by Laina G. Stebbins, Michigan Advance
In the first 100 days of 2023, with Democrats now holding the reins after a dozen years of total Republican legislative rule, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist says he and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer are proud to have successfully rolled back several high-profile, right-wing policies.
Since January, the Michigan Legislature has been passing bills — and Whitmer has been signing them — at a record pace that surpasses many past sessions.
Many of these actions, including bills repealing Right to Work, repealing the controversial third-grade reading law, axing the pension tax and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), are reversals of policies enacted under Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder.
The Advance asked Gilchrist in a Tuesday phone interview what that says about the direction Michigan is now heading in.
“[That] says that we spend a lot of time taking out the trash,” Gilchrist said. “Legislation, things that should never have been done to the people of Michigan that were done under the previous administration and [GOP-led] Legislature.
“We are righting those wrongs. But we also spent time making things better and expanding access to our rights and opportunity, and that’s what essentially the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act [ELCRA] represents. That’s what’s represented by a lot of the investments we’re making in the budget,” Gilchrist continued.
The expansion of ELCRA was a particularly bright spot for Democratic leaders, who have been pressing to extend its protections to the LGBTQ+ community since its enactment many decades ago.
“Our LGBTQ+ friends, family and neighbors deserve equal protection under the law so they can live their authentic lives, and I want everyone to know that Michigan is a place that will fight for your freedom to be yourself,” Whitmer said in a statement to the Advance. “Guaranteeing equal legal protections to LGBTQ+ Michiganders is the right thing to do.”
Being able to hit the ground running to enact measures like the ELCRA expansion in the first 100 days of the new session is a testament to Democratic leaders like Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) and House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit), Gilchrist said.
“We focused on what was urgent in front of the people of Michigan and we’re going to continue to focus on the things that are most important,” he said. ” … I can tell you that everything we sign, including our state budget this year, is going to be impactful.”
Other policy areas that have so far been prioritized by the new Legislature include labor, schools, reproductive rights, taxes and gun reform.
Gilchrist said he and Whitmer are “eager” to sign the first round of firearm regulation bills “very soon,” which include safe storage, “red flag” laws and universal background checks. He emphasized that the majority of Michiganders support all three.
“This has been the beginning of what we can do to keep people safe,” Gilchrist said. “Because I don’t want anybody else in Michigan to die at the hands of a gun. There’s no reason. These deaths are completely preventable. I think we have the opportunity now to do something about that.”
One policy area that has yet to be put on the fast track in the new session: Environmental and energy issues.
But Gilchrist pointed to the MI Healthy Climate Plan that he and Whitmer announced last year and said lawmakers are “very eager to make sure it’s codified into Michigan law — while setting aggressive goals for the state of Michigan to not only be carbon neutral, but to be a leader in this space.”
On taxes, aside from successfully repealing the so-called retirement tax and expanding the state’s EITC, the governor and Democratic lawmakers had attempted to also push through $180 rebate checks for Michiganders.
That attempt ultimately failed and the Advance asked Gilchrist about the process.
“The proposal was not able to come together because the Republicans decided that they were not in favor of giving direct relief to the people of Michigan in the form of those $180 checks,” Gilchrist said Tuesday.
” … Republicans decided that that was not a priority for them and it wasn’t important for them to put money in people’s pockets this year. And that’s unfortunate.”
As to whether he and Whitmer are open to revisiting the idea of rebate checks at some point, Gilchrist left the possibility open but emphasized the relief that the other reforms already represent.
“The governor is going to continue to look for ways to try to get relief and money in people’s hands immediately. But the reforms that we put in place already represent the biggest tax changes and tax decreases for working families and retirees and Michiganders overall in decades,” he said.
“Michiganders need relief as inflation drives up costs and eats into their paychecks,” Whitmer added. “That’s why I worked with the Michigan Legislature to pass the Lowering MI Costs plan to deliver a $1 billion tax break for seniors and working families.”
This story was written by Laina G. Stebbins, a reporter for the Michigan Advance, where this story first appeared.
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