Capitol News

January 7, 2024

The Legislature returned January 10 for an exciting election year. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will deliver her sixth State of the State Address on Wednesday, January 24 at 7 p.m. The address will be held in the Michigan House Chambers in front of a joint session of the Michigan House of Representatives and the Michigan Senate. The Governor will lay out her policy plans for the year. It will be broadcast live throughout the State and on the Governor’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.


That’s the headline we hope to see sometime in this new year, 2024. We are looking for a WIN in passing legislation to remove the $300 cap on our 3 percent annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to State employee retiree defined benefit (DB) pensions and a WIN on getting legislation to permit SERA to acquire the names and contact information for new retirees.

$300 Cap Removal — Bob Kopasz (SERA Coordinating Council Chair), Cheryl Streberger (SERA Coordinating Council Vice Chair), and I met with Sen. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing and Chair of the Michigan Senate Appropriations Committee) and her staff, and Kathryn Summers (Director of the Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency) on December 18 to discuss legislation to remove the $300 cap on the annual 3 percent COLA on DB pensions. Only those DB retirees with initial base pensions below $10,000 a year receive 3 percent of their base retirement as an annual cumulative adjustment. This is currently only about 15 percent of DB retirees. The rest - 85% - are capped at $300/year. We estimate that DB retirees have contributed hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars to the State’s coffers because of the $300 cap on the 3 percent COLA.

Current cost – Summers stated that the cost to the State of Michigan for current DB pensions is $2.3 billion/year for the 60,000+ current and future DB retirees. Summers said about 2/3 of the cost is paid by the pension investment fund and 1/3 from the General Fund. Michigan’s General Fund was in the range of $15 billion last year.

CPI-E – Summers estimated roughly that if the Consumer Price Index-Elderly (CPI-E) for this year of 2.5 percent were used rather than the 3 percent capped at $300, the cost to the State would be approximately $4.5 billion/year given the expected 27-30 years that retirees will collect a pension. It would cost $100 million each year to prefund the DB active employees and those who have a deferred DB pension. A 3 percent COLA would cost over $5 billion/year given this estimate.

New cap with index – The $300 cap would be about $808 today if it had been indexed to inflation when it was adopted in 1987. If that were the new cap and then indexed each year to the CPI-E, the cost would be $3.2 billion/year.

Actuarial study – We were told an actuarial study would be needed to accurately project the cost of a change in the DB COLA. Summers and Sen. Anthony’s staff will make an inquiry if the current State contracted actuaries could do the work.

Letter-sending campaign – Thank you to all who have been responding to Lansing SERA member R. Cole Bouck’s letter-sending effort. He has been invited to meetings with UAW Local 6000 and MSEA retirees. Sen. Anthony’s staff and your own legislators have acknowledged hearing from you! As a voter you have the power in your hands to get this issue addressed.

Please e-mail Cole Bouck at a personal and private e-mail address - or send a private message to him using Facebook Messenger asking to join the letter-sending campaign. Provide your full name, the year of your retirement (if retired) and agency you will or have retired from (this helps us understand how broad our reach is), the e-mail address where you can receive information, and a phone number (optional). If you are a dual State retiree household, please include the information for both of you. You will then receive pre-written letters you only need to personalize and send to your legislators. You will receive help in finding the contact information for your own legislators.

New SOM Retirees Contact Info — Sen. John Cherry’s (D-Flint) staff has informed us that a bill will be requested this month from the Legislative Service Bureau to accomplish our goal of having the legal right to the names and contact information for recent State employee retirees. Without that information, SERA cannot grow.


Thirteen, and likely more, Michigan House and Senate district boundaries in southeast Michigan are likely to change because of the December 21 decision of a three-judge federal Court of Appeals panel (all appointed by Republican President George Bush) holding Michigan’s new Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission violated the equal protection rights of Black voters when it drew the political boundaries for the city of Detroit and nearby suburbs. The court’s ruling found that experts hired by the panel to write the maps after the 2020 Census incorrectly instructed the commission to focus on racial makeups of the voting age population in general elections when drawing political districts. The experts did not consider primary-election data, even though “everyone agrees that the elections in these districts are decided in the Democratic primaries, not the general election,” according to the opinion.

The court, in a separate order, raised the possibility that it might appoint a special master to draw the new maps. On January 4, the Commission voted to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court but in the meantime, engage in an expedited schedule to follow the court order.

