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Democrats Push Emergency Reform Bill To Prevent Another Flint Water Crisis

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 17/03/2016 Tyler Tynes

WASHINGTON -- House Democrats led by their Michigan delegation are pushing to reform the states's emergency financial manager law in the wake of the Flint water crisis.

The city's water poisoned residents with lead after an emergency manager Gov. Rick Snyder (R) appointed oversaw the switch to the Flint River as its source in 2014.

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) has been a vocal about the law for some time, referring to Flint as the predicted outcome of the state's long, dangerous history with unelected emergency managers. He has said that the legislation usurps democracy in every regard.

“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," Conyers said. "But we can stand together and make sure the unaccountable emergency 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."

Conyers said the Emergency Financial Manager Reform Act of 2016 ensures that only elected lawmakers are in charge of making decisions for the people. The bill, which Michigan Reps. Brenda Lawrence, Dan Kildee and 29 other House Democrats back, aims to address unchecked decision-making power of those appointed to be emergency financial managers in embattled cities like Flint. 

Darnell Earley, the emergency manager at the time the switch, insisted he had nothing to do with the water catastrophe during a hearing on Tuesday before the House Oversight Committee, blaming his predecessor and the Flint City Council for approving the switch even though the local government authority had no official power at the time.

The Emergency Manager Law has allowed unelected officials to manage localities while effectively silencing the voice of the people they are supposed to serve. Michigan Rep. Brenda Lawrence

“The Emergency Manager Law has allowed unelected officials to manage localities while effectively silencing the voice of the people they are supposed to serve," Lawrence said in a statement about the bill. "After four emergency managers were appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder in Flint, and many more have been placed throughout Michigan, we have seen a series of disastrous decisions based entirely on bottom line economics result in incalculable harm to our citizens."

The bill would authorize the U.S. Attorney General to withhold five percent of law enforcement funds that otherwise would be allocated to a state under a cornerstone federal criminal justice program if a state-appointed emergency manager fails to protect against certain abuses. 

The abuses, outlined in the bill language, include discriminatory impact on voting rights, harm to public health or safety, conflicts of interest, mismanagement and abuse of discretion. It also covers unilateral rejection of collective bargaining agreements and other contractual obligations without mutual consent, and a lack of notice to affected communities who cannot provide comment.

The legislation has garnered early support from the American Civil Liberties Union, United Auto Workers Union, American Federation of Teachersthe Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network and the chairs of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

"It was decisions by such unelected emergency financial managers that led to the current water crisis in Flint," Kildee said.

"They are entirely bottom-line focused, bringing a failed philosophy to government that puts saving money at any cost ahead of the livelihood of people. Under Michigan’s current laws, democracy is suspended in cities like Flint in favor of absolute power in the hands of emergency financial managers."

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