During her stop in Dexter a few weeks ago, Rep Lana Theis spoke on a number of bills and reforms she is currently working on in the Michigan Legislature in addition to the work near and dear to her heart, auto insurance reform in Michigan.
Rep Theis, who in addition to being the Chair for the Insurance Committee is also Vice Chair on the Judiciary Committee and serves on the Law and Justice Committee, told the group gathered at the Thursday morning Dexter Rotary breakfast about the need for licenser reform, driver responsibility fees, and greater protection for Michigan’s law enforcement and first responders.
Regarding Occupational Licenser reform, Rep Theis used the example of obtaining a license to be a hair stylist. “If you want to be a hair dresser, you are required eighteen-hundred hours of training,” she explained. “Guess how many hours you need to be a professional pilot?” (a few guesses) “Eighteen-hundred,” Theis answers. “Nursing only needs five-hundred.”
“So we require more in training for somebody’s who’s going to dye your hair than we do for somebody’s who’s going to be your nurse,” she says. “And I think that’s fundamentally wrong and needs to be changed. It’s extremely difficult to change that.”
Rep Theis told the story of how lawmakers were going to scale back the requirement for a hair dresser license to one thousand hours. “The hair-dressing community came out in mass to block it,” she said. “Because everybody who has already been through the system doesn’t want it to be easier for more people to get into the system.” In the end the effort did scale it down to 1,800 from the original 2,000 hour requirement which Rep Theis considered a win, “but just not enough of a win” in her opinion.
Because of the difficulty of making such changes, Rep Theis is now approaching the issue from a different perspective. “Licenser should be safety related,” she explains. “The package of bills I have for this will define what a license is versus a certificate.”
It is an effort to minimize government oversight in licensing – understanding government’s primary purpose for licensing is health and safety. If the effort succeeds, a panel would be formed that would review licenses as to whether or not they’re necessary from a public health and safety standpoint or if a certificate would suffice.
Rep Theis is also working to reform driver responsibility fees so that while there remain punitive measures as a deterrent to dangerous driving behavior, at the same time these laws don’t hold hostage those individuals who are trying to amend their ways. “They’re a huge barrier to employment for people who once upon a time might have had a DUI, haven’t had any issues since then but now they’re out of money to get their license,” she explains. “They don’t have a license to get to work so they don’t have money to get their license. It creates a cycle of poverty for people,” she says. “It shouldn’t be that way.”
Yet another item is the recent passage of a bill aimed at additional protection for police. “While there is some mockery for what the subject matter is, it’s a reality,” explains Rep Theis. “Correctional officers in jail, for example, are having bodily waste and bodily fluids thrown at them but the judges didn’t feel like they could call that an attack because they didn’t see that as violent. But there’s a very real danger in that beyond it being just incredibly gross. So we redefined what under the phraseology of violent attack for that purpose. It was nicknamed the “Poo-Throwing Bill.”
Rep Theis told the group of what first responders had been experiencing in Detroit. “What’s happening in Detroit is, it’s a joke for someone to call in 911, and say there’s a fire. When our firefighters show up, the callers use them for target practice. What our firefighters have to do now is keep their uniforms in their cars and not show up in fire trucks, but show up in their cars, in jeans and a tee shirt to see whether or not there’s an actual fire. So we’ve got some heightened laws. It will add two years on to your sentence for attacking one of our first responders for the sole purpose of attacking one of our first responders whether it’s a police officer or firefighter.”
Rep Theis gave the group some insight into the crush of work that comes through the legislature from the introduction of between four and five-thousand bills per term. She explained to the group that it is physically impossible for anyone to read all those documents. “I read all the ones that come before me in committee and the ones that come before me on the House floor,” she says. “That’s about fifteen to twenty hours of reading a week.”
“If you think about reading legal stuff,” she adds, “they’re referencing other laws.” And then, “It’s not just reading the bill itself but reading what it’s referencing to understand more conceptually what’s going on. Every bill has along with it a fiscal analysis and a legislative analysis so there’s two other documents besides the bill.”
“I don’t get very much sleep on Sunday’s in preparation for the week’s session,” she says. “I shouldn’t just be pressing a green light on a bill I haven’t read. It’s a very significant commitment to do the job right.”