Legislative Update: New laws to help families, veterans and communities

The Michigan Senate Republicans have accomplished much already in 2016 to help support our families, veterans and communities. Here are some highlights of legislation recently signed into law and previously approved laws that are going into effect in July:

Helping communities respond to disasters and emergencies
The governor has signed Senate legislation to allow the state to better respond to emergencies.

Ensuring more funds are available in the event of an emergency or natural disaster will allow the state to react fast and better protect Michigan families.

Public Act 220 of 2016, sponsored by Sen. Mike Nofs, increases the amount the state can hold in its Disaster and Emergency Contingency Fund from $4.5 million to $10 million. The fund has been used to help cover the cost of response efforts in Flint and for severe storm cleanup in parts of the state when federal emergency reimbursement is not available.

Standing up for foster siblings
Gov. Rick Snyder recently signed legislation to help ensure the best care and placement for foster children.

“I am glad to see the governor signed this legislation to help protect the cherished bond between siblings in foster care,” said Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, sponsor of the bill. “As a foster grandparent and a former member of law enforcement, I have seen both the good and bad of family life. I’ve seen young children endure terrible situations. I’ve also seen the strength of children who overcome tough challenges and the positive impact of siblings in persevering — which is what this new law seeks to preserve.”

Public Act 191 of 2016 puts a greater emphasis on sibling placement and visitation with siblings. If siblings cannot be placed together, then a priority of sibling visitations and ongoing interaction will be arranged to ensure a sibling bond. The new law requires frequent visitations between non-custodial, biological parents and their children unless the court determines that the parenting time would be harmful to the child.

Increasing oversight, accountability in veterans facilities
The Michigan Senate Republicans stood up for our heroes — securing more funding to assist homeless veterans and create a new Michigan Veterans Facility Ombudsman to ensure our veterans receive the proper care they earned serving our nation.

Michigan’s military veterans have given so much in the service of our country, and an independent ombudsman will be able to identify, investigate and recommend fixes for problems at the state’s veterans homes, so we can ensure that our veterans have safe and secure places to enjoy their retirement.

Public Act 198 of 2016, sponsored by Sen. Peter MacGregor, requires that the Legislative Council appoint an ombudsman to investigate complaints filed by resident veterans, their family members or legal guardians, or a legislator and then report the findings and recommendations.

The ombudsman will investigate Michigan veterans facilities for acts or conditions that allegedly violate law or policy or that pose significant health or safety issues. The ombudsman will be able to inspect a facility at any time, on its own accord or by request, and conduct investigational hearings and subpoena individuals and documents.

Ushering in new state laws in July
Several important new laws take effect this month:

Public Act 85 of 2016, sponsored by Sen. Margaret O’Brien, establishes the CARE Act to help train and support in-home caregivers. Under the new law, hospitals are required to allow patients to designate a caregiver and develop a discharge plan to help the caregiver provide after-care assistance.

• Public Acts 87 and 88 of 2016 increase protections for pregnant women by expanding the penalties for assaulting a pregnant woman. The crime would be treated as a domestic violence crime with stricter punishment, especially for repeat offenses.

• Public Act 62 of 2016 raises public awareness about human trafficking. The law requires the National Human Trafficking Hotline number (1-888-373-7888) to be posted at rest stops and welcome centers, bus and rail stations, airports and other places in the state.

2016 accomplishments – First 6 months

As June comes to a close, it’s a great time to look back at the achievements we’ve made so far in 2016.

For starters, let’s remember how far we’ve come. Under Republican leadership, Michigan has added more than 450,000 private sector jobs and our state unemployment rate dropped below the national average for the first time since August 2000.

In fact, at 4.7 percent, Michigan’s unemployment rate has been cut in half since January 2011, is at its lowest rate in 15 years, and is more than 10 points lower than it was in June 2009.

It’s no surprise then, that the PEW Charitable Trusts declared Michigan as “maybe the biggest success story” in the nation.

Let’s look at what we’ve accomplished in the first six months of 2016…

For the sixth year in the row, the Senate Republicans passed a fiscally responsible budget months ahead of schedule that maintains our positive momentum, ensures we live within our means and continues our unwavering support of public education.

We have always led the fight for greater funding for our local schools and more choice in education.

In fact, Michigan is investing more this year on K-12 education than ever in state history. The finalized Fiscal Year 2017 budget directs more than $14 billion to education — increasing support by more than $260 million and paying down more than $1 billion in school retirement costs, which will help schools put additional dollars into the classroom.

Senate Republicans acted promptly to the Flint water crisis and appropriated more than $211 million in much needed emergency relief to address the immediate health needs of the people of Flint, as well as putting another $74.6 million in the new budget.

We believe in the sanctity of life. It’s a tragedy when a child dies, and no one should profit from the trafficking of human fetal remains. We put an end to that horrific practice in 2016 with the signing of Senate Bills 564 and 565.

In 2016, we stood up for our heroes — securing more funding to assist homeless veterans and create a new Veterans Home Ombudsman to ensure our veterans receive the proper care they earned serving our nation.

We also helped encourage more parents to take their children outdoors, by guaranteeing free access to state boating access sites and certain state parks during the state’s two free fishing weekends.

While we accomplished much already in 2016, the Michigan Senate Republicans remain committed to working tirelessly to build upon these successes and continue to improve our state for future generations.

