Here’s your guide on what Whitmer and the Democratic-led Legislature got done in 2023  ⋆

Session may have ended before Michiganders sat down for Thanksgiving dinner, but the first Democratic-controlled Legislature in four decades did tick off a number of boxes on the party’s wish list in 2023.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a total of 321 bills, with much of the most impactful legislation set to take effect on Feb. 13, 2024.

Many new laws roll back the agenda enacted by former Gov. Rick Snyder last decade, like repealing Right to Work, axing the Read by Grade 3 law, passing the Reproductive Health Act and restoring prevailing wage. Whitmer served as Senate minority leader during Snyder’s first term and gained national prominence for leading the opposition.

Here’s your guide to what the Michigan Legislature didn’t finish this year

But despite having the narrowest of majorities, Democrats weren’t afraid to be proactive in passing their progressive priorities, like a massive clean energy package, voting rights expansions, protections for LGBTQ+ Michiganders and long-stalled gun reforms.

There’s plenty left for Dems to take up in the new year, as the Advance previously reported — although most movement on progressive bills is expected to be stalled until after Tax Day. That’s because there’s currently a 54-54 tie in the House with two members resigning after winning local elections in November. Although Democrats are expected to win both safe seats, the special general election isn’t until April 16, 2024.

Until then, here’s the Advance’s roundup of the top Michigan legislative accomplishments of 2023:

Right to Work and prevailing wage repeal

When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation in March repealing Michigan’s Right to Work laws, it was the first state to do so since Indiana repealed its laws in 1965. Interestingly, Republicans in Indiana restored it in 2012, the same year the GOP-led Legislature in Michigan passed it during a contentious lame duck session, prompting roughly 12,000 protesters to gather outside the Capitol.

Michigan’s 2012 laws, which also contained an appropriation rendering citizens unable to repeal it, allowed workers to get all union benefits without having to pay dues. They were followed in 2018 when the GOP-led Legislature also approved an initiative repealing prevailing wage for contracted workers on state projects.

All of that was undone when Whitmer signed House Bills 4004 and 4007 and Senate Bill 34. HB 4004 repealed Right to Work for public-sector employees, while SB 34 did the same for private-sector workers. HB 4007, meanwhile, restored the practice of prevailing wage into law.

While Republicans and some business groups, like the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, opposed their repeals, unions and other pro-labor groups celebrated the repeal of laws that curtailed their power and they said pushed down wages.

“After decades of anti-worker attacks, Michigan has restored the balance of power for working people by passing laws to protect their freedom to bargain for the good wages, good benefits, and safe workplaces they deserve,” said Ron Bieber, then-president of Michigan AFL-CIO.

Because the repeal did not garner the two-thirds support in the Senate needed for it to take immediate effect (in fact, no Republicans voted in favor) the provisions won’t take effect until Feb. 13, which is 90 days after the Michigan Legislature adjourned for the year on Nov. 14. 

Whitmer also signed  HB 4007, which restores the practice of prevailing wage into law — another top priority for unions.

The GOP-led Legislature had in 2018 approved an initiative repealing prevailing wage for contracted workers on state projects.

Union members from around the country rally at the Michigan State Capitol to protest a vote on Right-to-Work legislation December 11, 2012 in Lansing, Michigan. Republicans control the Michigan House of Representatives, and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has said he will sign the bill if it is passed. | Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Reproductive rights laws

Abortion had been legal in Michigan for nearly 50 years due to Roe v. Wade. But when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned it in June 2022, Michigan was left with a state law from 1931 which banned abortions.

However, that law was not enforced due to Planned Parenthood and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer both filing lawsuits prior to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision and an injunction was granted. 

Democratic officials and reproductive health care stakeholders mobilized to solidify access to abortions in several ways in the last two years, starting with a ballot initiative that voters passed in the November 2022 election by a 13-point margin to enshrine the rights to an abortion and reproductive health care into the state constitution. 

Whitmer also signed in April a bill repealing the 1931 ban on abortions. Under the banner of ensuring the constitutional amendment has legs, Democratic lawmakers crafted a Reproductive Health Act (RHA) aimed to remove barriers to reproductive health care.

