Don't handcuff local officials

June 1, 2009
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Democracy and the legislative process is based on the premise that everyone has a right to present their ideas, discuss the possibilities and develop the best public policy proposal for the good of the people.

The Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards began that process by adopting an administrative rule last fall requiring that, by 2012, law enforcement officers have to work at least 520 hours annually to be considered “regularly employed” by a law enforcement agency.

I began working on this important public safety issue prior to MCOLES’ final determination last year. I spoke with many of our local police departments and government officials concerned about being able to employ part-time officers to provide public safety at affordable costs. Earlier this year I introduced legislation that would allow communities to apply for a waiver from the 520-hour requirement.

I soon will introduce a second version of the bill. This new approach, also the result of more people offering ideas and discussion, takes a slightly different tact. I believe this could be the solution that helps our communities meet their public safety needs.

Instead of only issuing a rules waiver to eligible departments, the new version would also lower the required work hours from 520 to 120 hours a year.

A Senate version of this bill also exists, which supports our efforts to keep these part-time officers in our communities.

Regardless of the form in which a solution takes shape, I believe there will be support and legislative action taken on this issue. It’s especially helpful that both the House and Senate have recognized the importance of part-time officers working in our communities.

Based on 2007 MCOLES census data of law enforcement personnel and agencies, it is estimated that the "520 hour regularly employed" standard would impact nearly 1,100 law enforcement positions and over 350 law enforcement agencies.

Local governments are already facing the challenges of a volatile economy and poor job market. These agencies are taking the necessary steps to keep their public safety net intact, and regulatory decisions such as this are counter to efforts that will help reenergize our economy.

Area residents can’t afford to have the MCOLES recommendation handcuff local officials’ use of any tool or program that will help provide continued strong public safety services.

As the Legislature and other governmental bodies look for answers to get through the economic slump, I will continue working with my House and Senate colleagues on a more realistic solution that keeps our first responders employed and also allows for the wise, efficient use of taxpayer money.

Geoff Hansen, R-Hart, represents the 100th District of the Michigan House of Representatives.

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