Not unexpectedly, budgets continue to occupy the time of legislators to a large degree. While dealing with executive orders affecting the current year budget, the legislature also is working on the budget for the 2005-6 fiscal year. Resolution of the 2005-6 fiscal year budget promises to be very interesting, to say the least. Besides the normal fighting which takes place between the executive and legislative branches over budget issues, a new wrinkle has been added. The House is departing from the normal budget process and will formulate its budget bills based on a new “result outcomes” budgeting concept rather than the traditional 15 budget bills based on state departments and major budget areas. The Senate will introduce its bills in the traditional manner just as the Governor did in presenting her budget. The problem will be how to reconcile the House version of bills with those of the Senate and Governor since they will be in two vastly different formats. This becomes just another problem to resolve in an already problem-ridden process.
There was significant action on a number of bills which may be of interest to retirees/seniors. The following is a synopsis of several of these bills:
HB 4204 — is a bill intended to address the escalating cost of gasoline and provide the consumer some relief. The bill would exempt the amount of the sales tax on gasoline when the selling price reached $2.30 per gallon ($1.99 plus 11.94 cents sales tax and 19 cents state gas tax). No sales tax would be charged on amounts which exceed the $2.30 per gallon. The fiscal impact to the state would be significant if this bill were to pass. For example if the price of gas at the pump was $2.35 per gallon for one week, the sales tax revenue would drop by some $285,000 for that week. Because of the fiscal impact, it is unlikely to get the support of the Governor should it pass the legislature. At this writing, the bill had been reported out of committee and was on the House floor awaiting action.
HB 4188 — is another bill intended to offer some fiscal relief to certain individuals. Currently, those individuals who are permanently disabled, blind, paraplegic, quadriplegic, or an eligible service person or eligible veteran or a person at least 62 years of age or the unmarried surviving spouse of a person who was at least 62 years of age at the time of death may request a deferred payment of their summer property taxes to February of the following year. To be eligible for this deferment, the eligible person’s household income must not exceed $25,000. This bill would increase the threshold for eligibility to a household income of $35,000. This bill has a fiscal impact, primarily in the loss of interest income on the delayed payment. The bill has passed the House and is in the Senate Committee on Finance.
SB 301 — is a bill which would mandate the Secretary of State to be proactive in participating in the Organ, Tissue, and Eye Donor Registry. The bill would require the holder of a State issued ID card to have a heart insignia on the front of the card which would immediately identify that person as a donor. The Secretary of State would be required to give the applicants for ID cards information about their right to make an anatomical gift and describe the Registry. Beginning January 1, 2007, each applicant or holder of an ID card would have to be asked if he/she agreed to participate in the Registry. The Secretary of State would have to maintain a record of those on the Registry in a manner suitable for electronic transfer of data to Gift of Life of Michigan. An individual who places his/her name on the Registry enters into a legally binding agreement after the donor’s death regardless of the wishes of the next of kin who may oppose the donation. (Other bills provide the same provisions for driver license applicants and clarify that the heart insignia constitutes documentation of anatomical gift.) The bill has passed the Senate and gone to the House Committee on Transportation for consideration.
SB 199 — would allow the remaining contents of a partially consumed bottle of wine ordered and served in a restaurant to be re-corked and removed from the premises. The cork would have to be placed deep enough to be level with the lip of the bottle. The re-corked bottle of wine could not be transported in the passenger area of a vehicle. If the vehicle did not have a trunk or compartment separate from the passenger compartment, the bottle would have to be enclosed or encased and not be accessible to the vehicle occupants. The bill has passed the Senate and gone to the House Regulatory Reform Committee.
HB 4569 — is a bill which would allow registered voters to cast their ballots within seven days before an election by going to the municipal clerk’s office and presenting official photo identification. The voter then would be given a ballot and a return envelope which then would have to personally be returned to the clerk or his/her designee. Making a false statement on an application or forging a signature on a ballot would constitute a misdemeanor. This recently introduced “no reason early voting” measure has been assigned to the House Oversight, Elections, and Ethics Committee.
