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Michigan bill boosts spending to combat lead, abusive clergy

June 11, 2019

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A $28.8 million mid-year spending bill that received final legislative approval Tuesday would allocate funding to help deal with tougher rules for lead in drinking water, investigate sexual abuse by clergy and replenish a compensation fund for wrongfully convicted inmates.

Also included in the measure is money to implement marijuana legalization and expanded voting ballot initiatives approved by voters last fall, prepare for the 2020 Census and expand a program that enables people getting food assistance benefits to buy more fresh fruits and vegetables.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, is expected to sign the legislation that sailed through the Republican-led Senate unanimously Tuesday, days after the GOP-controlled House overwhelmingly approved it following changes.

The measure would allot:

— $10 million to a fund that assists exonerees. Whitmer last month line-item vetoed a separate bill that included the funding because of her policy of rejecting spending policy bills to uphold voters’ referendum rights.

— $635,000 for Attorney General Dana Nessel’s ongoing criminal probe of clergy abuse , which has resulted in charges against five former Catholic priests.

— $8 million to implement the legalization of marijuana for recreational use and the expansion of absentee voting and automatic voter registration.

— $2 million as part of Whitmer’s plan to help expand the Double Up Food Bucks program to all 83 counties and add retailers in the 65 counties where it is now offered. A match of up to $20 a day is given to food assistance recipients purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables at participating grocery stores and farmer’s markets.

— $3 million for public health services needed as a result of Michigan passing the country’s toughest lead rules in the wake of Flint’s water crisis. The rules are expected to result in more community drinking water systems testing above the safety level for lead. The funds would be used for public education, in-home water investigations and to buy water filters for low-income families. Large water suppliers in the Detroit area are challenging the rules in court, calling them a $2.5 billion unfunded mandate.

— $5 million to support outreach and preparation for citizen participation in the 2020 Census, a bid to ensure the state gets its fair share of federal funding that is based on population.

The bill also would reauthorize $11 million of $115 million in earmarks, or “enhancement grants,” that initially were approved by the Republican-led Legislature and then-Gov. Rick Snyder during the “lame-duck” session late last year. The move is needed because of errors in that budget law, state spokesman Kurt Weiss said. Included is $2 million for the nonprofit Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association to develop a low-orbit launch site within the state.

Nessel issued a statement thanking legislators for their support for the wrongful imprisonment fund and the clergy probe, which began last year under her predecessor.

“By allocating $635,000 toward the clergy abuse investigation, Michigan has chosen to give a voice to the survivors of sexual abuse,” she said. “While additional funds will be needed to complete this investigation, this money will allow our office to provide victim advocates to those who are coming forward with credible allegations of abuse while also streamlining, digitizing and managing the over 1.5 million documents that were seized pursuant to search warrants.”

Whitmer and lawmakers continue work on the budget for the next full fiscal year that starts in October. A divided House on Tuesday approved spending plans for prisons, the judiciary, agriculture, state police and military.

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Online:

Senate Bill 150: http://bit.ly/2Wtjn5X

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Follow Eggert on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00

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