Gun safety, jobs for youth, and removing barriers to solar
It is an honor to write to you again as your representative in Lansing. Your input on issues in state government helps me represent you better, so I hope you will contact me about the issues that are important to you. You can get in touch with me by phone at (517) 373-2577, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on my website, rabhi.housedems.com. Additionally, I will send these e-newsletters monthly to update you on legislation and community news. If you would like to unsubscribe, please email me at email@example.com.
I look forward to working together to move Michigan forward.
Yousef and You Discussion Schedule
I periodically hold events where any constituent can come to discuss legislation and state issues. I hope to be able to speak with many of you in person. My next Yousef and You discussions will be:
Monday, April 9
6 to 7 p.m.
Westgate Branch, Ann Arbor Public Library
2503 Jackson Ave., Ann Arbor
Saturday, April 28
10 a.m. to noon
1155 Rosewood St., Ann Arbor
Monday, May 14
6 to 7 p.m.
Mallett’s Creek Branch, Ann Arbor Public Library
3090 E. Eisenhower Parkway, Ann Arbor
Bills Would Remove Barriers to Home Solar
Ann Arbor is one of the few Michigan municipalities that interpret solar panels as adding to the assessed value of residential real estate. As a result, Ann Arbor homeowners who add solar panels pay increased property taxes, which makes it harder for a homeowner’s investment in clean energy to pay off through reduced electricity bills during the useful life of the solar panels. Most Ann Arbor residents believe we should encourage investment in clean, renewable energy so that we can all benefit from reduced pollution. Because the Michigan Tax Tribunal recently upheld the city’s assessments of solar panels, a legislative solution is needed. Without a change in the law, other municipalities are likely to start taxing solar panels, too, and solar investment will decline throughout the state.
I have cosponsored a bill, House Bill 5143, which would exempt home solar panels from taxes. This bipartisan effort has been productive; HB 5143 got a second hearing in the House Tax Policy Committee last week. Committee hearings are a good sign that the bill is moving forward in the legislative process, and I hope I will soon have the opportunity to vote for HB 5143 on the House floor.
Another major threat to the continued success of renewable energy generation in our state is the new proposed grid tariff. Before I came to the House, the Legislature passed Public Act 341 of 2016. Among other things, this law directed the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) to re-evaluate the compensation rates (tariff) for customers who produce energy with solar panels, methane digesters, or other small-scale distributed generation systems.
Although the results of the full cost/benefit study are still pending, MPSC has proposed a much lower interim rate that would apply to new energy-producing customers as of June. This rate would penalize Michigan residents, nonprofits, and businesses for investing in clean energy. It would also hobble the growing alternative energy sector. The solar industry alone employs more than 4,000 Michiganders. I have introduced two bills to repeal the authorization for the grid tariff and thus prevent the new punitive rate from taking effect. House Bills 5692 and 5693 are in the House Energy Policy Committee.
With all the horrific mass shootings that have taken place around our country, I have received many heartfelt emails from constituents calling for action on gun safety legislation. I was proud to join the March for our Lives in Ann Arbor this Saturday because I agree that it is unconscionable that schoolchildren are forced to practice hiding from armed attackers while legislators refuse to pass measures to protect them.
There are a number of common-sense gun safety bills in the Legislature. Among other proposals, I support legislation to require background checks for all gun purchases, keep people with domestic violence protective orders from buying guns, and clarify that schools have the right to ban guns on their campus. At the very least, we should refrain from passing legislation to make the situation worse. I oppose bills like Senate Bills 584 and 586, which would expand concealed carry to gun-free zones.
With the groundswell of support for action to protect public safety, I hope to see progress on this issue. Change will not be easy to achieve, but I will continue to push for change as a member of the Gun Violence Prevention Caucus.
Department of Environmental Quality Budget
Last week, the Appropriations Subcommittee for the Department of Environmental Quality approved the DEQ’s 2018-19 budget. The DEQ budget goes next to the full Appropriations Committee. There are two major changes from the executive budget proposal. First, the governor proposed increasing landfill tipping fees from their current rate of 36 cents per ton (the lowest in the region) to $4.75 which would still put us below the regional average. This change would have raised about $79 million to replace the expired bond funding from the Clean Michigan Initiative. Instead, the majority party proposed using $25 million of state General Fund dollars and to leave landfill fees at their current rate. Second, money from cleanup programs was moved to fund an increase of $1 million for recycling and $3.9 million for a new lead paint abatement grant program.
As Democratic vice-chair of the DEQ subcommittee, I supported an amendment to restore the $79 million in landfill fees. The expired bond funding that the fees were proposed to replace supported programs like water quality monitoring, state park infrastructure, and asbestos monitoring, as well as remediation and redevelopment. The $25 million in General Fund dollars will only be sufficient to fund remediation and redevelopment, which includes vapor intrusion and PFAS response activities. Unfortunately, the amendment was not adopted. In response, I offered an amendment to increase the tipping fee only slightly so that we would still be the lowest in the region but would be able to raise at least some money for these important programs. My amendment also failed. In the end, it appears that the General Fund will take a $25 million dollar hit, and the DEQ will have $54 million less to work with.
I also offered an amendment to increase funding and staffing for the water withdrawal assessment program and to fund groundwater mapping. The Water Withdrawal Assessment Tool is an algorithm used to determine if a proposal to pump ground water may harm nearby water resources. But it relies on incomplete information about the size, location, and interconnections of aquifers and surface water. As a result, the permitting process for water withdrawals can be slow and contentious, a reality which disproportionately impacts farmers. To address this concern, some have proposed House Bill 5638 which addresses the backlog by severely weakening the water withdrawal assessment process, but I think a better route would be to actually improve the system we have while continuing to manage our groundwater resources responsibly. My amendment would have helped farmers and continued to protect our groundwater. Although this amendment was not adopted into the DEQ budget, the response from other members gives me reason to be hopeful that it will be reconsidered later in the budget process.
In looking at the DEQ’s response to PFAS contamination and the Flint water crisis, it is evident that there were people within the department who attempted to raise the alarm earlier. If those voices had been heeded, many more people would have been protected from drinking contaminated water. I offered an amendment to the DEQ budget to set up a tip line so that DEQ employees can report concerns directly and anonymously to the Legislature, but the amendment was not adopted.
Finally, I offered an amendment to increase the DEQ’s enforcement budget four-fold if the Part 201 contaminant cleanup criteria are not updated by the end of this year. Part 201 is a list of more than 300 chemical contaminants that are subject to environmental cleanup standards. Those standards have not been updated in decades, and the department is well past the 2013 deadline to update them to reflect best available science. The new standards have been stalled for years by industry obstructionism. I wanted to offer an amendment to try and force the DEQ to finally comply with state law and update the standards. But, knowing that it is in fact polluters blocking the change, I wanted to make sure the consequences for inaction did not further harm the DEQ’s enforcement ability. Instead, my amendment would hit the same interests who are obstructing the update with stricter enforcement of the current standards and more resources for the DEQ to act. If we can’t implement the update in a timely fashion, the least we can do is give the DEQ the resources to enforce the current rules rigorously. However, the subcommittee did not adopt the amendment.
Summer18 Offers Opportunities for Youth, Local Businesses
Summer18 is a program providing job training and paid employment to young people ages 16 to 24 for 10 weeks over the summer. Local businesses can sign up to provide summer jobs paying $10-$12 an hour. Last year, 80 businesses participated. Summer18 is a joint project of the University of Michigan, Michigan Works!, and Washtenaw County.
Apply quickly if you’re interested. Applications for youth are due by March 30, and for participating employers April 3. More information is available at www.DoMoreSummer18.com