State lawmakers to talk cash-strapped schools, marijuana, traffic fines

Jul 15, 2014

The state Legislature returns briefly from its summer break Wednesday for its only scheduled session day in July.

Credit user cedarbenddrive / Flickr

No full floor votes are expected in either the House or the Senate. But a number of legislative panels will meet to discuss a wide variety of issues.

The state Senate Government Operations Committee is expected to approve two high-profile medical marijuana bills. House Bill 4271 would allow medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in Michigan. House Bill 5104 would allow patients to use edible and other non-smokable forms of marijuana.

Legislation that would relax some fines for drivers will also likely move forward in the state House.

The Legislature has already repealed a law that tacked on extra fines for driving without a license or proof of insurance. But some drivers still owe money for tickets written before September of 2012. That’s when lawmakers repealed the extra fees.

Senate Bill 633 would allow those drivers to perform ten hours of community service instead of having to pay up.  

State House Appropriations Chair Joe Haveman, R-Holland, says he was never a fan of the fines in the first place.

“I just felt it was wrong to tax people twice or fine people twice for the same crime,” said Haveman. “This was passed back 10 or 11 years ago when the state was flat broke and we were looking for every avenue to collect additional revenue.”

The bill already cleared the state Senate unanimously.

And a state Senate panel will take comments from the public on legislation meant to keep schools from falling into financial trouble. The legislation would free up money in state loans and bonds for schools that show signs of budget problems.

The bills would also make it easier for the state to assign an emergency manager if schools don’t get their books in order.

“Hopefully we don’t get to that point,” said Sen. Howard Walker, R-Traverse City, who is sponsoring some of the bills. “And that’s why we call it an early warning system. So that one, there’s an early warning; two, there’s a plan put in place to eliminate the deficit situation in school districts.”

The state dissolved the Buena Vista and Inkster school districts last year after they ran out of money and were no longer able to operate.