While last week’s House and Senate adjournment merely marks the mid-point of this two-year legislative session, that did not mean that the Legislature coasted into their holiday break.
Highlighted by the intense activity surrounding OPEB reform, both legislative chambers pursued aggressive agendas in the final days before adjourning. Numerous bills that the League was tracking and engaged with experienced some measure of action:
The now 13-bill OPEB package was signed by Governor Snyder this week as Public Acts 202-214 of 2017 and takes effect immediately. New reporting requirements under the bill are expected to be phased in over the next year, with some reporting expected due as early as January 31, 2018. The League will work to update member communities as more information becomes available in the next couple of weeks.
Senate Bill 110 clarifies that municipalities implementing plans to increase the supply of below market housing are not violating the Rent Control Act (PA 226 of 1988) by offering voluntary incentives. This League-supported legislation was introduced in February and received a committee hearing this last week of session. It’s anticipated the bill will receive another committee hearing in early 2018 and be voted out.
Two economic development proposals of key interest to municipalities were also voted out of the Senate during the last week of session. Similar to legislation that died at the end of 2016, the Senate sponsor introduced Senate Bill 393, which consolidates all tax increment financing authorities, excluding Brownfield Redevelopment Authorities, into one act with added transparency and reporting requirements. Senate Bill 469 would reinstate the Michigan Historic Preservation Tax Credit. Both of these bills were voted out of committee and out of the Senate last week and have been referred to the House Tax Policy committee where they are expected to receive committee consideration in the new year.
The League was also pleased with the Governor’s signature on legislation allowing urban grocery store projects to access funding from the community revitalization program this week. The House and Senate coordinated efforts last week on House Bill 4207 to provide State Rep. Andy Schor with one last Public Act before he resigns to take over as mayor of the City of Lansing.
Three different proposals related to the new Personal Property Tax system also saw movement before the recess, with Senate Bills 570-573 being finalized and sent to the Governor. These bills provide for a much needed local mechanism to address late-filed business exemption applications. Senate Bills 590-593 were voted out of the Senate and were referred to the House Local Government committee. These bills, promoted by the League and reported from the Senate committee earlier this fall, would essentially hold communities harmless from any reduction in their debt limit due to a reduction in their property tax base from now-exempt personal property. Finally, House Bill 5086 was developed between local government groups and the Department of Treasury to address a host of technical and minor policy issues related to the continuing implementation of the new system and the need to align the statute with the practical realities of managing and administering the new law. This bill moved nearly unanimously out of the House last week and will be considered by the Senate Finance committee in early 2018.
Finally, a League-supported proposal to allow for the voluntary coordination of election duties and functions moved this month as House Bill 4671 received overwhelming support in the House and is now awaiting further action before the Senate Elections & Government Reform committee.
Infrastructure and technology issues also experienced a flurry of lobbying and negotiation over these final weeks of 2017.
Our advocacy efforts combined with a broader coalition opposing legislation which would have preempted most local control over private telecommunication provider line relocation projects. We were able to delay action on House Bill 5098 that was being pursued by the industry before the end of the year. This proposal remains alive, however, and we will continue to work to block further action on this bill.
The discussions surrounding the proposed industry roll-out of small cell technology is quickly becoming a big issue for municipalities. Small cells are low-powered antenna nodes that have a range of up to 2 miles and are installed for the purpose of relieving congestion for wireless users. The term “small” refers to the footprint of the device. Small cell devices can be mounted on their own 40’ poles, or on existing utility or street light poles. Senate Bill 637 was recently introduced that would create a new act that allows for small cell technology to be consider a permitted use both inside and outside the right-of-way with limited exceptions. The bill would severely limit local control around siting, impair municipal ability to protect the public health, safety and welfare of residents, and hinder local government’s ability to manage the ROW, potentially leading to a significant increase in the number of new poles within our communities. Supporters of this proposal are looking for a statewide regulatory structure that is similar to the Metro Act and the Video Franchise Act.
The League is opposed to the language as introduced but working with the Chairman, Senator Mike Nofs, of the Senate Energy and Technology Committee to improve the bill. To do that we have extensively researched legislative efforts in other states, discussed the issue with several communities and municipal attorneys, and looked at the Distributed Antenna System (DAS)/Small Cell License Agreement created by the Grand Valley Metro Council.
League staff have met with Chairman Nofs and presented alternative language based on our research and conversations with members. This viable alternative to the introduced legislation strikes a balance between local control and the nationwide deployment of this new technology. The telecommunications industry will continue its push for the bill when the legislature returns next year in the hopes of quick action . We have asked the Chairman that this issue not be rushed and that all parties be brought to the table to discuss this bill and our alternative.
The Michigan Municipal League is also participant on the Lead and Copper Rule Stakeholder Workgroup that is assisting MDEQ with recommendations to address modifications to the Administrative Rules promulgated pursuant to Michigan’s Safe Drinking Water Act, 1976 PA 399, as amended. The ongoing discussion continues to be about how to best protect the public from lead exposure. Unfortunately, the preliminary draft rules add additional burdens to community water supply systems that run counter to the principles of asset management and may ultimately hinder the protection of public health. In addition to the League, there are more than a half dozen community water suppliers, the American Water Works Association, public health departments and others participating on this work group.
The draft rule would reduce the action level from 15 parts per billion down to 10 parts per billion, require communities to map their existing system to identify the presence of lead, require that a community water supplier be responsible for the replacement and cost of private lead service lines, along with many other requirements that could pose significant financial and logistic hardships on a community. The League has taken a stance that we are not opposed to determining how much lead is present in water systems or the need to systematically begin removing lead from systems, but it cannot be done in such a way that causes a financial hardship or conflicts with the Headlee Amendment or the Bolt decision.
Link to the Preliminary Draft Rule: 2017 Preliminary Draft Lead and Copper Rule
Link to the DEQ Summary Document: Summary Lead and Copper Rule Requirements
The Governor has requested this issue be placed on an aggressive timeline and a finalized draft rule is expected by the first of the year. Should our concerns not be addressed through the stakeholder process, communities will need to be prepared to offer public comments on the rule in early January. In the meantime we will continue to work with those stakeholders that have common concerns with the process and draft rules to make the necessary adjustment to help prevent exposure to lead while still allowing for the efficient management of our water supply systems.
The Legislature is scheduled to return to full session on January 10, 2018, with the Governor’s final State of the State message and the Fiscal Year 2018-19 budget presentation to follow shortly thereafter.
Chris Hackbarth is the League’s director of state & federal affairs. He can be reached at 517-908-0304 and [email protected].