However, the bill package had a meandering path to the finish line, as one Democrat, state Rep. Karen Whitsett of Detroit, didn’t support all aspects of the legislation. Because no Republicans said they would vote for the RHA, sponsors had to water down the package to win Whitsett’s support.

Elements advocated for by stakeholders that were left behind by lawmakers included the elimination of Michigan’s 24-hour waiting period for an abortion and allowing Medicaid to fund abortions.

The pared-down version of the RHA doesn’t ensure reproductive freedom for all Planned Parenthood of Michigan Chief Medical Operating Officer Dr. Sarah Wallett said in a statement in November. 

“Every single day, I see patients who have struggled to pull together needed funds because Medicaid won’t cover their care. Every single day, we have to cancel and reschedule appointments because of insignificant clerical errors in state-mandated paperwork,” Wallet said.

The bills Whitmer signed included the repeal of health insurance rules against covering abortion, known as “rape insurance,” as well as removing some Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers, commonly known as TRAP laws, which abortion providing facilities say place nonsensical regulations on their practices, specifically endangering small and rural facilities.

“The moral of this story is don’t stop fighting for what you know is right,” Whitmer said. “There’s a warning in the story, too, [to] anyone who wants to roll back our rights: Don’t mess with American women; we’re tough and we fight back and we will win. You come for our rights and we will work harder to protect them.” 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at a press conference celebrating the enactment of Proposal 3, which enshrines abortion rights in Michigan’s state constitution, on Dec. 14, 2022. (Andrew Roth/)

Sexual violence laws, a.k.a. ‘Nassar bills’

Dozens of bills aimed at improving the state’s response to sexual violence in schools, sports and churches via the court system, have been introduced every legislative session since 2017. That was in response to the state learning the breadth of the decades of sexual abuse perpetrated by former Michigan State University and Olympic doctor Larry Nassar.

Survivors of Nassar’s abuse, as well as other survivors, have backed different bills for years, many of which have been signed into law. But some of the more sweeping legislation has failed to pass, year after year.

This year, Whitmer signed into law several pieces of legislation commonly known as “Nassar bills,” including mandating the state education department to create of materials to educate middle and high school students on what sexual violence can look like — and specifically noting that if they are ever a victim, it is not their fault. The materials are meant to reduce stigma and inform students on what to do if they or a friend are ever a victim, providing age-appropriate information and resources.

Legislation passed this year will prohibit schools disciplining students for behaviors that are reasonably tied to being sexually assaulted, with restrictions on the severity of the behavior and actions. And there are new laws that prohibit people in positions of professional authority from attempting to prevent individuals from reporting abusive crimes, including reporting incidents to a Title IX officer.

The state health department will also be required to create materials to educate mandatory reporters of child abuse or neglect, such as teachers, on their responsibilities. The department is required to publish the materials online.

As many of the girls and women who offered victim impact statements against Nassar in court in 2018 said he sexually assaulted them under the guise of medical treatment, several bills pertain to patient safety with medical professionals.

Under bills signed into law this year, the state licensing department is required to permanently revoke the medical license of a licensee if they are convicted of penetrative criminal sexual conduct under the guise of medical treatment. All penetrative medical examinations on minors will require written parental consent and another health professional to be present in the room. Those penetrative examinations, unless otherwise specified under the law, will need to be put in the patient’s medical record and maintained for 15 years. 

Women from the Michigan based victim advocacy groups End Violent Encounters and Firecracker Foundation cheer for women as they leave the courthouse after the sentencing of disgraced doctor Larry Nassar in Ingham County Circuit Court on January 24, 2018 in Lansing, Michigan. The former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for sexual assault after more than 150 women and girls confronted him in court and spoke of their abuse. | Anthony Lanzilote/Getty Images

Clean energy reforms

In April, Senate Democrats announced their Clean Energy Future Plan to bring Michigan’s energy policies in line with the goals laid out in Whitmer’s MI Healthy Climate plan. 

