Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chang Anticipates Busy Fall
Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) said the Senate Civil Rights, Judiciary and Public Safety Committee has several items she would like to see taken up later this year after a productive first six months of the session.
"This committee has continued to be one of the busiest and has done a lot of good work," Chang said. "It tends to be one of those committees where there’s so many issues."
Out of 140 bills referred to the committee so far this session, 37 have been signed into law.
Chang said being able to help lead the effort to pass the first major firearm regulations signed into law in more than 20 years this spring was among her proudest achievements this session.
Democrats with their new legislative majorities had been planning to introduce firearms bills this session, but their timetable was moved forward following the mass shooting in February on the Michigan State University campus.
Legislation was signed in April requiring licensing and background checks on all firearms purchases and mandating gun owners to secure their weapons when children are present. Legislation also was signed to create a process for petitioning a judge to have a person’s firearms seized by law enforcement, at least temporarily, if they are a risk to themselves or others.
"I’m really proud of the things we did," Chang said, adding the gun legislation was subjected to lengthy and productive hearings.
Passage of the firearms legislation largely came along party lines. Democrats said the law changes would help save lives and prevent some of the gun violence they said has long plagued the state and nation. Republicans in opposing the bills questioned the legality of the changes to gun laws and whether they would make any significant difference.
"There’s members definitely working on bills," Chang said when asked if Democrats still plan to pursue other firearms restrictions.
Chang said there are several policy priorities she hopes to pursue in the fall.
"We plan to reintroduce the bills dealing with domestic violence and guns," Chang said.
The senator explained the legislation is something she has worked on in previous sessions, that would prevent someone who has been convicted of a domestic violence offense from being permitted access to firearms for a certain period of time.
"We know that domestic violence is something that escalates," Chang said, adding that after a first offense, someone who might reoffend might commit an even more violent act.
Domestic Violence Awareness Month is in October, Chang said, and her hope would be to move the legislation in the fall and have it signed by the end of the year.
Another priority would be to hold hearings and see movement on a policing package that was subject to hearings last session but stalled in committee. Chang said she has had good conversations with the former committee chair from last session and with stakeholder groups on the topic and is hopeful a strong bill package can be passed.
"This is something people want to see get done," Chang said while citing polling from Progress Michigan showing large majorities of voters supporting various policy items within the policing package such as banning no-knock warrants or tampering with body cameras and requiring other officers to intervene if an officer is using excessive force.
A large bill package that would codify recommendations from the governor’s Juvenile Justice Task Force is also a key fall priority.
Earlier this year, the committee moved several bills Chang said were major steps for the state.
Among these were bills to prevent sexual assault by medical professionals under the guise of medical treatment, an update to the state’s distracted driving laws preventing motorists from using their hands to operate mobile electronic devices while driving and banning child marriage in the state.
For the committee’s first hearing this session members took up legislation that was later signed into law, which amended the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (PA 6 of 2023 ), legislation that had stalled for years under Republican control of the Legislature despite gaining a small but growing amount of GOP support.
A bill banning discrimination based on a person’s display of their natural hair was also signed last month.
More Drones May be Given Flight by State Budget
A $10 million line item in the Department of Transportation portion of the state budget may more quickly propel the idea. "It’s gonna set the groundwork. It’s going to be a significant game changer," said Linn Smith, MDOT’s airspace and emerging aviation systems manager.
The $10 million appropriation for "advanced aerial mobility (and) drone infrastructure projects" is part of $18.5 million in one-time, General Fund new technology and mobility grants within the FY ’24 omnibus budget.
In an interview with MIRS, Smith clarified the $10 million would be partially spent on "a planning component working with the local entities," as well as on a ground-and-air risk assessment to assist Michigan in making a safety case to the FAA, which will ultimately decide if drones in the state should be permitted to operate beyond the visual line of sight.
"The drones that we’re talking about for the delivery systems are up to 400 feet in height, so they’re going to be working in that airspace. That is federal airspace, no ifs, ands or buts about it," Smith said.
Currently, the idea of high-flying delivery drones in Michigan is a vision for stakeholders, not a reality as state agencies would need to seek federal authorization beforehand. When asked where drones in the state are most lacking, Smith said "right now, it’s the communication side."
To achieve the aforementioned goal, Smith explained radar systems would need to be put in, and a "communications mesh" would need to be developed that corresponds well with the 5G network and satellite communication.
