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Nov. 13 | This Week in Government: Biz Supports Fulfillment Center Tax Bills; Vigilance Needed in COVID-19 Fight

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.

  1. Biz Groups V. Schools, Locals on Fulfillment Center Tax Bill
  2. Whitmer: Vigilance, Bipartisanship Needed in COVID Fight
  3. Yancey to Lead Detroit Caucus Next Term
  4. Whitmer Makes Initial Appointments to Black Leadership Advisory Council
  5. Bills Would Enhance Licensing Chance for Military Members

Biz Groups V. Schools, Locals on Fulfillment Center Tax Bills

Legislation that would exempt automated consumer goods micro-fulfillment centers from certain taxes saw support from business groups in the state with local governments and school groups expressing revenue concerns if the bills were to become law.

HB 6284, HB 6285, HB 6268, HB 6196, HB 6197, and HB 6198 – which were heard before the House Tax Policy Committee on Tuesday – would exempt certain fully automated consumer goods handling systems and automated consumer goods micro-fulfillment systems from sales and use taxes along with personal property tax.

Rep. Mark Huizenga (R-Walker) said when a Kroger or Meijer develops these micro-fulfillment systems, they are taxed differently than if a company like Amazon does.

“I believe that by treating these automated facilities consistent with their competitors, this will level the playing field,” he said.

The Small Business Association of Michigan, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Detroit Regional Chamber, the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce all expressed support for the bills.

Judy Allen, with the Michigan Townships Association, expressed concern that the bills would lead to revenue issues for local governments, which would still be expected to provide the same services with potentially less revenue.

The Michigan Municipal League, the Michigan Association of Counties, the Michigan Association of School Boards, the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals, and the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators opposed the bills.

Dan Papineau, with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, said there are little differences now between retail and industrial personal property with industrial processing taking place on commercial, real property. He said the bills would clear up the discrepancy.

“These bills modernize Michigan’s tax code to recognize the advances in retail supply chain technology as industrial processes and establish further parity between commercial and manufacturing businesses,” he told the panel. “It also will provide parity among retailing competitors.”

John VanFossen, with Meijer, said the company’s manufacturing and distribution centers are subject to the personal property tax while other industrial and manufacturing personal property is exempt.

Rep. Diana Farrington (R-Utica) asked if the fulfillment centers were an “inevitable change” for small businesses, to which VanFossen said yes, it is a major change in the retail business landscape.

“So then why should we provide such an incredibly generous tax incentive to companies who are going to install the equipment anyway?” She asked.

VanFossen said the state currently provides others a substantial tax benefit at a disadvantage to Meijer and others.

“We see it as … a competitive disadvantage you have with other states,” he said, saying in Ohio Meijer doesn’t pay the same taxes on the fulfillment center it is building there.

The committee did not act on the bills.


Whitmer: Vigilance, Bipartisanship Needed in COVID Fight

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told reporters Tuesday a change in direction by the incoming presidential administration of Joe Biden on the national coronavirus response and progress on a vaccine is great, but residents need to continue being safe.

Gov. Whitmer, during a news conference highlighting bipartisan legislation on an unrelated topic, praised Monday’s announcement by Pfizer that the COVID-19 vaccine it is developing could be about 90% effective.

“This news does not mean that we can drop our guard now and relax or loosen restrictions that they’ve made in their daily lives to stay safe,” Gov. Whitmer said. “Actually, it’s more important than ever that we double down on wearing masks, physical distancing, washing our hands, especially as we gear up for what is going to be a challenging winter.”

She said a vaccine is going to take time to produce and distribute. Also, keeping infection rates down so that distribution is more efficient will also be important.

“My administration is working on developing equitable vaccine allocation plans and process so that we provide the vaccine in a priority system that makes sense to the most vulnerable … working in accordance with the CDC,” Gov. Whitmer said, but did not provide further details.

