LANSING — As lawmakers break for the holidays, Northern Michigan legislators are sharing their highlights and frustrations of the 2023 term.
The year began with Democrats retaking control of the full state government for the first time since the 1980s. Knowing that their time in power could be limited, lawmakers had no shortage of priorities they hoped to address in the subsequent months.
Rep. Betsy Coffia, a member of the slim 56-member Democratic majority, had a host of policies she was proud to have played a role in passing — providing no-cost breakfast and lunch for K-12 students, repealing the state’s pension tax, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, expanding the use of Brownfield redevelopment funds for housing and establishing a crime victim bill of rights.
Coffia, D-Traverse City, said she was also proud of the work she’s been able to do helping her constituents directly, saying that her office had received over 10,000 calls and emails over the last 11 months.
“It’s been a busy year — there’s lots more work to do,” she said. Coffia highlighted the amount of bipartisan measures that ended up being passed, saying that around 75% of the nearly 200 bills passed by the House had some amount of bipartisan support.
But Republican members of the House, now in the minority for the first time since 2010, were still dissatisfied with the session overall;
Rep. Dave Prestin, R-Cedar River, took issue with energy and climate policies passed by Democratic lawmakers on party-line votes. He said new measures mandating 100% clean energy production were “probably the most aggressive in the United States right now.”
“Michigan is literally a decimal point on the global scheme — what do we think we’re trying to solve here?” he asked. Prestin also continued to echo displeasure with a policy to shift final authority over large-scale solar and wind projects from local authorities to a governor-appointed board.
Rep. Tom Kunse, R-Clare, called the energy measures “feel-good” policies and took issue with the repeal of the state’s “right-to-work” law, a policy that allowed employees in unionized workplaces to opt out of membership.
“You have the freedom to associate with whoever you want, or you have the freedom to not associate with whoever you want,” Kunse said, adding that it was “unamerican” to for policymakers to act otherwise.
Kunse said that many politicians were acting on matters of private business without having been involved in the sector themselves. He expected the policy to remain a fierce point of contention in the coming years.
Kunse also highlighted a few bipartisan policies he was proud of passing, including a measure that allows retired teachers to reenter the workforce faster following their retirement.
One thing that the lawmakers agreed on is their dissatisfaction with the laws passed to enact Proposal One, a constitutional amendment overwhelmingly approved by voters that would require lawmakers to file public annual financial disclosures. Each of the lawmakers, all of whom are in their first elected term, voted against or abstained from the package.
“There are a lot of things in the Lansing political culture that have become normalized that are really not okay,” Coffia said. “I was one of the more vocal folks when it came to expanding and going as big as we could on Proposal One and I was really disappointed that we kind of did the bare minimum.”
Kunse, following the package’s late night passage in early November, said that he was “disappointed but not surprised.”
Kunse remained optimistic for more stringent measures in the future and was glad that the discussion had opened up more bipartisan channels of communication.
Prestin said that lawmakers were simply “checking the boxes” with the requirements established by the package.
“There was bipartisan support against it and we still couldn’t kill it,” he said with a laugh. The bills in the package each passed 61-47 and 62-46 with a hodgepodge of bipartisan support and opposition.