The following article explains five bills that have been introduced, passed or signed into law by the Michigan state legislature or Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in the month of March. The Michigan Daily compiled a series of bills in the Michigan state legislature for students at the University of Michigan to be aware of.
1. Building Michigan Together Plan
Status: Signed by Whitmer
On March 30, Whitmer signed Senate Bill 565 into law, a large infrastructure plan introduced by state Sen. Jon Bumstead, R-Newaygo last July. The bill was sponsored by a bipartisan group of 18 senators.
The “Building Michigan Together Plan” calls for unused money from the American Rescue Plan and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act as well as the state’s General Fund to support statewide infrastructure improvements from 2022 through 2026. The proposed projects include spending $1.1 billion on improving drinking water quality through the reduction of contaminants such as PFAS, $316 million to improve roads and bridges and another $383 million to assist renters affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
S.B. 565 was approved with almost unanimous support, passing through the Senate with a vote of 34-0 and the House with a vote of 95-7. Whitmer celebrated the bipartisan support the bill received in a March 28 press release as she prepared to sign it into law.
“This bill will make a real difference in our communities,” Whitmer wrote in the release. “It is a testament to what is possible when we put Michiganders first.”
On March 23, Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee Jim Stamas, R-Midland, also shared his optimism on the positive impact the bill will have on Michigan infrastructure. In a joint press release with Whitmer, Stamas emphasized the bill’s potential to benefit the lives of all Michiganders.
“By successfully working together, we’ve reached an agreement on historic funding to make Michigan an even better place to raise a family, live and work,” Stamas wrote in the release. “I look forward to seeing the results of these transformative investments.”
2. Temporary suspension of the gas tax
Status: Vetoed by Whitmer
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent rise in gas prices, the Michigan legislature advanced House Bill 5570, which would suspend the state’s 27.2 cent per gallon tax on gasoline between April 1, 2022 and September 30, 2022. The bill is sponsored by eight Republican representatives and has already passed through both the House and the Senate, with opposition primarily coming from Democrat representatives.
On April 1, Whitmer vetoed the bill, pointing out that it wouldn’t take effect until 2023. The Michigan Constitution requires a bill to have approval from two-thirds of the Senate in order to be put into effect immediately; otherwise it takes effect 90 days after the current session of the legislature expires. Since the bill passed the Senate by a vote of 24-14, it fell two votes short of the two-thirds requirement and would not take effect until April 1, 2023.
Whitmer suggested pausing the 6% sales tax on gasoline as an alternative way to combat rising gas prices.
“The legislature’s plan doesn’t actually go into effect until next year,” Whitmer told WXYZ-TV. “Right now, we could pause the sales tax on gas and give people immediate relief.”
Still, Republicans have criticized Whitmer for opposing the bill. In a March 18 press release, state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said Whitmer’s proposed plan to temporarily pause the sales tax on gas would not help consumers as much as suspending the gas tax.
“She’s weeks late and millions of dollars short,” Shirkey wrote in the release. “Now she’s proposing a half-measure that won’t save drivers as much as the bill we’ve already passed.”
H.B. 5570 passed through the Senate with a vote of 24-14 and 63-39 in the House, both of which fall short of the two-thirds majority necessary in both houses for a veto override.
3. Expungement expansion
Status: Referred to House Judiciary Committee
A bipartisan group of Michigan Representatives, led by state Rep. David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids, and state Rep. Bill Sowerby, D-Clinton Township, unveiled House Bills 5912–5920 on March 16, which would expand upon existing expungement laws — which allow certain criminal offenses to be set aside — to increase accessibility for those seeking to have their criminal records cleared.
The Clean Slate Act of 2021 provides an automatic process for expungement of certain misdemeanors and felonies, allowing Michiganders to petition the state government for the expungement of marijuana offenses committed before the substance was legalized in 2019.
H.B.s 5912-5920 would expand upon the Clean Slate Act by helping to protect individuals who have had crimes expunged from facing prejudice for their previous criminal record. The bill includes initiatives restricting landlords and employers from asking applicants about their expungement status while informing individuals if they are eligible for automatic expungement. Additionally, the state would be prohibited from publishing arrest records on ICHAT, a website used for background checks.
