New Line 5 tunnel is best way to protect the Great Lakes and great jobs

Since I joined the state Legislature in 2011, I have tried to put my real-world experience as a small business owner, local government official and avid outdoorsman to use to improve our state, protect our outdoors and help create good jobs for workers.

These three goals were the main reasons I supported legislation last year to replace the aging Line 5 pipeline currently on the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac with a new pipeline housed in a multiuse tunnel 100 feet under the straits.

Construction of a tunnel to hold a replacement pipeline is the best long-term option to remove the existing 66-year-old pipeline from the Great Lakes and protect both our environment and our economy. The tunnel would virtually eliminate any risk to the Great Lakes while enabling the safe transportation of energy resources to homeowners in the U.P. and refineries here in the Toledo and Detroit areas.

Unfortunately, Michigan’s attorney general is trying to stop the construction of the tunnel and shut down the existing pipeline altogether. Closing the Line 5 pipeline without a viable replacement in place is irresponsible and could have a devastating impact to our state and region.

To transport energy without the pipeline would require tens of thousands more rail cars and trucks as well as oil-carrying barges and tankers on the Great Lakes — at a much greater risk to our water and our roads.

Officials at the Toledo Refining Co. have said that 550 jobs could be lost if Line 5 were to be shut down. Workers at the Toledo-area BP-Husky refinery and the Marathon Petroleum refinery in Detroit would also be affected.

In addition to the lost jobs, shutting down the pipeline without the tunnel to replace it would impact millions of other Michigan families through increased prices for gasoline, jet fuel at Detroit Metro Airport, and propane used to heat most homes in rural communities.

I regularly hear the concerns from local residents about the impact if the state shuts down Line 5 without the tunnel. Their concerns are shared by many area leaders, including Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who sent Gov. Whitmer a letter this summer urging her not to shut down the pipeline.

Sometimes the simplest solution is the best one. In this case, that is to let Enbridge construct a $500 million tunnel — at its own cost — below the Straits of Mackinac, put a new Line 5 pipeline safely in it, and remove the existing pipeline from the Great Lakes.

Protecting Michigan’s outdoor heritage

We are blessed to have world-class natural resources and numerous outdoor activities in Michigan that help make our state such a great place to live and raise a family. Among these activities are hunting and fishing, which have been family traditions for longer than Michigan has been a state.

I am proud to be a member of the Michigan Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus — a group of lawmakers in both chambers and from both parties who come together to conserve, preserve and promote Michigan’s great outdoors.

The caucus is dedicated to ensuring our natural resources are protected, advancing the rights of Michigan residents to affordably hunt and fish, and increasing family outdoor opportunities.

Our sports men and women are among Michigan’s greatest custodians of the state’s natural resources — and they also are important to our economy. According to a report commissioned by Michigan United Conservation Clubsand based on a study by Michigan State University professors and researchers, hunting and fishing generates $11.2 billion for Michigan’s economy each year.

By purchasing gear, booking hotels, eating in restaurants, leasing land and spending money in numerous other ways, our 1.1 million anglers and over 700,000 hunters support more than 171,000 jobs — contributing $3.3 billion to Michigan families in salaries and wages.

Anglers and hunters also help with conservation efforts and wildlife management by purchasing licenses and controlling animal and fish populations.

The revenue generated from sports men and women helps conserve fish and wildlife, provide clean and healthy landscapes and maintain public access to these resources.

The expansion of the Petersburg State Game Area in Monroe County is a prime example of this system in action. The state used funds from the sale of waterfowl hunting licenses to acquire 72 acres of land adjacent to the game area to restore critical habitat for wildlife conservation and public enjoyment.

A few of the legislative issues the sportsmen’s caucus continues to work on include improving the Natural Resources Trust Fund to allow more constitutionally restricted funds to be invested into enhancing outdoor recreational opportunities, stopping Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes, protecting our water from PFAS and implementing better Department of Natural Resources services and technologies.

To ensure Michigan continues to attract enough outdoor enthusiasts to fund our conservation efforts, we must also help to engage young people about hunting and fishing — so they will become the next generation of sports men and women and keep our outdoor traditions alive.

I hope you all have a chance to get outdoors and experience everything Michigan has to offer.

