We will build a smarter COVID-19 response plan

If you spend much time on social media, you might come away with the impression that the political divide in our country is greater than ever. Scrolling through your Facebook and Twitter feeds, it’s easy to feel like no one can agree on anything.

The reality is that my colleagues in the Legislature and I work quite well together. We talk often of the problems plaguing people in our communities and discuss ways to solve them and achieve common goals.

The recent state budget process is a perfect example. Despite the way COVID-19 has hurt our economy and impacted tax revenue, the Legislature found a way to increase overall support for schools and protect funding for local communities and the essential services most important to Michigan families. The plan won wide bipartisan support.

After the Michigan Supreme Court struck down the governor’s COVID-19 executive orders as unconstitutional, Republicans and Democrats again came together to overwhelmingly approve several measures that improve our state’s COVID-19 response plan.

Looking back, I am proud of how much we have achieved over the past two years by working together:

Improving the rural broadband network: The Legislature approved, and the governor recently signed, a plan to allow the Department of Technology Management and Budget (DTMB) to implement a statewide broadband grant program called the Broadband Expansion Act of Michigan (BEAM). The change comes in tandem with the recently signed state budget, which includes $14.3 million to bring rural Michigan additional access to broadband. Earlier this year, we passed legislation allowing Michigan electric cooperatives – including the Ontonagon County REA, which serves Houghton, Baraga, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties – to use their electric easements to add broadband service to existing lines, while continuing to protect the property rights of surrounding landowners. Both initiatives will help increase access to fast and reliable internet in the Western Upper Peninsula.

Criminal justice reform: Our “Raise the Age” plan ended the practice of automatically trying all 17-year-olds as adults in court. We also made sweeping changes to civil asset forfeiture laws, ensuring that law enforcement agencies cannot keep personal property from citizens who have not been charged with any crime. This month, the governor signed new laws that will expand the criteria for expungements related to traffic offenses, marijuana violations that are now legal and other minor crimes. The bills will give thousands of Michigan residents a clean slate and a better opportunity to find jobs to support themselves and their families.

Auto insurance: After previous Legislatures had failed for decades to provide meaningful car insurance reforms, my colleagues and I got the job done in 2019 – with changes that began to take effect this summer. The Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association lowered the fees it assesses on each vehicle, and many drivers are seeing lower rates as they renew their policies.

All these reforms were approved with overwhelming bipartisan support – Republicans working with Democrats, legislators working with the governor. And it shows just how productive we can be when we all come together for the common good.

Collaboration is an approach we should strive toward in all times – and especially during a global pandemic. After we made great progress working together earlier this month to put several COVID-19 protection measures into state law, this week the governor and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services went right back to issuing mandates without any discussion with their partners in the Legislature. It’s frustrating, to say the least. We must reopen the lines of communication and work together to get our state back on track.

I care deeply about the needs of the people I’m elected to help and protect, and I talk with people in our community often. My job is to serve as your voice in the decision-making process. That’s why it’s so important for both the Legislature and the governor to practice bipartisanship in future decisions about our state’s COVID-19 response.

It’s been a difficult year, and while I know things have not been easy, our community is resilient. We will get through this. In the meantime, please continue listening to the doctors and health experts in our community, like those with the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department. They’re doing a great job, and they deserve our support and respect.

State Rep. Greg Markkanen of Hancock is serving his first term in the Michigan House representing residents of Baraga, Gogebic, Houghton, Iron, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties, as well as Powell and Ishpeming townships in Marquette County.


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