Some aspects of the plan changed over the course of the year, including Senate Bill 271’s shift away from requiring energy companies to meet a 100% renewable energy standard by 2035 to a 100% clean energy standard by 2040 that includes nuclear energy and natural gas 90% effective carbon capture technology. 

Environmental justice advocates spoke out about the inclusion of natural gas, alongside carveouts for energy sources like biomass; landfill gas made using solid waste; methane digesters using municipal sewage, food waste and manure and energy generating incinerators. 

While the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition and state Rep. Dylan Wegela (D-Garden City) said the exceptions would have a disproportionate negative impact on communities of color and low-income communities, the final energy package Whitmer signed in November still received praise from a number of environmental advocates across the state. 

In addition to establishing a clean energy standard for energy generators, the package includes bills increasing the state’s energy waste reduction standards; codifying a state policy that allows farmers to rent their farmland for solar energy generation while retaining its status in the farmland and open space preservation program; and instructing state energy regulators to weigh factors like environmental justice, equity, affordability, public health and others when reviewing plans for operation proposed by energy companies. 

Whitmer also signed a bill creating the Community and Worker Economic Transition Office within the state Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO), which is intended to facilitate the shift from fossil fuel to clean energy jobs. 

In addition to the energy policies introduced by the Senate, House Democrats successfully advanced their own package of bills which they said will streamline the state’s permitting process for large-scale clean energy projects by placing them under authority of the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC), which regulates energy utilities within the state. 

Opponents of the package — which was condensed into House Bills 5120 and 5121 — argue this strips away permitting authority from localities. 

However, the sponsors have noted the legislation contains explicit language against eminent domain takings and protecting farmland from being diminished by renewable energy developments. 

Energy companies would also be required to work with localities whose permitting process mirrors the state’s giving parties 120 days to reach an agreement with the option for a 120-day extension. 

The bills also require the entity constructing the energy project to enter into a project labor agreement, and to pay the prevailing wage. 

The company applying for a permit must also pay the host community $2,000 per megawatt of the project’s capacity, which the community can use to fund police, fire, public safety, other infrastructure or for other projects agreed on by the locality and the developer.

When applying for a permitting application with the MPSC, developers must provide impacted communities with up to $150,000 in funding to cover costs associated with contesting the application. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs clean energy legislation at Detroit’s Eastern Market, Nov. 28, 2023 | Jon King

Codifying Obamacare protections

With continued Republican attempts at the national level to eliminate the Affordable Care Act (ACA), known more popularly as Obamacare, Michigan Democrats took the opportunity of their legislative majority to protect Michiganders’ access to health care, bringing protections from the Affordable Care Act into state law. 

Under these new laws, signed by Whitmer in October, insurance providers are prohibited from denying someone coverage based on their gender identity or sexual orientation, denying coverage based on preexisting conditions and from rescinding someone’s coverage. 

Providers are also required to allow dependents to remain on their parent’s insurance until age 26, prohibited from setting annual and lifetime dollar limits on health care, and mandated to ensure access to coverage for specified services such as hospitalization, pregnancy and emergency services. 

Additionally, insurers must provide a summary of a health insurance policy and coverage to consumers. The state will also determine levels of coverage insurance companies must provide and determine how much a plan can deviate from its required actuarial value. 

“As a healthcare provider, I am thrilled that all eight of the bills in the Affordable Care Act package have now been signed into law by the Governor,” state Rep. Julie Rogers (D-Kalamazoo), who sponsored one of the bills in the package.

Lead protections for children 

As the Flint water crisis crystallized the need for water safety, lawmakers took steps to protect Michigan children from lead-contaminated drinking water, passing a bipartisan set of bills requiring schools and childcare facilities to install filtered faucets.

Additionally, the “filter first” bills — House Bills 4341 and 4342 — require schools and childcare facilities to create a drinking water management plan and conduct routine sampling and testing to ensure access to safe drinking water.

“Flint has paid an unimaginable price for water contamination. This is why I continue to push legislation that focuses on clean water and why this filter first bill package has been a priority for me. We must take steps to protect Michiganders from harmful contaminants — especially our kids,” state Rep. Cynthia Neeley (D-Flint) said in a statement after the bills were signed. Neeley is one of the lead sponsors of the bills. 