Senate’s 22nd Annual Memorial Day Service honors Michigan’s fallen soldiers

On Thursday, May 26, the Michigan Senate joined with the families of fallen soldiers from across the state and other guests to remember and pay tribute to those who gave their lives defending our country.

Sen. Patrick Colbeck hosted the Senate’s 22nd Annual Memorial Day Service.

“It was a privilege and a distinct honor to join my colleagues in honoring the brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country,” said Colbeck. “There is no greater love than to lay one’s life down on behalf of a friend. Whether we know them personally or not, our freedom is a tribute to many such friends throughout the history of this great nation.”

The Memorial Day Service was held in the Michigan Senate chamber and featured current and former military personnel, representatives from military posts, and families of fallen soldiers throughout the state.

The keynote speaker for the event was a recent inductee to the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame and former World War II B-17 pilot, Dr. John A. Clark, who served in the 100th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force, where he completed 32 missions over Germany during 1944-45.

As part of the ceremony, lawmakers placed folded American flags in a special basket for the two U.S. soldiers from Michigan who lost their lives in the last year.

The service also included several performances, including “Amazing Grace,” by the Kalamazoo Pipe Band; the singing of the National Anthem by Ms. Deborah Drick; the reading of the names of the fallen Michigan soldiers by Sen. Jim Stamas, a U.S. Army veteran; the retirement of colors and the playing of taps by the Department of Michigan Veterans of Foreign Wars’ State Honor Guard; and closing remarks by Sen. Colbeck.

The Michigan Senate held its first Memorial Day Service in 1995 at the initiative of former U.S. Congressman Mike Rogers, who was then a state senator.

Michigan Senate salutes America’s heroes on Veterans Day


Senate veterans committee chair Sen. Margaret O’Brien and the Senate’s three veterans, Sen. Jim Stamas (U.S. Army and National Guard) and Sens. Vincent Gregory (U.S. Marine Corps) and David Knezek (U.S. Marine Corps), joined together to thank America’s Heroes on Veterans Day.

Let us never forget that we owe our liberty to the courageous veterans who put their country before themselves.

Understanding this debt to our veterans and their families for their enormous sacrifices, the Michigan Senate is proud that our state has made significant strides to express our deep appreciation for the service of Michigan’s veterans in a real, meaningful way.

The Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA) provides valuable services — from job resources to medical benefits and transition assistance — to our state’s more than 660,000 military veterans.

The Michigan Senate encourages all veterans to ensure they are receiving the support and benefits they earned serving the nation by contacting the MVAA at 1-800-MICH-VET or on their website at www.MichiganVeterans.com.

‘Michigan Says Thanks’ to Vietnam veterans


This week I was honored to sponsor an event on the Capitol lawn paying tribute to veterans of the Vietnam War era.

The “Michigan Says Thanks” event highlighted the service of the armed forces during the Vietnam War and the contributions of federal agencies and Vietnam War era families, and it paid tribute to the contributions made on the home front by the people of the United States during the war.

The ceremony was more than I hoped for. The turnout was fantastic, and we spent time thanking and honoring veterans of the Vietnam War era and their families for their service and sacrifice on behalf of the United States.

Giving Vietnam veterans and their families due honor and respect was long overdue. Michigan’s Vietnam veterans, whether drafted or enlisted, served our country with honor. Tragically, too many returned home with little thanks for their service and not much help transitioning to civilian life.

More than nine million Americans served our country during the Vietnam War era. Michigan Says Thanks focused on the more than 237,000 Vietnam era Michiganders who reside here today.

Twenty-five historical stations were displayed on the north and south lawns for event attendees to visit. The Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA) hosted one of the historical stations. An MVAA service officer answered questions and made follow-up appointments regarding benefits such as disability compensation, pension, aid and attendance, and dependent indemnity compensation.

The major sponsors of Michigan Says Thanks were Vietnam Veterans of America Detroit Chapter 9, Michigan Association of Broadcasters, Domino’s Pizza, and Breitung Township Traveling Memorial.

A lapel-pinning ceremony was held throughout the event. Volunteers from the United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration fastened lapel pins on veterans who served during the Vietnam War era, between Nov. 1, 1955 and May 15, 1975, regardless of location.

The symbolism attached to the Vietnam veteran lapel pins is significant. The Commemoration honors all Vietnam veterans, whether they served in-country, in-theater, or were stationed elsewhere during the Vietnam War period. All were called to serve and the overwhelming majority of these veterans served honorably and admirably.

We can never fully repay those who served us, but we were able to say thank you at this event. May we continue to remember the sacrifice veterans and their families have made for us.

Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, is the Michigan Senate majority floor leader. He serves the residents of the 15th Senate District, representing western Oakland County.

Sen. Mike Kowall on “Michigan Says Thanks” to Vietnam War era veterans

Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, is hosting an event on October 8 honoring veterans of the Vietnam War era on the Capitol lawn. Kowall encouraged his constituents and all interested Michiganders to attend.

“Michigan’s Vietnam veterans, whether drafted or enlisted, served our country with honor. Tragically, too many returned home with little thanks for their service and not much help transitioning to civilian life,” Kowall said. “We will spend some time thanking and honoring veterans of the Vietnam War era and their families for their service and sacrifice on behalf of the United States.”