February 9, 2020
We are in the midst of the first quarter of an election year, practically the last time state legislators are going to pass anything controversial like raising taxes.
PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY MARCH 10
Michigan’s presidential primary is March 10, a week after so-called Super Tuesday when 11 states hold their primary. With Michigan’s new voting rights laws, any Michigan citizen can register to vote up to and including on election day, and every registered voter can vote by mail or in person. Some jurisdictions are offering early voting opportunities ahead of March 10 during evening or weekends. Another change this year — the envelope sending you the absentee ballot will be blue and white and the enclosed return envelope will be green and white. The secrecy sleeve will continue to be the same light tan as in the past.
SOS AND FY21 BUDGET
Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s second State of the State message on January 29 and her February 6 $61.9 billion Executive Budget proposal signaled her public policy initiatives for the year. The proposed budget is 3.9 percent higher than last year, but state Budget Director Chris Kolb said the General Fund — the $11 billion of the budget that is up to policymakers’ discretion — has been “basically flat for the last 20 years.” Under a law passed late last year after the budget fiasco earlier in the year that nearly closed down state government, both chambers must pass a budget by July 1 and the Governor must approve it by the end of September.
Roads — The Governor’s proposed budget did not include a 45 cent gas tax increase like last year. Instead, she said she would take executive action to “fix the damn roads,” citing flawed legislative suggestions and inaction last year. The next day, her Transportation Commission authorized $3.5 billion in bonds over three years to finance repairing or replacing state trunk-line roads and bridges. She urged the legislature to work with her to figure out a funding solution for local road repairs.
Education — K-12 and higher education both got proposed increases not seen in years. She directed more funds to close the inequitable funding gap between school districts by giving more money to schools with students with special needs, English Language Learners, academically at-risk students and historically disadvantaged students. Alarmed that a 2016 law will potentially flunk an estimated 5,000 third graders who don’t pass a reading test, she announced new programs to help children read including expansion of pre-K education and more funding for early literacy efforts.
Healthcare — Because the Affordable Care Act is under attack in the courts and from the federal administration, she asked the legislature to protect major provisions in the ACA by passing state laws such as prohibiting private insurance companies from rate-setting based on pre-existing medical conditions and controlling drug costs. Whitmer wants to expand Medicaid family planning benefits to women who make up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, and extend postpartum coverage from 60 days to a full year after birth. She wants to direct $86.5 million for rural and underserved hospitals. One in four rural hospitals are at risk of closing in Michigan, the ninth-highest rate in the nation.
The governor also wants to spend $10 million to provide paid parent leave of up to 12 weeks to the state’s 48,000 workers. Parent leave is now unpaid.
Environment — Expanded environmental protections from PFAS contamination, coastal erosion, Asian carp infestation, and other environmental protections were included in the proposed FY21 budget.
Pension tax — Missing from the Executive Budget this year was pension tax repeal, a prominent part of Governor Whitmer’s campaign platform in 2018. Her FY20 proposed budget coupled pension tax repeal that would effectively lower state revenues by $320 million with an increase in the corporate income tax. However, hearings on the many pension tax repeal bills were never taken up by the Republican-led legislature. Only one bill saw action — to allow surviving spouses the option of using the age category of their deceased spouse for the purpose of calculating retirement exemptions and subtractions. The bill awaits a hearing in the Michigan Senate Finance Committee.
UPDATE ON BILLS
On January 27 the Governor signed into law Public Act 18 (HB 4156) with immediate effect to allow retired state psychiatric health care workers to be employed by state facilities without forfeiting retirement benefits.
Elder abuse bills — The elder abuse package of bills, HB 4254 – HB 4265 that would add the elderly to the laws preventing physical or financial abuse of vulnerable adults, was modified in a recent House Committee hearing to cover those 80 and above instead of 65 and above.
Annuities — Requiring an annuity option in the state employee 401(k) plan during state employees’ working years, HB 4275, has been reported out of the House Appropriations Committee along party lines and is now ready for full House action.
Annuities are a life insurance product with potentially high fees and complex restrictions. A new federal retirement law, the Secure Act, loosens rules around how employers can select annuity providers for their 401(k) plans to reduce employer liability if the life insurance company fails. The Michigan Department of Treasury opposes the bill as does the Coalition for a Secure Retirement to which SERA belongs.
Publishing state employee names/salaries — The bill to require the state to publish on its Web site a monthly list of state employees and their salaries, HB 5015, has been modified in committee to remove the employee’s name, Social Security number, address, and other private information from the listing. The bill was reported out of committee and is awaiting House floor action.
