SIDNEY — During the final Legislative Update session of the year at Montcalm Community College, both Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, and Rep. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, presented information on legislation that is “very close” to their hearts.
Outman aims to assist veterans
Outman spoke on a number of pieces of legislation, but he focused the majority of his thoughts on issues tied to Michigan’s veterans. He expressed his thoughts on a package of five bills signed by Gov. Rick Snyder on Nov. 14 that is expected to make it easier for veterans to be hired in certain fields.
According to Outman, the legislation recognizes military skills and eliminates bureaucratic hurdles that might have delayed veterans in getting jobs in their fields of expertise and supporting their families.
Those fields include emergency medical technicians, firefighters, steam engineers, boiler operators, mechanical contractors and residential building contractors.
“The problem we have here is the high unemployment rate of veterans,” said Outman of the reason for the new legislation.
According to Outman, in 2011 the unemployment rate of all veterans in Michigan was 16 percent, compared to the national average of 7.6 percent.
“That’s quite a bit higher than the national average,” he said. “For some reason, if we’re not the highest, we’re one of the highest.”
Outman added that for veterans who fought post-9/11, the unemployment rate for veterans in Michigan is 29.4 percent, compared to the national average of 10.9 percent.
“Michigan seems to outpace every other state in terms of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom unemployment rates for veterans,” he said.
Outman said he believes the new legislation will steadily help lower the unemployment rate as more veterans began to have an easier time qualifying for work.
“We think there is a barrier in licensing for veterans,” he said. “We have evidence that suggests veterans don’t receive credit for their military experience in training when seeking licenses, certificates or degrees. Military experience is real-world experience, and they should get credit for that.”
Outman also expressed support for a public act that will provide property tax exemptions for veterans who are disabled as the result of their military service.
According to Outman, Michigan has approximately 82,300 veterans, and of them, 8,000 are considered 100 percent disabled by the U.S. Department of Affairs.
“This is a nice thing for the veterans of this area,” he said. “We don’t want to see any veterans lose their homes.”
Emmons fights against human trafficking
Emmons spoke on the familiar topic of strengthening anti-human trafficking laws in Michigan, of which she is a sponsor for the legislation.
She has voiced her strong support in the past to strengthen laws that would make it more difficult for human sex trafficking in Michigan, as well as force harsher penalties on those who are caught.
“I will be blunt, I have received some disparaging, negative comments from folks around the area and the state indicating that they don’t believe this is an issue here,” she said.
Without naming individuals, Emmons pointed to a recent example in Mecosta County where two people were arrested for sexual activity with children who are involved in foster care.
“There are two folks up there awaiting trail in their county jail,” she said. “It is everywhere, it is right next door.”
Emmons said she believes the bills will move onto the Senate floor in December where she is hopeful that they will be signed before the end of the year.
“It’s a situation that impacts the entire state and beyond,” she said. “Hopefully soon we will be in a better position as a state to combat human trafficking.”
Wolf hunt update
Emmons also discussed the state’s wolf hunt that was initiated this year.
Though she admitted there was concern whether wolf hunting should have been allowed in Michigan, even for one season, she said she believes it was the right thing to do.
“I think this will, hopefully, make an impact for the land owners, the cattle and sheep owners, who are experiencing devastating losses due to the wolves,” she said. “The DNR has allocated just this hunt, this year. They will go back and reassess the numbers, they will check the balance after the hunt this year, which ends at the end of December.”
According to Emmons, the goal of this year’s wolf hunt in Michigan was to “harvest” 43 wolves throughout three zones in the Upper Peninsula due to increasing damage and death to animals by the wolves.
“It’s about 12 percent of the land in the U.P. that is affected,” she said. “Most of the hunters are seasoned and experienced and have been very successful so far.”