Dems tick off ‘nearly everything’ on Whitmer’s to-do list

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at a press conference on Feb. 13 in Romulus. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

By Kyle Kaminski

November 16, 2023

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office is billing this year’s state Legislature among the most productive in history after Democratic lawmakers passed bills on “nearly everything” the governor outlined in her last State of the State address.

MICHIGAN—During this year’s State of the State address, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer laid out an ambitious plan for the Michigan House and Senate after record-breaking voter turnout helped lead to Democrats seizing majority control in the state Legislature for the first time in decades.

The annual speech served as an opportunity for Whitmer to outline her administration’s top priorities for 2023—and it included policies designed to bolster resources for public schools and children, provide tax relief for parents and families, expand civil rights protections, and more.

“Michiganders compete with an underdog spirit, and (we) carry ourselves with championship swagger,” Whitmer told lawmakers during the speech in January. “No challenge is too tough.”

And this week, after nearly a full year of legislative action, that “swagger” is on full display as Whitmer’s office celebrates “one of the most productive” legislative terms to date, and lawmakers adjourn early to accommodate an earlier presidential primary election in February.

“With Governor Whitmer’s leadership and a new Democratic majority, this legislative term has been one of the most productive in state history,” Stacey LaRouche, Whitmer’s press secretary, told The ‘Gander on Wednesday. “The governor has accomplished nearly everything she laid out in her State of the State address earlier this year…The legislature’s actions means bills will be enacted sooner, allowing Michiganders to reap the benefits of a historically productive legislative session ahead of schedule. The governor looks forward to continuing this momentum in the next legislative session to deliver on these kitchen table issues for Michiganders.”

State lawmakers typically adjourn for the year in December, but on Tuesday voted to end the legislative session a few weeks early—a strategic move to help ensure a new state law goes into effect in time to bump up Michigan’s presidential primary election from March to February.

Even with the early break, lawmakers reportedly still ended up being in session for a few weeks longer than last year—and they aren’t leaving for the year without a few things to show for it.

Among them: More than $1 billion in tax cuts for Michiganders, thousands of new jobs across the state, the biggest investment in public schools to date, expanded workers’ rights and reproductive freedoms, new civil rights protections, additional funding for law enforcement, legislation to help curb gun violence, and a renewed statewide focus on clean energy.

“Michiganders elected the first Democratic trifecta in 40 years with a call for action, and I’m so proud of how we have responded to that call by delivering in big ways for our residents,” Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) told The ‘Gander. “People want their government to be efficient, effective, and responsive to their concerns, and I believe we have done just that by setting a new bar for both quality and volume of legislative accomplishments.”

Here’s a quick overview of some of the ways state lawmakers are helping Michiganders:

Tax Relief

Two tax reforms signed into law this year are poised to put $1.6 billion back into Michiganders’ pockets—and the legislation couldn’t have had a more appropriate name: “Lowering MI Costs.” The primary goal, Whitmer has said, is to help Michiganders pay bills and put food on the table.

Dems tick off ‘nearly everything’ on Whitmer’s to-do list

Legislation to roll back the retirement tax is also set to take effect in February—and it’s expected to save a half-million households an average of $1,000 a year, according to state estimates.

Additionally, quintupling the state’s Working Families Tax Credit to 30% of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit is set to save about 700,000 Michiganders about $3,150 next tax season.

Economic Growth

Since January, Whitmer has announced hundreds of millions of dollars in state economic development grants and other tax incentives that have helped entice dozens of big-name companies (like Ford and Home Depot) to plant roots or expand their operations in Michigan.

The governor now labels the last few years as the “best economic recovery in Michigan history,” with the state now tracking its lowest unemployment rate in 23 years, and a workforce that is growing faster than just about everywhere else in the country, according to recent reports.

The rapid growth this year was also enough to make Michigan the top state in the nation for electric vehicle and battery investments and energy job growth, as well as the future home of what Newsweek has labeled as America’s “next Silicon Valley” for mobility innovations.

State officials have credited Michigan’s rapid economic growth, in part, to Whitmer’s new “Make it in Michigan” economic development strategy, which her administration unveiled this summer and has since translated into legislative action to lure more developments into Michigan.

Reproductive Freedom

An unenforceable abortion ban from 1931 is set to be erased from state law after Whitmer signed legislation to repeal the archaic statute in April—effectively cementing reproductive freedoms for Michiganders that voters supported when they passed Proposal 3 last year.

Dems tick off ‘nearly everything’ on Whitmer’s to-do list

The package of bills formally repealed the nearly 100-year-old statute that criminalized abortion in Michigan. It also aligned state law with the newly amended State Constitution under Proposal 3—a citizen-led initiative for reproductive rights that passed with 57% of the vote last year.

In doing so, Michigan officially became the 10th state to protect reproductive freedoms and ensure its residents have access to safe, legal abortion after Roe v. Wade was overturned.

And this month, with the passage of the Reproductive Health Act, Democratic state lawmakers voted to repeal several “medically unnecessary” restrictions on abortion providers—all with the overarching goal of protecting and expanding access to care for more Michiganders statewide.

Clean Energy

Long-awaited legislation passed by the state House and Senate this month is set to create new clean energy standards for electricity providers in Michigan, requiring them to source most—and eventually all—of their energy through renewable sources over the next 17 years.

