Michigan’s lame duck session tends to be a time when tensions run high and controversial issues get revived. The Capitol lobby is always filled as interest groups try to push their agendas or fight against other policy changes, deals are made behind closed doors, and unexpected legislation gets voted on as the chamber enters its 12th hour of voting. In this contentious time, sometimes you’re lucky if you fight to a draw.
However, this year, the League was grateful to see a number of bipartisan measures passed that helped, rather than hurt, some of Michigan’s most vulnerable residents—our seniors, our children and people seeking work. And while we would have liked to see more, and to see more done earlier, the good that bipartisan work can do is well worth it.
While seemingly unconnected, these policies will each help Michigan residents in their greatest time of need.
They will provide an additional $76 or so more per month to put food on the table for 338,000 Michigan families. Following a federal law change to what is known as Heat and Eat, many Michigan residents saw dramatic decreases in their food assistance. For years, the state squandered the opportunity to help them; instead it made many of our families, including seniors and persons with disabilities, make hard decisions about paying rent or heat or putting food on their tables. A small state investment will help ease some of these decisions for families struggling to make ends meet.
They will benefit children who are at risk of suspension or expulsion. Under Michigan’s zero tolerance policies, too many students received harsh punishments for minor or first-time incidents, resulting in students staying home and missing an education and many parents having to take time off of work. Instead, individual evaluation of the student and incident and encouragement of the use of restorative practices will help kids stay in school, keep them learning and help prepare them for their futures.
And they will help ease burdens on people who have been laid off and who are still looking for work. Michigan’s recovery has not helped everyone equally. Many Michigan residents are still unemployed, and unfortunately the system the state has set up to help them has failed them. An automated system was incorrectly denying people their rightfully-earned unemployment benefits. A fix to this system and to the policies that caused the hardship was necessary.
While seeing these policies implemented is well worth the turmoil of the three-week lame duck of 2016, more needs to be done. Justice-involved 17-year-olds are still treated and housed as adults, and other criminal justice reforms were left on the cutting room floor at the end of the year. Hunger, education and employment opportunities are still major issues for Michigan. And Flint still cannot provide clean water to many of its residents. Hopefully we can see this bipartisanship continue in the next legislative session to tackle the pressing issues that still remain.
— Rachel Richards