Legislative Update: Highlighting bills signed over the holiday break

Protecting Michigan small businesses
Local franchise owners risk their own money to offer job opportunities for people in our communities and to achieve the American Dream of owning their own business. The franchise business model has been a tremendous success in Michigan — with more than 260,000 people working at more than 24,000 franchises in our state.

Unfortunately, federal officials in Washington last year upended decades of established law concerning the relationship between franchise owners and their employees.

Over the break, the governor signed Senate Bills 492 and 493 to protect that long-standing relationship in Michigan.

The new state laws clarify that an employee at a local franchise is only an employee of that franchise owner and not an employee of the parent company, such as McDonald’s.

The measures were about protecting our economy from a federal overreach that would consider parent franchise companies to be an employer of a worker — regardless of whether they share the ability to hire, fire or supervise that worker.

They’re also about supporting our Michigan small business owners, who often help local nonprofit organizations, sponsor youth sports teams and give young people their first jobs.

Eliminating straight-ticket voting in Michigan
People should be elected to public office based on their individual merits for that office — not simply based on what political party they are in.

With Senate Bill 13, now Public Act 268 of 2015, Michigan joined the vast majority of states that have banned the old-fashioned practice of voting for all the nominees of a political party by making a single choice on the ballot.

Michigan was previously one of only ten states that still had this tool of the party bosses and political machines.

Under the new laws, people can still vote for all Democrats or all Republicans or all Independents. Voters will now simply have to individually choose the candidate they support — which should take less than a minute of extra time.

This reform has made Michigan’s election process more about people and less about political parties.

Creating an e-filing system for Michigan courts
The Senate Republicans led the way to enacting new laws to move Michigan courts into the 21st century.

Senate Bills 531, 532 and 533 were part of six measures signed during the break to help develop and implement a statewide electronic filing system that will make Michigan’s courts more cost efficient and easier for residents.

Public Acts 230-235 recommend to the Michigan Supreme Court an e-filing system that gives users the option of filing court papers online. The acts also create the Judicial Electronic Filing Fund to support the implementation, operation an maintenance of a statewide system.

An e-filing system will give the public convenient and hassle-free access to our courts and save our courts and filers both money and time.

This initiative will help streamline court interactions with the public and eventually give residents the flexibility to file anytime and anywhere.

It’s part of an effort to create a modern court that serves Michigan residents faster, better and at a reduced cost.

Pure Michigan Winter Fun

Michigan winter tourism is an important part of our state economy and a way of life for millions of residents. Winter activities draw more than 110 million tourists to Michigan each year — generating more than $37 billion in business.

If you are looking for something to do in Michigan’s winter wonderland, there is no shortage of options. Michigan offers more than 6,500 miles of snowmobile trails, 3,000 miles of cross country skiing trails, and 51 downhill ski areas featuring 260 lifts and 1,000 runs.

A great place to start in planning a winter excursion is www.michigan.org/winter. The Pure Michigan site offers helpful information and useful links on everything from skiing to ice fishing and from dog sledding to snowshoeing.

One link on the page directs visitors to the Michigan Snowsports Industries Association website, www.goskimichigan.com. The site features information on money-saving programs, ski equipment and lodging. One especially useful link offers updated information for residents on ski and snow conditions at Michigan resorts, as well as details on amenities.

You can also download the latest Ski Michigan pamphlet, a full-color information guide to Michigan ski resorts.

To help plan your winter adventure, residents can also check out the Pure Michigan Winter Travel Guide. It is packed full of great ideas and information to make your family trip a memorable one.

Winter is a great chance to introduce young kids to new experiences and activities or help foster a new interest in the enjoyment of Michigan’s great outdoors.

Flash-forward & Flashback Friday: The Senate Judiciary Committee

The Michigan Senate Republican Blog recently sat down with Sen. Rick Jones, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to discuss the issues the committee has already faced and issues that will be coming up in the near future.