In addition to the “filter first” bills, Whitmer also signed another set of bipartisan bills to guarantee lead screenings for all children between the ages of one and two years old, with an option for parents to opt their child out of the screening. 

The bills took effect on Oct. 3. 

Beginning Jan. 1, physicians treating a minor will order a test for lead poisoning once when the patient is 1 year old; once when the patient is 2; once at 4 years old, if the minor lives in an area of the state with a high risk for childhood lead poisoning; or at least once between the ages of 2 and 6 if the patient has no prior experience with lead testing, as outlined in Senate Bill 31

Additionally, House Bill 4200 amends the Public Health Code to require a child’s immunization certificate to include a space indicating whether they have been tested for lead poisoning. 

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LGBTQ+ rights and protections

Bills expanding LGBTQ+ rights in Michigan had failed to gain traction in GOP-controlled legislatures for years. 

In the November 2022 election, as many Republicans, led by GOP gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon, mounted campaigns explicitly built on denying such rights, advocating for book bans and a Florida-style “Don’t Say Gay” law for schools. 

But Dixon lost to Whitmer by 11 points and Democrats also won control of both the House and Senate for the first time in nearly 40 years. 

With those victories, the path was opened for change, which quickly resulted in an expansion in March of a nearly 50-year-old civil rights law to encompass protections for LGBTQ+ Michiganders.

When Gov. Whitmer put her signature to Senate Bill 4 — which amended the 1976 Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) to add protections against discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation; she did so alongside LGBTQ+ leaders, officials and lawmakers and one of the two original cosponsors of ELCRA.

Former Republican state Rep. Melvin Larsen, co-sponsor of ELCRA along with the late Democratic former state Rep. Daisy Elliott, was present at the Lansing event to speak in support of the expansion. He received a standing ovation from the crowd.

“If you go back to the original Civil Rights Act, between Daisy [Elliott] and myself, the original intent was and still is that every citizen has the right to be protected under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act,” Larsen said.

“[Elliott] carried that bill around for almost five years because her leadership said to her that she had to have a Republican before she could introduce it. Of course, no Republican wanted to do it till I came along,” said the 86-year-old.

State Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), sponsor of SB 4, told the Advance at the time that it is significant that Larsen debunked the Republican line that LGBTQ+ protections were not intended to be added in the original legislation.

“This is meaningful for us to have the [co-]author of this act give credence to this moment,” Moss said. “I’ve heard so much garbage on the other side, but one of the speeches in the House that truly boggled my mind was a legislator who said this ‘was not the intention of the act.’

“Well, Mel Larson says it is. And he trumps whatever they have to say,” Moss said.

In July, Michigan also became the 22nd state to ban conversion therapy for minors. Whitmer noted that as the mother of a gay daughter, she was grateful to have the opportunity to make the state a more welcoming place to live for everyone’s children.

“Today, we are banning the horrific practice of conversion therapy in Michigan and ensuring this is a state where you can be who you are,” Whitmer said. “Let’s continue working together to ensure anyone can ‘make it’ in Michigan, expand fundamental freedoms, and fight back against any and all forms of discrimination.”  

The legislation, HB 4616 and HB 4617, effectively bars mental health professionals from seeking to alter a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity, or risk facing disciplinary action that could result in the loss of their professional licenses.

While there is no evidence that conversion therapy works, there is evidence that shows it is dangerous to children, as acknowledged by bill sponsor Rep. Felicia Brabec (D-Pittsfield Twp.).

“I am acutely aware that kids need to be free to express themselves without the fear or threat of damaging pseudo-psychology like conversion therapy. With the support of several mental health organizations throughout our state and nation, I can confidently say that this law will help to ensure that therapists like myself continue to do no harm in our practices, while protecting the LGBTQ youth in our state,” Brabec said.