In addition to helping tackle the climate change crisis and protect the environment, Democratic lawmakers said the bills would also create new energy efficiency programs that will translate to savings for Michiganders who are frustrated with the ever-rising cost of their energy bills.

Public Schools

This year, Democratic lawmakers passed (and Whitmer signed) a $82 billion budget that included a historic $24 billion investment in Michigan’s public schools—including a 5% increase in per-pupil funding for public school districts and an extra $200 million for at-risk students.

The latest budget also included $255 million to fund a universal pre-K proposal that would provide free preschool, hire more teachers, and fund transportation for the state’s 5,600 4-year-olds. The budget also set aside $160 million to provide free breakfast and lunch for all students, making Michigan the fourth state to do so and saving the average family $850 a year.

Dems tick off ‘nearly everything’ on Whitmer’s to-do list

In March, Whitmer also signed a bill to repeal a controversial state law that for years has punished Michigan students who fall behind more than one grade level in reading and writing by forcing them to repeat the third grade. And this month, she signed legislation to make long-sought changes to the way teachers are evaluated based on student test scores.

Whitmer also signed three bills into law last month known as the “Filter First Bills,” which will require Michigan schools and child care centers to install water filters on faucets and conduct routine testing for potential lead contamination in their drinking water. The new laws reportedly make Michigan the first state in the nation to impose testing requirements of this kind.

Workers’ Rights

Michigan, long known as a mainstay of organized labor, this year became the first state in decades to restore workers’ rights after Democrats repealed a union-restricting law known as “right-to-work” that was passed over a decade ago by a Republican-controlled Legislature.

Dems tick off ‘nearly everything’ on Whitmer’s to-do list

The state’s “right-to-work” law had allowed those in unionized workplaces to opt out of paying union dues and fees. Its repeal was celebrated across Michigan as a major victory for organized labor—especially after union membership had reached an all-time low last year.

Union leaders have said the change strengthened their bargaining power against corporations and will lead to better pay and benefits for workers—much like the six-week strike did for United Auto Workers union members who reached tentative contracts with the Detroit Three this year.

Civil Rights

This year, Whitmer signed a bill to expand the state’s civil rights law to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression—marking a formal end to a decades-long battle to cement civil rights protections in Michigan for the LGBTQ community.

Dems tick off ‘nearly everything’ on Whitmer’s to-do list

Michigan’s civil rights act already prohibited discrimination in employment, housing, and public services based on religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, or marital status. The new amendments were designed to curb discrimination for the nearly two-thirds of LGBTQ individuals who report experiencing discrimination in their everyday lives.

Over the summer, Democratic lawmakers took those protections a step further with legislation to protect workers from employment discrimination if they had an abortion. In May, Whitmer also signed Democratic-led bills that effectively banned mental health providers in Michigan from offering any therapy that attempts to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of children.

Another package of bills signed into law last month will cement aspects of the Affordable Care Act into state law and help ensure all Michiganders keep access to their healthcare coverage—as well as avoid discrimination based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Gun Violence Prevention

In the wake of a deadly mass shooting this year at Michigan State University, Democratic lawmakers have also passed (and Whitmer has signed into law) several common-sense gun safety bills—including legislation that will create new requirements for universal background checks before guns can be purchased in Michigan and added safe storage requirements.

Dems tick off ‘nearly everything’ on Whitmer’s to-do list

State Rep. Brenda Carter, D-Pontiac, left, and State Sen. Rosemary Bayer, D-Keego Harbor, join hands during a news conference to call for gun reform, Monday, Feb. 20, 2023, in Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

Additional legislation expected to be signed into law by Whitmer later this year will also prohibit those convicted of domestic violence from owning or possessing a firearm for eight years.

Statistics show nearly half of all women murdered in the United States were killed by a current or former intimate partner, and because domestic violence almost always escalates in the severity of abuse, Democratic lawmakers believe the legislation will inevitably save more lives.

Those laws are set to go into effect in February 2024.

In the meantime, Whitmer’s latest state budget included an extra $500 million for public safety programs across Michigan—like ongoing violence intervention initiatives to help address the root cause of violence, and more dedicated resources to train and retain local first responders.

Whitmer’s renewed focus on curbing crime is also paying dividends for Michigan.

Authorities reported a new milestone last month in their efforts to get more illegal guns off the streets and out of the hands of those who cannot legally possess them: So far, more than 500 illegal guns (and plenty of drugs and ammo) have been taken off the streets as part of Whitmer’s “Operation Safe Neighborhoods” plan to help curb rising rates of gun violence.

Infrastructure

Whitmer’s administration, as promised, has been focused on “fixing the damn roads”—as well as the state’s bridges, pipes, housing, and all other kinds of infrastructure—throughout 2023.

Dems tick off ‘nearly everything’ on Whitmer’s to-do list

By the end of this year, state officials said they will have fixed, repaired, or replaced more than 20,000 lane miles of road and 1,400 bridges since Whitmer took office in 2018. Those projects have not led to a direct tax increase, and they’ve also directly supported more than 90,000 jobs.

The latest $82 billion state budget also invested hundreds of millions of dollars in other infrastructure projects—including nearly $600 million for clean water infrastructure, building out the high-speed charging network needed to support the transition to electric vehicles, and other investments designed to promote the expansion of high-speed internet across the state.

READ MORE: Michigan Dems rally to support military veterans

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Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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