Email Update from Speaker Leonard

Michigan House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt) issued the following email update Wednesday:

Dear Friend,

I hope my first legislative update of the year finds you doing well and that you and your family are enjoying this wonderful Michigan winter.

I sincerely appreciated hearing from so many of my friends and neighbors last year, and my staff and I look forward to serving you throughout 2017 as well.  My top priority is to be accountable to the hard-working families of Clinton and Gratiot Counties.  If you should need anything, please do not hesitate to contact our office or visit me at one of my regularly scheduled coffee hours.

Constituent Office Hours

Every month, I hold regularly scheduled office hours in Clinton and Gratiot Counties as detailed below. No appointment is necessary, and I will meet with constituents in the order in which they arrive. I look forward to seeing you there!

Clinton County – Saint Johns

2nd Friday of every month, 8:00-9:30a.m.
Big Boy
1408 South US 27
Saint Johns, MI  48879

Gratiot County – Ithaca

2nd Friday of every month, 10:00-11:30a.m.
Hearthstone Oven Bakery and Café
126 South Pine River Street
Ithaca, MI  48847


Speaker of the House

On January 11, 2017 I was sworn in as the state Representative of the 93rd House District for my third and final term.  Also on that day, I was elected by my peers to lead the Michigan House of Representatives as the Speaker of the House. It is such an incredible honor that my colleagues chose me as their leader over the next two years as we make important decisions that will help shape Michigan for many years to come.

A few priorities I have as Speaker include mental health reform, fixing the broken retirement teacher system, and improving vocational education. Improving the lives of those suffering from mental illness is a top priority for me and, hopefully, by working together we can come up with some real solutions for these people in need, along with their families. The teacher retirement system is costing school districts around the state too much money, money that should be spent in the classrooms instead of on a retirement plan that is simply not sustainable. Additionally, I hope my colleagues will work with me to increase the vocational education opportunities so we can ensure all Michiganders have a good-paying job after high school.

While there are many important issues I want to tackle, and many goals I have set for us this term, I also have another major priority in mind – civility in the legislative process. I have always been committed to treating others with respect and dignity, and I want to assure my constituents and the entire state that I am committed to working with all 109 of my colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, on solving some of the most pressing problems facing our state. Civility will remain my focus throughout this term because, whether we have agreed or disagreed on the issues, we need to remain civil and respect each other in order to find the best way forward together.

Governor’s State of the State Address

As you may know, each year our legislative session is kicked off with the governor’s State of the State address, which gives us an outlook on the year and a preview of what priorities the governor would like to see completed.  I look forward to working with my colleagues throughout the year on accomplishing our goals, in order to make Michigan an even better place to live. On January 17, 2017 Governor Snyder delivered his State of the State address and provided great insight to what he has planned for the year ahead.  His speech also gave us a chance to reflect on all that has been accomplished in recent years. Governor Snyder talked about many issues and successes, please see a condensed list of the highlights below:

–          Economy- The Michigan unemployment rate has been lower than the national average for many months now and continues to decline. The agriculture and automotive industries are booming in Michigan and there are countless other industries seeing great success, as well. Tourism is up, and Michigan continues to be one of the fastest-growing economies in the Midwest. This term we will continue creating the smart policies and sound budgets that keep us moving forward and truly excelling amongst our neighbors.

–          Veterans- Veterans deserve the utmost respect and care for the many sacrifices they made while serving our country. Last year, legislation was enacted to create an independent authority in charge of ensuring our veterans are receiving the best care possible. Additionally, the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency created a program that recognizes employers who are dedicated to hiring veterans. In 2016 there were 6 employers given the highest recognition: DTE Energy, General Motors, MDOT, Quicken Loans, Roush Enterprises, and Whirlpool Corporation. There is still so much work to be done for our veterans to ensure they have the care they need and a good-paying job when they return to civilian life. My colleagues and I are committed to finding solutions that benefit all veterans and provide them with the respect and care they deserve.

–          Infrastructure- When we think of funding for infrastructure, we normally think of roads.  But our state has many infrastructure needs that the governor hopes to make a priority this year. While we will continue to allocate funds that will maintain our roads and bridges, the governor would also like us to take a good look at improving advanced broadband across the state, as well as improving local water systems statewide.

Michigan has truly made great strides over the last few years, but there is still so much more work to be done. I am excited to begin working on the solutions to so many important issues with my colleagues. We are all dedicated to making Michigan a better place to live, work, and raise a family.

Andrew Nelson

On Dec. 25, 2006, U.S. Army PFC Andrew H. Nelson, 19, from Saint Johns, was killed in battle while serving in Baghdad. An improvised explosive device hit the armored personnel carrier he was driving as part of a route-clearing mission through Baghdad. He had volunteered to drive the lead vehicle in the mission, and his job was to ensure a safe route for his comrades in arms.

Andrew was born to be a soldier, according to his family. From an early age he wanted to serve others. At age 5, he wanted to be a fireman, and then advanced to the “policeman stage” a few years later. By age 9, he decided he wanted to be a soldier.  PFC Nelson was 14 when terrorists attacked America on Sept. 11, 2001, and he began to seriously consider the Army as a career at that time. When he was 17 he enlisted in the Delayed Entry Program, which allowed him to spend many weekends training and preparing for the military while he attended school during his senior year. He received his diploma in June of 2005, then began basic training a little over a month later.

Nearly 5,000 American military men and women died in the Iraq War. Each death in battle is a very personal loss for family, for friends, for fellow soldiers, and for entire communities. Saint Johns mourned the loss of one of its own. We must never forget those who have given, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, their “last full measure of devotion” to their country. That’s why I introduced a bill to name a portion of Business Route 127 in PFC Andrew H. Nelson’s memory. The legislation, House Bill 4874, calls for signs to designate the memorial highway between West Walker Road and East Townsend Road in Saint Johns. I am happy to announce that House Bill 4874 was signed into law by Governor Snyder on December 14, 2016.