"You need to tie the communication systems in with the drones, a command control center for that drone with those networks…and that’s the most lacking," Smith said. "Where we believe that the system is going, it will come back to somebody behind the curtain, or what’s called a command control center, that’s monitoring the system."
Smith illustrated how money can be further spent on locker systems, where a drone delivering groceries and prescription medicines can drop them off in a secured location, and a customer can access their items with a passcode if a drone can’t reach their home.
He also described the rising interest in "vertiports," which are "vertical takeoff and landing aircraft." With developments still ongoing, members of the aviation industry are looking at flying freight vehicles that can visit inventory warehouses directly, possibly existing like airborne UPS trucks dependent on alternative fuel. A race is additionally unfolding to launch an "air taxi."
The South Korean automotive manufacturer, Hyundai Motor Company, projected around 2020 that the air mobility market will be worth nearly $1.5 trillion over the next two decades.
"The difference between a vertical takeoff and landing aircraft and a helicopter is really, to be honest with you, its cost…you’re looking at millions of dollars for a helicopter. These vertical takeoff and landing aircraft for passenger transportation will be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars," Smith said. "They’re gonna go into mass production…it’s our first segue, really, into an air taxi system."
Smith said the initial round of vertiports to enter the industry will not be autonomous and will be operated by a crew.
Charlie Tyson, the technology activation director for the Michigan Office of Future Mobility and Electrification (OFME), illustrated the current presence of drones in Michigan.
He said there’s a project with the Beaumont Health hospital system for moving medical supplies from one facility to another, and the OFME is collaborating with the West Michigan Aviation Academy and the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids to demonstrate drone-baggage delivery.
"Tying in talent and workforce opportunities where we can…obviously, the full-on operation, day in and day out of these systems will take some more time, but we want to show industry and we want to show our community Michigan’s open to innovating," Tyson said. "I would like to see Michigan truly be a global leader, and be a well-known leader in aerial mobility in a way that companies know that if they want to find success, they come to Michigan."
Pure Michigan Gets $15M; State Looking to Promote More Than Tourism
This week, Rep. Ken Borton (R-Gaylord) sent a letter to Governor Gretchen Whitmer, House Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Angela Witwer (D-Delta Township) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Sarah Anthony to ask that the funding levels for Pure Michigan be increased.
During the 2022-23 fiscal year, the budget included $40 million for the Pure Michigan campaign. The funding included $15 million from the General Fund, $15 million from federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars and $10 million in options for private sector/partner contributions.
This year, the $15 million in federal funding was not included in the executive budget recommendation put forward in February or the Senate recommendation. The House recommendation reduced the funding to $10 million, and ultimately, the conference concurred with the executive and Senate recommendation. The $15 million from the General Fund and $10 million in options for private sector/partner contributions remained.
Borton said he didn’t know the funding level for Pure Michigan was going to be changed until late in the budget process.
"That was devastating to me and to the people, in particular, of Northern Michigan. Business people that really depend on that promotion of Pure Michigan," he said in an interview. "A lot of them will ask their customers: ‘How did you hear about us? You’re here from Alabama. You’re here from Texas. You’re here from Tennessee’ … and they’ll say, ‘We saw Tim the Tool-Man Taylor on TV, talking about Michigan, and we’ve never been here before.’"
In response, Borton is calling for the additional $15 million included in the budget last year to be restored in a letter that also was signed by Rep. Curt VanderWall (R-Ludington), Rep. Jon Roth (R-Interlochen), Rep. Cam Cavitt (R-Cheboygan) and Rep. Dave Prestin (R-Cedar River).
"The positive impact of Pure Michigan cannot be overstated, and it is disheartening to witness such a valuable program being stripped of its resources," he said in a statement. "The short-sightedness of Lansing Democrats in neglecting long-term growth and prosperity throughout the state is deeply concerning. If we want to attract more Americans to move to Michigan, we should be investing more into Pure Michigan, not the opposite. Pure Michigan will now be forced to scale back or even eliminate many of its planned initiatives, which will undoubtedly harm our state’s economy."
A response from Whitmer’s office highlighted the importance of tourism to Michigan and as a priority for her administration.
