State Dems Propose Using COVID Funds to Help Secretary of State Offices Catch Up
When the pandemic started, the state of Michigan extended deadlines on just about everything you might normally be waiting in line to do at the Secretary of State office. Fast forward more than a year, with no more extensions in place, and imagine how long those lines are now.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson held a press conference to talk about the backlog. “The path forward is clear: increase the number of appointments available so that they are abundant and easy to schedule, and reduce the need for residents to visit our offices at all.” She said now is not the time to be reverting to a ‘take-a-number’ system.
Two Democrats in the state house are proposing legislation to help Benson get caught up. The cost would be $25 million but would come out of federal COVID-19 relief funding.
East Lansing area 69th District Representative Julie Brixie has introduced HB4947 which would dump $20 million toward hiring staff. “The bill would allow for an increase of 200 full-time staff across 130 branches in Michigan and provide 290,000 more appointments this summer, thru September 30th.” Brixie said the hiring would not be intended to be permanent but could be sort of a pilot program.
Wayne County 8th District Rep. Stephanie A. Young is introducing HB4946, which would use $5 million in COVID funds to pay for 70,000 overtime hours to existing staff.
Benson and both State Reps lay the blame for the backlog at the feet of GOP legislators for not extending the deadlines again in March and for previously cutting the staffing budget at SOS offices by 40%.
Reps Brixie and Young are hoping that the bills will be sent to the House Oversight Committee this week and be green-lighted for a House vote soon. Brixie told reporters that she talked to the House Oversight Committee chair Steve Johnson and other Republican lawmakers, but failed to say what they told her about the bills.
State Rep. Johnson said he has no interest in taking the bills up in the House Oversight Committee. “I have no interest in just throwing money at the Secretary of State’s office. Instead of this ridiculous appointment-only system where people have to wait months to get in, the Secretary of State should be focused on allowing for the walk-in option. That’s not in this legislation and that’s the number one problem I see there. It’s not a lack of funding. It’s the policies that are coming out of (Benson’s) office.”
The bill was referred to the Oversight Committee, instead of the Appropriations Committee which puzzled some. Rep. Brixie said, “Oversight understands the issue because they just conducted hearings on this.” She called for Johnson to take up the bills this week. Johnson said the focus of his committee hearings has been to try to get the walk-in option restored.
Would GOP leaders be more receptive to approving COVID relief dollars to help with the backlog if the walk-in option was restored? Rep. Johnson says there might be some Republicans who would see that as an acceptable trade-off. But he says he would not be one of them. “When I look at it from a dollar and cents standpoint, there’s no rational reason to say that they have to increase funding to do what they were doing just a year and a half ago. It’s not like cuts have been made in recent memory. It’s been a while since the legislature cut funding there.”