News guide: December legislative session
Lansing — The Michigan Legislature returns Tuesday for two or three weeks of voting with a number of issues on tap before it adjourns for the year.
Lawmakers face few hard deadlines to act near the halfway mark of their two-year session. But some major bills have seen little traction all year, leaving proponents to hope for movement in December. Other priorities, like enticing a massive data center to western Michigan with tax breaks, have just popped up.
What to look for:
Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposal to split Detroit’s troubled state-run school district in two next summer and spend $70 million annually over a decade to pay off debt while launching a new district is hitting opposition from all sides. The plan unveiled in April will not be enacted in 2015 as the Republican governor had hoped. Bills were supposed to be introduced in October but now are not expected until December, when supporters hope the Senate passes them. Majority Republicans have concerns with bailing out Detroit, particularly if it costs other school districts funding, and letting a commission or czar close low-performing charter schools. Democrats oppose any delay in returning control to a locally elected school board and the continuation of a separate Snyder-backed system that operates some Detroit schools.
The first update of energy laws since 2008 remains a top agenda item and could win approval in the House. It is uncertain if there is enough time to send legislation to Snyder by year’s end, though, as he had wanted. Legislators must resolve issues involving competition in the electricity market, how much power should come from wind and other renewable sources and whether to require energy-efficiency markers. Republicans want to transition from mandates and toward a goal of 30 percent renewables and waste reduction by 2025, frustrating advocates of clean power and efficiency programs. Legislation to keep intact the partially deregulated power market is being fought by utility competitors and their customers — including schools — who say its provisions effectively would kill competition and raise their bills.
Nevada-based data center developer Switch plans to locate its first campus in the eastern U.S. near Grand Rapids, contingent on passage of three bills. As written, they would exempt property taxes from buildings and equipment where the center would be located — officer furniture maker Steelcase Inc.’s massive pyramid-shaped former research facility. Switch and “collocated” businesses also would receive state sales tax breaks on equipment such as computers and servers. The company, whose clients include eBay, Shutterfly and Google, estimates spending $5 billion over a multi-year period and the employment of 1,000 people not including construction workers. While states are increasingly offering lucrative tax incentives to attract data centers, some conservative detractors of Michigan’s legislation oppose such carve-outs. Snyder, another critic of select tax breaks, has been mum about the project.
Many bills that have cleared one chamber are pending in the other and potentially could see consideration or wait until next year. They include bills to eliminate the straight-ticket voting option from ballots; hold back third-graders not proficient in reading; nix paid union leave for public workers; tax medical marijuana and create a tiered regulatory system; give the parole board less leeway to keep certain prisoners locked up past their minimum sentence; regulate ride-hailing services such as Uber; and call for a U.S. constitutional convention to pass a federal balanced budget amendment. Bills that have won approval in a committee but not yet from the House or Senate would ban a second-trimester abortion procedure and provide state compensation for wrongfully convicted inmates.
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