Comprehensive retirement reform signed into law

LANSING—Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, today released the following statement as comprehensive retirement reform was signed into law:

“Today, Michigan became a leader and a champion of retirement reform.

Senate Bill 401, now Public Act 92 of 2017, provides future school employees with a competitive defined contribution plan and protects and secures existing retirement plans for current and former school employees.

Pensions are a thing of the past.  Employees entering the workforce today expect to receive a competitive retirement option that allows them the flexibility to plan for their future.  For too long now, Michigan’s teachers and school employees were enrolled in an upside down system where they work each day to pay the pensions of colleagues who had long since retired.

This reform was long overdue.  As lawmakers, it is our responsibility to act in the best interests of the taxpayers.  This law safeguards against the accumulation of more and more debt and gives future school employees better options to plan for their retirement.”

 

 

Senate leader on adding to open records law: ‘I stand by my position’

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof

By Arlan B. Meekhof, on MLive.com

My public opposition to legislation that would make the Michigan Senate subject to additional open records requirements has garnered attention and contempt from various individuals.

The Senate makes available to the public information related to the expenditure of tax dollars. My salary and that of my colleagues is specified by the state constitution. Senate office budgets, contracts and leases are available for review and are supplied upon request. The names, titles and compensation of Senate staff are available for inspection. I wholeheartedly agree that the taxpayers of our state deserve to see how their hard-earned dollars are spent.

All bills introduced by a member of the Senate are available and searchable via an online database. The state budget is made available online for the public to review and scrutinize. Legislative committees follow set schedules and make notice of their agenda well in advance of meeting so that members of the public can submit information and participate in the meeting. Committee meetings are streamed online and broadcast on television. Senate session follows a specific weekly schedule and is open to the public as well as also being streamed online  and broadcast on television. I firmly believe that an open and transparent democratic process is beneficial to our citizens.

The transparency described above is specified by the Michigan Constitution. The state constitution says the Legislature must hold public session. The state constitution says committee meetings must be open and available to the public for participation. The state constitution says legislative ideas must take the form of bills; it says my votes and the votes of each and every one of my fellow senators must be part of public record. The constitution also says that legislators should be free to discuss ideas without fear of outside entities reviewing that process and undermining the work legislators do on behalf of the people.

I do not believe constituent correspondence should be available for review by the public or the media. Constituents entrust me and my staff with personal information in an effort to resolve conflicts with state departments. Citizens should be able to contact their senator without fear that their home addresses or Social Security numbers will end up in the hands of someone else.

I do not think lobbyists should be able to request my emails so they can advantage their clients. I do not think political opponents should be able to review my calendar for their own gain. I do not think my staff people deserve to have their personnel records scrutinized by the public simply because they work to serve the public.

I do think I should be able to meet and discuss ideas with constituents, interest groups and fellow elected officials in order to solve problems in my district and in the state. Once those ideas are fully developed, I introduce them in the form of a bill and the legislative process prescribed by the state constitution begins.

I understand that legislators are not held in high regard. I understand that the actions of a few bad actors means we are often all painted with the same brush. I also understand that if we circumvent the state constitution in order to score political points, there will be fewer and fewer talented and engaged people willing to run for office.

Fewer people will be willing to serve their neighbors and communities when they realize they cannot put an original thought on paper without it being subject to review by those seeking to “expose” something. Constituents will think twice about contacting their senators to express an opinion or navigate a state department if they know their thoughts and private information can be reviewed by the media intent on crafting their own stories.

I have heard the opposition to my opinion. I have read their editorials. I was elected to serve my constituents and uphold the Constitution of the State of Michigan. I stand by my position.

Meekhof remembers Mike Ilitch

LANSING—Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, today commented on the passing of Mr. Mike Ilitch:

“Mr. Ilitch was a true visionary.  His investment, hard work and determination shaped our state and made the Ilitch name synonymous with the city of Detroit.  Few men have impacted their community and their state in such a positive way.  My thoughts and prayers are with the Ilitch family during this difficult time.  I hope they find some comfort in the knowledge that Mr. Ilitch’s legacy will go on.”

Meekhof comments on FY 2018 budget presentation

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof

LANSING— Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, issued the following statement today in response to Gov. Snyder’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget presentation:

“The Governor presented a plan for the next fiscal year that continues the trend he established seven years ago of a thoughtful state budget.

The Senate Republicans are committed to passage of a spending plan that is focused on taxpayer priorities and sound return on investment for our citizens.  My colleagues and I work hard to pass commonsense reforms and practical legislation that put Michigan in the best position to support a robust economy and a thriving environment for growth.

The Governor’s presentation today is the first step in the process toward adopting a responsible state budget.  The Senate Republicans will review the plan and look for areas where we can agree and even improve.”

Meekhof announces staff changes

LANSING– Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, today announced the promotion of Majority Counsel Scott Hughes toGeneral Counsel and Deputy Chief of Staff and Jennifer Merchant to Legislative Director.  Connor Spalding will officially take over as Deputy Legislative Director and former Representative Amanda Price will serve as District Director for the Senate Majority Leader’s office.

