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Republicans and Democrats find something to agree on in Lansing

It’s not always gridlock and stalemate in Lansing. The left and right seem to have come together to solve a lingering controversy. But, can it last?

A plan in the state Legislature that would hurry up getting rid of driver responsibility fees appears to be on a fast track in Lansing. These fees are surcharges tacked onto traffic fines. Lawmakers approved them in 2003 in order to fill what was then a big hole in the state budget.

This latest plan, which would forgive hundreds of millions of dollars currently owed by drivers, is bringing opposing parties together. Lawmakers on the right say the passing of the fees was a failure by lawmakers to make tough budget choices, and an example of government overreach. The left considers the fees an attack on the working poor.

Today, some 350,000 people owe these fees. Forgiving those debts will make a lot of voters happy in urban districts represented by Dems and rural districts represented by Republicans.

But, it’s not just these driver responsibility fees that are getting some bipartisan attention. A deal between Democratic mayor of Detroit Mike Duggan and Republican Speaker of the House Tom Leonard to roll back auto insurance rates in the state was introduced just this past week.

Now, Leonard and Duggan say these two issues are not related even though they affect many of the same people because drivers who are behind the wheel illegally because they haven’t paid their fees probably are not buying insurance.

But Duggan and Leonard don’t want progress on one of these issues to be stalled if the other gets bogged down.

Leonard says he’s got only two rules as he moves ahead with an auto insurance overhaul. “There are two necessary elements that we have to meet here. One, we have to have 55 votes… Secondly, once we get to 55, we need to ensure that whatever passes comes with a guaranteed rate relief for the citizens of our state.”

This is where it becomes much more likely that hurrying up getting rid of the driver responsibility happens before auto insurance reform.

The economic calamity that was occurring back in 2003 when the driver fees were created has dissipated. And, the fees are already being phased out, this latest deal would just quicken the process.

It took 14 years but there’s something of a consensus that it’s time for the fees and the controversy to just go away. But could this be a precursor to an auto no-fault overhaul? Sure, Leonard and Duggan have created a bipartisan plan but there are other bipartisan packages out there, too.

And all of them have controversial aspects - whether it’s ending unlimited medical benefits or outlawing redlining - and these goals and objections don’t always fall along party lines.

It just goes to show that bipartisan buy-in can also mean there’s bipartisan opposition.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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