What passed and what stalled in the 2015 state legislative session
The Michigan Legislature was busy this past week wrapping up the 2015 legislative session in Lansing, which ended Thursday. This year’s legislative session, part of a two-year term, touched on a number of issues directly relevant to the University and Ann Arbor communities, including scholarship funding and concealed weapons use on college campuses.
Bills not passed by the end of this session can be taken up during the second half of legislative term next year. The state legislature is set to reconvene in January.
Marijuana Legalization and Regulation — Stalled
House Bill 4877 aims to legalize and tax the private use of marijuana for Michigan residents over the age of 21. The bill would allow Michigan residents to grow limited amounts of the plant within their own homes.
Michigan is one of 23 states that have legalized medical marijuana.
The bill, introduced by Representative Jeff Irwin (D — Ann Arbor) in September, has not made it out of committee onto the House floor, with enough legislators opposed to the legalization of marijuana to stall the bill in its earliest stages.
In a September interview, Irwin said he introduced the bill because he felt giving adults the ability make decisions about issues such as marijuana use aligned with American values.
“I think we need to let adults make their own choices about what they eat and what they put in their body,” he said.
Currently, it is legal to purchase marijuana for recreational purposes in four states: Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington.
Promise Zones Expansion — Stalled
Senate Bills 539 and 540 aims to expand the promise zone program currently in place in 10 state school districts. Promise zones allow communities to take advantage of tax and funding mechanisms to provide scholarships up to the total cost of a qualified student’s undergraduate college tuition in Michigan for residents.
Concealed Weapons in Schools — Stalled
A bill aimed at allowing the concealed carry of weapons in areas designated as gun-free zones — including college campuses — has not come up for a vote in the state Senate after being approved by a Senate panel in October. Currently, state law allows individuals with concealed carry permits to open carry guns in the zones, though several schools and colleges, including the University, have banned all guns. SB 442 could override local regulations such as those by permitting concealed carry in the zones.
Beyond the state legislature, limits on firearms in gun-free zones have prompted judicial and public controversy in past months as well. In July, Ann Arbor resident Joshua Wade sued the University over his right to carry his right to openly carry his gun on campus. The suit was dismissed in November, after Judge Cynthia Stephens ruled that the University was exempt from a state law prohibiting local level governments from creating gun laws.
Wade’s lawsuit was one of three filed against schools and colleges. Two were dismissed. The third is currently pending an appeal after a judge ruled that the Clio School District could not ban guns inside its schools.
School Taxes — Stalled
After being passed by the state Senate in September, Senate Bill 356 has not advanced in the state House. The legislation concerns the act of levying certain school taxes from dissolved school districts to school districts still receiving funding from the government, and lays out the conditions for the demolition of school buildings within failed districts.
Overall, the bill aims to tighten public school budgets and help allocate money more efficiently to better-suited school districts to aid those who are struggling but have not yet failed, partially through transferring students from failing districts to more well-equipped schools.
Environmental Protection — Passed
Senate Bill 400 joined an abundance of Michigan laws concerning environmental protection when it was passed by the legislature in December. The law aims to highlights the issue of hazardous waste and modify liquid industrial waste programs in the state.
It lays out clear regulations for the discharge of certain hazardous wastes from factories, generators, and other sources. It also instills the requirement of a permit when transporting hazardous waste and creates other requirements that must be met when transporting the waste on public and forms of transportation frequented by the public.
In addition, the law directs that funds received from violations of the requirements go toward environmental protection agencies.
State Report on Higher Education and Michigan’s Workforce
Beyond bills, a working group composed of members of the state legislature, nonprofits and colleges, including the University, released a report in December on higher education and the state’s workforce. The report set a goal for 60 percent of residents to have postsecondary credentials by 2025 through increased college preparedness in secondary schools, streamlined financial aid processes, and other mechanisms.
In a December e-mail interview, Cynthia Wilbanks, the University's vice president of government relations, lauded multiple aspects of the proposal — such as those affecting K-12 students — as positive.
“The University has and will continue to call out the imperatives of a well-educated citizenry,” she wrote. “We know that supporting the goal includes not only the success of the thousands of students who graduate from the University, but also the initiatives that are focused on K-12 student success and outcome.”
She added that the University is committed to working with state officials in achieving the 60 percent goal, but also noted the drop in higher education funding over past years.
In 2011, Gov. Rick Snyder (R) cut higher education funding by 15 percent. Since then, funding has increased incrementally each year, though it hasn’t quite reached the level it was at before 2011.
“The coming together of business, labor, government, foundations, K-12 leaders, university and community college leaders sends a strong signal that there is an urgency in focusing on this goal,” Wilbanks wrote. “But to be successful, we are eager to see a willingness on the part of state policymakers to prioritize policy and spending decisions to support this goal.”
Correction appended: A previous version of this article misstated the length of the legislative term.