LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Rick Snyder, in a rare visit Monday, urged the state's Civil Rights Commission to consider a range of issues including drones, police body cameras and race relations while saying Native American culture should be celebrated more.
Declining to give many specifics, the Republican governor also mentioned priorities such as immigration — specifically migrant farm workers — disabilities, and mental health and criminal justice issues.
In response to a question from a commission member, Snyder apologized for forgetting to mention his hope that the new Legislature continues discussing a bill to add protections for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to the state's civil rights law. The measure died in November.
"Discrimination isn't right," he said, adding that he hopes lawmakers make "positive progress" on the issue he also brought up in his State of the State speech last week. House Speaker Kevin Cotter, a Mount Pleasant Republican, has said he does not think the measure should be debated again.
It stalled because Democrats and majority Republicans disagreed over specifically prohibiting discrimination against transgender residents or if a current ban on sex discrimination is adequate.
Emily Dievendorf, executive director of the gay rights group Equality Michigan, said Snyder needs to lead on the issue — lamenting that the legislation's chances are "far diminished" in the new two-year session.
"I would like to see a plan, a real plan, and people brought together by the governor to talk — but to pass it in a form that is actually effective, that is fully inclusive, that is up to the standard that the rest of the country demands," she said. "I don't want all of this just to be talk in order to repair (Republicans') reputation."
What made Snyder's appearance unique was its rarity. Commission staff say no sitting governor has spoken at a meeting since then-Gov. George Romney swore in its initial members in 1964.
The eight-person bipartisan panel, whose members have all been appointed by Snyder, investigates discrimination complaints. In recent months, it extended an invitation for Snyder to attend a meeting.
He expressed interest Monday in commission members' calls for a commission to focus on African-American issues and for raising the profile of a council devoted to Arab and Chaldean affairs.
Snyder said Michigan is one of just three states with an immigration office after he created the Office for New Americans a year ago.
"We can do more in terms of making sure we're creating an encouraging environment, a warm environment for people coming to our state," he said, mentioning that Michigan had a shortage of migrant workers last year.
Native Americans, Snyder said, are too often thought of in relation to tribal casinos. He wants to celebrate Indian heritage in a "better and bigger" fashion.
Snyder also said the state has proactively tried to bring community and law enforcement leaders together in hopes of preventing incidents like the police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. He pushed commission members to study police body cameras and drones but stopped short of making specific recommendations.