Providing analysis and insights for all things legislative impacting Michigan's townships
The August issue of Township Voice features:
Short-term rentals, property tax exemptions for disabled veterans and pension reform all top the legislative agenda when lawmakers return to Lansing next month.
Both the House and Senate are on summer recess, putting all bills on hold while representatives and senators work in their districts. But when they return after Labor Day, they’re expected to dive into a large number of issues that will impact townships.
Short-term rentals—Of particular concern is legislation that would take townships out of the equation when it comes to regulating short-term vacation rentals. Two bills—House Bill 4503, sponsored by Rep. Jason Sheppard (R-Bedford Twp.), and Senate Bill 329, sponsored by Sen. Joe Hune (R-Hamburg Twp.)—would effectively strip townships and other municipalities of their authority to regulate where vacation and short-term rentals can be located. Instead, the bills would specify that short-term rentals of 28 days or less are a residential—not commercial—property use, allowing them in all residential zones.
Townships also could not require any special use permit of rentals that they don’t require for all other residential homes. Their ability to regulate would instead be limited to ordinances on noise, advertising, traffic and other conditions—completely dismantling ordinances enacted in townships throughout Michigan to help curb problems arising from short-term rentals.
The legislation also could impact communities that have rental ordinances as well as future zoning by local government.
The Legislature is expected to take up the HB 4503 and SB 329 this fall. MTA continues to urge township officials to contact their state representative and state senator to stop this harmful legislation.
Veterans tax exemption—A bill expanding the property tax exemption offered to disabled veterans also is expected to be taken up this fall. SB 45, sponsored by Sen. Dave Hildenbrand (R-Lowell Chtr. Twp.), would amend a 2013 law providing a property tax exemption for real property owned by permanently disabled veterans and their unremarried, surviving spouses. SB 45 would expand this exemption to both residential and agricultural real property used as a homestead. This exemption would also be offered to the surviving spouse of a disabled veteran who was eligible for the exemption immediately before he or she passed away, as well as the surviving spouse of a Michigan veteran who died from service-related causes while on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces. While MTA appreciates our veterans and supports providing them with relief, we believe the state should have some ownership in the property tax exemptions it provides. The bill has already been reported by the Senate Finance Committee and awaits consideration by the full Senate.
Gun ordinances—Also slated for legislative action is HB 4616, sponsored by Rep. Gary Howell (R-North Branch). The MTA-opposed bill would allow townships to be sued by any Michigan resident if they have strict gun ordinances on the books—even if the ordinance isn’t enforced, and even if the person filing the lawsuit does not live in the township. The House is expected to take up the bill when regular session resumes this fall. (See article in this issue for more detailed information.)
Filing fee—Two more bills—HB 4747, sponsored by Rep. Kim LaSata (R-Bainbridge Twp.), and HB 4748, sponsored by Rep. Julie Calley (R-Portland)—would give candidates for township office the option to pay a filing fee instead of submitting a nominating petition. These bills, which are consistent with MTA’s 2017 Policy Platform to provide options to candidates, could be considered by the House Elections and Ethics Committee this fall.
PVC requirement—Another agenda item is a proposed bill that would ban local ordinances excluding specific materials from consideration in public water works projects. SB 157, sponsored by Sen. Rick Jones (R-Oneida Chtr. Twp.), is opposed by MTA as it would require that PVC pipe is always considered for such projects. Not only would this bill supersede local authority, but it would also lead to increased costs as local units would be required to have design standards for PVC—and if they don’t already have those standards, they’d have to pay to get them.
Retiree benefits—The Legislature is also expected to take up legislation addressing local government pensions and retiree health care. Last year, the House considered a package that would have overhauled municipal post-retirement health care benefits, but only one bill increasing transparency by requiring more information to be submitted to the Department of Treasury or posted online became law. In response to this issue, Gov. Rick Snyder created a Responsible Retirement Reform for Local Government Task Force, which included MTA. The task force released a report this summer recommending more reporting and transparency, as well as a fiscal stress test to help local governments maintain stability. The Legislature is not required to follow the report’s recommendations, but new bills are expected to be introduced this fall.
