Legislative Report

January 2005

On December 29 at 11:30 a.m. the 92nd Legislature came to an end with less than a combined total of two dozen legislators in both houses present. This marked the end of a tumultuous two year period in Michigan State government. The session ended without some key legislation being passed. Among the politically hot bills which failed to become law were ones dealing with the manner automobile and home insurance rates are determined, regulating the “payday lending” firms, revising the bottle recycling law, and making it difficult for out-state mail order prescription drug firms to operate in Michigan.

The end of the session was also marked by political infighting that has taken place over the last two years. In a year-end assessment, Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema accused Governor Granholm of lacking leadership qualities by failing to negotiate with the legislature but instead threatening to veto bills being proposed by the Republican controlled legislature. The Governor charged Sikkema with politics as usual.

There was a flurry of legislative activity as the session neared an end. A large number of bills were sent to the Governor for signature. Some were signed and some were vetoed. The following is a report on bills which may be of interest to our membership:

The following bills were vetoed by the Governor:

HB 5467 which is one of a series of bills which were intended to strengthen the marriage relationship by requiring pre-marital counseling, giving financial incentives for premarital counseling, establishing new requirements for obtaining a divorce, etc. The Governor believed these bills improperly intruded on private relationships/decisions. A number of the bills regarding strengthening marriage became law without the Governor’s signature but will not go into effect because they were tie-barred to bills which did not pass or were vetoed.

HB 5844 is a bill which would have included the manufactured housing (mobile home) specific tax in the calculation of the homestead property tax credit. Her veto message stated that “Michigan law does not currently provide for such a tax or include such an act.” She also has a policy of not signing bills tie-barred to another bill which has not yet passed. This bill was tie-barred to HB 4880 which passed both the house and senate but had to be reconsidered in the house to approve minor revisions made in the Senate. However, it failed to garner the necessary House votes for final passage. It appears that while the bill was going through the Senate, lobbyists prevailed on the House members to defeat it when it was returned by the Senate. The failure of the series of mobile home bills to become law was a serious defeat for the proponents of the measures.

SB 854 is a bill which would have established the Office of Statewide Recycling Coordinator in the Department of Environmental Quality. The Governor vetoed this bill because there was no funding for the operation of such an office.

The following bills were signed by the Governor and will become law:

SBs 792, 793, 794, 795, 796, 797, 798 and SBs 220 and 1874 are among a number of bills dealing with identity theft. The content of these long awaited bills has been detailed in previous Legislative Reports. Basically, these bills which are now law cover three basic areas (1) establishes identify theft as a crime (2) provides for the protection of Social Security numbers, and (3) provides for protection of credit card information. They would, among other things, prohibit the use of Social Security numbers for identification purposes, make it illegal for one’s Social Security number to be displayed on documents (unless required for legal or law enforcement purposes), prescribe the penalty for identity theft, prohibit denying credit to victims of identity theft, allow victims of identity theft to request the Secretary of State to suppress information, provide that an identify theft victim may file a criminal complaint in the county in which he/she lives (as opposed to where the theft took place), would allow the prosecuting attorney to issue a certificate stating a person was an identify theft victim. Included in this series of bills is one which prohibits the display of a person’s complete credit card number or expiration date on a receipt if the receipt was printed by an electronic device.

SB 727 is also a bill which has been long awaited. This bill deals with grandparent visitation. It specifies the circumstances under which a child’s grandparents could legally seek a “grandparenting time” court order. The bill creates a rebuttable presumption that a fit parent’s actions/decisions regarding visitation were in the child’s best interest, places the burden on the grandparent to prove by clear and convincing evidence that visitation was in the best interest of the child, requires the court to give deference to a fit parent’s position, and requires the court to consider specific factors in determining the best interest of the child.

SBs 683-686 is a bill which provides for court ordered assisted outpatient treatment, require such treatment to consist of case management services or assertive community treatment team services. If a person failed to comply with the outpatient treatment order, he/she could be hospitalized without a court order for the duration of the existing initial order. The bill limits the duration of the initial treatment order to 180 days including no more than sixty days of hospitalization. The provisions of this law apply to those who refuse to be voluntarily treated for mental illness and who currently are non-compliant in seeking treatment which has resulted in placement in a hospital, jail, or prison twice within the last 48 months.

SB 184 exempts the use tax (sales tax) on vehicles received by a church or house of religious worship and then donated to a qualified individual. A qualified individual is defined as being eligible for public assistance, possessing a valid Michigan driver’s license, not having reasonable access to public transportation to get to place of employment, had demonstrated ability to maintain employment and had a valid offer for an employment opportunity superior to current position, in need of a vehicle to accept a verified offer of employment for at least 20 hours per week and could not do so without a vehicle.

HB 4450 authorizes the issuance of military veteran specialty license plates beginning in January, 2006. The personalized plates must bear the letters and numbers prescribed by the Secretary of State and cannot carry letters or numbers offensive to good taste and decency.

HB 5544 expands the application of specialty license plates for disabled persons or for vehicles used to transport disabled persons (which carry a wheelchair symbol) from pickup trucks and vans weighing not more than 5,000 pounds to such vehicles weighing up to 8,000 pounds.

SB 1143 increases the cost of vital records obtained from the Department of Community Health. The increases vary according to the document requested, but generally the increases range from 40% to 60%. The Department of Community Health estimates this law will generate an additional $1.5 million and free the vital records operation of any General Fund support.

