Legislative Report

February 2005

Much of the month of January was spent by both legislative chambers dealing with organizational issues as the 93rd legislative sessions began. Politically, the leaders of both the House and the Senate staked out their positions on major issues with which their respective bodies will be dealing. Likewise, Governor Granholm let her legislative agenda be known. Thus, there was much political posturing by all sides while waiting for the bell to ring and the fight to begin. And quite a fight it promises to be! To no one’s surprise, the battle will center around the state’s fiscal crisis and how to overcome the structural deficit that has plagued the state for the last several years. The Governor struck the first blow by announcing her long awaited business tax restructuring. This proposal along with the Governor’s yet-to-be announced 2005-6 budget will set the stage for an all out fight. All parties can warm up for the big fight by dealing with the estimated $400 million anticipated current year deficit.

A number of bills passed late last year were signed by the Governor. Several bills were pocket vetoed also. Among those which may be of interest to our membership are the following:

SB 1464 is the lead bill among a number of bills revising the mental health code which have been signed into law. This bill allows an individual to designate a patient advocate to exercise powers regarding his/her mental health treatment decisions and allows a person to indicate his/her desires regarding mental health treatment. Other bills require the patient advocate to be notified if a hospitalized mental health patient is transferred to another facility, allow the person applying for admission of an individual to a mental hospital or alternative treatment facility to request a second opinion if admission is denied, include the patient advocate for mental health treatment among the persons who may execute an application for formal voluntary hospitalization. Other bills in the series of mental health bills extends the definition of a “person requiring treatment” to someone not complying with recommended treatment under certain circumstances and makes the person eligible for assisted outpatient treatment, allow a person to file a petition with the court asserting that an individual meets the criteria for assisted outpatient treatment, allow a court to order assisted outpatient treatment as an alternative to hospitalization. In general, these bills allow a person who may not be an imminent threat to him/herself to receive mandated treatment under certain circumstances. The content of these bills are encompassed in the following Public Acts of 2004: 496-499, 532, 551-557.

HB 4187 is now PA 561. This Act requires a payphone operator or service provider or contractor thereof who provides telephone toll service to disclose, at no charge, audibly and distinctly, how the person wishing to place a call can receive a rate quote, before connecting the call. In order to receive a rate quote, the customer would have the option of either pressing a sequence of up to two keys or staying on the line. If, after receiving the rate quote, the customer terminates the call, no charge can be assessed.

Two bills which were included in last month’s report as having gone to the Governor for signature, were, in fact, “pocket vetoed” by the Governor. These bills are SB 1150 which would have increased a Health Maintenance Organization enrollee’s out-of-pocket cost and HB 5205 which would have recognized acupuncturist as a medical specialty. A “pocket veto” occurs when the Governor neither signs nor vetoes a bill, but lets it die without any action being taken. This can only occur when the legislature has adjourned Sine Die which is every two years.

I have received inquiries regarding the effective dates of the identify theft bills dealing with Social Security number use as a third party identification number and the prohibition against the full credit card number and expiration date being displayed on a receipt. Social Security numbers cannot be used as identification numbers by a third party (health insurance companies, for example) after January 1, 2006. Credit card information cannot be fully displayed on a receipt sixty days after the bill takes effect if the printing device was not in use on the effective date of the Act. For printing devices in use on the effective date of the Act, the change must be accomplished by July 1, 2006.


Pension Case Before Supreme Court — The Michigan Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a lawsuit brought by plaintiffs who are retired school employees. They claim that their rights to non-diminished pension benefits by increases in health insurance co-payments and deductibles violates federal and state constitutional prohibitions against impairing contractual obligations. The plaintiffs are asking the Court to find that the Constitutional protection against diminished benefits is a contractual obligation of the Retirement System which is impaired when health benefit costs are increased. Similar cases have been before the Court before, but the Court has found legal loopholes to avoid rendering a decision on the merits of the question before it.

