House, Senate Members Announce Water Quality, Affordability Bills

Bill package addresses problems in Detroit, Highland Park, Flint
Thursday, November 12, 2015

LANSING – State Representatives Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), LaTanya Garrett (D-Detroit), Sheldon Neeley (D-Flint), Julie Plawecki (D-Dearborn Heights) and state Senator Bert Johnson (D-Detroit) announced at a Capitol press conference today a bipartisan, bicameral bill package that would establish clean, drinkable, affordable water as a human right, and reform the shut-off process and assure that water is accessible for Michigan residents. The legislators were joined by Melissa Mays, a Flint mother, and Nicole Hill from Detroit. Both women have suffered as a result of the water issues in their cities. Also joining the legislators were Alice Jennings of Edwards & Jennings P.C. and representatives from groups including Michigan Poverty Law Program, Michigan Legal Services, People’s Water Board, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, and Food and Water Watch.  

“We are introducing these bills because we all believe that accessible, safe and affordable water is a human right, and we need to ensure the residents of Detroit, Highland Park and Flint each have access to water here in the Great Lakes State,” said Chang. “Our bills will not only protect our residents, but also all Michiganders, because what has happened in our cities could happen anywhere in Michigan.”

The water quality and affordability package includes bills to:

  • Establish water as a human right (Plawecki)
  • increase transparency about water rates and shut-offs – HB 5093 (Plawecki)
  • Ensure that water samples are collected using EPA procedures and prohibits the procedure of pre-flushing – HB 5094 (Neeley)
  • Prohibit utilities from charging a customer for service during a period of time when the customer has not received a bill, has contacted the provider and has still not received a bill (Garrett)
  • Institute shut-off protections by creating categories of individuals protected from shut-offs and providing for clearer notices about potential shutoffs and create a state water affordability plan – HB5097 (Chang/Johnson)
  • Decriminalize the reconnecting of water pipes to regain access to water – HB 5095 and 5096 (Chang and Garrett)

Since January 2013, more than 53,000 Detroit residents have had their water and sewerage service terminated. As of last June, around 15,000 homes have had this service restored. There is financial assistance available, but many on this assistance are still behind on their payments.

In April 2014, Flint switched from the Detroit water system to its own system that draws water from the Flint River. Residents put up with bad water, and then clearly unsafe water when a local doctor’s study found high lead in Flint children. Eventually local and state officials admitted that they failed to ensure that the water was properly treated before it came into residents’ homes. Legislation was recently approved and signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder that, among other things, paid for Flint’s reconnection to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) until the city’s new system that will draw water from Lake Huron comes online.

“Flint residents and Flint children have suffered mightily because of the indifference of local and state officials to the problems with the water that families were forced to drink and use after the switch to Flint river water,” said Neeley. “We clearly need to pass new laws that will ensure that this will never happen again in Flint or anywhere in Michigan. Michigan residents deserve safe, drinkable and affordable water, and they will be assured of that when these bills are passed and signed into law.”

Highland Park residents get their water from DWSD. Highland Park is behind on money owed to DWSD, and has been erratically charging residents to try and recoup the money the city failed to pay to DWSD for the water. DWSD is threatening to start shutting off water to Highland Park residents.

“Residents should not be held hostage and denied water in their homes if their local officials have failed to do their duty and  properly bill residents for water and then pay the city’s bill to the DWSD,” said Garrett. “Highland Park residents have paid and tried to pay their water bills. But when city officials don’t send bills, or send exorbitant bills that people can’t afford, it’s not fair that residents are threatened with water shut-offs.”