House Democrats reject GOP effort to push school safety bills out of committee  • Michigan Advance | #schoolsaftey

The dysfunction in the Michigan House of Representatives hit a new low Wednesday in a legislative maneuver one lawmaker called “beyond the pale.”

With just a few exceptions, legislation in the House has come to a standstill while minority Republicans insist on a power sharing agreement as both parties have 54 seated members. While there are currently two vacant seats formerly held by Democrats, that situation is expected to be temporary, as both districts are heavily Democratic and special elections set for April 16 will likely return the Democrats’ 56-54 voting majority. 

In the meantime,  based on current House rules, Democrats retain control of the chamber.

With that as a backdrop, several pieces of bipartisan legislation that have come up for a vote have failed in recent weeks, with Republicans refusing to provide the 55-vote margin needed for passage. However, the situation Thursday proved to be a step further in the standoff as House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Twp.) introduced discharge petitions for a package of bills dealing with school safety, which would remove them from their current committee and place them on the path to a floor vote. 

House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Twp.) participates in a panel discussion at the Mackinac Policy Conference on June 1, 2023. (Andrew Roth/Michigan Advance)

“I moved to take up the comprehensive school safety and mental health plan that Democrats in the House Education Committee have refused to take up for a year. It’s time for the House to get to work so we can keep kids safe at school and tackle the serious problems facing Michiganders,” said Hall in a statement.

The legislation, House Bills 40884100, focuses on school safety efforts and access to mental health resources and came about from a task force formed by then-House Republican leadership after the Oxford shooting in November 2021.  

By the time they were introduced on Feb. 14, 2023, the day after the mass shooting on the Michigan State University campus, Democrats were in control of the chamber and assigned the bills to the Education Committee.

The chair of that committee is Rep. Matthew Koleszar (D-Plymouth) who said even though the motion to discharge the bills was rejected on a voice vote, Hall’s move was “reckless and could potentially endanger a child’s life” as the legislation is still being worked on by the committee. 

“Safety is a top priority of this committee and I look forward to future dates,” he said. “We will give these bills a hearing after they’re ready to go as recommended by the task force.”

Rep. Kelly Breen (D-Novi), who sponsored one of the bills in the package, sent a letter to Hall after Wednesday’s session, saying the “blatant attempt to turn it into a political football is beyond the pale,” and that his actions endangered the bipartisan work done with Rep. Luke Meerman (R-Coopersville) and his staff to bring an “impactful and effective package of bills to fruition to help keep our kids and educators safe.”

When asked about that afterward, House GOP spokesman Jeremiah Ward told reporters that it wouldn’t have been a surprise. 

“We had informed the caucus yesterday, so yeah, Rep. Meerman would’ve been aware,” said Ward.

Ward added that the move to put the bills up for a vote only came after a year without any hearings being held.

“Why hasn’t the House Education Committee taken up the bills? That would be a question for the Democrats on that committee, it would be a question for the speaker and House leadership who certainly have influence over what committee chairs are doing,” he said. “Democrats haven’t been interested in the committee process and these bills deserve action.”

For his part, Hall is firmly sticking to his demand that Democrats share power, using the claim of a deal he says Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit) reneged on last year, and temporary ability to halt legislation, as his leverage.

“Speaker Tate still refuses to admit that the House is in shared power, but he’s feeling its effects as House Republicans rack up wins each time Democrats move our way,” he said. “Our caucus has called for passage of bills that are priorities of our representatives and the communities they serve. Today, the House approved one of these Republican bills and teed up another Republican-led package for a vote next week.”

That bill, HB 4416, was an update to the Estates and Protected Individuals Code, which House Republicans on Monday demanded Tate take up for a vote in exchange for cooperation on other bills. Also on the list of requested GOP legislation were a pair of bipartisan bills dealing with summer resort associations, which were given a second reading in anticipation of a vote next week.

Oxford High School. | Photo by Anna Gustafson

However, in her letter to Hall, Breen said that there had been months of information gathering from dozens of stakeholder groups, parents and children affected by violence, and in the case of the Oxford High School shooting, there was still new information coming in.

“Your discharge letters show complete disregard for the continued work of the members of the School Safety Task Force and ignore the responsibility of the members to perform our due diligence in delivering solutions to the Oxford community and the residents of our state,” she said. “Work that includes the careful review and examination of a nearly 600-page independent report on the Oxford shooting.”

Breen also noted the action Democrats had taken last year to address school violence in the School Aid budget, while receiving little across-the-aisle cooperation from Republicans.

“In response to your platitudes, it should be noted that when presented with previous opportunities to support efforts by this legislature to provide schools, parents, teachers, and students with resources to address potential violence in schools, you and your fellow caucus members voted ‘No.’,” she said. “Public Act 103 of 2023 provides over $300 million for school districts, ISDs, and nonpublic schools for activities to help improve mental health and school safety. Only two House Republicans joined the Democratic majority in supporting this legislation.”

Also speaking out was state Rep. Felicia Brabec (D-Pittsfield Township), who issued a statement as the chair of the Michigan Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention Caucus, saying she wanted to see her Republican colleagues take the safety of kids seriously.

“Minority Leader Hall is creating a false sense of urgency around the school safety package to advance a purely political agenda,” Brabec said. “There is critical work being done by legislators on both sides of the aisle. I commend my Democratic colleague Rep. Kelly Breen and Republican Rep. Luke Meerman for their dedication to making these school safety bills the best they can be, because our students, teachers and communities deserve nothing less. I’m dedicated to putting all people first, and I’m not going to let political ploys get in the way.”

Breen closed her letter to Hall by saying she was adamantly opposed to turning the school safety package into a false talking point. 

“There is no room for gamesmanship when it comes to our children’s safety. This is personal to so many of us in the House chamber and all we want is for children and loved ones to come home at the end of the school day,” she said. “Your attempt to wrestle these bills aways from the respectful bipartisan team that has put in the hours and demonstrated a commitment to work well together, is offensive, hypocritical and disingenuous. I have to call it what it is: a naked political ploy.”

Rep. Kelly Breen (D-Novi) on March 1, 2023 | Photo by Anna Gustafson

Hall responded to Breen’s letter late Wednesday, saying he was “shocked and disappointed” at the accusations it contained.

“On the same day we both supported House Resolution 191, which states “We rightly hold elected officials to a higher standard in matters of discourse,” you resort to emailing me a scattered list of personal grievances that question my sincerity on delivering meaningful school safety reform and disclosed it to the public,” said Hall. “Your attempt to paint my no vote on an education budget that included $2 billion in pork projects and the elimination of dedicated funding for school resource officers as a lack of support to address school violence is a blatant display of partisan disparagement.”

Hall concluded that with no hearings a full year since the bill package was introduced, he remained focused on seeing the legislation go to a vote, regardless of whatever work still needed to be done on them.

“Your electronically delivered letter and enclosed insults will not dissuade me from my attempts to push these bills forward,” he said.


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