State lawmakers have spent the past few weeks in Lansing wrapping up the year’s legislative calendar during the lame-duck session, typically characterized by a heavy volume of votes, bills and negotiations. Any legislation that does not pass must be reintroduced next year.
This year’s lame-duck session featured several bills that could have an impact on University life and Ann Arbor, but met with varying levels of success.
Bars Could Stay Open Until 4 a.m.: Failed
State law currently allows bars to stay open until 2 a.m. Under a proposed bill introduced to the state Senate in March 2013, bars would be able to purchase annual permits for $10,000 that would allow them to stay open until 4 a.m.
Many business owners welcomed the bill as a means to make their establishments more competitive, especially against states with later last-call times like Chicago and New York. However, opponents said later hours would lead to several safety concerns, including more alcohol related injuries and deaths. If passed, the bill would have given city governments and municipalities the ability to choose whether or not to allow the permits within their jurisdictions.
The bill passed the state Senate earlier this month, but was not brought to the floor for a vote in the state House.
Student-Athlete Unionization: Passed
House Bill 6074, passed by both the House and the Senate during the final legislative meetings, is currently awaiting Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s signature. The bill classifies student-athletes as students, not as public employees of the University, thus barring them from collective bargaining.
Though student-athletes in Michigan have not discussed unionizing, the issue has come up on several other college campuses.
In an interview earlier this month, LSA junior Cooper Charlton, president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, said though SAAC does not feel any animosity about the bill, they would have liked to have been more involved in the discussion about it.
“As the population that is going to be affected by this bill — we don’t want to be in the room telling people what to do, but we would have appreciated a phone call or an e-mail asking us what our thoughts are on this, from whoever’s office it may be,” Charlton said.”
Snyder’s office has been noncommittal on whether he will sign the bill.
Amendments to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act: Failed
As it reads now, Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act protects individuals from discrimination based on religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status and marital status. Two bills introduced into the House this year proposed to amend the act.
HB 5804, introduced by Rep. Sam Singh (D–East Lansing) proposed expanding the law to protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. HB 5959, introduced by Rep. Frank Foster (R–Petoskey), only proposed protections based on sexual orientation.
The amendments drew significant amounts of both positive and negative attention in the state. Proponents of Singh’s bill argued that Foster’s bill was not fully inclusive; proponents of Foster’s bill argued that transgender individuals already had protection against discrimination. Opponents of both bills argued that the amendments were oppressive to religious freedom.
After much anticipation, neither bill made it out of committee.
Religious Freedom Restoration Act: Failed
One of the most controversial acts to be considered over the lame-duck session, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was introduced by Speaker of the House Jase Bolger (R–Marshall) as a companion to Foster’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act amendment.
The RFRA, which parallels existing federal legislation, would have allowed individuals with strong religious beliefs to claim exemptions from state and local laws if they could prove those laws violated their beliefs.
While the bill was supported by a number of religious organizations and state residents, it also faced strong opposition from many groups because of its potential to invalidate state nondiscrimination ordinances. Opponents also raised concerns about the local impact the bill would have — many cities already have href=”http://www.michigandaily.com/news/religious-freedom-restoration-act-could-challenge-ann-arbor-law”>local laws that are more far-reaching than the state’s civil rights act.
After passing along party lines in the House, the bill was not taken up by the Senate.
Regulations for Rideshare Apps: Failed
HB 5951 was introduced into the House to increase government oversight over popular rideshare apps such as Uber and Lyft.
Across the state, many local governments have their own regulations in place for the companies. In Ann Arbor, proposed regulations were defeated in August.
The bill was supported by Uber because it provided one overreaching protocol for them to follow, as opposed to a patchwork of local laws. It required that transportation network companies purchase permits, have insurance and screen their drivers, along with several other stipulations.
After making it to a third reading, the bill was never brought to a vote in the House.
Road Improvement and Higher Education Funding: Passed
Early Friday morning, the state legislature passed several bills as part of an overall plan to help improve the roads in the state.
Because one of the key measures in the plan, raising the sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent, requires a constitutional amendment, the deal will not be finalized unless voters approve it by a ballot proposal in May.
As part of the plan, public universities will no longer be eligible for funding through the School Aid Fund, and will instead switch to receiving allocations solely from the general fund. For the past several years, universities have received a piece of their yearly state allocations from the School Aid Fund, totaling $200 million in 2014.
During Thursday’s meeting of the University’s Board of Regents, Cynthia Wilbanks, vice president for government relations, said that despite concerns the proposal would impact the amount of funding received by higher education institutions, early reports from the state budget director indicate the proposal won’t impact funding levels.