House snow day forgiveness bill lobbed back to Senate

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan House is taking another stab at passing a snow day forgiveness bill through the state Legislature.

The Republican-controlled House approved for a second time Wednesday a bill that would exempt schools from making up four snow days that had been called during a state of emergency in late January due to bitter cold. The measure passed mostly along party lines in a 56-53 vote.

The legislation didn't resolve an issue separating Republicans and Democrats, so the House appeared to be shuffling the bill back to the Senate in case a compromise can be reached there. 

The House approved the legislation April 17, but it was derailed by Senate Democrats Tuesday because the upper chamber removed language that would ensure hourly workers would be paid for those days they were called off work. The issue had been a sticking point among Democrats when the bill was moving through House committee and remained so Wednesday. 

Democratic Rep. Sheryl Kennedy of Davison said the bill as returned from the Senate is a "perfect example of the dysfunction of government at its worst."

"This was a good bill," Kennedy said. "It no longer makes any sense at all."

On the House floor Wednesday, the bill's sponsor Rep. Ben Frederick, R-Owosso, said the negotiations for missed-day pay should happen and, in some cases, is already happening at the local level. 

The initial legislation was "derailed by partisan politics," Frederick said in a statement. "But now Senate Democrats have a second chance to make this right and consider common-sense flexibility for schools and families when making their decision on this important legislation. I hope they make the right choice.”

The Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved the bill without the hourly worker provisions, but Democrats refused to give the measure immediate effect so it would apply this school year. The surprise maneuver marked the first time Senate Democrats used their larger minority to deny immediate effect to bills, a process which requires two-thirds support. 

The bill would add to those days already exempt from the state's minimum of 1,098 hours of instruction over 180 days. The state usually forgives up to six school days for emergencies, and districts can seek waivers for three more. The bill would add the potential for the exemption of four additional days.

The bill approved by the House Wednesday largely matched the Senate version by excluding hourly workers from payment for those cancelled days, but the bill included a technical change largely so it could be sent back to the Senate.

The House shipped the bill back in the hopes the Senate would “do the right thing," House GOP spokesman Gideon D'Assandro said. 

The prospect of a pending deal seemed far-fetched earlier Wednesday, when Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey told reporters there had been no additional talks since Tuesday’s impasse.

“Crickets. Crickets,” said Shirkey, R-Clarklake.

“There’s no restarting a negotiation that never started in the first place. The bill’s over in the House, and we’ll see what they choose to do about it and see what happens next.”

House negotiations picked up later Wednesday ahead of the floor vote, but Senate Democrats were only beginning to learn of details and had not yet indicated whether they were on board. 

“Things are still in flux, but there are actual, real discussions going on,” said Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., D-East Lansing. “I don’t know what the final outcome is going to be at this point.”

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