The 100th Michigan Legislature in 2019-20 was the first full legislative cycle in which the Mackinac Center had a full-time government affairs presence in Lansing. Even with our state government divided by party and disrupted by a global pandemic, we were able to deliver strong results on many of the issues you care about.
Working with our legislators, coalition partners, and sometimes Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, we reformed auto insurance and reduced Michigan’s exorbitant premiums. We substantially curtailed civil asset forfeiture. We passed a broad swath of criminal justice reforms that enhance public safety, reduce costs to taxpayers, and promote gainful employment and family stability. We protected your electronic data. We ended one major corporate welfare program and substantially reduced an ineffective tourism marketing program. We helped to bury a proposed 45-cent per gallon gasoline tax hike. And we protected state employees’ Janus rights while blocking other attempts to entrench union power.
So what do we do for an encore? The Mackinac Center’s 2021 policy recommendations extend the principled work we’ve done for more than three decades while responding to new challenges and opportunities illuminated by our state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While recently deployed vaccines provide hope that our pandemic nightmare may end later this year, the damage to Michiganders’ economic and personal well-being has been significant and continues to compound. While much of the fight between Gov. Whitmer and the Legislature has revolved around her use of executive authority, it is imperative that her critics lay out a broad set of alternative policies for how they would manage the pandemic. Here are our ideas.
First, Michigan’s certificate of need and nursing scope-of-practice laws, which artificially restrict our state’s health care capacity, need reforming. These laws posed a severe threat to public health until Gov. Whitmer suspended them by executive order during the first wave of the pandemic. But they were reinstated before the second wave hit, even as the governor said their suspension “saved countless lives.” Inexplicably, neither Gov. Whitmer nor the Legislature acted to suspend or repeal them during last December’s lame-duck session.
If either the governor or the Legislature are serious about ensuring that our health care system can respond flexibly to crises such as COVID-19, they will make the automatic suspension of CON and scope-of-practice laws during a public health emergency their first action item in 2021. Legislators should also expand telemedicine access so that qualified, licensed health professionals from other states can offer remote services within their scope of practice to Michigan residents.
Second, the state must respond to the scandalous failure of K-12 schools as they attempted to educate Michigan children in an online or hybrid format. For too many students, insufficient interaction with their teacher created deep learning deficits that endanger their long-term well-being.
The frustrating response to the pandemic by many school districts led families to educate their children in so-called learning pods. This kind of permissionless innovation, birthed out of necessity, represents another type of education option that should be widely available. To make them more accessible, lawmakers need to revise an array of existing state regulations. Further, the Legislature should provide tax write-offs for expenses and donations made on behalf of low-income students who participate in pod learning.
A number of other recommendations on our list are in line with those we’ve published for years. Don’t raise taxes, borrow for roads, or give away our tax dollars through corporate welfare. Ensure affordable and reliable energy by completing the Line 5 tunnel and rejecting green-energy boondoggles. Increase government transparency; make the governor and Legislature subject to open records requirements. Prune unnecessary criminal laws and occupational licensure requirements.
Two of the more significant additions to our portfolio for 2021 are enacting police discipline reform and defending the Electoral College.
Law enforcement officers have an extremely important and difficult job, and we as citizens give them extensive authority – including to use deadly force when necessary – to carry it out. We should expect appropriate sanctions against officers who abuse that authority, but union contracts too often skew the disciplinary processes to impede those sanctions. If legislators are unwilling to remove disciplinary processes as a subject for collective bargaining, they should at least prohibit several common contract provisions that protect bad behavior.
Lastly, a movement has arisen to encourage states to nullify the U.S. Constitution and, through an interstate compact, replace the Electoral College with a “national popular vote” in which 15 states have already effectively handed over their 141 presidential electors to the whims of California and its lax election processes. The Electoral College exists so that every state and every voter within each state has a say, not just California and the East Coast. Rather than join the National Popular Vote interstate compact, Michigan legislators should clarify in our state Constitution that Michigan shall award its presidential electors only based on votes cast by Michigan residents.