Lame Duck:  Few Items of Interest, Few Days in Play
As reported by MIRS, the House and Senate are looking at meeting as few as two or three days after the Thanksgiving break before calling it a legislative session based on the current plans brewing under the dome.

One approach being considered in the House is to cram lame duck into the week of Dec. 5, with session being the 6th, 7th and maybe the 8th.

The Senate’s idea is to do a Tuesday-only calendar, with session days on Nov. 29, Dec. 6 and maybe Dec. 13.

Either way, the number of high-level items on the agenda are few at this point.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wouldn’t mind seeing some additional economic development money socked away beyond the $840 million that was put into the Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve (SOAR) in September.

The perceived play is that Republican legislators are more likely than the incoming Democratic majority to support economic development dollars with few strings.

Republicans wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to the idea as long as they don’t need to pass a supplemental, which they fear will explode into a Christmas Tree if one becomes subject to negotiation.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Jim Stamas (R-Midland) would rather settle the typical book closing business through transfers if that’s possible.

The Governor would also like to see the state’s presidential primary law changed to allow for Michigan to be one of the first states in the country to hold a contest if the Democratic National Committee breaks up the regular Iowa-New Hampshire-South Carolina-Nevada format.

This is more of a timing issue. Plans on the DNC’s primary schedule need to be made sooner rather than later and U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D), the main advocate for the change, wants to make the point that Michigan is on safe legal footing to hold the state-run primary election.

An outstanding issue is what the Republican National Committee (RNC) has in mind with its primary schedule. The two parties typically operate on the same calendar and if Republicans hold a primary that doesn’t have the RNC’s blessing, will that mean a delegate cut or the worst hotel allocations at the 2024 convention in Milwaukee?

Over in the House, House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell) would like to see more of his health care package passed back from the Senate, with the flagship bill being the $50 copay limit on insulin.

Wentworth also would love for the Senate to take up the House Ethics Commission bill and the Freedom of Information Act legislation that was sent over last year. 

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) has always frowned on the bills, but with the Democrats taking the gavel after the new year, there’s hope he’ll be more receptive to the discussion. Shirkey is big into legislative oversight and the ethics commission creates a bipartisan body to look into ethical concerns at the legislative level. With the D’s expected to craft an ethics package next session, the Republicans may not get a better deal than the one they have now.

The problem is Shirkey’s list of bills he wants passed is all of one item. Mental health integration for the Medicaid population.  Shirkey considers this a legacy piece and he’s disappointed that the Department of Health and Human Services isn’t as excited about the idea of integrating mental health services in with physical healthcare as he is.

There is compromise to be found on the subject. House Appropriations Committee Chair Mary Whiteford (R-Casco Twp.)  has her own ideas on the issue, as well, but Shirkey isn’t excited about passing a bill he’d consider half-of-a-loaf that DHHS isn’t going to enforce with vigor anyway.

Another item floating in the ether is passing the State Officers Compensation Commission (SOCC) recommendations that would give 2% raises to legislators, the governor, the justices and the other statewide elected officers in both 2025 and 2026.

It would mark the first time since the 2002 reform that legislators or the governor would receive any type of pay increase. Several term-limited legislators are fine passing resolutions in the House and Senate to get this done, but they’re probably not going to do it for nothing.

Another big question over in the House is the goodbye speeches. Wentworth isn’t going to cancel them and there could be as many as 56 if every departing House member who could give a speech delivers one.

There are serious thoughts about limiting the length of the speeches. We’ve all heard that threat before, though (think of former Rep. John OLUMBA’s 30-minute, burn-the-house down rant).

Over in the Senate, there’s still 16 speeches that could be delivered if every Senator who is leaving the chamber opts to give one. Again, depending on length, (and they are typically longer), this may be a couple of days of sitting around.

Social Equity Program Sees Key Change in Cannabis Licensing
As reported by Gongwer, those seeking licenses in the regulated cannabis market from communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition who saw their prequalification status lapse will be able to apply again without paying the fee more than once.

More than 300 applicants could be helped by the change.

The social equity program is designed to encourage participation in the licensed industry by people who live in the 184 communities that were disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition and enforcement.

