The Gongwer Blog

by Nick Smith, Staff Writer

Brinks: Gratifying '23 Will Be Followed By No Shortage Of Work In '24

Posted: December 5, 2023 9:31 AM

Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks said this week she was proud of the huge amount of major policy work her slim Democratic majority sent to the governor this year, adding there will be much more to accomplish in the coming year.

The first year of Democrats fully controlling state government in 40 years was spent tackling a long-time party wish-list, including the repeal of right to work and abortion restrictions, reinstating the prevailing wage, expanding LGBT protections in law, passing firearms restrictions and making sweeping changes to state energy policy.

"It was an incredible time of opportunity and enthusiasm and renewed energy for the good things that can happen when people work together in a concerted way at the state government level," Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) told Gongwer News Service Monday during a year-end interview. "One of the most gratifying things was being able to get through so many really key significant topics for us, not just as Democrats but for the people of our state."

Brinks said working to keep her caucus on the same page and having the votes to move legislation was a daily challenge. Democrats have a 20-18 majority.

"I've been very pleased with how we were able to hold our caucuses together," Brinks said of herself and House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit). "We feel really positive about our ability to get these really difficult policy matters over the finish line and to the governor's desk, even with the varied opinions that invariably come with any caucus."

New challenges will present themselves in 2024 after two House Democrats won mayoral races in November. The chamber will be at a 54-54 tie through at least mid-April until both seats are filled via special elections.

"We'll be business as usual in the Senate," Brinks said. "We've got a lot of things we'd still like to get done. … Next year, the House will be down a couple of members for a few months, but that doesn't mean we can't move things through the Senate … at a regular schedule."

Brinks expects Senate committees to begin meeting as normal in January, with the House likely to begin committee work as well.

"They might have a difficult time with certain things on the floor, but we know that those … in some cases can just wait until April," Brinks said. "In other cases, they'll be working on things that are bipartisan in nature, and they can move those as well if they have the members present and the willingness of both parties to cooperate."

The majority leader anticipates some ability to cooperate and move bipartisan items.

Work on the next budget will be a significant area of focus in early 2024, as is traditionally the case.

Areas Brinks would like to see further progress in 2024 include addressing prescription drug affordability, auto no-fault and policy dealing with the new Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement and Potential, or MiLEAP (See Gongwer Michigan Report, December 1, 2023).

Legislation to create a regulatory panel to review and cap prices on common prescription drugs passed the Senate in the fall but is still sitting in the House (See Gongwer Michigan Report, November 6, 2023). Proposed changes to the state's no-fault auto insurance law were similarly left for 2024 when lawmakers left town for the year, with advocates urging action quickly (See Gongwer Michigan Report, November 14, 2023).

Brinks said she is looking forward to seeing the final report from the Growing Michigan Together Council outlining its population growth strategy recommendations by December 15, especially on the workforce and community development fronts.

Economic and community development is another area where conversations are still ongoing, she said, including with legislation that would rename the Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve Fund the Make It In Michigan Fund and set up new requirements for setting up some incentives to be directed for community benefits in project areas.

"We will have plenty to do," Brinks said. "We'll have to prioritize and see what we can get done, see where there's alignment with the House and with the governor's office and where we've got the votes."

As to how well she works with Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Township), Senate, Brinks said she and Nesbitt are operating in a very polarized political climate in a narrowly divided Senate, but they have been able to work well together.

"He's been around a while, he's seen the ebb and flow of politics over the years, as have I, and I think that we are both in a position where we have the ability to carve out a space even within this environment to have productive conversations," Brinks said.

The majority leader was not apologetic about the budgeting priorities Democrats pursued during the most recent budget cycle, despite Republican pushback on spending levels and the spending down of much of the state's multibillion dollar surplus.

"We knew that it was high time that we invest in education and add more dollars and do it in a sustainable and meaningful way for K-12 schools, for higher education, and so we were really pleased to do that," Brinks said. "It's no surprise there that there may be a difference between us and the Republicans when it comes to supporting education and public education in particular, so we make no apologies for that."

For the budget surplus, she said some of the monies used in the most recent budget were the remaining federal pandemic funds that needed to be spent or lost.

"We wanted to make sure that Michigan didn't get the short end of the stick there," Brinks said. "We took that opportunity to really invest those dollars in places that had often been ignored by the Republicans in charge for the last few decades."

During 2023, the list of what she often called "pent-up Democratic priorities" was significant.

The repeal of several abortion restrictions was hugely important, she said, pointing to residents stressing the issue of reproductive rights to candidates and elected officials for years.

"For us to be able to get some bills over the line that really reflect those values, both in the spring and in the fall, was a huge achievement," Brinks said.

Two items that have not yet moved through the Legislature due to some resistance from at least one House Democrat are a repeal of the ban on Medicaid-funded abortions and the 24-hour waiting period.

Enacting firearms restrictions in the wake of the Michigan State University mass shooting also was a major achievement for the majority leader.

"Gun violence prevention is similarly one of those things that we had been hearing from people, we saw polling, that showed that people really thought that was important," Brinks said.

Bills to expand background checks for firearm purchases passed the Legislature earlier this year, along with bills to put safe storage requirements in place for guns and enact a process for allowing the temporary confiscation of an individual's firearms if they could be a danger to themselves or others (See Gongwer Michigan Report, April 13, 2023).

Legislation meant to prohibit those convicted of domestic violence related misdemeanors from possessing or purchasing firearms for a certain period was also signed this fall (See Gongwer Michigan Report, November 20, 2023).

With her pre-legislative background working in nonprofits, Brinks said tax policy was a priority for her. The Earned Income Tax Credit expansion and undoing the added taxation on retirement income passed earlier this year was a reversal of 2011 tax changes led by then-Governor Rick Snyder.

"For us to be able to restore some of that was huge," Brinks said.

In the fall, passage of energy legislation that sets a clean energy mandate by 2040 and moves siting of large-scale renewable energy projects to the Public Service Commission was also a significant change in policy (See Gongwer Michigan Report, November 28, 2023).

"That took up a lot of time, but a key thing is so many of our constituents were asking us to address," Brinks said. "With global warming becoming a huge … issue in the minds of young voters, but also those of us who aren't as young as we used to be, who are just really concerned about what's next for our children, for our grandchildren and making sure that we are doing everything we can to mitigate any negative impact for them."

Opponents said the changes would lead to more expensive bills for ratepayers, threaten the reliability of the electric grid and eliminate local control for siting. Brinks defended the policy changes by pointing to the months of work with stakeholder groups.

