October 8, 2023
The 102nd Legislature’s frenetic pace continued after its return on September 5.
UPDATE ON SERA PRIORITY ISSUES
SERA Member Recruitment — Sen. John Cherry (D-Flint), Chair of the Senate Labor Committee, has agreed to sponsor and champion a proposed bill to allow SERA to acquire for its private use the names and contact information of recent State employee retirees so that we can continue to recruit SERA members. SERA began acquiring the names and contact information for retirees from the State in 1974, but in recent years the Attorney General advised the Office of Retirement Services to cease disclosing the information to us. Without the information we can only recruit informally by word-of-mouth. A draft bill should be available in the next few months.
Eliminate the $300 Cap on Our 3% COLA — We have not yet found a sponsor and champion for reintroduction of Senate Bill (SB) 775 of 2021 which would eliminate the one sentence in the State Employees Retirement Act that caps our annual 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) at $300 per year. The 3 percent COLA and the $300 per year maximum was established in 1987. The $300 cap was not indexed to inflation as it should have been. Now over 85 percent of all State employee retirees have hit the cap since there has been 167 percent inflation since 1987. As a result, defined benefit State employee pensions decrease in spending value each year.
Recently, a Petition to the Michigan Legislature form for SERA members and supporters to sign and send to their local legislators was sent to all SERA chapter leadership for circulation at SERA and other meetings. The petition is also available on the SERA website www.mi-sera.org for downloading and use by anyone. After signatures are gathered, the petitions should be sent to your local State legislators. Please also continue to call your local State legislators and urge their support for this issue. You can find your local State legislator’s phone number and other contact information at www.legislature.mi.gov among other places.
27 NEW LAWS
Since the September “Capitol News,” Governor Whitmer has signed 27 bills into Public Acts (PAs). Some highlights:
BILLS ON THE MOVE
For SERA, I track 206 bills introduced in the 102nd Legislature since January 2023. More detailed information about all bills is available at www.legislature.mi.gov.
Precinct Size – SB 374 at this writing is on its way to the Governor. It would increase the size of precincts from 2,999 active registered voters to 5,000. With nine days of early voting and no-reason absentee voting, it is thought that fewer voters will be casting a ballot in person. If signed into law, look for your own precinct boundaries and in-person voting locations to change.
Election-related bills seeing adoption in one chamber and movement to the other chamber for hearing are:
Health-related bills to codify into Michigan law some basic tenets of the federal Affordable Care Act were adopted in one chamber and moved to the other this month.
Prescription cost control measures are proposed in SB 483 – 485, the “Prescription Drug Cost and Affordability Review Act.” The bills would establish the Prescription Drug Affordability Board and the Prescription Drug Affordability Council and prescribe their membership and duties. The Board, in consultation with the Council, would select prescription drug products based on specified criteria and costs and determine whether to conduct cost and affordability reviews for them based on average patient cost share. Consumers without prescription drug coverage or skimpy drug benefits have complained about the high cost of their prescription drugs and they have found an ally in doctors who see the impact of high prices on their patients. Trade associations of the major pharmaceutical companies have launched aggressive lobbying efforts to kill or alter similar legislation in other states, but six states have passed it. The bill passed in the Senate 20-17 with one Republican floor amendment adopted.
Power of attorney reform bills moved out of the House this month in the form of HB 4644 – HB 4656. Generally, a power of attorney is a document that allows an individual (principal) to grant authority to another individual (agent) to act on behalf of the principal in specified matters. Sections of Michigan’s Estates and Protected Individuals Code (EPIC) would be modified to be like the process established in 30 other states. The bills passed the House 104-4. This is an important issue for those who need assistance in managing finances or medical decision-making and those who act as Power of Attorney for others, often seniors and people with disabilities. A standard form would be provided in the bills for the public to use for free.
Guardianship overhaul bills, HB 4909 – 4912 and HB 5047, would make significant changes to Michigan guardianship and conservatorship law and have received initial hearings in the House Judiciary Committee. Attorney General Dana Nessel is a strong backer of the bills. They would require professional guardians and conservators to be licensed and certain individuals to be certified, establish a process for handling complaints, revise the duties of a guardian ad litem related to guardianship and conservatorship proceedings, and modify the requirements concerning the appointment of a temporary guardian or a successor conservator. The bills would require a judge to justify, on the record, why a family member who is willing to serve as a guardian is not suitable and eliminate a judge’s ability to prevent a challenge to an appointed guardianship/conservatorship for up to six months. Individuals also would have a right to an attorney throughout the proceedings. Broadly, the bills would establish additional protections for individuals before removing them from their homes and for personal items of sentimental value from being discarded.
Stricter standards for adult foster care (AFC) facilities in HB 4841 were discussed in hearings of the House Families, Children, and Seniors Committee on September 12, 19, and 26. The bill would amend the Adult Foster Care Facility Act to include new requirements and procedures for AFC facilities as well as new procedures and authority for the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) to use for regulating those facilities. There are currently 3,818 licensed AFCs in Michigan, down about 500 since the start of the pandemic, serving about 32,000 people who are older adults as well as people over the age of 18 who may need the services due to a health issue such as a traumatic injury. AFCs are based on a social model rather than a medical model for people who do not require 24/7 medical care. LARA supported the bill and representatives of AFC owners opposed the bill. Revisions and amendments are expected.
Including the Governor, Lt. Governor, and the Legislature in the Freedom of Information Act is the aim of Michigan Initiatives for Action, an initiated law proposal now circulating for voter signatures. It claims to be collecting voter signatures in 35 Michigan counties now. Michigan is the only state without a public records transparency act covering the Governor and Legislature. Legislation to accomplish the same or similar goal has not moved in past sessions of the Legislature.
Axe MI Tax is a proposed constitutional amendment ballot measure to eliminate property taxes and require a 2/3 supermajority vote of both legislative chambers to increase revenue by more than 0.1 percent over five years. The proposed measure would earmark portions of other taxes to fund local governments that would lose their primary revenue source without the property tax. The Board of State Canvassers will consider approving the measure as to its form at its meeting scheduled for October 20. If approved it could then circulate for voter signatures.
Paradoxically, the Citizen’s Research Council of Michigan recently issued a paper saying that State and local governments are smaller and less capable of providing services than they were 20 years ago after the State implemented budget cuts between Fiscal Year 2000 and Fiscal Year 2011.
November 7 local elections will determine not only your local government leaders but whether two current Democratic House members running for mayor of their cities (Westland and Warren) will vacate their House seats to become a mayor and decrease the Democrats’ majority in the House. Special elections would be called by the Governor to fill the vacancies in the winter and spring if those House members win their mayoral races.
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