Once again, the budget drama is being played out in Lansing. The Republicans are rejecting a number of Governor Granholm’ s revenue generating measures which makes it impossible to balance the 2005 budget. The latest defeats came on votes for the estate tax and the liquor tax which the Governor had proposed. Yet to be decided is the 75 cents per pack cigarette tax increase. Stay tuned! The legislature did approve the controversial measure allowing slot machines at horse racing tracks which will change the character of that sport’s venues.
The following legislative activities during the month of April are among those which may be of interest to SERA members:
HB 4987 (and four companion bills) are the so-called mail order pharmacy bills which are being bitterly contested by state pharmacists on one side and a coalition of other groups representing businesses, trade associations, unions, and consumers on the other side. These bills remain in the House Insurance Committee where weekly hearings are being held. Much testimony has been given in support of and against the bills with a large number of interested parties still remaining to testify. Representative Larry Julian, the Committee Chairperson, has promised to hear all of the testimony. SERA opposes these bills as they are currently written because of the potential cost impact. We support the idea of allowing instate pharmacies to have the ability to engage in mail order filling of prescriptions and providing a 90 day supply of maintenance drugs with one co-pay. These bills go far beyond this, however. They are overly regulatory and interfere with the ability of companies to competitively compete for benefit manager selection.
SB 432 is a bill which allows the State to come into compliance with federal voting requirements. The bill has been signed into law by Governor Granholm. The federal Help America Vote Act requires states to take certain actions to make voting easier and more convenient for citizens. Compliance with the federal requirements allows states to receive funding to implement the act. While Governor Granholm had reservations about signing the bill because it did not address the issue of “no reason” absentee ballot voting, she reluctantly signed it because to do otherwise would put Michigan in violation of the federal requirements and cause the state to lose considerable funding for such things as voting machines. The bill is Public Act 92 of 2004.
HB 4179 is a bill which “tweaks” the Elder Prescription Insurance Coverage (EPIC) program. Applicants for the program must pay a $25 administrative fee which the law indicates is nonrefundable. While the Department of Community Health has, in practice, been refunding the fee if an applicant is found to be ineligible, it was thought that the law should provide for the fee to be refunded. Additionally, the law provided that only non-institutionalized persons were eligible. This bill clarifies that by declassifying adult foster care homes or assisted living facilities or homes for the aging as institutions, thereby making residents of these facilities eligible for the EPIC program. The final change in the law as covered by this bill provides for the calculation of household income for sole proprietors and farmers with assets under $200,000 to establish eligibility .The bill has been signed into law and is now Public Act 57 of 2004.
HB 5006 is a bill known as Conscientious Objector Policy Act. This bill would allow a health care provider to object, as a matter of conscience, to providing or participating in a health care service on professional, ethical, religious, or moral grounds. The bill exempts veterinarians and sanitariums as health care professionals. Companion bills allow health care insurers to not participate in coverage of certain services on grounds of conscience if this provision is contained in the organizations’ bylaws. Likewise, health care facilities could refuse to allow certain medical procedures to take place in a facility on the same grounds. The bills provide for the means by which health care professionals can declare their objector status, prevent them from being sued, make certain exceptions to the professional objector status, etc. This obviously very controversial bill has passed the House and is now in the Senate Committee on Health Policy.
HB 5029 is the Dove Hunting bill which has passed both houses of the legislature. Governor Granholm originally indicated she would veto the bill. Apparently, she is working on a compromise whereby there would be a limited test season. Under the compromise, the Department of Natural Resources would establish a limited first season and then decide whether or not to have future seasons. The dates of the first hunt would be limited and hunting could take place only within certain geographical boundaries of the state. There is still strong opposition to this compromise proposal with some organizations indicating that the Governor is breaking a campaign pledge if she allows any dove hunting. It is a hot potato political issue for the Governor.
