Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley returned to the Michigan Capitol on Thursday, joining Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist for his first bill signing as acting governor.

Gilchrist, who is serving as acting governor while Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is on an overseas business trip to Israel, is the first black lieutenant governor to sign a bill into law in Michigan history.

“Today’s historic action symbolizes the opportunity that exists when we create a space for more participation from a more diverse set of voices and experiences,” Gilchrist said at the ceremony. “Governor Whitmer and I built the most diverse administration in our state’s history because we believe that our practices, policies, and proposals should reflect and enable Michiganders from all backgrounds to be successful.”

Neeley, who served as the chairman of the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus before resigning his seat in the state House of Representatives to serve as Flint mayor, also recognized the historic significance of the bill signing.

“This is another historic moment for our state, a great movement encouraging all of us to be able to move and work together on both sides of the aisle,” Neeley said.

Neeley joked that his former colleagues in the Legislature may have forgotten him in the days since he resigned on Nov. 11 and about the lieutenant governor’s height.

“I’m so happy to be here, because I thought you forgot my name just as soon as I left,” Neeley said. “I’m so excited about this moment because we talk about politicians and politics, and sometimes we talk about it in a derogatory way. Today, I have a person that’s in the political realm that I can actually say I can truly look up to.”

A special primary election to fill the state House seat vacated by Neeley will take place on Jan. 7, 2020, followed by a special general election on March 10, 2020 – the day of Michigan’s presidential primary. Eleven candidates are running for the seat.

Gilchrist is the second black elected official in Michigan history to sign a bill into law, more than 30 years after former Secretary of State Richard Austin became the first.

“When things like this happen, it is important to take a moment to recognize it,” Gilchrist said. “We don’t do it out of vanity. We do it out of gratitude, gratitude for all the people who have stood before us.”

The legislation signed by Gilchrist removes a lifelong ban on felons who submit applications for insurance producer licenses, allowing the Department of Insurance of Insurance and Financial Services to issue licenses to individuals who have not been convicted of a felony in the last ten years.

The state denied 61 applications for insurance producer licenses in 2018 due to prior felony convictions.

Gilchrist also signed legislation requiring all egg-laying hens in Michigan to be raised in cage-free systems by December 2024. The law also requires out-of-state eggs sold in Michigan to come from hens raised in cage-free conditions.

Andrew Roth is a reporter and photographer covering politics and policy in Michigan, as well technology, culture and their convergence. Andrew is a journalism student at Michigan State University and first...