<![CDATA[Rep. Sarah Robertss' Site Feed]]> http://018.housedems.com <![CDATA[House Democrats Announce Charter School Transparency Standards]]> http://018.housedems.com/news/article/house-democrats-announce-charter-school-transparency-standards <p>LANSING -Today State Representatives <strong>Sarah Roberts</strong> (D-St. Clair Shores), <strong>Ellen Cogen Lipton</strong> (D-Huntington Woods), <strong>Jeff Irwin</strong> (D-Ann Arbor), <strong>David Nathan</strong> (D-Detroit) and <strong>Charles Brunner</strong> (D-Bay City) announced legislation that would create transparency and accountability standards for charter schools, charter school authorizers and the for-profit educational management organizations that contract to run many charter schools. The standards are called for in House Bill 5852, which would enact a moratorium on opening any new charter schools until legislation is passed to ensure that they are transparent, accountable and have strong governance standards in order to best educate our students.</p> <p>The charter school transparency and accountability legislation would:</p> <ul> <li><p>Require complete transparency, including financial disclosure by authorizing bodies, charter schools and educational management organizations.</p></li> <li><p>Require charter schools contracting with an educational management organization (EMO) to post on their websites audited financial statements from their EMO.</p></li> <li><p>Require charter schools to post on their websites a detailed accounting of fees, reimbursements and charges collected by their authorizer.</p></li> <li><p>Require EMOs to provide charter schools with a list, description and cost of each fringe benefit included in the compensation package for all employees, officers and board members of the EMO whose compensation exceeds $100,000.</p></li> <li><p>Prohibit authorizers from contracting with a charter school whose contract has been terminated for poor academic performance.</p></li> <li><p>Prohibit authorizers from issuing new charter school contracts if authorizers are not providing proper oversight to their current charter schools. It also gives strong oversight authority to the state superintendent and creates an appeals process to the state Board of Education.</p></li> <li><p>Prohibit school officials from requiring employees to sign non-disclosure agreements and from signing with an EMO who requires or requests non-disclosure agreements.</p></li> </ul> <p>&#8220;For-profit education management organizations receive public tax dollars from the charter schools they contract to operate. They must be held publicly accountable for how they spend our tax dollars, just like every other public school,&#8221; said Rep. Roberts. &#8220;For-profit EMOs have claimed they don&#8217;t need to fully disclose how they spend our money because they are private companies. That is wrong.&#8221;</p> <p>A Detroit Free Press investigative series on charter schools that ran in June outlined some troubling findings, including a lack of financial transparency and accountability, authorizers allowing poor performing charters to stay open and unaddressed conflicts of interest. Michigan spends $1 billion annually on charter schools. A June 22 Free Press story on charter school spending included a list of &#8220;excessive spending and misuse of taxpayer dollars,&#8221;(1) including: a charter school board giving an administrator a severance package worth $520,000 in taxpayer money and the removal of two board members who had challenged their management company over finances.</p> <p>&#8220;All public schools have to post their finances and spending on a website. For-profit education management organizations and those who authorize charters schools must fully disclose how they spend education dollars. Parents and the taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent to educate children,&#8221; said Rep. Lipton. &#8220;This package of bills will create necessary standards for transparency and accountability.&#8221;</p> <p>According to the Free Press series, 38 percent of charter schools that were ranked according to academics by the state fell below the 25<sup>th</sup> percentile. That means that 75 percent of all schools in Michigan performed better academically than these charter schools.(2)</p> <p>&#8220;Twenty years ago, charter school supporters promised that their schools would outperform traditional public schools, and that their innovations would lift up our traditional public schools,&#8221; said Rep. Irwin. &#8220;Unfortunately, many charters aren&#8217;t living up to their promises, and are instead siphoning off classroom dollars for corporate profits and sweetheart real estate deals. That&#8217;s why parents need more tools to make an informed choice and why taxpayers are demanding transparency and accountability for the $1 billion dollars going to charters.