"We had really good analysis from people who know far more than most legislators about the impact of the policies that we are talking about," Brinks said. "At the end of the day, we did our due diligence to ensure that we were not only making a difference when it comes to climate change, but that we did so with people in mind."

The bills signed into law will make Michigan among the nation's leaders in combatting change, the majority leader said.

Delegates See Unity In POTUS Race Helping MIGOP Into 2024

Posted: October 2, 2023 11:31 AM

MACKINAC ISLAND – Questions over party unity and fundraising for the Michigan GOP are concerning, but attendees and those observing the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference in September see unity eventually coming via the presidential race.

Those attending the conference said infighting happens in the wake of election losses and those battles ultimately are resolved when those involved find areas in which they can come together.

Party faithful for months have been observing the leadership of Michigan Republican Party Chair Kristina Karamo heading into what was the first major event of her tenure. The party has been facing questions for months as to what appears to be sluggish fundraising, as well as ongoing battles between the state party and multiple county parties. There have also been physical altercations among leaders during or before meetings.

Karamo during a media availability at the conclusion of the conference said she was confident in the direction she's leading the party.

"As I've said, unapologetically, we are populists, okay, we are a people's party," Karamo said. "What that means is that we're growing our rank and file, and more and more people are getting involved. There are lots of new people who've never been involved in the party who are now getting involved for the first time."

The chair also addressed a remark she made from the Grand Hotel theater stage over the weekend, at one point telling her critics to "pound sand." This came amidst concerns raised by attendees about the need for unity headed into 2024 if they are to rebound from the losses sustained in the last election cycle.

"Let me clarify that. When I say that, there is a difference between people who have legitimate concerns and disagreements, but then there are saboteurs who just spread lies, just incessantly," Karamo said.

How to proceed as a party drew different responses from those questioned by Gongwer News Service during the convention.

Meshawn Maddock, who served as party co-chair during the last election cycle, said she was not concerned about the lead-up to the conference, saying in her roughly 30 years of attending such events there was always some level of drama.

She also expressed support for the current party leadership.

"When I was co-chair, I had a lot of pushback from different factions, and I just tried to do my best and work my hardest to elect Republicans, and I know Chairwoman Karamo and (Co-Chair) Malinda Pego are doing the exact same thing," Maddock said. "They're doing the best with what they have and one thing that we're all united in is electing Republicans."

Maddock added that the key unifying factor for Republicans is former President Donald Trump, who she said will be the party's nominee and will win in 2024.

"Everybody's going to come together, and we have a real opportunity for the Senate seat too, and I'm excited about that," Maddock said. "That'll give something for everybody to get together and work hard for."

She did not see there being a major concern over the state party not having the same level of fundraising as in past cycles, adding if donors wish to donate to a party caucus or third-party group that's their prerogative.

An example of Republicans going around the state party funding wise is when House Republicans announced earlier this year that former Governor Rick Snyder and Kalamazoo business executive Bill Parfet would chair the caucus's campaign committee for 2024 (See Gongwer Michigan Report, June 5, 2023).

"I always encourage people, if they have any hesitation at all, just find the most conservative candidates, donate right to the candidates," Maddock said. "Donors won't stop giving, they're just going to choose where they're giving, so I'm encouraged by that."

Billy Grant, political director for The Strategy Group Company, an Ohio-based group that does some work in Michigan, said political parties always come together in the end and there are occasionally some ugly periods.

"When you lose elections, people usually fight afterwards, and that's just the reality whether it's Republicans or Democrats," Grant said, adding that the media enjoys writing about what he called Republican-on-Republican violence. "There's a lot of fighting of why you lost and why things didn't go a particular way, and that's honestly good for the party because people have to have honest conversations about things."

Grant said the role of state parties has changed in recent years to a machine for moving money, sending out mailers and doing field work while also holding events like the Mackinac conference.

"You just have to expect when the grassroots take over, the big-money people are going to turn off the spigot if they don't like the people in charge … that's the ebb and flow of the grassroots versus the business community," Grant said.

How that relationship is addressed remains to be seen, he said.

"There's always grassroots people who are able to win and repair that relationship. With this particular group, I'm not sure if they're going to be able to do that," Grant said.

He said the days of state parties driving turnout and being the dominant entity spending money are over.

"If the party's weak, it's not a good thing, but at the end of the day, I think it doesn't matter as much now anyway," Grant said.

He agreed with others that the uniting link for the party will be the presidential candidate that the party's faithful can rally around, which will in turn drive turnout.

Americans for Prosperity Michigan State Director Annie Patnaude said Saturday during a downtown reception at the Yankee Rebel Tavern that she had not really been at the conference itself. She said a key method of success for the party would be to focus on the economy.

"I think there's a growing voice that we need to make sure that we're looking ahead and focusing on pocketbook issues, and I've heard that from a lot of people," Patnaude said. "We need to look ahead, we need to connect to people, real issues affecting their lives, and that's how much groceries cost, the price of gas, how people are going to make their ends meet."

Patnaude said the entire nation is divided, and an economic message "focusing on the Biden-Whitmer agenda" as well as on school choice would be a winning message.

She said she has concerns that some Republicans have lost their way.

"That's part of our job as a grassroots organization to get them to focus and get them moving in the same direction," Patnaude said. "There's disagreements. We need to work through those disagreements respectfully and thoughtfully."

Andrew Sebolt, a former candidate for state House, said he has been coming to Republican Mackinac conferences since 2009. He struck a far more pessimistic tone about the conference itself. He said his recollection was that the previous low for a GOP Mackinac conference was around 1,700 registered attendees and he believed the attendance this weekend was between 500-600.

When asked for his thoughts on the current state party leadership and how they are handling operations thus far, Sebolt was blunt.

"Look, just look at this event, and use that as a gauge," Sebolt said, repeating himself when asked further if he had any concerns about where he feels things stand with the party currently. "Look at the outcome of this conference and compare it with previous conferences. Pretty dismal."

He pointed to what he said was a fairly empty theater inside the Grand Hotel for many of the speakers earlier in the conference, which he estimated to be about one-quarter full much of the time.

Like other conference-goers, Sebolt also said unity was important.

"Unity is definitely important to come out strong," Sebolt said. "Definitely have to have a coming together of the grassroots and the donors. Find out what does each side want, what does this side want, what can we agree on and work together on those."

He said on the minority of issues the different wings of the party cannot agree on, they can go their separate ways on those matters, but the key is coming together on what they can agree upon. An obvious example of different interests working together would be retaking the state House, he said.

