Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Welcome to my e-newsletter. I hope you’ll find this information about important issues and legislation under consideration at the state Capitol and in our community useful. Please remember that I’m always available if you need my assistance. I can be reached toll-free at (888) 750-3326 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In this issue:
- Join Me for a Criminal Justice Reform Town Hall
- Dumping Harmful Driver Responsibility Fees
- HB 4053: English as Official Language Bill
- Teachers for Michigan Legislation
- Free Tax Preparation
- March is Reading Month
Join Me for a Criminal Justice Reform Town Hall
You’re invited to join the discussion about criminal justice reforms, including a proposal I’ll be introducing to reform Michigan’s cash bail system. Under the current system, too many people are left in county jails awaiting trial for no other reason than they can’t meet bail. As they wait for trial, they may lose their jobs — and therefore their homes or cars — even if they are eventually found innocent. I believe there’s a better way to approach bail that will help people be released from jail pending trial while still keeping our communities safe. Just as importantly, this plan could save Michigan’s communities as much as $100 million a year or more. We’ll also be discussing other restorative justice topics, such as the end of Michigan’s Driver Responsibility Fees, which you can read more about in this newsletter.
The event will be held at the GRPS Rev. Lyman W. Parks Administration Building, located at 1331 Franklin Ave. SE from 6:30-8:00 p.m. on April 9. I hope to see you there.
Dumping Harmful Driver Responsibility Fees
Earlier this month, the Legislature came to an agreement to speed up the phase-out of driver responsibility fees (DRF) which will now be eliminated by October of this year.
On top of regular traffic tickets, the DRFs are an additional fee charged for a variety of traffic violations. Unlike a traffic ticket where a judge can take into consideration a driver’s ability to pay, DRFs cannot be waived or reduced. As a result, about 300,000 people who are currently unable to drive due to overdue fees may find it difficult, or almost impossible, to get to work or school. That can set a person and their family on a downward financial spiral that can be immensely challenging to pull out of — all because of a DRF.
Recent surveys from the Federal Reserve and Bankrate.com find that about half of all Americans don’t have enough money on hand to cover a $500 emergency. DRFs start at $100 and can add up quickly, which has put thousands of Michigan families in financial stress. This is just one of the many ways that our criminal justice system has unfairly burdened working families that earn less than wealthier families — an issue I will be addressing at greater length this year.
You can view my speech on this topic on the House floor here.*
HB 4053: English as Official Language Bill
Last week, the House of Representatives passed House Bill 4053, which would make English the official language of Michigan. I voted against this bill because it is unnecessary and insulting to Michigan citizens who have difficulty with English or who came here as immigrants. Worse, it excludes people who are deaf or hard of hearing and use sign language to communicate.
While English is already the language that government is conducted in, essential government services — such as court, police and Secretary of State services — are translated into many different languages to meet the needs of Michigan’s diverse population. It’s important that people be able to access and understand these services, no matter what language they are most comfortable speaking.
Not only does this bill fail to help them — it fails to help people who speak English as their primary language. It won’t pave anyone’s roads or build a better school for anyone’s child. It won’t create better jobs — in fact, it signals that Michigan isn’t a welcoming and diverse state, and could make thriving businesses hesitate to locate here.
I also voted against this bill because voting to make English an official language failed to answer the question: Whose English? The English language is a living thing, as I showed by giving a part of my floor speech by quoting Geoffrey Chaucer, who spoke English in the 1300s, but who is largely unintelligible to English speakers today. Trying to legislate language is folly.
Rather than wasting time on bills that won’t solve Michigan’s problems and only serve to divide residents, I will work on solutions reform our criminal justice system and make government more transparent. I will also listen to the voices of all my constituents, no matter which language they speak.
To hear my speech — including the parts in Chaucer’s Middle English, click here.
Teachers for Michigan Legislation
I joined with House and Senate Democrats to announce a Teachers for Michigan package of legislation designed to prepare, attract and retain the finest Michigan teachers. My bill, House Bill 5476, would create a stipend for student teachers who take teaching assignments in at-risk schools. This bill would encourage the most promising and energetic young teachers to serve in the schools that need teaching talent the most, giving our young kids a better chance at a good start in life.
Education can unlock the future for our kids, and having great teachers can make a big difference in a kid’s life. The first step in improving our state’s public education system is ensuring we have excellent teachers in the classroom. Recent attacks on teachers have made the profession seem less attractive to college graduates and even impossible for many teachers to stay. Ensuring a teacher’s retirement is funded and secure is the first step of many to encourage good teachers to stay in the classroom and attract excellent teachers to our schools.
Other bills in the package would:
- Establish an Underrepresented Teacher Recruitment Program.
- Create an Early Childhood Educators Act.
- Allow for up to 10 years of student loan debt forgiveness.
- Provide a one-time bonus of $3,000 to $5,000 for newly hired teachers, or a one-time relocation bonus.
- Award an annual bonus of $1,800 to math, science and special education teachers.
- Establish Mentor Teacher Pay Rates.
- Create a Teacher Recruitment and Retention Scholarship Fund.
- Set a teacher-student ratio of 1:20, or one teacher per every 20 students.
- Increase the number of educators recognized as Teacher of the Year.
- Allow certified teachers to request tuition reimbursement from the school district.
Free Tax Preparation
Tax season is here, and so is free help to those who qualify. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offers free tax help to Kent County individuals who earn $27,000 or less, or families who earn $57,000 or less. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individuals.
In addition to VITA, the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program offers free tax help for all taxpayers, particularly those who are 60 years of age and older, specializing in questions about pensions and retirement-related issues unique to seniors. The IRS-certified volunteers who provide tax counseling are often retired individuals associated with non-profit organizations that receive grants from the IRS.
Before going to a VITA or TCE site, see IRS Publication 3676-B for services provided and check out the what to bring page to ensure you have all the required documents and information the volunteers will need to help you.
For a list of free tax preparation locations and times, click on this link: https://irs.treasury.gov/freetaxprep/.
March is Reading Month
March is Reading Month is here! Reading to your child is one of the most important things you can do to help them learn and develop emotionally. Reading aloud with your child helps language development — even before a baby learns how to talk. Reading with your child strengthens the emotional bond between parents and children, and teaches kids to listen, which is an important skill they’ll need in school and throughout life. Children who are read to develop larger vocabularies at an earlier age than children who aren’t.
Reading with a child encourages them to develop a sense of creativity and curiosity about the world around them. That leads them to want to learn more and set goals for themselves.
I hope you’ll use March is Reading Month to read a book with your child or with another kid in your life. If you need ideas about which books to read, the Grand Rapids Public Library can help! Call them at (616) 988-5400.
State Representative David LaGrand
75th House District