The Michigan Memorial Highway Act provides for these designations, which serve to commemorate our fellow citizens who have significantly contributed to our communities. These Michiganders have served us in the public square, protected us on our streets, or fought for us on foreign soil. Many have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. This is a small token we can share to show our appreciation for Andrew’s service to our country. I was proud to work with his family to make sure that his name and his sacrifice will never be forgotten.

Kevin’s Law

Last term, I introduced legislation to strengthen public safety by allowing friends and family members to obtain mental health care for those in extreme need.  House Bill 4674 makes reforms to Kevin’s Law, a package of bills signed into law in 2005 that connects community services to adults with severe mental illness who have difficulty complying with voluntary treatment. A 2014 survey showed that the law was underutilized in Michigan because of its complexity, so I set out to change it and make it more accessible for the families who need it.

This legislation makes the process simpler for family members and friends to obtain needed mental health care for those in need without impairing any of the due process protections provided to those in need of care.  Those protections include free, court-appointed counsel and court hearing options if the individual believes intervention is not required.

Reforming Kevin’s Law ensures Michiganders will have full access to longer-term mental health care treatment options needed to help gain stability and lead successful lives.  The legislation clarifies current law by:

  • Offering early intervention, as current law requires a serious incident to occur before intervention can be requested;
  • Simplifying the process of seeking court-approved treatment; and
  • Allowing a judge in any case to order intervention before a serious incident has taken place, causing injury to the prospective patient or a member of the public.

As a former prosecutor, protecting our state’s most vulnerable citizens remains a top priority for me.  Reforming Kevin’s Law was a huge step in the right direction toward protecting not only those who suffer from mental illness, but those who may be victims when horrific crimes are committed.  House Bill 4674 was signed into law by Governor Snyder on November 29, 2016.

Income Tax Reduction

Michigan’s economy has made incredible progress since the 2008 recession. We are becoming a model for other states in the nation for fiscal responsibility. We enjoy a budget surplus. People are going back to work. The exodus of Michiganders to other states has slowed. Our children are moving back home to raise their families. Small businesses are opening. Indeed, the sunrise over Lake Huron showcases a much brighter state than we’ve seen in recent memory. But we can do so much more — we can be so much more — if we just get government out of their way and trust the people.

As I and other Republicans knocked on doors on the campaign trail across our wondrous state this fall, from the western end of the U.P. to a resurgent Detroit and the Ohio border, we heard one consistent message, almost a plea: ‘Cut my taxes. Let me spend what I earn on my family.’ Republicans heard our neighbors. So, our first order of business will be to cut the income taxes of every Michigander.

We want to put our hard-working taxpayers first and increase the size of everyone’s paychecks, because they know how best to spend their money. People work hard to make ends meet, but too many are still struggling to balance their family budgets every month. That is why it is well past time for the state Legislature to finally reduce Michigan’s backbreaking income tax.

There will be challenges to getting this done. The tax spenders will not yield quietly. That is because the tax spenders believe your tax dollars belong to them. They are already claiming that giving your money back is impossible, irresponsible even. The more money they have of yours, the more control they have over your lives, so they are predictably saying the government needs more of your money. But Michigan is not the same state it used to be, and our state government does not panic like it used to do. We can finally afford these reforms because of several years of good, conservative budgeting.

This wasn’t always so. The fact is former Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s disastrous tax credit giveaways put our state budget in a bind and handcuffed our taxpayers. We have spent the past few years fixing the mistakes of the past and rebuilding Michigan’s economy, and we will fix this mistake, too. Our pledge is that Republicans will stand up against the tax spenders and fight for the taxpayers. This is the job we were sent here to do.

When the government cut a deal to raise the income tax in 2007 to cover an emergency budget hole, Granholm promised the people that the rate would eventually fall back to 3.9 percent. It was written into law, but then that law was undone before the reduction could take place. A temporary tax hike was locked in permanently. No more.

Michigan is a special place to call home. There is no place like it in America. Our people are strong, hopeful. We put America on wheels. We were the arsenal of democracy. To paraphrase President Ronald Reagan, Michigan can now be that shining state on a hill where we protect our most vulnerable, where investment is welcome, risk is rewarded, and big dreams can be realized.

I am going to do all I can to keep this promise to you: Republicans will cut your taxes. It is our best way forward to building a stronger, more prosperous future for Michigan.

FOIA/LORA

Accountability in our state government is incredibly important to the people of Michigan, and it is important to me. That is why my colleagues and I unveiled a plan to create more transparency for the Legislature. On February 1, several Representatives introduced a bipartisan package of bills to create the Legislative Open Records Act (LORA) and expand the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  Similar bills were introduced last term and passed through the House with bipartisan support, but the Senate did not take them up.

Part of the newly introduced bills would add the Governor and Lieutenant Governor to the list of offices subject to FOIA. As you may know, the Constitution prohibits legislators from being questioned by the judicial or executive branches, which could prove to be a serious issue if the Legislature was added to FOIA, due to FOIA’s judicial appeal process.  Therefore, several bills were also introduced to create LORA, a Legislature-specific act that closely mirrors FOIA while avoiding separation of power issues.

This package of bills has been referred to the Michigan Competitiveness committee, where members of the committee will work on improving the bills before they come up for a vote.  If you would like to follow the progress of House Bills 4148-4157, you can visit www.legislature.mi.gov where you will find a full copy of the bills along with legislative history and further information.  I have and always will remain accountable to my constituents and work hard to be the best public servant I can be for the hard-working families of Michigan.

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