This column originally appeared in The Detroit News.
Last year confronted Michigan families with incredible challenges, and the new year hasn’t been any easier.
How do they pay the bills? Will the governor even let them to go to work tomorrow? Will their kids be back in class a few weeks from now? And is there anyone in government or politics we can still trust?
Wednesday’s inauguration reminded us that the Constitution still matters, and our government’s framework is still standing. However, our republic’s strength requires our attention and more teamwork than at any point in almost 60 years.
Michigan’s incoming state Legislature — filled with fresh faces and new perspectives — has the chance to begin tackling our challenges, and if they work together, they can make a real-world impact.
Let’s discuss just a few of the reforms they should prioritize.
Start with the basics. Get Michigan’s seniors vaccinated against COVID-19. The state’s rollout of the lifesaving immunization has been a catastrophic and categorical failure. We’ve spent most of the month lagging the rest of the nation by a heartbreaking margin.
Let’s not beat around the bush. Every day the state sits on a stockpile of vaccines instead of getting them into the arms of older Michigan residents and frontline workers is another day that our friends and neighbors get needlessly sick — or worse.
There’s time enough later for finger-pointing. Today, let’s simply do the next right thing and get those shots administered.
Next, get our kids back in school. Thousands of students have been locked out of their classrooms for 10 months. Prioritize opening school buildings, and let’s not wait and simply hope for change in March. The Legislature can help make that happen.
Democratic lawmakers should join their Republican colleagues and fight to get people back to work, too.
Making a living is a human right, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s approach to COVID shutdowns hasn’t made an ounce of sense. It has not been data-driven, and it has often flown in the face of medical science.
There’s a better way. Trust the people.
The incoming Legislature must take whatever steps are necessary to prevent Whitmer and her departments from arbitrarily closing businesses and industries.
Lansing can do more to remove barriers to work, too. We’ve made progress on licensure reform but can still do better and cut out even more of the hoops politicians force workers to jump through.
Given their disparate impact, many of the state’s licensure laws exacerbate racial inequalities. So, let’s resolve to end them.
Let’s also tackle those challenges in the criminal justice system. The Legislature can embrace bipartisan criminal justice reform, significantly reduce the number and kind of minor, nonviolent offenses that land residents in jail and respect the accused’s constitutional rights by limiting pre-trial prison stays.
It’s also time for Lansing to tackle policing. Better training and smart investment will produce better outcomes. The relationship between the police and communities of color is long, complicated, and too often rooted in distrust, but progress is possible.
Restoring trust in other institutions of government matters, too. If you don’t think that’s an effort worth tackling, you haven’t watched the news this month.
The Legislature should finally expand the state’s Freedom of Information Act. Michigan continues to exempt both the governor and the Legislature from open records laws. Why?
Open, more transparent government will foster desperately needed trust from the voters.
Transparency starts at the ballot box and the way we conduct safe and secure elections. Ensuring confidence in our elections requires nothing less.
Pluralism, civility and a commitment to the rights of our neighbors — those we agree with and those we don’t — offer a road map to a more hopeful future.
The Legislature has the opportunity to lead where our statewide officials have not. Michigan families expect it.
Greg McNeilly is chairman of the Michigan Freedom Fund.