[Date Prev][Date Next][Date Index]

E-M:/ Reading a bill

Enviro-Mich message from Sue Julian <benj@tir.com>

Thanks to Terry Lodge for the sensible suggestion to read the drain code
bill and form your own opinions. It's what we should all be doing for so
much of the legislation that is spewing forth from Michigan's legislature.

There is a problem in the case of the 283 page drain code bill HB 4803
H-2--actually several problems.  It is true that you can see what is
crossed out and what is the new language inserted in capital letters,
however, what appears in caps may also be language moved within the bill.
It is in a new place and hence "new" to that section.  

Placement can make a big difference.  Here's one example: Chapter 15 has
been deleted and moved to one paragraph in Chapter 8 (Maintenance and
Improvement). It used to be the "Dams in Drains" chapter which originally
had the focus of damming water for agricultural irrigation and later the
idea of damming water to prevent flooding downstream.  It required 50% of
the landowners "from the point of such dam or dams to the upper terminus."
Thus it was similar to the Lake Level Control Act (separate, existing
legislation) that requires a large number of those who will be affected to
be the petitioners.  The change to Chapter 8 in the drain code means that 5
people can petition and they may all represent one parcel.  Thus placing a
dam in a drain becomes tailor made for development, such as the Canadian
Lakes development that Trout Unlimited fought.

Just reading the bill would not lead you to this conclusion, unless you
cross referenced to the definitions of "person" and "public corporation"
and "landowner."  And since the bill doesn't say "Chapter 15 moved to
Chapter 8," you wouldn't know if this was a paragraph rewrite or an
insertion. Moreover, since you can't see what it said before, you don't
know the significance of the placement in a chapter requiring only 5

A further problem is that sections have been eliminated for redundancy or
shifted for other reasons.  If you go to the list of Repealed and list of
Enacted Sections, there is no explanation of why some things have been
repealed.  The intention, according to the Department of Agriculture's
Environmental Stewardship Section (also the home of "Right to Farm"), the
repeals were mostly done to consolidate the bill and make it more readable.
But whole sections that are left out are not visible on the screen in the
crossed-out format, so you can't judge for yourself.

An additional problem is the history behind the bill. The 1956 drain code
has been amended year after year, over 200 times.  There was a standing
committee of drain commissioners that made recommendations that were
slipped into law without much fuss for years.  Another source of revealing
information is the case law involving citizens or corportions who
challenged sections.  The legal interpretations shape what the words mean.
In the case of Ch. 15 (Dams), the Attorney General's office issued an
opinion to the effect that the law was not intended to create a private
lake for someone, yet the section now moved to Chapter 8 will now legally
sanction exactly that.

We have identified over 208 problems with the bill--some involving whole
sections and some involving just a few words.  You know that the small
change of "and" to "or" can have big consequences.  Currently drains are
built for "public health, convenience and welfare."  Now the code says they
may be built for "public health, safety or welfare or for agriculture" in
most parts of the bill. A previously negotiated draft of the bill said for
"public health, public convenience and public welfare," incorporating the
idea that tax assessments should be spent for a public purpose. (Chair of
the Ag Committee, Rep. Mike Green, chose not to start with a previously
negotiated draft this time around.)

So readers of compicated bills at the state or national level often have to
rely on the research staff that has spent hours analyzing the documents.
In the case of the drain code, Michigan Environmental Council's Julie
Stoneman is a good source.  Our group has produced a lot of analysis also.
We've just completed a 50-page side by side comparison of current law,
proposed law, and the problems with each section.  You can find some of
that on our web page or you can call for a copy at the number below.  

We conclude that, despite some steps in the right direction, so much is
wrong with the revision that the bill should be killed.  Real reform is

* Sue Julian                                                    *
* Michigan Drain Code Coalition                                 *
* Phone: (248) 634-3513                                         *
* Phone: (517) 324-9664 (ans. mach.)                            *
* P.O. Box 304                                                  *
* Holly, MI 48442                                               *
* email: benj@tir.com                                           *
* MDCC Homepage: http://members.tripod.com/Michigan_Drain_Code/ *

ENVIRO-MICH:  Internet List and Forum for Michigan Environmental
and Conservation Issues and Michigan-based Citizen Action.   Archives at

Postings to:  enviro-mich@great-lakes.net      For info, send email to
majordomo@great-lakes.net  with a one-line message body of  "info enviro-mich"