State lawmakers open hearings on Flint water crisis

bottled waterState lawmakers have kicked off legislative hearings on the Flint water crisis.

The first in a series of hearings at the state Capitol began the same day a congressional committee continued its hearings in Washington D.C.

Members of the state Legislature’s special joint committee began the first hearing remarking on lawmakers’ role in making sure there is accountability for the crisis.

“We have a heavy burden,” said state Sen. Jim Ananich (D-Flint).

“But we also have a true opportunity to begin to restore some of the faith that many of us in my community and others across the state have lost in our system.”

State Rep. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) told reporters after the hearing that the committee must show it’s willing to hold public officials accountable.

“I think that’s going to put the bureaucracy around here on notice that the Legislature is back in town, back on its game when it comes to holding the bureaucracy accountable,” said McBroom.

“That they can’t just run roughshod over us even if we are term-limited and just here for a few years and have very little time to try and catch up on how to do this.”

Tuesday’s hearing focused on a state audit that pointed out problems with decisions made by state environmental regulators.

But Democrats on the panel said the probe was not as thorough as it should have been.

Deputy Auditor General Laura Hirst admits the office did not review all of the Flint-related emails that were available. She says there were tens of thousands of them.

“We used an algorithm and keyword searches and we focused on the lead and copper because that’s where our scope was and the focus of the questions, so we narrowed the emails down by using those keywords,” said Hirst.

“So we didn’t review every single email.”

Committee chair Sen. Jim Stamas (R-Midland) said he’s not sure how many hearings he will hold or who he’ll call to testify at any future hearings. He says he hopes to schedule the next hearing for next week.

Meanwhile, a state board on Tuesday approved a taxpayer-funded contract for outside legal counsel related to the crisis. Democrats are blasting Gov. Rick Snyder for asking the state to pay for those legal fees, totaling more than $1 billion. Snyder’s office says it is appropriate to use public funds because he was acting in his official role.