When a potential licensee applies for a marijuana license, they first submit various information to become prequalified – this includes background checks, and they are required to pay a fee. That status lasts for a year. If the applicant cannot find a location or do the other things necessary to apply for the license and start their business within that time, the prequalification status ends.

With the change announced Tuesday, those applying under the social equity program won’t have to pay the fee again if their prequalification status ends.

"Removing this barrier to entry for social equity program participants in the cannabis industry will lower the cost of doing business and promote sustainable small business growth in Michigan," Governor Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement. "This essential update will directly benefit business owners who have been most impacted by unfair laws and practices and ensure that Michigan continues leading the way in building an equitable, just, and prosperous cannabis industry."

The number of individuals who are eligible to participate in the social equity program is much higher than the number of active licensees as of September 2022.

At the Cannabis Regulatory Agency ‘s last quarterly meeting in September, former Executive Director Andrew Brisbo said there are 1,478 applicants who are eligible to participate and 677 have applied for adult use licensing. Of that, 525 have been prequalified and 197 have active licenses.

The applicants will have to submit a new prequalification application to start the background review process again.

"Listening to stakeholders is very important to the success of this industry and is one of my top objectives," said Acting CRA Executive Director Brian Hanna. "I am proud that my team has found a way to make this improvement to our processes a reality for our social equity participants."

CRC:  Autonomous Vehicles May Not Be The Future
An autonomous vehicle future isn’t as close as it once seemed, which means Michigan policymakers should focus on finding solutions to improve the condition, safety and operation of today’s transportation system, an article from the Citizens Research Council of Michigan argues.

"Michigan cannot be a leader in automotive by chasing transient technology trends," writes Eric Paul Dennis, an engineer and expert in civil infrastructure policy. "The industry appreciates that Michigan officials are interested and engaged in the development of new technologies, but there should be more reflection and less reflex when investing public resources. Such efforts distract from finding real solutions to real problems that exist today."

Mr. Dennis argues that the hype around autonomous vehicles is premature, as many of the biggest pushes toward developing self-driving cars have been lost to consolidation or bankruptcy.

He cites the closure of Argo AI in October 2022 as the most recent failure in the autonomous vehicle sector. Argo was viewed as an industry leader, and both Ford and Volkswagen invested billions of dollars into the company. But Ford decided to pull the plug citing a "strategic decision to shift its capital spending." In a statement, Ford President and CEO Jim Farley said he felt profitable, fully autonomous vehicles at scale were "a long way off."

Although automotive leaders are backing away from autonomous vehicle investments, the state has invested millions of dollars and initiated multiple efforts to support the development and deployment of self-driving cars, Mr. Dennis said.

One example is the Michigan Connected and Automated Vehicle Program, which anticipates vehicles with control systems integrated into their communication systems and that can work in concert with the vehicles around them. But this technology is still in the research phase and many never be commercially adopted, Mr. Dennis said, citing documents from the Federal Communications Commission.

Despite the lag in the expected technological capabilities of autonomous vehicles, there are still some projects seeking to "leverage these technologies to reimagine transportation systems and drive economic development," Mr. Dennis said.

He cites a project from the Michigan Department of Transportation that designated a 25-mile segment of Interstate 94 between Detroit and Ann Arbor as the Connected and Automated Vehicle Corridor. The CAV-corridor is envisioned to provide infrastructure that allows for a mix of connected autonomous vehicles traditional transit vehicles, shared mobility, and freight and personal vehicles, but Mr. Dennis argues that there are still too many open questions for such a corridor to be a viable solution.

Mr. Dennis also argues the Legislature has gotten ahead of the technology by granting MDOT the authority to designate any trunk line as an automated vehicle roadway and assign a tolling authority through PA 179, which was passed earlier this year.

"AVs aren’t going to be a solution to any of today’s problems," Mr. Dennis writes. "We have many issues to address regarding the condition, safety, and operation of our transportation system. These are hard problems. Building the infrastructure we need for the state we want to be will require focused, dedicated, long-term strategies. We cannot afford to be distracted by magic technology solutions."


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