Michigan lawmakers’ attention has been largely focused on bills surrounding pandemic relief and emergency powers to start the 2021 legislative session, which has precluded the typical flurry of bill introductions seen in previous legislative sessions. Despite this, there have been several significant bill introductions related to the animal health industry and, promisingly, many had bipartisan support on introduction.
Newly Introduced Bills
SB 44 from Roger Victory (R-30) introduces a new act called the “Emergency responder employment protection act.” SB 44 would provide protections to employees who have notified their employer of their status as an ‘emergency responder,’ which the bill specifically mentions would include veterinarians. Employees cannot leave for an emergency during a shift, but they are protected from discrimination, discipline, and discharge for missing a shift due to emergency response. They may, however, be forced to use unpaid time off for these shifts. This bill has been referred to the Committee on Economic and Small Business Development.
SB 50 introduced by Michael MacDonald (R-10) and Paul Wojno (D-9) would increase the breadth of criminal penalties that could befall those involved with dogfighting. This bill builds on a significant trend from the previous legislative session that focused on cracking down on dogfighting and animal cruelty in Michigan. Specifically, SB 50 would allow the State, after a person has been convicted of dogfighting, to charge anyone who provided an animal to that person knowing that it would be used for fighting, with a felony. The punishments laid out in this bill and its tie bar, SB 51, are quite severe and on par with dogfighting charges themselves. This bill has been referred to the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety.
HB 4526 from the bipartisan team of Tommy Brann (R-77), Kevin Hertel (D-18), Bill Sowerby (D-31), Sue Allor (R-106) would provide further public protections for service animals in training. Specifically, HB 4526 would expand the protections provided to owners of full-fledged service animals to those raising and training animals that are or one day will take part in Assistance Dogs Intl. or Intl. Guide Dog Federation training. Such protections include allowing animals into areas otherwise restricted (hotels, food service) and preventing such establishments from isolating the animal and owner from other guests. One difference from a working service animal is that those in training can be asked for documentation of their status. Although other species can be used as service animals, this bill makes it clear that only dogs would fall under this new category by singling out two specific future training programs as mentioned previously. Nonetheless, this bill is a positive step forward to allow more thorough training of service animals, resulting in better care for their handlers. This bill has been referred to the Committee on Regulatory Reform.
HB 4497 introduced by Brad Paquette (R-78) and Karen Whitsett (D-9) builds upon legislation introduced, but not passed, in the previous legislative session concerning aerial spraying of pesticides in MI. The instigating event for these bills was an outbreak of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE or “triple E”) in 2020 that included 3 human infections and 41 animals. The fatality rate of EEE in humans is 33% and although horses can be vaccinated, humans cannot. The primary method of control is vector control, and in the case of EEE, mosquito control. This led the State to begin aerial spraying of pesticides to kill mosquitos in several Michigan counties. Despite posing no clear threat to public health, many cities took exception to this decision, which has resulted in the introduction of HB 4497. This iteration of the bill would require the MI Public Health Dept. to notify the public and local health departments 3 business days before aerial spraying for the prevention and control of a disease. Along with notification must be the procedure to opt-out of the spraying if one is available. This bill has been referred to the Committee on Health Policy.
HB 4514 introduced by Pamela Hornberger (R-32) would allow food service establishments to allow dogs in outside locations under a myriad of restrictions and policies. A bill such as HB 4514 has been introduced in multiple previous legislative sessions and despite having extremely strong support from the dog-loving community of Michigan, has failed to ever gain meaningful traction. Several states in the US (17 to be exact) have laws or regulations allowing dogs in outdoor dining spaces, including nearby Ohio and Illinois. Given the likely economic boost associated with allowing dogs at certain outdoor dining locations, this new version of the bill may receive increased interest and favor in an attempt to support the struggling restaurant and tourism communities. This bill has been referred to the Committee on Commerce and Tourism.
HB 4186 introduced by Thomas Albert (R-86), according to his office, would fix an oversight on the restrictions put in place on the ownership of large carnivores by the Large Carnivore Act. Specifically, it is currently legal to travel through the state with large carnivores but not to visit temporarily due to a “resident of Michigan” clause. This bill removes this clause and would allow for exhibitions or educational tours to visit the state for temporary periods. This bill has been referred to the Committee on Agriculture.
HB 4471, sponsored by Sue Allor (R-106), 15 other Republicans, and a lone Democrat, Karen Whitsett (D-9), would give workers who refuse to get vaccines workplace protections. Specifically referring to the flu, Tdap, and COVID-19 vaccines, HB 4471 would bar employers from treating employees or applicants differently because of their choices to obtain or abstain from vaccines. This includes barring employers from: requiring those abstaining to wear any kind of mask not required by others, distinguishing those abstaining from other employees in any way, or discriminating against an abstaining employee or applicant in any way. Doing so could result in civil litigation against the employer. As many veterinary clinics look to return to ‘normal’ operations, small businesses may consider requiring vaccinations of employees as a means to build customer trust and protect their employees from infection. It is unclear if, in reality, this would have a significant impact on any business; however, it certainly empowers anti-vaccine rhetoric. This bill was first referred to the Committee on Commerce and Tourism but now sits with the Committee on Workforce, Trades, and Talent.
Updates on bills from the 2019–2020 Legislative Session
All bills from the previous legislative session that were not passed and signed by the Governor have been permanently tabled. Many of these bills will be re-introduced in the current and new legislative session which will be pointed out on a bill by bill basis.