Items the committee will take up in 2016:

A bipartisan domestic violence protection package: House Bills 4476-4481 and 4788 seek to establish clear and sensible protections for victims or potential victims of domestic violence. HB 4481 would allow a victim of sexual assault that results in pregnancy to present “clear and convincing evidence” for the purpose of having the right to parenting time and custody taken away from the assailant.

The bill compliments Senate Bill 629, which would allow a court to terminate a rapist’s parental rights to a child based on the court’s determination of “clear and convincing evidence” that the sexual assault occurred, similar to other reasons for losing parental rights, such as domestic abuse.

Other bills in the package would require that a court not order mediation in cases of domestic violence unless both parties agree to mediation and would allow for someone with prior assault convictions to be charged with a felony for assaulting a pregnant woman.

Arson prevention bills: Senate Bills 696 and 697 would aid in the prevention of arson and increase the effectiveness of arson investigations.

SB 697 would help prevent arson for the purpose of collecting insurance money. Under the bill, an insurance company would not have to pay a claim on a building’s fire damage if it’s determined not to have been accidental, until it receives a sworn statement from the insured party that they had nothing to do with the fire.

SB 696 would help law enforcement by requiring medical professionals to report treatment of burn victims, especially in the cases where an accelerant helped cause the injury — creating reasonable suspicion that the patient committed arson.

Keeping police body cams private: There are many private moments that are filmed by police body cameras that should remain private. This purpose it to protect people against nosey neighbors who might try to use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to get the video of police visiting someone’s house at night and then post it on the Internet for their entertainment and their neighbor’s embarrassment.

Jones is working with the ACLU on Senate Bill 634 to exempt certain recordings by police body-worn cameras from FOIA. Recordings from body-worn cameras will still be able to be subpoenaed for court proceedings.

Issues the committee has already taken up this term:

Reducing state judgeships: The State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) recommended in 2015 a reduction of nine trial court judgeships and the addition of three, for a net cut of six trial court seats. Senate Bill 709 would make these changes through attrition — by not replacing judges who retire or leave for other reasons.

The plan would save money and put resources where they are needed. According to the SCAO, 25 out of the previously approved judgeship eliminations from 2011 and 2013 have taken place, saving taxpayers more than $6.1 million.

If all the recommendations are fully implemented, taxpayers would save $7.4 million annually, with estimates that over time the cumulative savings would reach nearly $200 million.

Stopping drugged driving: The Michigan Senate recently approved legislation to create a pilot program enabling certain law enforcement officers to conduct roadside saliva tests on motorists suspected of being under the influence of controlled substances.

Drugged driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving. This legislation is about helping keep Michigan roads as safe as possible by making it easier for law enforcement to crack down on driving under the influence of a controlled substance.

Under Senate Bill 207, a pilot program would run for a year in five counties. Drivers in the participating counties who are stopped under reasonable cause would have their mouths swabbed to test saliva for the presence of a cannabis, opiates, cocaine and methamphetamine.

Cracking down on senior exploitation: Last year, the Senate unanimously approved legislation to protect Michigan seniors from being financially exploited by a family member.

Senate Bill 270 would allow Michigan judges to take jurisdiction in guardianship cases if certain criteria are met. Jones sponsored the bill and said it was inspired by a real case here in Michigan.

“An elderly woman from mid-Michigan was taken by her son to another state, where she was put on drugs that she did not need and deemed incompetent. A judge then appointed her son as her guardian, who proceeded to drain her bank accounts,” Jones said. “Thankfully, the woman’s family in Michigan was successful in getting her back home and off the unnecessary medications. Once off the drugs, it was clear that she didn’t need a guardian. However, when she asked a Michigan judge to declare her competent to be her own guardian, she was told there was nothing the judge could do.”

