There is an old adage that goes: “The wheels of government turn very slowly.” Such is the case in Michigan state government, especially as it relates to resolving the structural budget deficit. The state is projecting a current year deficit of some $200 million, much of which is attributable to the Medicaid program. Next fiscal year’s deficit could approach $1.0 billion unless significant reductions in services/programs are made or revenue increases are initiated.
Governor Granholm attempted to “kill two birds with one stone” by trying to get a measure passed which would have increased the tobacco tax by 75 cents per pack beginning July 1, 2004 (one quarter of the current fiscal year). This measure would raise considerable revenue for the 2005 fiscal year and thereafter. The bill was initially rejected by the House but has since been passed with a July 1 effective date. Of course, in exchange for their support of this measure, the Republicans will get some of their proposed reductions. The Senate has yet to act on the House-passed bill, (HB 5632) increasing the cigarette tax. Even if the cigarette tax is finally approved, the State’s fiscal problems are far from being resolved. There will be a great political tug-of-war in the next two months over the budget issues.
The following are bills which are receiving legislative attention and may be of interest to SERA members:
HB 5732 is a bill introduced which would allow Michigan pharmacies to engage in mail order drug programs. This is the only thing this bill would do. This bill is an acceptable alternative to the series of anti-mail order pharmacy bills which SERA opposes which have been detailed in previous columns. Hearings continue in the House Insurance Committee on these very controversial bills.
SBs 220, 657, 803, and 792-98 are a series of bills which were introduced to address the growing problem of identity theft. There have been hearings held on these bills which, while well intended, are quite controversial. Opponents believe these bills would, as written, create confusion, and increase cost of state government because the constraints placed on the use and/or disclosure of one’s Social Security number, for example. The bills have passed the Senate and gone to the House Committee on Judiciary where hearings have been held. The chairperson of that Committee has formed a “work group” which allows a less formal setting than a committee hearing for resolving issues relating to a bill. It is unlikely the bills will become law in their present form.
HB 5802 continues to be the subject of hearings in the House Insurance Committee. This bill would prohibit the use of credit scores in determining the cost of automobile or homeowners insurance. There are strong advocates on each side of the issue and it is difficult to sort out fact from fiction regarding the impact of one’s credit worthiness on the cost to an insurance company for claims made by a policyholder. This issue has become an emotional one and will not be resolved soon. The bill remains active in the Insurance Committee.
HB 5328 is a bill which has been reported out of the Committee on Health Policy. This bill would require the Department of Community Health to have a quality assurance program to detect, identify, and prevent prescription medication errors in pharmacies. “Prescription medication error” is defined as a preventable event prior to the consumer receiving the medication from the dispensing professional which could lead to inappropriate medication use or harm the patient. The bill also provides that every pharmacy have a sign prominently posted advising a person who believes a “prescription error” has occurred in the dispensing of a prescription to contact the Department of Community Health. The full House is expected to act on the bill soon.
HB 5549 is a bill dealing with prescriptions which also has been reported out of the Committee on Health Policy. This bill would require the author of a handwritten prescription to print the information in a legible manner in ink or indelible pencil and signed by the prescribing physician. It has long been known that many physicians are notorious for their poor writing skills. This bill is intended to overcome that problem. The full House is expected to act on the bill soon.
HB 4127 is a bill which has passed both the Senate and House and soon will be going to the Governor for signature. This bill would prohibit an automobile insurance company from requiring a customer to take his/her automobile to a specific company for repair. The company would have to make it clear to the policyholder that repairs, including glass replacement, could be done at the repair shop of the customer’s choice. The Office of Financial and Insurance Services would have to develop a means of informing policyholders of their rights and the procedure for reporting violations.
HB 5500 is a bill to address a problem which exists only in four counties in the Upper Peninsula (Dickinson, Gogebic, Iron, and Menominee). These four counties are in the Central Time Zone while the other Counties in Michigan are in the Eastern Standard Time Zone. The bill would change the Liquor Control Code to define twelve noon on Sunday as being 12 noon Eastern Standard Time. This change would allow those four counties to serve alcohol at 11 a.m. Central Standard Time to compete for business with surrounding counties. Neighboring Wisconsin already allows the sale of alcohol beginning at 11 a.m. on Sunday. The bill is on its way to the Governor for signature.
HB 5794-95 are bills which require the Department of Community Health to transmit a copy of reports from each visit or inspection of a nursing home to the nursing home’s administrator within 30 days of such visit or inspection. The nursing home would then be required to transmit to each nursing home resident or the resident’s family a copy of the visit or inspection report. Further, the bill requires the Community Health Department to consider recent inspection, visit, and survey reports in renewing the license of a nursing home. HB 5795 makes the same provisions for Adult Foster Care Facilities. The two bills are tie-barred. The bills are in the Committee on Senior Health, Security and Retirement.
Treasury Investment of Retirement Funds — The 2005 General Government Appropriations bill encourages the investment of retirement funds in Michigan companies. The bill does not mandate, but encourages, the investment of up to 2% of retirement funds in Michigan venture funds and new companies. The language in the bill suggests the state should encourage business development not only with words, but with dollars.
New Voting Machines — Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land announced that the state will purchase optical scanning voting machines for cities and townships in Michigan. Federal funds will be used to purchase this equipment. Ms. Land indicated that two-thirds of the state’s precincts already use optical scanning voting equipment.
Turnover in House of Representatives — There will be at least 38 new faces in the House of Representatives next year. This is the number of term-Iimited House members plus one House district vacancy. 72 current representatives are eligible for reelection. The current vacant seat is in the 17th House district and will be filled in the November election.
Michigan Civil Rights Initiative — Leadership of the organization attempting to collect the required number of signatures to get the issue of banning affirmative action in Michigan on the November ballot have indicated that they may have to wait until the 2006 election. Legal challenges and the illness of Ward Connerley, the Californian who is the chief architect of the initiative to change the Constitution, appear to have slowed the campaign down to the point where it is unlikely to be successful this year.
People in the News
John Ramsey, the father of the young girl found slain several years ago in her Boulder, Colorado home, has made it official. He will run for the 105th House seat being vacated through term limits. He will run as a Republican in a race which is certain to capturede national media attention because of the publicity of the death of his daughter Jon Benet Ramsey.
Ken Daniels, a Detroit Democrat, chaired an Insurance Committee Hearing on the mail order pharmacy bills although Chairperson Larry Julian was in attendance. At the conclusion of the meeting, Mr. Julian explained to the perplexed audience that Mr. Daniels has served on the Committee for six years and is currently Minority Vice-Chairman. During his tenure on the Committee, the term limited Mr. Daniels had never chaired a meeting and Mr. Julian felt that he should have the opportunity to chair at least one meeting.
There will be three LaMar Lemmons on the ballot in Detroit for three different House seats. In the 3rd House District, LarMar Lemmons, a former legislator is running. In the 2nd House District, LarMar Lemmons, the former legislator’s father is running, and in the 1st House District, LarMar Lemmons, the former legislator’s son is running. All are Democrats.
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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