The first federal fiscal cliff is behind us, with a few more ahead of us in the next few months. In Michigan, legislators passed 253 bills in the seven days of lame duck session. It was not a record number, but the significance of controversial bills clearing the Legislature was without modern precedent according to many observers.
Freedom to Work Acts (PA 348 and 349)
Grabbing all the headlines was the passage in literally two session days of the Right-To-Work bills (dubbed Freedom To Work Acts) without hearings while over 12,000 demonstrators crowded the Capitol and surrounding grounds and streets. The Capitol Building was closed for several hours until a court order sought by Democrats re-opened it.
The bills make it illegal to require members of a collective bargaining unit to pay union dues as a condition of employment. They passed 63 - 46 in the House and 22 - 4 with 12 Democrats not voting (in protest of the methods used to pass the bills) in the Senate. The bills were presented to the Governor on December 11 at 4:46 p.m., signed by the Governor at 5:19 p.m., and filed with the Secretary of State at 5:37 p.m. the same day. When you suspend all rules, things can move very fast in our legislature!
Immediately the Governor’s public relations effort turned to educating the public about the benefits of the new law in bringing new jobs to Michigan, and giving workers the right to withhold union dues if they didn’t want to pay them even though enjoying the benefits of union representation. Federal law prohibits a union from failing to fairly represent every member of the bargaining unit regardless of whether the bargaining unit member pays dues, services fees, or nothing at all.
Effect on State Employees — One of the sub-issues was application of the new laws to state employees. Although the laws assert that all public employees are covered, Article XI, Section 5 of the Michigan Constitution gives the Michigan Civil Service Commission plenary power over all personnel matters, including the contours of a collective bargaining system. It would take three votes from the current four Commissioners to pass a new CSC Rule barring union security provisions in union contracts. With terms of eight years and only one Snyder appointee on the Commission, it is unlikely that 3 votes could be mustered there in the near future.
Effect on Others —Approval of the Right-To-Work laws caps a bad two years for union worker rights in Michigan, the home of the United Auto Workers. PA 30 and PA 31 bars public employers from collecting political contributions through payroll deduction; PA 53 bans school districts from collecting union dues for their employees; and PA 76 prohibits the state’s home help workers from unionizing. These laws and more were the genesis of Ballot Proposals 2012-2 and 2012-4, which both went down to defeat and emboldened the Right-To-Work advocates.
Subsequent opinion polling saw Governor’s Snyder’s approval rating drop significantly. The unions are apparently weighing their options. A provision in the Acts appropriating funds to implement the new laws make them referendum-proof, but another try at a simpler version of a Constitutional amendment might be tried. Recalls of legislators are being discussed also.
Other Lame Duck Laws Approved or Vetoed
Recall Reforms —In 2011 over 40 legislators and the Governor were challenged with attempts to recall them over their support of the emergency manager law and other measures. Only one succeeded, that of Rep. Paul Scott (R-Grand Blanc). Recall of elected public officials will change drastically under PA 417 (HB 6060) and PA 418 (HB 6063). The measures started out as a bipartisan package with Macomb County Democrats joining with Republicans to introduce the bills early in lame duck. But when the Right-To-Work issue was jammed through, the unions were threatening recalls and the Dems backed off their support. Late Republican amendments narrowed the window to collect signatures to force a recall election from 90 to 60 days. Recall elections will have to pit the targeted official against other opponents.
Blue Cross Blue Shield Reform —The Governor, BCBS, and many others were behind bills to make BCBS a for-profit mutual insurance company similar to other health insurance carriers in Michigan with some safeguards for subsidizing Medigap policies. SB 1293 and 1294 were meant to make this transition possible. However, anti-abortion advocates were able to garner the votes on the House floor to ban almost all abortion coverage in health insurance in Michigan unless by a separate rider.
In a surprise move, the Governor vetoed the legislation, saying that the anti-abortion amendments were too extreme in that they did not allow exceptions for rape, incest, and to preserve the life and health of the mother. If the bills had been signed into law, they likely would have been subjected to a legal challenge, taking years to resolve. New bills that satisfy the Governor’s objections, are constitutional, and can garner the necessary votes are reportedly being prepared for immediate introduction in the new session beginning January 9. If new laws are not passed by March, BCBS might not be able to participate in the health care exchange required as part of Obamacare. BCBS has about 70% of the individual and small business market the health care exchange will serve.
Women’s Health Clinic Regulation —On the same day that the Governor vetoed the Blues bills because of abortion restrictions, he signed PA 399 (HB 5711), which will impose significant new regulations on women’s health care clinics performing abortions in Michigan. Included in the bill are new requirements for handling fetal remains, screening women for coercion into having an abortion, barring the use of telemedicine for medical (pill) abortions, and requiring any facility performing 120 or more abortions annually to be licensed as a freestanding surgical clinic. Opponents of the law claim that it will close most of the 32 clinics providing medical and surgical abortions in Michigan even though the law as enacted was much improved over the original bill.
This is the bill that brought Michigan international attention last June when Reps. Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield) and Barbara Byrum ( D- Onondaga) were barred from speaking on the House floor for a day as punishment for “lack of decorum” in objecting to the bill in floor speeches when they used the words “vagina” and “vasectomy.” This brought 3,000 people to the Capitol lawn several days later where Eve Ensler, author of the The Vagina Monologues, flew in to help Legislators and others perform the play to a widely diverse crowd protesting both the censorship and the content of the bill.
Emergency Manager Law —Even though the voters rejected PA 4 of 2011, the Governor signed a replacement law, which is now PA 436. It effectively recreates the powers an emergency manager would have to restore a local government or school district to fiscal health. Those powers are the same ones that critics complained were anti-democratic and effectively allowed a manager dictatorial powers and replacement of the authority of elected officials. The new law provides local governments and school districts with four options to get out of financial distress: an emergency manager, a consent agreement, mediation or municipal bankruptcy.
Personal Property Tax —As expected the Governor signed into law Personal Property Tax reform in a package of 12 bills that will eliminate it by 2021. PPT is a tax on industrial personal property. Starting in 2014, businesses with a total of $40,000 in commercial and industrial personal property in any one jurisdiction will no longer have to pay the PPT on it to that jurisdiction. But that will depend on a vote in the August 2014 primary to accept or reject a proposed scheme for some replacement revenue to the local jurisdictions affected by elimination of the PPT.
Regional Transit Authority —Also as expected, the legislature passed and the Governor signed into law five bills setting up a regional transit authority for the metropolitan Detroit area. (PA 387 (SB 909), PA 388 (SB 911), PA 389 (SB 912, PA 390 (SB 967 and PA 391 (SB 445)). The new authority will oversee a new line of rolling rapid transit buses along major thoroughfares in the Detroit area and coordinate the routes of the Detroit and suburban bus transit systems.
Corrections Retiree Re-Employment —PA 432 (HB 5881) will allow a retiree to return to work for Michigan Department of Corrections and concurrently draw a State Employees Retirement System pension until September 30, 2013, if the retiree met the following conditions: 1) the retiree was hired to provide for the custody of individuals under the jurisdiction of MDOC; 2) the retiree’s position was limited in term, no benefits were paid, and the pay was not more than 80% of the maximum hourly wage granted during fiscal year (FY) 2012-13 for the same position; 3) the retiree worked no more than 1,040 hours in a 12-month period of State employment; and 4) the retiree retired after a bona fide termination of employment.
News of the Day
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Editor’s note: Mary Pollock is the Lansing SERA Chapter and SERA Council’s Legislative Representative. She may be contacted at 1200 Prescott Drive, East Lansing, MI 48823-2446; Phone 517-351-7292; E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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