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Remarking on the 2016 State of the State address

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, commented on Gov. Rick Snyder’s 2016 State of the State address:

“I commend Governor Snyder for his attention to the public health crisis in Flint. As a father and a grandfather, I am dismayed by the failures that resulted in this crisis and the risk it poses to the children of this community. The families of Flint deserve our full attention and the Senate is ready to assist the governor to address these concerns.

“The crisis in Flint demonstrates a need for greater accountability and reforms to our state government systems. Bloated, unresponsive bureaucracy does not meet the needs of our citizens. Over the past few years the Senate Republicans have worked to improve state government, but clearly there is more work to be done. The citizens of Michigan deserve a responsive, competent team of employees and administrators that value accountability, safety and customer service above red tape.

“The job of government at all levels is to respond to constituents. As the customer complaint window for state government, legislative offices hear from citizens day-in and day-out who need help navigating bureaucracy. The Senate Republicans are eager to pursue ways to improve state government and ensure safety and accountability for our citizens. Like many people throughout our state and the country, I look forward to hearing more about a solution for the people of Flint.

“This year, the Senate is poised to tackle reform of our state’s largest school district. The children of Detroit have spent too much time in an education system that does not give them the tools necessary to be successful adults and citizens. The bottom line is, the families in Detroit and across Michigan deserve access to quality education choices.

“The Senate, House, governor, city leadership, elected officials, education professionals, community stakeholders and parents must all share in the responsibility of reforming Detroit Public Schools. While the Legislature can work to resolve the balance sheet, the active participation of the citizens and leaders of Detroit is critical to the long-term success of the students and the vitality of the city’s neighborhoods.

“Detroit’s turnaround will be for not if the children of that great city do not graduate high school, are not prepared for learning at our universities and are not competitive in today’s job market.

“The challenges in Detroit Public Schools are not entirely unique to that district. Many school districts are burdened by financial stress and a changing educational environment. My colleagues and I in the Senate will look more closely at potential reforms related to legacy costs. No student should be short-changed of dollars entering the classroom because of an unsustainable retirement system and mounting debt.

“These major issues bring about larger questions about system failures. The governor has not shied away from tackling the tough issues facing our state and his remarks tonight demonstrate accountability and forward action to help the citizens of Flint and Michigan.

“The Senate Republicans are prepared for another year of working with the governor, our colleagues in the House and members on the other side of the aisle to continue to improve Michigan and reform state government.”

Visit Michigan’s Winter Wonderland

Some readers may recall a time in the mid to late 1960s when Michigan’s automobile license plates featured the phrase, “Water-Winter Wonderland.” It was an apt description for our state, which is defined by its geography, but also its climate.

Indeed, recreation and tourism have always been signature Michigan attractions. In 2014, more than 113 million people visited our state and spent $22.8 billion that generated $37.8 billion in total business sales that year. 6.2 percent of all jobs in the state — more than 326,000 — are sustained by the travel-related economy.

As Michigan’s economy grows, our natural resources will continue to play an increasingly important role.

Since we experience several months each year of wintry weather, outdoor winter activities contribute mightily to our economy. And what better place is there than Michigan’s Winter Wonderland?

From snowmobiling, downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, snowshoeing, mushing, ice fishing, hunting, and so much more — Michigan is the place to experience winter.

With more than 6,500 miles of snowmobile trails, 3,000 miles of cross country skiing trails, and 51 downhill ski areas featuring 260 lifts and 1,000 runs, Michigan is a polar playground for your family to explore.

And when it’s time to warm up, Michigan offers indoor adventures as well, with world-class resorts, hotels and restaurants, spas and getaways awaiting you and your loved ones.

Check out the Pure Michigan Winter Travel Guide to plan your next adventure and experience winter in a new light.

Michigan Women’s History Spotlight: Joan L. Wolfe

Did you know that on this day 39 years ago, a major state commission in Michigan had its first female chairperson?

Born in 1929, Joan L. Wolfe was an extraordinary Michigan woman who became one of the most impactful environmentalists in our state’s history. After receiving an appointment from Gov. William Milliken to the Michigan Natural Resources Commission in 1973, she became the chair of the commission in 1977. Wolfe was the first woman in the nation to serve on a state’s natural resources committee.