Karamo further defended the party's conference to reporters Sunday when asked about her remarks to attendees, claiming there had been attempts to "sabotage" the event. She declined to get into specifics but did acknowledge there was at least incident in which this occurred.

"One of the things in politics, this is irrespective of party, you have people who say: 'I want to help,' but the goal is to undermine," Karamo said. "I will say it was someone that was supposed to be helping us in certain areas."

Karamo also declined to talk specifically as to why conservative commentator, author and producer of the film "2000 Mules," Dinesh D'Souza, did not speak at the conference after being the first keynote speaker announced in late July. The film focused on 2020 election conspiracy theories.

"I can't disclose what the issue was, but all is well," Karamo said.

The chair did not provide any specifics when asked about how the party paid for the conference. As to questions about donors, Karamo said the party obviously would not be able to function without people providing funds.

"If it wasn't paid for, the Grand Hotel wouldn't let us hold it," Karamo said.

Outside of D'Souza's non-appearance at the conference, there were multiple times over the weekend where the schedule changed. There were also multiple speakers who participated that were not listed on the agenda.

During the conference, Karamo and others repeatedly stressed their Christian faith. Reporters asked if there was any problem or issue with doing so as a state party and how that could affect people of other faiths from feeling included with the party.

To this, Karamo said there have always been faith leaders involved in both political parties, saying she once attended a church with a pastor who was a Democrat led services.

"We are not going to hide faith. It doesn't mean other people aren't welcome, that doesn't mean our goal of the Republican Party is to spread the gospel," Karamo said. "We are a secular organization, but this concept of trying to divorce faith from everyday life … this move to try to exclude faith is part of the collapse of our society. So, our goal isn't to try to recruit people into our faith, our goal is to win elections, but we're not going to hide the faith component from our everyday lives."

She added that speakers for the weekend conference were not chosen for their specific faith. Some spoke about religion and others did not, she said, and those who did happened to be Christians.

Karamo said she will never apologize for openly proclaiming her faith.

"I think one of the biggest mistakes we've ever advocated for in our society is that we shouldn't talk about politics and religion. Politics and religion are the most deeply held beliefs that we have, and I think our failure to, as a society, normalize talking about politics and religion is why they've become such contentious topics," Karamo said. "It used to be a topic we talked about all the time, and it should be no big deal. … It shouldn't be this thing where if we have deeply held religious beliefs that are different, we should somehow become enemies or dislike each other."

She acknowledged there were people watching the party under her leadership and whether they could pull off the event.

"There were folks who 100 percent wanted us to fail at this conference … and we didn't, so we're very happy about that," Karamo said.

GOP Disappointed In Lack Of Advice & Consent Under Dem Control

Posted: September 18, 2023 9:18 AM

Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks says she has not seen a reason for formal advice and consent hearings on gubernatorial appointments so far this session, something her Republican counterpart found disappointing and called a lack of taking part of the job in the Senate seriously.

When Democrats took control of the Legislature in January, giving them total control of state government for the first time since the 1983-84 session, the Senate Advice and Consent Committee was eliminated, and the review of appointments was moved to the Senate Government Operations Committee (See Gongwer Michigan Report, January 11, 2023).

The Government Operations Committee is chaired by the majority leader and outside of the few hearings scheduled each session, it is often a place where bills are sent to die.

Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) during a Thursday interview with Gongwer News Service dismissed the idea of holding formal advice and consent hearings on gubernatorial appointments when asked about the status of the process.

"If there's a need to, we will, but at this point we haven't had any concerns," Brinks said.

So far this session, the panel has met once, for an organizational meeting which lasted about five minutes.

Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Township) in a Friday statement called it "unfortunate" that Senate Democrats are not, he believes, taking the constitutionally provided responsibility of the advice and consent process seriously.

Appointments of department directors and to hundreds of boards and commissions stand unless rejected by the Senate within 60 days.

Nesbitt serves as minority vice chair of the Senate Government Operations Committee. Last session, he was chair of the Senate Advice and Consent Committee when Republicans were in the majority.

"Senate Republicans held advice and consent hearings during the Snyder administration," Nesbitt said. "In fact, I had a hearing when I was appointed Lottery Commissioner."

After being term-limited in the House in 2016, Nesbitt was appointed Lottery commissioner in February 2017, where he stayed until March 2017 ahead of running for the Senate.

Advice and consent hearings during periods of one-party control in Lansing are rare if non-existent. During times of divided government, the opposite has been the case.

After the 2018 election of Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, the Republican-controlled Senate ramped up advice and consent hearings, with then-Sen. Peter Lucido of Shelby Township serving as chair. Nesbitt replaced Lucido as chair in March 2020 after Lucido was stripped of the chair seat following an investigation into alleged sexual harassment of multiple women.

Most recently, last session, the Republican controlled Senate rejected two appointees to state university boards: Michael Ryan of Big Rapids to the Ferris State University Board of Trustees and former Democratic Rep. Jon Hoadley of Kalamazoo to the Western Michigan University Board of Trustees. Republicans said it was due to Hoadley being a current graduate student, while Democrats said Hoadley's rejection may have been in part due to his being gay (See Gongwer Michigan Report, April 14, 2022). When Democrats took control of the Legislature earlier this year, the two were appointed again by the governor (See Gongwer Michigan Report, February 2, 2023).

Prior to the 2022 rejections, another 20 appointments were rejected by Senate Republicans in 2021: an initial round of 13 people were rejected (See Gongwer Michigan Report, January 27, 2021), with five more the following month and two later that spring (See Gongwer Michigan Report, April 29, 2021).

Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel survived a push by some GOP members to reject her appointment last session (See Gongwer Michigan Report, March 23, 2021).

In early 2020, senators rejected Whitmer's proposed chair of the Natural Resources Commission

over GOP concerns with the individual's record on gun rights (See Gongwer Michigan Report, February 27, 2020). Another NRC appointment was rejected two weeks prior (See Gongwer Michigan Report, February 13, 2020).

By contrast, when Republicans controlled the Legislature from 2011-18 during former Republican Governor Rick Snyder's administration, such hearings were rare during his first term.

During his second term, there were occasional hearings on department head appointees, including Nesbitt in 2017. Hearings were held during the 2015-16 session for the heads of departments including Treasury, Insurance and Financial Services, Corrections, the Public Service Commission and the then-departments of Environmental Quality and Talent and Economic Development.

During the administration of Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm, the Republican-controlled Senate often rejected appointees. The pushback during that period of divided government included dozens of rejected appointments made by Granholm throughout 2010 (See Gongwer Michigan Report, December 7, 2010).

