Each week, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Government Relations team, in partnership with Gongwer, will provide members with a collection of timely updates from both local and state governments. Stay in the know on the latest legislation, policy priorities, and more.
June 24 | This Week in Government: Whitmer Signs Child Care Bills; Launch MI’s Plan: Reinvention, Resources, Responsibility for SchoolsJune 24, 2022
Whitmer Signs Child Care Bills
Bills increasing the number of children family child care and group care homes can serve while also lowering the minimum age for workers were signed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday as part of an effort to expand capacity for care in the state.
Whitmer signed HB 5041, HB 5042, HB 5043, HB 5044, HB 5045, HB 5046, HB 5047, and HB 5048. The new laws will empower more child care entrepreneurs and increase the options for parents, Whitmer said in a statement.
“Quality, affordable child care is the backbone of our economy, and I will work with anyone to invest in childcare professionals, businesses, and facilities so parents can go back to work knowing their kids are safe and cared for,” she said. “Last fall, I signed a bipartisan budget that expanded low or no cost childcare to 1 in 3 Michigan families, delivered $1,000 bonuses to 38,000+ childcare professionals in Michigan, and helped nearly 6,000 childcare businesses keep their doors open.
Rep. Jack O’Malley (R-Lake Ann), a key sponsor of the legislation, said the bills signed Thursday are well-informed and comprehensive and will lead to immediate results.
“Getting these bills to the governor’s desk is just fantastic. After years of hard work, lots of discussion, and a great deal of compromise, we have finally been able to get it done,” he said in a statement. “I want to thank the governor’s team and everyone who worked on this package for their dedication and commitment. I look forward to seeing child care re-emerge in the state.”
The bills include provisions intended to increase the number of children family child care and group care homes can serve.
The bills also include new ownership disclosure rules, the creation of family child care networks by the Department of Education to support home-based child care providers, model contracts for some state-licensed child care providers and change database reporting requirements.
Additionally, the bills allow 90 days for child care centers and homes to comply with state rules and create more flexibility in the maintenance of licensing records.
A variety of business groups, advocacy organizations, and child care providers praised the signing of the bills in a statement with the governor’s office.
“This legislation will play a critical role in boosting our childcare industry,” said Alexa Kramer, director of government operations for the Small Business Association of Michigan. “Child care providers are small business owners, and SBAM proudly supports this legislation to ease regulatory burdens and grow our supply of providers in Michigan to better serve employees and families.”
The bills are now Public Acts 106, 107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, and 113 of 2022.
Launch MI’s Plan: Reinvention, Resources, Responsibility for Schools
Launch Michigan released its latest plan to address education and its shortcomings Thursday, focusing on three key areas that would mean more support for students wishing to enter post-secondary or technical education.
The organization, formed in 2018, consists of business, education, labor, and philanthropy leaders, including Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart, Brian Calley, former Lt. governor and president of the Small Business Association Michigan, and Jeff Donofrio, president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan.
“We want to be careful not to look backward or to point fingers. I think our system in many ways is doing what it is designed to do,” Calley said of Michigan’s education system. “It’s not that it’s stopped doing what it’s designed to do. It’s just what is required by the world has changed so much.”
The framework touches on key three areas – reinvention, resources, and responsibility – and the organization has coined it has a solid foundation to build upon. In its plan, the reinvention aspect focuses on aligning Michigan with national and international standards. This includes adopting a new college and career readiness standard, which would provide comprehensive information about how the schools are performing and offer students and educators a roadmap for improvements needed.
Students would have three years to demonstrate they have achieved the new standard before graduation, with tools developed each year starting in the 10th grade and would allow students to submit a portfolio of work if testing does not offer the best fit. Additionally, Launch MI believes measurement should occur at the start of kindergarten, third grade, and eighth grade.
Doug Pratt, MEA director of public affairs, said the group wants to make changes to the “Read-By-Grade Three Law,” saying it would like to get rid of the retention aspect. Calley agreed with this statement, saying it assumes and accepts that some students will not move on.
If students do not reach the standard by 12th grade, they can attend a 13th “opportunity year,” attending classes at a local community college for free and would be paid for by the state’s General Fund. This option would be available to eligible persons until they either meet graduation requirements or turn 26 years of age. The same holds true for those who need special education services.
The framework also includes better support for students. In the report, the advocates highlighted that Michigan has one of the worst student-to-counselor rations, with 671 students to one counselor. The student-to-school nurse ratio is also subpar, with 4,204 students to one nurse, and special education teachers continue to be on the decline. The framework focuses on adequately staffing and funding for these services.
Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses and at least one college credit-bearing pathway are also being advocated for, as well as career and technical pathways that combine classroom knowledge with hands-on opportunities. Special education students would also be encouraged to participate in the career or collegiate-focused pathways.
As far as resources, Launch MI supports the recent findings from the bipartisan School Finance Research Collaborative that estimates $10,421 per student is needed to educate each pupil, at a minimum. Launch MI is also recommending an additional annual investment of $3.5 billion to $3.8 billion.
Separate from the research collaborative, the framework adopted a supplemental cost model that indexes the collaborative’s poverty multiplier to account for concentration, hoping to tackle the impact of concentrations of poverty.
“On an individual level, when a student is living in poverty or has a disability, but also students who may not be in poverty, but they’re living in a community that has high rates of poverty…in those districts, all of the evidence would tell us that there are more intensive resource needs in order to help kids achieve their full potential,” Calley said.
All current and future School Aid Fund money would be dedicated to Pre-K-12 purposes, and any higher education money would come from the General Fund. New state tax revenues would be key for additional investment, but the framework also recommends restructuring the state’s school employee retirement system and reallocating federal funds.
Every three years, the framework would require schools to submit a student achievement and investment plan in order to receive funding.
The framework also would provide what it calls renewed support to state educators and would ensure salaries are brought to the level of jobs that have the same education requirements and reflect local living costs.
“Moving us more towards a system like you would see with physicians, where you have residency novice teachers that are moving up to become professional practitioners and eventually master educators who have a broader impact on the system,” Pratt said.
He told Gongwer News Service that student teachers are often not provided enough mentoring and support, and the education system does not allow for educators to collaborate with each other. Doctors are always talking with each other and figuring it out, Pratt said, we need to do the same thing for education.
The third and final aspect of the framework, responsibility, calls for the alignment of the governor, the Department of Education and Superintendent of Public Instruction, and local schools. In its report, Launch MI writes it is essential the Board of Education and MDE have strong collaborative relationships with the Legislature.
The framework recommends the board chair, and the superintendent of public instruction be appointed by the governor, saying this will help reduce the number of conflicting education policy agendas, increase voter accountability for education outcomes and ensure solid leadership at MDE.
Educator evaluations would not use test scores and would include local assessments and observations by administrators and other educators such as mentors and coaches, replacing the current system with Professional Practice Reviews.
The National Center on Education and Economy, the organization that helped Massachusetts with its plan, reviewed the framework and told Launch MI the framework would improve the education system and result in real benefits for students.
Texting While Driving Package Reported by Senate Judiciary
A package of bills expanding the scope of Michigan’s texting while driving was reported to of the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee on Thursday, marking a key milestone for advocates who want to see stricter enforcement.
HB 4277, HB 4278, and HB 4279 would expand restrictions on phone use while driving to explicitly include social media use and live streaming. The package also increases the fines for second and subsequent violations from $200 to $250 and requires law enforcement to note phone use in an accident report.
All three bills were reported with 6-0, with Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) abstaining.
While there have been previous pushes to expand the state’s texting while driving ban, lawmakers have resisted. Last term, one bill out of a three-bill package was able to pass the House, and the Senate never took action.
The current package makes exceptions for people using phones to contact the emergency services, viewing a GPS system, and general hands-free feature use. Law enforcement and emergency service workers are also excluded from the restrictions.
HB 4277 originally included an exemption for individuals placing or answering phone calls without the use of hands-free features, but Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Groveland Township) proposed an amendment eliminating this language.
Johnson said that the amendment was “requested by law enforcement” and “removes ambiguous language” that would be difficult to enforce.
“Too many lives are being lost needlessly in our state each year due to distracted driving and this bill, but the substitute before our committee members would represent a huge step forward in the fight to combat this trend, reduce crashes and save lives,” she said.
The package was supported by the Kiefer Foundation, the Daniel J. Horal Family Foundation, and the League of Michigan Cyclists.
The committee also voted down two proposed amendments from Sen. Tom Barrett (R-Charlotte) and Runestad.
Barrett’s amendment would have allowed drivers to hold their phone in hand while on a call, an act that would be prohibited under the current package. Sen. Curt VanderWall (R-Ludington) raised concerns that the exemption would enable distraction since drivers would likely look at any notifications that they receive while also making it more difficult for law enforcement to determine when someone would actually be illegally using their phone. The amendment failed 1-6, with Barrett being the only vote in support.
Runestad’s amendment would have explicitly allowed for phone use when the car is in park or when stopped for over 60 seconds, in cases such as being stopped by traffic jams or accidents. VanderWall again raised concerns that the exception would make it more difficult for law enforcement to effectively police these restrictions. The amendment also failed 1-6, with Runestad being the only vote in support.
A key advocate for the legislation praised the Senate panel’s action in a statement.
