January 10, 2021
While the pandemic continues to structure our daily lives and the economy, political events continue to amaze.
On January 6, Governor Whitmer caught many public health officials and seniors in Michigan by surprise when she announced that starting January 11, people in the Priority 1B group, which includes those 65 and above and frontline essential workers in critical infrastructure settings, would be able to get COVID-19 vaccines. Frontline health care workers, people living and working in long-term care facilities, and emergency medical responders are part of the Priority 1A group.
Where to Find Vaccinations — Confusion abounded on how to schedule an appointment for a vaccination. Who do you call and where do you go? What is the minimum age for eligibility right now? The basic answer is that if you have an internet connection, go to your county or regional public health website and look for COVID-19 vaccination information and a sign-up form. If you do not have internet capacity, phone your local public health department for vaccination information. If you are a patient of a hospital system, make sure your patient account is activated and has your correct email address and/or phone number because some hospitals are now offering COVID-19 vaccinations based on their own vaccine supply.
Local health departments say they’re moving as quickly as they can to create websites where people can register to be vaccinated, but were given 24 hours notice — or none at all — that the State would move to Phase 1B of the vaccination plan when they haven’t got the supply of vaccine to finish the first of two shots for Phase 1A people. Phase 1A began receiving vaccinations in mid-December but supply of the vaccine has been less than expected. The federal government reminds everyone that there have been two holidays and three major winter snow storms delaying planned deliveries of vaccines.
More Vaccine — Governor Whitmer has called on the federal government to release more of the vaccine it has in storage and President-elect Biden says he will release reserves being saved for second doses, considered a controversial move by medical experts, and use federal law to force increased manufacture of the vaccine.
In-Person Schooling — Adding to the pressure on low supply was the Governor’s announcement on January 8 setting a goal of March 1 for schools to offer some in-person learning. School personnel will want to be vaccinated before schools open.
For more information, go to www.michigan.gov/COVIDVaccine.
MICHIGAN LEGISLATIVE UPDATE
Lame Duck Highlights — With Republicans still in control of the House in 2021, the pressure was off during lame duck to pass high priority conservative legislation. Still, the schedule was tight due to surprise cancellation of House session for several days due to COVID exposure and quarantine requirements. Both the Senate and House had to extend their schedules.
A $465 million COVID Relief Supplemental Appropriation bill with relief for businesses, employees, and health care workers affected by the pandemic-related shutdowns passed the Legislature without much public discussion. Nearly half of the supplemental, $220 million, allowed the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity to provide for a temporary extension of unemployment benefits from 20 weeks to 26 weeks from January 1, 2021, through April 1, 2021. However, the bill provided the money from the General Fund rather the Unemployment Benefits Trust Fund, which is funded through taxes on employers, so in effect the bill provided corporate tax relief. The bill does say if federal aid is appropriated, it supplants the General Fund. The Governor line-item vetoed this part of the bill because of the funding source. This bill brought the total COVID-19 response by the State to about $4 billion overall.
The Governor signed a moratorium on water shutoffs for nonpayment through March 31, 2021. The bill also requires water authorities to restore service to residents where water was shut off.
More than three dozen bills affecting people involved in Michigan’s criminal justice system were signed into law, with changes aimed at expanding alternatives to jail and removing hurdles to opportunities after incarceration. Legislation expanding record expungement for juveniles was signed into law as part of the reforms.
A pair of bills facilitating the $600 million payment from the State to those affected by the Flint water crisis was signed into law as part of a settlement announced earlier this year. The bills create a Flint Settlement Trust Fund and grant authority to the Michigan Strategic Fund to borrow and issue bonds and notes to fund the settlement.
Vetoes — Governor Whitmer vetoed over a dozen lame duck bills, two of which concerned limiting the powers of the governor and State health officials during a state of emergency such as the current pandemic.
She vetoed Senate Bill (SB) 77 which would have permitted a family or guardian to request an electronic video and/or audio monitoring system be installed in a nursing home resident’s room.
