May 7, 2023
BUDGET BILLS MOVING
This May and June are important decision times for the budget for Fiscal Year 2024. It will be the first budget the Democrats will pass under their new trifecta control. But Republicans have the votes to withhold Immediate Effect (IE), a powerful negotiating tool. If IE is denied, appropriations acts will not go into effect until 90 days after the legislative session ends for this calendar year. Schools and local governments need to know how much State aid will be available to them for their budgets starting July 1.
Both the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, May 3, reported the final budget bills to the floor of their respective chambers, setting the table for continued negotiations between the Legislature and Governor Whitmer’s office. Both the Michigan House and Senate have recommended budgets that spend a bit more than the Governor’s February Executive Budget proposal in gross adjusted spending. The Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference (CREC) is scheduled for mid-May and that should clarify what revenues are projected to be available as different from the January 2023 CREC numbers.
RECENT BILLS SIGNED
Military Votes — Governor Whitmer signed Senate Bill (SB) 259, bipartisan legislation ensuring that absentee voter ballots from military and overseas voters are counted if received up to six days after election day. This complies with Ballot Proposal 22-2, which expanded absentee voting for military and overseas voters.
Background Checks — House Bill (HB) 4045 establishes the volunteer employee criminal history system, which allows Michigan State Police to continue conducting background checks for individuals who are employed as caregivers of children, elderly, and other vulnerable populations.
Distracted Driving — A package of bills to expand Michigan’s law banning texting while driving would make it illegal for drivers to use electronic devices like cell phones or tablets while operating a vehicle passed the House recently. HB 4250 would bar people from using a mobile device while driving. HB 4251 would assign points to a person’s driving record for violations. HB 4252 would require the Department of State Police to submit a report on violations to ensure it was being enforced properly and fairly. The House passed HB 4251 and HB 4252 as part of the package, but HB 4250 on the penalties for enforcing the law was pulled when it became clear it would not have enough votes. Negotiations continue.
School Letter Grading — As passed in 2018, the A-F grading system provides letter grades to schools based on student proficiency in math and English, student growth in math and English, student growth among English language learners, graduation rates, and the school’s academic performance of the state assessment compared to similar schools. A repeal of this law in HB 4166 has passed both chambers and is set to go to the governor’s desk following a May 3 vote in the Senate.
Sexual Assault — The Michigan Senate voted May 4 in favor of legislation that seeks to prevent sexual assault under the guise of medical treatment, which was inspired by the Larry Nassar scandal at Michigan State University. The package was introduced earlier this year and includes a proposal to provide age-appropriate informational materials on sexual assault and harassment to students. The bills are SBs 66 through 73.
Red-flag Bills — The last of the House’s red flag laws (Extreme Risk Order Protection Act) enabling people deemed a risk to themselves or others to have their firearms temporarily confiscated were passed on April 26, with the chamber voting to concur on minor changes made by the Senate. The changes reflect adjustments made to the legislation so that it agrees with the other gun laws already passed by the Legislature and signed into law (SBs 79 through 81 to require safe storage and universal background checks). The House concurred with the Senate’s changes on HBs 4146, 4147, and 4148. The bills now head to the governor for signature.
Since Democrats took control of the State House and Senate in January this year, they have passed anti-gun violence bills, voted to do away with the right-to-work law, expanded rights for the LGBTQ+ community, and abolished 1931 anti-abortion laws. So how is the public responding?
Bernie Porn from the polling firm EPIC-MRA questioned 800 Michigan voters and found that Democrats are at 42 percent favorability rating when in past years, the number was noticeably lower, in the 30s. Republicans’ favorability rating is only 33 percent. The change is an indication that the public believes Democrats and Governor Whitmer are accomplishing their goals for the State according to Porn. He said the reason that Republicans are behind Democrats on the favorability chart is because they’re fighting against policies that have great public support. About 25 percent of those surveyed had no opinion either way.
Meanwhile, Governor Gretchen Whitmer continued on her long string of support with 54 percent liking the governor and 52 percent giving her a good job rating.
METAL DETECTORS FOR CAPITOL
In February, the Michigan State Capitol Commission members voted to make initial changes to rules governing access to the Capitol building during business hours and after-hours while a plan for enacting a total firearms ban inside the building and on the grounds is crafted. On-duty Capitol security officers would be exempt. On April 28, the Commission voted unanimously to put out a request for proposal (RFP) to obtain metal detectors for ground floor entrances of the Capitol. Software that ties into digital security camera systems to visibly detect firearms and alert security would also be part of the RFP.
Implementing additional security measures would be contingent upon legislative approval of funding for security upgrades at the Capitol. The governor’s budget proposal provided for supplemental funding totaling $5 million for Capitol security upgrades for infrastructure and equipment. The Department of State Police will soon post job listings for an additional ten troopers to provide Capitol security. The House and Senate are each expected to hire about ten additional sergeants at arms to have enough staff to handle the changes being proposed.
Most state capitols across the country have some form of security measures in place at entrances, whether there is armed security, metal detectors or other screening measures, and limited access points for entry.
In 2021, after several months of discussions on the legality, the Commission approved a ban on the open carry of guns inside the Capitol. The 2021 move came after an April 2020 rally in which armed individuals entered the Capitol. Some individuals stood watching Senate session from the gallery that day, including multiple individuals later charged in the plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
Currently, concealed carry of firearms is still permitted, as is the possession of a gun outdoors on the Capitol grounds. Visitors to the Capitol with a concealed pistol must have a valid concealed pistol license to carry.
OPEN MICHIGAN STATE POLICE (MSP) RETIREMENT TO CORRECTIONS OFFICERS
Corrections and Conservation Officers told the Michigan Senate Labor Committee on May 4 that they want to be part of the Michigan State Police Retirement System (SPRS) Plan instead of in the defined contribution plan provided by the State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS) like most classified State employees. They claim it would help in attracting and retaining Corrections Officers in the face of years of severe staff attrition. The bills are SBs 165 through 167.
Under the bills, those who opt to transfer to the state police plan would be able to purchase an amount between zero and the number of their SERS years of service for credit in the state police system.
A Senate Fiscal Agency analysis stated the current SERS defined contribution plan is 7 percent applied to salary, while the SPRS plan is 10.24 percent of salary. The agency said applying the difference would affect payroll to the tune of an increase of $16 million per year.
Michigan Corrections Organization Vice President Ray Sholtz told the committee corrections officers are among the top profession in the nation for suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder, and mental health issues. He said there are 124 recruits in the current academy for new officers with a shortage of about 900 officers statewide. Mr. Sholtz said about 1,694 people resigned since 2018, equaling about $44 million in money wasted on training officers who opted to walk away in the last five years. He pointed to survey information citing more than 90 percent stated a pension is an important incentive in considering a job.
BOLGER TO CHAIR CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION
Civil Service Commissioner and former Speaker of the House Jase Bolger was unanimously elected by the Michigan Civil Service Commission as chair of the board, succeeding former chair Janet McClelland. The board now has an even balance of former Governor Rick Snyder and Governor Gretchen Whitmer appointees, 2-2. Bolger’s term expires December 31, 2024. Democrat and former Michigan House member Nick Ciaramitaro was also unanimously elected for the role of vice chair. His term ends December 31, 2028.
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