Bill forgiving snow days lands on Whitmer’s desk

Michigan Capitol, Jan. 28, 2019 | Michael Gerstein

Many Michigan schools moved closer on Thursday to getting relief from the state over snow days called due to the state’s days of wicked winter weather earlier this year.

The state Senate advanced House Bill 4206 sponsored by state Rep. Ben Frederick (R-Owosso) with immediate effect. The legislation forgives four snow days for school districts when the state was under a state of emergency due to snow and cold temperatures in late January and early February.

Susan J. Demas

The state House passed the bill Wednesday on a party-line vote and the legislation will now head to the desk of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Existing state law generally allows school districts to miss up to six days due to inclement weather and other emergencies without extending the school year. Districts can seek waivers for additional days. Frederick’s bill forgives the four days when the state was under a state of emergency.

The seemingly banal bill had become something of a political football this week as Senate Democrats on Tuesday denied the legislation immediate effect. The move essentially made the legislation useless for school districts as the law wouldn’t take effect for 90 days, well into the summer break.

Democrats in both chambers had concerns that the legislation lacked assurances that hourly workers would be paid for the lost days. Denying immediate effect presented them an opportunity to negotiate in the hopes of adding that language, which was ultimately unsuccessful.

Jim Ananich | Michigan Municipal League, Flickr

State Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) said he believes many districts will still cover pay for those days.

“Obviously, there was more we wanted, but we got some changes made,” Ananich told reporters following the vote on Thursday. “And we thought it was more important to make sure schools had an understanding of when they’re going to be over.”

Still, Ananich acknowledged that there was a level of political gamesmanship to the procedural move. Democrats flipped five seats in the upper chamber in the 2018 election, giving them a bit more power than they’ve had since 2010, before slipping into a super-minority.

Ananich told reporters they intend to use it to work with Republicans to improve legislation.

“I think we want to show that we’re going to work together to get things out of here, or it’s going to be a long four years,” he told reporters. “And I think we showed that and I think we’ll continue to show that on really important issues that matter.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaking at the Detroit Chamber of Commerce, March 14, 2019 | Ken Coleman

The Michigan Education Association urged Whitmer to act quickly in signing the legislation.

“With only a month left in the school year, everyone involved deserves certainty, especially after long legislative negotiations on this issue,” said MEA President Paula Herbart. “We encourage Gov. Whitmer to quickly sign this legislation so schools and families can finalize their plans, both in terms of schedules and finances. Many students – and educators – have jobs to start immediately when school ends and have been patiently waiting for this legislation to pass.”

A Whitmer spokesperson did not immediately respond to a question about the governor’s plan for the bill.

For his part, state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) praised the final product and said it gives school districts “options” and “clarity” about when they’ll wrap up their school year.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey | Senate GOP photo

Moreover, Shirkey told reporters that the legislation stands as a prime example of the uncertainty that can sometimes appear during the legislative process.

“What you just witnessed this week is the magic and the marvel of the legislative process that sometimes is unpredictable, but very often just comes together,” Shirkey said. “And so I’m just happy to be part of it.”

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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