Governor signs Stamas high school flexibility bill

LANSING, Mich. — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday signed Sen. Jim Stamas’ bill to ensure students will have flexibility in meeting the state’s high school graduation requirements.

“Now more than ever, it’s clear that education is not a one-size-fits-all process for our students,” said Stamas, R-Midland. “This reform ensures that Michigan’s current and future high school students will have flexibility in choosing the best course of study for them to learn, graduate and prepare for successful careers.”

In 2006, Michigan adopted one of the nation’s most rigorous sets of high school graduation requirements. The Michigan Merit Curriculum (MMC) requires students to complete a minimum of 18 credits in eight specific subject areas in order to receive a high school diploma.

Under a Stamas bill signed in 2018, high school students can substitute a career-tech course or an arts class for the second required foreign language credit to meet the MMC requirements until 2024. Senate Bill 171 removes the sunset, making the flexibility permanent.

“Enabling students to count an additional applied career and technology class toward their graduation can allow them to try new and interesting areas of study and help meet our economy’s growing demand for skilled talent,” Stamas said.

Many education and business groups supported SB 171, including the Michigan Farm Bureau, Michigan Department of Education, Michigan Education Association, Michigan Chamber of Commerce, and Michigan Manufacturers Association.

“Farmers understand the rigor and intensity that happens in a career and technical education or FFA program,” said Michigan Farm Bureau President Carl Bednarski. “We applaud the leadership of Sen. Stamas, who helped ensure students now and into the future have the flexibility to enroll in a CTE program while meeting their curriculum requirements.”

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Leaders announce FY 2021 budget agreement

LANSING, Mich. — Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Stamas, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Shane Hernandez and State Budget Director Chris Kolb on Monday announced they have reached agreement on the spending parameters for the state’s fiscal year 2021 budget.

“This has been a year unlike any other,” said Stamas, R-Midland. “The unprecedented challenges Michigan has faced meant that working together — Republicans and Democrats and the Legislature and the Administration — was absolutely essential. This agreement means a fiscally-responsible budget will be in place in time for the new fiscal year.”

Despite the impact of COVID-19 on the state’s economy and budget, the agreement prioritizes education by ensuring no reduction in funding to K-12 public schools. It also stipulates no cuts to revenue sharing for local governments.

“Even in these most challenging of times, we are coming together to protect the top priorities of Michiganders – including students and schools, and the essential local services people in communities across the state rely on every day,” Hernandez said. “We must proceed wisely and cautiously because the economic and budgetary ramifications of COVID-19 are far from over. The budget for the upcoming fiscal year must be sound and sustainable so we are ready for what lies ahead.”

House and Senate subcommittee chairs will now work with state departments and the State Budget Office to resolve the details of each budget. Final legislative action will occur on all budget bills next week.

“COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact on our state budget, and by quickly working together since receiving the August revenue estimates we’ve been able to build a budget framework that reflects a bipartisan commitment to moving our state forward,” said State Budget Director Chris Kolb. “These targets will provide critical funding for our key priorities such as education, health care and skills training, and I appreciate the partnership I’ve had with both Sen. Stamas and Rep. Hernandez.”

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**PHOTO ADVISORY** Stamas thanks Glenn for leadership on flood relief and unemployment bill

LANSING, Mich. — Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Stamas, R-Midland, on Wednesday outlined his legislation to provide $6 million in critical flood relief funding to communities in the Gladwin and Midland areas and to use $2.9 billion in federal funding for President Trump’s $300 per week unemployment support.

During his address to the Senate, Stamas thanked Rep. Annette Glenn, R-Midland, for her leadership and hard work to help their communities recover and rebuild following devastating flood damage in May.

After Stamas’ remarks, the Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 745, which also includes $3 million for Detroit flood response and $8 million for Michigan’s contribution to an Asian carp barrier at Brandon Road Lock in Illinois.

The bill now heads to the governor to be signed.

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Editor’s note: The above photograph of Stamas is available by clicking on the image or by visiting www.SenatorJimStamas.com/Photowire.

House approves Stamas-Glenn flood relief and unemployment bill

LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan House of Representatives on Tuesday approved Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Stamas’ legislation to provide critical flood relief funding and implement President Trump’s federal unemployment support.