House panel approves hospice drug disposal bill

On a regular basis, we see the devastating effects of the opioid epidemic in our state and our local communities. To help combat opioid abuse, the House Healthy Policy Committee recently approved my legislation that would allow hospices to help patient families safely dispose of excess prescription drugs.

At the heart of this ongoing crisis is the easy access to highly addictive drugs, and my bill targets the issue by allowing unused medications of patients receiving hospice care to be safely destroyed.

Under current law, a hospice employee may not assist in disposal of the controlled substances. Senate Bill 842 would require the state Department of Health and Human Services to implement rules for the disposal of controlled substances in the homes of hospice patients when drugs are not needed by the patient or the patient has died.

The bill also would require a hospice or a provider of hospice services in a patient’s private home to establish and implement a written controlled substance disposal policy.

The policies would need to include procedures for offering assistance in disposing controlled substances and recording the patient or the family’s decision on accepting or declining assistance, as well as requirements for witnessing the disposal and providing a patient or family with information on the safe disposal of prescription drugs.

I thank the committee for their action and urge the House to pass this important legislation to establish clear guidelines for how hospices can help grieving families safely dispose of unused prescription drugs after a loved one has passed away.

SB 842 has been sent to the full House of Representatives for consideration.

Zorn introduces duck hunting clarification bill

Duck hunting is a popular sport in southeast Michigan and across the state. Unfortunately, some of the policies and laws concerning duck hunting are confusing.

Currently, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) allows duck hunting from a motorboat if the motor is off and the boat has stopped, yet Michigan law actually bans hunters from having a loaded weapon in a motorized boat. I have introduced legislation to clear up this contradiction by changing the law to mirror current DNR policy.

Senate Bill 1120 would revise the state law to reflect an existing Wildlife Conservation Order. Under the bill, the law would be changed to allow waterfowl hunters to hunt “from a motorized boat if the boat’s motor has been completely shut off” and its “forward progress has ceased.” It would also allow for easier transportation of hunting weapons on private property.

My bill is part of a legislative package to protect the rights of Michigan hunters and private property owners and make our state a more attractive hunting destination.

In addition to my bill, the package would also:

  • Preserve the right to hunt and fish in Michigan;
  • Encourage the Natural Resources Commission to review the state’s turkey licensure process and lottery program; and
  • Have Michigan join Indiana and Ohio in requiring written permission to hunt or fish on private land.

Hunting plays a key role in the way of life for many Michigan families and contributes more than $2 billion to Michigan’s economy each year. This proactive legislation is about clarifying and improving our hunting laws, maintaining our wildlife conservation system and protecting our outdoor traditions for generations to come.

Senate approves school safety bills

Michigan children deserve to have safe schools where they can learn the skills they need to succeed and be productive citizens, and the state Senate recently approved my legislation to help keep students safe.

The OK2SAY program is a 24-hour-a-day hotline that gives students a safe and confidential way to report suspicious or threatening behavior. It has done a fantastic job in helping protect students and save lives. OK2SAY enables students to report tips by phone, text message, and email, and through a website or an app. In 2017, the program received 4,605 tips, an increase of 37 percent from 2016.

In real time, OK2SAY connects tip providers to the state police, who assess the situation and then refer the information to the appropriate school officials or law enforcement. However, sometimes threats to students’ safety occur outside of school hours. My legislation would ensure that at least one school official is available to receive information about threats at any time so he or she can take any necessary action to prevent a tragedy.

Senate Bill 991 would require, at least twice a year, a governing body of a school to provide the state police with the current emergency contact information for a school official who would receive information submitted through the state school safety hotline — and any accompanying analysis of a potential threat — 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

This bill is part of a comprehensive Senate effort to enact commonsense, effective solutions to keep our students safe. Insert “Read More” tab here

The school safety package also includes SB 959, my bill to require the development of statewide training standards for active-violence situations in schools.

Training and preparation can save lives. When it comes to protecting our schools, it is critical that students, school staff and law enforcement all know what to do to prevent a tragedy and how to respond if a situation occurs.

