Leonard touts improved mental health access in farewell speech

    House Speaker Tom Leonard gives his farewell address on the House floor, Dec. 20, 2018 | Michael Gerstein

    During a marathon session Thursday night, outgoing state House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt) delivered his farewell speech, touting improved mental health care access and elimination of driver responsibility fees as his top accomplishments.

    Rick Snyder

    The term-limited speaker mounted an unsuccessful run for Attorney General in 2018. Gov. Rick Snyder was there for his speech Thursday. Leonard pointed to the bipartisan House Community, Access, Resources, Education and Safety (CARES) Task Force from earlier this year as one of his proudest accomplishments.

    Leonard said that improved mental health care access stands is “a big deal to me” and something that is “near and dear to my heart.” The program, he said, helps reduce the prison population for those with mental illness.

    “Let me be clear: jails and prisons ought to be for dangerous people; they ought not to be for sick people,” Leonard said, urging the next Legislature to continue addressing mental health reform. “I hope you will continue on with these mental health issues as you go forward over the coming years.”

    Additionally, Leonard pointed to the elimination of the state’s driver responsibility fees program, which wiped out nearly $650 million in debt from about 350,000 drivers in the state and get their driver’s licenses back.

    “There’s very few things we work on inside of this chamber that you can go home and meet someone and say ‘that made a tangible difference in that person’s life,’” Leonard said. “The fact that we all stood together to make certain that over 350,000 citizens in this state, 80,000 of them from the City of Detroit, will finally be eligible to get a driver’s license and get their lives back is a big deal. Every single person in this chamber ought to be proud of that.”

    Sam Singh

    Leonard also used the occasion to touch on his relationship with outgoing House Minority Leader Sam Singh (D-East Lansing). While sitting on different sides of the aisle from each other, Leonard said that Singh was one of the few people in Lansing he trusted implicitly, noting the partisanship that has washed over the Capitol city in recent years.

    “I’ll be frank: sometimes in this city it is very difficult to trust people,” Leonard said. “One of the rules I’ve always had is when I take a meeting, there’s going to be someone else in that room with me. There’s only a handful of people I’m willing to take a meeting with alone, and [Singh is] one of them. You’ve been an incredible friend, somebody that I trust, somebody whose word is your bond, and you’ve never once steered me wrong.”

    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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