Lawmakers pose with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer following her signing the ELCRA expansion for LGBTQ+ rights, March 16, 2023 | Laina G. Stebbins

Financial disclosure for elected officials

Proposal 1, approved by voters on the statewide ballot in the November 2022 election, required the legislature to create a system for legislators and other state officers to submit annual public financial disclosure reports. The measure also changed the state’s term limits law.

Lawmakers had until the end of the year, or risk legal action by voters, to pass a financial disclosure plan. They introduced Senate Bills 613616 at the end of October, facing criticism that the plan falls short of the will of voters.

“This is just the beginning — an essential move towards preserving democracy, fostering transparency and keeping the public well-informed about our state government and elected officials,” one of the bill sponsors of the package, Sen. Sam Singh (D-East Lansing), said in a written statement after the package was signed by the governor in December.

The bills require state officials, including the governor and state legislators, as well as those running for elected office, to submit annual financial disclosure reports outlining all income and  assets valued at $1,000 or more and liabilities valued at $10,000 or more.

The report would also have to include the name and occupation of the person’s spouse, as well as the name of their employer. However, spousal income, which often is shared income, does not need to be disclosed.

Critics also said some lobbyist gifts technically fall outside of what officials need to report and the new financial disclosure laws fail to create transparency on how officials may be benefiting from lobbyists.

Banning child marriage

This year, Michigan went from being one of only a handful of states with no legal minimum age required for marriage to the 10th state to ban child marriage.

Now people must be at least 18 to get married in Michigan under a package led by state Rep. Kara Hope (D-Holt). However, a handful of Republicans voted against legislation, arguing that it was government overreach.

Before the final bill in the package was signed in September, Michigan had what child marriage critics called a loophole for child rapists. The age of consent for sex in Michigan is 16 years old, but child rapists could avoid the law by marrying their victims.

Prior to the ban, Michigan law allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to get married with parental consent from one parent, meaning one parent could consent without the other’s knowledge. Children under the age of 16 required the consent of a parent and permission from a judge.

Unchained at Last, a nonprofit dedicated to ending child marriage, found that between 2000 and 2021 about 5,400 child marriages took place in Michigan, with 95% of them were between young girls and older men.

There is very little a child can do to avoid being married off to an adult as they can’t even seek shelter from a trusted adult or advocacy group without the person harboring them risking a kidnapping charge, AHA Foundation Director of Policy and Women’s Programs Michele Hanash told lawmakers in May. To get out of a legal marriage to an adult, children will also have trouble gaining legal representation and don’t always have someone to offer care and financial support for them if they are able to exit the marriage.

“Child marriage destroys nearly every aspect of a girl’s life here in the U.S. It destroys her opportunities for economic opportunities for health for education, we know she’s more likely to be subjected to intimate partner violence, sexual violence, physical abuse, so it’s extremely dangerous,” Hanash said.

The names of child marriage victims in Michigan written on the wedding dress Nina Van Harn said she wore when she was forced into a marriage at age 19. The ages on the dress go as low as 14. Van Harn and other advocates to end child marriage in Michigan testified at the state House Judiciary Committee meeting on May 10, 2023. | | Anna Liz Nichols

Juvenile justice reforms

A bipartisan package aimed to prevent recidivism and improve outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system was signed into law by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist in mid-December in Detroit.

“Every young person deserves the chance to be successful,” Gilchrist said on the day of the signing. “This historic legislation will hold our youth accountable while changing how they experience the justice system, expanding the available tools to create better outcomes, lower costs for families by eliminating fees, and ensure our juvenile justice system uses consistent research-based practices.”

The legislation comes from recommendations made by the Michigan Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform, established in 2021 by Whitmer, to have law enforcement, advocates and stakeholders come up with solutions to better the system. 

The measures within the bills include additional processes like required risk screening and mental health screenings to help make decisions on best paths forward for potential diversion, as well as adding criteria when courts are deciding whether to try juveniles as adults by examining their overall mental and emotional well-being and response to treatment services.

The legislation also eliminates many fees juvenile defendants can owe the court, which proponents note often fall on families and can be very costly and deter people from seeking out help from law enforcement. 

