Bills you may have missed: Clamping down on millage renewals, banning fossil fuels 

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During an eventful start to the year, state lawmakers are busy introducing bills they hope to see passed in 2020. 

Here is this week’s Michigan Advance roundup of recently introduced legislation you may have missed.

Millage renewal restrictions

State Rep. Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield Twp.) introduced a bill in January that would limit the time frame for art institutes’ millage renewal proposals to make it on to ballots.

The Detroit Institute of Arts | Susan J. Demas

House Bill 5373, titled the “Art Institute Authorities Act,”  would prohibit proposals to renew a millage if the existing millage expires more than 12 months after the date of the election. 

This legislation would have prevented a vote to renew the Detroit Institute of Arts’ millage that is slated to be on the ballot on March 10, the date of Michigan’s highly anticipated presidential primary, when Democratic turnout is expected to be high. The current DIA millage isn’t set to expire until 2022. 

According to reporting from the Detroit Free Press, Leon Drolet, a Macomb County commissioner who chairs the anti-tax group the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, said it’s likely early proposals for tax renewals happen “because they realize if it fails, they can put it on the ballot again and again while the old tax is still in effect.” Drolet is a GOP former state representative. 

Chatfield spokesman Gideon D’Assandro said he could not comment whether this bill is in response to the DIA renewal proposal. Hornberger did not return a request on Monday for comment.

The bill is before the House Tax Policy Committee.

‘Protecting the little guy’ in court

Legislation introduced in January aims to protect the First Amendment rights of individuals by requiring courts to dismiss lawsuits aimed at silencing criticism. Strategic lawsuits against public participation, also known as SLAPP suits, are intended to intimidate or punish individuals who speak out on an issue of public interest. 

Rep. Kara Hope speaking on House Democrats’ bills for workers | House Democrats photo

State Rep. Kara Hope (D-Holt), an attorney who sponsors House Bill 5372, says the bill would “protect the little guys” against going to trial with large corporations, but is not limited to retaliatory lawsuits from businesses.

“Everyone should be able to exercise their First Amendment rights without fear of baseless lawsuits and the significant cost required to defend against those lawsuits,” said Hope. “The rich and powerful, often corporations, use SLAPP lawsuits to weaponize our judicial system to silence critics. My bill would put an end to this practice in Michigan.”

There have been several SLAPP suits filed in Michigan in recent years which were targeted at individuals who left bad online reviews. Thirty other states currently have laws in place protecting residents from this type of suit, according to Hope.

Last year, WXYZ-TV in Detroit reported that a woman from Macomb County posted a negative Yelp review for being overcharged by a North Wind Heating and Air Conditioning. The company then sued her for $25,000 for publishing “false and defamatory statements.”

The legislation was sent to the Local Government and Municipal Finance committee.

Bills you may have missed: Whistleblower protections, juvenile justice reform and expanded bottle deposit law

Eliminating fossil fuels by 2050

State Rep. Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor) and State Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) announced bills that would require all of Michigan utilities’ energy generation to be renewable by 2050. 

House Bill 5420 and Senate Bill 60 would raise the state’s clean energy standard to 25% by 2025, 50% by 2032, 75% by 2040, and eliminate fossil fuel generation by 2050. 

Under current law, 15% of the state’s energy must come from renewable sources by 2021.

“People across Michigan will benefit from a cleaner environment as we make this much-needed transition to renewable energy,” Chang said. “But the burden of air pollution currently falls heaviest on some of the most vulnerable populations in our state, including the residents of Detroit and Downriver. Moving to renewable generation will be in the interests of environmental justice and improved public health.” 

Dingell, Democrats roll out ambitious climate bill

According to a 2019 report from Lazard, a global investment banking firm, a decrease in prices for clean energy sources is now cost-competitive with fossil fuels like coal and natural gas, even without subsidies.

“Clean, renewable energy has rapidly become a cost-effective alternative to dirty fossil fuels, which have polluted our air, contributing to the climate crisis that threatens our state,” said Nick Occhipinti, lobbyist for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. “Now is the time for bold action to tackle the climate crisis head-on, and this legislation will put us on that track by moving our state to 100 percent clean, affordable energy.”

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) co-led similar congressional legislation in November to set a nationwide goal of achieving 100% clean energy by 2050. Dingell said the 100% Clean Economy Act of 2019 would have a significant impact on Michigan and the Great Lakes. 

Activists demand bold action at Lansing climate strike

Rahbi said Michigan needs to transition from nonrenewable sources that further negative climate change in the state, like flooding, disruptions to agriculture and toxic algal blooms. 

“Switching to renewables will save us on our electricity bills, create good jobs, and protect our air and water. Committing now to fully renewable energy will mean a brighter future for our state,” said Rahbi.

House Bill 5420 is before the Committee on Energy, and Senate Bill 60 is before the Committee on Environmental Quality.