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Snyder: Flint reforms may wait until 2017

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Frustrated by a slow policy response to Flint’s water crisis, Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich is proposing tougher regulations for the amount of lead allowed in drinking water, strengthening a federal rule Gov. Rick Snyder has called “dumb and dangerous.”

Snyder proposed tougher lead test rules in April, but the Legislature has yet to act on the recommendation, and the governor said Tuesday that major policy reforms may wait until next year.

“They had a lot on their plate already — energy reform, criminal justice. This is important, so we’re going to continue to work towards getting something done,” Snyder told reporters after an event at the Capitol. “It’s just a question of an election season and a short legislative session how much can be accomplished given what they already had on their list of action items.”

Snyder said he doesn’t have a timeline for getting his Flint-related policy proposals through the Legislature, and his office said Tuesday he is more interested in getting lead regulations right than rushing the process, considering the reform would be the first of its kind in the nation.

“If they’re not done this year, we’ll be back right after the first of the year asking for those changes,” Snyder said.

The Senate is scheduled to meet 19 more times before the two-year legislative session comes to a close, while the House has just 14 days left on the tentative calendar.

But it would be “crazy” to wait on policy reforms until next year, Ananich said Tuesday, noting that House elections could result in 40 to 50 new legislators who “have no background and no information” on the Flint crisis or lead rules.

It’s been a year since Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha first raised alarms over elevated lead levels in the blood of Flint kids, he noted, and more than four months since a bicameral committee wrapped up hearings on the Flint crisis and vowed a legislative response.

“We think this is long past overdue,” he said.

Set for introduction later this week, Ananich’s bill would set the state action level for lead in water at 10 parts per billion by the end of 2017, down from the federal threshold of 15 parts per billion. It would go further than Snyder’s proposal by dropping the action level to 5 parts per billion by 2021. Experts, however, say no amount of lead is considered safe.

“I think we should be leading the country in having the highest standard, and this is the time to do it,” Ananich said.

The Legislature has approved more than $240 million in Flint aid since October 2015, an investment Ananich said should motivate policy reforms to prevent similar crises in the future.

The Senate could eventually consider the lead proposal, Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof told reporters, but only after studying potential implementation costs and using science to determine an appropriate action level.

“I think we have an opportunity here and some obligation to do it well,” the West Olive Republican said of various policy reforms, including lead regulations and potential changes to the state’s controversial emergency manager law.

Ananich has introduced separate legislation that would create a Flint authority to oversee long-term recovery efforts, and he sponsored bipartisan legislation to make the city a “promise zone” in order to help local students with college tuition.

Those bills could go up for a vote as soon as this week, according to Meekhof.

The Flint authority and promise zone bills “would go a long way to help rebuild trust and show that we’re here to resolve these issues going forward,” Ananich said later Tuesday.

“I’m not overly frustrated with my colleagues in the Senate,” he continued, “but it seems like the House is asking us to wait until after the election, and I don’t think we should do that.”

House Republican spokesman Gideon D’Assandro questioned that claim, noting a planned committee report that will make policy recommendations is still being written.

“A lot of progress was made over the summer, but members and staff from both the House and Senate are still working to put their findings onto paper,” he said.

Sen. Jim Stamas, chairman of the Flint Water Public Health Emergency, said Tuesday he does not have a timeline for releasing the policy recommendations, noting that members are considering several complicated issues, but he welcomed Ananich’s new bill.

“I’m excited he’s moving forward with another piece of legislation we can look at,” said Stamas, R-Midland.