Surprise medical billing — SB 570 - 573 to regulate the charges of nonparticipating medical providers and the surprise balance billing that can occur have been reported out of the Senate Insurance and Banking Committee and are ready for full Senate consideration.
Whistleblower protection — SB 686 to prohibit state departments from taking disciplinary action against an employee for communicating with a state legislator or staff had another hearing in the Senate Oversight Committee.
BALLOT ISSUE UPDATE
LGBT rights — Fair and Equal Michigan, a coalition of organizations led by Equality Michigan and Fair Michigan and backed by many large Michigan corporations, has proposed a voter-initiated law that would add civil rights protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act as well as define religion as the religious beliefs of an individual.
Bills to add LGBT rights to Michigan civil rights law have been introduced for 37 years but never gotten a hearing. The bi-partisan Board of State Canvassers has approved the 100-word summary and petition language for the measure. Fair and Equal Michigan has until May 27, 2020, to submit petition signatures of at least 340,047 Michigan voters. Once enough valid signatures are submitted, the Michigan Legislature will have 40 days to adopt the proposed amendments without change. If the Legislature does not act, or rejects or changes the proposal, it is submitted to Michigan voters for approval at the November 3, 2020, General Election.
According to research by the non-partisan Glengariff Group, 77 percent of voters support the measure. This is quite a turn-around since 2004 when Michigan voters banned same-sex marriage. DTE Energy, Consumers Energy, Verizon, Michigan AFL-CIO and Quicken Loans among others have endorsed the proposal. Michigan SERA Coordinating Council Executive Committee endorsed the measure on February 7.
Government transparency — The Coalition to Close Lansing Loopholes backed by Progress Michigan has proposed Constitutional amendments to regulate lobbying more strictly. The ballot proposal, if passed would ban lobbyists from giving gifts of any value to public officials or their families; ban contingency pay for lobbyists who get a specific bill passed; require a 2-year lapse between the end of a public official’s term and becoming a lobbyist; require public officials and lobbyists to keep a public record of communications with each other and file it monthly, and require any public communications urging the general public to influence public officials to include information identifying the sponsor.
Public official is defined as the governor and lieutenant governor; secretary of state and attorney general; state legislators; state Supreme Court justices; Court of Appeals judges; state Board of Education members; regents and trustees of public universities; and other elected statewide officials. The highest-ranking staff person in the office of each legislator, the heads of state departments, members of state boards and commissions and executive branch staff exempt from civil service also would be covered by the proposal. Anyone compensated more than $1,000 per year to lobby or a former public official compensated more than $1,000 a year to provide advice about influencing the official actions of public officials and related activities would be defined as a lobbyist. That would address the recent pattern of former legislators becoming “consultants” who do not register as lobbyists because they contend that they do not actually lobby under the current legal definition.
The Board of State Canvassers is reviewing the proposal and public comments about it. Progress Michigan would need to collect at least 425,059 valid signatures by July 9 to get the proposed constitutional amendment on the November general election ballot.
Redistricting Commission — The lawsuit by the Michigan Republican Party and others challenging the constitutionality of Proposal 2018-2 to establish a Michigan Independent Citizen Redistricting Commission, Daunt v Benson, has moved to the U.S. Court of Appeals. Voters Not Politicians has filed a friend of the court brief defending the measure. Oral arguments in this case are scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 17 at the court in Cincinnati, Ohio.
At the beginning of the year, the Secretary of State reported that 1,000 members of the public had successfully completed and notarized applications for the Commission. The state is bringing on new temporary staff to help process the stacks of applications that are pending review. Applications were mailed to 250,000 randomly selected voters Dec. 30. The application is also available online at www.RedistrictingMichigan.org and is due by June 1, 2020.
P.A. 608 — On January 28, the Michigan Court of Appeals struck down most of P.A. 608 of 2018 that made it more difficult to for voters to launch ballot drives in Michigan. The League of Women Voters and Attorney General Dana Nessel challenged the law. The law imposed a 15 percent limit on the number signatures ballot petitioners could gather from any one of Michigan’s 14 congressional districts. The law also required petitioner gatherers to sign affidavits indicating whether they’re paid or volunteer and display that designation on petitions. The court struck down all three requirements, affirming a lower court decision. Other elements of the law, such as a requirement that the Board of State Canvassers decide whether a ballot initiative has met its signature requirements at least 100 days before the election were upheld.
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