“This funding will help Michigan workers who remain unemployed due to the COVID-19 outbreak and the resulting shutdowns and provide vital relief to struggling communities recovering from unimaginable flooding,” said Stamas, R-Midland. “I want to thank Rep. Annette Glenn for her leadership and hard work on this much-needed financial support to help our communities recover and rebuild following devastating flood damage in May.

“I also want to thank the many people, organizations and businesses who have stepped up, and continue to step up, to help affected residents during this tough time.”

Senate Bill 745 would provide $6 million to communities in the Gladwin and Midland areas for flood response efforts. It would provide matching funds for available cleanup grants, debris removal and emergency protective measures such as sheltering, evacuation and chemical contamination cleanup efforts.

“It was overwhelming to see the tears of hardworking business owners who had dedicated their lives to serving families in our communities and of the many families whose homes were severely damaged or completely destroyed,” said Glenn, R-Midland. “I’m incredibly humbled and honored to work with Sen. Stamas to represent and fight for the people most impacted by the flood. We’re all in this together, and together, we’ll recover and rebuild, stronger than before.”

SB 745 would also appropriate $2.9 billion in federal funding for the federal Lost Wages Assistance Program, which was created by President Trump through an executive order last month and provides eligible claimants a $300 per week additional unemployment benefit.

Michigan’s application to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to participate in the LWA program was approved Aug. 21. According to the state Unemployment Insurance Agency, about 910,000 Michiganders will be eligible to receive the additional benefit.

“Our economy has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown orders,” Stamas said. “As a result, thousands of Michigan residents remain out of work. Thanks to the president’s actions, we can use this vital federal funding to help families make ends meet during this crisis.”

Additional funding in the bill includes $3 million for Detroit flood response and mitigation and $8 million for Michigan’s contribution to an Asian carp barrier at Brandon Road Lock in Illinois. The Asian carp funding was originally appropriated in Public Act 618 of 2018 and has awaited an agreement with Illinois.

SB 745 now heads to the Senate for final approval and to be sent to the governor.

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Stamas comments on August revenue and economic outlooks

LANSING, Mich. — After a rare August Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference with state fiscal and economic leaders to update state revenue projections amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Stamas, R-Midland, issued the following statement:

“Although the revenue numbers are better than they were in May, we are still facing a structural budget deficit. Our general fund remains $1.7 billion below what we expected back in January.

“Short-term gains do not equal long-term budget stability. The Trump Administration, through many of its policies, has greatly helped Michigan’s families and our state, but we cannot know for certain the impact of the pandemic months or years from now. As it stands, we still forecast a hole in the 2022 fiscal year — a reminder that we have a duty to be restrained and responsible with our spending.

“With less than six weeks left before the start of the new fiscal year, cooperation and collaboration are necessary in order for us to act quickly to finalize a balanced budget. A budget is a statement of our collective priorities and recognition of the hardworking Michiganders who trust us to put their tax dollars to good use.

“I am confident that by working together we can implement a budget that invests in key priorities, is accountable to Michigan families, and helps foster a healthy economy for all.”

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Stamas supports bipartisan Return to Learn agreement

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Jim Stamas on Saturday voted in favor of a bipartisan Return to Learn agreement designed to help ensure schools can safely teach Michigan students in the upcoming school year.

“These measures preserve local control and provide a framework for ensuring all Michigan students safely and effectively continue their education,” said Stamas, R-Midland. “Teachers and students face unique challenges during this pandemic, and this plan gives their schools the flexibility to make the decisions that work best to meet those challenges in their community. I am proud we were able to come together in a bipartisan way to ensure children will receive a quality education that prepares them for success.”

Under the Return to Learn plan, school districts must develop health and safety guidelines for in-person instruction based on local data and done in consultation with local health departments.

House Bills 5911-5913 would require regular two-way interaction between teachers and students, regardless of how instruction is provided, and give schools flexibility on the total number of mandated instructional days and hours, as long as a full school year’s worth of instruction is provided. The bills would determine pupil counts for state funding through a blend of last year’s student count (75%) and the new 2021 school year pupil count (25%).

