Michigan House, Senate sign off on Flint water settlement plan

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Bills that allow Michigan to issue bonds to cover the state’s $600 million share of the Flint water crisis settlement have gained the approval of the state House and Senate.

The House approved the proposals Wednesday, one of the final scheduled session days of the year. They passed the Senate last week.

The Legislature plans to repay the borrowed money through an annual appropriation of $35 million over the next three decades, according to a House analysis of the bills, which were sponsored by Sen. Jim Ananich, D-Flint, and Sen. Jim Stamas, R-Midland.

A commission’s thoughtful analysis of the systemic racism at the root of the Flint water crisis is belied by its refusal to hold perpetrators accountable as racists, Thomas Stephens writes.

“A settlement does not turn back the clock and it does not right these grave wrongs. No amount of money can do that," Ananich, who represents Flint in the Senate, said in a statement Wednesday night. "However, it is a powerful acknowledgment of the real harm done to us. It has been a privilege to lead this effort on behalf of the citizens of Flint.

"I am glad and relieved to see this bill cross the finish line in the Legislature, and I expect the governor to take swift action when it reaches her desk.”

The settlement, one of the largest in Michigan's history, was announced in August. It came after several years of litigation in which Flint residents pursued damages from the state for the lead-contaminated water piped into households.

The bill to establish the "Flint Settlement Trust Fund," sponsored by Ananich, passed the House 104-4 Wednesday.

The proposal to allow the Michigan Strategic Fund to borrow money and issue the bonds for the settlement, sponsored by Stamas, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, passed the House 103-5.

Stamas has said the settlement is "a representation of accountability." The bills still need the signature of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Overall, the $641.25 million settlement would largely go to victims of the crisis that emerged after the source of Flint's water source was switched in 2014.

The settlement, described as a "hybrid structure" in a court filing to account for children, adults, property owners and businesses, proposes that nearly 80% of the funds go to children who were under the age of 7 when they were exposed. Potentially thousands of children were exposed to toxic levels of lead.

House OKs more virtual meetings

A proposal that would extend government boards' ability to hold meetings virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic passed the House in a 94-13 vote Wednesday.

Under the proposal, sponsored by Sen. Lana Theis, R-Brighton, virtual meetings would be permitted through March 30. Without the legislation, the virtual meeting allowance would have ended on Dec. 31.

The bill, which is supported by groups that advocate on behalf of school boards, counties, cities and townships, passed the Senate earlier this month.

Staff Writer Riley Beggin contributed.