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Benzonia Twp. Hall

Benzonia, MI

Rep. Jack O’Malley began by saying that he had introduced a couple of bipartisan bills in conjunction with Rep. Leslie Love, (D) District 10, to remove taxes from college textbooks. He acknowledged this is a small move to help college students but every bit helps. He introduced another bill that purports to help Onekama remove sand drift. The village wants to remove the sand, but the DEQ says they can’t since it is part of the critical Dunes Park. They are taking testimony from citizens in an effort of get the problem solved.

Jack announced that Rep. Ben Frederick, (R) District 85, has introduced a bill that would allow school districts to waive an additional 3 days from school closures due to inclement weather

for this year only. Passage of the bill has been slowed down due to complications that have developed.

Jack said now that the Governor’s budget has been released, questions regarding the proposed $.45 cent gas tax have become a hot topic. Jack does not think that Republicans support such a steep increase, but he suggested it’s a starting point. Most likely it will be reduced to a lower level.

An issue regarding a tax on solar panels equates to $562 on a sixteen-panel array. Jack was asked if there are any bills to exempt solar panels from being taxed. He recommended that this issue be taken up in the Tax Policy Committee of which he is a member. Lynn Afendoulis is the Chair. He has not seen a bill introduced as of yet. Such decisions originate from the Treasury Department he claimed. He gave an example of knee replacement taxes. If the surgery is done in a hospital, the replacement is not taxed, but if done in a surgery center, it is taxed. He is looking into this issue.

A question was raised regarding Michigan law that allows overweight trucks to operate causing road damage and something needs to be done. It was opined that there is going to be an increase in electric vehicles coming onto the market. What is going to be done about that? At this point Jack reported that he is learning and has changed his opinions on a lot of things. I took this as a good sign that perhaps he has moved off stock Republican positions and is beginning to deal with the complex realities of legislating. Jack then explained that Michigan has axle laws where somehow the strength of the axle diminishes the weight of the load? I may not have understood that correctly, but it seemed spurious to me. He pointed out we have log haulers whose profits are reduced if load weight is reduced. Adding to the road problems in Michigan is the Spring thaw. He said people ask why don’t you use concrete, or plastic, something other than asphalt to pave roads? Jack claims that road surfacing material is a complicated issue. It was pointed out that other countries have stronger road surfaces using alternate products. Jack tried to say Europe’s roads are narrower so that other products work well there but wouldn’t here. That was disputed as it was pointed out that Europe has autobahns and expressways just like we do. He said everyone in Congress, both sides are working hard to solve these problems, but it will take time. This was a recurring theme throughout Jack’s talk, i.e., change takes time, things are complicated, he’s still learning.

A question was asked about where the funding for roads was going? The last gas tax increase did not do the job, and funding was diverted to equipment, buildings, etc. and did not go to road repair and building. Jack quickly said that was in the past, but that yes, not all of the transportation budget goes into roads.

It was pointed out that there is a lot of waste in that before a road project is begun, underground projects are not considered so that within six months the road is torn up again to do cable or utility work. Jack says this is changing. He feels Michigan has done too much repairing and not enough fixing. He said $5 billion of the transportation budget goes to roads but the rest goes to other things like roadside parks, trails, villages, equipment, buildings, etc.

Transportation is not a black and white issue. He said downstate is unhappy with how road construction funding is allocated on lane miles that do not take into consideration they have four and six lane expressways that are regarded as one line. Jack says he is sympathetic to their claims. They also have far greater traffic issues. There is also a school of thought which suggests that costs get raised by contractors because they know how much money has been allocated and why not take advantage of that?

Someone asked if there was any progress at reversing the law that holds seventeen-year-old offenders must be treated as adults in the court system, remanding them instead as minors the way they used to be treated. Jack says the law gives judges discretion depending on how serious the crime was, but that he felt the law is going to change in favor of regarding seventeen-year-olds as minors.

