October 9, 2022
Early absentee voting began September 29 in Michigan. Four of Michigan’s 13 congressional districts are considered tossups (3, 7, 8, and 10) and our three statewide ballot proposals are being closely watched nationally. See the September SERA-Nade for information about the three ballot proposals. SERA has endorsed Proposal 2 about voting rights.
Many candidates responded to the League of Women Voters of Michigan candidate survey which can be accessed at www.vote411.org/michigan.
Debates — The last of two gubernatorial debates is 7 p.m., Tuesday, October 25, at Oakland University in Rochester. Watch your local listings for potential broadcast. There will be no debates in the Attorney General or Secretary of State races.
Battleground Michigan Senate — All 38 State Senate seats are up for election in 2022. The Republican Party currently controls 22 seats and the Democratic Party controls 16 seats. The Michigan State Senate has been held by a Republican majority since 1984 but with new district lines due to decennial redistricting under a new citizen-led commission, changes may be afoot. Gongwer News Service has identified nine key races in the 2022 elections for the Michigan State Senate, four of which are in Democratic-held districts and five of which are in Republican-held districts. The Democratic Party needs to gain four or more seats to take control of the chamber in 2022. The Republican Party needs to lose two or fewer seats to maintain control. Gongwer’s battleground districts to watch are 4, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 30, 32, and 35.
The best source of election information is at the Secretary of State, Bureau of Elections web page at www.michigan.gov/vote. There you can access your voter information, information about absentee voting, voter registration, voting in person, accessible voting for persons with disabilities, your clerk’s contact information, your sample ballot, and much more. Make a plan to vote and help others with their plan to vote, especially if they are new or infrequent voters. Important election dates:
NEW ELECTION LAWS
On September 28, the Michigan Legislature passed a package of four election bills by nearly unanimous votes in both chambers. House Bill (HB) 4491 will allow clerks in jurisdictions with at least 10,000 residents to begin processing and verifying absentee ballots two days before Election Day, but they cannot be counted until November 8. The bill also ensures that people who have died are removed from the voter registration list promptly and clarifies rules about drop boxes.
HB 6071 ensures polling places in privately-owned facilities are not located in buildings owned by candidates and allows clerks to use central polling places that consolidate up to six precincts when it is convenient for voters. Senate Bill (SB) 311 and SB 8 allow active duty service members to return ballots electronically beginning in 2024.
Governor Whitmer has signed the package in time for the mail voting and polling place provisions to take effect for November’s election. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson stated in a WOOD-TV interview that even with pre-processing, the unofficial vote count may still not be available until Wednesday or Thursday because clerks need more funding and resources to make pre-processing go smoothly.
$1 BILLION SUPPLEMENTALS PASS
On the few days the Legislature met in September, it adopted and the Governor signed two bi-partisan, supplemental appropriations bills totaling more than $1 billion. Highlights of the bills include:
Prior to passage of the bills, Rep. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell) resigned as chair of the House Appropriations Committee in protest of the spending plan. Vice-chair Rep. Mary Whiteford (R-Casco Twp.) was appointed to fill the position for the remainder of the year.
Emergency Powers — Over major objections from the House Democratic Caucus, the House Republicans abruptly added a 23-bill package to the session agenda on September 21 that would limit emergency orders issued by the Governor to 28 days, except if extended by the Legislature. The bills are not likely to receive the Governor’s signature.
Revenues Up — The House Fiscal Agency recently released its August 2022 Revenue Update. General Fund revenue is approximately $1.2 billion above estimates from earlier this year, while School Aid Fund revenues came in approximately $225.5 million above earlier estimates.
Edenville Dam — The owner of the failed Edenville Dam that flooded the Midland area in 2020 was issued federal court sanctions for withholding information relevant to the case. The court also set forth a series of facts into the record in light of what it called the defendant’s obfuscation of the case to build a narrative that the State was somehow after him and he was not to blame for the flooding due to alleged poor maintenance of the dam.
Mental Health Beds — Michigan psychiatric centers have taken 77 in-patient beds offline since April because it can’t hire enough staff to care for patients. The problem isn’t a shortage of money but a shortage of applicants for hundreds of openings. Bridge Michigan reports that current workers are exhausted from too much overtime. Closing State beds puts more pressure on hospitals and other private facilities to care for the most severely mentally ill patients.
FLINT WATER CRISIS UPDATE
A circuit court judge on October 4 dropped Flint water crisis-related felony criminal charges against seven former State and local government officials. In June, the Michigan Supreme Court had ruled that State prosecutors incorrectly used a one-person grand jury to indict defendants. Michigan is one of three states that still use a one-person grand jury, a process by which a single appointed judge reviews evidence out of public view and decides on charges. The high court ruled a one-person grand jury cannot issue indictments. The circuit court’s decision stated the defendants are now “entitled to a preliminary hearing,” which basically means starting the prosecution from the beginning.
Attorney General Dana Nessel threw out earlier Flint water charges stemming from the 2014 water contamination six months after taking office in 2019 after discovering a huge amount of unexamined evidence in storage. She relaunched the State’s criminal probe with Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy leading the prosecution. State prosecutors could file the charges again since the judge did not dismiss the cases with prejudice. But the statute of limitations on some charges may foreclose refiling, leaving affected Flint residents without justice. Meanwhile, Flint has lost about 30 percent of its population.
AUTO INSURANCE UPDATE
The Michigan Supreme Court agreed on September 29 to take up the auto insurers appeal of a lower court decision that stopped the 2019 auto insurance reform law’s mandated 45 percent fee cuts on services provided to the 17,000 individuals injured in catastrophic crashes before the passage of the reform law. The high court scheduled oral arguments for March 2023. However, the high court denied a motion from auto insurance companies to temporarily block the August Court of Appeals decision.
Accordingly, the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association (MCAA) raised its annual per vehicle fee from $86 to $122 for most policies in anticipation of a roughly $3.7 billion deficit it attributed to higher claims costs due to the State Court of Appeals panel’s August ruling and lower-than-expected returns on investments. The increase is set to take effect July 1, 2023. The association was created by the Legislature in 1978 to cover costs for a person injured in a crash that are in excess of $600,000 in a given year.
The Michigan HomeCare & Hospice Association questioned the MCCA’s reasons for the fee increase. The Court of Appeals decision affected two of seven key provisions in the reform, the group said, and it estimated a fix to the 45 percent fee cut would cost about $250 million a year – far less than the $3.7 billion deficit the MCCA is projecting.
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