Granholm nominees were also rejected by the GOP Senate during the 2005-06 session (See Gongwer Michigan Report, September 13, 2006) (See Gongwer Michigan Report, March 9, 2005). The 2005 appointment was the first gubernatorial nominee to be rejected by the Senate since 1990. During Granholm's first term, the Senate would hold floor votes on most department directors. However, during the Engler era from 1991-2002, advice and consent hearings were almost unheard of.

"Providing advice and consent on gubernatorial appointments is an important Senate oversight, regardless of who holds the gavel or occupies the governor's office," Nesbitt said. "Democrats aren't taking this constitutional responsibility seriously."

Sen. Dan Lauwers (R-Brockway), who also serves on the Senate Government Operations Committee and is minority floor leader, said on Friday that the advice and consent process is "the purview of the majority" so with it being all Democratic control, the lack of hearings is disappointing but not surprising.

"It would be good if they did," Lauwers said of holding hearings.

Cherry: Several Labor Policy Items Expected To Move In Fall

Posted: August 20, 2023 5:50 PM

The chair of the Senate Labor Committee called the opening months of the new term productive while adding that he looks forward to digging more deeply into policy work this fall given that the first budget passed by the Democratic Legislature is now in the rear-view mirror.

Sen. John Cherry (D-Flint) said recently the committee took testimony and moved several priority pieces of legislation during the first six months of the year and the fall will be the time to delve into items that are stilling pending.

"We had a lot of big priorities," Cherry said, pointing to the repeal of the state's right to work law and restoration of the prevailing wage that Democrats passed over Republican objections in the early months of this year (See Gongwer Michigan Report, March 24, 2023).

The right to work repeal and prevailing wage bills were key labor policy items Democrats had long called for and campaigned on. Those were among several items the narrow Democratic majorities muscled through both chambers to the governor's desk in a flurry of activity shortly after the beginning of the year.

Several other items were reported by the committee in the opening months of the year including legislation dealing with teacher collective bargaining (See Gongwer Michigan Report, June 28, 2023).

"There's a lot of bills we had testimony on prior to the summer break that I expect we'll have votes taken on come fall," Cherry said.

Among Cherry's priorities are a pair of bills, SB 170 and SB 171, taken up for testimony only in June, to repeal PA 98 of 2011, which enacted restrictions on project labor agreements (a type of collective bargaining agreement), and repeal the Local Government Labor Regulatory Limitation Act, or PA 105 of 2015. The existing law bans local governments from setting requirements for minimum wage higher than that of the state minimum wage or other fringe benefits. Similar legislation is also before the House Labor Committee.

Cherry said a key priority for him once members return in the fall will be on a slate of bills that would enable law enforcement officers, including corrections officers whose retirements are within the defined contribution plans, to enroll in the State Police Retirement System pension plan that was established in 2012 (See Gongwer Michigan Report, May 4, 2023).

The senator said other policy items he expects to see introduced in the fall include changes to the state's worker's compensation system as well as changes to the unemployment insurance system.

Cherry said he has been in conversations with the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity as well as the Unemployment Insurance Agency and is being kept apprised of items being discussed among a modernization task force looking into the UI system.

Many of the bills before the committee have been reported along party lines. Cherry said he is hopeful that some labor legislation might be able to get some bipartisan support before the full chamber.

With the partisan divide on many business-labor issues especially in recent years, votes largely along party lines may be inevitable, he said.

"It is what it is," Cherry said of party-line votes on labor policy.

Cherry also serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee and chairs two appropriations subcommittees. This made it more difficult to meet when budget negotiations were being finalized, he said, adding the other two Democrats on his committee also chair appropriations subcommittees.

With the budget having been passed in late June, the fall months will afford members the opportunity to take a deeper dive into policy items, he said.

Moss: Prop 2 Work Winding Down; Prop 1, FOIA Among Next Priorities

Posted: June 26, 2023 2:13 PM

The chair of the Senate Elections and Ethics Committee said the main work in getting Proposal 2 implementation bills is completed and the next items on his agenda will include financial disclosure as well as changes to campaign finance law and the Freedom of Information Act.

Two bills SB 386 and SB 387, dealing with the processing of absentee ballots prior to election day, were reported by the committee Tuesday. Movement on those bills followed movement on an eight-bill Proposal 2 implementation package that passed the full Senate last week with some bipartisan support (See Gongwer Michigan Report, June 14, 2023).

"I think we've completed our tasks regarding that ballot proposal," Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) told reporters following votes to report SB 386 and SB 387. "Today was not necessarily directed from Prop 2, but we know that early counting of absentee ballots just like 38 other states do is a central piece to reducing the chaos that we've seen in our past elections and allowing clerks to have a more smooth process rolling forward."

Moss told reporters one of his next priorities will be working to implement Proposal 1, which will require personal finance disclosures be made by all elected state officials. The proposal also changed term limits to a 12-year maximum.

The senator said his priorities include implementation of Proposal 1, changes to campaign finance law and updating the Freedom of Information Act, the latter of which is something he and Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) have been working together on since their days in the House.

He said for Proposal 1 he has been working with Sen. Sam Singh (D-East Lansing), chair of the Senate Oversight Committee, as to how to approach that legislation and which committee through which the bills might be moved.

"We're working with our House counterparts as well, as we need to come up with a package by the end of this year," Moss said.

Prior to reporting SB 387, an S-1 substitute was adopted 7-0 that included provisions to ban the recording of photo, audio or video at absentee ballot counting board locations with some exceptions including for members of the media.

As reported, the bills would allow communities with a population of at least 5,000 to set up absentee counting boards to process absentee ballots between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. on any of the eight days before election day. All other communities would be able to begin processing absentee ballots at 7 a.m. the Monday morning before an election day.

Sheree Ritchie with Pure Integrity for Michigan Elections spoke in opposition to the bills prior to the votes, saying SB 387 has several provisions the group does not support.

"There are numerous changes to the absentee voter ballot processing and there doesn't seem to be a clear motivation for this, other than to further harm election integrity in Michigan," Ritchie said.

Members voted 7-0 to report SB 386, which would amend statute dealing with penalties related to the early disclosure of election results.

For SB 387, the vote was 5-1, with Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Groveland Township) voting no and McBroom abstaining.

Also reported 7-0 was SB 385, which would allow county, city and township clerks to provide the option for individuals seeking to apply to be election inspectors to do so by filing electronically.

Groups Struggle With Access Amid Senate Dems' Heavy Workload

Posted: June 5, 2023 9:40 AM

When Senate Democrats assumed their narrow majority this year many of its members were given large committee workloads before moving to aggressively push its policy agenda after decades without full control in Lansing.

