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Whitmer puts abortion, clean energy, paid leave on fall agenda

 Governor Gretchen Whitmer delivers an address outlining what she’d like to see next from the Legislature.<br/>
Colin Jackson
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivers an address outlining what she’d like to see next from the Legislature. (Photo: Colin Jackson/MPRN)

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer put abortion rights, a clean energy plan and guaranteed paid worker leave on her agenda for the Legislature’s fall session that begins next week.

The governor outlined her priorities Wednesday in a special address.

The governor stepped away from the confines of the Michigan Capitol to a less formal venue — a downtown Lansing food hall and social gathering spot — to deliver what was essentially a second State of the State address.

“We have a lot more good work to do and only a few months before the new year,” she told the crowd of Democratic lawmakers and guests. “We see what’s next so let’s work together and get it done.”

The governor is working with slim Democratic majorities that have already pushed through a long list of priorities in this session. The governor says the final months of the year are not the time to let up. “How do we take Michigan to the next level?” she said. “How do we compete to win the future? How do we help anyone and everyone make it in Michigan?”

Reproductive rights were first on her list as she called for the Legislature to repeal abortion laws still on the books, despite the passage of Proposal 3 last year.

“Let’s protect the freedom to make your own decisions without interference from politicians and let’s get it done,” she said.

Dr. Sarah Wallett with Planned Parenthood of Michigan says repealing those laws is necessary to give full effect to Michigan’s voter-approved reproductive rights amendment. She says the alternative is potentially lengthy court battles to test the constitutionality of each Michigan abortion law.

“These laws should be repealed,” she told Michigan Public Radio. “There’s no reason that they need to be on the books. They don’t make the care safer. They don’t help patients. They make it harder and continue to endorse stigma around abortion.”

Wallett said abortion providers and women seeking abortion care are still operating under statutes that require women to view renderings of fetuses and then wait 24 hours. She said state-mandated counseling services can be used to steer women away from abortions.

The anti-abortion rights group Right to Life of Michigan issued a statement saying what Whitmer’s calling for extends beyond what’s required by Proposal 3. “Governor Whitmer is wildly out of step with Michiganders as she works to push through the most extreme anti-life agenda this state has ever seen,” said Right to Life of Michigan President Barbara Listing.

In her speech, Whitmer also called on the Legislature to send her bills to require employers to offer paid medical leave, and to create a prescription drug affordability board.

“Nobody should have to make impossible choices between getting better and paying the bills,” she said.

Whitmer also said the state should move toward a 100 percent renewable energy plan. She said that includes making it easier to get permits for clean energy projects.

"We can protect our natural resources and produce energy cheaper,” she said. “We can bring supply chains home and lower costs for families.”

Some of Whitmer’s proposals have already been introduced as bills. Some are still being developed. But Democratic leaders said the plan is to get to work on getting legislation moving.

“Obviously [the plan includes] the things that need to happen in the Legislature to get a very good product out of each chamber and to the governor’s desk,” said Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids). “So you’ll see hearings. You’ll see stakeholder engagement. You’ll see a lot of great conversations about these.”

They were in short supply, but a few Republican lawmakers showed up for the address.

State Rep. Phil Green (R-Waterton Township) sits on the House Appropriations Committee. Green said he was intrigued by some of what he heard about reigning in health care costs, but was otherwise not impressed.

“I’ve often said if you really want to screw something up, have the state government get involved and here we are injecting it into every area of our life,” he said. “When we flip a switch, we’re going to have more of Lansing.”

The Legislature’s Democratic majorities are thin — two votes each in the House and the Senate.

Every vote will count so Whitmer and the Democratic leadership will have to hold their members together and maybe attract some Republicans to accomplish their goals in the remaining months of the session.

Copyright 2023 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit Michigan Radio.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.