I wanted to take a moment to let you know how my first weeks in the Michigan House of Representatives have been going and update you on some issues I anticipate coming before the Legislature in the near future.
My term has gotten off to a very busy start since the House's ceremonial swearing in on January 9th.
I've enjoyed opportunities to make connections and build relationships with a variety of stakeholders, community leaders, colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and constituents who have already contacted and visited me. I'm excited to share that I have taken on two important leadership positions in the House; Democratic Leader Greimel has named me Assistant Floor Leader and I am Chair of the Capitol Caucus. Serving as Assistant Floor Leader is a tremendous honor, and I look forward to working with Democratic Floor Leader Hobbs to get our ideas, bills, and amendments considered by House Republicans. I have already had the opportunity to run the floor for the Democratic Caucus once and expect to do so many more times!
The Capitol Caucus is a bi-partisan, bi-cameral group of mid-Michigan lawmakers who have worked together for a number of years to address and advocate for the legislative and economic development issues affecting our region. I was made Chair of that group alongside Vice Chair Tom Leonard, a Republican colleague from Dewitt. The caucus has already met and has a number of proactive plans to advocate for mid-Michigan, which we believe is just as deserving of resources as other areas of Michigan.
All House members recently received their committee assignments for the 2013-2014 term. As some of you may have heard, I have been asked to serve on the following three committees:
Ethics and Elections
This committee is expected to take up a variety of controversial bills, including legislation to allow for no-reason absentee voting and a bill proposing major changes to Michigan's Electoral College system (changing Michigan from an all-or-nothing voting system to one that awards electoral votes based on congressional district results).
Colleagues and I have been told that this committee serve as a think tank of ideas. Our Committee Chair (Rep. Mike Shirkey) has shown an interest and willingness to discuss whatever members think with make Michigan more competitive and has already said that he is interested in looking at my talent retention and attraction bill (HB 4182) that would create a tax credit for college students that choose to stay in Michigan. I expect this committee to be the most thought-provoking of my assignments as members and I think creatively not only about how we can make Michigan competitive, but how we can make it the best state in the nation.
I expect this committee to stay busy reviewing liquor regulations, gambling issues, and tobacco policies (among other regulatory legislation).
All three committees have begun meeting and I'm looking forward to taking up a number of interesting issues as legislative activity gets underway in the House.
I've been working hard on assembling legislation and have already introduced a handful of bills and resolutions:
HB 4104 and 4105
These bills add public libraries to Michigan's list of "gun-free zones," which are places where people cannot bring concealed weapons (places like schools, churches, day care centers, etc.). These bills also prevent individuals from openly carrying guns in our state's gun-free zones. Under current law, a person can openly carry a gun in any public place, including schools, churches, bars, dormitories, etc. My legislation prevents the open carry of guns in those areas (with exemptions for police and private security officers).
This bill reflects one of my campaign pledges-- boosting support for higher education. HB 4182 allows individuals who graduate from Michigan's public universities with a Bachelor's degree to be eligible for an income tax credit if they remain (and work) in Michigan after earning their degrees. The bill is modeled after the Opportunity Maine Program, which was implemented by the State of Maine in 2008 and has helped keep young people in the state and attract more, higher-paying jobs. I'm hopeful that this bill could be taken up by the Michigan Competitiveness Committee as the group discusses strategies for attracting residents and new business to our state.
HB 4183 also reflects an issue I discussed throughout my campaign: increasing and equalizing funding in Michigan's K-12 schools. Like many of you, I'm frustrated that per-pupil support for Michigan's students varies so widely; some districts enjoy per-pupil allotments nearing $12,000 per student while others (like the Lansing School District) must get by with around $7,000 per student. While there are a variety of reasons those numbers fall so far apart, the fact remains that we have a lot of work to do to equalize the amount we spend to provide quality education to all of our students. My bill proposes to equalize K-12 funding by reinstating the 2X funding formula that Michigan has used to calculate foundation allowance payments in the past. Under that formula, districts at the bottom level of funding receive twice as much of an increase in funding as those as the top.
At the beginning of the year I introduced HR 17, which urges Governor Snyder to accept the increased Medicaid funding available to Michigan under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). I was glad to see our governor agree with this and make a move to support Medicaid expansion for our state. That expansion, funded by the federal government, is expected to qualify over 400,000 currently uninsured Michigan residents for much-needed healthcare services. I look forward to supporting this proposal as soon as it makes its way to the Legislature for approval.
