February 10, 2019
Because of the polar vortex visiting Michigan just after Martin Luther King Day, all three branches of state government were either shut down or operating with fewer staff for several days during January thus slowing down the pace of state governance.
A NEW GOVERNMENT
Governor’s Office — Taking hold of state government by the horns, Governor Gretchen Whitmer has issued 12 Executive Directives and three Executive Orders just 41 days into her administration. An Executive Order becomes law if not rejected by a majority of both legislative chambers within 60 days. She filed paperwork February 8 with the federal Department of Health and Human Services attempting to rescind or modify a Snyder administration request for federal approval of a 2018 Michigan law imposing a work requirement for those on the expanded Medicaid Healthy Michigan Program, which would affect 680,000 Michigan residents.
EO 19-2 and 3 — Perhaps her most dramatic move so far is the announcement in the atrium of Constitution Hall, home of the Department of Environmental Quality with DEQ employees looking on from the balconies, EO 19-2 reorganizing and expanding the DEQ, renaming it the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. The EO transfers the Energy Agency, the Public Service Commission, and other related functions to the new DEGLE, while abolishing many commissions and functions both within and outside of DEQ.
A new Interagency Environmental Justice Response Team to address discriminatory public health or environmental effects of state laws, regulations, policies or activities and a new Office of the Clean Water Public Advocate to investigate complaints and concerns involving drinking water quality were created. The EO also created an Office of the Environmental Justice Public Advocate to investigate complaints related to environmental justice in the state.
At the same time she issued EO 19-3 establishing a Michigan PFAS Action Response Team in the reorganized DEGLE and issued an Executive Directive entering Michigan into the U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition of governors from 19 other states agreeing to act to reduce greenhouse gases in line with the Paris Agreement on climate from which President Trump withdrew the United States.
GOP Response — GOP response was immediate and negative with regard to the EO’s abolition of three review boards only established by statute in June 2018 on the recommendation of farmers, manufacturers, businesses, landowners and others who said DEQ needed oversight from those it regulates. Environmental groups opposed those 2018 bills, contending professionals and experts in the sciences need to have primacy in environmental policy and implementation.
The Michigan House rejected EO 19-2 within two days on party-line votes. The Governor then asked the Attorney General for an opinion on the constitutionality of the EO. Pending that formal opinion, the Senate plans to take a more deliberative approach over the next several weeks amid commentary of hoped-for negotiations. A Governor’s EO was last rejected by both chambers in 1977 under the Republican Governor William Milliken’s administration when both chambers were controlled by Democrats.
Office of the Attorney General — Similarly, Attorney General Dana Nessel has moved at breathtaking speed to remove the state from 26 federal lawsuits former AG Bill Schuette was pursuing to curb federal environmental regulation, limit women’s reproductive rights, LGBT rights, voting rights, immigrant rights, separation of church and state, and promote campaign finance secrecy. At the same time she has joined lawsuits to protect employee rights, contraceptive care insurance coverage, and the Affordable Care Act (Obomacare), She changed the chief investigator in the Flint water investigation as well. She switched sides in two cases pending before the Michigan Supreme Court, supporting defendants who argue the 2006 and 2011 harsh changes to the Sex Offender Registration Act cannot be applied retroactively.
Office of the Secretary of State — SOS Jocelyn Benson has requested an Attorney General opinion challenging the legality of the newly established petition drive law, Public Act 608 of 2018, passed during Lame Duck. That law put new burdens on ballot petition drive sponsors such as permitting no more than 15 per cent signatures from any one Congressional District. Benson also announced that Build a Better Michigan, a 527 committee formed to indirectly support Gretchen Whitmer’s campaign, engaged in unlawful express advocacy during the 2018 campaign, and fined it $37,500.
2011 Redistricting Lawsuit — On January 25, SOS Benson reached a settlement agreement with the Michigan League of Women Voters regarding its federal lawsuit LWV v Benson challenging the constitutionality of the 2011 redistricting of Michigan’s state legislative and U.S. Congressional districts. As part of the agreement, the LWV agreed to drop all claims challenging the constitutionality of the Michigan State Senate and U.S. Congressional districts, as well as claims against 4 state House districts. The proposed settlement concluded that 11 of the 110 state House districts were drawn in violation of the U.S. Constitution, i.e. gerrymandered on partisan grounds. The agreement gave the current state Legislature the opportunity to redraw the districts for submission to the court.