Additional Senate school safety legislative measures include:

  • SB 982 to create the Office of School Safety within the state police to update school safety practices, offer training to school staff and oversee use of school safety grants;
  • SB 983 to require school districts to conduct a safety assessment with a local law enforcement agency for each school building by the 2019-2020 school year and at least every two years thereafter and require school districts to develop an emergency operations plan by Jan. 1, 2020;
  • SB 957 to eliminate the sunset on the OK2SAY program;
  • SB 958 to require schools to anonymously report thwarted incidents of attempted acts of violence on school grounds or threats of violence made on or off school grounds; and
  • SB 990 to require schools to work with local law enforcement on new construction or upgrades to school buildings.

These legislative reforms are on top of $58 million in the budget for school safety initiatives, such as improving access to mental health programs, enhancing OK2SAY awareness and securing our schools.

2019 budget invests more in education and roads

As we have every year I have been in the Legislature, we completed a balanced budget ahead of schedule — allowing local governments and schools to set their budgets using real numbers.

This budget continues to make smart investments in the top priorities facing Michigan families and businesses while still enabling us to live within our means.

Every school will see increased funding in this budget — with most schools receiving the largest per-pupil increase in 17 years — and we are putting an additional $330 million into fixing our roads and bridges.

The education budget invests nearly $14.8 billion in K-12 education, which includes a foundation allowance increase of between $120 and $240 per pupil and a $1.3 billion contribution into the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System (MPSERS) to control costs, reduce debt and meet the needs of current retired teachers.

The budget also features investments in school safety initiatives, including more funding for the OK2SAY confidential tip-line program, $30 million for mental health support services in schools, and $25 million for school security improvements.

To ensure that Michigan schools are safe places for kids to learn, we are investing $58 million for our schools and communities to make the necessary safety improvements to protect our students. Last year, a group of local education leaders and my office studied ways to improve partnerships between area schools and Jackson College and Monroe Community College to reduce the need for remedial education. This budget builds on that collaboration and includes $25,000 to continue that work.

The entire state budget features $6 million to support rural hospitals, a $9.25 million boost for local public health departments, a $22.5 million increase in local revenue sharing, $40.9 million for skilled trades training and $100 million to fully fund the Marshall Plan for Talent.

This budget makes wise investments to meet our challenges, educate our children, provide essential services, and attract tourists and job creators to Michigan. Another local project we were able to include is an additional $45,000 to help Lenawee County farmers maintain filter strips that prevent phosphorous from flowing into Lake Erie.

May is Community Action Agency Month

The Michigan Senate approved my resolution declaring May as Community Action Agency Month. Our community action agencies (CAAs) continue to play an important role in improving our state and bringing new opportunities to all residents.

They excel in developing affordable housing, distributing food, weatherizing homes, assisting families and veterans with emergency needs, preparing people to return to work, and offering a wide array of other helpful services.

This month is a time to raise awareness of these great organizations and to express our appreciation for the tremendous work they do every day to impact thousands of lives each year.

Senate Resolution 163 highlights that Michigan’s 29 CAAs in fiscal year 2017 served 181,435 Michigan residents, including 89,942 families, by providing early childhood education, Head Start, senior services, affordable housing, food assistance, energy assistance, financial literacy classes, job training programs and other services. Insert “Read More” tab here

Our CAAs are the only community-based organizations providing full wraparound, locally directed services in all 83 counties in the state.

This is about recognizing the dedication and hard work of the people at our community action agencies as they promote economic stability and build stronger communities by helping struggling families improve their lives and achieve the American dream.

Local superintendent testifies on school safety bill

I have introduced two bills as part of a comprehensive Senate effort to enact commonsense, effective solutions to keep our students safe.

Dundee Community Schools Superintendent Edward Manuszak recently joined me at a Senate Education Committee hearing on Senate Bill 991 to ensure that authorities can pass along potential threats to Michigan schools at any time.

Michigan’s OK2SAY program is a 24-hour-a-day hotline that gives students a safe and confidential way to report suspicious or threatening behavior. The program has done a fantastic job in helping protect Michigan students and save lives.

Students can report tips by phone, text message, and email, and through a website or an app.

In real time, OK2SAY connects tip providers to the state police, who assess the situation and then refer the information to the appropriate school officials or law enforcement. However, sometimes threats to students’ safety occur outside of school hours.

