Capital Catch-Up, March 5
ICYMI: Environmental Legislation This Week
(FOIA / LORA) Heard in the House
Did you know that Michigan is one of the worst states in the nation when it comes to transparency in government? A study conducted by the Center for Public Integrity gave Michigan failing grades in executive and legislative accountability, ethics enforcement, and public access to information. Michigan residents deserve to have a government that is transparent and can be held accountable. House Bill 4383-4392 is a bi-partisan bill package that will begin to shed some light on Michigan’s governmental processes by extending the Freedom of Information Act and Legislative Open Records Act (FOIA/LORA) to the governor and the legislature respectively. The bills were heard in House Oversight on Thursday, only a day after they were introduced. They have previously passed the House with overwhelming support in the last two sessions, and they will likely pass in a similar fashion this year. The big question is whether or not Senate Majority Leader Shirkey will greenlight the package in the Senate.
Michigan LCV supports the new FOIA legislation as a positive step towards increasing government transparency, and we hope the legislation will draw attention to government transparency issues. However, this package is far from perfect and has many questionable exemptions. Frustration with the lack of full accountability and transparency in Michigan has led pro-democracy groups, headed by Progress Michigan, to announce a 2022 ballot drive which will expand FOIA to the legislative and executive branches without exemptions. We support both efforts and are excited to see so many elected officials eager to address the problem.
Legislative Activity We’re Monitoring
Energy efficiency upgrades at water treatment facilities clears committee
The House Natural Resource committee voted to increase available funding for water treatment facility upgrades on Thursday. HB 4123, introduced by Rep. Beth Griffin (R – Paw Paw), would allow clean water assistance funds and safe drinking water assistance funds to be used in energy efficiency projects at water treatment facilities. Energy efficiency upgrades at water treatment facilities are often prohibitively expensive for communities to begin, though energy savings significantly reduce costs of operation for the treatment facility. Michigan LCV supports HB 4123 because the bill is revenue neutral, reduces the amount of energy needed to operate drinking water facilities, and results in cost savings for municipalities.
Federal COVID Relief Tied to Limiting Governor Whitmer’s Emergency Health Authority
This week, all eyes in Lansing were focused on a fight over Governor Whitmer’s authority during the COVID-19 pandemic and the allocation of federal COVID relief dollars. In a push to limit Governor Whitmer’s authority, House and Senate Republicans tied the allocation of federal COVID relief funds to limits in executive authority and decision making.
HB 4047, which allocates $350 million toward epidemiology and laboratory research, was tied with SB 1, a bill that would limit epidemic orders issued by the Department of Health and Human Services to 28 days. HB 4048, which allocates $800 million towards public schools, is contingent upon a bill that would prevent DHHS from prohibiting in-person instruction and sports activities at K-12 schools.
Multiple committees were cancelled in both the Senate and the House this week due to lengthy negotiations and heated legislative floor debates on these bills.
Additional Environmental Action in Lansing
U.P. Energy Task Force releases recommendations to address unique energy needs
Michigan LCV often talks about decommissioning Line 5, the aging oil pipeline that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac. A critical part of decommissioning Line 5 is ensuring that Michigan’s Upper Peninsula continues to have access to affordable and reliable energy after the pipeline is retired.
The U.P. Energy Task Force was established in 2019 by Governor Whitmer to address the unique energy needs of the Upper Peninsula in a post-Line 5 world. This Thursday, the task force released a draft of its 16 recommendations to address the energy needs of the Upper Peninsula outside of natural gas and propane. Some recommendations from the council include reducing energy waste, deploying electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and supporting renewable energy development and energy storage. The transition away from fossil fuels in Northern Michigan is a unique opportunity to invest in local economies, upgrade aging power supply infrastructure, and create high-paying jobs in the renewable energy sector.
Michigan LCV looks forward to providing public comment on the draft to ensure that proposed solutions reflect the state’s movement towards renewable energy and result in affordable energy for U.P. residents.