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Whitmer pushes clean energy, paid leave in Michigan; offers few specifics

gov. gretchen whitmer on the stage
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer laid out broad policy goals during a speech on Wednesday in Lansing. While she offered few specifics, Republicans and business leaders criticized her goals. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)
  • Michigan Gov. Whitmer backs 100 percent clean energy mandate
  • Democratic governor pushes for paid family and medical leave law
  • Republicans criticize proposals as ‘left-wing’ wish list

LANSING – MIchigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday called for new paid leave, clean energy and health care policies Wednesday in a “What’s Next Address” laying out her priorities for the fall as the state Legislature returns from summer break next week.

“Our plans are ambitious, but they are achievable,” Whitmer said in a roughly 24-minute speech at the Lansing Shuffle food court, where she was joined by Democratic legislative leaders, local officials and U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell of Ann Arbor.

“We have a lot to do and only a few months before the new year,” the governor said. “We see ‘what’s next,’ so let’s get it done.”


Whitmer’s speech was short on details, and she did not take questions from reporters. 


A spokesperson said the governor stuck to broad goals in order to leave room for negotiations with the Legislature, where Democrats’ two-seat advantage in the House could soon disappear if two members win mayoral elections in November and resign.

Republicans panned the speech as a "left-wing, progressive" wish-list from the second-term Democrat, who earlier this year worked with legislative Democrats to enact sweeping policy changes, including a pro-union Right-to-Work repeal and codification of LGBTQ rights.

Here’s Whitmer is hoping to work on next:

A paid leave mandate

Whitmer endorsed a push to provide paid family and medical leave to all Michigan workers, guaranteeing time off for childbirth or health issues  — but she did not propose specific details or endorse legislation.

Whitmer called the issue "personal," noting that when she had her first daughter, she was also caring for a mother dying of brain cancer. "I was sandwiched between them," she said. "That time forged me and showed me the challenges that so many Michiganders live every single day." 

House Minority Leader Matt Hall, R-Richland Township, panned the proposal, arguing it would create a "payroll tax" for small businesses and workers alike. 

He pointed to a recently-introduced Democratic bill for up to 15 weeks of annual paid leave that would require employers to pay into a state fund and allow them to deduct up to 50 percent of the cost from employee paychecks. 

Business groups wary of a broad government mandate also criticized the idea.

"The majority of small business owners already do everything they can to provide paid leave and flexibility to their employees – this mandate could either cause small business owners to downsize, or close altogether," Amanda Fisher, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said in a statement. 

Supporters contend that a robust paid leave law would help employers fill job vacancies by encouraging more people back into the workforce. 

“Leave is instrumental in making sure that we can have full labor participation,” Monique Stanton, CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy nonprofit that advocates for the poor, told Bridge Michigan. 

“Michigan saw a pretty significant downturn of women in the workforce, and things like paid family leave help with that.”

A 100 percent ‘clean energy’ standard

Whitmer offered broad support from a legislative push to require Michigan utilities produce 100 percent of their energy from clean and renewable sources — but the governor stopped short of proposing a deadline for utilities to meet that requirement. 

Democrats in the Michigan Legislature have proposed requiring 100 percent clean energy production by 2035, a timeline that would require an aggressive phase out of several newly constructed natural gas plants, among other things.

Whitmer has not yet committed to that timeline. Her own previously released climate change plan calls for a “carbon-neutral” energy standard by 2050. 

But the governor said she and the Legislature agree on the need to ensure all Michigan energy production comes from wind, solar or what she called “other common sense sources,” including nuclear. 

“We can achieve 100 percent clean energy while balancing reliability and affordability,” Whitmer said. 

State Rep. Phil Green of Millington, who appeared to be the only Republican legislator to attend Whitmer’s speech, criticized the proposed clean energy mandate and suggested it would make Michigan a “Third World country.”

“We already know that’s going to raise the prices,” Green said. 

“It puts us at a competitive disadvantage to manufacturing facilities that are being built in China (and powered by coal plants). I don’t see a way that this improves Michigan’s economic standing.”

Solar, wind permits move to state

Whitmer backed pending Democratic legislation that would move permitting for larger wind and solar projects to the Michigan Public Service Commission, rather than municipal boards, where local opposition has delayed or derailed several developments.

