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LABOR VOICES

The children of Flint are still waiting

Steven Cook

Now that the divisive campaign season is behind us, lawmakers should use the lame-duck legislative session to unite and address Flint’s suffering. It is past time to fix the water crisis that continues to damage the lives of Flint residents.

It’s essential that the Legislature help residents most harmed by long-term lead exposure, and to solve the problems that created this crisis in the first place.

It’s been nearly two years since dangerous lead levels were detected in Flint’s water supply. What’s happened since then? Not nearly enough.

To date, only a few hundred of the thousands of corroded lead pipes have been replaced. Even so, the state has stopped sending bottled water to beleaguered residents — forcing volunteer organizations, churches, and Michigan Education Association members, among others, to step in to fill that need. Just last week, a federal judge ruled the state needed to resume these deliveries to residents in need.

It would be shameful to continue neglecting Flint’s children in a lame-duck session too often focused on rushing through divisive legislation that only satisfies the partisan goals of politicians and their donors. In the past, Republicans have used the brief post-election session to rush through highly partisan legislation — 2012’s so-called “right-to-work” bill is a prime example of such gamesmanship.

The first order of business in lame duck should be appropriating additional money to speed up replacement of lead-tainted pipes.

Next, schools should be given adequate resources to provide services to children harmed by the scandal. A recent lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the Michigan Department of Education faults the state for failing to provide enough funding to screen students for educational disabilities resulting from the lead-tainted water.

The Flint water crisis has exposed thousands of children to high levels of lead, which is known to cause developmental delays, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems. The sooner students can be screened, identified and provided the additional educational resources they need, the better the chances for a positive outcome. Unfortunately, Gov. Rick Snyder’s 75-point Goals to Strengthen Flint, issued in response to the water crisis, does not come close to addressing the education and health needs these students will have for years to come.

Snyder was very proactive on one front in dealing with the crisis: he unilaterally approved $2 million in taxpayer money to pay legal fees for his personal criminal defense. Such a brazen move is unconscionable for a multi-millionaire who could easily pay for defense attorneys out of his own pocket. Attorney General Bill Schuette has the power to stop payment on the attorney fees, but has refused to do so. The Legislature should halt that appropriation in its lame-duck session.

The exposure of Flint residents to lead-tainted drinking water also exposed the utter failure of the state’s emergency manager law. From 2011 to 2015, Flint had a revolving door of different emergency managers who were unable to improve Flint’s financial situation.

It’s no surprise that a special task force created by the governor to examine the crisis pointed to a failure on the part of the emergency manager, and a separate legislative committee has acknowledged that the emergency manager law is broken.

Voters knew best when they struck down the law in a statewide referendum, only to have the Legislature reinstate it. The Legislature should follow the will of the voters and get rid of this failed law in lame-duck session.

There is no more pressing business for the Legislature to address in its final days of session than the needs and failures surrounding the Flint water crisis.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.