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Michigan House Speaker: Big work got done before Legislature gaveled out this year

House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit): “We’ve got a lot of work to do” as the Legislature convenes for its fall 2023 session.
Rick Pluta
Michigan Public Radio Network
House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit): “We’ve got a lot of work to do” as the Legislature convenes for its fall 2023 session.

The Legislature is done for the year, wrapping up a historic session where Democrats were in charge for the first time in a very long time. In fact, it’s been four decades since Democrats have controlled the Michigan House and Senate.

Michigan Public Radio’s Rick Pluta sat down with House Speaker Joe Tate to talk about what got done over the past year and what’s waiting for lawmakers when they return.

Rick Pluta: The 2023 session was consequential with Democrats rolling back some abortion restrictions, enacting tougher gun laws and repealing the state’s right-to-work law — a controversial law adopted under Republican control that allowed workers to opt out of paying union dues. In the final days of the session, the House Democrats also adopted clean energy bills. Speaker Joe Tate says that wasn’t easy but it was important to get done before the session gaveled out.

Joe Tate: “And that puts us leaps and bounds in terms of making sure that we are playing our rile in terms of environmental stewardship and focused on the future with new technologies for energy.”

Pluta: The energy bills, still waiting on Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s signature, set a goal of generating pretty much all the state’s electricity via wind, solar and other renewable sources by 2040. Another bill would move Michigan’s presidential primary closer to the front of the calendar in an effort to make the state more influential in choosing the nominees.

Tate: “So I think that was incredibly important for us because we are just a reflection of the entire country and we should be proud of that.”

Pluta: All of those bills were adopted on party-line or close-to-party-line votes. The Democrats’ House majority for most of this session was a very slim two votes. That changed last month after two House Democrats won local offices and the House is now evenly divided 54 to54.

That makes a difference when it comes to when laws take effect. Without super-majority votes, the Michigan Constitution says new laws don’t take effect until 90 days after the end of the session for the year. That’s why the Legislature adjourned in mid-November instead of carrying on until mid-December.

Tate: “So we’re at a point where we’ve been able to do significant things, but we have to make sure it gets to Michigan residents as soon as possible.”

Pluta: Democrats repealed Michigan’s 1931 law that banned most abortions after voters approved a reproductive rights amendment last year. But scrubbing abortion restrictions from the books — such as the ban on the use of Medicaid funds — stalled.

Question to Tate: “Can you get more abortion legislation, lifting abortion restrictions, abortion access legislation, out of the House next year?”

Tate: “I think there’s certainly an appetite for it. Just in terms of what that’s going to look like next year, we’re going to see. But there’s certainly going to continue to be an interest as we look at abortion rights, reproductive health, being able to lower those barriers.”

Pluta: There is also the question of what’s to be done vis-a-vis changes made to Michigan’s auto insurance law that was supposed to make coverage more affordable. Accident survivors and caregivers say the results of that law have come at a steep cost for people who lost professional, round-the-clock medical care.

Question to Tate: “Would you characterize the changes that were made to the law as a success?”

Tate: “I think so, I think — did they, I don’t think they — no policy’s perfect at the end of the day. I think there’s still work that needs to be done.”

Pluta: Tate says the House insurance committee will work on bills that have been sent over from the Senate with a goal of having some solutions before the end of next year.

The two vacancies in the House will be filled in special elections. That process will probably take months. Both districts are decidedly Democratic, so it’s likely the Democrats’ House majority will be restored sometime this spring.

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.