UP state legislators give report of activities to local constituents

Joshua Vissers/Daily Mining Gazette Sen. Ed McBroom (left) and Rep. Greg Markkanen met with constituents at K.C. Bonker’s in Hancock on Friday to talk about what they’ve been doing and what they want to do in Lansing.

HANCOCK — The Michigan Legislature is recessed for the next two weeks, so Upper Peninsula legislators are using the time to talk to some of their constituents.

“We’re calling it an in-district work session,” Rep. Greg Markkanen said. “It’s good to be back in Hancock.”

About 20 people gathered in K.C. Bonker’s Toys and Coffee in Hancock for an question and answer session with Markkanen and Sen. Ed McBroom.

McBroom started by highlighting the success of Senate Bill 87, which he introduced at the beginning of February.

The bill preserves a state court that would have been eliminated under a law passed in 2012. If the court was eliminated, its cases would instead be handled by Menominee County.

However, the caseload has increased by 60 percent since 2012, according to the Senate analysis, and would be a large burden for the county to take on.

McBroom also reiterated his intent to work on auto insurance reform, which he said was not only a drag on personal finances in the state but also on businesses that have to maintain fleets of vehicles to do their work.

He said he is optimistic, in part because there is a lot of talk not only about reform but specifically about reducing costs. However, he said there is no clear plan for a fix yet.

“There’s not just one change we can make and fix the whole system,” McBroom said.

Fraud, the lack of a fee schedule and unlimited caps on lifetime benefits are all problems that are driving costs higher, according to McBroom. He also told the group he does not think it is likely the auto insurance mandate would be repealed.

“I have to compromise to change the law,” he said.

Funding for road repairs is also on McBroom’s radar, in part because of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposal of a 45-cent gas tax. He said he does not see that tax progressing because no senator has been willing to introduce the bill in the House, not even Democrats from Whitmer’s party.

“I’m not exactly sure what’s going to work out,” McBroom said.

He said that local and county roads need the work the most, and would like to find a way to ensure money gets to those local units.

One attendee asked McBroom how Senate Bill 25 would help K-12 education. The bill would require candidates for the state Board of Education to be selected from different geographic regions.

McBroom said it has been about 50 years since a board member has been from the Upper Peninsula. He said this is a problem because reforms passed years ago are working for some schools but not for others, and it has been difficult to get board members to visit U.P. schools to understand the reforms being asked for here.

When asked about partisanship on the board, he said that was less of an issue.

“I’d rather take a U.P. Democrat over a Detroit Republican any day,” he said.