Pension Funds Status — State pension fund officials announced that for the twelve month period ending November 30, 2004, the total increase in the four state pension funds was some $1.9 billion. In November, 2003, the funds stood at $46.4 billion while November, 2004 they were some $48.3 billion . A breakout of the total pension funds between the four Funds administered by the Retirement System was not available. The highest the funds have ever been was in 1999 when they totaled some $51.74 billion. Michigan’s pension funds constitute the 13th largest state pension fund and the 29th largest in the world.

Board of Canvassers Appointment — The Republican Party was caught red faced when Governor Granholm appointed Lyn Bankes, a former Republican legislator, to the Board. State law specifies the date by which each party must submit three names to the Governor for her consideration for appointment. The Republican Party failed to do so. The Governor then appointed Ms. Bankes to the Board of Canvassers which is composed of two Republicans and two Democrats.

Legal Self Help Website — The State Court Administrator’s office has announced the creation of a Self Help website for use by members of the general public who wish to represent themselves in some legal matters. Among the subjects included on the Website are: going to court, how to find legal information, resolving differences without going to court, information on dispute resolution, how to get legal help, and requesting a court appointed attorney. The Website address is http://www.courts.michigan.gov/scao/selfhelp.

People in the News

Elizabeth Weaver, a Michigan Supreme Court Justice, announced that she is leaving the Court in October. This will give Governor Granhom the ability to begin changing the balance of power on the Court with her appointment of a replacement for Weaver whose term ends in 2010. Weaver is considered a conservative whose recent opinions have departed from those of her conservative colleagues.

New Chief Justice — Clifford Taylor has been elected Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court by his colleagues. He has been on the Court since 1997 and succeeds Maura Corrigan as Chief Justice for a two year term.

New Schools Chief — Jeremy Hughes, currently Chief Academic Officer in the Department of Education has been named Acting Superintendent of Public Instruction replacing Thomas Watkins who was forced out after a very public battle with Governor Granholm to keep his position.

Christine White, a Department of Agriculture deputy director, was appointed Acting State Racing Commissioner replacing Robert Geake who resigned.

Candice Miller, a congresswoman from Macomb County, whom President Bush allegedly encouraged to run for U.S. senator against incumbent Senator Debbie Stabenow has announced that she will not run for the Senate. Keith Butler, a black minister of a very large Detroit area church, is giving serious consideration to running as a GOP candidate against Stabenow. Butler served on the Detroit City Council in the early 1980s.

Rick Johnson, the term-limited former Speaker of the House, has joined the lobbying firm of Fraser Consulting & Associates. His colleagues in the firm will be Lewis Dodak and Michael Kelly. Dodak is also a former speaker of the House.

Harry Gast, a longtime former Republican state senator who headed the Appropriations Committee for many years, in an unusual move, blasted the current Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema in an interview with Gast’s hometown newspaper. Gast characterized Sikkema as “shallow, lacking in leadership ability” He said Sikkema’s successes don’t show political courage. Gast also predicted Proposal A, the school funding mechanism, would be declared unconstitutional.

Melvin “Butch” Hollowell, former Co-chair of the Democratic Party, was cleared of charges that he solicited a prostitute. A Wayne County Circuit judge ruled that there was not a proper contract executed between Wayne County and the City of Detroit to permit County sheriff’s deputies to enforce City of Detroit ordinances. Hollowell was arrested by sheriff’s deputies in the City of Detroit. The judge also indicated that the deputies did not see any illegal activity between the woman whom Hollowell admits picking up and offering a ride because she appeared to be in distress.

Roger Lane, a veteran newspaperman who once headed the Lansing Bureau for the Detroit Free Press and then went on to distinguish himself in the legal field died in December at the age of 87. After leaving the newspaper business, Lane worked for three Chief Justices of the Michigan Supreme Court for many years, and earned his law degree at the age of 63. (Note: A SERA member called me after noticing that Roger was not mentioned in this column in the December SERA-NADE. Roger was a SERA member whom I knew well. As a general policy we will include individuals in this section if their deaths are newsworthy enough to be a media news story as opposed only to being on the obituary page. This was the case for Roger’s death.)

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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