In doing so, it has left officials with policy organizations around Lansing and individuals within the lobbying community around the Capitol at times scrambling for access.

With Democrats having not had full power in Lansing in 40 years, it was expected they would have an ambitious agenda. Members have this session stated it has been an adjustment having more stakeholders seeking their time now that they are in the majority.

Various individuals within the political community around the Capitol have described to Gongwer News Service speaking on background that it is difficult in some cases to schedule meetings with or catch lawmakers during the day to touch base on budgetary or policy matters.

An official with one policy organization said access to members of the majority is a battle each session given the added value of their time due to being in the position to control the movement of policy.

This year, the official said, has been nothing like their group and others likely have seen before.

"It is impossible to get enough attention," the official said. "This year it's at a whole new level."

The official theorized that with the new Democratic majority the desire to pursue their policy agenda and to serve on committees and be heard in a way their members have not in years may be a major factor. Also, Democrats they may not be used to some of the demands that come with being in the majority with larger numbers of stakeholders seeking an audience.

Democrats this session hold a 20-18 Senate majority. Of their 20 members, 12 of them have at least nine committee assignments. Out of those 12 members, two of them serve on 11 committees, another five serve on 10 committees and another five serve on nine committees.

Committee assignments among Democrats with such a narrow majority this session differ significantly from Republican majorities in the most recent four-year Senate terms.

During the 2021-22 session when the Republicans held a 22-16 majority, a single member served on 10 committees and five others held nine committee assignments apiece. Three GOP members held nine committee assignments apiece during the 2019-20 session.

When Republicans held a 27-11 majority from 2015-18, the workload was even further spread out. During the 2017-18 session, a single senator held 10 committee assignments and one member held nine, while only three others in the majority even had eight committees apiece. For the 2015-16 session, one Republican held 11 committee assignments and another member had 10. Three others had eight committees apiece.

Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) in a recent interview with Gongwer News Service defended the committee structure she set up for this session, saying there is an urge among members to be heavily involved.

"Lots of our members very excited to work in multiple areas of policy, so you've seen us set up a structure that provides them those opportunities to do that," Brinks said.

She acknowledged with the narrow majority it is likely challenging for individual members to find the right committee and non-committee work balance to best manage their time.

"It also requires us to really work well with other people and to focus on the things that we're really leading on as individuals and be able to share that knowledge with the rest of our caucus and the rest of the members of the chamber," Brinks said. "It is a bit of a new model, and it's going really well, I think, in terms of us being able to get a lot of really substantive things done."

When asked if there might be any interest in making changes to the committee structure or number of assignments for members, she said that is always an option down the road.

"As with any legislative session that I've been a part of there will be a periodic examination of how we set things up, and if adjustments need to be made, that's a consideration we'll make in the future," Brinks said.

She said she could not make a firm commitment as to when any changes, if any, might occur, reiterating that that is an ongoing topic of evaluation.

One concern by at least one official speaking to Gongwer News Service on background centered on whether the Legislature adjourns sine die before July 1 if a battle over granting budgets immediate effect takes place in the Senate. The concern was that it could then prompt a special session and continue the difficulty for access through the end of the year.

Sen. Kevin Hertel (D-Saint Clair Shores) said he has been able to juggle committee assignments, constituent work and meeting with stakeholder groups. He serves on nine committees.

"Has it been challenging at times? Yes. But we make time for the things that are important, and I've been able to find a way to do that and cover the committees that I have," Hertel said.

Hertel chalked up his ability to accomplish what he needs to do daily to time management. He said he has a more than 90-minute commute daily from home to the Capitol each way, where he can take calls. Also, he said in many cases a five to 10-minute conversation is more effective than a 30 or 60-minute block of time for a meeting. Having good staff who have strong time management skills is also key, he said.

"In the first few months, I mean, one of the most active sessions … in Michigan history, or at least in recent history," Hertel said. "We are in a lot of committees, yes, and some of us are chairing committees. My entire time in the House I never chaired a committee. I'm now chairing two, so that creates an added burden."

An official with another organization speaking on background said the sheer level of committee assignments likely is stretching members beyond a reasonable level. The official described their experience this session as learning members' calendars being booked out four weeks or more, making it challenging to sit down with lawmakers.

It was stated by this official that their understanding that their group's experience has been universal among lobbyists and organizations in the Capitol community. The experience in access to members of the Democratic House majority has been difficult as well, the official said.

Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) has nine committee assignments this session and said he loves having such a workload.

"I geek out on the details of statutes and budgets, so for me, it's exhilarating and interesting. I get to learn about new things all the time," Irwin said.

For him, he said having served for 10 years in the Legislature already gives him some institutional knowledge on many issues to work from in his daily work.

"That does allow me to, I guess, not be overwhelmed in an environment that is, I think, somewhat naturally overwhelming," Irwin said. "There's not enough time in the day, but I'm at peace with it. I do the best I can, and I work hard for my constituents and try to advance policy that promotes public interest, and then we do it again the next day."

He said he is sure there are some people who are frustrated given there is naturally a line that forms to meet with members.

Irwin compared the process of getting into the routine of working as a member of the majority to raising his children. Irwin said it can be chaotic and frustrating but over time things work out.

"You get caught up in the battle of the day, but when I look back at the last several months, I think we've gotten a tremendous amount done," Irwin said. "There are things that I'm very proud of and I think there are things that are going to serve our state well into the future."

Brinks said the pace is not a surprise and that everyone knew coming in this session was going to have a rapid pace.

"The results of the work that we've been able to do I think speak for themselves … despite any challenges that any of us might have with our own calendars," Brinks said.

She added with senators serving four-year terms, their work needs to be sustainable.

"But we do have a moment of opportunity and we are not going to waste it," Brinks said.

House, Senate Budgets Less Than Gov's In General Fund

Posted: May 7, 2023 8:41 PM

Budgets bills now sitting on the floor of the House and Senate are less than Governor Gretchen Whitmer's proposal from earlier this year in General Fund while both chambers have recommended spending more overall.

Next week the Senate is expected to begin voting on a series of budget bills containing $79.5 billion in gross adjusted spending. This is slightly above the governor's proposed budget of $79.4 billion in gross adjusted spending.

Numbers from the Senate Fiscal Agency show the governor's proposed spending in General Fund at more than $14.8 billion, while the Senate appropriators crafted a proposal containing about $14.3 billion General Fund.

For the School Aid Fund, the governor proposed slightly more ($19.09 billion) than the Senate Appropriations Committee members ($19.06 billion).