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;Parents choose charter school because they want a better educational outcome for their child, and that is why we have to do a better job of holding these schools accountable,&#8221; said Rep. Nathan. &#8220;Holding authorizers of charter schools accountable to see that they are only authorizing the best charter schools will ensure that students, and not profits, are first.&#8221;</p> <p>An EPIC-MRA poll conducted in August found that 88% of respondents support legislation requiring for-profit education management companies to report how all tax dollars are spent under the same guidelines that are currently required for traditional public schools. Another 84 percent agree that Michigan needs laws requiring that all charter schools meet the same standards for accountability, transparency and student performance that traditional public schools must meet.</p> <p>Unfortunately in Michigan some teachers and administrators are afraid or unable to repot problems in the charter schools they work in. Some are even required to sign non-disclosure agreements. This inhibits transparency and accountability in any school.</p> <p>&#8220;Non-disclosure agreements have no place in traditional public schools or in charter schools,&#8221; said Rep. Brunner. &#8220;Employees have a right to speak out if they believe those who run charter schools are doing something wrong. Freedom of speech should not be limited because some may be scared of what could be said.&#8221;</p> <p>(1)&#8221;Michigan Spends $1&#160;B on charter schools but fails to hold them accountable,&#8221; Jennifer Dixon, The Detroit Free Press, June 22, 2014.</p> <p>(2)Ibid.</p> <![CDATA[Dem Bills Would Protect Women After Rape, Incest and Medical Complications]]> http://018.housedems.com/news/article/dem-bills-would-protect-women-after-rape-incest-and-medical-complications <p>LANSING – State Representatives <strong>Marcia Hovey-Wright</strong> (D-Muskegon), <strong>Gretchen Driskell</strong> (D-Saline) and <strong>Sarah Roberts</strong> (D-St. Clair Shores), have introduced legislation that will protect the health of women and make it easier for women who became pregnant after rape or incest to get critical medical services. The bills would amend Michigan’s unfair women’s health care rider law by eliminating the need to buy an extra insurance policy to cover abortion when one is needed to preserve a woman’s health due to a pregnancy complication or to end a pregnancy that resulted from rape or incest. Currently, women in these situations have to purchase the extra insurance rider before a sexual assault or health-threatening pregnancy takes place in order to have health insurance cover the often-costly medical procedures.</p> <p>“There are serious cases when a women’s health is put at risk during complications in a pregnancy, and many of these are not covered under the law,” said Rep. Hovey-Wright, the sponsor of the bill to create an exemption for the health of the mother. “This discriminatory law is just another example of out-of-touch Lansing republicans making decisions for women when they have no idea of how a women’s health can be put at serious risk. My bill adds reasonable, common-sense protections to women across the state and the law should be amended immediately to protect women.”</p> <p>As the law currently stands, the extra women’s health care rider is needed in order to have insurance cover any abortion, unless it threatens a woman’s life. The law’s refusal to make exceptions for a woman’s health, rape or incest made the law so extreme that two Republican governors previously vetoed similar laws. The current law was passed when Republican legislators caved in and passed a veto-proof citizen’s initiative.</p> <p>The companion bill, sponsored by Rep. Driskell, would add an exemption from purchasing the extra rider for women who became pregnant following a rape or incest incident.</p> <p>“Women who have been raped or endured incest have already survived horrible events that most of us can’t even imagine. To tell a woman who became pregnant after those hideous acts that she must continue a pregnancy or pay thousands of dollars for medical care out of her own pocket is cruel and insensitive,” Rep. Driskell said. “We must do the right thing and protect women who are in such a painful and unimaginable situation. These bills bring compassion and justice to women who need it most, and I urge our colleagues to do the right thing and support these bills.