New fiscal year begins
Michigan’s new fiscal year began at the beginning of the month. Once again approved ahead of schedule, it reflects our continued pursuit of approving a balanced budget that keeps state spending in line while paying down our outstanding debts. It was not long ago when this process dragged on for months and months — even causing the state to shut down a couple of times because the spending plan was not completed in time. Thankfully those days are over. Today, we have good long-term planning that, in addition to cutting down on debt, also makes strategic investments in education, infrastructure, and public safety, among other priorities, which contribute to our state’s growth.
Providing health care benefits to families of fallen officers
Public safety officials put their lives on the line for us each day. Every time they punch the clock on a new shift, they knowingly risk all they love and have, willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice for us and their families. Until recently, if tragedy struck and one of our public safety officials died in the line of duty, their spouses and children were left without health care coverage. This was a true injustice. If a public safety official dies while in service to the people of our state, we owe it to them to take care of their families. That is why I introduced Senate Bill 618 last year — to make sure those families have health care.
Now Public Act 284 of 2016, the new law provides medical benefits to surviving family members of law enforcement officers, corrections officers, firefighters, rescue squad members, or ambulance crew members who die in the line of duty. The law expands existing benefits to include 60 months of health care in addition to an existing one-time payment of $25,000. The law is retroactive to Oct. 1, 2015.
It is important that we give back to those families for their sacrifices, and providing health care coverage to the spouses and children of officers who die in the line of duty is one way we can.
Brownfield Redevelopment reforms
I’m happy to be a sponsor of a bipartisan package of bills that seek to streamline existing laws that govern the state’s Brownfield Redevelopment program. The bills are the result of a nine-month long workgroup in which lawmakers, officials from state government and members of the business community met to formulate ways to bring consistency and efficiency to the program while ensuring environmental protection and encouraging economic growth.
My bill would help property owners and developers more quickly complete brownfield redevelopment sites and bring more and better jobs to Michigan communities. It would aid redevelopment by more clearly identifying exactly what activities are eligible in what situation. Certain activities are considered eligible depending on where the property is located or based on who owns it. For example, cleaning up an underground storage tank is considered an environmental activity but not currently eligible for approval by the Department of Environmental Quality. These inconsistencies are confusing and delay projects.
Importantly, the bills will not result in increased taxation, a decrease in government funding to our schools, or increased local government expenditures.
These are good reforms that will make a successful program even better, and I look forward to their approval.
Improving absentee voting in Michigan
It’s election season, and voting is one of our most important civic responsibilities. It determines legislative positions, judgeships, county and local commissioner and trustee positions, school board representation, local millages, ballot initiatives and more.
Given the importance of voting and the impact the results have in our daily lives, voter turnout remains very low. I believe that Michigan should update its voting laws to allow any registered voter to cast an absentee ballot. Absentee voting should simply be another option provided to voters in addition to the traditional way of travelling to a precinct to vote in person.
Doing so will enable voters to get their ballots well in advance, affording them time to familiarize themselves with the ballot and educate themselves on candidates and important issues. That is why I have introduced Senate Bill 1114 to allow no-reason absentee voting. Michigan has already done a lot of work to improve the elections process in the state, and expanded opportunities for secure absentee voting is a logical next step.
Here to serve you
My staff and I are here to serve you, and we are happy to assist your needs. If you need to contact me, please call 855-347-7536 or send an email to SenWSchmidt@senate.michigan.gov. My website, www.SenatorWayneSchmidt.com, is also a good resource for information.
Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, represents the 37th state Senate District, which includes Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Chippewa, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Luce and Mackinac counties.