Zorn co-sponsors $1.4B agriculture investment plan

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Dale Zorn has co-sponsored new Senate legislation that would direct $1.4 billion to improve Michigan’s food security and invest in rural communities.

“Michigan is second in the nation for agriculture, yet during the pandemic our families saw — and continue to see — empty grocery shelves due to an underinvested and overstretched food supply chain,” said Zorn, R-Ida. “I co-sponsored this budget supplemental to help provide greater access to local produce, improve our food processing and distribution, support our farmers and rural communities, and drive down costs facing Michigan producers and families.

“In addition to better securing our food supply, this funding plan would support worker training, innovative research and rural economic development — to ensure our system can provide Michigan families with affordable food now and for years to come.”

Senate Bill 885 would invest $350 million in food distribution security and stability grants; $144 million for bovine TB mitigation at beef and dairy operations; $45 million to help operate and expand farm markets; $75 million to support the stability and expansion of Michigan’s agriculture supply chain businesses like protein processing plants; and $15 million to help local food banks purchase fresh produce, dairy products, and meat and seafood products.

The bill also invests in rural development, including:
• $350 million to support agriculturally beneficial infrastructure projects,
• $100 million to help communities that did not receive enough federal broadband funding to complete a full-scale installation,
• $50 million to assist agricultural operations to meet Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) certifications, and
• $26 million to partially offset lost revenue from 2020 COVID-19 shutdowns for the U.P. State Fair and local fairgrounds across the state.

SB 885 would also invest in education and workforce training, including $95.8 million for MSU to support a modernized dairy facility and state-of-the-art greenhouse, $150 million to support new housing units for agricultural workers, $10 million for agriculture technical training grants, and $5 million to establish and begin operation of the Michigan Center for Agricultural Innovation as a public-private partnership between the agricultural industry and the state.

The bill was referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration.

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**PHOTO ADVISORY** Local school leaders support Zorn bill to help alleviate substitute teacher shortage

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Dale Zorn, R-Ida, and Dr. Julie Everly, superintendent of Monroe Public Schools, testified on Tuesday before the Senate Education and Career Readiness Committee on his legislation to allow retired school employees to return to the classroom as substitute teachers after only two months instead of having to wait at least one year.

Also testifying in support of the bill were Britton Deerfield Schools Superintendent Stacy Johnson and Principal Jeffery Scott and Monroe Public Schools principals Meghan Gibson and Scott Hoppert.

Under current law, school retirees may come back and work in a critical shortage area without it affecting their retirement benefits until July 2025 — but only if they have been retired for at least 12 months. Senate Bill 726 would reduce the wait time from 12 months to two months for retired school employees to return to work without impacting their retirement benefits.

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Zorn votes for $2.5B tax cut plan

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Dale Zorn on Tuesday voted for legislation to cut taxes by $2.5 billion on Michigan families, seniors and small businesses.

“The governor recently proposed the biggest state budget in history, but before we look at how to spend our surplus revenues, we should provide needed tax relief to the Michigan people still struggling with high inflation and effects from the governor’s unilateral shutdowns,” said Zorn, R-Ida. “I have long supported cutting taxes on retirement income, and I am glad that this will provide important tax relief to all Michigan seniors while also reducing tax burdens on Michigan parents, workers and job providers.”

Senate Bill 768 would reduce the state’s personal income tax from 4.25% to 3.9%, create a $500 per child tax credit, increase the tax exemption on all retirement income to $30,000 for individuals and $60,000 for couples, and reduce corporate income tax rates from 6% to 3.9%.

After passing the Senate, the bill now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.

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Zorn supports cost-saving tools for local emergency services authorities

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Dale Zorn on Thursday voted for legislation to allow emergency services authorities to use installment purchase agreements or issue bonds. Zorn co-sponsored the bill and led its approval earlier by the Senate Local Government Committee.

“This bill would give local emergency authorities an opportunity to save taxpayer dollars by allowing them to use more cost-effective options when buying property or new equipment, like fire trucks, ambulances and police cars,” said Zorn, R-Ida. “Emergency services are some of the most important things government does, but they can sometimes be very difficult in rural and less-populated areas. Communities that decide to form an authority to provide these services and share the cost shouldn’t face increased costs for necessary equipment.”