</p> <p>“The new restrictions on women’s health care are so extreme that they make no exceptions for the health of a woman, or a woman who needs to end a pregnancy that resulted from rape or incest,” said Rep. Roberts, who authored the bill to repeal the discriminatory women’s health rider law. “It was wrong to make a woman put her own health at risk to satisfy an extreme special interest, and it was wrong to punish a woman when she is at her must vulnerable, following a brutal attack. While repealing the unfair restrictions on women’s health care remains our goal, these bills at least make the existing law a little more humane.”</p> <![CDATA[Dems Intro Bills to Make Women’s Health Care More Accessible]]> http://018.housedems.com/news/article/dems-intro-bills-to-make-women-s-health-care-more-accessible <p>LANSING – State Senator <strong>Rebekah Warren</strong> (D-Ann Arbor) and state Representatives <strong>Pam Faris</strong> (D-Clio) and <strong>Sarah Roberts</strong> (D-St. Clair Shores) are introducing legislation to mandate that all health insurance companies that offer group and individual health care coverage must provide the option to purchase abortion service coverage. In December 2013, House and Senate Republicans passed a law banning health insurance companies in Michigan from covering abortion services unless a separate health insurance rider is purchased. Currently, only seven of the 42 health insurers in the state offer such a policy, and those that do only offer it as an add-on to an employer-provided plan and not for individual plans.</p> <p>“This sexist and discriminatory law requires women to buy an extra insurance policy just to have comprehensive reproductive health care coverage, but does not require this separate policy to actually be sold,” Warren said. “As a result, the majority of women in Michigan cannot get full coverage. That’s why we’re introducing legislation to require any company that offers health insurance to make this extra rider available.”</p> <p>Women in Michigan who buy insurance individually or on the health care exchange can’t buy this coverage, nor can women whose employers offer health insurance through any of the 35 health insurance companies in Michigan who don’t offer the rider.</p> <p>“It is wrong to force women and employers to purchase extra insurance just so women can have comprehensive reproductive healthcare coverage. It is even worse when those policies aren’t even available for purchase,” Faris said. “Without these riders, women who need medical help during a miscarriage, a complication or who need an abortion to save her health have to bear the cost themselves, which can cost thousands of dollars, and they will have to pay out-of-pocket.”</p> <p>The new law requires women to buy or ask their employer to purchase the extra rider in case she may need insurance to pay for an “abortion.” However, medical billers often use the term “abortion” to apply to miscarriages as well as elective and inevitable abortions, meaning that women who need medical intervention will have to absorb that cost themselves. The law also makes no exceptions for a woman who needs necessary medical care because a fetus is malformed, has a genetic abnormality, her own health is at risk or because she became pregnant following a rape.</p> <p>Beyond its harmful effect on women, the unjust law also threatens our state’s economy. Michigan struggles to maintain its highly educated young people once they finish college. Many professionals may seek employment in other states that have women-friendly policies. Law Students for Reproductive Justice will soon open up lines of communication with Michigan employers to urge them to make this policy available to their employees.</p> <p>“As young professionals considering where we would like to begin our legal careers, we want to make sure employers and insurance companies know that we are paying attention to whether or not this coverage is available,” said Meredith Osborne, a member of Law Students for Reproductive Justice. “For both men and women, having access to the abortion rider is vital for the health of our families. Keeping current law students in the state of Michigan means providing this essential option.”</p> <p>Rep. Roberts said the bills introduced this week are just a stopping point along the way to fully repealing the women’s health care rider law. “Make no mistake – our goal is to completely overturn this harmful and discriminatory law, so that women can make their own best health care choices without interference from those who believe women shouldn’t make their own health care decisions,” Roberts said. “But until we achieve that, the very least we can do is make sure this coverage is as accessible as possible.”