The House has proposed spending slightly less General Fund than Ms. Whitmer, $14.7 billion compared to $14.8 billion with the gross total above the executive budget recommendation. The House committee proposes a gross total budget of $81.4 billion, compared to Ms. Whitmer's $80.6 billion.

Both the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday reported the final budget bills to the floor of their respective chambers, setting the table for continued negotiations between the Legislature and Ms. Whitmer's office.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) told reporters with the movement of bills, she believes the Legislature is still on target with her goal of completing the budget later this month or in early June.

"There have been, in some ways, significant differences between the executive recommendations and the House, but I'm excited to get in the room and start working through those details," Ms. Anthony said.

She explained that in multiple budgets the appropriations panels had similar spending levels while proposing different methods of funding various priorities.

Ms. Anthony said she did not believe the House, Senate and administration are too far off as they approach negotiations in the coming weeks. The chair said she also does not expect many surprises in the final product.

When asked about the involvement of Republicans in the process so far, Ms. Anthony said she directed her subcommittee chairs to be in regular contact with their Republican colleagues on amendments or finding ways to put some of their priorities into the budget.

"I personally think that each and every Republican has the ability to fight for their own communities," Ms. Anthony said.

HOUSE COMMITTEE MEETING: The Appropriations Committee reported the House's remaining seven budgets for the 2023-24 fiscal year to the House floor on Wednesday. The budgets included General Government (HB 4292), the Department of Corrections (HB 4247), K-12 school aid (HB 4286), Department of Education (HB 4287), Department of Transportation (HB 4309), Department of Health and Human Services (HB 4310) and Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (HB 4246).

The biggest change made Wednesday was an amendment to the General Government budget proposal, which added $10 million to help the Department of State implement Proposal 22-2.

Coming out of subcommittee, the Department of State was only allotted $5 million of the implementation for implementing additional costs of Proposal 1 and Proposal 2 for the 2023-24 fiscal year. The subcommittee also concurred with Ms. Whitmer's recommendation to provide an additional $11.5 million for the current fiscal year to implement the proposals. Still, the proposal fell far short of Ms. Benson's request for a $177.6 million supplemental for the current year and next year's budget. Ms. Benson's proposal was to, among other things, cover the cost of early voting as well as what she described as historic underfunding of local clerk operations.

The amendment would provide an additional $10 million for Proposal 2, which was passed by voters last November, and would bring the total up to $15 million. Rep. Felicia Brabec (D- Pittsfield Township), who chairs the House Appropriations General Government Subcommittee and put forward the amendment on Wednesday stressed that conversations were still ongoing.

"We want to be able to support what our residents overwhelmingly said to us," she said. "We just need to do continued work on that."

The amendment to the General Government budget was the only significant change to the budgets coming out of the subcommittees, though other amendments were adopted to adjust boilerplate language.

Nearly 100 amendments were put forward by Republicans during the committee meeting, which lasted for more than four hours, but all of them failed.

Most of the Republican-proposed amendments related to retaining a reporting requirement for a state agency; reducing or eliminating a budget line item for a new or existing program; providing funding for charter schools; eliminating diversity, equity and inclusion requirements for certain funding; and increasing funding for local infrastructure.

"The big picture of it is, the governor and the Democrats wanted to spend all of our surplus and dwindle that, often creating new programs that have to be sustained in the future," said Jerry Ward, press secretary for House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Township). "And…we want to make sure there's transparency and when we are spending money…it's going into things that matter, such as local roads, things that are going to continue to have an impact for years to come."

Democrats have retained much of the reporting language that was struck in Governor Gretchen Whitmer's budget recommendation and included an additional $400 million in local road funding that was not in the executive budget, but Mr. Ward said Republicans want to see more.

Rep. Sarah Lightner (R-Springport) said she was disappointed that none of the Republican amendments have been adopted during the budget process so far.

"The Democrats voted down program reports and transparency practices within numerous budgets. For example, the budget for the Unemployment Insurance Agency has no checks and balances to ensure federal dollars provided to the UIA are spent properly. Guard rails have been eliminated, enabling the UIA director to spend taxpayer dollars 'willy nilly' without any oversight from the Legislature. Democrats voted down our amendment to hold the UIA director accountable to Michigan taxpayers by requiring them to come before the Appropriations committees before spending taxpayer dollars," she said in a statement. "I'm hopeful we will see more bipartisan collaboration in the coming weeks as we move through the budget process."

With the bills reported on Wednesday, all House subcommittee budgets have made it through the House Appropriations Committee and have been reported to the floor.

The numbers reported during the Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference on May 19 will help refine the final numbers for the budget.

SENATE COMMITTEE MEETING: The final two budget bills were reported to the full Senate on Wednesday: the Department of Health and Human Services budget (SB 190) and the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (SB 194). Both bills were reported 13-6 along party lines, as has been the case with each budget bill thus far.

Sen. Jon Bumstead (R-North Muskegon), the minority vice chair on the panel, explained the GOP vote against the DHHS budget by saying the bill's contents were "kind of a surprise" for his caucus. He referenced the significant number of line items for programs.

"There's a lot of stuff in here we just didn't know about, there's a lot of special projects," Mr. Bumstead said. "We're just a no on this; there were so many projects."

He pointed to the Highland Park water debt funding as an example while questioning why it would be placed in the DHHS budget.

Mr. Bumstead repeated a concern he expressed to reporters following Tuesday's meeting, saying his caucus was not aware of any proposed amendments until shortly before the hearing and would prefer to have more notice.

As to the issue of whether the Republicans take any steps such as not granting immediate effect on the budget, Mr. Bumstead said his caucus will have to work out a plan to proceed soon.

The question of whether the Republicans will provide the necessary votes to grant immediate effect on final passage of the budget came up Tuesday. If the budget is not granted immediate effect it could prevent the state from having the spending authority to operate at the start of the fiscal year on October 1.

The senator said it will take some time before Republican leadership is brought more closely into negotiations given the one-party control by Democrats.

"The governor's going to have to work with her caucus in the House and in the Senate … it's going to be a lot of haggling there before they start dealing with us," Mr. Bumstead said.

Not a single amendment for the DHHS budget was proposed Wednesday prior to it being reported, but there could end up being floor amendments.

As to the LEO budget, two amendments were introduced by Sen. Mary Cavanagh (D-Redford Township) and were adopted, both by 13-6 votes along party lines.

The first amendment includes language as to how some of the funding for the College Success Fund must be used as well as language governing the use of one-time funds for construction training.

