Representative Lasinski addresses partisanship, infrastructure, and policing at coffee hour
Manchester’s state representative, Donna Lasinski, held her 6th coffee hour in 10 weeks on Wednesday, March 29th in the Village Room in Manchester. Although competing with the High School Art Show open house occurring just upstairs and Manchester Community Schools parent-teacher conferences, the event was attended by thirteen constituents as well as Lasinski and her staff. This was her second trip to Manchester in three days as she also visited Klager and read to students as part of March is Reading month on Monday.
Lasinski, who was sworn in on Jan. 11th, gave a brief talk on the the way Michigan’s House of Representatives works, how it operates in conjunction with Michigan’s Senate to pass bills, and what it means to be a Democrat in a majority Republican legislative body. She talked about the three committees she has been assigned to, Communication & Technology (which she requested), Insurance, and Energy Policy of which she is the Minority Vice-Chair.
She stated that she doesn’t plan to offer bills to establish philosophical positions or to prove that she is busy, and will only offer bills she intends to pass. She discussed one of the bills she has introduced so far, House Bill 4156, which passed the house as part of the bipartisan legislative package that will extend the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to apply to the governor’s office and a similar act to the state Legislature. Lasiniski’s bill specified how to separate exempt from non-exempt material in requested documents. “The state of Michigan ranks dead last in government transparency,” she informed the audience at the coffee hour. Even though the package passed the House, it is currently in limbo as the Senate decided not to take it up. “But”, Lasinski added, “they’re softening.”
One of the first questions from the audience was about the state of partisanship in Lansing. Lasinski stated that it is more interesting than in the past, moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans are finding common ground and that in the past, the parties voted as uniform blocks, which is not what is happening right now. She credited some of this to the nine days and six nights of bipartisan training for the 44 incoming freshman representatives, that the House held before they were sworn in. While the training sessions were optional, and some incoming representatives only attended a few, Lasiniski attended all of them.
She also attributed some of the willingness to work across the aisle as a new recognition in the Republican party of the “basic math problem” occurring in the state right now. “You can’t fix the infrastructure and reduce taxes.” She cited the failure of the income tax roll-back to pass earlier this year as an example of this recognition. “Policy advisors stood over Republicans while they voted” in an effort to ensure they voted the way Republican leadership wanted them to vote, she explained, and they didn’t. “You can’t pretend there is a lot of fat left in the system to be cut at this point.”
Lasinski talked about how important it is to Michigan economically to keep the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. She praised Republican Gov. Snyder for his opposition to the repeal. She explained that the Medicaid expansion means that an additional 600,000 people in Michigan have health insurance who didn’t previously and this has meant 39,000 new jobs in Michigan. Only 11,000 of the new jobs are directly attributable as they are in the health industry, the 28,000 other jobs are because hundreds of thousands of people are in better health than before. She also stated that the Federal government pays 90% of the Medicaid expansion and Michigan pays 10%, but that Michigan actually saves 150 million dollars more than the cost of the 10% it pays, because through the Medicaid expansion, more Michigan residents are able to access mental health services that keep keep them out of prison, a state expense.
Village President, Pat Vailliencourt brought up the local issue of policing. Currently, Village residents pay 7 mils for Washtenaw County Sherif Department coverage. The surrounding townships do not, and are covered by the Michigan State Police. The Village’s Sheriff Department deputy responds to emergencies in the townships when needed and because the State Police are currently stretched too thin, this is happening more frequently. Valliencourt pointed out that it is unsustainable for the Village’s 2,000 residents to pay for policing for the whole area. Lasinski confirmed that state police and DNR officers budgets have been cut. She explained that Gov. Snyder has proposed a strong budget with increases in funding for the State Police and DNR (as well as schools) but that currently Republicans on the House side are behind closed doors dismantling it. Valiencourt responded that very soon we will have to decide “does Michigan want to be known as a police-free state?”
One audience member stated that she has recently moved to the Village and discovered that she had lead pipes in her house and that the Village also has lead pipes. She asked if in light of what happened in Flint, if there would be Federal or State funding distributed to municipalities for lead pipe removal. Lasinski answered that there is not enough money to fix lead pipes. She talked about how the legislature can’t even get money to Flint. She explained that the House allocated $87 million to Flint but that “the senate said ‘no'” and the House has taken it back into caucus, and it may be another 2 week delay. Village manager Jeff Wallace expressed his frustration that there is no institutional memory at the DEQ, and as a reflex because of what happened in Flint, the DEQ ordered the Village to perform a $30,000 test that it had performed recently. It was only because Wallace remembered the name of the firm that performed the test that he was able to save the Village from redoing the test. He pointed out that there is no continuity coming out of the DEQ and that situations like that make it hard to be able to respond to the needs of the residents, like the audience member who asked the question.
Another audience member asked, what constituents can do to push these issues? Lasinski replied that people need to communicate with the legislature. She credited constituent pressure as the cause for the recognition of the issues and the search for common ground between representatives of both parties. She listed the three things that you can do to influence the legislature: first contact your representative; second, especially if your representative is already committed to voting the way you want them to, contact the chair and vice chair of committee the bills have been sent to; and third, reach out to friends who live in other districts and get them to contact their representatives. She stressed how important it is, if you are writing to your own representative, to include your address and mention that you live in their district. She responded to one concern, that if you include your address it might be collected and used for fundraising. Lasinski pointed out that there is a solid split between the legislative and campaign sides and assured everyone that addresses and phone numbers provided can’t be saved for campaign purposes. She stated that emails, calls and letters are all good ways of reaching her, but that calls have to be summarized by assistants, where she can read emails and letters herself. Lastly, she stressed to always be polite. Polite correspondences are much more likely to be listened to.
If you were unable to attend the coffee hour, you can contact State Representative Donna Lasinski at P.O. Box 30014, Lansing, MI 48909-7514, by calling (517) 373-0828 or (855) 627-5052, or by emailing her at DonnaLasinski@house.mi.gov.