“Ending distracted driving has become my life’s mission. Today, we’re one step closer in Michigan to passing bipartisan legislation that will save lives and keep our roads safe,” Steve Kiefer, chairman of The Kiefer Foundation, said in a statement. “This is not a path I chose, but a mission that I took up after losing my son in 2016. Mitchel’s death in a distracted driving crash changed my life forever. I know that everyone who testified today has felt the same pain and immeasurable loss. We want a future where no parent has to bury a child as a result of a preventable car crash. Today, we’re one step closer to that goal.”
Runestad, in explaining his abstention, said he believed police officers would write tickets for those stopped for prolonged periods of time under the package.
The bills have a five-year sunset, and after 42 months, the state police would be required to submit a report on the number of citations given, demographic information for those cited, and the number of accidents involving phone use.
Fake MIGOP 2020 Electors Served Grand Jury Subpoenas
At least one of the 16 Michigan Republicans who sought to file as an alternative slate of electors for former President Donald Trump – a cog in what a congressional committee alleged was a plot to overturn the election in the days leading to a formal count of electoral college votes – had been served with a grand jury subpoena on Thursday from federal investigators.
In an interview with Gongwer News Service, then-delegate and Trump elector Michele Lundgren confirmed that she had received a subpoena on Thursday from a group of officials that also included FBI agents. It required her to turn over whatever documents or information she had regarding December 14, 2020, when the 16 Republicans calling themselves the Trump electors attempted to enter the Michigan Capitol to falsely certify that Trump had won Michigan.
She added that she would swear to statements under oath and appeared willing to either give up that information or testify by July 8 – the date provided on her subpoena, she said.
A message seeking to confirm FBI and other agency involvement was not returned by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan’s office. However, another source confirmed with Gongwer that federal authorities had been out delivering subpoenas on Thursday and was likely related to the investigation into the false electors by the Michigan Department of Attorney General, which had been turned over to the FBI.
MIGOP spokesperson Gustavo Portela said that he was not aware of others aside from Lundgren who had been served, but he said the party was aware the electors would likely be contacted by the federal government.
He declined to comment on the situation as a whole, nor when asked if MIGOP Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock had also been served. When asked what the party’s next steps were if she or Chair Ron Weiser were to be served subpoenas, Portela said he couldn’t speculate. He did add, however, that the party is now and would, in that event, be focused on getting their candidates across the finish line in 2022 and beating Governor Gretchen Whitmer in the fall.
Maddock was one of those identifying themselves as a Trump elector and was the foremost Republican in Michigan, claiming the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. She and her husband, Rep. Matt Maddock (R-Milford), both attempted to enter the Capitol on December 14.
News of federal law enforcement activity in Michigan on Thursday was first reported by The Detroit News. The newspaper also reported talk that Michigan Republican National Committeewoman Kathy Berden, who was elected chair of the false electors meeting, and elector Amy Facchinello had also been subpoenaed, but Berden could not be reached for comment and Facchinello declined to comment.
Bridge Michigan reported that it had spoken with Shelby Township Clerk Stan Grot, who was also one of the 16 claimed electors that signed the false election certificate. He said he had not received a subpoena and did not have any further comment on the matter.
It also appeared Thursday that a possible Maddock ally confirmed the federal law enforcement activity in a post on the right-wing and pro-Trump blog, The Gateway Pundit, listing not only the names of those who were rumored to have been served but he also provided information on a National Archive special agent from the agency’s inspector general’s division being involved.
The post’s author was Ben Wetmore, which is also the name of a Maddock legislative staffer. The post also carried with it a favorable slant toward the electors implicated. At one point, the post also called the FBI and the National Archive officials “goons.”
Wetmore did not respond to an email seeking to confirm if he had indeed written the blog post or if he had been supplied information on the matter from either Maddock or Maddock. The email also inquired if the Maddocks had also been served subpoenas.
The flurry of activity on Thursday followed several congressional committee hearings looking into the alleged plot by Trump’s campaign to thwart electoral college votes from being counted, which has been said to include a plan to have fake slates of alternative Republican electors meet and file election certificates in the chance that they might be read by Vice President Mike Pence and the election would instead swing to Trump.
That plan failed when Pence refused to entertain the idea due to what he, his attorneys, and several others since have said was a misreading by Trump of the Electoral Count Act and the powers vested to the vice president in his role on the electoral count day – January 6, 2021.
The group, which included the Maddocks and Rep. Daire Rendon (R-Lake City), was ultimately thwarted by Department of State Police troopers, who refused them access to the Capitol. At the time, the rightful slate of electors from the Michigan Democratic Party were gathered in the Capitol’s legislative chambers casting ballots for current President Joe Biden – who won Michigan over Trump by more than 154,000 votes.