Jennifer Peacock, policy director for Michigan Center for Youth Justice, told lawmakers in September that some municipalities that have already eliminated some fees for youths in court are able to redirect the costly efforts to collect such debt, which sparingly result in payment, into community programming to reduce recidivism.

“Fines … reduced successful outcomes and young people … that are often finding themselves pushed deeper into poverty experience higher recidivism rates … and may be unable to obtain a driver’s license or expunge court records,” Peacock said. “Families have also reported being forced to decide between paying these court fees or meeting essentials like rent and groceries.”

The legislation calls for an expansion of the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman to transform it into the Office of the Child Advocate by assigning duties to ensure juveniles’ safety throughout their time iterating with the justice system. 

Voting and elections bills

Among the election reforms signed into law this year were a package of voting rights bills implementing provisions of Proposal 2 that Michigan voters passed in November 2022. 

The new laws, signed by Whitmer in July, include Senate Bills 339, 373, 370 and 367 and House Bills 4696, 4697, 4699 and 4702. Together, the measures extended early in-person voting to a nine-day period before Election Day, expanded absentee voting and community ballot drop boxes and created a web-based tracking system for absentee ballots.

“Michiganders spoke with a clear, united voice last November when they voted overwhelmingly in favor of Proposal 2, expanding voting rights,” Whitmer said at the time. “I am proud to sign bipartisan legislation implementing the will of the people, ensuring they can make their voices heard in every election.”

The package was also supported by Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who said she was grateful to the legislators who worked on the expansion of voting rights.

The second major piece of election reform legislation signed into law came at the end of November, when Whitmer signed bills improving election efficiency, increasing voter registration opportunities, protecting equal access to the ballot box, protecting election workers, allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote, automatically registering people to vote after they leave prison and regulating artificial intelligence in political ads.

The following day, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat who was serving as acting governor, signed into law legislation codifying her office’s practice of allowing registered and qualified voters to apply for an absentee ballot online.

Benson said HB 4570 will help Michigan continue conducting secure and accessible elections by amending Michigan Election Law to require the Secretary of State to maintain an online portal allowing those eligible to vote to request an absentee voter ballot.

The signing capped almost an entire year of Democratic lawmakers taking action to implement Proposal 2 of 2022, which enshrined voting rights in the state constitution, and delivered on democracy protection policies. 

The Promote the Vote 2022 coalition announces during a Lansing press conference that it has filed nearly 670,000 signatures, July 11, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

Gun reforms

Heading into 2023, gun reform was already on the list of priorities for Democrats. However, after a gunman killed three students and injured five others on the Michigan State University campus in February, the issue took on new urgency.

A flurry of Democratic bills were introduced in the following days. Eight weeks to the day of the campus mass shooting, state officials, lawmakers and more than 100 advocates packed another MSU space to celebrate as Whitmer signed the first round of gun reform bills into law.

Senate Bills 79, 80, 81 and 82, and House Bills 4138 and 4142 instituted universal background checks for all gun sales in Michigan and required safe storage of firearms and ammunition.

Every legislative Republican opposed the measures.

Less than six weeks later, Whitmer signed a slate of gun safety reforms she called “common sense action to reduce gun violence and keep families and communities safe.” 

Senate Bill 83, sponsored by state Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak), created the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act — otherwise known as a “red flag” law. The laws can be used to temporarily prohibit people from accessing firearms if they present a danger to themselves or others and are done upon request of a court order from family members, law enforcement and other individuals.

“The data is clear that extreme risk protection orders are a commonsense, effective tool to keep guns out of the hands of those who may hurt themselves or others and are already employed by 19 states across the country,” said McMorrow. 

Also signed into law was House Bill 4146, sponsored by state Rep. Kelly Breen (D-Novi), which prohibits someone from purchasing new firearms while under an extreme risk protection order. House Bill 4147, sponsored by state Rep. Julie Brixie (D-Meridian Twp.), provides for service of process for extreme risk protection order actions and waive court fees. House Bill 4148, sponsored by state Rep. Stephanie Young (D-Detroit), places sentencing guidelines for making a false statement in support of an extreme risk protection order.