The Governor also urged people to weigh the health risks when considering holiday plans, noting that her family will not be gathering for Thanksgiving later this month. She said with the sharp spike in cases and deaths from COVID-19 in recent weeks, the risk of multiple households having gatherings is “just inherently dangerous.”

Michigan’s seven-day average for newly diagnosed COVID-19 cases rose past 5,000 for the first time to 5,040 after another daily record Tuesday in new cases – 6,473.

Deaths continue to pile up. Between Oct. 24 and Nov. 6, 432 died of confirmed or suspected COVID-19. In the 14 days between Sept. 24 and Oct. 6, 170 died.

The percentage of people tested who test positive for the disease also hit its highest mark since April (when there was much less testing) on Monday at 14.19%.

Hospitalizations continue to climb with the number of hospitalized adults with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 reaching 2,936, up from 2,800 Monday, and more than triple the 928 hospitalized Oct. 11.

Gov. Whitmer expressed optimism on the COVID-19 advisory board Biden filled with scientists and doctors through which he plans to hit the ground running in Jan. 2021 to tackle the pandemic as his top immediate priority.

“I am very pleased that they have moved right out of the blocks with a plan to get our arms around COVID-19,” Gov. Whitmer said. “I’m just sorry that it doesn’t actually have day one until the end of January because time is of the essence.”

The Governor then took aim at the administration of President Donald Trump for its response to the virus over the past several months.

“COVID-19 is growing fast across this country, we see lots of community spread all across the United States,” Gov. Whitmer said. “The nation that should arguably be leading the world response to COVID-19 has lagged the rest of the world and we’ve seen so many people lose their battle with COVID or lose their jobs to COVID.”

She said partisanship over the pandemic response needs to be set aside so the real enemy, the virus, can be fought together.

Gov. Whitmer said she is in regular conversations with the Department of Health and Human Services to see what further can be done on the state level.


Yancey to Lead Detroit Caucus Next Term

Rep. Tenisha Yancey will chair the Detroit Caucus in the 2021-22 term, succeeding term-limited Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, who could not seek reelection to the House in 2020.

A statement Monday said Yancey (D-Harper Woods) was unanimously selected to serve as chair of the caucus with Rep. Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit) as vice chair, Rep.-elect Helena Scott of Highland Park, who won in the 7th House District, as the secretary, and Rep.-elect Stephanie Young of Detroit, who won in the 8th House District, as treasurer.

“I am honored to have been unanimously elected to serve as Detroit Caucus chair in the 101st Legislature. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure better jobs, better education, and more opportunities for all in Detroit and Michigan,” Yancey said. “I am also thrilled to work with the other elected officers and caucus members to achieve our goals. The Detroit Caucus has always been a strong voice in the Legislature and I am grateful to be able to continue that legacy.”

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan also praised the caucus for choosing Yancey as to lead it next term.

“The Detroit Caucus made a great choice in selecting Tenisha Yancey, a true leader, as its new chair,” Duggan said. “I look forward to working closely with her and the other members of the Caucus on the important issues in Lansing that matter most to Detroiters.”


Whitmer Makes Initial Appointments to Black Leadership Advisory Council

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Thursday made 16 initial appointments to the Black Leadership Advisory Council, which is charged with reviewing and recommending policies and actions designed to prevent and eradicate discrimination and racial inequity in the state.

Gov. Whitmer created the council in August. A statement said although African Americans are the largest racial minority in the state, the council is the first of its kind in Michigan to elevate Black leaders.

“With the creation of the Black Leadership Advisory Council, we are affirming a truth that Michigan has benefited from for generations: the leadership shown by Black Michiganders in all areas of life and work is critical to the vitality and prosperity of our state,” Lt. Governor Gilchrist II said in a statement. “The council affords the state’s largest racial minority group an empowered presence at the tables of policy- and decision-making. These leaders’ diverse perspectives will be essential as we work to fight to against systemic inequalities experienced by far too many Michiganders. I am eager to work alongside them to create a Michigan that enables all Michiganders to pursue their fullest dreams and potential.”

