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School grades, toxic waste and dark money: Your Michigan lame duck roundup

Dec. 20: Michigan lame duck: Ballot rules may tighten, campaign finance stays with SOS
Dec. 21: That's a wrap! What bills passed, died in Michigan lame duck for the ages
Related: See what Michigan lame-duck bills we're tracking

LANSING –  Michigan’s lame-duck Legislature continued its frenetic pace Tuesday, passing bills to shield political dark money donors, assign letter grades to schools and change regulations on wetlands and toxic waste.

Proposed by Republicans and passed largely along party lines, the bills are  among a passel of legislation approved in the final days of the administration of GOP Gov. Rick Snyder, whose term ends Dec. 31.

Related: Michigan power grabs, pipelines and pot: What we’re tracking in lame duck

Here’s what you missed while you were living your life on Tuesday.

Shielding dark money

Approved by the House 58-51, Senate Bill 1176 bars the state from requiring nonprofit political advocacy groups to disclose donors.

The protections come during an unprecedented influx of cash from so-called dark money groups in politics. In Michigan alone this year, such nonprofits –  often from out-of-state – spent $7 million on the governor’s race, $3 million on state Senate campaigns and more than $7 million on ballot measures.

Supporters of the bill say the measure protects the privacy of donors. Opponents say dark money needs to be tracked to ensure accountability.

The bill now goes to Snyder.

Read more: Bill to protect ‘dark money’ groups in Michigan passes House

Letter grades for schools

Approved 21-17 by the Senate, House Bill 5526 mandates Michigan schools be graded on different metrics from A to F.

The grades cover five areas: proficiency in math and English; growth in those subjects; growth in English proficiency among second-language students; graduation rates and academic performance compared to similar schools.

Supporters say the system will make it easier for parents to gauge how schools are performing, but foes say the system is unlikely to help learning.

The bill moves to Snyder, who is expected to sign it into law.

Read more: A to F gets passing grade in Senate; on to Snyder
Related: Michigan education department blasts A to F school system bill

Toxic waste

Approved 56-53 by the House, Senate Bill 1244 would overhaul standards of chemicals associated with toxic waste.

The bill requires Michigan regulators to use toxicity values set by the federal government, which critics contend aren’t regularly updated.

Bill boosters, including business and industry officials, say the measure would allow polluted lands to be redeveloped more quickly. Foes say the 50-page bill hasn’t been properly studied and, if anything, would make the remediation process more cumbersome.

The Senate already approved a version of the bill, but there are some differences, so it must sign on to the House’s changes before it advances to Snyder.

Read more: Michigan GOP moves to overhaul standards for toxic cleanups

Wetland protections

Approved by a House committee, Senate Bill 1211 removes development protections for so-called “small wetlands” of less than 5 acres.

That’s a good percentage of all the wetlands in Michigan – allowing owners to fill, dredge or build on at least 550,000 acres of wetlands and 4,200 of Michigan’s 11,000 lakes, according to a state analysis.

Sponsors say the bill would move Michigan closer in line with federal standards and protect property owners from overzealous regulations. Opponents say it would devastate the environment.

The House could vote on the bill as soon as Wednesday. It’s already cleared the Senate.

Read more: Michigan House panel votes to gut ‘radical’ wetlands protections

Public pension help

An uncontroversial bill in a season of divisive ones, Senate Bill 838 passed 103-6 with no debate. It allows more communities to use bonds to pay for the long-term pension and retiree health care benefits they promised their employees.

Read more: Lansing looks to bonds to help solve local pension, health-care debts

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