MEC's back-to-session list for lawmakers
The Legislature returned to Lansing last week after a summer recess. While there are just 18 House and 20 Senate session days remaining in 2016, our lawmakers have many opportunities this fall to make Michigan a cleaner, safer and more sustainable state.
Here are five of the top issues MEC's staff will be focused on and key outcomes we'd like to see from the Capitol in the next few months.
1. Flint follow-up.
Doing everything possible to help the people of Flint and taking action to prevent anything like the city's water crisis from happening elsewhere in Michigan must be top priorities and guiding principles for Michigan policymakers.
Bills in both the House and Senate would require testing of lead levels in water at schools around the state. It's just one of many policies that must be part of a robust state response to the Flint crisis-and only part of the comprehensive approach needed to address all the ways in which our children are exposed to toxic lead-but lawmakers should unite behind this common-sense measure to demonstrate they are committed to protecting Michigan kids.
Another priority is toughening Michigan's implementation of the federal Lead and Copper Rule. The rule sets minimum regulations for keeping lead out of drinking water, but it allows states to set their own, stricter rules. In April, Gov. Snyder proposed reforms that would make Michigan's implementation of the rule the most stringent in the country. Following the Flint crisis, Michigan must set the national standard for safe drinking water. Legislators should approve the governor's plan and make these reforms law before the end of the year.
2. Clean energy reforms.
Lawmakers let the clock wind down on 2015 without updating the renewable energy and energy efficiency standards that reached a plateau at the end of the year. Those are the clean energy laws that have driven $2.9 billion in economic development since 2008 and saved Michiganders more than $4 for every dollar invested in energy efficiency. They've trimmed coal's slice of our energy-production pie from two-thirds to less than half.
Despite the unequivocal economic success of Michigan's renewable power and energy efficiency programs, some elected officials have not only been slow to embrace those programs, but are still trying to gut them.
As we've written here time and again, any credible strategy for Michigan's energy future must control costs, maintain electric reliability, minimize risks to ratepayers like you and me, promote economic development in Michigan and protect natural resources. The best way to accomplish all of those goals is to make energy efficiency and renewable power the mainstays of our energy system. In the months ahead, we'll continue working to pass laws that do just that.
3. A statewide septic code.
As we've noted here before, Michigan is the only state without uniform statewide regulations on septic systems. Except in the 11 counties that require inspection when property changes hands, once septics are installed, they aren't required to be inspected, maintained or replaced-despite general recommendations that they be inspected every three years, pumped out every three to five years and replaced every 20 years.
There are serious consequences for that lack of regulation. Faulty septics are a significant source of excess nutrients in our waterways that feed toxic algae outbreaks. They can also contaminate water resources, making them unsafe for recreation and drinking. Michigan State University researchers in 2015 found human fecal bacteria from leaking septic systems in every one of the 64 Michigan rivers they sampled.
Legislation in the House would require time-of-sale inspection of septic systems statewide, among other needed reforms. Sadly, bill sponsor Rep. Julie Plawecki died during a hiking trip this summer. In her short time in the Legislature, Rep. Plawecki quickly established herself as an environmental champion, and a strong leader on the septic issue. We will continue working with elected officials to honor her legacy and pass this important legislation.
4. Protecting cyclists and pedestrians.
Crashes involving bicyclists have become far too common in Michigan. MLive reported in June that cyclist fatalities surged 57 percent in 2015, more than any other category of traffic death. Of course, 2016 has also been marked by several bicycling tragedies, including the June crash that killed 5 cyclists and injured 4 others in Kalamazoo.
Our friends at the League of Michigan Bicyclists are leading the push to protect vulnerable roadway users. Included in the legislation is a 5-foot passing law and tougher penalties for motorists who injure or kill cyclists, pedestrians or wheelchair users.
MEC strongly supports these proposals and will urge lawmakers to approve them this fall. You can voice your support for the measures here.
5. Public records reforms.
Sitting on the House floor is a 10-bill package that would expand Michigan's Freedom of Information Act and make the Legislature and governor's office subject to public records requests. As MLive reported earlier this year, "Michigan's current FOIA law, which allows the public to access documents from public bodies, specifically exempts the governor. In addition, a 1986 Attorney General's opinion exempts state legislators. These factors recently contributed to Michigan ranking dead last in the nation for transparency."
Though this topic has been debated for years, the Flint crisis made it clear that we cannot wait any longer to make state government more transparent. Open government benefits us all, and MEC will work to see this bills approved before the end of the year.