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Legislators describe deadlock in Lansing

ESCANABA — Delta County officials heard about deadlock in Michigan’s government from the area’s state legislators during a work session Monday morning.

At the start of the work session, Delta County Board of Commissioners Vice-Chair David Rivard spoke about the history of similar sessions in the area.

“Eight, 10, 12 years ago, we used to do this with our representatives, whoever they were at the time,” he said.

Later work sessions including state legislators were held by the City of Escanaba.

“The city had kind of taken over this function for a while, and that (had) kind of fallen apart,” Rivard said.

While upcoming sessions are expected to include representatives of Escanaba and Gladstone, this was not the case Monday.

“I did not invite the cities intentionally this time because it is our first meeting, and I’m a firm believer if you bring 25 people in here, we wouldn’t even get a date for our next meeting,” Rivard said.

During the work session, legislators in attendance had an opportunity to update the county government on what has been going on in Lansing. State Rep. Beau LaFave spoke briefly about the state’s budget process.

“I apologize that the uncertainty that is coming down from Lansing with budgets is so high, and I wish I could give you better answers and give you some certainty,” he said.

LaFave also spoke about legislative progress.

“There have been some meetings on important issues, and one thing that I think matters for Delta County specifically is a bill that I introduced to allow our gas stations to sell fuel after hours,” he said.

Along with this, LaFave has introduced a measure he said would send a bill for COVID-19-related costs incurred by state taxpayers to the Chinese government.

After LaFave spoke, State Sen. Ed McBroom addressed county officials. According to McBroom, the situation in Lansing is “about as bad as (he’s) ever seen it” in terms of governmental inaction.

“It’s not just because it’s contentious at times or partisan,” he said.

Instead, he said the pandemic has directly impacted legislative work this year.

“We don’t have all of our committee rooms available, so that makes it very difficult to have a committee meeting. We can’t get people to come in and be witnesses on issues, because of the virus — because they might want to do it by Zoom, but then the technology doesn’t function well,” McBroom said.

Political disagreements have also contributed to the situation. McBroom said one source of tension has been the actions taken by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in response to COVID-19.

“The governor’s choosing to handle the crisis in certain ways that, regardless of party, there’s significant disagreement. It’s not vocalized the same way in regards to party,” he said.

During this relative lull in state governmental activity, legislators’ day-to-day duties have shifted considerably.

“We have found ourselves being almost entirely bogged down with constituent relations. We are the front-line workers for whatever the administration shoots us to do,” McBroom said.

Because of this, McBroom said legislators cannot always help the counties they represent in the ways they normally can right now.

“We’re all trying to work together and get through this, but your legislators — we’re not who we usually can be for you,” McBroom said.

McBroom thanked the county representatives present at Monday’s work session for their own efforts.

“I give a lot of credit to all of you at the local level, too,” he said.

The legislators also had a chance to talk about local issues with members of county government. Topics that were discussed included efforts to get a warning light installed for the Danforth Road railroad crossing, the need for emergency number signs in Delta County townships and rates for the City of Escanaba’s water and wastewater services.

Future work sessions are set to take place monthly on Fridays at 2 p.m. at the Delta County Service Center. Exact dates for the sessions are yet to be determined.

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