Detroit Regional Chamber > Advocacy > May 24, 2024 | This Week in Government: Chamber Calls Off US Senate Debate

May 24, 2024 | This Week in Government: Chamber Calls Off US Senate Debate

May 24, 2024
Detroit Regional Chamber Presents This Week in Government, powered by Gongwer, Michigan's home for Policy and Politics news since 1906

Each week, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Government Relations team, in partnership with Gongwer, provides 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.

Detroit Regional Chamber Calls Off U.S. Senate Debate at Mackinac Policy Conference

The U.S. Senate candidate debate set to take place at next week’s Mackinac Policy Conference has been canceled, the Detroit Regional Chamber announced Wednesday, after two of the frontrunners said they would not be participating.

The announcement came Wednesday morning after three of the six invited candidates declined to participate. Republicans Mike Rogers and Justin Amash, and later U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly), said they would not appear onstage. The remaining field would have included Republican Sandy Pensler and Democrats Hill Harper and Nasser Beydoun.

The Chamber, in a statement, said candidates deciding not to appear “marks a significant departure from a tradition of civic engagement and public discourse” throughout the conference’s history.

“The leading candidates’ refusal to engage in this vital forum points to a deeply concerning trend,” the statement said. “It undermines our democratic process and hampers our state’s progress. This is a clear reflection of today’s political dynamics, which increasingly discourage candidates from directly addressing voters’ concerns. Today’s dynamics favor sound bites, clicks, and “likes” and let political strategy take precedence over informing voters by standing “in the arena” debating ideas, priorities, and values with others vying for the same position of public trust.”

Austin Cook, a spokesperson for Slotkin, said the campaign had agreed to participate in the debate under the condition of an even partisan split and all six invited candidates appearing onstage. Slotkin only bowed out after finding out Rogers and Amash would not participate, he said, because the group would have consisted of an uneven three Democrats and one Republican.

“Unfortunately, Mike Rogers and Justin Amash pulled out of the debate at the last minute, and their unprecedented refusal at this late stage has made it impossible to proceed with the agreed upon format,” Cook said. “We have been clear that if an equally partisan debate had been arranged, we would have been happy to participate.”

A spokesperson for the Rogers campaign said the event would have been “desperate” but that Rogers looks forward to the opportunity to face Slotkin in future debates.

“When Elissa Slotkin wants to debate and defend her horrible record of supporting the failed Biden agenda that’s crushing Michigan families and small businesses, Mike Rogers has a simple message: anytime, anywhere,” the campaign’s statement said.

Pensler released a statement Wednesday accusing Rogers of being afraid to debate him.

“Mike Rogers said the quiet part out loud – he is scared to debate me,” Pensler said. “Rogers wants to be anointed by Washington DC special interests and cannot defend his record of unprincipled, big spending failure as a career politician. We need a candidate who is not afraid to debate their ideas with other candidates.”

Whitmer Names Mott CC President As MiLEAP Director

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Thursday she appointed Mott Community College President Beverly Walker-Griffea as the first permanent director of the Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement, and Potential.

Since its launch last year, MiLEAP has been directed on an interim basis by Michelle Richard. In a statement, Whitmer praised Walker-Griffea’s experience in administrative roles at several community colleges and local philanthropic organizations as ideal preparation for leading the department.

“Her long record of leadership and excellence in the education space will help her deliver on MiLEAP’s mission of expanding pre-K and higher education and lowering costs for students and families,” Whitmer said. “I look forward to all that she’ll accomplish, and I am grateful to Acting Director Richard for her excellent work to get the department up and running.”

Walker-Griffea enters as MiLEAP prepares to take on a significant portion of budget items that previously were categorized under the Department of Education. She said in a statement she’s grateful for the opportunity to spearhead a new era of education in Michigan.

“This is an exciting opportunity for me to use my education and experiences to improve Michigan’s workforce talent outcomes,” Walker-Griffea said. “I look forward to creating more pathways that prepare Michiganders with post-secondary credentials that lead to family-sustaining jobs.”

Michigan Community College Association President Brandy Johnson congratulated Walker-Griffea in a Thursday statement.

“Dr. Beverly (as we affectionately call her) is one of the most passionate, experienced, and inspiring educational leaders we’ve had the great fortune to work alongside,” Johnson said. “She is universally well-respected by educational leaders across the state, and the momentum she will help build in this position toward Michigan’s educational goals will be tremendous.”

Walker-Griffea is a graduate of Texas Women’s University, Virginia State University and Oklahoma State University, from which she holds a Doctor of Philosophy in child development and a Master of Education in guidance and counseling. She is the first female and first Black president of Mott Community College.

The appointment takes effect on June 24.

Workers’ Comp, Other Policy Bills Could Still Move This Year, Cherry Says

While there are no set deadlines on various policy items before the Senate Labor Committee, its chair said he expects the panel to remain productive between now and the end of the year on policies large and small.

Sen. John Cherry (D-Flint) said Monday that discussions have been slowly moving along on draft legislation that would make changes to workers’ compensation laws, which labor groups and lawyers who specialize in worker’s compensation cases have been working on for about a year.

Cherry said conversations have been ongoing and it is not yet known if the proposal will reach a point where it could be introduced and see significant progress this year.

“It’s been slow,” Cherry said. “There is a lot of gaps to work through.”

Supporters of proposed workers’ compensation law changes have said the changes would reverse 2011 laws passed based on Supreme Court decisions they said are friendly to employers and have made it more difficult for claimants to obtain benefits.

The business community has said such changes would go too far and lead to cost increases to businesses as well as more frequent, costly litigation.

