County commissioners discuss future of state government

Published 11:00 am Thursday, December 1, 2022

ST. JOSEPH — People shouldn’t expect much to come of the lame duck legislative session in Lansing but will likely see a number of new initiatives next year when Democrats take over control of both houses in the state legislature. 

Mike Krombeen of Midwest Strategies reported on what’s going on in Lansing at Thursday’s Berrien County Board of Commissioners’ Committee of the Whole meeting. The county board hired Midwest Strategies earlier this year to lobby on the county’s behalf in Lansing. 

His company is a lobbying firm based in Lansing that is currently also working with other area clients such as Lake Michigan College and the Kinexus economic development organization. 

Krombeen said the state senate was in session on Tuesday and both houses come back into session on Dec. 6 which he said could be a long day that lasts into the overnight hours. 

“That will likely be the end of the lame duck although there are rumors they may come back on the 13ths,” he said. 

He noted that the legislature has only been in session for five days since July 1.  

Krombeen said initially the thought was that the lame duck session might be a busy one as the state is “still sitting on $6 billion worth” of federal dollars. That changed with the results of the November election with Democrats retaining the governor’s mansion and gaining control of the legislature. 

“Since the Democrats are coming into power, there’s not a lot of incentive to negotiate now when they can come into a better deal in January,” he said. “That’s especially true with spending, why would they make deals with Republicans.” 

He said there had been talk that there was agreement between the governor and current legislative leaders to act on three bills: one on mental health, one on health and one on changing the day of the state’s presidential primary in 2024. “They came up in the Senate on Tuesday but none of them had support to have a vote,” he said. 

“They pushed away from the negotiating table but yesterday were back to having phone calls,” he added. “My gut tells me that I see very little getting done and especially nothing controversial. Those three bills are still alive to some extent.” 

Krombeen spoke specifically on issues such as education and short term rentals. Action on bills that could regulate short term rentals has been expected off and on for a year and a half with nothing passing to date. The issue is a sensitive one in lakeshore and other communities who want to have control over short term rentals. 

“Several different versions are going around and the governor has indicated she is willing to sign something,” he said. “A version from State Sen. Ken Horn sort of regulates short term rentals but doesn’t end local zoning. It says local communities can’t ban them entirely but can maintain zoning rules.” 

He said the problem right now with the short term rental issue is that realtors around the state and the house leadership are not interested in taking action. “While nothing is dead, I think the chances of something getting done is extremely slim,” he said. 

On education, he said people can expect to see action and changes in approach to improve student achievement after Democrats take over control of the legislature. He sees more efforts as well in supporting trade programs and community colleges. 

“Democrat priorities that had been stifled by having a divided government will really have some legs,” he said. 

He expects Democrats to push on prevailing wage and right to work laws so that they are dialed back or at least attempted to be dialed back. On gun laws, people can expect to see legislation on safe storage and red flag proposals. He said rural broadband will still be addressed but be part of a larger infrastructure push. 

On social issues, he expects the new legislature to repeal the 1931 abortion ban law even though voters approved Proposal 3 on reproductive rights. He also thinks there could be amendments to state civil rights laws to address sexual identity and sexual preference. 

On taxes, he expects action on earned income credits, repealing the pension tax and likely looking at limited liability corporations and corporate business structure taxes. 

Krombeen also updated commissioners on other non legislative projects such as broadband and park grants. He said the Michigan High Speed Internet Office will be opening up applications for broadband grants in the next few weeks. As for grants, he said he understands that the county is making a couple of “Spark” grant applications.