SB 1150 is a law which increases a Health Maintenance Organization enrollee’s annual out-of-pocket costs for coinsurance and co-payments to $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for a family. The out-of-pocket cost will be adjusted annually based on the medical care consumer price index or the out-of-pocket expense for a high deductible health plan under the Internal Revenue Service Code, whichever is greater. The law also allows an HMO to petition the Commissioner of the Office of Financial and Insurance Services for an increase in costs of coinsurance and co-payments to an amount “warranted by current market conditions”. There are a number of lesser impact provisions contained in the law.

HB 6033 creates the “Ronald Wilson Reagan Memorial Monument Fund” and establishes it in the Department of Management and Budget. The bill is tie-barred to SB 1317 which creates the Commission to oversee the financing, design, and construction of a monument to former President Reagan. The State Treasurer will be responsible for any appropriations made to the Fund or any private donations received including all accrued interest.

SB 1130 creates the Michigan Exposition and Fairgrounds Act which creates an Authority of the same name and houses it in the Department of Management and Budget. There will no longer be a Fairgrounds manager, but instead there will be an Authority manager. While the Authority is housed in DMB for housekeeping purposes, it will exercise independence in managing the Fairgrounds.

HB 5205 recognizes acupuncturists as a medical specialty. The law creates the Michigan Board of Acupuncturists in the Department of Community Health and requires that agency, in conjunction with the Board, to promulgate rules establishing the minimum standards for registration as an acupuncturist.


Attorney General Opinion — Attorney General Mike Cox issued a formal opinion (No 7167) recently regarding retired state employees returning to work for the state and continuing to receive their pension benefits. The salient portion of the opinion states: “Assuming a bona fide termination of employment, there is no legal basis for the State Employees’ Retirement System to suspend the Tier 1 {Defined Benefits} pension of a retirant who returns to State employment and is entered upon the payroll on or after December 1, 2002, as a qualified recipient’ in the Tier 2 {Defined Contributions} plan pursuant to section 13 (3) (f) of the State Employees Retirement Act.” The opinion was requested by the Director of the Retirement System and the Director of the Department of Management and Budget.

SOS Proof of Residency Requirement — New applicants for drivers’ license or state identification card will be required to show proof of residency under a new system announced by the Secretary of State. Such proof may include a lease agreement, utility bill, bank statement, insurance policy, or paycheck stub.

Michigan Joins AIG Lawsuit — Michigan has joined a class action lawsuit against AIG (American International Group) as a result of losing some $30 million in pension funds. The lawsuit alleges AIG rigged bids, manipulated earnings reports, and made false statements. The company’s stock dropped some 23% after the allegations were made causing the loss in Michigan’s Retirement Systems.

State Officers Compensation Commission — Meeting for the first time since a Constitutional amendment made changes in its operations, the SOCC approved a request of the Governor to reduce her pay and that of the Lt. Governor by 5%. The SOCC did not recommend a change in the expense accounts for the Governor and Lt. Governor, $60,000 and $20,000, respectively. These changes will not take place until first approved by a two-thirds vote of the legislature and then after the next general election in 2006, to become effective January 1, 2007. However, before such a vote may be taken, the legislature must change existing laws to conform to and implement the requirements of the Constitutional amendment passed in 2002. An example of the changes needed to be built into statute is the requirement that a two-thirds vote of the legislature is necessary to implement SOCC recommendations and that the SOCC can now set the salaries of the Secretary of State and Attorney General.

Sine Die Adjournment — This is normally a ceremonial activity which takes place every two years to end the legislative session. It has some legal significance, however. Bills, unless given immediate effect or a later date is specified, take effect 90 days afterward — March 30, 2005. Also, after the Sine Die adjournment, the Governor may “pocket veto” bills. This means she does not have to formally veto a bill, she merely does not sign it. Pocket vetoes cannot be done when the legislature is in session.

People in the News

Frank Fitzgerald, a popular Lansing area politician, recently died at the age of 49 of a heart attack. Mr. Fitzgerald spent some 12 years as a state representative and former Governor Engler appointed him as Insurance Commissioner and head of the Office of Financial and Insurance Services, a post he left shortly after Governor Granholm took office. Mr. Fitzgerald’s father was a Supreme Court Justice and his grandfather was Governor. Mr. Fitzgerald was with the Clark Hill Law Firm at the time of his death.

Mary Agnes Mansour, the Catholic nun whom Governor Blanchard appointed as Director of the Family Independence Agency, died at the age of 73. Under pressure from the Vatican because she headed a department which paid for abortions, Ms. Mansour resigned from her Order and continued as head of the FIA. After leaving FIA, she headed a non-profit religious organization.

Joe Forbes, an affable politician from Oak Park who served in local government before being elected to the Legislature, recently died at the age of 83. Mr. Forbes served in the House from 1970 to 1984. In 1975 he served as Majority Floor Leader. There are many “Joe Forbes” stories about his days in the legislature.

Scott Hummel, a legislator from DeWitt, was appointed by the new Speaker as Chairperson of the House Appropriations Committee, a post coveted by many legislators. He has never served on the Appropriation Committee.

Representative Hummel had recently been elected Speaker Pro Tempore, a post he will now relinquish. Representative Jerry Kooiman has been elected as Speaker Pro Tempore, replacing Hummel in that position.

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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