Power-sharing debate dominates House while Senate is ‘ready to roll’ on first day back ⋆

As the Michigan Legislature convened for its first session of the year on Wednesday, House Democrats and Republicans say they are seeking bipartisanship as a 54-54 split places forces both parties to find common ground. 

House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit) told reporters that Democrats are looking to continue their work from 2023, and that there would be plenty of chances for both parties to work together. 

While Republicans have repeatedly contended that the split house demands power-sharing between the parties, Tate notes the rules put in place by both parties at the beginning of the session dictate that Democrats still control the house, with 55 Republicans and 55 Democrats needed to demand an agreement.

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

Although Democrats held control of the House in 2023 for the first time since 2010, former state Reps. Lori Stone (D-Warren) and Kevin Coleman (D-Westland) winning their respective mayoral elections in November has left the House with two vacant seats. A special primary election to fill both seats will be held on Jan. 30 and the special general election is April 16.

While the conversation around power sharing persists, there are plenty of opportunities to build off last year’s accomplishments, Tate said, listing the budget, lowering drug costs and community and economic development as areas where the party’s could work together. 

However, this will depend on Republicans’ willingness to work in a bipartisan fashion, Tate said, noting that conversations across the aisle had focused on power sharing rather than policy. 

Before lawmakers adjourned in November, House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Twp.) proposed a resolution to change House rules to allow power sharing. While the resolution was tabled as lawmakers adjourned in November, it has since been formally introduced, House Republican Spokesperson Jeremiah Ward said.

Whether there’s a formal agreement or not, there is shared power, Ward said, and both parties will have to work together on anything that gets done. 

While Tate expressed disappointment in the persisting conversations on power sharing, Ward said the conversations will continue, with policy as part of that.

“We’ve laid out publicly what things we’d like to see get done, issues that we’d like to tackle: Funding for roads; improving schools; helping grow our economy; make our state a more attractive place to live,” Ward said. “Things like school safety. The bipartisan school safety package that was introduced last February, and didn’t get any action in the House Education Committee for the last year.”

The school safety package, introduced in the wake of the Feb. 13, 2023, mass shooting at Michigan State University, pulls from recommendations from the House’s bipartisan School Safety Task Force. 

According to a statement from state Rep. Mark Tisdel (R-Rochester Hills), the package looks to organize a unified approach to school safety and student mental health with communication, training, personnel and more, while addressing issues identified by the task force.

“There’s lots of things that we can get done that we’ve laid out, that we’d love to see Dems work with us on. And, you know, we’re here to get to work,” Ward said.

Hall issued a statement after lawmakers adjourned for the day. 

“Shared power has begun. Although Democrats didn’t take up any bills, hold any committees, or record any votes on our first day back, House Republicans were here and ready to get to work. We will keep focusing on the needs of Michigan residents, working to find common ground, and pursuing solutions to make our state a better place to live,” he said.

Over in the Senate, Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) told reporters, “Everybody’s ready to roll.”

Main priorities include prescription drug affordability and changes to Michigan’s 2019 no-fault auto reform, Brinks said.

Although bills that would have allowed an independent Prescription Drug Affordability Board to set caps on prescription drug costs in Michigan passed through the Senate fairly quickly late last year, the House did not bring the bills to the floor for a vote.

Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks speaks in support of a concurrent resolution to memorialize former Michigan lawmaker Doug Cruce on Jan. 10, 2024. (Photo: Anna Liz Nichols)

Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) (left) and Sen. John Cherry (D-Flint)(right) talk on the Senate floor on Jan. 10, 2024. (Photo: Anna Liz Nichols)

Sen. Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia) (left) and Sen. Darrin Camilleri (D-Brownstown Twp.) (right) on the Senate floor of Jan. 10, 2024. (Photo: Anna Liz Nichols)

Sen. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell) speaks on the Senate floor on Jan. 10, 2024. (Photo: Anna Liz Nichols)

Members of the Michigan House of Representatives returned on Jan. 10, 2024 after adjourning in November. | Kyle Davidson

 

Many senators were already familiar with the concepts in the proposed legislation, but the House “had some newer members over there that needed to learn about it,” Brinks said, adding she hopes the House will take the bills up soon.

The no-fault auto legislation has some additional hurdles. 

As the Senate passed on a bipartisan basis in October a “fix to the fix,” which altered some changes made under the 2019 no-fault auto reform, the head of the Department of Insurance and Financial Services (DIFS), Anita Fox, an appointee of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, criticized the legislation for its potential negative impacts on the cost of auto insurance in the state.

Without the support of the Department of Insurance and Financial Services, it is unclear if the governor would sign the legislation if it made its way through the House.

Health care professionals who provide care for auto accident victims alongside victims and their family members have been vocal in opposing parts of the auto reform that they say have caused some health professionals to stop providing care. Part of the reform included rules surrounding reimbursement rates for providers to receive compensation for services that providers have told lawmakers makes sustaining their practices impossible.

The legislation the Senate passed aims to keep auto insurance rates down while attempting to amend reimbursement rates for health care providers so they can stay in business. Several Republican lawmakers on the Senate side during the October vote offered their concerns that the legislation will drive up insurance rates and reward price gouging from health providers. 

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authored by Kyle Davidson
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