In the second amendment, there are multiple changes adding monies to several items including for entrepreneurship, minority-owned businesses and the disabilities network. Some of the items were placeholders while others had larger dollar amounts, which Ms. Cavanagh told reporters places them in the budget for further negotiations.

Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Health and Human Services Subcommittee , told reporters the DHHS budget is a "fair budget" that is nonpartisan and provides for many people across the state.

When asked about Mr. Bumstead's concerns with the numerous programs within the DHHS budget, Ms. Santana said, "there are programs out here that are doing the work but maybe not have the resources to build capacity" and the funding, in many cases one-time monies, can be of use.

She pointed to homeless shelters and substance abuse centers as examples of targeting different statewide priorities.

As to the concerns by Republicans over the Highland Park funding, Ms. Santana pointed to the governor's proposal for $100 million in water infrastructure in her budget proposal.

"I thought this would be a great utilization of those dollars," Ms. Santana said, adding there is time to work out which budget such monies might work best to address that item. "I thought it made sense in this particular budget to be able to support them."

This story was reported by Nick Smith and Elena Durnbaugh.

Chang: Removing Firearm Manufacturer Immunity Still On Table

Posted: April 17, 2023 7:36 AM

Legislation that would remove immunity provisions in statute for firearm manufacturers and dealers is being crafted and still expected to be put forward in the months ahead, the chair of the Senate Civil Rights, Judiciary and Public Safety Committee said in a recent interview.

Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) said the proposal is still on the table after it was briefly part of the discussion while lawmakers weighed recently passed firearms legislation. Her comments come as Governor Gretchen Whitmer has signed the first two gun bill packages, mandatory locked storage when a child is present and expanded background checks, with another soon to land on her desk enabling judges to order the seizure of firearms from those they deem a significant risk to themselves or others.

"We'll see more gun violence bills that will do a lot of good," Ms. Chang said.

An item she said that will return in standalone legislation is a proposal that would remove immunity provisions in statute for firearm manufacturers and dealers.

Language was included in the safe storage legislation that was reported from the Senate committee, but it was removed prior to final passage when taken up for a vote in the full chamber (See Gongwer Michigan Report, March 16, 2023).

"We do want to tackle manufacturer immunity," Ms. Chang said.

She explained that it was removed with the intent of working on crafting stronger, tighter language to "lay out very clearly what a manufacturer is liable for."

She said legislation is also expected to be reintroduced this session that would prohibit those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence offenses from possessing firearms for several years. Similar legislation was introduced by Ms. Chang and others last session but saw no movement (See Gongwer Michigan Report, October 11, 2021).

Ms. Chang's comments on further gun legislation came during an interview with Gongwer News Service discussing the committee's work this session.

While the committee has already taken up multiple significant policy items in the early months of session, a busy pace will continue, she said.

A total of 65 bills have been referred to the panel so far this session, all but one of them being Senate bills. More than 24 percent of the 267 Senate bills introduced so far this session have been referred to Ms. Chang's committee.

"It's a lot," Ms. Chang said. "We've got a lot of bipartisan criminal justice-related bills that didn't get across the finish line."

Ms. Chang said she was proud that what is now PA 6 of 2023 was the first bill to be heard in her committee, that being legislation adding sexual orientation and gender identity or expression as protected categories under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.

Several bipartisan bill packages are expected to come forward this spring, she said.

One is a package of bills that would seek to prevent sexual assault under the guise of medical treatment and provide age-appropriate informational materials on sexual assault and harassment to students (See Gongwer Michigan Report, February 21, 2023). The package saw some movement last session but did not make it to the governor's desk.

Ms. Chang said there will also be hearings planned on legislation dealing with life without parole for juveniles, elder abuse and exploitation, child marriage and police accountability. A major policing bill package was introduced last session and was subject to several hearings but also did not see movement.

"There's a lot of stuff that should get a lot of support," Ms. Chang said.

She said with the new Democratic majority these policies and others provide numerous opportunities to take past legislative items and, in some cases, build on them further prior to passage.

One new item that will be introduced this session, she said, would be "second chance" legislation, which would create a process in which a judge would be able to take another look at an incarcerated person's case and their record while in the correctional system to see if the person might be able to be resentenced.

While it may not result in many incarcerated individuals seeing reductions in sentencing, Ms. Chang said "times have changed" when it comes to the criminal justice system, and it could be a way to reduce the prison population.

Capitol Commission: Security, Gun Ban Could Be On Table

Posted: January 29, 2023 8:36 PM

Two years after a ban on the open carry of firearms inside the Capitol building, the policy on weapons inside the building or the implementation of additional security measures could be revisited.

Michigan State Capitol Commission Chair William Kandler told reporters following January 23's meeting – the first for the commission during the new term–that he expects security conversations to be ongoing.

He pointed to the increased square footage on the grounds with the completion of the Heritage Hall project and the increased number of entry points on the grounds as more places to keep secure and safe.

"The preference of most people in the building, including the legislators over the years, is for it to be open to the public," Mr. Kandler said. "You can go to most Capitol buildings– you're going to go through a metal detector or something to get in. So far, we haven't done that."

When asked if the installation of metal detectors or other security measures might be needed, he said officials are aware of security concerns.

Last month, Attorney General Dana Nessel said she spoke to the governor and legislative leadership ahead of the new legislative term about a ban on guns on the Capitol grounds (See Gongwer Michigan Report, December 15, 2022).

He said security is something that needs to regularly be kept in mind, given the change in the political climate in recent years in the state and country.

"The whole concept of political violence is something that ... we'd read about in banana republics around the world, and now we're experiencing it here," Mr. Kandler said. "We're a bad example for the world now, so people have to at least be aware of that. … We're always thinking about security."

In 2021, after several months of discussions on the legality, the commission approved a ban on the open carry of guns inside the Capitol (See Gongwer Michigan Report, January 11, 2021).

The move came after armed individuals entered the Capitol in April 2020. Some individuals stood watching Senate session from the gallery that day, including multiple individuals later charged in the plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Currently, concealed carry of firearms is still permitted, as is the possession of a gun on Capitol grounds. Visitors to the Capitol with a concealed pistol must have a valid concealed pistol license to carry.

Mr. Kandler said he has been speaking with officials for over a year about the issue of firearms in the building. The commission did not have the votes for a full ban in 2021, only for open carry.

He said if a full ban were enacted, the mechanics of making it work and efficiently getting people inside the building would have to be considered.

