What to Expect in Whitmer’s ‘What’s Next’ Address This Week
Whitmer will deliver a speech Wednesday in Lansing to outline her fall legislative priorities. She is calling it her "What’s Next" address. Besides paid leave and energy, Whitmer also is expected, sources said, to offer proposals on reproductive health.  It was first reported in May that backers of the legal right to an abortion were preparing legislation to change or repeal several laws restricting abortions like the requirement for minors to obtain parental consent for an abortion.

Other topics expected to be in the speech are prescription drug costs and elections.

Multiple sources, speaking on condition they not be named, said the governor is eyeing a paid family and medical leave proposal similar to what Minnesota enacted in May.

Under the Minnesota proposal, nearly all employees are eligible to take paid leave, capped at 20 weeks a year, for either their own serious health condition or to care for another family member. In Minnesota, an employee can take up to 12 weeks of paid leave for their own serious health condition and up to 12 weeks for parental leave, family care, safety or a qualifying exigency though in a single year the aggregate cannot exceed 20 weeks.

Under that plan, employees do not receive their full wages. Instead, employees receive a percentage of their wages depending on how that compares to the state’s average weekly wage with lower earners getting a larger percentage. Further, the wages are funded by employers and employees through a 0.7 percent premium, labeled a tax by critics, on income.

The Detroit News, citing unnamed sources, reported Thursday night the governor’s plan to propose mandatory paid family and medical leave.

Whitmer Press Secretary Stacey LaRouche did not offer details on the specifics of what Whitmer would propose but shared a document that said surveys show paid family and medical leave is one of the top three policies people prioritize when considering where to relocate. Further the document said paid family and medical leave would particularly help women and potentially mean an additional 150,000 Michigan women entering the labor force.

"Getting this done" will help small businesses attract and retain workers, the document said, calling paid family and medical leave a "pro-family, pro-small business policy that will grow Michigan’s population and economy."

LaRouche said the speech would build on work already done this year to "lower costs, make Michigan more competitive, improve energy efficiency, expand opportunity and protect people’s fundamental rights. (The governor) looks forward to sharing more next week."

There are already bills in the Senate and the House to require paid family leave (SB 332 , SB 333 , HB 4574 , HB 4575 ). These were introduced in May and have yet to receive a hearing. The bills, which appear similar in both houses, differ from the Minnesota law in some key ways. They allow for up to 15 weeks of leave and initially leave the size of the premium to the discretion of the state treasurer with the treasurer then setting a premium in 2027 sufficient to generate 135 percent of the benefits paid out in the preceding fiscal year.

There could be exemptions for those employers that already provide for paid family and medical leave. It’s also unclear if it would cover all employers or if there would be an exemptions for small ones.

Minnesota used its general fund to get its program started. It’s not yet clear if Whitmer’s proposal would follow a similar track.

Business groups are voicing early alarm at the reports of Whitmer planning to offer a proposal on paid family and medical leave.

"We urge Governor Whitmer and legislative leaders to move cautiously on new tax burdens and regulatory mandates to consider the real-world impact on manufacturers, who continue to battle the headwinds of labor shortages, ongoing economic uncertainty and supply chain difficulties, and their workers who continue to struggle with persistent inflation," said Dave Worthams, director of employment policy for the Michigan Manufacturers Association. "Imposing new operational mandates and payroll taxes will destabilize our economy and reverse recent gains made in job creation and capital investment."

MAJOR PROPOSALS COMING ON ENERGY: The other proposals on which sources said Whitmer would seek legislative passage this year involve clean energy and climate issues. Legislative Democrats have introduced and are planning action on a large package of bills that includes requiring utilities to generate all electricity from renewable sources compared to the current 15 percent standard.

Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II recently threw his support behind a 100 percent clean energy standard, so the governor’s call for the same measure is not a big surprise. A document LaRouche shared regarding clean energy said the governor will back enacting a 100 percent standard.

The other major legislation Whitmer will back, sources said, is legislation moving siting decisions for wind and solar energy to the state Public Service Commission  and away from local governments.

Battles over wind and solar energy facilities have raged in townships across the state for years, sometimes even going up for public votes for voters to decide.

The document from the Whitmer administration says the governor will support empowering the PSC with "more tools" and authorize it to incorporate climate and equity into regulatory decisions. Additionally, the document backs the streamlining of permitting for clean energy projects through the PSC "to move faster, create more jobs and get shovels into the ground."

House Majority Floor Leader Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck) has been working with stakeholders to craft legislation that as currently drafted would call for moving siting decisions on facilities generating 100 or more megawatts from local governments to the Public Service Commission , putting siting decisions for large facilities in the hands of the state. Those facilities generating less than 100 megawatts would remain in the purview of local governments.

Aiyash said Friday he is still working with stakeholders, and the 100 megawatt threshold could change prior to introduction. The goal is to create a standard process but still give communities input, he said.

"If we are serious about meeting our clean energy goals and our climate resiliency standards, we need to think about the most efficient and equitable way to invest in these projects. There’s a way to address these challenges where we are creating jobs and becoming the clean energy leader in the country as well as ensuring communities are not left behind or taken advantage of in the process," he said. "We just want to make sure what is the best approach that the process is not bogged down by unfounded claims about what a clean energy future would do."

Laura Sherman, president of the Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council, said the PSC has the needed expertise in the subject matter.