A bi-partisan group of members of the Capitol Caucus joined me in introducing HR 22, which calls on Congress to intervene to prevent the closure of the U.S. Postal Service's (USPS) Processing and Distribution Center in Lansing. My mid-Michigan colleagues and I have a number of concerns about rushed plans to consolidate and close this facility, which handles between three and five million pieces of mail a day. The facility's closure could have a detrimental impact on mid-Michigan's local economy, not to mention a concerning loss of at least 200 jobs currently tied to the Processing and Distribution Center. Colleagues and I would like to see the USPS reconsider its overall closure strategy once Congress has had the chance to enact the broader postal reforms expected to be taken up in the near future.
For an up-to-date list of all legislation I've sponsored and co-sponsored to date, click on the below links:
Legislative Issues/Budget Update
I know that many of you watched Governor Snyder's State of the State speech last month. I enjoyed being present to hear some of his ideas and recommendations for Michigan and invite you to review the full text of his speech online if you haven't already.
This week, the governor shared his FY 2014 and FY 2015 budget proposals with members of the House and Senate.
On the good news front, Governor Snyder has called for investments in a number of areas that I think are in the best interest of our state. Those investments include some support for early childhood education (though not as much as I'd like to see); expanding Michigan's Medicaid program; support for a number of public health programs (including a small expansion of Michigan's Healthy Kids Dental program, obesity reduction, cancer screening, diabetes, and pregnancy care programming); new investment in mental health programming for at-risk youth and increased funding for Michigan's mental health courts; a new agency to improve veterans' services; and funds to put more troopers and corrections officers back in our communities.
That said, I am concerned about a number of the proposals presented by Governor Snyder. To begin, increases for education are very small (around 2 percent across the board for our K-12 schools, community colleges, and higher education institutions). Many of those increases are tied to controversial, unproven performance measures and metrics, and they don’t even begin to make up for the drastic cuts to education (to the tune of nearly $2 billion) that have been enacted since our governor took office. While I share Governor Snyder's belief that we need to commit to adequately maintaining and improving our roads, I have a number of concerns about his plan to increase motor fuel taxes (both gasoline and diesel) to a flat rate of 33 cents per gallon and increase vehicle registration fees by an average of nearly $120 a year. This will be tough for our middle class residents and seniors to handle just a year after seeing their taxes increased (many of those changes will take effect when you do your taxes this year!). Finally, I'm concerned that Governor Snyder's support for our local governments remains flat, which means that locals still suffering from drastic cuts to state revenue sharing will continue to struggle to provide essential services to our residents.
I want you to know that my Democratic colleagues and I plan to fight hard against any proposals that don't adequately prioritize our schools, local communities, working families, and senior citizens.
Coffee and Tea with Andy
I'm excited to be holding my first 'Coffee and Tea with Andy' gathering on Saturday, February 16th, from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. at the Avenue Café (formerly Gone Wired), located at 2021 E. Michigan Avenue in Lansing. I’m looking forward to hosting the first of many community coffee hours, where I’d like to introduce you to my staff, talk with you about what’s going on at the Capitol, and discuss your thoughts and concerns about our community. Hearing from you helps me better represent the interests of Lansing and Lansing Township in the Michigan House, so I hope you’ll consider joining in what promises to be a productive discussion.
My 'Coffee and Tea with Andy' schedule for the rest of 2013 is as follows:
Monday, April 8
Gier Community Center
2400 Hall Street, Lansing
Saturday, June 22
Flap Jack Waverly
1601 S. Waverly Road, Lansing
Monday, August 5
Alfreda Schmidt Southside Community Center (Community Room)
5825 Wise Road, Lansing
Saturday, October 26
The Avenue Café (formerly Gone Wired)
2021 East Michigan Avenue, Lansing
Monday, December 2
Letts Community Center
1220 W. Kalamazoo Street, Lansing
For a full list of events happening in and around our community in the coming weeks, click here.
Thank you very much for your interest in my legislative activity. I look forward to keeping you updated on what's happening in the House and invite you to stay in touch with my office via phone (517.373.0826), e-mail (email@example.com), or by stopping in to visit (we're located in office 1087 of the Anderson House Office Building, located at 124 North Capitol Avenue in Lansing) to share your thoughts or if we can be of any assistance to you.
State Representative, 68th District