Majority Republicans on Tuesday abandoned — for now — legislation that would have eliminated health insurance for newly hired municipal workers and closed the pension system to new teachers, removing highly contentious items from the postelection agenda and turning their attention toward bills with widespread support.
GOP House Speaker Kevin Cotter, a main sponsor of the health plan that was unveiled last week, said local governments' $11 billion in unfunded liabilities are a problem that is "only going to get worse," but more work is needed on all but one of the 13 bills. His decision came on a day hundreds of police and firefighters protested the legislation outside the Capitol.
"We need to take more time," said Cotter, who is leaving the House under term limits and has warned that municipalities could face bankruptcy from retiree health bills. "We need to be very thoughtful about something of this kind of consequence."
Rep. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, said it was "shocking" that Republicans proposed "such a reckless plan to rob public employees of their health care, and force even current retirees to pay more for it."
A panel did advance one bill that is aimed at shedding light on the extent to which each county, city, township and village is pre-funding retiree health costs.
Meanwhile, the GOP-controlled Senate dropped a bill that would have switched newly hired school employees from a combined pension-401(k) benefit into solely a 401(k) plan. The legislation was narrowly approved last week in committee but faced opposition from Republican Gov. Rick Snyder over the cost of such a change and others who decried it as an attack on teachers.
Amber McCann, the spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, said Republicans wanted more time to review the bill and to better understand budget implications and long-term savings.
"There's too much confusion around some of the details right now," she said. "I expect that it's still something that we'll pursue next term."
Bills not passed by Dec. 15, the end of the two-year legislative session, could be considered by a new GOP-controlled Legislature starting in January.
Also Tuesday, a key legislator said his panel would not vote this year on Senate-passed legislation — backed by the Snyder administration — that would have provided up to $250 million in annual tax incentives to attract larger-scale business expansions. House Local Government Committee Chairman Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, cited the budget ramifications in recent years from companies redeeming larger-than-expected refundable tax credits awarded under the state's previous, recession-era economic development program.
Other Senate-approved tax incentives continued to be debated. Legislation backed by Detroit businessman Dan Gilbert and local economic development agencies would allow developers to keep up to $50 million a year in sales and income taxes generated from developing future "transformational" projects on contaminated brownfield sites.
"I don't like the bills at all," Cotter said.
The House also voted 105-1 to lighten the penalty for underage drinking, making a first offense a civil infraction instead of a misdemeanor crime. The measure will soon go to Snyder's desk.
Sen. Rick Jones, a former county sheriff, said kids who make one mistake should not have their college or job prospects jeopardized with a criminal record.
"This is about fairness and smarter justice," said Jones, R-Grand Ledge. "It balances the need to deter young people from drinking with the understanding that kids make mistakes."
In 2014, there were about 9,300 minor-in-possession convictions of first-time offenders in courts that submitted data, according to the State Court Administrative Office.
The House delayed until Wednesday votes to finish enacting a statewide regulatory framework for ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft and to take a significant step toward joining Michigan with 30 states that compensate exonerated prisoners. Senate-passed legislation up for approval in the House would pay ex-inmates $50,000, tax-free, for each year of their wrongful incarceration, along with attorney fees.