"That will make sure that the best projects move forward and benefit those local communities, benefit the entire state, make sure that we’re able to meet our electricity needs in a cost effective manner while avoiding some of the really contentious local fights that end up pitting neighbors against neighbors and outside groups versus local officials," she said.

The proposal is drawing opposition, however, from the Michigan Townships Association.

Judy Allen, of the MTA, said township officials are not against renewables and many townships have multiple renewable facilities in their jurisdictions.

The question Allen asked is why it is necessary to preempt local governments on the issue. She said Aiyash reached out to the association, and they have had a couple conversations but more are needed.

A preemption would mean no role for local government in the decision-making process, Allen said.

"We’d like to know what the identified problem is. One size doesn’t fit all," she said. "If there are some areas of the state that have said no, let’s look at those and address those versus putting everybody under the same umbrella."

Early Sine Die Rumors Flying Again
Speculation is intensifying again about the Legislature moving up its sine die adjournment date, typically in late December, to late October.

An October sine die would allow the bills not given immediate effect due to Senate Republican opposition, like the one moving up the presidential primary to February 27, to take effect in January. That would potentially provide enough time for clerks to run the election on that earlier date.

Speculation, particularly among lobbyists, about an early sine die adjournment ran hot in the spring but cooled after the Legislature completed action on the budget in June with immediate effect.

The latest round of talk appears prompted by the recent primary victories of Rep. Kevin Coleman (D-Westland) and Rep. Lori Stone (D-Warren) in their mayoral races. If both win election in November, then the House will go from 56-54 Democratic to 54-54, meaning from mid-November until special elections can fill the vacancies sometime in 2024, Democrats will be unable to pass bills on their own. There are 12 currently scheduled session days in November and December after Coleman and Stone would resign and be sworn in as mayor.

One source said the House consideration of an early sine die is driven by the possibility of Coleman and Stone winning while for Governor Gretchen Whitmer, the rationale is more looking for a way to have the early presidential primary take effect. Without an earlier effective date, Michigan’s presidential primary will take place in March and the much boasted move by top Michigan Democrats to become the fifth state on the Democratic presidential primary calendar would be scuttled.

One well-placed source said it would be illogical for the Legislature to make any decision on an early sine die adjournment before the November 7 municipal elections in Warren and Westland. From a House standpoint, the reason for an early adjournment would lessen should either Coleman or Stone – or both – lose.

Amber McCann, spokesperson for House Speaker James Tate (D-Detroit), said no decision has been made about a sine die date.

"From House leadership’s perspective, we are just discussing all scenarios but at this point we’re committed to a full fall session with additional items on our agenda," she said. "The speaker is discussing with staff the impact of several different items that may impact the session schedule, but no decision has been made."

Gongwer News Service spoke to five Democratic legislators Friday on background, including several in the leadership group, who said there have been no discussions about adjourning sine die by the end of October.

One House source, of one published report saying the working goal for some was to complete major legislation by the end of October to enable an early sine die adjournment, said any suggestion the Legislature would adjourn before the end of October is inaccurate.

One Senate Democrat, speaking on background, described talk about a possible early sine die date as rumors. The lawmaker said the Democratic majority’s agenda for the fall will dictate when session is adjourned.

Another Senate Democrat said their understanding was that there was not yet any agreement or commitment to a specific sine die date as of yet.

Manufacturers Concerned Paid Leave Equals $1.5B Payroll Tax
The Michigan Manufacturers Association (MMA) expressed concern today that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s idea to create a paid family and medical leave policy would be paid for through a payroll tax similar to what was done in Minnesota.

In Minnesota, starting in January 2025, employees would receive 12 weeks of approved medical leave and 12 weeks of approved family leave while still receiving between 90% to 100% of their weekly wages. A payroll tax that equates to .7% of eligible wages would cover the program’s costs.

Whitmer is not expected to dive into details Aug. 30 during her "What’s Next Address" about what exactly she’s looking for in a paid family and medical leave law. She is not expected to suggest a payroll tax, MIRS has learned, opting instead to let specifics be ironed out through the legislative process.

Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor)’ SB 332 and Rep. Helena Scott (D-Detroit)’s identical 
HB 4574 provide for 15 weeks of family leave to cover the birth or adoption of a child, a child’s sickness, a physical or mental health issue, or a sickness in the family. The bills allow those on the lower end of the income scale to receive 90% of their weekly wage. Overall, nobody can earn more than 65% of the state’s average weekly wage.

The amount of a payroll tax to cover the cost of the program would be set annually by the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity director, under Geiss’ bill.

Dave Worthams, the MMA’s director of employment policy, urged the Governor and legislative leaders to "move cautiously" on creating a program in the face of "labor shortage headwinds," economic uncertainties, and "supply chain difficulties."

Asked if he could see a similar program created without a payroll tax, Worthams said if Michigan had any American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money left, that would be a possibility. However, it does not. The state’s surplus all but disappeared in the most recently passed budget.

In Minnesota, this program is estimated to cost $1.2 billion. Worthams figures it will run around $1.5 billion in this state.

"Where else do you get that kind of money, unless you win the Powerball?" Worthams quipped.

However, a payroll tax isn’t the only way to pay for this program, MIRS has learned. The legislature could pass a direct mandate on employers instead of creating an "unemployment insurance (UI)"-like system run by the state. 

Another idea is a cost-share model that splits costs between businesses and the state. MIRS was reminded that other larger corporations are already offering a paid leave policy as a way to keep talented staff.


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