"Governor Whitmer has been on a mission to make Michigan a top place to live, work and play. That’s why she’s brought together lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to boost our state’s economic competitiveness, increase investment in our pure Michigan outdoor economy and tourism and rebuild the infrastructure around our vibrant downtowns," Whitmer Communications Director Bobby Leddy said. "This work is critical to land major events that drive tourism, like the 2024 NFL Draft, and can lead to worldwide recognition, like when Detroit was recently named TIME’s World’s Greatest Places of 2022. Governor Whitmer looks forward to continue making investments in our bustling downtowns and growing our state’s reputation as a place to be."
The Pure Michigan campaign began during the administration of Governor Jennifer Granholm in the 2000s and was widely credited with injecting enthusiasm into the state’s promotional efforts during difficult economic times. Governor Rick Snyder embraced and expanded the campaign.
Although Whitmer supported funding Pure Michigan as a member of the Legislature, she seemed more reticent after becoming governor. In 2019, when the Republican-led Legislature passed a budget without her input, she line-item vetoed the program’s entire $37.5 million appropriation. In 2020, she agreed to partial restoration at $15 million. For the 2021-22 fiscal year, federal aid was used to prop up the program to $40 million overall (there was just $10 million General Fund).
The $15 million from the General Fund included in the 2023-24 fiscal year budget for Pure Michigan is in line with the General Fund allocations in previous years. This year’s budget also includes $10 million General Fund for convention and visitors’ bureaus to promote hospitality, tourism and travel. Funding also was included to support infrastructure improvements and community enhancement projects at tourist destinations around that state, including sports stadiums, museums and music and performing arts centers.
The budget was crafted to prioritize diversifying the state’s marketing strategy to encourage people to live and work in Michigan in addition to tourism, said a source speaking on background.
The state also is running the Pure Opportunity campaign through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, a $15 million marketing campaign to attract people and businesses to the state. It launched earlier this year to tout the state’s skilled labor pool, freshwater resources and climate change preparedness, while highlighting Michigan businesses.
In a statement, Nick Nerbonne, media, digital and industry relations director for Travel Michigan, recognized the importance of the additional approaches.
"The Pure Michigan advertising campaign, while the most widely recognized, is just one of many attraction and retention campaigns the MEDC leverages to promote Michigan as an ideal place to live, work, visit and build a future," he said.
Borton said he was concerned that without the additional $15 million for Pure Michigan, national advertising wouldn’t be possible.
"I see it in the real world, how important that funding is," he said. "That’s really going to hurt us."
There are no plans to discontinue national advertising through Pure Michigan, Nerbonne said in a statement.
"The campaign’s fiscal year 2024 marketing plans are still being finalized, however we will continue to focus our world-class marketing campaign on key markets that will produce the greatest response from travel consumers, including out-of-state and in-state locations, while maximizing available tools and resources to build on our successes promoting Michigan as the top travel destination in the country," he said.
Despite the lack of federal dollars to use on Pure Michigan this year, Borton said that with the state passing a record $82 billion budget, he would have liked to see more money put into the campaign.
"Defunding Pure Michigan on any level is wrong. If anything, we should have been pouring more dollars into it," Borton said. "Whatever we need to do – a supplemental, whatever the case may be. Money put into Pure Michigan – it just has a proven track record that has a great return on investment."
Because tourism is important to Michigan’s economy, especially Northern Michigan, Borton said he thought the full $40 million was needed.
"And I know the governor wants to increase our population," he said. "What better way to increase our population than to invite people into our area, especially in the summer, to see what a beautiful state it is and to have them think, ‘You know what, maybe I could live here.’"
Borton said that his primary reason for raising the issue is to help the people in his district.
"I see dollars put into tourism as the best way to bring people into this state," he said.
Pure Michigan will continue to be an important outreach strategy for the state, Nerbonne said.
"Once planning is complete, the Pure Michigan campaign will continue to be a key component in growing Michigan’s economy, along with complementary campaigns for attracting and retaining top talent, supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs, and attracting high-tech startups and business investment to Michigan from across the country and around the world."
DCD OUT AND ABOUT:
Jake German was happy to attend the annual Michigan Green Industry Association (MGIA) Membership Meeting at Weingartz in Utica where he addressed the organizations membership on current legislative happenings in Lansing.
Left: Senator Mat Dunaskiss and Jake German had a blast at the birthday celebration of Macomb County Prosecutor Peter J. Lucido last week at the Palazzo Grande in Shelby Township.
Right: Senator Mat Dunaskiss and members of the Common Ground Team host State Representative Sharon MacDonell at a tour of the Common Ground Resource & Crisis Center in Pontiac.
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