Earlier this year, Cherry said he had been brought into conversations on the proposal, saying some elements of the current system are unfair to workers and that he would like to see changes made.

The senator said when the bills might be introduced and then see movement depends on how quickly stakeholders seeking changes can reach some consensus.

Earlier this month, the Senate along party lines moved SB 571, introduced by Cherry, that would require renewable energy projects without state funding to pay the prevailing wage.

This legislation was bashed by Republicans as being the first step down a slippery slope toward expanding the prevailing wage beyond public projects.

Cherry told reporters when the bill passed the Senate that the proposal was following through with provisions within the energy legislation signed by the governor last year involving moving the siting of large renewable energy projects to the Public Service Commission. The legislation last year contained provisions for the use of prevailing wage in building renewable energy projects.

He added he has had some conversations with his House committee counterpart on the bill.

“I’m hopeful it will be taken up soon,” Cherry said.

Cherry added that he hopes to see more movement in the coming weeks ahead of the summer recess on bills that were heard last week before the committee dealing with apprenticeships and contractor bill payments.

The senator said the committee has been able to move its share of significant policy items during the current term. Despite the summer recess approaching and there being possibly a light legislative schedule ahead of House elections in the fall, he was confident much more work can be done this year.

“When needs arise, we can move quickly,” Cherry said.

Bills Would Change How Minors Submit Work Permits

The Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity would take over the administration of minor work permits, taking the responsibility that currently lies with schools, under a bill discussed in a House committee on Thursday.

Rep. Phil Skaggs (D-East Grand Rapids) said his bill (HB 5594) would streamline the work permit process between the worker and the employer. Additionally, he said it would notify LEO what companies are hiring minors.

Skaggs told the House Labor Committee amending the Youth Employment Standards Act to move the permit process online would be a “win, win, win” for students, employers and schools.

Skaggs said employers can sometimes wait weeks for a work permit to get approved by schools through the current system that deals with hard copies or electronically signing PDF documents. The current system also requires work permits to be signed by school officials and for those documents to be stored at the schools.

The bill would give LEO the power to run their own website that could take work permits and work complaints, giving workers and employers a one-stop shop for all their needs.

Skaggs also said the schools should not have to focus on work permits when the schools have many other things to focus on.

“Being involved in the work permit process, which probably made some sense in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s because this was the government that was closest to young people, is not their primary mission,” Skaggs said. “While this legislation continues to allow schools to revoke work permits and schools will be informed about work permits, it doesn’t put them as a major cog in the machine.”

On the other side of the legislation is safety, as LEO does not currently have any registry of minors and the companies they work for. Instead, Randall Harrison, state assistant administrator with LEO, said the department does not have any contact with a minor or the company they work for unless a complaint is filed.

Jayshona Hicks, legislative affairs director for LEO, said this bill is a proactive solution to give the department an idea of where possible abuses of minor laborers could be before a crisis occurs, collecting a list of businesses hiring minors as part of the online system.

Sean Egan, deputy director of LEO, said that the department also likes that there would be one system that reaches everyone on labor issues. Currently, the work permit issue is handled on a school district-by-district protocol basis.

“We believe that this shifting to an electronic database is wonderful, and I think it’ll make it much easier for employers, for kids, and for schools out there to relieve some administrative burden in record keeping requirements, and we think it’ll make it faster,” Egan said.

Modeled off a New Jersey department online database, Egan said the website would only take simple clicking of buttons for employers and workers and then a sign-off from the parents.

Egan said the online system is for their own information but also puts the businesses that hire minors out in the public, serving as education to minors searching for jobs.

When it comes to who should take labor complaints, Rep. Tom Kunse (R-Clare) said a 16-year-old would probably be more comfortable talking to someone they trust like their school counselor versus a “faceless bureaucracy” and a website.

Rep. Mike Mueller (R-Linden) was concerned that this would create more red tape for small businesses, getting the department involved in business matters and hiring employees.

Egan said this plan is only changing who the form is tied to, not adding other burdens or costs to those using the work permit system.

Unemployment Rates in April Fall Across Majority of the State

In 15 of Michigan’s 17 labor market areas, non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rates decreased in April, according to data released Thursday by the Department of Technology, Management and Budget.

During April, Michigan regional jobless rates ranged from 3 to 6.8%. The median rate decrease was 0.2 percentage points over the month.

“Michigan regional labor markets saw unemployment rates decline in April,” Wayne Rourke, labor market information director for the Michigan Center for Data and Analytics, said in a statement. “Decreases were also recorded in labor force, employment, and unemployment for a majority of areas this month.”

The area with the largest reduction in joblessness in April was in the Northeast Lower Michigan region.

The Flint and Muskegon metropolitan areas have not demonstrated any change in employment since March.

However, all 17 market areas have seen jobless rates increase over the year with a median rate gain of 0.5 percentage points.

Employment also rose in 14 Michigan markets over the year with a median increase of 1.2%, Niles being the largest growing market in the state.

Across the month, labor force levels decreased in all regions with a median decrease of 0.7% with the Upper Peninsula losing the most workforce, falling by 1.1%.

Michigan’s nonfarm jobs increased by 36,000 or 0.8% in April. Employment gains were seen in construction, with 12,000 jobs added, and professional and business service industries, contributing 9,000 added jobs.

When analyzing counties, 68 out of 83 Michigan counties demonstrated unemployment rate reductions in April, with a median decrease of 0.3 percentage points. However, jobless rates rose in 77 counties in the past year.

By county, Livingston County has the lowest unemployment rate at 2.5%, and Mackinac County has the highest rate of unemployment with 14.3%.

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