Rep. Steve Johnson

House Oversight Committee Chair Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Wayland, testifies in support of HB 4920. 

(The Center Square) – The House Oversight Committee on Thursday heard testimony related to four specific bills, as well as updates from the two past Committee meetings that featured testimony from Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

The meeting began with Committee Chair Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Wayland, noting subsequent to past meetings, the Secretary of State offices in Michigan have cleared a substantial backlog of cases without using any additional taxpayer dollars.

Johnson also announced he had issued a letter to State Auditor General Doug Ringler in which he asked “that the Office of the Auditor General perform a review to provide a comprehensive study of reported and unreported deaths in long-term care facilities in Michigan.”

Among the information Johnson requested Ringler attempt to uncover:

  • A review of the DHHS processes and procedures for obtaining death reports from long-term care facilities
  • A review of the vital records reports that DHHS at one time cross checked with long-term care facility records
  • A comprehensive review of all death records to see if nursing homes are correctly self-reporting their death numbers
  • A proper accounting of all long-term care facility deaths to include homes for the aged and adult foster care facilities

The four bills under consideration by the committee included:

  • House Bill 4705: Would amend the state’s Open Meetings Act to require either an audio, video, digital or analog broadcast of meetings conducted by certain public bodies and made available to the public.
  • House Bill 4448: A reintroduction of a bill vetoed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on June 3, which would prevent suppression of Freedom of Information Act requests during orders issued by the state under authority of the Emergency Management Act.
  • House Bill 4795: Would require courts to hear a criminal defendant’s emergency motion with 48 hours of it being filed or within 24 hours if the motion alleged deprivation of liberty.
  • House Bill 4920: Would require full disclosure of certain reports of sexual harassment claims made against legislatures.

HB 4705, sponsored by Rep. Luke Meerman, R-Coopersville, was supported by audio testimony from Phil Forner, the Allendale-based president of the Michigan Air Conditioning Contractors Association. Forner noted several regulatory commissions currently don’t record meetings, and only offer edited transcripts or meeting minutes. He said these two methods potentially miss crucial information.

HB 4448 was reintroduced by sponsor Rep. Steve Johnson, chair of the Oversight Committee, after Whitmer’s veto last week. Although the bill previously passed the Committee unanimously, the committee’s vote on Thursday was split 7-1-1 with Rep. Julie Brixie, D-Okemos, voting against and Rep. Stephanie Young, D-Detroit, abstaining.

Rep. Ryan Berman, R-Commerce Twp., testified on behalf of HB 4795, which he sponsored with Committee members Rep. David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids, and Rep. Douglas Wozniak, R-Shelby Twp. Berman related a story concerning one of his former legal clients who had been jailed for 13 days while waiting on a judge to read the emergency motion filed on his behalf. Berman continued his client was released immediately after the judge read the motion.

Committee Chair Johnson also testified in favor of HB 4920, a bill he sponsored that requires the disclosure of any monetary payment to settle a claim of sexual assault or sexual harassment by a member of the state House or Senate. The bill also would require, upon request, the public availability of the name of the accused legislator. If passed into law, the bill would not be enforced retroactively.

Johnson said he was prompted to draft the bill to ensure there wasn’t a similar incident as occurred with Michigan U.S. Rep. John Conyers, who resigned his office in 2017 over sexual harassment allegations with two staffers. Revelations came to light Conyers settled with one of those staffers for a $27,000 payment, although the longtime Detroit congressman still argues he committed no wrongdoing.

Regional Editor

Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.