November 5, 2023
Whew! The Michigan House and Senate combined to pass more than 90 bills over a three-day span during the week of October 31 – November 2. The Michigan House had two late sessions past midnight on November 1 and 2.
What is usually a calm legislative adjournment in mid-December of odd-number years has become a frantic effort to end this year’s legislative session in mid-November. The reasons? The Democratic majority passed a law in February 2023 to move up the presidential primary from March 12 to February 27, 2024, to have more influence in national presidential politics. But the Republican legislative minority did not provide the 2/3 votes needed to give the law Immediate Effect, meaning the new law wouldn’t go into effect until the 91st day after the adjournment of this year’s Legislature. And bills need to comply with the constitutional rule that a bill must sit for five days in a second chamber before it can be voted on.
Additionally, two House Democrats are running for mayor of their cities in Warren and Westland on November 7. If either or both of the two win their elections, the House Democrats will lose their current 56 - 54 narrow hold on the House majority. Special elections called by the Governor to fill any legislative vacancy will take months to complete. During this time, any successful legislation will need bi-partisan support to pass. Any controversial issues likely only to pass by a party-line vote won’t take effect until 2025 if the Legislature doesn’t pass them before they adjourn this year. Consequently, the pressure is on to get Democratic priority legislation through passage by mid-November.
UPDATE ON SERA PRIORITY ISSUES
SERA Member Recruitment — SERA awaits news from the office of Sen. John Cherry (D-Flint), Chair of the Senate Labor Committee, about 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.
Eliminate the $300 Cap on Our 3% Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) — SERA has been meeting with Senator Sara Anthony’s staff about re-introduction of Senate Bill (SB) 775 of 2021 which would eliminate the one sentence in the State Employees Retirement Act that caps our 3 percent annual COLA at $300 per year. The 3 percent COLA and the $300 per year maximum were established in 1987. The $300 cap was not included in the school employees’ pension statute. Now over 85 percent of all State employee retirees have hit the cap since State employees are retiring with higher salaries on which to base their pension and there has been 167+ percent inflation since 1987. As a result, defined benefit State employee pensions decrease in spending value each year there is unaddressed inflation. The cost estimate for giving defined benefit State employee retirees a 3 percent COLA each year is about $700 million, an expensive budget item. Other alternative approaches are being discussed, such as a COLA linked to the Consumer Price Index similar to the way Social Security does it.
Petition to the Michigan Legislature — A petition form for SERA members and supporters to easily urge legislators to introduce legislation to fix our COLA was sent to all SERA chapter leadership for circulation at SERA and other meetings. The petition is also available here for downloading and use by anyone. Signers don’t have to be State retirees or even registered voters. It doesn’t matter what county in which signers reside. After signatures are gathered, the petitions should be sent to your local State legislators.
Please also continue to call, e-mail, or send a note to your local State legislators and urge their support for this issue. Or you can attend a legislative community meeting and bring up the issue during Q and A. Find your local State legislator’s phone number and other contact information at legislature.mi.gov among other places.
29 NEW LAWS
Since the October 8 “Capitol News,” Governor Whitmer has signed 29 bills into Public Acts (PAs) and 176 for 2023. Some highlights:
BILLS ON THE MOVE
For SERA, I am tracking 248 bills introduced in the 102nd Legislature since January 2023. More detailed information about all bills is available at legislature.mi.gov.
Bills to Implement Proposal 1 of 2022 on Lawmaker Disclosure — In addition to changing term limits for State representatives and senators from 6 or 8 to 12 years, Ballot Proposal 1 of 2022 amended section 10 of Article IV of the State constitution to require certain State-elected officials to file an annual financial disclosure report describing such things as their assets, liabilities, sources of income, gifts from lobbyists, and other positions held. The new Section 10 requires the Legislature to further implement its financial disclosure provisions by appropriate legislation that does not limit or restrict how the provisions are applied. If legislation implementing the above provisions has not been enacted by December 31, 2023, any Michigan resident can sue the Legislature and the governor in the Supreme Court to enforce those requirements.
Ten months into the legislative year and after taking off July and August, the Michigan Senate introduced a bipartisan package of bills, SB 613 – 616, on October 24, had a hearing on them the next day, introduced substitute bills based on some of the criticism of the bills as too weak, and passed its version of financial disclosure legislation for elected officials and candidates on November 1.
Two sets of House bills introduced at about the same time competed for passage in that chamber. One set, backed by the Chair of the House Ethics and Oversight Committee, was more extensive than the Senate bills and the other, backed by the Speaker of the House, mirrored the Senate bills. Neither could garner a majority, so the Senate bills are in play for any House action before adjournment.
The Senate bills don’t require reporting for spouses of elected officials beyond disclosing their employer and if they are a registered lobbyist. Maximum optional fines for failing to report or filing a false claim are $2,000, but there is no criminal penalty for knowingly making a false statement in the report. Also omitted is a requirement to report funding from non-lobbyists for trips, entertainment, and other amenities provided to a lawmaker.
Failure to get the bills to Governor Gretchen Whitmer before the adjournment, which could come Tuesday, November 14, after a final voting session on November 9, also could reignite talk of the governor calling the first special legislative session since 1967 to keep the pressure on the Legislature to fulfill its constitutional obligation.
Power of Attorney Reform Bills — House Bills (HB) 4644 – HB 4646, have now passed both chambers and have been ordered enrolled. The Governor’s signature is sure to follow 14 days after presentment of the bills to her. These bills are important to seniors and those who care for them. 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 such as financial or medical decision-making. The bills would modify sections of Michigan’s Estates and Protected Individuals Code (EPIC) to be like the process established in 30 other states and thus more closely respond to the needs of principals and agents in differing states.
Election-Related Bills Moving — The Senate has approved some House-originated election law changes that are likely on their way to the Governor. HB 4569 allows those between ages 16 and 17 and a half years to pre-register to vote while also providing eligibility requirements. Also passed by the Senate is HB 4570 which would require the Department of State to provide and maintain an online absent voter ballot application that would allow qualified and registered voters to request an absentee ballot for local elections.
Passing the House and ready for Senate action are HB 4983 through HB 4986, which would require an individual’s name, residence, address, date of birth, driver’s license or state identification card number and digitized signature be added to the qualified voter file. Two other bills also passed the Senate and are ready for House action, SB 590 and SB 591, which would set up a legal process for presidential or vice-presidential candidates to contest the certification of elections. Candidates would be able to seek a judicial review by filing a complaint or mandamus in the Supreme Court under the bills, although the certification or determination of election results would not be delayed.
Bills to require political campaigns that use artificial intelligence in their advertisements to disclose that the images are not real is included in HB 5141 through 5143. The bills have passed the House and await action in the Senate. Also awaiting Senate action are election intimidation bills HB 4129 and 4130 that would make it a crime to intimidate election officials or poll workers.
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