SIDNEY — A four-month summer hiatus of monthly legislative luncheon meetings came to an end Monday as many curious minds gathered at Montcalm Community College to listen to what local legislators have been up to since last informing the public in May.
Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, and Rep. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, took some time to update a crowd of more than 30 people on recent endeavors in Lansing, providing details on bills and other information relevant to District 70.
First at the podium, Emmons informed the crowd of several different bills she had worked on this summer, beginning with legislation dealing with human sex trafficking.
“One topic that is near and dear to my heart and came through (my) committee and is now in the House (of Representatives) is the human trafficking law,” Emmons said.
On Sept. 13, the Michigan Senate approved legislation sponsored by Emmons to help stop sex trafficking by strengthening the punishment for soliciting a minor to commit prostitution.
“I think it’s one of those dirty little secrets in Michigan and other states where we have folks that are being taken advantage of,” she said. “The youth is being compromised simply because they are young and vulnerable and may be in a very bad situation.”
Emmons said the state legislature dealt with the issue in 2010, but “they missed a piece of it.” She said the law that passed in 2010 left out severe punishments for those who took advantage of children who were older than 15 years old.
According to Emmons, Senate Bill 1213 would make the solicitation of a minor age 16 or 17 to commit prostitution or any other lewd or immoral act a felony punishable by imprisonment of up to five years, a fine of not more than $10,000 or both.
“What we did was increase the penalties,” she said. “The previous penalty was a misdemeanor for promoting prostitution in a 16 and 17-year-old child. The fine was $1,000, which seams pretty insignificant when you consider what is happening to these folks.”
Emmons said that though the issue may not be as prevalent in rural areas such as Montcalm County, in larger cities, such as Grand Rapids and Detroit, it is becoming a larger issue.
“I don’t know if increased awareness will help prevent this, but certainly the folks that are caught are going to be much more accountable,” she said. “It’s a big business and those who are responsible are going to feel it much more as far as where their life is going and where their pocketbook is concerned.”
Dealing with a more local issue, Emmons then discused a bill she introduced on August 15, Senate Bill 1230, which states that mobile home park operators must post a bond against the costs of a potential closure, including the removal and disposal of abandoned mobile homes, scrap material and waste.
Emmons referenced the Edmore Estates Mobile Home Park and said the bill would require mobile home park owners to provide a bond, should their park go out of business or become unviable.
“We had a hearing in committee last week and this would require mobile home park owners to buy a bond and should their park go out of business something could be in place to protect the neighbors, and certainly in Edmore’s case, protect the township from being saddled with the cost of the cleanup and everything that goes along with that,” she said.
Emmons said the bill has been voted of out of committee but needs “a little more work.”
“This would protect our smaller units of government,” she said. “There are about seven or eight cases a year of mobile home parks that go out of businesses (In Michigan). We want to prevent that and we are on that path.”
As Outman took to the podium, he also spoke on legislation he had recently been working on.
On Sept. 12, Outman voted for a legislative package that included House Bills 5582, 5583 and 5590, that would help veterans get back to work faster once their military stints have ended.
According to Outman, the measures require the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs to accept certain work experience individuals gain as members of the armed forces as an alternative to current experience requirements.
Outman said the occupation licenses affected are electrical journeyman, journey plumber, and private security guard or agency.
“It’s something near and dear to my heart, being a veteran myself,” he said. “The thought process behind this was, if you have training in those areas, that training should apply to civilian life once you get out of the service and you shouldn’t have to have redundancy in training,” he said.
Outman said he is working to approve legislation that would include CDL licenses in that package, allowing military personal who earned their license while serving to avoid additional testing once returning to civilian life.
“That hasn’t been voted on yet,” Outman said.
Outman then moved the topic of conversation to six ballot proposals in the general election Nov. 6. Among those discussed intently was ballot proposal 12-1, a referendum on Michigan’s Public Act 4 of 2011, also known as the Emergency Manager Law.
“What we have in place now would get to stay in place if this is voted through,” he said. “We’ve had an emergency law since the (Gov. James) Blanchard administration, the problem was, it was like sending a carpenter out to do a job without a tool belt. What we’ve done, is give them the tools.”
Outman said the goal has never been to put emergency managers in place, but rather to avoid bankruptcy of a city at all cost.
“Bankruptcy hurts all of us,” he said. “It’s our tax dollars that go to pay for that.”
Outman pointed to a series of “trip flag” measures that he said are in place to monitor whether an emergency manager is needed or not.
“If a flag gets tripped, and corrective action isn’t taken, the next flag gets tripped, until we get to the point where we say we need to step in and put an emergency manager in place, not because we want to, but because (the city) isn’t doing what needs to be done to turn things around,” he said.
Outman briefly discussed the other five remaining ballot issues, but because of an obligation to another event following the luncheon, both he and Emmons were limited to only a few questions before the end of the event.