Then in November, Whitmer signed in Kalamazoo legislation aimed to keep guns out of abusers’ hands, 24 years after the tragic death of Maggie Wardle, 19, who was killed by ex-boyfriend. Wardle’s parents, Rick and Martha Omilian, were present for the event.

“I could jump for joy,” Martha Omilian, told the Advance after Whitmer signed the series of bills that extend gun restrictions to those who are convicted of domestic violence-related crimes from just those with felonies to misdemeanors offenses.

“If one person … maybe somebody doesn’t have to go through this,” Martha said. “I will sit with this for the rest of my life. It’s the last thing I think about at night and the first thing I think about in the morning.”

On Oct. 18, 1999, Wardle was murdered in her Kalamazoo College dorm room by her ex-boyfriend, who was previously emotionally abusive to her.

Previously, state law only barred those convicted of felonies associated with domestic violence-related offenses from possessing, carrying or distributing firearms for three years after the completion of their sentence, with the possibility of an extension to up to five years for “specified felonies,” such as those involving threats or use of physical force.

Bur Senate Bill 471, Senate Bill 528 and House Bill 4945 created an across-the-board eight-year ban for those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence-related offenses from possessing, carrying or distributing firearms. The legislation also expanded offenses related to domestic violence that advocates said during the legislative process would more clearly encapsulate what domestic violence can entail.

One of the bills’ sponsors, state Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), said domestic violence tends to increase in severity, so early intervention is key.

“We know that domestic violence can escalate. What might be a more minor incident the first time or the second time, may become more violent and dangerous later on.”

Another gun reform was enacted by a panel after years of debate.

The Michigan Capitol Commission in August unanimously voted to ban “firearms, explosives or other items that pose a threat to security that are not reasonably necessary,” from the Capitol building, with an exception for lawmakers. 

However, the panel did not expand the policy to the Capitol lawn, saying it would be unenforceable.

Hundreds of Michigan State University students gather on the lawn of the Michigan Capitol for a rally demanding gun control legislation on Feb. 20, 2023, one week after a mass shooting on the campus of MSU. (Andrew Roth/)

Moving up the presidential primary

Among the first bills signed by Whitmer in 2023, Senate Bill 13 moved Michigan’s presidential primary election date to the fourth Tuesday in February rather than the second Tuesday in March — something backed by President Joe Biden. 

For the 2024 election cycle, that date would be Feb. 27. However, because Republicans prevented the bill from receiving immediate effect in the Legislature, the Democratic majority wrapped up the session in November so the bill would go into effect by Feb. 13. 

The legislation followed a vote in December 2022 by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to line up Michigan as the fifth state in the nomination process, behind South Carolina, Nevada, New Hampshire and Georgia. 

Traditionally, Iowa and New Hampshire have held the first two nominating contests in each presidential year, but DNC leaders sought to provide states with greater diversity among their electorate so as to better reflect the party as a whole.

Education reforms

Snyder’s tenure was marked by a number of laws that were unpopular with educators and unions. In March, the new Democratic Legislature gave final passage to a bill eliminating the Read by Grade Three law, Senate Bill 12.

State Rep. Lori Stone (D-Warren) characterized the 2016 law as “arbitrary and punitive” which forced students to repeat the third grade if they test more than one grade level behind in reading and writing.

“The retention aspect of this law has been a threat hanging over our students’ heads,” said state Rep. Nate Shannon (D-Sterling Heights). “Holding students back reinforces achievement gaps, racial inequality, and disproportionately impacts low-income communities.”

Whitmer signed the bill in April.

In November, Whitmer also signed legislation altering the teacher evaluation process implemented under Snyder.

Senate Bills 395 and 396, introduced by state Sens. Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia) and Kristen McDonald Rivet (D-Bay City), change the criteria for teacher evaluations, with teachers being rated effective, developing or needing support beginning on July 1, 2024. 

While student growth makes up 40% of current evaluation criteria, that percentage will be determined by collective bargaining beginning in the 2024-25 school year, with student performance being capped at 20% of an evaluation. 

