GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Most of Michigan’s congressional caucus on Wednesday addressed two major issues facing our nation: racial tension and the wide-ranging effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
WOOD TV8 and WLNS-TV joined forces to bring you “The State of Michigan: A Virtual Town Hall with Congressional Leaders,” moderated by WOOD TV8 political reporter Rick Albin and WLNS-TV anchor Sheri Jones.
==Watch the full town hall above.==
GEORGE FLOYD AND POLICE REFORM
When George Floyd, who was black, died in Minneapolis after a white police officer knelt on his neck, demonstrations broke out across the country. While many have been peaceful, some turned violent. In Grand Rapids, there was a riot Saturday night that damaged more than 100 buildings and destroyed several police cars.
All of the representatives and senators agreed that Floyd’s death was an injustice and they condemned it. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, said we’re at a crossroads on the issue of racial inequality, particularly when it comes to policing. She called for unity.
Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly, and Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, said there is a bipartisan effort in Congress to work on police reform. Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, said a congressional coalition responsible for criminal justice reform should be brought back together to tackle the issue.
Rep. Justin Amash, I-Grand Rapids, said he will soon introduce a bill aimed at making police officers more liable for harm against people in their custody.
Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, said the public widely agrees Floyd was murdered. He said in watching the video of the officer kneeling on Floyd, he saw in Floyd’s face his son-in-law, who is black. He said it’s time to “ferret out” the “bad actors” in police agencies who sully the force at large. He suggested the U.S. Department of Justice should be able to investigate after an officer has a certain number of infractions or complaints.
Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, said division between the Democrat-led House and Republican-led Senate has prevented some movement on the issue. She noted that Senate leaders have refused to bring up bills on racial inequity for debate.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, agreed now was the time for change and said that federal funding for first responders should be tied to increased implicit bias training. She said Senate Democrats are working on a bill to that effect.
CORONAVIRUS EFFECT ON BUDGET
The business closures aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus have gutted state revenues. In Michigan, the budget for the upcoming fiscal year is looking at a $3 billion shortfall.
Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint, said most members of Congress want to help the states, saying the national crisis requires a national response. Slotkin said Congress can and should fill some of the hole for states, though it can’t pay for everything.
Upton touted a bill that would make $500 billion available to the states, cities and counties for flexible use. He said the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus was working on it and he hoped to get that through Congress by the end of the month.
Moolenaar and Walberg said they were concerned that a lot of the relief money already OK’d hasn’t actually been spent. Reps. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, and Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet, said Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer hasn’t passed out some of the cash yet and he has demanded to know why; and said he wouldn’t be approving additional aid until the CARES Act funding is distributed.
Moolenaar also urged state leaders to reopen Michigan businesses, which he said can’t sustain closures much longer, safely.
Amash said the relief money should be going directly to the people rather than bailing out corporations or governments.
Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said Congress will have to provide backing to keep the economy from floundering and help it rebound quickly. Stabenow said Congress will have to look at long-term support for those hit hardest by the economic downtown, particularly in terms of food and housing assistance.
The 60-minute program aired or streamed live in the following locations across the state:
- WOOD TV8 in Grand Rapids and woodtv.com
- WLNS-TV in Lansing and wlns.com
- WJMN-TV in Marquette
- WJRT-TV in Flint
- WFQX-TV in Cadillac and 9and10news.com
- WDIV-TV in Detroit will livestream on clickondetroit.com