HB 4438 (2017)

Michigan Immigrant Rights Center

Legislative Alert: House Bill 4438

May 16, 2018

House Bill 4438 (2017)


HB 4438 passed the House of Representatives on June 20, 2017 with 82 yeas and 25 nays. On May 15, 2018 it was referred favorably, without amendment, out of  the Michigan Senate Natural Resources Committee. If this bill passes in the Senate it will be taken to the governor, who can then veto or sign into law.

Please call your State Senator and let them know your opposition to HB 4438. MIRC strongly opposes this bill because of the risks it would pose to farmworker health, and food safety. Please find more information below.

Primary Sponsor: Tom Barrett (R-District 71)

Bill Status: 5/15/2018 referred favorably out of the Michigan Senate Natural Resources Committee, without amendment, to the Senate.

Bill Summary: HB 4438 would exempt farms from regulations under the National Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA) that require licenses to service portable toilets. This means farms would be permitted to clean, remove, and transport septage waste with no license, likely with little to no oversight or accountability.

Farmworkers, who are already engaged in one of the most hazardous industries, would be further subjected to health and safety risks. For example, HB 4438 would allow domestic septage to be stored up to 60 days. This means that either someone would have to transfer waste from the toilet to another container, or it could sit in the portable toilets for two months.

Background and Analysis:

Current law reflects the recognition that mishandling septage waste poses grave risks to human health and our environment. The NREPA lays out robust licensing requirements for handling and transporting septage waste, which includes ongoing education and training and additional licensing for vehicles that transport septage waste.  Violating these licensing requirements can constitute a misdemeanor or even a felony. Licenses can be suspended if it appears servicing of septage waste presents an imminent or substantial threat to public health, safety, welfare, or the environment, and the attorney general can seek to have harmful practices enjoined. 

HB 4438 proposes to exempt farms from these safeguards, presumably to make moving portable toilets around more cost-effective for farmers. However, without proper equipment, training, or accountability, it is not hard to imagine who will bear the costs of HB 4438 if septage waste is not properly pumped, moved, or stored in close proximity to our food.  

We urge you to consider that the current rules and regulations on field sanitation and domestic septage transport, are central to both maintaining a healthy work environment for farmworkers, and healthy produce for the public. This bill may save farmers some money in the short run, but in the long run, our farmworkers, and public health, will inevitably pay a much greater price.