“I am very fortunate to have so many capable and knowledgeable staff who will easily transition to new roles and additional responsibilities.  Scott Hughes is an invaluable member of my staff and an asset for our caucus.  The addition of ‘Deputy Chief of Staff’ to his list of responsibilities will be a new challenge and one that I am certain he will handle with ease,” said Meekhof.

Scott Hughes started with Senate Majority Leader Meekhof in 2015 as majority legal counsel.  He previously worked in private practice.  Hughes resides in Byron Center with his wife, Staci, and their three children.  Hughes is a graduate of Michigan State University and Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

“Jennifer Merchant has had years of experience in the House and previously worked for the House Floor Leader’s office.  She hit the ground running in my office and this new title accurately reflects her skill set,” said Meekhof.  “I am happy to be able to recognize her abilities with this promotion.”

Jennifer Merchant began her career in the legislature in 2011 in the office of former Representative Lisa Lyons, R-Alto.  Merchant then moved on to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and later returned to the legislature in the office of former House Majority Floor Leader Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton.  Merchant is a graduate of Michigan State University and resides in Lowell with her husband, Rusty.

“Connor Spalding has been a constant in the majority leader’s office since last term.  He started as an intern and has worked in every role on his way to the position of Deputy Legislative Director.  Connor is meticulous, knowledgeable and accessible.  This new title better reflects his role in my office and his significance as a member of my staff,” said Meekhof.

Connor Spalding is a graduate of Michigan State University.  Spalding began his career in the office of former Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe.  Spalding is a resident of Lansing.

“Amanda Price is a welcomed addition to my staff.  She has served in the legislature and knows the unique skill set necessary to serve constituents.  I know that she will help me serve the residents of the 30th Senate District well,” said Meekhof.

Former Representative Amanda Price was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives in 2010 and served until the end of her third term in 2016.  Price is a resident of Holland where she lives with her husband, Rodger.

Price replaces long-time staffer Dennis Van Dam who passed away last year.

Former Deputy Chief of Staff Craig Ryan was recently promoted to the position of Chief of Staff upon the departure of Robert DeVries.

Meekhof joins with colleagues to repeal prevailing wage

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof

LANSING—Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, today announced the introduction of legislation to help save schools and communities money.

Meekhof joins Senator Pete MacGregor, R-Rockford, and Senator Dave Robertson, R-Grand Blanc, as sponsors of Senate Bills 1, 2, and 3 to repeal Michigan’s prevailing wage law.

“Since my days as a township official, I have viewed prevailing wages laws as an unnecessary burden on our schools and local communities.  It does not make sense that our taxpayers should have to pay more for improvements to our school and municipal buildings,” said Meekhof.

Current state law requires all construction firms deployed to a government worksite to pay employees union scale wages, costing taxpayers, schools and local communities millions of additional dollars each year.

“I remain committed to repealing Michigan’s prevailing wage laws,” said Sen. Pete MacGregor, R-Rockford. “Our state has experienced remarkable economic growth in recent years, and we have worked hard to enact reforms that will continue moving Michigan forward. Getting rid of burdensome, outdated prevailing wage laws will help those efforts to make our state the best place to live, work, and raise a family.”

If passed, Michigan would join 20 other states that do not have a prevailing wage law.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to come up with an agreeable solution and save taxpayer dollars,” said Robertson.

“At one time, this law was meant to ensure fair and equitable wages, but it has long since morphed into an obligation that only costs taxpayers more money,” said Meekhof.

The bills were referred to the Senate Michigan Competitiveness Committee upon introduction.  The bills may be viewed online via www.legislature.mi.gov.

Meekhof announces chief of staff changes

LANSING—Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, today announced the departure of  long-time Chief of Staff, Robert DeVries and the promotion of current Deputy Chief and Legislative Director Craig Ryan to the position of chief of staff.

“Bob has been my lead staff person since I first started in the House 10 years ago.  I am always pleased to see my staff people move on to new opportunities, but Bob’s departure is bittersweet.  I am so happy for him and I wish him well, but it is hard for me to imagine my office without Bob,” said Meekhof.  “I rely on Bob’s counsel as a professional and as a friend.”

DeVries has held the title of Chief of Staff to Senator Meekhof since 2011 when Meekhof joined the Michigan Senate as Majority Floor Leader.  DeVries started his career in the legislature in 2007 and held various staff positions in the Michigan House of Representatives.

DeVries is a graduate of Grand Valley State University and received his Juris Doctor degree from Thomas M. Cooley Law School in 2012.  DeVries is a member of the State Bar of Michigan.  DeVries resides in Kentwood, Michigan with his wife, Jackie, and their three daughters.  He is active in his local community and well-known throughout the Lansing community.

DeVries will join the staff of Lansing firm Governmental Consultant Services, Inc., or GCSI, in the first part of 2017.