HB 4525 — is a bill which would mandate notification of individuals in certain instances of identity theft. The bill provides that any agency of state government which owns or licenses computerized data which includes personal identifying data shall notify anyone whose personal information has been acquired by an unauthorized person or the agency reasonably believes such data has been unlawfully acquired. The notification shall be by the most expedient means without unreasonable delay. There are two exceptions to prompt notification: If notification will impede a criminal investigation as determined by law enforcement and if delay is necessary to determine the scope of the breach and allow restoration of reasonable integrity of the data system. The bill specifies the methods of notification and provides for civil sanctions for violators. The bill has been introduced and assigned to the Committee on Judiciary.
HBs 4405 & 4434 — are bills dealing with the filling of prescription drugs. HB 4405 removes the disciplinary action against pharmacists, as currently outlined in law, for accepting a prescription and/or filling a prescription by mail. This would allow Michigan pharmacists to receive and fill prescriptions by mail. HB 4434 would allow for electronic transmission of prescriptions from local pharmacies and have them filled at a central location and then returned to the local pharmacy for pickup by the customer. This bill was explained in last month’s report in more detail. Both bills which, are tie-barred, have been reported out of the Health Policy Committee and are on the House floor on the way to passage.
HB 4374 & SB 273 — are two bills which must pass to formally reject the Office of Financial and Insurance Services’ rules banning the use of credit scoring by insurance companies in establishing home owners and automobile insurance rates. The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules voted to reject the OFIS rules on credit scoring. It is unlikely that these bills will pass inasmuch as legislative leadership knows the Governor will veto them. They will probably take no action on the bills knowing that there will be legal challenges by the insurance industry. A lawsuit has already been filed in Barry County Circuit Court alleging that OFIS does not have the authority to establish rates. Whether credit scoring will be banned or not will most likely be determined by the courts.
SB 282 — is a bill amending the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act to identify sediment-moving activities on residential property that would not require a permit. Under the bill, the following activities could take place on residential property without a permit: (1) a minor earth change that would be stabilized within 24 hours. (2) gardening if the elevation of the earth was not raised. (3) digging postholes for fences, mailboxes, etc. (4) normal and customary landscaping provided such activity is 100 feet from state waters. (5) stock piling of soil, sand, or gravel of not more than 10 cubic yards provided the stockpiling occurred at least 100 feet from state waters. The bill has passed the Senate and is now in the House Committee on Natural Resources, Great Lakes, Land Use, and Environment Committee.
HB 4433 — is a bill in which the legislature is weighing in on the debate over displaying religious documents in public buildings and on public property. The bill would allow the Ten Commandments and other significant religious documents to be displayed on government property if the document has “had an impact on this state’s or this country’s history…” Such display could occur only if the religious document is among other documents, public records, or objects of historical significance that has formed or influenced the legal or governmental system of the United States. All of the described documents must be displayed concurrently with the religious documents not having any more focus than the other documents. The bill has passed the House and is on its way to the Senate for action.
Office of Financial and Insurance Services — This state agency, know as OFIS, had several news-making announcements: (1) OFIS warned citizens about predatory lending practices of mortgage companies. Complaints about mortgage companies lending practices are on the increase. OFIS is gathering information which will allow them to assess the risk of licensed or registered mortgage companies in Michigan. There are some 5100 licensed mortgage companies in the state. (2) This Office is also warning taxpayers to avoid income tax refund loans because of the excessive fees involved. Instead, they are suggesting taxpayers file electronically to offset the time advantage of an income tax refund loan. Electronic filing assures a faster payment of refunds, thus negating the need for an expensive loan.
Vehicle Registration Renewal — The Secretary of State has announced the introduction of self-serve kiosks at certain Secretary of State Offices. These kiosks allow a person to renew their vehicle registration by using a credit card and the renewal form which has a bar code and personal identification number on it. The kiosks will issue a vehicle renewal certificate and a payment receipt. The kiosks are located only at Secretary of State PLUS Offices and SUPER!Centers.
