The Gongwer Blog

Greene Attempts Work Around To Get A Hearing On School Safety Bills

By Elena Durnbaugh
Staff Writer
Posted: March 8, 2024 1:04 PM

The School Safety Package wobbles on a bipartisan knife's edge as Republicans continue to push for movement on the legislation.

Last week, Rep. Jaime Greene sent a letter to fellow members of the House Education Committee attempting to work around the committee chair and call for a hearing.

"Per House rules, if seven of us agree to call for a committee hearing, we can notify the clerk of our intent to do so," Greene said in the letter. "Due to the importance of these bills, we would be asking the clerk to post the hearing for March 5th."

The move, which Greene (R-Richmond) said was born of frustration because HBs 4088-4100 aren't advancing, was met with frustration on the Democratic side.

"I find this nauseating and appalling," said Rep. Kelly Breen (D-Novi), one of the main sponsors on the bill package. "(Rep. Luke Meerman) and I have been working diligently together. Nobody on the right has lifted a finger in support of school safety except to vote 'no' on a school budget that will do more to help kids than ever before. Not one of them, whether on the bill package or not, has inquired on the status or contacted a stakeholder, or done a damn thing to show they care."

Greene said that other members would have helped with the legislation, but they don't know what's happening with it.

"If there have been things being worked on, I have not been aware of this, nor have any other of the committee members been made aware of this," she said. "We have complete communication breakdown, and it is unfortunate that this is happening, but this is not political. This is actually safety."

The chances of a hearing being scheduled by anyone other than Koleszar are negligible.

"I know that members on my side of the aisle were pretty put off on it," Koleszar said. "They have faith in the committee process and the way that we've been handling each issue and know that we're giving everything due diligence."

Meerman (R-Coopersville) is the main Republican working on the package. He said he was unaware that Greene sent a letter attempting to organize a committee hearing.

"I'm still 100 percent with Breen. I appreciate her heart in all of this," he said.

Still, he said he did want to see committee hearings on the legislation sooner rather than later.

"It's past time to have hearings," he said. "That's often what can really trigger momentum on these things. … That gets everyone at the table and getting their amendments in there and ready to go."

Koleszar said that the bills are still waiting on some stakeholder feedback, including school districts that he wants to have engaged in the process.

"You don't want to haphazardly put bills out there without making sure they're properly done, especially in terms of student safety and school safety," he said. "And in what I thought was a very reckless move, the minority leader decided he was just going to discharge them on the floor out of nowhere, which in my estimation, he is trying to score some political points, and it really disrupted the work that was being done."

Earlier this month, Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Township) included the bill package in a list of legislation his caucus was willing to vote on while the House is split 54-54 and attempted to discharge the bills from committee for a vote.

In a letter sent to Breen, Hall called attempts to impugn his motives shocking and disappointing.

"The Republican caucus has demonstrated our willingness to advance this package of bills. That's why we included them in our initial bill requests before the term started and happily shared them with you when you weren't prepared to introduce them," he wrote. "We understood the importance of this being a bipartisan effort then, and that continues today."

Greene said she admired the work that Breen and Meerman have done on the package, but she hasn't seen evidence that it's a priority for the Education Committee.

"We've repealed 3rd grade reading. We repealed A through F. We've adjusted the pension system. Yesterday, we even had a hearing on something that is completely controlled by the school boards," she said. "What we haven't done is, if there is this workgroup that exists, and I actually have a bill on this package, why have we not worked on it for over a year and a couple months now?"

Waiting for perfection won't get anything done, Greene said.

"We've done so much other legislation that was not perfected," she said. "We haven't perfected anything that we've passed in the last year."

Greene said she was at a loss for what else to do.

"I'm just doing everything that I can to bring this to the forefront, because those Oxford kids? Some of them do live in my district. Those teachers? They live in my district," she said. "There are things that we should be able to put in place a lot sooner than later. Let's start workshopping them through the committee process, but instead, we have focused on so many other things…and it's disappointing, and I'm tired."

Koleszar said that he planned to start moving some of the bills in the package soon, and that the scheduled committee hearing on mental health, while it's not part of the school safety package, ties into the goal safer schools.

"We'll do them in chunks as they're ready," he said. "I'm not going to let political games get in the way of what's best for Michigan schools and Michigan students."

Meerman said that this legislation was the only priority he submitted to Hall and House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit).

"I think they can have some effect on making our schools safer. They're not going to make it so that nothing ever happens again, but I think they'll help," he said. "I believe in them."

Meerman said he understood why Breen and Koleszar were frustrated, and that he was frustrated, too.

"It is the political season, and it's amazing what things can get caught up in it and what can grind to a halt over frustrations, and yet at the same time, this is extremely bipartisan," he said. "I am frustrated, too, that they haven't moved already. … I just have concerns that something will happen because people are getting so mad at each other."

This package is one of the only truly bipartisan bill packages introduced in the last year, Meerman said.

"This was a huge change for Lansing, to have the trifecta of Democratic control, and I don't think Lansing was quite ready for it," he said. "It was hard, it was tough, and everything becomes political when us Republicans can say everything was the Democrats fault the whole way."

Because of that, Meerman said he and Breen have centered bipartisan work.

"But if we don't have the hearings, I think it's going to be a Republican issue all the way through the election cycle," he said. "But honestly, let's just get some hearings going, and this will really start going away."

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