Budgets, the death penalty, gay marriage, mourning dove legislation, race track slot machines, and mail order prescription drug bills were among the “hot button” issues facing the legislature during the last month. Some of these issues were resolved while others remain on the table for another day. Obviously, the budget issues for both the 2004 and the 2005 remain unresolved. Tobacco tax or no tobacco tax, program cuts or tax increases are still hotly debated. The Capitol Building remains a place of excitement and consternation.
Other issues were addressed in addition to the above listed items. Among those which may be of interest to SERA-Nade readers are the following:
HB 4308 is now Public Act 52 of 2004. This Act corrects a problem which became evident when drivers who failed to produce valid proof of automobile insurance when stopped by police found themselves having to pay $150 for each of two years in addition to the cost for the infraction which caused them to be stopped. This $300 payment was required even if the driver could show a court that the automobile was, indeed, insured at the time of the infraction. The legislature indicated that this was not the intent of the Driver Responsibility Act which became effective last year. The new Act eliminates the $150 two-year payment described above and increases the cost for actually driving an uninsured vehicle from $150 for each of two years to $200 for each of two years. The act also allows those who have been assessed the first $150 of the two-year assessment under the old law to seek reimbursement within 60 days after the bill became law.
SBs 842 & 843 are now Public Acts 25 & 26, respectively, of 2004 PA 25 prohibits a person from possessing, selling or purchasing a “signal preemption device”. Such a device is legally used on emergency vehicles to control traffic signals as the vehicle proceeds along a street in an emergency situation. The Act does not apply to law enforcement, firefighters, emergency medical services or ambulances, or owners of these vehicles. Delivery services and manufacturers of these devices are also exempt from the law. SB 843 (P A 26) provides for the sanctions under the Criminal Code for violations of Public Act 25.
SB 785 & HB 4463 were both vetoed by Governor Granholm. These bills would have expanded the issuance of specialty license plates, including a plate to raise funds for breast cancer research (HB 4463). The Governor’s veto message indicated that there were beginning to be too many specialty plates making it confusing to citizens and law enforcement to easily identify Michigan plates. Law enforcement agencies opposed the bills for that reason. The Governor noted that while funding for breast cancer research was important and she was sympathetic to the cause, perhaps there were other means to raise funds for research.
SB 1021 establishes a deferred retirement option plan (DROP) for sworn state police officers. Under the plan, sworn officers could take a deferred retirement and continue to work for up to six years. All applicable Civil Service rules and regulations would continue in effect. Exclusively represented officers could participate only if their collective bargaining unit agreed to participate in the plan. A DROP account for the deposit of deferred retirement benefits would be established for each participant. The account would be credited with a percentage of the amount of the participant’s calculated deferred retirement allowance. The percentage would range from 30% if the officer remained in the program for less than one year to 100% if the officer remained in the DROP program for six years. A DROP participant would not actually receive a retirement allowance until termination of his/her participation in the DROP and commencement of retirement and would not have any claim to any accumulated DROP funds in his/her account until termination of employment or start of retirement. Several alternatives would be available for distribution of funds from a participant’s DROP account. This program would be a considerable cost savings to the state inasmuch as insurance and retirement costs would be paid from the State Police Retirement Fund. The bill has passed both houses and is on its way to the Governor for signature.
HB 5434 was vetoed by Governor Granholm. This bill would have prohibited the Department of Treasury from requiring paid tax preparers to file state tax returns electronically. The bill provided that the taxpayer must decide whether or not to file electronically. The bill would have applied to the tax year beginning on or after January 1, 2003 and before January 1, 2004. Electronic filing is obviously a cost saving measure which the administration seeks.
SB 727 has passed both houses and is on its way to the Governor for signature. This bill is commonly known as the “grandparenting bill”. This bill specifies the circumstances under which a grandparent can seek a grandparenting-time order from a court. Included in the circumstances are divorced or separated parents, unmarried parents, or the death of a parent. The bill assumes the fit parent’s actions regarding grandparents are in the child’s best interest and places the burden of proof on the grandparent to show that grandparenting-time is in the grandchild’ s best interest. The bill further requires the court to consider specific factors in determining the best interest of the child and requires the court to dismiss the case if both parents oppose grandparenting time. The bill also allows the court to refer the case to the Friend of the Court for mediation. Finally, the bill requires the court to make a record of its findings and analysis, including the reasons for granting or denying a request for grandparenting-time. This bill resulted from a decision by the state Supreme Court that the current law does not give enough deference to the parent. The Court of Appeals recently voided all current court orders granting grandparenting time as a result of the Supreme Court decision.