Vehicle Insurance Cost Increase — As the result of the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Fund running a deficit, the cost of automobile insurance attributable to these types of claims will increase 11.4% to $141.70 effective July 1, 2005. This Fund pays health insurance costs in excess of $350,000 and is currently paying out some $50 million monthly. This cost is built into the insurance rates companies charge for automobile insurance. The Claims Fund Association is a statutorily created private, non-profit entity. Governor Granholm has recently indicated that she would like a public member on the Board of the Catastrophic Claims Association as well as seeing it covered under the Freedom of Information Act. The insurance industry opposes such moves.
Abortion Legislation lawsuit — A lawsuit has been filed to prevent the citizen initiated law, the Legal Birth Definition Act (PA 135 of 2004) outlawing so called “partial birth” abortions from taking effect. The lawsuit alleges that the law is too vague and could cause doctors to refuse to treat women who suffer miscarriages. As the result of the lawsuit, Attorney General Cox has moved the implementation date of the law from March 30 to June 15th. Also, subsequent to the lawsuit being filed, he issued a formal opinion stating that the Act does not ban all abortion procedures and exempts physicians from violation of the law if the partial birth abortion and/or other procedures are used to protect the life of a mother. This opinion was a legal maneuver to strengthen the state’s position in the lawsuit which will move forward.
Office of Faith Based Initiatives — Governor Granholm issued Executive Order 2005-6 establishing an Office of Community and Faith Based Initiatives as a part of her Office. This Office will seek to obtain federal funds through the President’s Office of Faith Based Initiatives. Some organizations have expressed concern about possible religious involvement/control over human service programs as the result of the establishment of this office. Another concern is whether organizations receiving funding through the state Office will have faith-based tests for the people they employ or the people they serve. This would be a violation of state law.
Family Independence Agency Name Change — The name of the state’s social services agency officially changed from the Family Independence Agency to the Department of Human Services on March 15th as the result of Executive Order 2004-38 issued last year by Governor Granholm. The change was made to more accurately reflect the range of services provided by the Department.
Attorney General Opinion — Attorney General Mike Cox has issued a formal opinion stating that agencies are constitutionally barred from offering benefits to same-sex partners of employees who are living in a “marriage-like” relationship. He based his opinion on the Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages which the voters approved last year. Mr. Cox made it clear that his opinion does not apply to existing labor contracts which have such benefit provisions, but would apply to new and renewed contracts. His opinion which was criticized by some groups, surely will be challenged in the courts.
People in the News
Allison Green, a former legislator who served as speaker of the House and then briefly as Acting Auditor General followed by 13 years as State Treasurer, died recently at the age of 93.
Gary Gordon, a veteran Assistant Attorney General, was named Chief Deputy Attorney General replacing Carol Isaacs who unexpectedly resigned. Mr. Gordon has been on the Attorney General staff since 1975, most recently as Chief of the Governmental Affairs Bureau.
George Cushingberry and LaMar Lemmons III, both state representatives who, in fulfilling Secretary of State post-election requirements for legislators, allegedly perjured themselves in their campaign finance compliance certifications had their cases turned over to the Attorney General by the Secretary of State for possible prosecution. They are accused of committing felonies during this process. If charged and convicted, it would make them ineligible to serve in the House.
Dorothy Jones, a veteran member of the State Board of Canvassers, had her renomination to the Board by Governor Granholm rejected by the Senate in its advice and consent role. The Republican controlled Senate based its rejection on the actions of Ms. Jones in not approving ballot language for the same-sex Constitutional amendment and rejecting Ralph Nader as an Independent candidate for president last year. The Senate indicated that she violated her “oath and duty.” This was the first rejection of a gubernatorial nominee by the Senate acting in its advice and consent role since 1990.
Thomas McTavish, CPA, was approved by the legislature for a second eight-year term as Legislative Auditor General.
Larry Julian — A term-limited former legislator has formed a lobbying firm with his former legislative aide, Val Vail Shirey. He joins Rick Johnson and Marc Shulman who have become lobbyists after leaving the House on December 31st.
Max Fisher, a Detroit businessman, philanthropist, and Republican activist and powerbroker, died at the age of 96. Mr. Fisher had a strong influence in Republican circles both statewide and nationally.
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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