With Democratic control, Michigan's governor pushes for health care and climate change laws

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LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Paid family and medical leave, a 100% clean energy standard and codifying protections ensured by the Affordable Care Act are among the issues that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is directing Democrats to tackle in the final months of the year.

The second-term governor highlighted her priorities Wednesday during a “What’s Next Address,” following the first half of 2023 that saw the party roll back decades of Republican measures while implementing its own liberal agenda.

Although Whitmer didn’t provide specifics on the policy proposals and took no questions from reporters afterward, her speech likely provides a roadmap for what’s ahead. Democrats have passed nearly every measure she called for at the beginning of the year.

Lawmakers are set to return to the state Capitol on Sept. 5 after a two-month summer break. Michigan is one of the few states with a full-time legislative session and Democrats are looking to take advantage of every minute with control of the state House up for grabs next year.

“What’s next on the fall agenda for Michigan is: the health of our people; the health of our planet; the health of our economy; and the health of our democracy,” Whitmer said.

“Our plans are ambitious, but they are achievable. Let’s get them done,” Whitmer said in Lansing while legislative leaders looked on.

As neighboring states continue to tighten restrictions on abortion, Whitmer called for Michigan to further protect reproductive rights. She asked lawmakers to repeal “politically motivated, medically unnecessary restrictions” on the procedure, such as a 24-hour wait period for patients. Voters in the state approved a ballot measure last year that codified abortion rights in the state Constitution.

One of Whitmer’s more ambitious priorities would be family and medical leave, which “77% of Michigan workers do not have access to,” according to her.

She also wants to pass legislation proactively protecting key provisions included in “Obamacare,” including one that requires insurers to cover preventive services, as the nation’s health law continues to face legal challenges in federal court.

Michigan Democrats hold a “trifecta” — control of the state House, state Senate and governor’s office — for the first time in nearly 40 years. They've passed numerous long-sought measures in the first eight months of the year, including an 11-bill gun safety package and the repeal of a right-to-work law.

Republicans have been critical of a legislative session, saying it has lacked bipartisanship with many bills passing along party lines. They disapproved of a $82 billion budget passed in June and crafted primarily by Democrats.

Whitmer has delivered a “State of the State” address at the start of each year, as most governors do, but her speech Wednesday ahead of the second half of the legislative session was a first.

Republican state Rep. James DeSana criticized Whitmer in a statement ahead of her speech for taking a “victory lap” days after Michigan was hit by multiple tornadoes that killed five people and left hundreds of thousands of customers without power.

Whitmer did not address the continued power outages in her speech but said the state's utility regulator, the Michigan Public Service Commission, “needs more tools" to help enact a 100% clean energy standard.

Whitmer defined clean energy as “wind, solar, or other commonsense sources,” but did not say when she wants the 100% standard met. Democratic state lawmakers proposed a plan earlier this year to require 100% clean energy production by 2035.