</p> <p><img src="http://mihousedemsblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/abortion-rider-mandate-pc-9-24-141-e1411576773114.jpg?w=600" alt="" title="" /></p> <![CDATA[House Democrats Announce Legislation Calling for Charter School Moratorium]]> http://018.housedems.com/news/article/house-democrats-announce-legislation-calling-for-charter-school-moratorium <p>LANSING - At a press conference at the state Capitol today, state Representatives <strong>Sarah Roberts</strong> (D-St. Clair Shores) and <strong>Ellen Cogen Lipton</strong> (D-Huntington Woods), announced legislation to enact a moratorium on opening any more charter schools until legislation is passed to ensure that they are transparent, accountable and have strong governance standards. Reps. Roberts and Cogen Lipton were joined by Dr. Casandra Ulbrich, vice president of the State Board of Education.</p> <p>Rep. Roberts&#8217; legislation would prevent the creation of new charter schools until legislation addressing the following is enacted:</p> <ul> <li><p>Require complete transparency, including financial disclosure by authorizing bodies, charter schools and educational management organizations and their subcontractors.</p></li> <li><p>Levy penalties for failing to comply with transparency and financial disclosure requirements.</p></li> <li><p>Create comprehensive ethics and conflict of interest standards for charter schools, education management organizations, members of charter school boards of directors and authorizing bodies.</p></li> <li><p>Require a more rigorous charter school authorizing process and strict oversight of existing charter schools to assure high-quality educational standards and outcomes for students.</p></li> </ul> <p>&#8220;In the past 21 years, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) and the Legislature have failed to properly oversee charter schools. Now, the MDE and the State Board of Education have called on the Legislature to do this work, so I am introducing a moratorium on all new charters until we fix the problems that exist in the way many charter schools operate,&#8221; said Roberts. &#8220;We have to ensure that charter schools are transparent and accountable to the taxpayers whose money they are spending, and that the primary focus is on delivering a quality education to their students.&#8221;</p> <p>A Detroit Free Press investigative series on charter schools that ran in June outlined some troubling findings, including a lack of financial transparency and accountability, authorizers allowing poor performing charters to stay open and unaddressed conflicts of interest. An August statewide poll conducted by EPIC-MRA found that 73 percent of respondents agree with a moratorium on opening new charters until standards can be put into place by the state. Additionally, 84 percent agree that Michigan needs a law requiring all charter schools to meet the same standards for student performance, accountability, openness and transparency that public schools must follow.</p> <p>&#8220;Student success should be the primary goal of our state&#8217;s education strategy,&#8221; said Ulbrich. &#8220;Our current policies are not leading to better outcomes for students. We need to take a step back and re-evaluate policies that allow unfettered charter and cyber school growth regardless of quality measures. A moratorium helps us do that. Michigan deserves an education strategy that works for all students and taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;Rep. Roberts has outlined a common-sense plan to ensure that all Michigan charter schools operate with the transparency and accountability that all students deserve,&#8221; said Lipton, who serves as minority vice chairwoman of the House Education Committee and co-chairwoman of the House Democrats&#8217; Education Reform Task Force.</p> <p>After months of gathering data and best practices from researchers, educators and superintendents on how to help Michigan&#8217;s struggling schools, the task force identified several policy recommendations aimed at adding transparency and disclosure requirements to charter schools.</p> <p>&#8220;We cannot risk increasing the number of students potentially harmed by these bad actors who financially benefit from the unlevel playing field,&#8221; said Lipton. &#8220;Parents, educators and community members need to know what is happening in their charter schools.&#8221;</p> <![CDATA[Lawmakers Demand Hearing on Women’s Health Rider Repeal Bills]]> http://018.housedems.com/news/article/lawmakers-demand-hearing-on-women-s-health-rider-repeal-bills <p>LANSING — Senate Democratic Leader <strong>Gretchen Whitmer</strong> (D-East Lansing) and State Rep. <strong>Sarah Roberts</strong> (D-St. Clair Shores) delivered letters to Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville and House Insurance Committee Chair Rep. Pete Lund to request hearings on Senate Bill 1010 and House Bill 5697, their legislation to repeal the discriminatory and dangerous women’s health care rider law passed in December 2013. Whitmer and Roberts introduced their legislation last month, but have received no indication that the Republican majorities in either body plan to take up the legislation.