HB 5190 is the bill which provided for the consolidation of the human resource functions conducted by various state agencies into one operation housed in the Department of Civil Service. This bill passed the legislature and was sent to the Governor. She vetoed this bill because the state is currently in the process of consolidation of functions for an annual cost savings of some $25 million by 2009. Under the Governor’s plan, many general services would be handled via a service Website. A “service center” would be located in the Department of Civil Service to handle routine requests such a parking permits, insurance applications, processing new hires, etc. The service Website is scheduled to be in operation by November.
Social Security Number Required — Secretary of State Terry Lynn Land announced that beginning May 3,2004, a driver’s social security number would be required to obtain a driver license. This requirement is in compliance with federal law and will be used to track those who are delinquent in child support payments. The number will be used for official purposes only and will not appear on the driver license. After years of attempting to avoid this requirement, Michigan finally is coming into compliance, becoming the 50th state to do so.
Use of Credit Scores Banned — Governor Granholm has announced that the Office of Financial and Insurance Services (OFIS) will promulgate administrative rules which will ban the use of credit scores by insurance companies in determining the cost of home and automobile insurance. It is felt that there is no correlation between credit worthiness and the cost of insurance, making credit scores not a valid discount item on insurance policy costs. Of course, insurance companies disagree and predict this ban will increase the cost of insurance for everyone.
Tobacco Settlement Money — Attorney General Mike Cox has announced that Michigan will receive $271.2 million in tobacco settlement money this year. Since 1998, Michigan has received $1.7 billion in tobacco settlement funds.
State Sued over Health Care — The state has been sued for not providing universal health care. The suit contends that the Constitution promises that public health will be a top priority but this promise has not been fulfilled as evidenced by 1 million uninsured residents in Michigan. The suit further contends Michigan is violating it own 1978 law requiring it to have a state health care plan. The Detroit-based Michigan Legal Services represents the six plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
Michigan Civil Rights Initiative Petitions — A Lansing Circuit Court judge ruled the State Board of Canvassers erred when it approved the anti-affirmative action group’s petition. She ruled the language in the petitions did not indicate, as required by law, the section of the Constitution indirectly being repealed. She ordered the Board to withdraw its approval of the petitions which it did. The Board of Canvassers is appealing her ruling to the Court of Appeals. Until this issue is settled, the sponsors of the petition drive are not hiring paid signature gatherers as is usually done in major petition drives. This will obviously slow down the momentum of the petition effort.
Citizen Petition Approvals — The Board of Canvassers has approved a number of new petitions to either amend the constitution or initiate legislation: Citizens for Justice — repeal death penalty; Citizens for Protecting Marriage — define marriage as a union between man and woman and ban all other types of unions; Michigan Families for America — would require the legislature to annually send resolutions to U.S. Congress calling for a Constitutional Convention to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman or expressly leave the definition to the states; Free Marijuana — legalize marijuana use; MERIT — prohibit colleges and universities from giving admission preference to children of alumni; Dads of Michigan PAC — initiate legislation creating a rebuttal presumption of joint legal and physical custody in all divorce cases; Socialist Party of Michigan — to have its candidates names’ on the ballot.
Michigan Week — Governor Granholm declared May 15-21 as Michigan Week with the theme “This is Your Michigan.” This is the 50th celebration of Michigan Week. Note: Please see letter to retirees from the Governor elsewhere in this publication.
People in the News
Rebecca Humphries, a 25 year veteran of the Department of Natural Resources, was named Director of that department by the DNR Commission replacing K. L. Cool. Ms. Humphries most recently was Chief of the Wildlife Division.
Senator James Barcia, a Bay City Democrat, and former U.S. Congressman, was indicted on federal charges of circumventing campaign contribution laws. He denies any wrongdoing and remains in the State Senate.
House Speaker Rick Johnson seemed un-phased by the threat of a “no confidence” vote because of his willingness to consider the cigarette tax. A small group of Republicans made the threat; the majority of Republicans still support him.
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: email@example.com.
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