TitleBytes News & Happenings

Lansing Legislative Update February 2021

Feb 10, 2021

Craig Ryan, MLC

Legislature kicks off the new year after a slower than normal post-election, end of year session

A great deal has happened since our last update as the legislature wound down the 2019-2020 session and has now begun to ramp up the 2021-2022 term.

The week before Christmas, the legislature passed a supplemental spending bill that dedicated more than $443 million to assist the state with small business grants, unemployment benefits, and COVID-19 vaccine distributions. The bill included the following:

• $220 million into covering expanded unemployment benefits for 26 weeks – up from the regular 20 weeks – until the end of March
• $1,650 individual grants to help Michigan employees laid off because of the closures of restaurants, entertainment venues and places of gathering
• $63.5 million in what are being referred to as “survival grants” for small businesses forced to shut down because of restrictions resulting from COVID-19
• $115.3 million to address nursing shortages –including an extension of the pay increase for direct care workers
• $79.1 million for expanded virus testing and vaccine distribution – including money to ramp up testing of teachers
• $10 million for hospitals to hire temporary staff
• $3.3 million for hospitals to house COVID-positive nursing home residents

The bill was sent to the Governor and was signed prior to the end of the year.

On January 13, the House and Senate held their first session day of the 101st Legislature. All legislation from the prior two years is considered dead and will need to be reintroduced in both chambers to be heard again.

Traditionally the first bills introduced for a new term are items that the majority party views as important pieces of policy. In the House, Representative Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield) introduced HB 4001, the first bill of the new term. Her bill would require state legislators to abstain from voting on bills that could personally benefit them or their families. Senator Lana Theis (R-Brighton) introduced the first bill in the Senate, which would limit emergency orders issued by the Department of Health and Human Services to 28 days and require that any extension of such orders receive legislative approval before taking effect.

That same week, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced her $5.6 billion Michigan COVID Recovery Plan, focusing on vaccine distribution, economic recovery, schools, and more. The plan largely relies on federal aid, though some state funding was included as well. The process will need to go through the legislative process. The Governor’s proposal included the following:

• Ramping up vaccine distribution to bring the state closer to the goal of 50,000 shots per day. Additionally, more funding to expand testing, tracing, and lab capacity.
• $225 million for three new programs to help businesses recover, focusing on small businesses, restaurants, and high-tech startups.
• A permanent extension of unemployment benefits from 20 weeks to 26 weeks.
• Additional funding for food and rental assistance.
• The creation of the Office of Rural Development to help coordinate efforts across state government to address issues facing rural communities, including broadband, talent, infrastructure, and more.
• Funding to waive penalties and interest for certain property owners who did not pay their summer 2020 property taxes on time as a result of economic hardship caused by the pandemic.
• Targeted employment and training services to connect unemployed and underemployed residents with training and resources for gainful employment.
• Funding to help schools provide in-person learning by March 1 and to help address learning loss that has occurred due to the pandemic.

On January 27 – for the first time in Michigan history – the Governor delivered the annual State of the State address virtually (due to the pandemic).

A major theme of her nearly 30-minute address was her approach to combatting the COVID-19 pandemic. She also called attention to the politically divisive 2020, but she highlighted the bipartisan action that was taken and called for that to continue as the state continues to face big challenges in 2021.

An additional main focus for 2021 for her will be what she called “Fix the Damn Road Ahead.” This includes a focus on growing the economy and getting businesses back on their feet, both of which center around ending the pandemic. She did note that central to fixing the economy is ensuring public health – of which she believes is her priority as governor.

She also drew attention to the infrastructure problems plaguing the state. Despite the pandemic, many projects were completed and hundreds more are in the pipeline under the program. The governor also called on the legislature to pass legislation providing local governments more flexibility when tackling crumbling infrastructure.

The first week of February, the House passed their version of COVID-19 Recovery Funding. It was a $3.5 billion funding plan to aid the state in its response and recovery from COVID-19. The plan includes the following:

• $510 million in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funding
• $363 million statewide for districts committing to in-person learning by February 15
• $135 million for a voluntary K-8 summer school program
• $415 million grant program for restaurants and small businesses
• $22 million for vaccine distribution
• $144 million for testing

Just this week, the Senate introduced their version of the relief package. The $2 billion Senate plan includes the following:

• $110 million in additional support for vaccine distribution. One-third of the funding is dedicated to aiding the initial vaccine rollout. The rest of the funds will be held in reserve until the governor’s initial plan is completed.
• $170 million to increase pay for direct care workers on the front lines of fighting the virus in hospitals and nursing homes.
• $220 million in emergency rental assistance to ensure Michiganders struggling financially due to the pandemic
• $25 million for mental health services and substance abuse prevention.
• $300 million to assist Michigan workers and businesses facing financial hardship
• $150 million to help ensure the state’s Unemployment Trust Fund remains solvent
• $50 million to reimburse Michigan businesses that were charged licensing and inspection fees by the state even when their businesses were closed through no fault of their own.
• $450 per pupil — nearly $1 billion — to tackle learning loss associated with school closures, including funds to support summer school, mental health services and assessments.
• $75 million to increase virus testing for students, teachers and staff in order to help in-person learning resume statewide as soon as possible.

Stay tuned to see what the final agreement between the Governor, the House and the Senate will be on the COVID recovery plan!

We’ll also be watching for items of specific interest to MLTA including any proposed changes Marketable Title Act and potential privacy redaction legislation.

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