</p> <p>“When this appalling ‘rape insurance’ law was passed, Republican legislators not only circumvented Michigan voters but the legislative process as well, passing the legislation without a single committee hearing or any opportunity for public testimony,” Whitmer said. “We are only asking our colleagues that ignored the innumerable men and women, business owners, legal experts, doctors and nurses who opposed this law when it passed to listen to them now on its repeal.”</p> <p>SB 1010 and HB 5697 repeal the controversial law that forces women to buy additional health insurance coverage for necessary medical care during various complications during a pregnancy or an abortion even in cases of rape, incest or when the woman’s health is in jeopardy. While it requires women to buy the added insurance, however, few insurance companies – just seven of 42 health insurance companies in Michigan – are even selling it. And the companies that do sell the rider are only making it available as an add-on to an existing employer-offered health plan. It’s not available to any woman who pays for insurance herself, or who shops for it on the state’s health care exchange.</p> <p>“There are many things wrong with the women’s health rider law, from the way it unfairly punishes women who planned their pregnancy and are facing miscarriages due to fetal abnormalities to the lack of medical expertise sought when the language of the law was written to the way it was rammed through the Legislature with no testimony from those who will be directly – and adversely – affected by it,” Roberts said. “These letters are simply asking for a fair review of the law. If Republicans and Right to Life of Michigan are as proud of this law as they claim, then they should be willing to hear from those it harms and defend it.”</p> <p>Republicans passed the law prohibiting insurance companies from offering comprehensive health insurance after Right to Life of Michigan gathered signatures for a citizen’s initiative. Legislators had a choice to adopt the measure or put it to the vote of the people. Despite the public outcry, Republicans caved to special interest pressure and passed it into law without a single committee hearing, thereby allowing 3 percent of the state’s population who signed the petition to dictate health care for Michigan women and their families.</p> <p>The Republican-led Legislature has been at recess for more than four weeks since these bills have been introduced. HB 5697 has been assigned to the House Committee on Insurance, chaired by Lund. SB 1010 has not been assigned to a Senate committee yet, but Whitmer sent a letter to Richardville asking for prompt action on assigning the bill to a committee and holding a hearing on the legislation.</p> <![CDATA[Reps. Roberts, Yanez Call on Republicans To Come Back to Lansing to Approve Roads Plan]]> http://018.housedems.com/news/article/reps-roberts-yanez-call-on-republicans-to-come-back-to-lansing-to-approve-roads-plan <p>LANSING - Macomb County Democratic state representatives <strong>Sarah Roberts</strong> (D-St. Clair Shores) and <strong>Henry Yanez</strong> (D-Sterling Heights) today said that they are ready to go back to Lansing to do the job Michiganders elected them to do: stay at work until a plan to fix the roads is agreed on, passed and signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder.</p> <p>&#8220;Leaving town for the summer without a plan to fix our roads shows a lack of leadership from legislative Republicans who control the governor&#8217;s office, the House and the Senate,&#8221; said Roberts. &#8220;My Democratic colleagues and I did not vote to adjourn for the summer. We are ready to drive back to Lansing and work until we pass a plan and Michiganders know that they can look forward to better roads so they can safely drive to jobs and appointments, and businesses can safely transport their products.&#8221;</p> <p>Senate and House Republicans adjourned session for the summer last Thursday night after Senate Republicans failed to agree on any kind of a road funding plan. House Democrats voted against adjournment, but House Republicans won that vote and adjourned session. By failing to pass a plan, Republicans also let die a plan to make overweight commercial trucks pay their fair share to keep our roads safe and in good repair.</p> <p>&#8220;Without a roads plan, Michigan residents could face another winter and summer driving on substandard roads, and that is unacceptable,&#8221; said Yanez. &#8220;I am ready to drive back to Lansing every day and work with my Republican colleagues as long as it takes to approve a plan to fix our roads. There&#8217;s work to be done and I&#8217;m ready to do it.