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Michigan Legislative Update

Week of May 18, 2017

By Judy Augenstein

Who has the authority to name the recreational projects and land acquisitions that are funded out, the Michigan Natural Resources Fund trust board or the state legislature?  Should the trust fund spend all the money it has available for projects or set some aside  for a rainy day? 

Those are questions senators are trying to answer with SB 280, sponsored by Senator Darwin Booher, R-Evart which was the subject of a hearing this week before the Senate Appropriations Committee. When the trust fund board submitted its current recommendation to the legislature for approval, it included 27 acquisitions worth $27.7 million and 87 development projects worth $19.9 million.  When Senator Booher submitted his bill he added back into those recommendations 43 projects worth $7.7 million, that the trust fund board had ruled out.  Booher contends that the trust fund board and DNR are setting money aside as savings for the future, including $8 million this year and he contends that if the board ended that practice it could fund a lot more recreational projects.

Committee Chair, Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell contends that if the trust fund board quit setting aside those dollars, it could fund all projects that had been submitted for grant money this year, which includes those 43 projects added back.  Among those 43 projects are boat launches, pavilion renovations, path expansions, park development and other projects.

Senator Hildenbrand said Senate staff will meet with the DNR to see if some areas of disagreement can be resolved before he calls for a vote.   Booher said this is not a new concern for him.  He said he has told the trust fund board in years past that he would make an issue of it "if they kept doing this."  When he saw that they set aside $8 million this year rather than fund some projects with the money, he decided to introduce the bill.

The NRTF was put in the state constitution when voters adopted Proposal B in 1984.  The amendment requires that oil, gas and other mineral leases and royalty money be placed in the trust fund and be used to acquire and develop public recreation land.  The amendment created a $500 million fund from which interest could require and develop park land.

Legislation to allow all commodity haulers to use a multiple use permit tailored after Wisconsin law will be introduced by Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona by the time of our May 24 legislative reception.  All concerned interests finally signed off on the language this week.  Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba has committed to introduce legislation to address continuing issues loggers have with local units of government by next Wednesday as this bill and the multiple use permit bill are two of our priority issues for MAT/GLTPA to discuss with legislators.  Legislation to be sponsored by Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville, to require employers to maintain worker's compensation insurance coverage has finally been agreed to by the major business groups and LARA.  Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet and I feel we finally found a "hook" to address safety standards by certain employers. The Legislative Service Bureau is crafting a bill to require all employers to not only post MIOSHA requirements, but to also post their worker's compensation insurance certificate, similar to a liquor license.  Increased fines and penalties will be included in the bill.

This week John Fowler and I met with his legislator Rep. Gary Howell, R-Lapeer, Chair, House Natural Resources Committee to discuss the committee vacancy created by the passing of Rep. John Kivela and to discuss the unfair playing field the Amish create for other businesses by not paying business taxes.  Rep. Howell stands ready to assist us with the Amish issue and will co-sponsor or sponsor legislation on our behalf.

On Tuesday, John Fowler, Jim Maeder and I attended the NFIB legislative day where the new UI Director addressed the group.  A perfect opportunity for us to bring up unfair practices Amish businesses create for our industry.  Speaker Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt outlined his legislative plans for the session, Rep. Jim Tedder, R-Clarkston, Chair, House Tax Policy outlined his plans for the Tax Policy Committee, Senator Jim Stamas, R-Midland, outlined his legislative goals.  Senator Stamas has been actively assisting us with issues loggers are having with local governments and the motor carrier.  He was pleased to see us at the NFIB Day event and spent a fair amount of time discussing our issues following his comments to the group. Senator Stamas is a leading contender for the position of Senate Majority Leader next session.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-Olive was the last to speak and outlined his caucus goals for the final session of his career, as he is term limited.  Out of 38 senators, 27 will be termed out in 18 months, 48 House members will be termed out at the same time.  At the end of the NFIB Day a round table discussion was held relative to business issues, concerns and possible solutions.  Small to medium size businesses appear to have many similar issues as business owners. All and all it was a productive day of networking with legislative leaders and NFIB.

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