Bills you may have missed: SOS wait times, oil subsidies and horse-drawn carriage crackdowns 

Mackinac Island | Susan J. Demas

Ahead of the Legislature’s rapidly approaching hunting break, here is this week’s Michigan Advance roundup of noteworthy recent legislation you may have missed.

Regulating horse-drawn vehicles

State Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R–Clarklake) and state Sens. Curtis VanderWall (R-Ludington) and Jim Stamas (R-Midland) have introduced Senate Bills 642-644 to place more regulations on horse-drawn carriages, coaches and buggies in Michigan.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey at the Mackinac Policy Conference, May 30, 2019 | Andrew Roth

Notably, one of the bills seems to make an exception for horse-drawn vehicles on Mackinac Island, which has banned non-emergency vehicles on the island since the late 1890s. (Vice President Mike Pence’s motorcade during the recent Michigan GOP conference on the island caused quite a stir).

Senate Bill 642 was introduced by Shirkey and would require registration for horse-drawn vehicles. It further stipulates that individuals in control of the “vehicle” must carry the registration with them at all times, or face a civil infraction for not doing so.

VanderWall’s bill, Senate Bill 643, would require front, rear and warning lights for horse-drawn vehicles operating on public roads. The proposed legislation would make it illegal to not have such lights illuminated on the horse-drawn vehicle during conditions of low visibility, insufficient light, heavy traffic and in posted work zones. The penalties for noncompliance would include a civil infraction and a fine of up to $200.

Sen. Curt VanderWall | Laina G. Stebbins

A section of VanderWall’s bill which seems to carve out an exception for Mackinac Island reads: “This section does not apply to an animal-drawn vehicle operated on a highway or street situated on state park lands where the use of motor vehicles, except for the use of vehicles owned by this state, a political subdivision of this state, or a public utility, is not permitted.”

The last bill, Senate Bill 644, introduced by Stamas, would amend the Michigan vehicle code to prohibit the use of metal tires by animal-drawn vehicles (and other kinds of vehicles) on roadways.

The legislation also prohibits vehicles from operating on a highway if their tires have materials besides rubber sticking out of the tread. This section would not apply to ice and snow treads on tires, or for agricultural vehicle tires as long as they would “not injure a highway.” 

All three bills were introduced and subsequently referred to the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Thursday.

Secretary of State office, Lansing | Susan J. Demas

Shorter lines at the SOS

A bill proposed by state Rep. Matt Maddock (R-Milford) seeks to reduce “long and unacceptable lines” at Secretary of State (SOS) offices across Michigan in what appears to be a thinly veiled shot at Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

The Democrat ran on a 30-minute guarantee, but her office has been dealing with computer system problems and customer complaints. Michigan Republican Party Chair Laura Cox has criticized Benson over these issues.

Maddock’s bill, HB 5171, would designate certain financial institutions in the state as eligible to offer some services that currently only an SOS branch office can provide. The proposed legislation has 21 GOP co-sponsors.

Benson: No regrets on 30-minute Secretary of State office guarantee

“Services that taxpayers need, due to our own state regulations, should be provided quickly, and either online or at a location [that is] convenient” Maddock said in a statement.

The services that would be offered at other institutions would include the renewal of a vehicle registration and the renewal of an operator’s license.

Rep. Matt Maddock | Nick Manes

“When dealing with their own state government, our citizens must often go to an inconvenient location, make an appointment weeks in advance, or stand in a long line — lines that only have gotten longer lately. … Government shouldn’t be this painful,” he said.

The financial institutions that would be eligible to carry out SOS functions include state or national banks, and state or federally chartered savings and loan associations, savings banks, credit unions or other regulated lending institution.

Although the legislation is aimed at long lines at the SOS, an email announcing Maddock’s bill included an attached press release erroneously labeled as a “DMV,” or Department of Motor Vehicles, bill. Michigan does not have such a department.

Maddock’s bill was referred to the House Transportation Committee on Oct. 29.

Benson addresses SOS customer service problems

Oil and gas subsidies

Senate Bill 634, introduced by state Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), seeks to end $4 million in subsidies for oil and gas companies by increasing the fee for regulating oil and gas in the state.

The Michigan Oil and Gas Program, which monitors and ensures the compliance of oil and gas wells with state regulations, is funded by a “surveillance fee” on production that is currently capped at 1%. Irwin’s bill would increase that cap to 2%, with the hope of taking the burden off Michigan taxpayers by restoring the funding to its original design.

The state’s Oil and Gas program has faced funding shortages since oil prices dropped significantly in 2014. This has led to the program depending on an annual General Fund allotment of $4 million from the Legislature.

“Michigan taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing oil and gas companies,” Irwin said in a statement, adding that SB 634 “will free up $4 million dollars every year to be used on other budget priorities like schools, roads, or mental health.

“This change also allows the Michigan Oil and Gas Program to focus on protecting public health, safety, and the environment without having to ask the taxpayers every year for a bailout,” Irwin said.

The state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) manages the Oil and Gas program. According to ELGE, there are approximately 60,000 oil and gas wells drilled in Michigan to date.

Irwin’s bill was referred to the Senate Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday.