hindus and Sikhs and includes holding festivals, spending time with friends and family and gift-giving. 

“Celebrating our cultural diversity is a cornerstone of a vibrant and inclusive society,” said state Rep. Rep. Ranjeev Puri (D-Canton) who sponsored two of the bills when they were introduced in April. “By recognizing these holidays, we are not only showing our respect and appreciation for the traditions and beliefs of our fellow Michiganders, but we are also sending a powerful message of inclusion and unity.”

After passing through the House in September, all six bills were referred to the Senate Civil Rights, Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, where they remain. 

That committee is chaired by state Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), whose chief of staff, Ellen Heinitz, told the Advance that while they weren’t able to get to the bills this fall, “Sen. Chang looks forward to hearing these bills in 2024. She and Rep. Puri have been in touch on the subject.” 

Here’s your guide to what the Michigan Legislature didn’t finish this year
A Ramadan banner in Hamtramck | APIA Vote-Michigan

More abortion rights reforms

A scaled-back Reproductive Health Act (RHA) made it through the Legislature this fall, despite full Republican opposition, and now sits on the governor’s desk for approval.

It was Whitmer’s hope that the RHA would make it to her desk intact with all the provisions outlined when it was introduced, including eliminating the mandatory 24-hour waiting period before getting an abortion and allowing Medicaid to cover the cost of an abortion.

Those two provisions, which were key priorities for several advocacy groups for abortion access, were cut from legislation, as Rep. Karen Whitsett (D-Detroit) said she wouldn’t vote for the measures. With a 56-54 Democratic majority, Whitsett was the deciding vote.

“I will not cast a single vote to allow taxpayer money to fund elective abortions when those same dollars should be used to fulfill our duty to struggling seniors living in poverty,” Whitsett wrote in September on her social media accounts. “The choice is simple – we can either fund essential care for seniors or fund elective abortions. I choose our elders.”

Although there’s still hope from advocates that additional reforms could be passed by the Legislature, it’s unclear how they could win enough support.

In its final form, the package repeals the requirement that individuals purchase a separate insurance rider to pay for abortions or “rape insurance,” according to critics of the policy. It also includes the removal of some Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers, commonly known as TRAP laws, which place requirements of abortion providing facilities including requiring providers perform a minimum of 120 abortions annually to match surgical licensing requirements. Rural communities, specifically, don’t always meet that threshold. 

With the provisions left behind, Planned Parenthood of Michigan Chief Medical Operating Officer Dr. Sarah Wallett said in a statement earlier this month, the package falls short of Proposal 3, which wrote in the right to reproductive freedom into the state constitution, with nearly 57% of voters approving in November 2022. 

“Every single day, I see patients who have struggled to pull together needed funds because Medicaid won’t cover their care. Every single day, we have to cancel and reschedule appointments because of insignificant clerical errors in state-mandated paperwork,” Wallet said. “This is not reproductive freedom.” 

Detroit tax plan

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s Land Value Tax plan (LVT) also was left on the cutting-room floor. 

Under the proposed plan, 97% of Detroit homeowners would get a permanent property tax cut starting in 2025, if the state and local officials approve the legislation. The plan would then go to Detroit voters for approval. 

Taxes on vacant land, however, would more than double from 85 mills to 189 mills to punish property owners who have allowed it to fall into disrepair, creating eyesores in Detroit neighborhoods.

“With this proposal Detroit will for the first time in decades have a property tax rate that’s comparable to Southfield, Warren, Grosse Pointe, Ferndale, Oak Park, and our neighbors. That is what we are trying to achieve,” said Duggan.

However, the House failed in attempts last month to pass the legislation, House Bills 49664970

Duggan spokesperson John Roach told the Advance that the mayor understood the House was running out of time this year and House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit) agreed to “take the LVT up first thing in January.” Roach said spring passage “gives us plenty of time to put it on the November ballot.”

Here’s your guide to what the Michigan Legislature didn’t finish this year
The Spirit of Detroit | Susan J. Demas

Advance reporter Ken Coleman contributed to this story.