By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — Residents and community members asked area representatives questions on topics and issues that worried them most during a town hall meeting Jan 22 at Fordson High School.
The town hall, hosted by U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) brought out a crowd of about 30 people who braved the rain and snow for the opportunity to speak to her, state Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-3rd District), state Rep. Abdullah Hammoud (D-15th District) and County Commissioner Sam Baydoun (D-13th District).
Dingell told the crowd she didn’t want to miss the town hall and that following the discussion she would be heading back to Washington, D.C., the next morning to work on the government partial shutdown.
“The four of us are colleagues and friends and we work really closely together at the state, federal and local level to represent you,” Dingell said. “All issues are on the table. We want to do this regularly. You’re the first town hall of this new session for all of us.”
“We’re not here to be partisan,” Hammoud said. “More than anything we’re here to listen. There are new dynamics in both the state and federal governments. We have a Democratic governor and a Republican legislature with smaller margins hopefully brewing for bipartisanship and as well as at the federal level you have a Republican president, a Democratic House and Republican Senate. Hopefully that’s also going to create more bipartisanship.
“These partnerships are very important,” Santana said. “Government has its own issues from the federal down to the local level but we should not operate inside those. Definitely when there’s opportunities for us to collaborate on issues that impact the people in our state we want to make sure that we continue to work together.”
During the question-and-answer portion of the meeting, those in attendance asked the elected officials about a wide range of topics including, the government, auto insurance rates, national security, state redistricting, education and insurance assistance for special needs children, immigration on the border, things they hope to accomplish, safety for students crossing Dix Avenue for school, pollution and air quality, increasing fines and opening more weight stations both for semi-trucks, dispatch services, public school funding and medicare for all.
When asked about the high auto insurance rates in Dearborn and entire state, Hammoud said the topic is an issue the Legislature has been trying to tackle unsuccessfully for the last decade now.
“First of all, non-driving factors,” Hammoud said. “If you are a woman you are charged more, legally. If you are single you are charged more, if you don’t have a bachelor’s degree you are charged more, if you work a blue collar job and not a white collar job you are charged more. If you live at 48126 and not 48124 you are charged more.
“The first bill I introduced was to eliminate use of non-driving factors completely from calculating in how much you pay in auto insurance. We’re pushing forth legislation that says if you get into car accidents, you have a lot to tickets, that should impact your auto driving premium.”
Hammoud said that former Gov. Rick Snyder created a fraud authority during his final months in office to look into individuals, hospitals or insurance companies that are filling fraudulent claims in order to reduce fraud to help auto insurance rates decrease.
“I represent one of the highest paying ZIP codes in the nation,” Santana said. “The average premium is $15,000 for one vehicle in the ZIP code 48227 and that was such an eye opener for me that people are paying almost their salary to drive.
“I will say this, it’s criminal. We are criminalizing people because they cannot afford the auto insurance in our state. We have individuals driving to other states like Ohio to get their insurance, which is illegal because the insurance rates there are lower.”
Santana said driver responsibility fees was also negatively impacting people because they would have to go to court and pay fees on top of their ticket for not having auto insurance, which was eliminated in the Legislature to help 300,000 drivers across the state of Michigan.
Baydoun was asked if he would consider outsourcing dispatch services to the county sheriff’s office similar to something Oakland County is looking into.
“This is something I would look into and we can discuss this with the Wayne County Sheriff and the Evans administration,” he said. “This is something that if it makes economic sense, I’m sure I would support something like this.”
To close the meeting each elected official made closing remarks to the audience.
“I have more than anything, just a call to action and it’s regarding the air quality ordinance, I think that’s what we’re gonna call it: the air quality city ordinance,” Hammoud said. “We need your help.
“Here’s what we need to do, we need to reach out to city council and we need to ask them to take up our air quality ordinance in a speedy fashion. This ordinance will improve the air quality in our city so that every child, regardless of the ZIP code that they are born in, has a better opportunity to live a healthier life.”
“I have a call to action, too,” Santana said. “It goes beyond the vote, all of you are very savvy and very informed, but I also want to encourage you to talk to those neighbors, community organizations and individuals who are not engaged in the process. Get them educated about their legislative process so that they also can not only help support the causes but also make sure that their voices are heard in Lansing.”
“As a Wayne County commissioner, during the campaign when I was running, I said, ‘The south end — all of Dearborn and Allen Park, my whole district are all important, but especially the south end,” Baydoun said. “I want to reaffirm my commitment to the south end, it’s really sad what’s going on in the south end. I call it the environmental injustice that’s going on in the south end of Dearborn.”
“I’m not old, but I’m seasoned, I admit that,” Dingell said. “I’ve got a lot of energy and have a lot of passion, but I can’t remember this country being divided by fear and hatred that we are seeing right now. People are not asking for a lot. The hard working men and women in this country just want their basic needs. We need to talk about it and we’re all going to fight for it.”
To watch the full community town hall go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mDo4ZInKc8.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected].)