GOP Intervention — However, Republican members of the Michigan House and U.S. House requested the three-judge U.S. Court of Appeals panel to reject the settlement, saying the U.S. Supreme Court will rule soon in Maryland and North Carolina cases now before it that drawing a district with partisan considerations in mind does not violate the U.S. Constitution. Those cases will be argued before the high court in March. The panel granted the GOP intervenors’ request, saying a settlement would be improper without the consent of the Republican elected officials who intervened in the case. Further, it said Ms. Benson lacked the authority to enter into a settlement.
Trial — The subsequent four-day trial February 4 — 7 exposed documentary evidence of the blatant intentions of the GOP to draw lines to favor their candidates. A decision of the three-judge panel is expected in March. If the LWV wins, the court will give the legislature a brief time period to redraw district lines. The GOP intervenors would likely appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the panel’s decision.
PENSION TAX NEWS
Three bills repealing the pension tax were introduced in January: HB 4006 sponsored by Rep. Joe Bellino (R-Monroe) was referred to House Tax Policy Committee; SB 13 sponsored by Sen. Paul Wojno (D-Warren); and SB 17 sponsored by Sen. Tom Barrett (R-Potterville). The Senate bills were both referred to the Senate Finance Committee, which conducted an information-only hearing on the issue at its initial Committee meeting on February 6.
Dr. David Zin, Chief Economist of the Senate Fiscal Agency, gave the Committee a briefing on Michigan’s income tax overhaul of 2011 with a focus on the removal of the three exemptions and/or credits seniors and pensioners lost. You can view and hear the video of that presentation through the Senate TV’s video archive through http://senate.michigan.gov and the PowerPoint slides at the Senate Finance Committee’s Web page www.senate.michigan.gov/committee/finance.html.
SERA members and others need to contact members of the Senate Finance Committee in support of repeal of the pension tax. The Committee members are:
Likely there will be more activity in this committee and elsewhere on the pension tax in the coming weeks. The Governor’s budget goals include more money for roads and education. She also campaigned to end the “retirement” tax. Pension tax repeal would deprive the state of over $300 million. The Governor’s budget proposal is scheduled for roll-out in early March with subsequent hearings in the Appropriation Committees thereafter.
OTHER BILLS OF INTEREST
Proposed Constitutional Amendments — HJR C would amend the constitution to end a legislative session as of the Friday before the first Monday in November in an even numbered year, thus eliminating Lame Duck shenanigans as happened in 2018. HJR D would require a two-thirds vote to pass any bills voted on after the November election of an even-numbered year. SJR D would establish a graduated income tax in Michigan. Joint Resolutions need a two-thirds vote in each chamber to make it to the ballot.
Nine Auto No-Fault Insurance Bills — HB 4024, HB 4080, SB 1, SB 4, SB 5, SB 7, SB 8, SB 9, and SB 88 propose changes to Michigan’s auto insurance code or the Catastrophic Claims Authority that pays for long-term care for those with severe injuries. The House has approved in HR 8 a resolution to create the House Select Committee on Reducing Car Insurance Rates. There appears to be solid interest in addressing Michigan’s high-cost auto insurance.
Videocam in Nursing Home Rooms — SB 77 would require a nursing home to permit a resident or the resident’s representative to install an electronic monitoring device such as a video camera in the resident’s room.
Mail and Package Theft — With the rise of internet mail order shopping, 17,000 items were reported stolen from Michigan resident’s mail boxes or porches last year. Four hundred mail order prescription drug packages were reported stolen. Only federal law addresses the specific problem. SB 23 and 24 would create a Michigan mail and mail depository protection act to make mail theft a misdemeanor on first offense and felony for a second or greater offense. The bills have been referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety.
Psychiatric health care retirees — Yet another group has been suggested for an exception to the statute saying that when a state employee retires, they cannot return to state employment without forfeiting their retirement benefits. This is to avoid double-dipping. This one is HB 4156 that would apply to “a mental health professional other than a physician to provide mental health services to individuals in psychiatric hospitals operated by the department of health and human services and resident care aides.”
Michigan lost the longest serving member of Congress when former U.S. Rep. John Dingell died on February 7. He served 59 years in the U.S. House representing a district surrounding Dearborn and retired in 2014. He was succeeded in office by his wife of 40 years, Debbie Dingell. He was a WW II veteran of the U.S. Army and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
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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