Land cap—Two other bills could be considered by the Legislature prohibiting the state from purchasing more land without county approval if it didn’t make full payments in lieu of taxes (PILT). SB 302, sponsored by Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Wells Twp.), and SB 303, sponsored by Sen. Darwin Booher (R-Osceola Twp.), would otherwise eliminate the existing cap on state land that may be purchased north of the Mason-Arenac county lines. The bills also attempt to limit new state land purchases in counties with 40 percent or more of state, federal and commercial forest lands—giving counties the ability to reject a proposed purchase. While townships would be notified, they would not have the ability to give approval. MTA has testified with concerns and worked with key lawmakers to include township approval language similar to what was proposed last session. However, this language is not incorporated at this time. MTA will continue to work on this issue as the bills are discussed this fall.
A number of other issues are expected to come before the House and Senate, including personal property tax changes, efforts to increase access to broadband and creating a semi-open primary election process. While bills are anticipated to be introduced on these issues in September, no legislation has been introduced at this time.
Townships with strict gun ordinances on the books could be sued by any Michigan resident—even if the ordinance isn’t enforced, and even if the person does not live in the township—under House Bill 4616.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Gary Howell (R-North Branch), is expected to be considered by the full House when session resumes regular session this fall. MTA opposed HB 4616 when it was debated in the House Local Government Committee and will continue working with lawmakers to lessen the impact on townships.
All but seven states nationwide have broad firearm preemption laws that only allow the state—not local units—to enact firearm public safety rules and regulations. HB 4616 would make Michigan just the fourth state to enact what’s referred to as a “super preemption law” that comes with penalties.
Many units of government, including the state of Michigan, have laws and ordinances that are unenforceable and never used. For example, several state laws have been rendered unenforceable by court decision, yet not be repealed. Under HB 4616, this would no longer be the case for townships with gun ordinances in conflict with state law. The bill would give local units 60 days to bring their ordinance or regulation into compliance.
Starting on day 61, any state resident could sue a local unit if it enacts, enforces or refuses to bring into compliance an ordinance or regulation that violates state law after giving 90 days’ written notice. A resident could also file a complaint with the state attorney general, who would bring an action against the local unit in circuit court. The resident could not take both actions. Previous language would have limited this action only to residents of the local unit in question, but the bill was broadened in committee to allow any resident in the state to do so. The attorney general could investigate these complaints at any time, and townships would have to cooperate with the investigation.
If the court finds the local unit violated state law, it must issue an injunction stopping the local unit from enforcing the ordinance or regulation and would order the local unit to amend or repeal its ordinance or regulation. The court must also award actual damages, costs and reasonable attorney fees to the challenging party. This would be the case even if the local unit brought its ordinance or regulation into compliance while the action was still pending in court.
The bill could also financially impact both elected and appointed township officials. If the court determines that an official knowingly and willfully enacted or enforced the ordinance or regulation that was found to be in violation, that official would be fined at least $500 or up to $2,500.
MTA has a number of concerns with this bill, as its broad language opens townships to lawsuits from anyone who believes a local ordinance is stricter than state law. This would apply regardless of whether the person lives in the municipality or if they had even been impacted. The 60-day time frame to repeal an ordinance also is not feasible due to statutory notice and publication requirements. MTA will continue to work to minimize the impact of this bill and update members when it comes before the full House for consideration.
MTA members play an important role in shaping the Association’s legislative policy—both by voting on the MTA Legislative Policy Platform at the MTA Annual Meeting each year and also by providing suggestions and input for consideration by MTA legislative policy committees.
MTA is seeking your input for the 2018 Policy Platform. The deadline for submissions for consideration for MTA’s 2018 Legislative Policy Platform is Monday, Nov. 27. Proposed policies are reviewed by MTA committees for word selection and legality, and to ensure they conform with the Association’s overall goals and objectives. The proposed policy platform for 2018 will be presented for membership approval at the 2018 MTA Annual Meeting, to be held Thursday, April 26 in conjunction with the 65th MTA Annual Educational Conference & Expo in Traverse City.
You can view MTA’s 2017 Policy Platform on MTA’s website.
Contact the MTA Government Relations Department at (517) 321-6467 or email firstname.lastname@example.org with suggestions and/or questions.
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