In a March 17 press release announcing the package, state Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, wrote about the importance of helping criminals find housing while they seek expungement. Rabhi helped draft the bill package and personally introduced H.B. 5920 to the House — the other bills were introduced by other representatives who collaborated on the package.
“This legislation will prevent housing discrimination against Michiganders who have already paid their debt to society,” Rabhi wrote. “As more and more people gain a clean slate, it is important that we break down all barriers in the way of them reaching their full potential.”
All nine bills were referred to the House Judiciary Committee on March 16.
4. Social Media Censorship Prevention Act
Status: Referred to House Committee on Communications and Technology
State Rep. Ryan Berman, R-Commerce Township, introduced House Bill 5973 on March 24, which would prohibit large social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter from denying users access to their accounts or earned profits unless they break state or federal laws or incite violence on the platform.
The bill would allow users to take legal action against social media companies that violate it, and would also allow Michigan’s attorney general to take action against social media companies if any user notifies them of a potential violation.
The bill is similar to other legislation recently proposed or passed in Wisconsin and Texas — the Texas bill was blocked by a federal judge in December 2021 who ruled that it violated the First Amendment right of social media companies to regulate the content on their platforms.
Social media censorship has recently become a talking point among Republicans after the accounts of prominent Republican figures including former President Donald Trump and Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene were permanently suspended from Twitter. The decision came after Twitter announced Trump’s ban would prevent “risk of further incitement of violence” after the January 2021 insurrection that occured at the U.S. Capitol building. The company also cited Greene’s violation of Twitter’s COVID-19 misinformation policies.
LSA junior Ryan Fisher, chairman of the College Republicans chapter at the University of Michigan, affirmed his organization’s support for the principles behind the bill, but cautioned that it may not be specific enough in distinguishing between protected and unprotected speech.
“People are harmed when individuals lose the ability to express themselves and their perceived realities, whether governments or private megacorporations are those responsible for the inhibition,” Fisher said. “With that said, we believe that… (the bill) does not sufficiently exempt the types of speech that companies should remain permitted to modulate.”
The College Democrats chapter at the University declined to comment.
A study conducted by Pew Research Center in 2020 found that 90% of Republicans in the U.S. believed it was likely that social media sites censor political views, as well as 73% of independents and 59% of Democrats.
The bill was referred to the House Committee on Communications and Technology on March 24.
5. Tax credit for businesses providing pre-adoptive leave
Status: Referred to House Committee on Families, Children and Seniors
State Rep. Jack O’Malley, R-Lake Ann, introduced House Bill 5979 on March 24 that would establish a tax credit for employers that provide leave to any employees engaged in the process of adopting a child.
The bill, which is sponsored by six Republican and five Democratic representatives, would offer businesses a tax credit equal to exactly 50% of the salary of any employees on pre-adoptive leave for the duration of that leave. Employers claiming the tax credit would be required to provide two to 12 weeks of paid pre-adoptive leave to any employees who have worked for the business for at least one year. During that time, the company also has to continue to pay them at least 50% of their salary to qualify for the tax credit.
The bill was drafted by a bipartisan task force called the Michigan House Adoption and Foster Care Task Force, which was assembled in February 2021 to identify potential improvements that could be made to Michigan’s child welfare system. The task force suggested a tax credit as a way to ease the financial burden on parents going through the adoption process in a report released in November 2021.
“Depending on the type of adoption, costs can add up quickly through birth parent expenses, travel expenses, agency and court filing fees, medical and legal paperwork, home assessment fees and more,” the report said. “We recommend establishing a state income tax credit for adoptive parents that is limited to any child adopted from within Michigan.”
The bill’s leave period is the same as the leave period established in the Family and Medical Leave Act. The FMLA is a federal law that requires employers to offer two to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to employees while guaranteeing their job security. Currently, Michigan law only guarantees paid parental leave for state government employees.
The bill was referred to the House Committee on Families, Children and Seniors on March 24.
Daily News Contributor Alec Hughes can be reached at email@example.com.