The bill also includes other provisions aimed at supporting developing teachers and reducing red tape and bureaucracy in schools. 

“The important changes Governor Whitmer signed into law today will help our state better develop world-class teachers who can prepare Michigan students for long-term success in college and the workplace,” Michigan Education Association President Chandra Madafferi said in a statement.

“Instead of having a punitive teacher evaluation system based largely on standardized test scores, our local schools can focus more on meeting students’ individual learning needs and helping our kids grow into lifelong learners,” Madafferi said.

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Tax reforms

Legislation signed in early March by Whitmer overhauled tax changes made by Snyder, her Republican predecessor. 

House Bill 4001 boosted a tax credit for low-wage workers and rolled back the state’s retirement tax, amounting to a billion dollars in tax cuts.

The legislation, coined the “Lowering MI Costs” plan by Democratic lawmakers, was touted by Whitmer as being expected to benefit hundreds of thousands of Michiganders, including seniors and those who are struggling in the face of inflation. 

The new law increased the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) — which lawmakers have interchangeably called the Working Families Tax Credit — from 6% to 30% of the federal level, retroactive to 2022. This means qualifying Michiganders could claim a credit worth 30% of the federal amount on their taxes.

The increase came after Snyder in 2011 cut the EITC from 20% to 6%, and is expected to benefit approximately 700,000 Michiganders annually earning about $57,000 or less. That was born out by an announcement earlier this month by Whitmer that beginning Feb. 13, those Michigan families will receive tax rebate checks averaging approximately $550.

Democrats hailed the announcement as the fulfillment of a long sought goal to adjust Michigan’s tax structure to better benefit working families.

“Before I was elected, I was a nonprofit caseworker who helped remove barriers that kept people from being successful at work. For many of them, the Earned Income Tax Credit was a major factor in how they were going to cover accumulating bills, afford clothes for a growing child, make a much-needed car repair, or pay a big medical bill about to go to collections,” said state Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids). 

“This was one of the first bills our new majority passed for good reason: the EITC has a legacy of being one of the best policies to support work while also helping families out of poverty, making it a win-win for Michigan workers and employers.”

The law also phases out the state’s retirement tax over four years — a move that follows Snyder in 2011 signing highly controversial legislation establishing Michigan’s retirement tax that applies a 4.25% income tax on pensions. According to Whitmer’s office, the repeal is expected to save about 500,000 households approximately $1,000 a year.

“Getting this done will help people pay the bills, put food on the table, and afford essentials like groceries and school supplies,” Whitmer said. “It will ensure seniors can keep more of what they’ve earned over a lifetime of hard work and put money back in the pockets of 700,000 working families.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, left, presents her budget proposal to the Michigan House and Senate Appropriations Committees with Lt. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, right, on Feb. 8, 2023. (Andrew Roth/)

The largest state budget in history

Alongside the laundry list of other legislative accomplishments, the Legislature also passed a $57.4 state general government budget for Fiscal Year 2024, which began on Oct. 1, and $24.3 billion in state education spending. 

The education budget raised the minimum per-pupil funding 5% to $9,608 per student and supported free breakfast and lunch for all public school students, and invested nearly $1 billion toward districts with high populations of at-risk students.

The general government budget included $416 million for roads and public infrastructure, $600 million for water infrastructure, and placed $200 million into the state’s “rainy day fund” bringing the balance to an all-time high of $2 billion by the end of FY 2024.

The general budget also provides funding for economic development including a $500 million annual deposit in the state’s Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve (SOAR) fund and $50 million to fund community development projects. The budget includes an additional $25 million to support local health departments in providing essential services.  

In addition to the budget bills signed over the summer, lawmakers also passed several additional spending bills, including a $615.6 million supplemental funding road and bridge projects, providing debt relief to multiple school districts and support for on-campus projects at Michigan community colleges and public universities. 

The supplemental also funds the newly created Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement and Potential (MiLEAP), and appropriates $30 million toward the deal between Highland Park and the Great Lakes Water Authority to replace its almost 120-year-old water system.




authored by Jon King
First published at

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