Legislative Report

March 2004

The Governor’s 2004 -5 budget recommendations took center stage in Lansing for the month of February. Governor Granholm’s general fund budget recommendation of$8.7 billion is 2.7% less than the current year although the total budget recommendation of some $39.7 is some 1.3% higher that this year. Perhaps the most controversial aspect of her budget recommendations is the so-called “sin tax” which is a tax that would be levied on cigarettes and liquor products. Smokers are the most vocal about the proposed tax increase of seventy- five cents per pack which would produce some $295 million in revenue for the state. Of course, drinkers aren’t too happy either. The release of the Governor’s budget recommendations is just the beginning volley of what will be a long, partisan political fight between now and the end of summer.

The following are bills which may be of general interest to retirees/seniors:

HBs 4987 & 5435 — 38 are the series of bills which would allow local pharmacies to provide a 90 day supply of a prescription drug for one CO-payment just as mail order pharmacies do. The bills also provide for regulation and licensing of plan benefit managers (Express Scripts for State retirees), stringent reporting requirements for these firms, and dictate their pricing structure. While the bills purport to accomplish something that would be beneficial to retirees, the complexity of the package of bills in their entirety causes SERA to oppose the bills as currently written. The reason for our opposition is the belief based on various analysis that the cost to the state and eventually to us as retirees would be higher than we currently pay via mail-order. The Employee Benefits Division of the Department of Civil Service estimates that the bills, as written, would cost an estimated additional $14 million. The bills remain in the House Health Policy Committee. One hearing has been held and more are scheduled.

HB 4340 is a bill which has been signed into law by Governor Granholm. Public Act 5 of 2004 liberalizes the reemployment eligibility requirements for retirees of the Public School Retirement System after their retirement. Such retirees may be rehired in school districts experiencing shortages of certain disciplines such as teachers, principals, etc. Those individuals who retired by July 1, 2003 can be rehired without a reduction of the pension benefits of the retiree if there is an emergency or critical shortage in a discipline. Under this arrangement, the retiree can be reemployed for a period of six years. Prior to the passage of this Act, the reemployment period without a diminution in pension benefits was for a three year period for those individuals who retired before July 1,2000.

HB 4659 is now Public Act 4 of 2004. This law clarifies the Public Health Code by exempting police officers as “medical first responders” when they carry automated external defibrillator (AED) equipment in their police vehicles. There was concern that without this exemption, police officers having this equipment in their vehicles would have to be trained and licensed as medical first responders and the departments for which they work would have to be licensed as medical first response services. Police officers may continue to administer AED aid to individuals and be covered by governmental immunity and Good Samaritan laws but they will not be acting as first responders as defined by law.

HB 5410 is a recently introduced bill which would make it more difficult to recall a local government official. Currently in order to get a recall election held, valid recall petitions must be signed by not less than 25% of the votes cast for candidates for the office of governor in the last preceding general election in the electoral district of the officer sought to be recalled. This bill would require valid petitions be signed by not less than 25% of the total number of votes cast for the office of governor in the last preceding general election in each precinct of the electoral district of the officer sought to be recalled. The bill also requires the county clerk, upon written demand, within five days, to certify the minimum number of signatures required for the recall.

House Joint Resolution W would place a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot as follows: ARTICLE IV, Sec. 46. “No law shall be enacted providing for the penalty of death except for first degree murder. The legislature shall provide by law the implementation of this section.” Currently, the Michigan Constitution prohibits the death penalty.;

House Joint Resolution U would place a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot by adding Section 25 to Article 1 to only recognize marriages that are entered into between one man and one woman, in order “to secure and preserve the benefits of marriage for our society and for future generations of children.” The Joint Resolution further states that no other relationship would be recognized as a marriage or its legal equivalent by the state, political subdivisions, or educational institutions, regardless of whether such a relationship is recognized by another jurisdiction outside of the state.


Changes in Handicapped Parking Permit — Secretary of State Terri Land announced a change in the identification information on the handicapped parking permits. Currently permits which have been issued carry the full driver license number of the permit holder. There have been objections to this form of identification because of the possibility of identity theft. New permits issued by the Secretary of State will carry only the first letter of the driver’s last name and the last three digits of the license number. Holders of the full number permits may exchange them for the new revised number permits at any Secretary of State office.

Consumer Guide to Health Maintenance Organizations — The Office of Financial and Insurance Services (OFIS) has released it fourth annual consumer guide to HMOs. This guide evaluates HMOs on a number of variables such as access, service, doctor communication, staying healthy services, and living with illness services. The guides are available on the OFIS website: www.michigan.gov/ofis. The guide includes statistics on complaints about HMOs and how to pursue a complaint.

