News Story

Retiring Stabenow has guided 8 laws into effect during 4 terms as senator

‘Schoolhouse Rock’ provides one way of measuring a senator’s impact

Last week, Sen. Debbie Stabenow announced that she will not run for reelection in 2024. Stabenow, one of two Democrats in Michigan’s senatorial delegation in the nation’s Capitol, has been a senator since 2001.

A legislator such as a U.S. senator can leave an imprint on public policy in many ways. But the most obvious one is to sponsor and advocate legislation that gets signed into law. (Think Schoolhouse Rock.)

According to the latest numbers from the Library of Congress, Stabenow has been the chief sponsor of 690 bills during her time in the Senate. Eight of them became law.

Limited-scope laws

Three of Stabenow’s eight laws honor a specific individual, one benefits a small group of people, one affects Michigan and three are of national significance.

S. 1285 of the 109th Congress renamed a federal building in Detroit for civil rights activist Rosa Parks in November 2005. (There is a Michigan connection: After Parks helped launch the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, she worked for U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. in his Detroit office.)

S. 452 of the 117th Congress granted a Congressional Gold Medal to Willie O’Ree, the first Black player in the National Hockey League. It became law in January 2022.

Another Stabenow bill, S. 2339 of the 110th Congress, renamed a VA clinic in Alpena after Lt. Col. Clement Van Wagoner, a local man who received numerous military commendations for his combat service during World Wat II. It became law in September 2008.

A fourth bill benefited not one specific individual when it became law, but a small group. S. 1603 of the 113th Congress became the Gun Lake Trust Land Reaffirmation Act in September 2014. It affirmed that the Interior Department holds in trust a parcel of land for the Gun Lake tribe of Pottawatomi Indians and dismissed a legal challenge to the tribe’s casino.

Laws with statewide or national impact

Stabenow was responsible for launching those four laws, each with a narrow focus. What about laws with a wider reach? She sponsored four of them. Two of the four, dealing with prescription drugs and food, stand out for the sheer number of people they affect.

Roughly 64 million people are enrolled in Medicare, or almost one-fifth of all Americans. One law affecting Medicare is the Know the Lowest Price Act of 2018, originally S. 2553 of the 115th Congress. It restricts the contracts of companies that offer prescription drug plans through Medicare or Medicare Advantage. Some companies had required pharmacies to not tell their patients when a given prescription would cost less if they paid cash rather than run the purchase through insurance. The act bans such a prohibition. The Michigan Pharmacists Association praised the bill. President Donald Trump, who signed the bill into law, said it would lower the price of prescription drugs. Industry insiders downplayed the law, saying such prohibitions, commonly known as gag orders, were not common.

As leader of the Senate committee on agriculture, Stabenow has an impact on every person who lives in the country. This happens through various farm bills, which the Library of Congress does not include in its list of bills that Stabenow sponsored and were signed into law.

But one piece of food-related legislation that does bear Stabenow’s name is S. 3552 of the 112th Congress, which became the Pesticide Registration Improvement Extension Act of 2012. It was one of several five-year extensions of a law that calls on pesticide manufacturers and distributors to pay a fee to the Environmental Protection Agency, which keeps a registry of allowable pesticides.

A third bill of national scope involves public culture. S. 1942 of the 117th Congress became the National Heritage Area Act. This January 2023 law creates the National Heritage Area System, roughly analogous to national parks but not part of the National Park Service. It also designates seven new places as national heritage areas.

The eighth Stabenow law focuses lighthouses, docks and related features of the Great Lakes. S. 1346 of the 109th Congress became the Michigan Lighthouse and Maritime Heritage Act in December 2006. It called on the Department of Interior to take an inventory of lighthouses in Michigan, as well as the cost of repairing them. Stabenow said the act would preserve the state’s history and create jobs.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.