Legislative Leadership: A Major Opportunity for Northern Michigan Business

Petoskey_Speaker Leadership event Jan 2019
(From L-R) Kent Wood, Alliance Government Relations Director; David Miller, Cadillac Area Chamber; Sarah Hagen, Charlevoix Area Chamber; State Senator Wayne Schmidt, Assistant Senate Majority Leader; Rep. Lee Chatfield, Speaker of the House; Rep. Triston Cole, House Majority Floor Leader; Carlin Smith, Petoskey Regional Chamber; Craig Simmons, Petoskey Chamber Gov’t Relations Chair

The 2018 statewide election brought change and ushered in new leadership in the Michigan House and Senate. Northern Michigan is poised to be one of the major beneficiaries of that leadership change with four regional members in significant leadership roles.

Speaker of the House – Representative Lee Chatfield (107th District)

House Majority Floor Leader – Representative Triston Cole (105th District)

Senate Appropriations Chair – Senator Jim Stamas (36th District)

Senate Assistant Majority Leader – Senator Wayne Schmidt (37th District)

Legislative leaders, especially the House Speaker and Senate Majority Leader, have broad powers in the Michigan legislature. Their position allows them authority over who serves on which committees, committee chairs, what bills are brought up for a vote (if at all), and to which committee bills are sent.

Good leaders will also rely on their leadership team – which includes the Speaker Pro-Tempore, Floor Leader, and Whip, including the Appropriations chair and other committee chairs.  These individuals are often referred to as being “around the leadership table,” meaning they key advisors during the House and Senate leadership’s decision making process.

As new northern Michigan Speaker Chatfield remarked recently about why legislative leadership and advocacy is important: “if you aren’t at the table, you’re on the menu. Northern Michigan should be well represented at the [legislative leadership] table.”

In order to take full advantage, business advocates from northern Michigan must stay active and vigilant. Regional advocates need to continue to talk about the challenges that businesses face in our regional setting – including business and infrastructure in rural towns and small cities.

You can help by contacting these leaders – and your individual legislators – and talk about the importance of rural solutions to overcome the barriers to talent and economic development in rural areas.

Where Did We Provide The Most Value In 2018?

The 2017-2018 legislative session wrapped up in torrid, historic fashion. Over 400 bills, a state record, were passed and signed into law by the  time the Lame Duck session concluded and the 2017-18 Legislature came to a close on December 31st.

The Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance had a beefed-up presence during the 2018 Lame Duck session, with more staff time in Lansing, and the addition of Alliance lobbying partner Acuitas, LLC. “The presence in Lansing has an impact,” said Kent Wood, the Alliance’s Director of Government Relations. “It is so important when engaging in and leading on issues to have a presence in Lansing; to be seen. We spent more hours in Lansing during Lame Duck this year than ever before, and the results were evident.”   

The increased presence impacted issues such as the amendments and passage of key business-friendly changes to the Paid Sick Leave Mandate, stopping a bill to increase road salt prices and cost regional trucking and dock jobs, and passing legislation to strengthen the impact and transparency for CVBs in the region. Chamber efforts also were important in bringing $20 million for rural broadband grants, and $10 million for a regional sports commission to infuse sports and recreation infrastructure in the northern lower and upper peninsula.

Alliance advocacy over the last two years also led to significant changes in the Transformational Brownfield program legislation for small and rural communities. The legislation as originally introduced would not have been very usable in smaller communities because the job thresholds were too high. Alliance intervention and continued support led to pro-rural changes.

Alliance efforts over the past year also led to adding a rural business-centric voice and tone to ongoing issues. Alliance partners formally met with and engaged MSHDA leadership during the Agency’s Qualified Allocation Plan process, which determines the structure and rules for state housing incentives on a bi-annual basis. The Alliance did not get everything it asked for, but made progress and changing the tone of MSHDA leadership, and made progress on smaller requirement changes.

Our testimony and intervention also slowed down the direction of legislation to create a large special events fund that would have catered to large metro areas. This will allow the region to be in a better place to work with lawmakers on changes that will allow rural areas to compete for funding to help attract new events to the region, especially in the slower shoulder seasons and winter months.
There was a lot for northern Michigan business advocates to be proud of in 2018, but also much to improve in the 2019-2020 session. We hope you will contact the Alliance’s Government Relations Director at kentw@tcchamber.org to see how you can be an advocate today!

Need To Know: Changes To Paid Sick Leave Mandate and Minimum Wage Increase

In September 2018, Michigan legislators passed two initiatives that put employers on the edge of their seat. Suddenly, there were two new mandates for job providers to grapple with. One, an increase to the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour that also removed the tip earner wage. The second, a mandate for all employers to provide at least 40 hours of paid sick leave to all employees – full-time, part-time, interns, etc.

A series of significant changes to both proposals were enacted in December during the lame duck session of the Michigan Legislature.  The Chamber partners in the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance strongly urged lawmakers to consider a series of amendments that were more palatable for small business owners in rural Michigan. The Chamber also supported the efforts of statewide business organizations like the Michigan Chamber and SBAM in making general changes that were good for businesses and employers across the state.

Those efforts were successful, and below is a recap and information on the changes and timelines that employers should know.

Paid Sick Leave Mandate

Need To Know: Read the Analysis
Legislators approved massive changes to the very punitive initiative language that was passed in September, including most of the Chamber Alliance’s suggested changes. Perhaps the most significant change was amending the mandate for all employers and going instead with companies employing over 50 people – meaning all small businesses and employers less than 50 will no longer be subject to the mandate.

Employment attorney Janis Adams (a board member of the Traverse City Area Chamber) published an informative article in the January edition of the Traverse City Business News.

The Michigan Chamber also released a FAQ on the new paid sick leave law. Click here to Read FAQ. 

Minimum Wage

Need To Know: Read the Analysis
The legislature slowed the increase from $10.00 to $9.45 per hour in 2019, increasing incrementally to $12.05 per hour by 2030. Lawmakers also reinstated the special wage for tip earners (up to $4.58 by 2030) that restaurant owners and restaurant service workers alike were clamoring for. They believed that getting rid of the special wage would have a chilling effect on the amount of tips servers would bring in from restaurant patrons. Most of the time, when tips are included, servers make well above even the proposed $15 minimum wage.

What Does The Future Hold?
The saga may not be over, however. In January, organizers announced they would relaunch the ballot initiatives with the goal of putting them on the 2020 statewide ballot. Organizers believe new Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer will veto any future attempts at the legislature to amend the initiative language should the ballot proposal become law. While successful in these attempts to soften the blow for northern Michigan employers, this is a topic the Alliance will continue to follow.


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