Five unresolved Capitol issues in 2021

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Yeah, yeah, I know, thank God 2020 is over. I hear you.

That said, it’s impossible after a newsworthy year like that to not have some carryover issues to deal with.

For the Michigan Legislature, here’s my top five. Give me another 650 words and I could tick off five more.

1. Unemployment insurance — The governor wants the unemployed to be eligible for 26 weeks of benefits as opposed to current 20, a number then-Gov. Rick Snyder created back in 2011 in reaction to the UI Fund’s massive Great Recession-era debt.

Republican legislative leaders are OK with 26 weeks when the economy is sputtering due to COVID-19 restrictions. They don’t want it to be a permanent thing.

Another thing.

Businesses pay into the UI fund, not the state. Republican lawmakers linked a temporary expanded 26-week benefit to a $220 million state-paid bailout of the fund. They argued business has suffered enough from COVID-inspired government shutdowns.

With the feds riding to the rescue with its latest $980 billion COVID recovery bill, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed it.

When Republicans and business interests are done painting Whitmer a hard-hearted scrooge, there will a new round of negotiations. Still, it’s hard to see anything passing until February, at the earliest.

2. Police officer reform — When the Black Lives Matter protests were happening just about everywhere last summer, the Republican House and Senate passed separate bills requiring police training in de-escalation techniques, implicit bias and crisis intervention.

Then, nothing. Apparently, the bills got tied up into a larger discussion about banning chokeholds, a duty for police officers to intervene when a colleague goes bananas and an end to qualified immunity for off-duty police officers.

Since the Legislature was passing expungement reform and decriminalization at the time, the police officer conduct stuff got pushed to the backburner until it was forgotten entirely. 2021 is a new year.

3. More COVID-19 relief for restaurants, other businesses — Whether this is done in the courts or through further spending bills, Michigan businesses forced to close to prevent COVID-19 spread, will eventually demand reimbursement.

Maybe some of the federal money goes here. If the state ends up not being in its projected $1 billion hole, it’s possible General Fund money is used.

But Republicans will insist restaurants, movie theaters and other venues be made whole. Whitmer, ultimately, will realize the political benefit to going there.

4. Absentee ballot counting — Giving city clerks only one extra day to prepare absentee ballots for counting was woefully inadequate last November. It’s hard to argue otherwise.

The Machiavellian in me guesses Republicans set up the absentee voting system to be painfully slow so President Trump had something to blame his presumed loss on in Michigan.

Regardless, Republican legislators are coming around to the realization that if you don’t want the uncomfortably bright national spotlight shining on Michigan the day after Election Day, the answer is to let clerks count absentee ballots early.

Set up a fair system. Republican and Democratic poll watchers and challengers work together during regular business hours, not under pressure early Wednesday morning with little to no sleep. Corners won’t be cut. Everyone will know what’s going on. It’s working in Florida. It can work here.

5. Elliott Larsen Civil Rights expansion — Eventually, the secretary of state will certify that the Fair Michigan ballot initiative to expand civil rights to the LGBTQ community has the signatures to go on the 2022 ballot if the Legislature doesn’t approve it first.

Republicans don’t want this. This is not 2004. This is 2021, and this is a loser for them, particularly, among independents. They don’t need a key Whitmer contingency group to be motivated to vote during her re-election year in 2022.

As they did with minimum wage and paid sick leave in 2018, look for Republicans to pass something to keep this off next year’s ballot.

(Kyle Melinn of the Capitol news service MIRS is at melinnky@gmail.com.)

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