The legislation also requires benchmark testing to be conducted in the classroom, online or at home. The results would be used by schools to establish academic goals and would be shared with parents so they understand their child’s learning needs.

“These reforms build on over $550 million in federal COVID-19 funds already approved for schools to support teachers and cover coronavirus-related costs, like adopting distance learning plans, enhancing sanitation procedures, purchasing personal protective equipment and making building enhancements to improve safety,” Stamas said.

The bills have been sent to the House of Representatives, where they are expected to receive final approval and be sent to the governor for her signature.

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Budget leaders agree to details of plan to balance FY 2020 state budget

LANSING, Mich. — Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Stamas, House Appropriations Chair Shane Hernandez and State Budget Director Chris Kolb on Tuesday announced they have reached an agreement on the details of a plan to balance the fiscal year 2020 state budget.

“Every budget is a statement of priorities,” said Stamas, R-Midland. “In the face of unprecedented and unforeseen challenges in 2020, this budget agreement is evidence of our shared commitment to schools, local governments and everyone affected by COVID-19. We’re all in this together.”

Building on the framework previously announced by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield, the agreement will balance the state’s $2.2 billion budget shortfall through spending cuts, hiring freezes and using a portion of the state’s “rainy day fund.”

“This is a uniquely challenging time, but through leadership and collaboration, we have come a long way — and I am encouraged by this progress,” said Hernandez, R-Port Huron. “We have protected Michigan families and taxpayers through tough decision-making, smart planning and the use of already available resources.”

As part of the agreement, the state budget director will present an executive order to the House and Senate appropriations committees this week that reduces state spending. Most state agencies will see reductions, including the executive and legislative budgets.

The supplemental agreement will use federal COVID-19 relief funds and $350 million from the state’s rainy day fund to assist schools, local governments and others affected by the virus.

The bills will include:
• $512 million to support schools;
• $200 million to support universities and community colleges;
• $150 million to local governments; and
• $53 million for $500 in hazard pay to teachers.

“This is an agreement that protects our public schools, keeps our commitment to students and teachers across Michigan, and maintains necessary health care funding in the wake of COVID-19,” Kolb said. “The reductions we are making will get the current fiscal year into balance while still allowing us to support local government and maintain critical government services to our 10 million residents.”

Both the House and Senate are expected to act on the bills this week.

The budget leaders have committed to immediately beginning work on the fiscal year 2021 budget, which begins Oct. 1.

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Michigan deserves better accountability from the governor

By Sen. Jim Stamas

The COVID-19 outbreak has had an enormous impact on our state, but it was made even worse by several major mistakes by the governor.

Gov. Whitmer failed to anticipate the effect of her stay-at-home order on the livelihoods of Michigan families and then failed to ensure that the people who lost their jobs due to her order receive critical unemployment assistance. She also failed to protect our most vulnerable residents from the virus, with deadly consequences.

When COVID-19 first appeared in the U.S., one of the few things we knew about it was that it was much more dangerous for the elderly. As a result, the national Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued guidance in mid-March about how to control COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

Nursing homes are not hospitals, and they are certainly not an appropriate place to house patients with COVID-19 unless they have a confirmed plan to isolate those patients from the other residents. However, Gov. Whitmer on April 15 issued an executive order requiring certain nursing homes to care for COVID-19-affected patients — despite the risks.

When the state finally released nursing facilities’ COVID-19 data on June 15, we learned what a disaster her policy had been.

At that point, over 1,900 deaths from COVID-19 had occurred in nursing homes — more than a third of all Michigan deaths from the virus. This figure could be even higher because Michigan’s data does not include other long-term care facilities and assisted living centers.

To prevent this tragedy from happening again, I supported Senate Bill 956 to ban the admission and retention of COVID-19 patients in nursing home facilities, unless they have state-approved designated areas and programs to isolate and care for these patients.

The governor’s actions have also had a devastating effect on our ability to earn a living.

Due to the governor’s orders, over two million Michigan workers have lost their jobs and our unemployment rate spiked to 24% in April — the second-highest rate in the country.

Unbelievably, the Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) could not handle the increase in claims and the governor failed to fix it.

I continue to hear from frustrated unemployed workers who have yet to receive any support payments and are worried about how they are going to pay the bills and feed their families.