&#8221;</p> <![CDATA[Legislation Introduced to Repeal Controversial Abortion Law]]> http://018.housedems.com/news/article/legislation-introduced-to-repeal-controversial-abortion-law <p>LANSING - State Representative <strong>Sarah Roberts</strong> (D-St. Clair Shores) and State Sen. <strong>Gretchen Whitmer</strong> (D-East Lansing) introduced bills today that would repeal a controversial law that forces women to buy additional health insurance coverage for necessary medical care during a miscarriage or abortion even in cases of rape and when the woman&#8217;s health is in jeopardy. The law restricting women&#8217;s access to vital health care was passed by Republicans in the Michigan Legislature in December 2013 and took effect in March. House Bill 5697 and Senate Bill 1010 would repeal that law.</p> <p>&#8220;This regressive law hurts women when they are most vulnerable and puts unreasonable barriers between them and the health care they need,&#8221; Roberts said. &#8220;A woman experiencing a miscarriage should have the peace of mind of knowing that she will receive safe and necessary medical care. This law instead injects politics into an already difficult situation, while potentially forcing a family to incur thousands of dollars of debt for care that had been traditionally covered by insurance. Prohibiting insurance companies and employers from doing what&#8217;s best for the women they serve and care for is wrong and must be stopped immediately.&#8221;</p> <p>Republicans passed the law prohibiting insurance companies from offering comprehensive health insurance after Right to Life of Michigan, a special interest group, gathered signatures for a citizen&#8217;s initiative. Legislators had a choice to adopt the measure or put it to the vote of the people. Despite the public outcry, Republicans caved to special interest pressure passing it into law, thereby allowing three percent of the state&#8217;s population who signed the petition to dictate health care for Michigan women and their families.</p> <p>&#8220;Rather than upholding democratic principles, Republican legislators sold out the people of Michigan to one of their key special interest groups and let 3 percent of the population dictate the health care needs of 100 percent of Michigan women,&#8221; Whitmer said. &#8220;It&#8217;s downright insulting to expect Michigan women to anticipate and financially plan for rape, incest or a miscarriage. This law should never have been enacted in the first place, and wouldn&#8217;t have if it had gone to the voters of Michigan, but the time to repeal it is now.&#8221;</p> <p>Gov. Rick Snyder and former Gov. John Engler vetoed identical legislation as being too extreme and wrong for Michigan. Governor Snyder even cited the law&#8217;s lack of exception for rape or incest. Additionally, doctors warn the law is poorly worded and therefore may prevent women from getting necessary care for a miscarriage unless they have the foresight to purchase the additional insurance rider.</p> <p>&#8220;The law requires women to buy an extra insurance rider to get comprehensive health coverage, but it doesn&#8217;t mandate that insurance companies make these policies available,&#8221; Roberts said. &#8220;Of the 42 health insurers in Michigan, only seven offer this rider. In addition, women who buy insurance on their own are not able to get it because it&#8217;s only available through employer health plans.&#8221;</p> <p>Whitmer and Roberts called the new law cruel and unnecessary, and said they would fight to restore women&#8217;s full access to health care.</p> <p>&#8220;We can&#8217;t sit idly by as women see their rights and their ability to get critical care stripped away from them,&#8221; Whitmer said. &#8220;Rep. Roberts and I heard the outcry from women around the state when this law passed in December and every day since, and we vowed then that we would work tirelessly to repeal it. I urge women and their families across the state to demand this law be undone, and that women&#8217;s right to health care be honored.&#8221;</p> <![CDATA[Rep. Roberts Wins Approval of Resolutions Asking for Federal Money for Rape Kit Testing]]> http://018.housedems.com/news/article/rep-roberts-wins-approval-of-resolutions-asking-for-federal-money-for-rape-kit-testing <p>LANSING - State Representative <strong>Sarah Roberts</strong> (D-St. Clair Shores) said today that she is pleased that her House colleagues support her efforts to encourage the U.S. Congress to approve President Barack Obama&#8217;s plan to spend $35 million to help communities process rape kits. Rep. Roberts&#8217; House Concurrent Resolution 32 and House Resolution 382 were adopted by a unanimous vote today in the House Criminal Justice Committee, and then adopted by the full House of Representatives.