Civil Rights Commission Decision — The Michigan Civil Rights Commission recently issued an interesting decision. The Commission ruled that residents with mental disabilities cannot be denied housing because they may require a dog as a companion. The Royalwood Cooperative Apartments violated the civil rights of a mentally disabled person when they evicted her for violation of the complexes prohibition on pets. In the 4 to 3 decision, the Commission said that the Michigan Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act allowing a person to have a pet, even if it is not certified or trained, is a reasonable accommodation if the animal can help lessen the symptoms of the disability.

17th House District Election — Governor Granholm announced that the vacancy created by the resignation of Representative Dan Pletko, a Democrat from Dearborn Heights, will not be filled until the November general election. The Governor is not calling a special election sooner due to the expense of such elections. The primary election will be in August with the election coinciding with the November general election. The staff of the previous office holder maintains constituent services for the citizens of the district during the period the position is vacant. (See next item below)

“Capitol Coup d’etat” — is the term Democrats used to describe the actions of House Speaker Rick Johnson in firing the aide to Former Representative Dan Pletko who resigned to accept the appointment as Mayor of Dearborn Heights. Johnson dismissed the Pletko aide and appointed a Republican aide to staff the office between now and the time the House vacancy created by Pletko’s resignation is filled. This change in staff is unusual and allows the District to be Republican oriented. Presumably, this will give the Republicans some advantage during the partisan political race for the l7th District seat. Normally the Minority Leader of the House, Dianne Byrum, would control staff changes and have oversight of a representative’s vacant office formerly held by a duly elected Democrat.

Mourning Dove Bill Vote — After Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema removed the controversial bill to allow the hunting of mourning doves from the Appropriations Committee to the Judiciary Committee, a hearing was held and a vote was taken to report the bill out of the Judiciary Committee The vote failed after Republican Senator Bruce Patterson abstained from voting because he did not believe the bill belonged in the Judiciary Committee He stood on principle and may eventually pay a price for not supporting his Republican colleagues on this controversial and emotional issue.

Week Recess for House Members — House Speaker Rick Johnson canceled sessions for the week of March I in order to permit House members to go to their districts and celebrate the first week of Reading Month by reading to children in their districts. Important issues of government were put on the back burner for a week in order to allow representatives to be visible in their districts. There have been a number of newspaper articles criticizing this one week boondoggle.

2004 State Fair Dates — The Michigan State Fair will be held earlier this year than in past years. The dates for the Fair are August 11 through August 22. Last year the dates were August 15 through September I. It is hoped the attendance will be increased by this change as a result of holding the Fair during warmer weather.

Labor Day Bridge Walk/Run — Governor Granholm has announced that she will run the five miles across the Mackinaw Bridge on Labor Day. Participants in what is usually a walk across the Bridge may choose to either walk or jog with the Governor. The tradition of walking across the Bridge was started by then Governor G. Mennen Williams shortly after the Bridge opened.

Citizens Initiative on the Legal Birth Definition Act of 2003 — SERA member Vivian Denniston called to my attention some inaccurate and/or confusing statements regarding my report in last month’s column concerning what I referred to as “partial birth abortions.” There is a citizens ’ initiative underway to get the necessary signatures to implore the state legislature to pass the Legal Birth Definition Act of 2003 which was vetoed by Governor Granholm. Should the effort result in the necessary 254,200 valid signatures being obtained, the issue would be put before the legislature for ratification. The Governor would not be able to veto a citizens’ initiative measure. Basically, the law would define birth and legal “personhood” and rights at the point where any portion of the child is vaginally delivered outside the mother’s body. Some 100,000 signatures have been collected as of the end of February in this citizens’ initiative effort.

People in the News

Janet McClelland, a Deputy Director in the Department of Civil Service, has been named as Acting Director, replacing John Lopez who retired recently. Lopez indicated he would stay as Director until a permanent replacement was named, but apparently had a change of mind.

Laura Champagne has been appointed by FIA Director Marianne Udow as Chief Deputy Director. Ms. Champagne leaves a position of Assistant Director of the UAW Social Services Department to accept the FIA position.

Bernie Apol, former Elections Director who oversaw the development of the current election and district apportionment systems in Michigan has died at the age of 81. In the early 1980s Apol was appointed by the Supreme Court to develop apportionment formulas which are still used today and referred to as “Apol criteria.”

Alvin Hoekman, a former state representative from the Holland area died in Florida at the age of 68. He served in the legislature from 1985-92.

Governor Jennifer Granholm has been named by the Democratic Governors’ Association to be their federal liaison for the next year. In this capacity, she will speak on major policy issues affecting states.

Editor’s note: Alvin Whitfield is former President of the Lansing SERA Chapter and former Chairperson of the Michigan SERA Council and current Legislative Representative for both the Council and the Lansing Chapter. He may be contacted at 1241 Runaway Bay Drive, C-3, Lansing, Michigan 48917; phone 517/703-9666; e-mail: alwhit@worldnet.att.net.

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