Lundgren, who is also a Republican candidate seeking nomination to the 9th House District seat in the August 2 primary, confirmed reports that the group had met in the basement of the Michigan Republican Party headquarters, signed the falsified documents, and attempted then to enter the Michigan Capitol.
She also claimed that she was unaware that the group was meeting as an alternative slate of electors and simply received a phone call from a person unknown to her that she was needed to sign her name on what would become the now-infamous false election certificate implicating the electors now.
“We all received phone calls, although some might have been smart enough not to answer,” Lundgren said. “They said, ‘can you come to the Capitol at such a day and at this time?’ I was there with 15 other people, with some we didn’t know. I’m in the lower-level meeting room (of MIGOP headquarters), and I’m having coffee and coffee cake, and there’s one piece of paper, it was blank and had lines on it.”
She claims that she was then simply asked to certify her name, which she did. In a previous interview with Gongwer, Grot said similarly – that he was called to do what he believed was his duty and was unaware that what they were doing was potentially illegal.
As to Lundgren’s claim that the group included individuals that several of them did not know, she said that there were whispers that they might have been Trump’s campaign attorneys.
Separately this week, The New York Times reported that Shawn Flynn, a Michigan attorney who worked for the Trump campaign, had also been served a subpoena in what appears to be the same legal matter.
A source had reported to The Detroit News that Flynn was not only present at the basement meeting but had presided over it until officers had been elected to continue the affair.
In testimony played this week before the U.S. House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack, former MIGOP Chair Laura Cox told members and their investigators that a plan had also emerged for those electors to gain access to the Michigan Capitol the night before, stay the night and be ready to engage in the false electors meeting in the Senate chambers to certify its slate of electors as prescribed by law.
Cox told the committee that she thought that plan was “insane” and “inappropriate.”
When Gongwer asked if she felt taken advantage of or if she had been duped into thinking that her signing the document was a routine delegate duty, Lundgren said no, but added that she didn’t have knowledge that she was doing anything other than signing “an innocuous piece or type of paper.”
She also questioned why “this whole thing spun out of control two years later,” and said she was getting “doxxed with horrible threats and insults like I was a criminal.”
“I want to know why two years later this has surfaced, and it is so important to … our electoral system,” she said. “What happened within a span to two years? I’m being doxxed for some heinous act that I had no knowledge of. I’m an older woman. I don’t have the stamina to be put through this.”
In a Facebook post from December 14, 2020, Maddock hailed the mission to the Capitol and said the goal was not to supplant or replace the Democratic Party slate of electors but to have their ducks in a row “just to be safe.”
While she did not elaborate on what that meant then, those investigating the alleged plot have said this was done across several swing states Trump had lost.
The goal, congressional investigators have said, was to be ready if some evidence of fraud was proven to have swayed the election away from (although that never materialized) or if Pence had decided to discard his oath and instead counted Trump’s votes instead.
Stamas Hoping To See Budget Votes Next Thursday
The chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee said on Thursday that his goal is to pass a complete budget package and supplemental funding during the Senate’s lone session day next week, saying budget work has been progressing within subcommittees.
That said, Sen. Jim Stamas (R-Midland) told Gongwer News Service on Thursday that appropriators were still in the process of reconciling budget subcommittee recommendations.
“The process is going well, I’m still fully committed, still trying to get something done by the 30th,” Stamas said.
Time to meet this goal is limited, with the House having session days scheduled for Tuesday through Thursday next week and the Senate having only a tentative session day slated for Thursday.
“I would say that I think conversations have been positive and substantial, and we’re still working long days to achieve a budget,” Stamas said.
Stamas, when asked whether ongoing negotiations over providing a tax cut to residents would be tracked directly with the budget, said: “not to my knowledge.”
The senator added that the idea has been to make sure the money is there for tax cut negotiations to continue while the budget is separately finalized.
He said his expectation would be that tax cut negotiations would continue knowing the money for crafting a deal is available and could be passed at some undetermined later time.
This year’s budget comes against an ongoing partisan debate over providing some form of tax cuts to residents. Republicans have pushed for a wide-ranging tax cut, recently having for a second time in recent months passed a $2.5 billion plan, which was vetoed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
Democrats have urged more targeted cuts such as to pensions and the Earned Income Tax Credit, with Whitmer having recently called for a $500 rebate to an undefined group of taxpayers.
Budget talks have been happening with a surplus of about $6 billion, but much of that is one-time monies.
As to the final budget product itself, he said it has not yet been determined whether the individual budget bills would each be passed or if they would be rolled into larger omnibus bills