Alongside her accomplishment of becoming the first woman to chair a major state commission, Wolfe also founded the West Michigan Environmental Action Council in 1968, became a member of the first Natural Resources Trust Fund Board, was a part of the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Electric Energy Alternatives, and played a major role in the passage of the landmark Michigan Environmental Protection Act of 1970. Wolfe, alongside her husband Willard, was also instrumental in the effort to pass Michigan’s Inland Lakes and Streams Act of 1972.

She was one of the eight honorees in the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 1996 and was inducted into the Michigan Environmental Hall of Fame in 2014. She was also the recipient of an honorary Doctorate in Public Service from Western Michigan University.

In light of January being National Mentoring Month, we would be remiss to not acknowledge Wolfe’s work in volunteerism. Wolfe authored Making Things Happen: How to be an Effective Volunteer, which provides an assessment of volunteerism and outlines the basic skills that volunteers need to make a stronger impact.

Joan L. Wolfe was a pioneer for women’s expanded role in Michigan government whose service to the state of Michigan should never be forgotten. She made a positive impact on the state of Michigan while changing attitudes about the role of women in government.

Ending human trafficking begins with raising public awareness

More than 150 years ago, our nation fought a Civil War — brother against brother — to finally end slavery in America. Unfortunately, slavery remains in the form of human trafficking.

Human trafficking is real. It is the world’s second-largest and fastest-growing criminal industry. Every year it devastates the lives of thousands of women and children in America — and it’s happening right here in our state.

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. It is about dedicating an entire month to educating people about human trafficking, its life-altering effects on survivors and what we can all do to stop it.

Children are especially vulnerable to this heinous crime, with 40 percent of human trafficking cases involving the sexual exploitation of a child.

Human trafficking is still clouded in shadow, and this month is a poignant time to shine the light on it.

The Michigan Senate Republicans led the effort to enact historic reforms in 2014 to combat human trafficking. Michigan’s 21 new laws were a loud and clear statement we’re serious about punishing traffickers, supporting survivors and increasing awareness and training.

Michigan now has some of the country’s strongest human trafficking laws and our efforts are working.

In fact, a recent report named Michigan as the most improved state for its laws addressing child sex trafficking.

While it is nice to be recognized, the true reward is the profound positive impact these new laws are making in the lives of survivors.

If you believe you have witnessed or are aware of a potential case of human trafficking, call your local police or the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline toll-free, 24-hours-a-day at 1-888-3737-888.

Donating blood = Saving a life

About one of every seven people entering the hospital will need blood. Unfortunately, although nearly 40 percent of Americans are eligible to donate blood, only about 5 percent actually do.

That is why the Michigan Senate Republicans encourage healthy residents to give blood and help maintain a sufficient blood supply for patients.

This month is National Blood Donor Month, which has been observed in January since 1970 to honor blood and platelet donors and also to help increase donations during the winter months — when maintaining a sufficient blood supply for patients is difficult due to weather and seasonal illnesses that often impact donor turnout.

Donating blood takes a very short time. The actual donating process takes less than 10 minutes and the entire visit — from check-in to check-out — lasts 60 minutes or less.

If you do decide to donate, please remember to get plenty of rest beforehand, eat a good meal and avoid alcohol. It is also important to drink plenty of fluids both before and after donating.

Michigan Blood is a nonprofit blood bank that provides blood for more than 50 hospitals throughout the state. For more information or to schedule an appointment to donate, call toll-free 1-866-MIBLOOD or visit their website at: www.MiBlood.org.

The American Red Cross provides about 40 percent of the nation’s blood supply. To donate, call 1-800-RED CROSS or visit www.RedCrossBlood.org. Donors can also use the free Red Cross Blood Donor App, which can be found in app stores or at www.RedCrossBlood.org/bloodapp.