Whitmer also vetoed a COVID-19 liability bill that would have provided immunity for health care workers treating COVID-19 patients in the event a patient was injured or died and a lawsuit was filed. Whitmer noted she previously signed separate legislation that offered similar protections.
A bill to move control of the office of the Children’s Ombudsman from the Department of Technology, Management, and Budget to the Legislative Council was vetoed. Whitmer said the move would undermine the office’s ability to do its job, and its functions are more executive than legislative in nature.
She refused to sign a bill that would have let an estimated 200,000 one-time drunken drivers ask a judge to set aside their conviction.
Legislative Session Schedule — The 101st Michigan House had a formal swearing in on January 13. The House and Senate have announced they will begin meeting Tuesday through Thursday from January 19 through March 25, take a two week spring break, returning April 13 through June 24. They will meet one day in July and August and return after Labor Day. COVID-19 exposure has closed down some session days and hearings so the schedule may be subject to change.
State of the State — Governor Gretchen Whitmer will deliver her State of the State (SOS) address at 7 p.m. on January 27 virtually due to the coronavirus. It is usually given before the joint convention of the House and Senate in the House Chamber. The Supreme Court and all department heads usually attend; legislators invite their families, and there are receptions before and after the event with lobbyists and supporters mingling everywhere.
Budget — The Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference was scheduled for January 15. The Governor’s budget proposal will likely be delivered in early February but some hints about it will likely be in the SOS address. House Appropriations Committee Chair Thomas Albert (R-Lowell) has already announced he will hold up approval of federal COVID funds unless the Governor reduces business restrictions and works with the Republicans more on management of COVID response.
CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION
Governor Whitmer named her first member of the Civil Service Commission (CSC) that oversees salaries, wages, and work rules for State employees, as well as health care benefits for State employee retirees. Former State Representative Nick Ciaramitaro of Roseville was appointed to succeed former Michigan Chamber of Commerce Director James Barrett for a term beginning January 1, 2021, and expiring December 31, 2028. Besides his service in the Legislature, he also was the longtime lobbyist for AFSCME Council 25 and currently chairs the Coalition for a Secure Retirement of which Michigan SERA is an active member. In statements after his appointment, Ciaramitaro indicated interest in restoring collective bargaining rights that were removed or diminished during the Governor Snyder era.
The other three members of the commission currently are appointees of former Governor Rick Snyder. Governor Whitmer will get a second appointment in 2022 when Janet McClelland’s term expires December 31. Whitmer will have to win a second term in 2022 to have the chance to appoint a third member of the Commission and gain control of it. Appointments to the CSC are not subject to the advice and consent of the Senate.
STATE OF MICHIGAN RETIREMENT BOARD (SOMRB)
David Berridge of Dimondale, an SEIU member, was appointed by Governor Whitmer to succeed Matthew Fedorchuk to represent a member or retirant of the State Employees’ Retirement System for a term ending December 31, 2024. The appointment is not subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. He joins SERA member Lori Schmidt as Governor Whitmer’s latest appointees.
The SOMRB will be meeting March 25, May 13, August 19, and November 18 in 2021. You can sign up for e-mail notifications regarding the SOMRB from the Michigan Office of Retirement Services website, Defined Benefit, Board Information, at public.govdelivery.com/accounts/MIORS/signup/19327. Notifications will include announcements like meeting dates and cancellations. Subscribing for updates is unrelated to any contact information in miAccount. You must log in to miAccount to change your contact information in miAccount.
State Police Retirement Board — Diane DeWitt Bockhausen of Howell was reappointed by the Governor to the State Police Retirement Board for a term ending December 31, 2023. The appointment is not subject to the advice and consent of the Senate.
What’s New at Office of Retirement Services (ORS)
2020 IRS1099-R Available in miAccount — If you are a defined benefit retiree, your IRS form 1099-R statement for 2020 is now available in your miAccount. Log in and click on Pension Payments to access your statement. A printed statement will be mailed by the end of January.
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