Zorn said the law currently does not allow emergency services authorities to use installment purchase agreements to buy real or personal property, which means if they needed to purchase an ambulance, they would need to use a lease with an option to purchase.

Local emergency services authorities are entities formed by two or more local governments to provide fire, police, EMS, or other emergency health or safety services in their communities.

Senate Bill 821 would allow local emergency services authorities to enter into installment purchase agreements and issue bonds. Installments to buy real or personal property would not be permitted to exceed 15 years or “the useful life of the property acquired,” whichever is less.

The bill has been sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.

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Zorn supports $1.2B in health care funding

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Dale Zorn on Tuesday voted to approve an additional $1.2 billion in federal funding to address COVID-19 health care issues across the state.

“We’re continuing to invest our federal COVID-19 funding to protect our communities, care for our families dealing with the virus and support struggling Michigan students with in-person education,” said Zorn, R-Ida. “In addition to providing critical funds to ensure health care facilities have enough staff to provide effective care and help nursing homes better protect vulnerable seniors, this plan invests important funding to help our schools safely remain open — so our children can recover after over a year of unimaginable challenges.”

House Bill 5523 would invest $1.2 billion in federal funding in the current fiscal year, including:
• $300 million for recruitment, retention and training grants to help health care facilities address staffing issues;
• $100 million for early COVID-19 therapeutic treatments;
• $150.8 million to support screening and testing activities to facilitate the reopening and safe operations of schools;
• $39 million to make nursing homes safer by converting multi-resident rooms into single rooms and improving air quality; and
• $367.3 million to increase lab capacity to implement and oversee expanded COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and other monitoring activities.

The bill has been sent to the House of Representatives for consideration. If the Senate changes are concurred by the House, the bill will go to the governor for her signature.

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Need to build on 2021 bipartisan successes

As we outline our plans for 2022, we should look to build on the bipartisan achievements of 2021. Although we continued to face challenges last year, we worked together to fight COVID-19, prepare our students for success, get people back to work, support our small businesses, and keep our communities safe.

While my Senate Republican colleagues and I worked hard to push back against the governor’s unilateral mandates that hurt our economy and our children’s education, we were able to find common ground on a balanced budget that puts a priority on improving the lives of all Michigan families and gets students back in the classroom — all without raising taxes.

We enacted a historic K-12 school budget that brought every Michigan school district’s foundation allowance up to at least $8,700 per student. This means that — for the first time ever — every district in our state is now getting the same amount in minimum per-pupil foundation allowance funding.

We included critical funding to tackle learning loss, ensure classrooms are safe, and address student mental health concerns.

The budget also featured $1.4 billion to lower rates and recruit more childcare workers, $190 million to repair or replace local bridges, $95 million for career training programs, $33 million to train new state police troopers and corrections officers, and increased funding for local governments to support our firefighters and police officers.

I was able to help secure millions of dollars in direct funding to enhance the lives of families in Monroe and Lenawee counties, such as $3.5 million for an east-west connection tunnel in Adrian, $2.9 million for additional road maintenance staff at the Monroe County Maintenance Facility, $300,000 for traffic safety during Michigan International Speedway race weekends, and $25 million for a pilot program in the western Lake Erie basin to increase the participation of agricultural lands using best management practices for water quality.

After four years of trying, I was also able to secure $2 million to improve the River Raisin National Battlefield Park with an integrative education center that Michigan State University projects will attract more than 600,000 visitors and serve over 100,000 K-12 students every year once it’s open.

Among the other achievements made last year, we enacted legislation expanding cancer-related worker’s compensation coverage to volunteer, part-time, paid on-call, and former firefighters — ensuring these local heroes get the medical care they need if they get cancer.

We also passed measures that would ensure Michigan residents have safe roads and bridges as well as healthy drinking water for generations to come.

Senate Bill 529 would utilize $1.3 billion in one-time federal funds to repair bridges across the state that are in serious or critical condition. SB 565 would invest $3.34 billion to preserve and protect Michigan’s water quality, infrastructure and environment — including $1 billion to replace lead pipes across the state and $700 million to upgrade local drinking water and wastewater facilities.

While we accomplished much in 2021 to help build a brighter future for the Michigan people, there is still much work to do. I believe that the budget process illustrates that we can work together to improve our state, and I am committed to building on that success this year as we meet the challenges facing Michigan families.