Wednesday, May 3, 2017

CONYERS, KILDEE, and LAWRENCE Reintroduces Bill To Stop Emergency Managers: Three Years After Disastrous Flint Water Switch

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Representatives John Conyers (D-MI), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, Dan Kildee (D-MI), Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), and 17 cosponsors, today reintroduced the Emergency Financial Manager Reform Act to address unchecked decision-making powers that appointed emergency financial managers have in financially distressed cities. Last week marks three years since the disastrous water switch that resulted in lead contamination in Flint, Michigan.  

Recently, Congressman Conyers, Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence and Congressional Black Caucus Chair Cedric Richmond, sent a letter to President Trump questioning the Administration’s commitment to the Flint area in light of proposed budget cuts to EPA and other agencies.

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
Three years later, the people of Flint continue to suffer from the misguided and disastrous choices of an emergency financial manager they did not elect to represent them. We cannot undo the damage already done by the lead-poisoned water in Flint or fix the harm already caused by the hazardous conditions in Detroit’s public schools.  But we must continue to stand together and make sure the unaccountable emergency financial managers responsible for these disasters – and the legal system that empowered them – are not permitted to inflict further harm on our citizens or our constitutional rights. I will continue to introduce the Emergency Financial Manager Reform Act until its passage. We must ensure that what happened in Flint, will never happen again.” said Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13).

“Our state’s emergency financial manager law has hurt Flint and families throughout Michigan,” Congressman Dan Kildee (MI-05) said. 

“Unelected emergency financial managers made the decisions that led to the Flint water crisis. Their failed governing philosophy is solely focused on the bottom-line and cutting cost, often at the expense of people. Michigan families and their elected officials – not appointed and unaccountable emergency financial managers – should be in charge in the communities that they live in. This bill will help ensure what happened in Flint does not happen to other communities.”

“The Flint Water Crisis was a man-made disaster, and the people of Flint needed strong and responsible leadership to do their job and work in the best interest of the community they serve.  This never happened.  The people suffered, and they continue to suffer; while the leaders who caused this disaster hold no accountability for their actions.  This is shameful for the state of Michigan and shameful for America. It is imperative that the citizens of this great country are not denied their right to have a government that is elected and accountable.  We need immediate reform of the lack of accountability with emergency financial managers and we simply cannot allow a tragedy like this to ever happen again,” said Rep. Brenda Lawrence (MI-14).

There are many cities in financial distress across our nation still struggling to recover from the Great Recession.  While most states work cooperatively with their cities to foster economic stability and growth, others such as the state of Michigan, use draconian, autocratic laws that usurp local elected officials and replace them with unaccountable political appointees – typically known as emergency financial managers – who, through their vast powers, can jeopardize the health and safety of those who live and work in these struggling cities. 

For example, Atlantic City, New Jersey, which is also in financial distress, is now dealing with similar issues as it struggles under the control of an unaccountable state appointed overseer with powers similar to those available to Michigan’s emergency financial managers.  Last month, that city’s police union filed a lawsuit in response to the state’s announced intention to slash pay and benefit cuts in violation of the police union’s contract, claiming that these “cuts could harm public safety and the state takeover law is unconstitutional because it impairs their contract rights.

Earlier this year, the state also proposed a 25 percent reduction in compensation for that city’s firefighters’ union members.

The Emergency Financial Manager Reform Act would authorize the U.S. Attorney General to withhold five percent of the law enforcement funds that would otherwise be allocated to a state under the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program (Byrne-JAG) if the Attorney General determines that the state-appointed emergency financial manager fails to protect against the following six abuses: discriminatory impact on voting, conflicts of interest, mismanagement, and abuse of discretion, harm to public health, unilateral rejection of other contracts, and lack of notice to affected communities who cannot provide comment.

The objective of the legislation is not to deny Byrne-JAG grant funds, but rather to incentivize the states to protect their citizens against these risks and abuses when emergency financial managers are appointed.  However, if in the event the funds are withheld, they are directly reallocated to the local government for which an emergency financial manager is appointed. 
The Emergency Financial Manager Reform Act was introduced with support from the following original cosponsors: Representatives Brenda Lawrence (D-MI); Dan Kildee (D-MI); Karen Bass (D-CA), Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Judy Chu (D-CA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Gerald Connolly (D-VA), Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Shelia Jackson Lee (D-TX), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Eddie Bernice  Johnson (D-TX), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (D-GA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Marc Veasey (D-TX), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ).

This legislation is identical to H.R. 4754, the “Emergency Financial Manager Reform Act of 2016,” introduced in the 114th Congress and supported by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the United Auto Workers (UAW), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), among others.

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