</p> <p>&#8220;I am pleased that my colleagues are joining me to call on Congress to approve this funding so that victims of sexual assault can have a chance to see their attacker arrested, charged and convicted,&#8221; said Rep. Roberts. &#8220;??Communities facing a backlog, of untested rape kits need help with the cost of that testing. This is funding that will make a significant difference in the lives of victims and will help make our communities safer when attackers are taken off the streets.&#8221;</p> <p>The closing of a police crime lab in Detroit left more than 10,000 rape kits untested. With the assistance of state and federal funding, the city is addressing that backlog, but there are still thousands of kits to test. Testing the kits often leads to impressive results. Among the first 1,200 kits tested, there were 455 matches in the DNA database, including matches linking to crimes committed in 22 other states and the District of Columbia. The prosecutor&#8217;s office identified 127 potential serial rapists and obtained 14 convictions of rapists who are tied to rapes reported in 12 other states and the District of Columbia.</p> <p>&#8220;Communities do the best they can, but unfortunately, budgets are tight, and that means services can suffer. That is why it is so important for Congress to act on the president&#8217;s proposal that would help communities here in Michigan, as well as in other states, with the cost of rape kit processing,&#8221; said Rep. Roberts. &#8220;??I hope that Congress will listen to us and approve this funding so that victims can have some justice.&#8221;</p> <![CDATA[Reps. Knezek, Roberts Introduce Military Voter Protection Package]]> http://018.housedems.com/news/article/reps-knezek-roberts-introduce-military-voter-protection-package <p>LANSING – State Representatives <strong>David Knezek</strong> (D-Dearborn Heights) and <strong>Sarah Roberts</strong> (D-St. Clair Shores) introduced House Bills 5633-5635 today, a three-bill package that would increase and protect opportunities for members of the military to participate in local, state and federal elections. Provisions of the package would allow service members to register to vote via electronic means, submit absentee ballots electronically when stationed overseas, and would require ballots that are postmarked by the close of the polls on Election Day and received before the certification of election results to be counted toward the final election totals.</p> <p>&#8220;Currently, our service members overseas must go through a tedious and timely process in order to fulfill their most basic civic duty. I personally experienced this when I was serving in Iraq and tried to vote,&#8221; said Knezek. &#8220;My ballot never arrived, and I wasn’t able to participate in the election. Sadly, more than 100,000 members of the military can say the same from that year.&#8221;</p> <p>By allowing overseas voters to submit their ballots electronically, House Bill 5635 would make Michigan the 23rd state to allow for an absentee ballot to be returned electronically. For those who choose to mail their ballot to the local clerk, House Bill 5634 amends Michigan Election Law to require that if the ballot is postmarked before the polls close on Election Day, it will be counted and tabulated for the final results of the election.</p> <p>House Bill 5633, sponsored by Roberts, creates a process for individuals to submit their voter registration electronically on the Secretary of State’s website. “My bill will allow residents and our military members who can’t register in their home communities to take the first step in their right to vote,&#8221; Roberts said. &#8220;They are defending our country, and we should make sure they are able to participate in their government by ensuring that our voting laws fit their circumstances.”</p> <p>&#8220;According to a study completed by Pew Research, military personnel who are stationed overseas and hope to participate in an election in Michigan, must go through a process that takes no less than 57 days. That would mean that a service member has to request their ballot in August if they want to participate in the November election,&#8221; Knezek said. &#8220;In a state like New Mexico, where electronic submissions are accepted, the process takes no more than eight days. Michigan can do better, and we know there’s a model out there that works.