"How many people per hour are going to get in and out, and are people going to be lined up to get in and out?" Mr. Kandler said. "What kind of technology do you use, how many doors and entrances do you want to leave open for people to get in and out, so it's kind of complex, but we talked about it quite a bit."

Mr. Kandler pointed out that there was a ruling from Ms. Nessel in 2020 stating that the commission could ban guns inside the building. An outside legal opinion was obtained that reached the same conclusion.

"The Legislature can always pass a law, too," Mr. Kandler said. "Either way, it could work."

Commissioner Tim Bowlin told reporters that any additional security measures in the Capitol would come down to cost.

"It's a matter of functionality. It's about providing the visitors and tenants of this building a secure and safe environment," he said.

Rob Blackshaw, head of Capitol Facilities, told reporters he has not yet been approached about the issue of Capitol security, adding his job is to execute whatever policy is enacted.

"We'll see what this Legislature, what they bring to us," Mr. Blackshaw said.

Brinks: Expect 'Pent-Up' Dem Agenda To Take Center Stage This Term

Posted: January 9, 2023 10:07 AM

Work to begin making a dent in a Democratic policy wish list that has built up for decades awaits the incoming Legislature with the new Senate majority leader saying her caucus will be ready to balance those priorities with finding areas of agreement with Republicans.

The groundwork for hitting the ground running is well underway, and Democrats will be ready to deliver for the public now that they control the Senate and hold unified control of the state for the first time in nearly 40 years, Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks of Grand Rapids said in a recent interview with Gongwer News Service.

Her ascent to the majority leader role put her in the position of leading the first Senate Democratic majority in the state since 1983.

Ms. Brinks said there is still much work to be done to lay the groundwork for the session. She said Democrats are bringing in a diverse caucus not just when it comes to gender and ethnicity but in backgrounds and experience that will be valuable in crafting policy.

"There is 40 years of pent-up policy that we can pick from," Ms. Brinks said.

Democratic policies have languished under split control or Republican control of state government since losing their last majority.

"You'll see us continue to do a lot of the good work that Governor Whitmer has done," Ms. Brinks added.

Priorities will include strengthening the economy, making improvements to the public education system and codifying reproductive rights.

For education she said policy will focus on improving the system and providing opportunities for students to be prepared for the workforce. She added that there are plenty of good jobs available in the state, but more work is needed to continue to grow those job opportunities for residents and provide adequate programming to have a trained and highly skilled workforce to remain competitive.

"We've seen Republicans focus on corporations at the expense of regular families," Ms. Brinks said, adding under Democratic control there will be more of a focus on workers.

Updating the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include protections for the LGBT community and repealing the state's 1931 abortion ban law language from statute are also priorities Democrats have touted.

"You'll see equality issues. You'll see issues of justice, criminal justice," Ms. Brinks said.

Repealing the state's right-to-work law is also on the table, which is expected to prompt a fight with business groups.

"We're going to be in a really good position," Ms. Brinks said of taking up issues such as right-to-work.

She repeated her hope that the majority stands ready to work with Republicans on bipartisan areas of agreement.

One key example, she said, is expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit. She said during the entire previous session there was bipartisan support for an expansion, but it ended up getting lost in the politics of that session.

"That's a really concrete way of helping people … make ends meet," Ms. Brinks said. "It's a tax break in the right spot."

She said there were also numerous bills that could or should have been easy votes during lame duck that can be taken up next session. A year-end book-closing supplemental will probably be dealt with early during the session, she said. Other smaller policy items and sunset legislation can also be dealt with over time.

As to what the first Senate bill introduced in January 2023 will be, Ms. Brinks declined to disclose what will make the cut.

"There are lots of ideas and a few finalists," Ms. Brinks said, telling Gongwer News Service to stay tuned.

The first Senate and House bill introduced each session is generally considered a statement of purpose, of a key priority for the majority party.

Getting to this point has been a long journey, she said.

"Reaching the majority has been a goal of mine for 10 years," Ms. Brinks said, calling reaching that goal very gratifying.

Ms. Brinks' political career began in 2012 when she ran for the House as a write-in after then-Rep. Roy Schmidt switched parties and filed minutes before the filing deadline that year to run as a Republican (See Gongwer Michigan Report, June 19, 2012).

She won her first term in the House that November by defeating Mr. Schmidt and served three terms before flipping a Senate seat for the Democrats in 2018. The senator told reporters her journey had been a long one, with much time to observe how leaders in both the majority and minority have conducted themselves and saying she will bring that experience to the role in working for residents.

She said the new maps crafted by the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission were a huge factor in putting the Legislature in play. Ultimately, she said realizing the goal of taking the gavel boiled down to recruiting great candidates, having a strong fundraising operation, and having candidates and supporters putting in the high level of work necessary to make it happen.

Ms. Brinks added there was a stark choice between the two parties for voters to weigh. The Democrats, she said, were promoting a party agenda that included kitchen table issues families are focused upon. The Republicans, she said, contrasted that with a focus on divisive cultural issues and conspiracy theories in some cases.

She admitted with Democrats taking the majority there is a bit of a cultural change to be expected in Lansing, including among the lobbyist groups and associations giving their caucus far more attention than in the past.

"I have lots of new friends," Ms. Brinks said with a laugh.

The senator said she acknowledges that there is some relief among some stakeholders in the lobbying world over the policy discussions shifting towards Democratic priorities. There is also concern among some stakeholders of what their policy choices might do to current policies, which is to be expected.

"I'm not naïve. … We are going to pursue a Democratic agenda," Ms. Brinks said. "I'm very excited about the opportunity."

She added that stakeholders, lobbyists and groups can rest assured that her caucus will be deliberative and thoughtful in crafting policy and go through a thorough process.

With that in mind, she said the caucus is aware that its policy choices will need to be pursued knowing the House could flip back to Republican control in two years. Policy choices have to be balanced not just in the short term but thinking long-term as well.

As to her personal priorities, she said to look at her past legislative record for an idea of where she would like to see movement.

"You'll see some more work on how we support families … and supporting children," Ms. Brinks said.

Prior to running for public office, she worked for nonprofit groups and was a former paraprofessional in a local public school district.

As to advice to Republicans who find themselves in the minority, she urged them to "remember why you're here."

"It's easy to get distracted by politics, it's easy to get distracted by specific policies," Ms. Brinks said.

She said it is important to remember that they are in office to work for their constituents.

Ms. Brinks said during the term she would also like to "take some of the toxicity out of the environment" in the Capitol. She acknowledged that often the minority party has few tools at its disposal other than floor speeches, adding her hope is that the temperature in the Legislature can be brought down after there being some divisiveness in recent years.

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