Name five major pieces of legislation passed by the U.S Congress under the current administration. Having trouble? That’s because this Congress, even though the Republican Party controls both houses and the presidency, is the least effective since the Civil War.
While Washington, D.C. is paralyzed, Lansing is very much in motion. Yet despite the power that state government has to change our everyday lives, most of us ignore it. That needs to change because destructive policy gets passed when the public eye is averted.
I understand why the federal government gets more attention; it’s flashier. There are no shows like “West Wing” or “House of Cards” set in state capitols and no one dreams to be governor when they can aim for president. However, it may surprise people that the states, not the federal government, hold most of the governing power in this country.
The 10th Amendment states the federal government only has the powers explicitly granted to it in the U.S. Constitution, leaving the rest to the states. This is not meant to be a crash course on the Constitution, but our foundational document gives surprisingly few powers to the federal government. That means state governments hold the lion’s share of constitutionally derived power. Furthermore, because of federalism, states can challenge the federal government instead of being forced to stay in line.
Health? There is no mention of it in the Constitution. Education? That is a state issue as well. Now, of course, there are the federal Departments of Education and Health and Human Services but those are just creative applications of the federal government’s constitutionally derived powers. Moreover, in both health and education, it is the states that do more anyway.
So what has Michigan’s government done recently? Besides the Flint water crisis, I doubt most people could answer this with any certainty. This is not to say that people are dumb, only that it is easy to forget the importance of state government and therefore not pay attention.
One recent example of states flexing their muscles came when the attorneys general of seven states — Hawaii, Washington, Minnesota, Oregon, New York and Massachusetts — sued President Donald Trump’s administration over the ban imposed on Muslim-majority nations. Instead of joining his colleagues in opposing an unconstitutional and xenophobic policy, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette was busy preparing to run for governor. Once he did declare his candidacy, Trump promptly endorsed him on Twitter.
Speaking of Flint, Gov. Rick Snyder announced in early April that a free bottled water and water filter distribution program funded by state and federal dollars would come to an end once current supplies run out. This decision comes as Flint residents still do not trust the safety of the water. “This is wrong,” tweeted Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician whose study of blood lead levels in Flint’s children helped blow the lid off the water crisis and state cover-up. She is right; if the state government believes the water is safe then they need to convince the people of Flint instead of spontaneously cutting off the free bottled water.
The state Congress, also Republican-controlled, has its own share of troubling policy. In November 2017, the state Senate passed Senate Bills 584-586 that would allow people with enhanced licenses to carry concealed pistols into churches, schools, bars and other “no gun” zones. I believe guns should be allowed in fewer places, not more. The thought of someone, with an enhanced license or not, carrying a pistol into my younger brother’s high school is disturbing. Luckily, the bills are currently stalled in the state House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee.
Last year, House Bill 4221 and Senate Bill 162 were introduced in the state Legislature. Both bills would have completely defunded Planned Parenthood and other women’s health providers that perform abortions by prohibiting the state to contract the providers. Currently, Planned Parenthood and others have funding contracts for a variety of health services excluding abortion. Another bill would have forced abortion clinics to get licenses with burdensome requirements, mirroring a piece of Texas legislation that was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. All of these anti-choice bills have not advanced to a vote.
If you have made it to this point in the column, you might think all bills in the state Legislature are poorly conceived. However, Michigan’s state government has done some good. For instance, Snyder and the state Legislature worked together to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act in 2013.
Good bills are also sitting in the House and Senate right now, waiting to be passed. Democratic state Reps. Adam Zemke of Ann Arbor and Darrin Camilleri of Brownstown Township have introduced House Bills 5550 in the House’s Health Policy Committee to ban licensed mental health professionals from offering gay conversion therapy to minors. Fourteen of the most reputable health advocacy organizations in the country, including the American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association and American Academy of Pediatrics, oppose conversion therapy as both baseless and damaging to mental health.
Additionally, 37 bills have been introduced in the state Legislature to combat sexual assault in the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal at Michigan State University. Many of these bills have support from both Democrats and Republicans as well as survivors of Nassar. One of the bills, S.B. 871, which was introduced by Republican state Sen. Margaret O’Brien of Portage, would erase the statute of limitations for second-degree criminal sexual conduct against a minor and would extend the statute for third-degree criminal conduct until the survivor’s 48th birthday or within 30 years after DNA evidence identifies the perpetrator. Another bill, S.B. 872, introduced by Democratic state Sen. David Knezek of Dearborn Heights, would extend the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits as far back as 1997 for those who were sexually assaulted as minors.
State government matters, and who holds power can do great or terrible things for the people of Michigan. Luckily, Michiganders are going to elect a new governor and attorney general in November. All 148 seats in the state Legislature are also up for election. It is incumbent on everyone, regardless of partisan affiliation, to vote in the Aug. 7 primary and again in the Nov. 7 general election.
If you are going to be out of Michigan during the elections, you can still vote by absentee ballot. The League of Women Voters Michigan is an excellent resource for those looking to learn how to vote. Whatever state you decide to vote in, please vote in these midterm elections.
Ali Safawi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org