Snyder riles up Right to Life, environmentalists with Lame Duck decisions

Wetland in Meridian Twp. | Susan J. Demas

Updated, 12/28, 11:30 p.m.

Gov. Rick Snyder today vetoed legislation backed by Right to Life of Michigan that would have permanently banned doctors from prescribing abortion pills over the phone.

“Fight for our Families” rally on Dec. 12. 2018 at the Michigan Capitol | Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan

The term-limited Republican has butted heads with anti-abortion forces before, as he’s often said he’s not focused on social issues, instead prioritizing business and economic concerns. He proved that, once again, in signing a bill that environmentalists opposed weakening cleanup standards.*

In what may be the busiest Lame Duck session ever, the GOP-led Legislature shot roughly 400 bills to his office. Today, Snyder signed a staggering 185 bills and vetoed 41 — rivaling the 52 bills he had deep-sixed in his first seven years of office.

Snyder signed bills expanding health care for sexual assault victims in the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal and limiting days fireworks can be used.  

Meanwhile, he shot down legislation that would have kept regulation of pet shops in the hands of local municipalities and another that expanded online gambling.

The governor also gave the thumbs down to two different pieces of legislation related to campaign finance laws and transparency, areas where the state is generally considered last in the country, according to watchdog groups.

Here is a roundup of notable bills Snyder signed:

Wetlands deregulation

Senate Bill 1211, sponsored by Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba), allows the logging and mining industries to fill and dredge wetlands without state oversight. The bill was significantly scaled back from its original version to win support from the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).*

A Department of Environmental contractor checks for PFAS contamination in 2017.
Environmental cleanup standards

In a rare move, 82 DEQ employees asked Snyder to veto legislation they said would present “unacceptable risks” to the public.

Senate Bill 1244, sponsored by state Sen. Jim Stamas (R-Midland), would require the DEQ to apply federal standards, rather than the current state criteria, at toxic waste cleanup sites. Adopting stricter criteria would require a drawn-out rule-making process, under the legislation.

School Aid Fund shift

House Bill 4991, sponsored by Rep. Ed Canfield (R-Sebewaing), over time shifts almost $200 million in new revenue from online sales taxes away from the state’s School Aid Fund to help fund roads and environmental cleanup. The legislation was crucial in getting a $1.3 billion “Christmas Tree” spending bill into final passage.

Nassar bills

Snyder also signed HB 4505, sponsored by Rep. Diana Farrington (R-Utica), and HB 4506, sponsored by Rep. Sue Allor (R-Wolverine), respectively, which aim to provide better access to examinations and health care for sexual assault survivors.

“Survivors of sexual assault deserve access to medical resources that will help them find healing and justice,” Snyder said in a statement. “These bills enhance access to medical forensic examinations and other critical health care services, and I’m proud that Michigan continues to strengthen support for survivors throughout our state.”

Fireworks limits
Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

House Bill 5939, sponsored by Rep. Jim Lilly (R-Park Twp.), allows local governments to have more power to regulate the days when fireworks could be set off than they do under the current law passed in 2011. The other bills signed in the package are HB 5940 and HB 5941.

Local governments are currently prohibited from further regulating fireworks on 30 days of the year. Under the new laws, that’s now down to just 12 days of the year.

Wielding the veto pen

The governor, who leaves office next week on Jan. 1 also showed willingness to use his veto pen on multiple pieces of legislation the last two days since the bill signings and vetoes began in full force.

Here are bills he vetoed:

Abortion telemedicine ban

Snyder vetoed SB 1198, also sponsored by Casperson, that would have prohibited a doctor from using a “telemedicine” diagnosis for abortions. This was set to expire at the end of the year and this bill would have made the ban permanent.

Snyder said he believes “providing patients with the ability to remotely receive safe and proper medical care, at a time-sensitive period for the patient, is significant. It was with this in mind that the bill was returned without signature.”

Online gambling
Wikimedia Commons

The governor vetoed House Bills 4926, 4927 and 4928, sponsored by Reps. Brandt Iden (R-Portage) and Klint Kesto (R-Commerce Twp.) that would have legalized online gambling through the state’s casinos.

Snyder said his veto was “largely due to unknown revenue implications and believes more study and comparison with other states is necessary before authorizing online gambling.”

Puppy mills

Snyder vetoed HB 5916 and 5917, both sponsored by Rep. Hank Vaupel (R-Fowlerville), that animal rights activists said would make it harder to regulate puppy mills — stores that sell dogs that are often born and bred in inhumane conditions.

Creative Commons

Snyder said in his veto letter that he believes those issues are purely local in nature and best left to local units of government to regulate.

Campaign finance violations

Snyder vetoed Senate Bill 1249, sponsored by Sen. Dave Robertson (R-Grand Blanc), which would have reduced the state’s statute of limitations for criminal violations of the state’s Campaign Finance Act from six years to five years, writing that “shortening the statute of limitations to five years results in minimal to no functional change.”

Questions about Robertson’s own campaign finance issues circulated during much of the Lame Duck session, as the Advance previously reported.

‘Dark money’ bill

Campaign finance watchdogs were also quick to cheer the governor’s decision to veto Senate Bill 1176. Sponsored by incoming Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), the bill would have made it a misdemeanor for a public official to disclose the donors to any nonprofit organization, including those political in nature.

“To the many people across the state who’ve asked me what there is to be optimistic about when it comes to the lack of transparency in Michigan politics, here’s a reason to be hopeful,” tweeted Craig Mauger, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, who had vocally opposed the legislation.

Of his decision to veto the legislation, Snyder wrote “that the broad prohibitions in this bill will impair the executive branch’s ability to protect donors.” Snyder, who has had his own problems with anonymous donors to a political nonprofit that he shut down in 2013,  noted “that he believes this legislation is a solution that is in search of a problem that doesn’t exist in Michigan.”

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect changes in the final version of wetlands legislation.

Nick Manes
Nick Manes covers West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels. His byline also has appeared in Route Fifty and The Daily Beast. When not reporting around the state or furiously tweeting, he enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, Krista, biking around his hometown of Grand Rapids and torturing himself rooting for the Detroit Lions.

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