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;Online voter registration will allow our active-duty Michigan military members stationed out-of-state and overseas easy access to register and ensure their right to vote,&#8221; Roberts said. &#8220;Michigan needs to catch up to our technological world. All citizens deserve a quick and easy voter registration system that is compatible with a modern lifestyle while meeting the highest standards of accuracy, cost-effectiveness and efficiency.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;All too often, our service members are disenfranchised by the process to do something as basic as voting for the commander-in-chief,&#8221; Knezek said. &#8220;This legislative package was designed to empower our men and women in the military to have a voice in their local, state, and federal elections back home &#8212; to exercise the very rights that they are fighting to protect each and every day.&#8221;</p> <p>David Knezek serves as co-chair of the House Democrats’ Veterans’ Services Task Force and has introduced numerous pieces of legislation in an effort to make Michigan a more veteran-friendly state. Some of these proposals include granting veterans in-state tuition rates at our public universities and community colleges; protecting veterans who use psychiatric service dogs as a method of treating PTSD and TBI; and allowing businesses in Michigan to adopt preferential hiring policies for veterans.</p> <p>Roberts serves as the Democratic vice chairwoman for the House Appropriations Military and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, where she has worked to increase funding for Veterans Service Officers, veteran tuition assistance and advocating for new veterans homes in Macomb and Wayne Counties. Roberts also recently secured a pilot study and plan of action for Michigan homeless vets and for increased training to support Michigan’s changing military.</p> <![CDATA[Roberts Adds Statewide Septic Code Study to DEQ Budget]]> http://018.housedems.com/news/article/roberts-adds-statewide-septic-code-study-to-deq-budget <p>LANSING - State Representative <strong>Sarah Roberts</strong> (D-St. Clair Shores) won an amendment today to House Bill 5298, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) budget, requiring the department to conduct a study on establishing a statewide septic code. The amendment passed by a unanimous vote.</p> <p>&#8220;Michigan has more than 1.4 million septic tanks and other on-site wastewater treatment systems with more than 30 percent of families using septic systems rather than a municipal sewer system. Yet, we are the only state in the country without a statewide uniform sanitary septic code,&#8221; said Roberts. &#8220;With a wide variety of regulations and ordinances there is no real way for us to know how effective they are. This study will help us determine what we currently have and how a statewide septic code could bring improvements.&#8221;</p> <p>DEQ estimates that more than 10 percent of the state&#8217;s 1.5 million septic systems are failing. Michigan lacks any uniform standards for how these systems are designed, built, installed and maintained. Enacting a statewide code would ensure that systems are properly maintained after they are installed. DEQ officials have said in the past that proper maintenance is a problem, and that most counties don&#8217;t check to see that septic systems are working properly once they are installed.</p> <p>&#8220;We applaud Representative Roberts for her leadership on this critical issue,&#8221; said Nic Clark, director of Michigan Clean Water Action. &#8220;Nearly one-third of homes in the state rely on septic systems, and the current patchwork of regulations that exist now are not doing the job to protect Michigan&#8217;s waterways. In Kent County, for example, it is estimated that 1 million gallons of sewage leaks daily from septic systems. We are the only state in the country that hasn&#8217;t adopted a statewide sanitary code, and this study will lay the groundwork for finally addressing this long overdue need to clean up Michigan&#8217;s septic systems.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;The news shows and newspapers cover the horror stories about sewage problems, but ensuring that septic systems are working and well-maintained is not an impossible or prohibitively expensive task,&#8221; said Roberts. &#8220;I hope that by doing this study we can work with our local governments to create a statewide code that could be implemented at the local level. It&#8217;s in the state&#8217;s best interest to help communities with this through available grant and loan programs at the both the state and federal level. We market ourselves as &#8216;Pure Michigan,&#8217; which means that we have to continue being good stewards of our state and do what is best for our communities and our waterways. A statewide sanitary code could help us do just that.&#8221;</p>