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Coffee Hour with Sen. Wayne Schmidt

Mayor Jim Carruthers started the session off by saying that SB 853 and SB 389 were passed with the Senator’s support to stop Michigan municipalities from banning plastic bags. The Mayor said that plastics are a real issue for us here in the Traverse area. There is plastic trash all over the beaches, parks and woodlands. While we are doing a good job recycling, it is not enough to solve the problem. We need to make changes and we need laws banning plastic bags.

Senator Schmidt said he wanted to avoid piling on to actual existing laws. He thinks bag laws should be modeled after bottle laws that promote recycling. Jim said it will take boots on the ground to insist that laws get passed banning plastic bags. I said that was something I could support organizing. Sen. Schmidt felt that lessening bag use needed to be driven by consumers changing their habits. Not everything is plastic.

I argued that waiting for social change was too slow, that we have a crisis now that needs a combination of education, local action and legislation. I said I did not understand his aversion to acting on the state level. We need local input in order to plan wisely to tackle the problem of plastics on all levels including thoughtful legislation. Plastic bags are not the only problem. Everything in the grocery store is encased in plastic. Most packing for nonfood products is also encased in plastic.

The Senator argued that this is what people choose, what they prefer. I said that when plastics were first introduced that may have been the case. No one anticipated the awful, detrimental effects on the environment of using non-biodegradable plastics. In addition, the packaging industry took over and we no longer have choices. We are forced to buy products and food encased in plastics. Something must be done because we are killing our planet with plastic.

Jim stated statistics that 73% of world’s waste is produced here in America. We consume one million plastic bottles every minute. We consume 2 million plastic bags every minute. Traverse City is becoming more and more a destination community where people come to enjoy our festivals, lakes, rivers, streams and woodland hiking areas and the Dunes. Not all plastic is purchased in the city. It would help a lot if we put a 10-cent return on every bottle. Taking away local control of how we manage plastic waste really upsets people.

Dave Petrove said he thinks that the problem goes back to people are just prone to littering without regard to the environment. Trash is all over the place. Putting a money return on bottles is a way of paying people to clean up after themselves. Sen. Schmidt said that when cities went to recycling, a lot of other garbage got recycled as well.

Lisa Dant said that she asked her 19-year-old daughter what she should ask the Senator about today, and she replied “plastics.” Lisa said her daughter and her peers are very conscious of the problem and would like to see legislative action to curb it.

A gentleman brought up the topic of raising the rate of catastrophic injury claims insurance. Will our rates go up? The Senator said basically no. The problems with uninsured drivers was hashed out again for the umpteenth time (it comes up at all these meetings with our MoC’s) whereby drivers in Detroit, for example, where car insurance costs $5,000 a year due to theft and vandalism, people simply cannot afford to by car insurance which drives the rates up for everyone else. The mayor of Detroit does not want laws passed forcing people to buy car insurance for that reason. It’s a sticky problem.

Jim Carruthers said that if you are a passenger in a car, you are still covered injury wise, but the uninsured driver is not. The Senator said that even if you lower car insurance rates up here $500 a year, it does not help the guy in Detroit. You could get rid of catastrophic coverage but that still does not guarantee that insurance companies will lower their rates. We need to be sure that insurance companies remain viable. A lot of people’s livelihoods depend on their jobs in the insurance industry. Spoken like a true Republican. Always looking out for the Big Guy claiming that changing anything will compromise people’s jobs.

At this point an ER nurse had joined the group and offered the observation that people are living longer with devastating brain injuries due to rapid response and advances in medical care. The Senator agreed saying catastrophic insurance rates are going up. The legislature does not vote to raise rates. Insurance companies will raise the rates themselves. He said one solution might be to have levels of coverage that the consumer can choose from. The problem with that is that people go for the cheapest coverage, but when they get in a bad accident they go to catastrophic claims.

Jim Carruthers brought up the problem of kids moving away to take up careers and certifications out of state. When they come back, their certifications do not transfer with them and they can’t work in the areas they have been trained in. It makes it hard for young professionals to return here.

I suggested that wasn’t the only reason young people with families do not move here. Affordable housing and excessive child care costs add to the factor. We must solve those problems if we are to attract young people with families to our area. We must have jobs that pay more than minimum wage service jobs. Jim suggested part of the problem is that young people these days come back from college and expect to have a condo with fancy appliances to start out. They want to drive BMW’s. Back in the day our generation was happy to live in a house trailer with no garage driving an old clunker and work our way up


Fireworks laws or lack of laws was brought up by a gentleman who objects to them being so unregulated. A piece of debris from a rocket fell between his fence and garage and could have started a fire. Housing is close together in town and they are a hazard. Jim said the city's hands are tied by the state on regulating fireworks. The fees collected from the sales of fireworks go back to the fire fighters. They have a strong lobby. I suggested letting municipalities regulate how fireworks are used. Dave Petrove said that has been tried. Each township had its own set of ordinances, too many for the sheriff to keep track of so they policed none. The Senator laughed and said, “you can’t make this stuff up.”

Act 51 came up. (Under Article IX, Section 9, of the Michigan Constitution of 1963, as amended, states that "All specific taxes . . . imposed directly or indirectly on fuels sold or used to propel motor vehicles upon highways. . . or on registered motor vehicles . . . shall, after payment of necessary collection expenses, be used exclusively for transportation purposes. . ." ) The Senator said it was not subject to referendum. It was designed to keep allocations for our roads from being used for any other purpose and supposed to keep the process from being politicized.

The question was asked if lottery money from the tribes has increased. and if so, where does it go? The Senator replied that it all goes to schools now. The Senator gave everyone his personal cell number: 231-883-8999. He said to call anytime. He would set up sessions that last longer than an hour on substantive issues.

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