Bills would increase Secretary of State staff, hours to deal with high demand

Michigan

LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and two Democratic state lawmakers have put forth legislation to increase SoS branch offices hours in the short term to deal with a backlog they blame on extensions granted in the midst of the pandemic.

Benson and state Reps. Julie Brixie of East Lansing and Stephanie Young of Detroit announced the bills at a virtual press conference Tuesday afternoon.

Benson wants to add half a million appointments at branch offices between now and October, saying that would allow her branch offices to deal with a demand backlog after extensions approved by the Legislature ran out. The way to do that, Benson and the lawmakers say, is more people and longer hours.

House Bills 4946 and 4947, introduced to the Legislature Tuesday and sponsored by Brixie and Young, would approve funding to hire 200 more temporary full-time branch employees and pay for 70,000 overtime hours before the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30.

The bill to hire the extra workers asks for $20 million and the overtime bill $5 million. Benson, Brixie and Young said federal COVID-19 relief aid could cover the costs rather than the money coming from regular revenue sources.

Both Brixie and Young sit on the state House Oversight Committee and say they want that panel to hear the bills. No hearing date has so far been set, but Brixie said she has been in conversations with committee chair Rep. Steven Johnson, R-Wayland, and other members to make that happen.

Benson went before the Oversight Committee last week to defend her decision to move offices to an appointment-only format. Benson says the new system is getting people in and out of offices faster and allowing branches to serve more people. While there have been complaints that it can take months to get an appointment, Benson and her department have also reminded people that next-day appointments are released every day, twice a day.

Officials have also reminded people that more services have been moved online or to self-service kiosks, so you may not need to go in at all.

“We hope any legislator with sincere questions about our branch offices’ ability to serve our residents supports these bills,” Benson said Tuesday. “They are the only way to adequately address our capacity needs in the short term. Reverting to a take-a-number system merely creates more avenues for partisan politics to attack a broken system.”

She said going back to the old system would only lead to long wait times in offices, which have been common in recent years.

—News 8’s Emily Linnert contributed to this report.

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