House GOP memo blasts Whitmer’s paid family leave proposal as ‘summer break for adults’ ⋆

House Republican communications on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “What’s Next” address on Wednesday criticized the push for paid family leave alongside efforts to improve abortion access and transition the state to clean energy in a memo obtained by the Advance

In a list of message points dated Aug. 30, House Republicans pushed back against bills that would implement some of the priorities outlined in the governor’s speech, saying they would raise costs and stunt the state’s economic growth. 

Christina Doerr, a spokesperson for Michigan House Republicans, was listed as the contact for the memo. According to the file’s metadata, Doerr also authored the list of message points. She did not respond to requests for comment.

Whitmer centers health, energy, economy and democracy in ‘What’s Next’ address

In Wednesday’s address, the governor called for a 100% clean energy standard, the passage of the Reproductive Health Act — which is currently being drafted by state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) — expanded paid family and medical leave, continued efforts to reduce drug costs, and a move to have clean energy projects permitted through the Michigan Public Service Commission rather than municipalities, among other policies. 

While Whitmer was sparse on details of how lawmakers would expand paid family and medical leave in the state, the list of message points included criticisms of House Bills 4574 and 4575 introduced by Rep. Helena Scott (D-Detroit), which would create a paid insurance leave program allowing workers around the state to take up to 15 weeks of paid leave to address family and medical concerns.

The program would be paid for through contributions by both employers and employees.

“Lansing Democrats want to take money out of your paychecks with a new tax to pay for summer break for adults. It’s a ridiculous idea that people just can’t afford,” the memo said.

The memo included criticism that Scott’s bills would come at a high cost to employers, saying it would force them to pay workers less or charge consumers more.

However, Whitmer’s office argued the policy would benefit families, as well as businesses. 

“Michigan’s economy thrives when our workforce has all the tools they need to succeed, which is why providing paid family leave is good for Michigan families and businesses,”  the governor’s spokesperson, Stacey LaRouche, said in an email to the Advance.

“Right now, too many Michiganders face challenges every single day that ​make them choose between their family and their job. Ask anyone with a newborn baby, a parent dying of cancer, or a partner involved in an accident, and they will tell you that these are real life struggles, not summer vacation.”

Amber McCann, press secretary for Michigan House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit), called the memo “on brand” for Republicans.

“Republicans are either out of touch or don’t care about the hardworking men and women who are juggling the demands of family life, while at the same time working to contribute to the economy,” McCann said in an email. “House Democrats are looking at various ways we can help support working families to further strengthen our workforce and Michigan’s economy.”

In an email to the Advance, House Republican spokesperson Jeremiah Ward said Republicans support paid leave for people tending to medical and family needs, but said the proposed expansion was “poorly written” and that it would “burden workers and small businesses with a new tax while allowing some people to take advantage of an important benefit.”

“Vague criteria and low certification requirements open the door wide for bad actors to file false claims and take months off of work paid for by other workers who actually need the benefit, small businesses, and customers who will pay higher prices,” Ward said.

House Bill 4574 says individuals who submit claims for paid leave shall not make false statements, misrepresent or fail to report material facts. If an individual violates those rules, the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO), which would oversee the program, may choose not to pay the individual family leave benefits for up to a year. 

The department may also recover benefits paid to individuals who were mistakenly paid; who violate rules against false statements, or who misrepresent or fail to report material facts; or if the department denies a claim after benefits have already been paid. 

Pollinator-friendly wildflowers and other native plants in the East Lansing Community Solar Park provide food and habitats for bees, insects and birds alongside other environmental benefits, June 26, 2023 | Kyle Davidson

The memo also criticized the governor’s push to transition the state to a 100% clean energy standard would result in higher energy costs for Michiganders, arguing that the state should invest in the reliability of the energy grid instead. 

However, Democrats and energy advocates have argued that incorporating clean energy sources would lower energy costs for Michiganders, improve electrical reliability, and enable the state to court federal funding to support a transition to clean energy sources.

The memo also opposed Whitmer’s push to give the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) — which regulates energy companies in the state — authority over the permitting of clean energy projects, citing concerns that this authority would lead to farmland being replaced by solar energy fields.

In 2019, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) changed its rules to allow commercial solar facilities on land enrolled in the Farmland Development Rights Program, which preserves land for agricultural use in exchange for tax benefits.

Sen. Kristen McDonald Rivet (D-Bay City) also introduced legislation earlier this year that would allow farmers to rent out their land for solar energy production while maintaining farmland preservation standards.

Democrats argued that giving the MPSC control over permitting would streamline the process and make the state more competitive when courting clean energy projects. 

“More and more states are adopting renewable energy standards, and that means competition for site selection and job creation will be fierce,” state Rep. Phil Skaggs (D-East Grand Rapids) said in a statement. “Michigan needs to act quickly and decisively, giving the MPSC the authority it needs to approve large-scale renewable energy projects to create jobs here in Michigan and meet our renewable goals.”

The high cost of prescription medicine is a concern for all of us. No one should have to choose between skipping doses of life-saving medications or skipping meals. … The governor’s speech was very light on information. I’m interested to see more details. I want to make sure we’re not doing anything that drastically drives up the cost of insurance or decreases access to life-saving medications.

While the memo also criticized Democrats’ support for expanded access to abortion, it offered little comment on Whitmer’s call for a prescription drug affordability board. 

“The high cost of prescription medicine is a concern for all of us. No one should have to choose between skipping doses of life-saving medications or skipping meals,” the memo said. 

“The governor’s speech was very light on information. I’m interested to see more details. I want to make sure we’re not doing anything that drastically drives up the cost of insurance or decreases access to life-saving medications,” the memo continued.

In her speech, Whitmer praised Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) and state Rep. Curt VanderWall (R-Ludington) for their work on her Prescription Drug Task Force, established Feb. 21, 2020. The task force was responsible for examining the cause and impact of high prescription drug prices in the state and proposing solutions to address high drug costs and improve transparency in pricing. 

While Whitmer noted previous efforts to reduce drug costs, she called for further action based on the task force’s findings

“Let’s further lower the cost of prescription drugs by implementing the task force’s remaining recommendations like establishing an independent, nonpartisan prescription drug affordability board. … We need to hold bad actors across the supply chain accountable for skyrocketing prices, while also encouraging [research and development] for new treatments and cures made right here in Michigan,” Whitmer said.

authored by Kyle Davidson
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