The governor failed to listen to others about the full impact of her actions, failed to understand the size of the problem at the UIA, and failed to take the quick and decisive action to fix it. As a result, thousands of families are still struggling to make ends meet.

Thankfully, the governor recently signed my legislation to immediately hire 500 temporary UIA employees to help our unemployed workers.

The governor has failed to preserve our economy, support unemployed workers, and protect our most vulnerable residents. We all deserve better, and the governor needs to be held accountable.

Sen. Jim Stamas, R-Midland, represents Michigan’s 36th District.

Stamas supports Return to Learn Plan

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Jim Stamas is applauding the newly announced Return to Learn Plan to ensure the safety of Michigan students as learning resumes in the fall.

The plan was unveiled on Tuesday by the chairs of the House and Senate education committees and would invest $1.3 billion in restricted federal Coronavirus Relief Funds to ensure schools can reopen safely with both in-classroom and remote learning options.

“To protect children from COVID-19, teachers and students across Michigan transitioned from going to school to learning from home, and I commend them for their resilience and hard work,” said Stamas, R-Midland. “Before our students return to school, we must do everything we can to provide them as safe a learning environment as possible.

“I strongly support the bicameral plan to invest federal CARES Act funds to help all Michigan students continue to learn safely by ensuring our schools have the necessary resources to improve health standards in the classroom and enhance remote learning options.”

The plan would provide schools $800 per student to implement coronavirus-related health measures, such as reducing class sizes, adopting a robust distance learning plan, enhancing sanitation procedures, purchasing personal protective equipment, and making building enhancements to improve safety. Resources would be available for all efforts undertaken after the statewide closure of classrooms on March 16.

The Return to Learn plan would also redefine “attendance” to mean “engaged in instruction” rather than “physically present” to give students the opportunity to learn remotely, have school districts work with local health departments to establish safety requirements for extracurricular activities and sports in addition to regular school safety measures, and provide $80 million to intermediate school districts to assist schools with distance learning plans and safety measures.

“This plan protects students, educators and local control,” Stamas said. “It also provides our teachers with $500 in hazard pay in appreciation of the tremendous time and effort they made to ensure their students continued to learn after school buildings were suddenly closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.”

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Stamas bill authorizing federal funding to support people affected by COVID-19 sent to governor

LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Legislature on Wednesday approved Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Stamas’ legislation to use $880 million in available federal CARES Act funding to help Michigan families, workers and schools affected by the COVID-19 health crisis. The bill now heads to the governor to be signed.

“This measure will put nearly a billion dollars in critical federal CARES Act resources to good use to support Michigan families, students, workers, small businesses and local communities hit hard by the coronavirus,” said Stamas, R-Midland. “We’re only using federal COVID-19 funds — no state dollars. Although we’re facing a tremendous challenge to balance an unprecedented state budget deficit, we can invest these restricted federal dollars to reduce the cost of child care for working families, provide hazard pay for our front-line workers and first responders facing the virus head on, offer small businesses restart grants to help safely reopen our state, and increase Unemployment Insurance Agency staff to get needed benefits to struggling families.”

Senate Bill 690 would invest $100 million for small business restart grants, $100 million in hazard pay for local first responders, $125 million to reduce child care costs by 30%, $29 million for additional temporary workers to handle unemployment claims, and $117 million to temporarily increase pay by $2 per hour for direct care workers — including those caring for seniors in nursing facilities.

“This funding will also support local government public health and safety efforts, invest in COVID-19 testing supplies and personal protective equipment, support at-home learning and instructional recovery for our students and ensure our food supply remains safe and operational,” Stamas said. “This is about thanking those who risk their lives and health to protect the public and care for the sick and doing what we can to reduce the financial impact and mental strain on the Michigan people caused by this global pandemic.”

SB 690 would also invest $200 million for local governments for public health and safety costs related to the pandemic, $25 million for testing supplies and personal protective equipment for workers like those at nursing and home health care facilities, $15 million to support farms and maintain a safe food supply, $2.5 million in assistance to hospitality workers who may not be eligible for full unemployment benefits, and $43 million to make learn-from-home devices and connectivity more affordable and cover COVID-19 costs for schools.

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