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Economic development, prescription drug affordability early priorities for Michigan Legislature this year

Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan.
Rick Brewer
Michigan capitol building in Lansing.

Both chambers of the Michigan Legislature gaveled into session for the first time in 2024 Wednesday at noon.  

It was a slow day first day back in both chambers.  

The Senate approved a pair of resolutions, one to memorialize former state Senator Doug Cruce and another to mark Wetland Conservation Week and recognize the group, Ducks Unlimited, Inc. for its conservation work.  

The House also took up a resolution to honor Cruce, who died last year.  

The new year, however, presents a chance for lawmakers to finish priorities they started last year but didn’t get done.  

Speaking on the Senate floor after session, Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) predicted swift action on a host of items.  

“We’ve got stuff on prescription drug affordability, we’ve got auto-no fault stuff that’s still very much in conversation, we’ve got economic development policies that we’re continuing to work through some issues on. And we hope to see movement on those kinds of things pretty quickly,” Brinks said.  

Meanwhile, House leadership listed similar goals.  

“I think there are some real opportunities around continuing to lower costs when you look at prescription drugs, we did the drug immunity bill. Obviously, the budget, there are some real opportunities there. And community and economic development,” Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit) told reporters.  

On the House side, however, things could get a little complicated.  

What started last year as a 56-54 Democratic majority has since turned into an even 54-54 split with Republicans.  

Two Democrats resigned last year after winning local mayoral races. Special elections won’t be held until April to fill those vacant seats.  

The temporary tie places more pressure on Democrats to keep its caucus together.  

Tate said, despite some internal friction seen last year, everyone has a common goal.  

“We’re all independently elected, we have our own experiences. So, having disagreements around specifics of legislation, I think that’s a good thing. I mean I think that’s a part of this process that we have,” Tate said.  

House rules approved at the beginning of last year mean Democrats will maintain control of the gavel in the meantime before April’s special elections.  

House Republicans are pushing for a resolution to share power.  

Jeremiah Ward is the spokesperson for House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Twp).  
“There is shared power whether there is a formal agreement or not. Because anything that gets done has to be bipartisan. So, we know that both parties have to work together on anything that gets done,” Ward said.  

But Democrats have turned that down. Tate said he’d rather focus on policy talks.  

“It would be nice to get a list from (the) minority leader in terms of what he wants to do but I’ve already laid out, you know, those opportunities,” Tate said.  

There has been some overlap in shared priorities between both sides, though. Ward and Tate both mentioned the budget and economic development as items they’d like to see worked on.  

Ward pointed to recent suggestions made by the state’s Growing Michigan Together Council, which aimed to reverse decades of sluggish population growth.  

“We need a cohesive strategy to help grow our economy, grow our population, make lives more affordable and accessible for people. Roads that are drivable and repaired, not just the highways that the governor’s focused on but the local city roads, city streets, county roads that need repair,” Ward said.  

The House is scheduled to meet next, in full, on January 16.  

The Senate will be back in Lansing on Thursday, when it’s scheduled to move some human trafficking and youth protection bills closer to a final vote.  

Colin Jackson is a reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.