My legislation would ensure that at least one school official is available to receive information about threats at any time so he or she can take any necessary action to prevent a tragedy.

SB 991 would require, at least every two years, a governing body of a school to provide the state police with the current emergency contact information for a school official who would receive information submitted through the school safety hotline — and any accompanying analysis of a potential threat — 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Also in the Senate school safety package is SB 959, my legislation to require the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards to develop statewide training standards for active-shooter situations in schools.

Additional Senate measures include:

  • SB 982 to create the Office of School Safety within the state police to update school safety practices, offer training to school staff and oversee use of school safety grants;
  • SB 983 to require school districts to conduct a safety assessment with a local law enforcement agency for each school building by the 2019-2020 school year and at least every two years thereafter and require school districts to develop an emergency operations plan by Jan. 1, 2020;
  • SB 957 to eliminate the sunset on the OK2SAY program;
  • SB 958 to require schools to anonymously report thwarted incidents of attempted acts of violence on school grounds or threats of violence made on or off school grounds; and
  • SB 990 to require schools to work with local law enforcement on new construction or upgrades to school buildings.

These legislative reforms are on top of a Senate-passed boost in current-year funding to make critical school safety improvements and help prevent school tragedies.

SB 601 would provide $15 million for grants for schools to make vital school security enhancements and $3 million for a statewide school emergency notification system that would be available to all Michigan schools. It also features $500,000 to help raise student awareness of OK2SAY by doubling the promotion of the initiative.

Supporting increased local recreation funding

Since 1976, the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (NRTF) has done a tremendous job preserving our natural resources and enhancing the enjoyment of Michigan’s great outdoors.

I recently supported legislation to strengthen the trust fund’s core preservation purpose while increasing the flexibility of the NRTF and the Michigan State Park Endowment Fund (MSPEF) to provide greater funding for local outdoor recreation.

The NRTF is supported by interest earned on funds generated from the development of state-owned oil, gas and mineral rights. The fund is constitutionally restricted for land acquisitions and recreational development.

Senate Joint Resolution O is a proposed constitutional amendment that would change the NRTF restriction that “not more than 25 percent” of the total spent be used for recreation development to “not less than 25 percent” of the total spent.

The Crystal Waters project in 2017 was a prime example of the NRTF’s long record of preserving our state’s natural resources and improving public access to outstanding recreational opportunities.

This package would build on that success by increasing funding flexibility, protecting the funds for natural resource recreation and development, and increasing funding for local recreation and improvements to area state parks.

Currently, until the MSPEF reaches a cap of $800 million, half of the annual revenue is credited to the fund’s principal and the remaining revenue may be spent on operations, maintenance and capital improvements at state parks and for land acquisition for state parks.

SJR O would also revise the distribution of funds from the MSPEF to the following:

  • 30 percent to the fund’s principal;
  • 55 percent to state park operations and infrastructure; and
  • 15 percent to a new local development projects grant program.

Once the MSPEF reaches its $800 million cap, oil and gas royalties would return to the NRTF and the NRTF’s $500 million cap would be eliminated.

If SJR O is approved by the Legislature, the proposal would be placed on the ballot for approval by the voters. Senate Bills 763, 931 and 932 would make statutory changes in state law to implement SJR O. The bills would only go into effect if the voters approve the ballot measure.

Senate approves online voter registration bills

The Michigan Senate recently approved legislation to allow residents to register to vote online. This reform would help more people participate in the democratic process while maintaining safeguards against fraud.

Using technology to improve the voter registration options is good for everyone. It would save time for people registering to vote, and other states that have enacted similar reforms have seen reduced administrative costs and increased accuracy in the voter rolls.

Senate Bills 425-429 would direct the secretary of state (SOS) to develop and maintain an electronic voter registration interface that would allow residents to submit voter registrations on the SOS website.

To register to vote online, residents would need to have a valid driver’s license or a state personal identification card.

The electronic system would be required to transmit the application to the qualified voter file and be able to interact with the state personal identification card and driver’s license files for authentication.

At least 37 states have enacted some form of electronic voter registration law. Online voter registration would basically follow the same process as the current paper-based system. With proper verification measures in place, it can be a safe and secure way for residents to register to vote.