Critics contend the Democratic plan would strip control from local officials who know their communities best. 

But Whitmer argued the proposed state process would ensure “local perspectives are reflected in the planning process while also allowing us to move faster on installation.”

“it should be easier to create jobs and build wind and solar projects. Let’s permit clean energy projects through the MPSC — just like all other sources of energy,” the governor said. 

Repeal ‘antiquated’ abortion law, expand insurance

Whitmer confirmed support for what advocates are calling a Reproductive Health Act that would repeal several existing abortion regulations, including a 24-hour wait period law that requires women to receive information a full day before following-through with an abortion. 

“Let’s protect the freedom to make your own decisions without interference from politicians,” Whitmer said, suggesting the state build abortion rights added to the state Constitution last year through voter-approved Proposal 3. 

In a policy outline, the governor’s office also said Whitmer wants to ensure “everyone has access to abortion, regardless of where they live, work, or what type of insurance they have.” 

Among other things, Democrats want to repeal a 2014 Michigan law that prohibits private insurers from automatically including abortion coverage in their policies, requiring customers to instead purchase a separate “rider.” 

Abortion rights groups also want Michigan to become the 18th state to allow government-funded Medicaid insurance for lower-income residents to pay for abortions. That would require state money because federal funding can only be used to cover for abortions in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest.

Right to Life of Michigan, which helped enact many of the state’s existing abortion regulations, accused the governor of using Proposal 3’s passage as a “Trojan horse to remove common-sense provisions meant to protect women and children seeking or undergoing an abortion, as well as basic parental rights.”

Codify the Affordable Care Act

With the federal Affordable Care Health law facing legal challenges a decade after it became law, Whitmer proposed codifying at the state level what she called “commonsense, cost-saving measures” from the Obama-era health care law.

That includes: protections for residents with pre-existing conditions, letting people stay on parents’ insurance until they are 26 years old, banning annual or lifetime coverage caps and requiring insurance plans to cover essential services like ambulance rides, maternity care, mental health treatment and birth control. 

“Every Michigander deserves quality, affordable care,” Whitmer said. 

Prescription drug panel

Whitmer proposed creation of what she called an “independent, nonpartisan Prescription Drug Affordability Board made up of leaders in economics, health care, supply chain, and academics” that would “use data and evidence-based research to tackle the cost of prescription drugs.”

The governor offered no further details on the board, how members would be selected or what authority they would have. 

But she cited recommendations from a previously appointed task force that called for “drug accountability review boards” that would have the authority to penalize and regulate “certain entities in the prescription drug supply chain.”

“We need to hold bad actors across the supply chain accountable for skyrocketing prices while also encouraging R&D for new treatments and cures—made right here in Michigan,” Whitmer said Wednesday.

‘Streamline’ business permits

Whitmer called on the Legislature to work with her on improving the state's permitting process for construction projects, but she offered few details about what she would like to accomplish on that front. 

The governor said she wanted to "streamline" permitting for advanced manufacturing, infrastructure and housing projects, among others. 

"I hear from business leaders, especially folks in other states, about how no state has gotten permitting quite right yet," Whitmer said. "Michigan should be the first. This is a bipartisan priority and I know we can get it done." 

‘Protect democracy’

Whitmer said she wants to help “protect democracy” by increasing election security and protecting election workers from intimidation, among other things. 

"We cannot allow the will of the people to be tossed out or overturned, and we can’t permit politicians to stay in office despite getting voted out," Whitmer said, referencing former President Donald Trump. 


"We must ensure Michiganders are heard and respected."

Not mentioned: Government transparency 

The governor made no mention of her long-stalled 2018 campaign promise to expand the Freedom of Information Act by allowing the public to request records from her office or those of state legislators. 

Nor did Whitmer mention an end-of-the-year deadline for the Legislature to finalize personal financial disclosure rules for elected officials, as required under Proposal 1 that voters approved last fall. 

House Speaker Joe Tate, D-Detroit, said there remains an “appetite” to pass government transparency laws in the state Legislature. 

“We’ve been having a lot of conversations around that, and it’s still developing as we go along,” Tate told reporters after the speech.

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