Plaintiffs — Plaintiffs are 19 Black Detroiters living in 13 different House and Senate districts that each include part of the City of Detroit. They include former Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, retired Judge Virgil Smith, former Rep. LaMar Lemmons, former Rep. Teola P. Hunter, Detroit Councilmember Mary Waters and Keith Williams, Michigan Democratic Party Black Caucus chair. They are represented by attorney John Bursch, Solicitor General for former Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, attorney Jennifer Green from Clark Hill PLC, and attorney Michael Pattwell.

The new partisan fairness requirement in the 2018 constitutional amendment led to the commission deemphasizing municipal and county boundaries. With the loss of Detroit population over the decade and upon advice of its Voting Rights Act attorney, it lumped portions of Detroit with mostly white suburbs to create districts in and around Detroit where the Black voting age population ranged from 35-45 percent.

Going back decades, redistricting plans tended to neatly divide the City of Detroit geographically into legislative districts. This resulted in many districts with Black populations exceeding 80 percent that usually elected Black legislators. But because these districts also tended to provide as much as 95 percent of their votes to the Democratic candidate, it also meant a concentration of Democratic voters in a small number of districts (called packing in redistricting parlance) and an advantage for Republicans in winning a majority of the 38 statewide Senate seats and 110 House seats. The challenge will be to have effective, legally-defensible racial representation and statewide partisan fairness in the House and Senate political districts.

Districts — Under the ruling, Senate districts 1, 3, 6, 8, 10, and 11 and House districts 1, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, and 14 must be redrawn. According to Gongwer News, the redraw of these House seats will likely affect several neighboring House districts like 4, 8, 13, 57, 58, 61, and 62. Districts 57, 58, 61, and 62 are all key districts for majority party House control. The ripple effect in the Senate will be even greater, with districts 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, and 12 all potentially affected. Districts 4, 9, 11, and 12 are all critical to majority control of the Senate.

With the deadline for candidates to file for the August primary on April 23, there is extreme time pressure to complete new maps and have the constitutionally required 45-day public comment period. Elections officials must then change voters’ districts in the Qualified Voter File and re-program voting equipment for the August 6 primary among other duties.

Commission Conflict — After the federal court decision repudiating the new districts, the commission’s Voting Rights Act attorney resigned. Commissioner Rebecca Szetela, who was an important witness against the Commission’s lines, challenged the residency status of two other commissioners, who subsequently resigned. She also sought to have another commissioner ousted on ethics grounds. Another commissioner also resigned in December saying fresher legs were needed for the future. Three new commissioners were drawn from the pool of applicants and were sworn in on January 4. They are Elaine Andrade (D) of Imlay City, Donna Callaghan (D) of Farmington Hills and Marcus Muldoon (R) of Lincoln Park.


Since the December 10 SERA “Capitol News,” the Governor has signed 35 more bills, the last of 321 bills for the calendar year of 2023. There were no vetoed bills this year. Highlights are:

Public Act (PA) 286 is the Reproductive Health Act sponsored by Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia), Chair of the Legislative Progressive Women’s Caucus. It has an effective date of February 13, 2024. The bill was the capstone of the package of bills to implement the new Article I, Section 28 of the State Constitution called Reproductive Freedom for All passed by voters in November 2022.

PAs 287-305 are most of a 19-bill package to reform the juvenile justice system in the works for several years based on recommendations from a bipartisan task force. The bills have an effective date of October 1, 2024.

PA 306 responds to the fact that vulnerable adults, specifically seniors, are disproportionately affected by financial fraud or exploitation. The new law allows notification and temporary holds on certain account disbursements for the protection of vulnerable adults by broker-dealers and investment advisors.


Distracted Driving — State Police report writing more than 700 distracted driving citations involving the use of a mobile device since new laws went into effect in late June 2023. Crashes were involved in 27 of the citations. The new law bans drivers from holding and using a mobile device under most circumstances.

More Voter Registration Sites — Gov. Whitmer signed Executive Directive 2023-6, which will expand access to voting information for Michiganders. It requires State departments and agencies to adopt a set of “Voting Information Best Practices” and updates the list of designated voter registration agencies throughout the State. This list includes, for the first time, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which has agreed to designation of its Saginaw Medical Center, Detroit Medical Center, and Detroit Regional Office as official voter registration agencies who will assist veterans in the process of registering to vote.

International Bridge Update — The Gordie Howe International Bridge connecting Detroit with Canada is expected to be completed in September 2025. The pandemic led to delays from its original target opening date of the fall of 2024.

Editor’s note: Mary Pollock is the Lansing SERA Chapter and SERA Coordinating Council’s Legislative Representative. She may be contacted at

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