HB 5190 would consolidate the human resources functions currently conducted in the various departments into one entity within the Department of Civil Service. Under this controversial bill, an Office of Human Resource Operations would be created to lead efforts to consolidate and reorganize all human resource operations within the executive branch of government. (Excluded would be the Departments of Attorney General and State and the Legislature and the Judiciary.) Once the reorganization is complete, all current human resources would be combined into one entity. The bill was vetoed by Governor Granholm.
HB 4987 and four companion bills are the very controversial anti-mail order prescription bills. Hearings continue to be held. Several hearings were held in the Health Policy Committee and more were scheduled until the bills were suddenly moved to the House Insurance Committee. The bills were moved, apparently at the Speaker’s request, because of an apparent conflict of interest on the part of the Chairman of the Health Policy Committee, Stephen Ehardt, a pharmacist. The manner in which Representative Ehardt was promoting the bills caused some to question whether there was a conflict of interest. One hearing has been held in the Insurance Committee which is chaired by Representative Larry Julian. Representative Ehardt is a member of that Committee. There is strong lobbying on both sides with witnesses being brought in from out-of-state. Representative Stephen Adamini, a member of the Health Policy Committee, showed his sense of humor about the bills being moved when he remarked, “It’s sort of like I got halfway through War and Peace and now the library wants it back.” ,
HB 5093 is a bill which deals with various duty-disability issues. Duty death benefits are capped at $2400 while duty disability benefits are capped at $6,000. This bill would make the minimum benefit $6,000 for each category. The bill provides that the duty death benefit would be calculated as if the deceased member had retired the day prior to the date he/she died, elected option A under the Retirement Act, and nominated his/her spouse as the beneficiary. Because the duty disability/death benefit is coordinated with the worker’s compensation benefit, the actual benefit to the retiree or beneficiary from these two sources could not exceed the member’s final compensation. The bill makes a number of other changes in the disability retirement laws. The bill has passed the house and is now in the Senate Committee on Local, Urban, and State Affairs.
HB 5029 is the very controversial bill allowing the Department of Natural Resources to permit the hunting of mourning doves. The very controversial bill has passed both houses and is now on its way to the Governor for action. The Governor has promised to veto the bill unless the issue of mourning dove hunting is put before the people for a vote.
Status of Pension Funds — The total Retirement System pension funds experienced an increase of more than 14% in 2003. In actual dollars, the total fund increased from $40.7 billion to $46.4 billion. The breakdown of the four funds administered by the Retirement System (expressed in billions) is as follows: School Employees -$35.7; State Employees -$9.3; State Police -$1; Judges -$0.269.
Vehicle Insurance Increase — An additional $27.04 will be added to vehicle owners’ insurance bills as a result of the assessment being levied by the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association’s board of directors. The rate will increase from the current $100.20 per vehicle to $127.24 per vehicle and will become effective in July. The assessment goes into a fund to pay claims in excess of the $250,000 insurance companies must pay for each catastrophic claim.
Civil Rights Commission Resolution — Michigan Civil Rights Commission has passed a Resolution expressing its opposition to the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, the anti-affirmative action measure which will be put before the voters if enough valid signatures are obtained. The measure would change the Constitution to ban affirmative action programs in Michigan. The Commission’s reason for passing the Resolution was twofold: To express it opposition and displeasure with the goals of the initiative and to show it is not connected with the backers of the measure whose name might confuse voters.
OFIS Sanctions Warning — The Office of Financial and Insurance Services has warned of possible sanctions for the two companies which failed to submit information for the “Data Call” by that Office regarding how home insurance rates are determined. OFIS is examining the high home insurance rates and required companies to basically show how their rates are established. The two delinquent companies are Great Lakes Casualty Company and One Beacon Company.
Number of Eligible Voters — The U.S Census Bureau has announced that there are 7.346 million citizens in Michigan 18 years of age or older. Of that number, 7.1 million citizens are eligible to vote. Michigan ranks 8th among the states having citizens 18 years or older. Nationwide there are 209.3 citizens l8 years or older with 193.4 citizens eligible to vote.
People in the News
Mildred Jeffreys, a longtime Democratic party activist, died at the age 0f 93. Ms. Jeffreys served on the Wayne State University Board of Governors and was a UA W official. She was the recipient of the U.S. Metal of Freedom Award in 2000.
Frank Kelley, former Attorney General, was appointed to the State Ethics Board by Governor Granholm. His term ends February 28, 2008.
John Ramsey, the father of JonBenet Ramsey, the young girl who was slain in her home in Boulder, Colorado several years ago, appears ready to announce his candidacy for the 107th House seat as a Republican. Ramsey and his wife, at one time, were under some suspicion regarding their daughter’s death according to media reports. They established permanent residency in Charlevoix within the past year.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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