SUBSCRIBE NOW
99¢ per month for 3 months
SUBSCRIBE NOW
99¢ per month for 3 months

Insider: Michigan senator cites potential conflict in not voting on own bill

Craig Mauger Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — A Michigan senator this week abstained from voting on a bill he sponsored, citing a potential conflict on interest. 

The bill is Senate Bill 693, sponsored by Sen. Dan Lauwers, R-Brockway Township. Lauwers is a farmer by trade, and the bill would change requirements for loans offered through the state's agricultural disaster loan program.

The bill would increase interest rates that lenders could attach to loans offered to property owners through the program and would extend the maximum term of the loans from five years to seven years.

State Sen. Dan Lauwers, right, and other officials address members of the public at the meeting about the ferry service for Harsens Island.

When the proposal, which Lauwers introduced Dec. 11, came before the Senate on Tuesday, Lauwers abstained from voting. He cited a "potential personal financial interest" in the bill.

"Because my farm may be eligible for the Michigan Agriculture Disaster Loan Origination Program, and out of an abundance of caution, I will not vote on Senate Bill 693," Lauwers said, according to a statement printed in the Senate journal.

Senate rules bar senators from voting on bills in which they have a "personal, private or professional interest."

While it is normal for state lawmakers to abstain from voting on bills because of a potential conflict, it's much more unusual for lawmakers to abstain on a bill they personally sponsored.

Lauwers said he is a farmer and agriculture has "been my life." He argued there's a difference between voting on a bill and sponsoring a bill. 

"I know the issue very well," Lauwers said of working on the bill. "I guess I would say I am very well equipped to work on these issues."

Lauwers said he went to a meeting in his district last year where other farmers were crying, worried about what they would do after crop losses because of heavy rain.

"When you understand an issue, you can explain it," Lauwers said.

Lauwers said he may apply for a disaster loan. He lost over $100,000 because his farm couldn't plant its crop on time.

The bill is meant to update the disaster loan program that features requirements established eight years ago after a late spring freeze damaged fruit crops in 2012, according to supporters.

The interest rate for the program had been set at 1% or the rate of the five-year United State Treasury note plus 0.25%, to the rate of the five-year U.S. Treasury note plus 2%.

Travis Jones, chief financial officer of Greenstone Farm Credit Services, told a Senate committee that without the change in the interest rate, "we would essentially be doing the loans for free."

The Senate voted 35-1 in favor of the bill. Lauwers and Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, both abstained. The bill now goes to the House.

Senators back Dem prez hopefuls

Two Democratic state senators from Michigan this week announced their support for competing presidential candidates, who then spotlighted them on social media.

Sen. Adam Hollier, D-Detroit, touted former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg in a column in The Detroit News on Monday. Hollier argued that Buttigieg is "boldly working to tackle the root problems with solutions that will get done."

Buttigieg then highlighted Hollier on Twitter, saying he "knows the meaning of service and what communities need to thrive. Together we’ll work to address the urgent issues facing our country — and build a more inclusive and equitable America."

Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, announced her own endorsement this week, stating her support for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Warren "has the best plans, track record, skills and energy to move our country forward on the long arc toward justice," Chang tweeted.

Warren responded by publicly thanking Chang.

Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders also picked up Michigan endorsements this week. The Young Democrats of Michigan announced it is supporting Sanders as did state Rep. Abdullah Hammoud, D-Dearborn.

The group is the official Michigan chapter of Young Democrats of America, the largest youth-led, partisan political organization in the nation, according to a press release.

"I believe Sen. Sanders is the best candidate to not only help heal our divided nation, but the one to take climate change seriously, which is the greatest threat to humanity," said Leaha Dotson, chairwoman of the Young Democrats of Michigan.

Moore, Warren hit prison

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren and liberal filmmaker Michael Moore took to social media this week to decry a Northern Michigan facility housing non-U.S. citizens convicted of federal crimes. 

The new North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin and the opposition of Lansing-based group “No Detention Centers in Michigan” were the subjects of a recent article in progressive political magazine In These Times. Warren and Moore shared the story and condemned the facilities in Sunday and Monday Twitter posts. 

Detention companies “donated generously” to Trump and have “made millions implementing Trump’s cruel immigration policies,” Warren wrote on Twitter Monday

“It’s corruption, pure and simple,” she wrote. “I’ll fight to permanently ban for-profit prisons and detention centers.”

Moore observed the facility was an hour from his Traverse City home. 

“It’s operated by the country’s largest private, for-profit prison corporation, GEO,” Moore wrote Sunday. “We must fight this.”

North Lake Correctional Facility began housing non-U.S. citizen inmates last fall under a 10-year contract between the private company GEO Group Inc. and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The facility has the capacity to house up to 1,800 adult inmates on behalf of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. 

The inmates housed in Baldwin through the federal Criminal Alien Requirement Program usually have 90 months or less to serve on sentences that typically involve nonviolent drug offenses or re-entry to the country after deportation. All face deportation after completing their sentences in Baldwin.

cmauger@detroitnews.com

eleblanc@detroitnews.com