After Plawecki controversy, GOP bill limits state highway honorary names

Detroit highway traffic | iStockphoto

A new bill could limit the naming of memorial highways to fallen military members, law enforcement officers, first responders and Congressional Medal of Honor awardees.

Jack O’Malley

The sponsor of House Bill 4784, House Transportation Chair Jack O’Malley (R-Lake Ann), said naming local roads after communities’ “favorite sons or daughters” should be left to local municipalities. O’Malley clarified that the proposed bill would limit the state highway-naming process to only honor individuals who had “died in service to state or community.”

The naming of state highways has suddenly become something of a politicized affair, despite being a historically bipartisan matter. 

In recent months, a section of M-10 in Detroit was named “Aretha L. Franklin Memorial Highway,” over the objections of a handful of GOP lawmakers and a portion of a Wayne County highway was named to honor Democratic former state Rep. Julie Plawecki, who died suddenly in 2016. 

6 Republicans vote against naming highway for Aretha Franklin

The Detroit News reported at the time of the Plawecki vote, a handful of Republicans who voted against the measure had voted in favor of naming a road after a deceased GOP colleague, former Rep. Pete Pettalia. 

Mark Polsdofer, a deputy state transportation commissioner and policy advisor for the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), testified in opposition to O’Malley’s bill. 

“By limiting the number of things that can be honored, this would close the opportunity. For example, if someone was the victim of a hate crime who the state of Michigan and those in a particular community would want to honor,” Polsdofer said. 

Former Rep. Julie Plawecki

Both the Franklin memorial highway bill and the Plawecki memorial highway bill passed through the legislation with strong bipartisan support, but both bills received opposition votes from a handful of conservative lawmakers. 

The only Transportation Committee member to vote against either of the controversial highway naming bills was Vice Chair Gary Eisen (R-St. Clair Twp.), who voted against the Plawecki bill. 

Currently there is a bill pending in the state Senate to rename a section of highway in Dearborn to honor the late U.S. Rep. John Dingell Jr., the longest-serving member of Congress in history who died in February of cancer.

The House Transportation Committee approved a substitution of the bill that would allow for the Plawecki and Dingell bills to proceed.

“This bill would not take effect until the end of this term, which would allow any bills currently passed through the House of Representatives to be taken up by the Senate,” O’Malley said. “Because there are a couple of those in the pipeline that I think, personally, should go through.”

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