Michigan Legislature weekly wrap-up: Nov. 27-Dec. 1

Sunday, December 3, 2017 - 3:30pm

Each week, The Michigan Daily will be publishing a wrap-up of the most important bills proposed in Michigan Legislature over the past seven days:

HB 5286-5294 and SB 674-682: These bills, proposed by House and Senate Democrats, would provide more oversight and accountability for charter schools and the organizations that run them. The bills aim to give parents the information necessary to make informed decisions on education options and where their children can go to school.

In a press release on the Michigan House Democrats website, House Democratic Floor Leader Rep. Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, said the bills are necessary to hold schools accountable and inform parents.

“When we send our kids off to school in the morning, we want to know that they’re getting the best education possible — no matter which school they go to,” she said. “While we have rules in place to hold traditional and charter schools accountable, we have no systems in place to demand accountability from the for-profit educational management organizations that run charter schools, or the authorizing organizations that oversee them. All kids deserve schools that are held to account, and that is what our legislation will do.”

The bills would require education management organizations to release yearly audited financial statements, and charter schools to make their contracts with educational management organizations public. The bills would also impose additional regulation on charter schools, requiring them to reach certain performance tiers before expanding or moving, to prevent the misuse of taxpayer money and to prevent conflicts of interest between EMOs and the individuals creating charter schools.

State Rep. Robert Wittenberg, D-Huntington Woods, said the bills are crucial to making sure taxpayer money is being used in a beneficial manner.

“Charter schools expanded quickly in Michigan, and that gave parents a wide range of educational options for their children. Now, it’s time for reforms to catch up so that we can make sure that we’re doing this the right way,” Wittenburg said. “With these new reforms and standards of accountability and transparency in place, parents and taxpayers will know that education dollars in Michigan are going where they are meant to go — to the education of our children and to the promise of our future.”

HB 5266-5270: These bills would revamp voter registration and expand opportunities to register to vote. If passed, they would require landlords to provide tenants with information on voter registration, automatically register people applying for a driver’s license or personal ID card, and allow first time voters to vote using an absentee ballot.

Five Democrats in the House proposed the bills, including Reps. Darrin Camilleri, D-Brownstown Township; Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, D-Detroit; Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield; Kristy Pagan, D-Canton; and Robert Wittenberg, D-Huntington Woods.

“Voting is an essential right that is at the foundation of our democracy and is the basis of our responsibility as citizens,” Camilleri said in a press release. “We believe these bills are common-sense measures to protect and enhance Michiganders’ most basic right.”

Gay-Dagnogo cited the success with automatic voter registration in states such as Oregon, adding the state should enable more people to participate in democracy.

“The state of Oregon has seen great success with its automatic voter registration program, and we should replicate that success here in Michigan,” Gay-Dagnogo said. “When more people participate in our elections, we get a more accurate reading on the wants and needs of our constituents, and we lawmakers can better represent them at the Capitol.”

HB 5277: If passed, this bill would make driving with a dog on the driver’s lap a civil infraction with a $100 fine.

Rep. Latanya Garrett, D-Detroit, proposed the bill, saying it was a matter of safety. Garrett told the Detroit Free Press that in addition to being dangerous, it can also be distracting.

“Dogs have reactions. I used to be a first responder and when dogs hear sirens; they get really excited. I’ve seen dogs hopping throughout a vehicle while it’s moving,” she said. “We wouldn't drive with babies in our laps, so why is it OK for dogs?”

According to the pet safety advocacy group Bark Buckle UP, “if an accident occurs while the car is moving at 35 mph, an unrestrained, 60-pound dog is capable of causing an impact of up to 2,700 pounds.”

HB 5314-5316: This package of bills would create the “Revenue Sharing Trust Fund,” which would create a trust fund to help rebuild the money that revenue sharing communities have lost.

The bill, proposed by Rep. Rob VerHeulen, R-Walker, would be funded through Michigan’s sales tax and would give a level of security to local communities in the case of an economic downturn.

“There have been compounding factors that have all led us to where we are at right now in areas across the state,” VerHeulen said in a press release. “Our communities face a funding crisis. They cannot make reliable payments into retirement systems for their employees, including police and fire, and money is often being diverted away from vital public services in an effort to keep up with funding those retirement benefit plans or other budget necessities.”

SB 684-685: These bills would amend “the Revised School Code” to give students more opportunities to explore career options and identify careers specific to each student’s interests and talents.

The bills, proposed by state Sens. Peter Macgregor, R-Rockford, and Ken Horn, R-Frankenmuth, were written following the Michigan Career Pathways Alliance recommendations that were announced last summer.

“Senate Bills 684 and 685 are the culmination of years of work and I’m proud to be a part of yet another step in getting students the resources they need to make sound career choices,” Horn said in a press release. “We want to give students the chance to explore every opportunity available to them. Talent portfolios will be something that parents and counselors can point to as young people begin to look at their futures.”

The bills would also provide students information on projected job growth and wages, as well as putting together a portfolio of each student’s “certifications or accomplishments that demonstrate talents or marketable skills.”