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Big changes for Michigan's regulatory system?

Governor Rick Snyder
Photo courtesy of the State of Michigan
Governor Rick Snyder

Back when Governor Rick Snyder was on the campaign trail... he promised to make dramatic changes to the way the state regulates businesses.

“Our regulatory system is backwards in this state. Not only the amount of regulation, but how people are being treated. Lansing is treating us as if we’re bad and should be controlled.”

Now the state Legislature is trying to make good on that promise. There are two packages of bills – one that has passed the House and one that has passed the Senate. They have similar goals. The bills would prohibit the Governor – and also any state agency – from making a new rule that’s more stringent than federal standards.

For example... the federal government has laws to protect Great Lakes water, but Michigan might want to make those laws stronger.

If these bills pass, only the Legislature would have that power.

James Clift is the policy director of the Michigan Environmental Council. He calls these bills a power grab by the Legislature. He says it could lead to lawmakers intentionally stalling on new regulations.

“We could potentially see, I think, an erosion of our environmental protections. Where because of gridlock in the Legislature, places where the Governor would step forward and protect Michigan’s natural resources or public health would be prevented. And unfortunately that Pure Michigan we’re advertising around the country maybe starts to not be so pure anymore and maybe we don’t become that tourist destination state.”

He says federal laws aren’t always one size fits all. He says there are cases where Michigan needs stronger laws to protect unique resources.

“Most of the environmental laws at the federal level are designed to be a floor. States can’t drop below this point. But why would we want to have the laws that were designed to protect water in Arizona or New Mexico be the laws designed to protect the Great Lakes?”

Those special state laws could still be put into effect. But Clift says it could become much more difficult to do so.

Some people say state agencies have too much power.

Russ Harding is with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. He says the state’s regulatory system hurts businesses... and job growth. He says elected officials should be the ones in charge of making new regulations.

“And that doesn’t mean that Michigan can’t regulate, let’s say, a Great Lakes issue where the state might want to decide to be more stringent than the federal government. They can do that. All it says is that legislators need to vote on that and make that decision, not some unelected bureaucrat who is not accountable.”

Harding says state agencies should enforce laws, but not be able to make new laws.

Michigan lawmakers are expected to take this issue up again when they return in the fall.


Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.
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