Arguing for reform

State Sen. Lana Theis delivers the keynote address at the Shiawassee County Lincoln Day Dinner

OWOSSO — State Sen. Lana Theis of Livingston County told Shiawassee County Republicans Monday the state needs to revamp the way it handles auto insurance.

Theis, who represents the 22nd Senate District and serves as assistant president pro tempore of the Michigan Senate was the keynote speaker Monday night as area Republicans gathered at the Comstock Inn and Conference Center for their annual Lincoln Day Dinner, the group’s major fundraiser of the year.

Theis chairs the Senate Insurance and Banking Committee and Senate Education Committee and is vice chair of the Senate Regulatory Reform Committee.

Theis spoke to the GOP attendees about what she called her mission in life: reforming Michigan’s no-fault insurance laws.

“I’m really excited to talk about what I am most passionate about with you all tonight. I truly believe it is the thing that’s holding Michigan back,” she told the crowd. “This is not about politics any more we need to change the system. To say I’m motivated in this is an understatement.

“I want you to be able to choose what kind of insurance you want: the level of insurance you and your families can afford. We need a fee schedule for providers. There’s no reason you should charge $35,000 for $2,000 worth of work,” Theis said “This isn’t a Republican issue; there are good hearts in both sides of this issue. If you look at the people who support this and the people against, it crosses party lines.”

Theis explained where the legislation currently stands but said the governor needed to get on board.

“(Gov. Gretchen) Whitmer said she would veto a no-fault bill if it comes in for the budget, but I gotta be honest I wouldn’t want to be in her shoes and veto it,” Theis said.

Theis laid out what she sees as the main problems and causes of the state’s high auto insurance rates. Much of her talk centered on Michigan’s Catastrophic Claims Fund and the fact that Michigan is the only state in the nation to have no cap on health care costs associated with automobile crashes.

The fund has $20 billion right now and it pays out about $1.2 billion a year. The fund’s current liability is $70 billion dollars.

“This is my ask of you guys,” Theis concluded. “When I tell you this is the one thing that is holding Michigan back, think about what all that does. What you can do is talk to your friends, talk to your representatives and make sure they are on board. Call the ones that aren’t quite sure and make sure they know how you feel.”

State Rep. Ben Frederick, R-Owosso, is also working on insurance reform. He is part of a temporary House special committee focusing on auto insurance.

Frederick and State Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville — both of whom represent Shiawassee County in the Legislature — also attended Monday night.

“Tom has been marvelous to work with these past few months especially during the tornadoes,” Frederick said.

Frederick recalled that following the March 14 tornadoes, Barrett showed what kind of person he is.

“Tom wanted to be with the people, he wanted to be with the families in their home. He wanted to go to that next house, knock on that door and check how people were doing,” Frederick said.

Barrett said he’s relied on Frederick since joining the Senate and representing the county.

“I feel like I’ve learned a lot from Ben; he has been the Legislature for quite a bit longer then I have and has quite a bit more experience in that regard. He taught me so much about Shiawassee County that I am still deeply appreciative of,” Barrett said.

Barrett said when he and Frederick were out surveying tornado damage in a house, the pair thought they had spotted a family Bible for a husband and wife — but it was in a dangerous place.

“Look, I didn’t want to become the statistic where the headlines were no injuries until the state senator decided to help,” Barrett said. “Ben holds my hand, I reach down and I barely get it in my hand and pull it up and I handed it up to them feeling this great sense of achievement. I climb out of the hole and come to find out it’s a dictionary,” Barrett told the crowd, which erupted with laughter.

Theis said she didn’t know why Whitmer denied the county emergency funds for the tornado damage, but said Barrett was working to secure funds for the county and it looks promising.

Other elected officials in attendance included 66th District Court Judge Ward Clarkston, 4th District Republican Committee Chairwoman Judy Rapanos, County Commissioner John Plowman, Perry Mayor James Hugulet and former Speaker of the Michigan House Tom Leonard.

Congressman John Moolenaar, R-Midland, didn’t attend, but a message was read on his behalf in which encouraged Republicans in the room to get ready to fight hard in 2020.

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