Gov. Whitmer made the following appointments to the council:

  • James Atterberry of Benton Harbor, the founder and pastor at the Brotherhood of All Nations COGIC Church and a former Berrien County Commissioner. Mr. Atterberry is appointed to represent Black leadership in the faith-based community for a term commencing Nov. 12, 2020, and expiring Dec. 31, 2022.
  • Donna Bell of Southfield, the global director of technology and features strategy and planning at Ford Motor Company. Ms. Bell is appointed to represent Black leadership in technology for a term commencing Nov. 12, 2020, and expiring Dec. 31, 2022.
  • Christopher Burtley of Flint, an associate attorney with Foley & Lardner LLP. Mr. Burtley is appointed to represent Black leadership in law, and a member between the ages of 18 to 35, for a term commencing Nov. 12, 2020, and expiring Dec. 31, 2021.
  • Jerry Clayton of Ypsilanti, the sheriff of Washtenaw County. He also serves as a training consultant for the National Institute of Corrections and CEO of The Cardinal Group II, a policing and corrections training company. Mr. Clayton is appointed to represent Black leadership in community safety and preparedness for a term commencing Nov. 12, 2020, and expiring Dec. 31, 2021.
  • Kelli Ellsworth Etchison of East Lansing, the chief marketing and diversity officer for LAFCU. Ms. Ellsworth Etchison is appointed to represent Black leadership in economics for a term commencing Nov. 12, 2020, and expiring Dec. 31, 2023.
  • Justin Onwenu of Detroit, an environmental justice organizer for Sierra Club. Mr. Onwenu is appointed to represent Black leadership in the environmental sector, and a member between the ages of 18 to 35, for a term commencing Nov. 12, 2020, and expiring December 31, 2021.
  • Kelsey Perdue of Grand Rapids, the project director of Kids Count in Michigan for the Michigan League of Public Policy and the director of storytelling and communications for the Urban Core Collective. Ms. Perdue is appointed to represent Black leadership in public policy, and a member between the ages of 18 to 35, for a term commencing Nov. 12, 2020, and expiring Dec. 31, 2022.
  • Kathy Purnell of Kalamazoo, a staff attorney with Justice for Our Neighbors-Michigan, a non-profit providing immigration legal services. Ms. Purnell is appointed to represent Black leadership in law, and a member who is an immigrant or individual with expertise in immigration policy, for a term commencing Nov. 12, 2020, and expiring Dec. 31, 2021.
  • Rochelle Riley of Detroit, the director of arts and culture for the city of Detroit and a former columnist for the Detroit Free Press. Ms. Riley is appointed to represent Black leadership in media and communications, and arts and culture, for a term commencing Nov. 12, 2020, and expiring Dec. 31, 2023. The governor has designated Ms. Riley to serve as co-chair of the council.
  • Theresa Roach of Flint, the program director of active communities for the Crim Fitness Foundation. Ms. Roach is appointed to represent Black leadership in health and wellness for a term commencing Nov. 12, 2020, and expiring Dec. 31, 2021.
  • Joel Rutherford of Warren, the chair of the Official Democratic Black Caucus of Macomb County. Mr. Rutherford is appointed to represent Black leadership in government for a term commencing November 12, 2020 and expiring December 31, 2022.
  • Michele Samuels of Farmington Hills, the vice president, general auditor and compliance officer for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Ms. Samuels is appointed to represent Black leadership in health and wellness for a term commencing Nov. 12, 2020, and expiring Dec. 31, 2023.
  • Seydi Sarr of Detroit, the founder of the African Bureau for Immigration and Social Affairs. Ms. Sarr is appointed to represent Black leadership in education, and a member who is an immigrant or individual with expertise in immigration policy, for a term commencing Nov. 12, 2020, and expiring Dec. 31, 2022.
  • Michelle Sourie Robinson of West Bloomfield, the president and CEO of the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council. Ms. Sourie Robinson is appointed to represent Black leadership in economics for a term commencing Nov. 12, 2020, and expiring Dec. 31, 2023.
  • Carl Williams of Saginaw, the vice president of the NAACP Saginaw Chapter. Mr. Williams, a former state representative, is appointed to represent Black leadership in public policy for a term commencing Nov. 12, 2020, and expiring Dec. 31, 2023.
  • Robert Womack of Grand Rapids, a county commissioner in Kent County where he serves on the Finance and Physical Resources Committee. Mr. Womack is appointed to represent Black leadership in public policy for a term commencing Nov. 12, 2020, and expiring Dec. 31, 2023. He will also serve as co-chair of the council.

