Legislation providing loans to farmers who suffered catastrophic crop losses following unseasonable weather this spring is among the key bills recently signed by Gov. Rick Snyder.
Abnormally high temperatures in early March were followed by freezes, ruining fruit crops and causing losses of $210 million. Estimates suggest a loss of 90 percent of both the apple and tart cherry crops, 95 percent of the peach crop, 80 percent of the sweet cherry crop, 85 percent of the juice grape crop and 15 percent of the blueberry crop. Many producers will have a hard time surviving financially until the next growing season without loans to cover ongoing costs.
House Bill 5717, sponsored by state Rep. Ray Franz, requires a one-time $15-million appropriation to cover some costs for banks that offer agricultural loans to impacted farmers and processors. Lenders will assume the credit risk.
"This is the worst natural disaster to strike Michigan's agricultural industry in more than 50 years," Snyder said. "Agriculture is a key component of our economy, and these loans will help keep our fruit farmers afloat until next season."
The bill now is Public Act 193 of 2012.
The governor also signed six other bills.
H.B.s 5562 and 5563, sponsored by state Reps. Matt Lori and Joseph Graves, increase the maximum penalty for first-degree child abuse to life imprisonment and for second-degree abuse to 10 years for a first offense and 20 years for a second offense. The changes will be known as "Dominick's Law." The bills now are P.A.s 194 and 195.
"We have a responsibility to protect Michigan's children from abuse," Snyder said. "In memory of Dominick Calhoun, we need stricter sentences for those who knowingly commit child abuse and those who know about abuse and do nothing."
H.B. 4724, sponsored by state Rep. Bob Genetski, codifies a Department of Human Services policy to require Bridge Card recipients to pay for replacement cards after their first replacement. Each year, about 575,000 cards must be replaced, a task that cost DHS $1.9 million prior to the policy's implementation. Replacement will cost recipients $3.02 or $3.72. The bill now is P.A. 196.
Senate Bill 109, sponsored by state Sen. Rick Jones, also cracks down on Bridge Card abuse. To discourage the use of taxpayer dollars for gambling, the bill codifies existing DHS policy to prevent card access at casino ATMs. The bill now is P.A. 197.
"Bridge Cards are designed to help needy individuals and families with essentials, and we need to encourage responsible care and use of the cards," Snyder said.
H.B. 4513 and S.B. 316, sponsored by Franz and state Sen. Darwin Booher, gradually move up the minimum age requirement for kindergarten to require children to be 5 years old by Sept. 1 rather than Dec. 1. This move brings Michigan in line with 38 other states that require students to reach the age of 5 before enrolling, allowing children additional time to mature socially, mentally and physically. The requirement will be fully implemented for the 2015-16 school year, but parents retain the discretion to place their child in school earlier if desired. The bills now are P.A.s 198 and 199.