Government and Law

Top 10 Michigan laws of 2016

December 27, 2016
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LANSING — It was an expensive 2016 for Gov. Rick Snyder and lawmakers, who spent hundreds of millions of dollars to address Flint's water emergency and to rescue Detroit's school district from massive debt.

Legislators also tackled higher speed limits, driverless cars, medical marijuana regulations and other issues. Snyder signed 340 laws through mid December, with many more awaiting his signature after a final flurry of voting at the end of the two-year legislative term.

The top 10 laws or soon-to-be-signed laws of 2016:

1. Flint aid

About $287 million, the equivalent of nearly $3,000 for each resident of beleaguered Flint, was allocated toward addressing the man-made crisis, where drinking water was tainted with lead and people died from Legionnaires' disease. The spending was authorized across eight laws and totals $296 million since 2015, not including all legal bills.

2. Detroit bailout

The state will spend $617 million over 8.5 years as part of a bailout and restructuring of Detroit's debt-ridden, state-managed public schools, which will gradually be overseen again by local officials. Snyder said bankruptcy would have been the worst-possible outcome for students, the city's recovery and schools districts across Michigan, which could have faced billions in liabilities.

3. Energy re-write

An update to 2008 energy laws will boost renewable sources of power, emphasize efficiency programs and ensure continued competition between regulated utilities and alternative suppliers. Snyder, who will sign the bills soon, said the plan will help transition from coal-burning plants to natural gas-fired plants and more wind- and solar-based electricity.

4. Speed limits

Snyder is expected to sign legislation that would increase the speed limit on about 15 percent of Michigan's nearly 9,700 miles of I-, U.S.- and M-numbered roadways, if a safety study shows it is okay. The limit would rise to 75 mph on some freeways and 65 mph on others.

5. Reading initiative

Starting in the 2019-20 school year, third-graders must be held back, if they lag in reading, unless they get an exemption for "good cause." Public schools will have to assess the reading skills of K-3 students at least three times per academic year. Kids who are behind would receive intensive intervention.

6. Medical marijuana

A new state licensing system for medical marijuana production will tax and regulate the drug similarly to alcohol, with tiered distribution among growers, processors, sellers, transporters and testing facilities. Non-smokeable forms are legal now. Retail shops, whose legality had been in question, will be permitted, as long as they are licensed and also receive local approval.

7. Autonomous cars

Companies can now test self-driving cars on Michigan public roads without a driver or steering wheel under laws that could push the state to the forefront of autonomous vehicle development. They allow automakers and tech companies to run autonomous taxi services and permit test parades of self-driving tractor-trailers, as long as humans are in each truck.

8. Wrongfully convicted

Snyder will sign a bill to pay innocent prisoners $50,000, tax-free, for each year of their wrongful incarceration, along with attorney fees. Michigan has freed more wrongfully convicted inmates than all but four states.

9. Drug overdoses

Anyone can report drug overdoses without fear of being prosecuted for illegal possession or use. The law, passed at a time that deaths from heroin and painkiller overdoses are on the rise, is a bid to encourage people to call 911 and get help rather than be afraid.

10. School expulsion/seclusion

Snyder will sign legislation that would require school officials to consider certain factors before expelling or suspending a student — a softening of "zero-tolerance" policies that gained prominence after the 1999 Columbine shooting. Other bills he will enact would limit the use of restraint and seclusion in schools, except in emergencies.

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