Finally, Rep. Brenda Carter (D-Pontiac) will serve as an honorary representative of the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus. Terrence Martin of Detroit, Teferi Brent of Detroit, Alexis Dye of Muskegon, and Karen Carter of Midland will chair advisory committees to assist the council in its duties.

The council is housed within the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity. The appointments are not subject to the advice and consent of the Senate.

“Listening to a diverse group of leaders and creating partnerships in our communities has been a priority for my administration since day one. Since I was sworn in as governor, I have worked to ensure a diverse group of voices at the table, creating the most diverse cabinet this state has ever seen. And today, I am proud to appoint dedicated individuals from across the state to the Black Leadership Advisory Council,” Gov. Whitmer said. “In order to confront systemic racism head-on, we need members like those on this council to inform our work in state government. This group of leaders includes experts in economics, public policy, health, technology, the environment, and more. I know that those on the Council will continue to be a force for change in Michigan, and I am excited to work closely with them to create a more equitable and just state for all.”


Bills Would Enhance Licensing Chance for Military Members

A bipartisan group of lawmakers Tuesday joined Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to announce legislation they said would help keep military members and their families in the state, enabling them to find good jobs more easily and forge careers.

House and Senate members unveiled a set of bills during a news conference with the Governor that would allow for current military members, veterans, and their dependents to be eligible for occupational license reciprocity in the state.

The bills would allow servicemembers to be eligible if they hold a valid occupational license in another state to obtain reciprocity as long as they are in good standing and do not have any pending disciplinary actions against them. Those with licenses would also have to be able to demonstrate competency in their profession.

Under the bills, the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs would determine if requirements are met.

“By reducing barriers to professional licensure, it will mean that veterans and service members and family members that have a professional license in a different state can be licensed here in Michigan without having to jump through a bunch of hoops,” Gov. Whitmer said. “When this legislation is passed that will help our small business owners find the talent, they need so that they can thrive in communities all across Michigan.”

Gov. Whitmer, when asked for numbers on how many service members and veterans might be going to other states because the proposed changes are not in place, did not have exact numbers. However, she said other states are more lenient with licensing and can attract talented service members and the bills are meant to help level the playing field.

Under current law veterans are eligible for obtaining an initial license, registration, or application fee waiver under the Occupational Code and the Skilled Trades Regulation Act for professional occupations regulated by the two statutes.

Lawmakers are proposing expanding the fee waivers to also include the dependents of service members on active duty and veterans. The fee waivers would also be expanded to include health professions, which is in the bill sponsored by Sen. John Bizon (R-Battle Creek), who is a doctor and a U.S. Air Force veteran.

“We can always use more doctors, more nurses or technicians,” Bizon said. “This hopefully will attract people who are very well qualified who have had years of experience doing these things back here to our state.”

Sen. Adam Hollier (D-Detroit), who serves in the Army National Guard, said the issue is personal to him, citing examples of people he knows that face red tape in trying to obtain licenses in the state.

“This is going to make Michigan a real leader in this, and it’s going to make sure that our service members and their families are protected going forward, something that we haven’t done nearly a good enough job at doing,” Hollier said.

Other bill sponsors Rep. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) and Rep. Andrea Schroeder (R-Independence Township) agreed, echoing the other lawmaker’s remarks.


Related:

Gov. Whitmer, Michigan Legislators Announce Bipartisan Legislation to Reduce Barriers to Licensure for Servicemembers, Veterans, and Dependents