Craig Ryan is currently Deputy Chief of Staff and Legislative Director for Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive.  Ryan joined Meekhof’s staff in 2015 as Policy Director.

“Craig is an integral member of my team and will easily transition into the job of chief of staff,” said Meekhof.  “Craig has a wealth of knowledge and experience both in and outside the legislature.  He is well-respected by senators and staff, alike.  I know Craig will do an excellent job and I look forward to working with him in this new role.”

Ryan came to the Michigan Senate from his position as Deputy Policy Director and Senior Policy Advisor in the Michigan House Republican Policy Office.  Ryan has held various staff positions in the Michigan Senate and House since 1997.  Ryan worked as an executive for Lafarge North America from 2006 to 2013.

Ryan is a graduate of Michigan State University and resides in Perry, Michigan with his wife, Telly, and their five children.

Senate passes legislation for Detroit Public Schools

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof

LANSING—Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, today announced passage of a comprehensive plan to resolve the debt of Detroit Public Schools (DPS), provide funding for transition to a new community school district and return the school district to a locally elected school board.

“Many months of work and discussion resulted in the passage of a legislative compromise to reform Detroit Public Schools.  This package of bills resolves a half billion dollars in debt, provides resources necessary for DPS to transition to a new, debt-free district and returns the school district to a locally elected board at the earliest possible election date,” said Meekhof.

“Senator Hansen worked hard to present a thoughtful plan that garnered bipartisan support in the Senate, however, at the end of the day any solution for DPS must have the support of both the Senate and House and this latest plan represents a realistic compromise that will put the district on a path for the future,” said Meekhof.

“There are more than 45,000 students who depend upon DPS and deserve stable, quality education options.  This plan provides opportunity for the students and parents of Detroit,” said Meekhof.

The package of legislation separates the district into two entities: the old district to pay off the debt and a new community district to educate students.  The legislation provides $150 million in resources to transition to the new community school district.  Both the old school district and the new community school district will be subject to oversight by the same financial review commission in place for the City of Detroit.

Elections will be held in November 2016 for a new, seven-member school board.  The board members will take office in January 2017.

A six-member advisory council will be created and charged with developing siting and transportation recommendations for the new community school district.  The council will be comprised of three representatives from traditional schools and three representatives from the charter school community.

The legislation implements an A through F accountability system for all traditional and charter schools in the district starting in the 2017-2018 school year.  The current state School Reform Office will be responsible for those schools that receive an “F” for three consecutive years and will have the authority to close persistently failing schools.

“Without legislative action, Detroit Public Schools will head toward bankruptcy.  Bankruptcy of the state’s largest school district will cost billions of dollars and result in a funding cut for every student in every school district in Michigan,” said Meekhof.

The DPS reform package is comprised of House Bills 5383, 5384, 5387 and Senate Bills 711, 820 and 822.

House Bill 5384 creates the new community school district and provides for governance, an advisory council, an A through F accountability system and related reforms.

House Bill 5383 creates the community district education trust fund.

Senate Bill 711 provides for oversight of the district by the financial review commission.

Senate Bill 820 allows the school board president and superintendent to serve on the financial review commission and allows an emergency manager to serve as transition manager.

Senate Bill 822 allows for a loan of up to $150 million for transitional operating costs.

House Bill 5387 bolsters the procedures and penalties for illegal teacher strikes.

The Senate adopted an amendment to House Bill 5383 to hold the School Aid Fund harmless of any impact of interest accumulated on the debt.

In addition, House Bill 5384 was amended to treat failing charter schools and failing traditional schools the same when it comes to closure.

House Bill 5383 and 5384 will return to the House for concurrence votes.

Meekhof comments on sick outs

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof

LANSING—Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, issued the following statement regarding the closure of more than 80 Detroit schools today:

“Today’s actions by the teachers of Detroit Public Schools is irresponsible and counterproductive to finding a solution for Detroit’s parents and students.  The Senate has actively worked to present and pass a comprehensive plan for 47,000 students in need of quality education options.  My colleagues and I are looking for partners, not adversaries.

This ‘sick out’ amounts to a strike.  Thousands of children woke up this morning to find they could not go to school and thousands of parents scrambled to rearrange work schedules and care for their children.  This act by the Detroit teachers’ union puts families in turmoil.

When Detroit teachers choose to strike it is children who suffer the most.  This action makes the likelihood of reaching a long-term solution for DPS more challenging.  The families who rely upon DPS continue to be let down by the union.”

Meekhof comments on DPS indictments

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof

LANSING—Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, today issued the following statement regarding news of indictments for former and current Detroit Public School administrators:

“The alleged actions of former and current principals in Detroit Public Schools are unacceptable.  This is further evidence of the need for reform and oversight of the schools in Detroit.  I’ll be working with my colleagues in the House to strengthen the DPS legislation passed by the Senate in light of this development.  If proven true, adults are literally robbing children of an education. It is criminal and immoral.”