A fisherman in the audience brought up the introduction of a bill that restricts the time fishermen can be out on the lakes fishing. What has happened to that? Jack said that law, HB 4362, introduced by Rep. Jason Sheppard (R) was meant to let fishermen stay out longer, but a mistake was made in transcription that had the opposite effect. He has pulled the bill and it will be reissued. The man then brought up something about reverse discrimination that I did not see related to the issue at all. That somehow, he feels white people are being discriminated against through fishing laws? I didn’t get it.

A woman brought up Rep. Jason Sheppard’s bill HB 4046 dealing with short term rentals in Michigan. For clarification I am inserting a summary of the bill from the website which explains the bill: “To prohibit local governments from using zoning laws to prohibit property owners from letting out a home or condo for vacation or short-term rentals, which would apply to owners who use services like Airbnb. The bill would not prohibit local regulations on noise, advertising, traffic, or other conditions if these are “applied on a consistent basis to rental and owner-occupied residences.” This would apply to the rental of any single-family residence, a condo or a unit in a 1-to-4-family structure for terms of less than 28 days at a time.”

Jack opined that he feels municipalities should be able to enact their own short-term rental laws. The woman disagreed. She owns a home in Frankfort that she rents out in the summer for short periods to help recover her property tax. She doesn't want her local councils enacting rules and restrictions. She wants to do as she pleases with her property. I believe this is the same woman whose LTE in Wednesday’s Record Patriot urging O’Malley to support Sheppard’s bill.

The issue of uninsured motorists came up. It was opined that we need to make uninsured motorists go away. Medicare recipients already have medical coverage, so they don’t need auto medical coverage. Jack explained that areas like Detroit with very high auto insurance rates force people to go uninsured. They simply can’t afford auto insurance. The mayor of Detroit has challenged forcing people to buy auto insurance for that reason, but it remains a fact that uninsured motorists force up Michigan drivers' insurance rates. It’s a problem. Jack suggests that people could opt to buy into medical auto insurance coverage at varying levels.

Benzie Watcher, Allen McCullough, brought up the high cost of daycare in our area. It can rise to as much as $17 K per year for an infant and toddler in daycare. Jack acknowledged that this is a huge problem that he hopes to be able to get in on solving. He said part of the problem in his opinion, is prohibitive restrictions on daycare providers driving up costs. He gave an example of a daycare center where children were housed in separate buildings due to age, but that while one group might be sleeping, the attendant could not go over to the other building because rules say sleeping children cannot be left alone. He thought that was silly. I piped up saying that children asleep could change in an instant, and that every mother knows that you can’t leave them unattended. There was general acquiescence among the women in the room at least. It illustrates the problem of middle aged and elderly male legislators dictating childcare many of them have never had to do it themselves.

Jack thinks there is a difference between rural and urban providers. He thinks that in Benzie County it makes no sense to insist that an educational element be required to daycare. Benzie Watcher, Jane Wilde, pushed back saying it is well documented that early childhood education produces long term, positive outcomes down the line in better reading skills, better performance in K - 12, lower dropout rates among high school students, higher levels of college attendance and less tendency to commit crime. While Jack did not refute Jane’s challenge, he didn’t acknowledge the research either. He recommends raising the income eligibility rates for daycare funding assistance. Jane reiterated that the daycare issue has reached crisis proportions. Jack agreed. Jane stressed that daycare providers be treated like the professionals they are which Jack also agreed with.

It was stressed to him that in order to solve our labor problems, we must be able to attract young families to the region with good paying jobs, affordable housing, and affordable, quality daycare.

Benzie Watcher, Stephen Thompson, raised the issue of the rumor that there are Cannabis bills in the works that would license only large growers and providers, putting Mom and Pop operations out of business. Jack made the point that when recreational marijuana becomes legal, medical marijuana will suffer as you will no longer need a prescription to obtain it. Some sort of compromise will need to be reached.

I felt that the session went along quite well with Jack demonstrating that he has done research on at least some of the weighty problems people face living their daily lives in Benzie County. However, as demonstrated during the childcare debate, he is a typical Republican clinging to cutting children’s protections in day care to favor providers rather than admitting that daycare funding has fallen drastically in Michigan. Republicans have enacted budget cuts to daycare as well as other funding for social safety net programs across the board. This needs to be raised for both providers and parents.

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