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Latest from Lansing: Democrats expect negotiations on economic bills, committees take shape

  The Michigan Capitol building in Lansing.
Emma Winowiecki
Michigan Radio
The Michigan Capitol building in Lansing.

Committee assignments are now posted in the Michigan Senate. The update allows lawmakers to start dealmaking and holding hearings on their first bills of the session. It also names who will guide the state through its budget-writing process.

Senator Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) is part of his chamber's leadership. He said the assignments mean his caucus is ready to take the reins after decades of Republican control.

“Many of us have been in the wings waiting for a while, serving as vice chairs or serving on these committees for several years. So, this is an opportunity for us to actually now take the gavels, set the agenda,” Moss said.

One of the changes Democrats made to the committees include folding what was previously Advice and Consent into the Government Operations Committee that seldom met last session. Democrats also did away with the old Judiciary and Public Safety Committee in lieu of a new one on Civil Rights, Judiciary, and Public Safety and expanded the oversight committee.

Some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who helped lead committees last session will serve elsewhere this time around.

“I think that our members are pretty satisfied. I don’t think that you need to read into who has served on what committees on the past,” Moss said. “We have a long runway now to serve here. In fact, members elected to the Senate today, some of them can serve 12 years.”

On the House side, Speaker Joe Tate’s (D-Detroit) office announced committee chairs but not full rosters.

Some notable new announcements include Representative Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth) as chair of the Education Committee. Newly elected Rep. Erin Byrnes (D-Dearborn) will take the gavel in Ethics and Oversight.

“Our caucus members bring diverse skillsets and experiences to the law-making process. Their collective knowledge and passion are an asset to Michigan residents,” Tate said in a press release.

House Republicans, however, are accusing Tate of choosing partisanship in his broader committee picks. They say a list Republicans received shows several of their recommended committee assignments went ignored.

That includes for Rep. Andrew Beeler (R-Port Huron), who had a brief standoff with Tate Wednesday over who would get to introduce the first bill of the session. Traditionally the Speaker gets to decide but Beeler stayed overnight in the Capitol hoping to get ahead in line.

Minority Leader Matt Hall accused Democrats of retaliation.

“Now is the time to get to work to help the people of Michigan, but House Democrats would rather play partisan games. They stacked committees with more of their own members, and they’ve gone to new extremes by rejecting so many of House Republicans’ committee recommendations,” Hall said in a press release.

Amber McCann is press secretary for Tate. “Committee is a forum for respectful debate and discussion and some representatives made clear they are most focused on partisan games and division,” she said by text in response to Hall's comments.

As far as legislation goes, Wednesday brought the public’s first peak at bill language filed on the first day of session.

Democrats in the House and Senate filed several overlapping bills, with the first in both the House and Senate appearing to be a mirror copy to phase out taxes on retirement and pension income.

“Responsible Michiganders who have saved and planned for their retirement for their entire lives should not see their fixed incomes reduced. It is time to eliminate this unfair tax burden heaped upon Michigan’s retirees,” Rep. Angela Witwer (D-Delta Twp) said in a press release.

House Republicans introduced their own tax plan for retirees. They said the Democrats’ proposal would unfairly benefit former public employees while their plan would benefit more seniors overall. The Republican bill involves across-the-board cuts, depending on age.

During a press conference to highlight Democrats’ economic agenda, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer stressed no bill has reached its final form.

"I anticipate that you’ve seen bills that are variations that have been introduced in each chamber. There will be a lot of negotiation and a lot of steps along the way and certainly that conversation will continue," Whitmer said.

Another proposal Democrats are heralding is bills to increase the state’s version of the federal earned income tax credit that offers breaks to low- and middle-income workers.

The state currently provides a supplement equivalent to 6% of the federal credit.

Differences exist between all three proposals introduced.

A House Democrat bill would raise Michigan’s earned income tax credit to 20% of the federal level. The House Republican plan is similar, with the credit being retroactive so residents could claim it on this year’s tax filings.

A Senate version is sponsored by Sen. Kristen McDonald Rivet (D-Bay City), who said her plan would raise the credit to 30%. She cited high inflation in explaining why her number was higher than in competing bills.

“I cannot imagine [an] ideology that would say, ‘Let’s not do this now. Let’s lower this number.’ Thirty percent is — the difference of that is small when you consider what the state surplus looks like right now,” she said when asked if the House could get on board for a higher expansion.

Other bills read in Thursday include a Senate proposal to move up the state’s presidential primary date and tax credits dealing with the sale of agricultural equipment.

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