The Lansing scene continues to be dominated by debate on measures dealing with the state’s economic recovery, including the business tax structure, and how to balance the budget in the meantime. Latest reports place the current year deficit at $100 million as legislators wrestle with the 2005-6 fiscal year budget. Complicating the budget preparation for next fiscal year is the unorthodox manner in which the House is working on the budget. The normal method for preparing budgets has been abandoned for an unusual system of establishing priorities within each department and somehow arriving at a budget figure for predetermined programmatic categories. A major question remains how the House’s “appropriation” bills will be reconciled with the traditional bills coming out of Senate Appropriations Committee.
There were other activities taking place unrelated to the economic/budget issues. The following report of some of these activities may be of interest to seniors/retirees:
HB 4188 — Has been signed by the Governor and is now Public Act 24 of 2005. This law increases the threshold for eligibility for deferment of payment of summer taxes from a former household income of $25,000 to new $35,000 figure. Under the law, individuals who are permanently disabled, blind, paraplegic, quadriplegic, or an eligible service person or veteran or a person who is 62 years of age or the unmarried spouse of such a person who was at least 62 years of age at time of death may request deferment of summer property tax payments to February of the following year. The law applies only to those otherwise eligible who also meet the household income threshold.
HBs 4037 & HB 4559 — These bills would require the Department of Community Health to establish and maintain a toll free number that consumers could call to obtain information regarding the cost of prescription drugs and the availability of free and discounted prescription drugs in the state. The website would be required to have a link to a prescription drug website to be operated by the Attorney General under HB 4559. The purpose of the Attorney General website would be to educate the public about the price of prescription drugs and make the public aware of the availability of private or public programs offering free or discounted prescription drugs. The website would have to include a list of the 25 most commonly prescribed medications with the usual and customary price of these drugs. HB 4037 been reported out of the Committee on Health Policy. HB 4559 has passed the House and gone to the Senate Committee on Health Policy.
HBs 4614-15-16 — These are a series of bills intended to make the operation of recreational vehicles consistent to the vehicle code as it relates to the blood alcohol level of the operators of these vehicles. Basically, the bills would prohibit a person from operating an off-road-vehicle, watercraft, or snowmobile with a bodily alcohol level of .08 or higher or any bodily amount of certain controlled substances including cocaine. Refusal to submit to a chemical test under these bills would increase the length of a license suspension. The bills have passed the House and have gone to the Senate Committee on Judiciary.
SB 351 — This bill represents another attempt to get acupuncture recognized as a health profession. A similar bill passed late last year and was “pocket vetoed” by the Governor as the legislative session ended. The bill would require the registration of acupuncturists, establish a $75 application processing fee and a $150 registration fee, allow only those who are registered to use the title of acupuncturist or use similar titles, create a Michigan Board of Acupuncturist within the Department of Community Health, and require the Board to promulgate rules establishing minimum standards for registration. The bill has been reported out of the House Policy Committee and is being considered in the Committee of the Whole.
SB 189 — Is a bill to control over-the-counter medications which contain ephedrine or pseudoephedrine products by maintaining them behind the counter, within a locked case, or where an employee could monitor them, or using an antitheft device on the product along with constant video surveillance. Under the bill, a purchaser would have to provide photo identification, if asked, to purchase these products. If the seller did not maintain items containing these products as described above, a record of all purchases must be maintained for at least six months and be made available to law enforcement upon request. Individuals under 18 could not purchase such products. Department of Community Health produced signs would have to be posted at the point of sale indicating that it is unlawful to sell such products to a minor. The reason for such control measures is that these products are used to create methamphetamines, commonly known as “speed”, “crank”, or “ice” in so called meth labs. The bill has passed the Senate and has been reported out of the House Judiciary Committee.
Limit on Pension Fund Investments — As a result of the downgrading of Ford and General Motors bonds/stocks to junk status by financial rating agencies, the state is prevented from making any new investments of pension funds in those two companies. State guidelines prevent investments in poorly rated companies. These two companies have fallen below the investment threshold. However, the state does not have to divest its current holdings in these two companies.
Appeal of Credit Scoring Decision — The Commissioner of the Office of Financial and Insurance Services has announced that the state will appeal the decision of the Barry County Circuit Court judge upholding the use of credit scoring in the establishment of automobile and home insurance rates. The court ruled that she did not have the authority to ban credit scoring through the promulgation of rules. This is a very controversial subject with the insurance industry on one side and consumer groups on the other. Expect a long, hard-fought court battle.
Elder Abuse Task Force — Governor Granholm issued Executive Order 2005-11 establishing the Elder Abuse Task Force. The purpose of the Task Force is to address issues of abuse, neglect, fraud, and exploitation of the elderly. The Task Force is charged with identifying resources, needed law changes, and current state efforts. They then will prioritize the problem areas needing to be addressed. The Executive Order also establishes a 15 member Elder Abuse Commission with the directors of the Office of Services to the Aging, Departments of Community Health, Human Services, State Police, and the Commissioner of the Office of Financial and Insurance Services serving as non-voting members. The Task Force’s final report is due May 31, 2006. It is estimated some 80,000 seniors are vulnerable to issues being addressed by the Task Force.
New State Websites — Several state agencies have established consumer-oriented websites. These are: (1) Office of Faith Based Initiatives which has a website that will allow non-profits and faith based groups to review available grants and programs. Their website address is: www.michigan./outreach (2) Department of Natural Resources’ new website will show availability of campsites at state parks. A color coded map will show what sites are available on specific dates. This website address is: www.michigan.gov.dnr (3) Department of Community Health’s new website provides information on the 25 most popular prescription drugs. It gives the price of one month’s supply available to a person without insurance. It also provides a link to the three most common discount prescription drug programs. The website address is www.michigan.gov/mdch This website generally is consistent with the requirements of HB 4037 reported above.
Buyers Automobile Insurance Guide — The Office of Financial and Insurance Services announces the availability of a buyers guide for purchasing automobile insurance. The Guide offers suggestions on how to shop for automobile insurance and provides rate information for various areas. The guide is available on the Internet.
Sale of Northville State Hospital — After three abortive attempts to sell the Northville Psychiatric Hospital, the state will now put it up for auction to be conducted by a professional property auctioneer. The state hopes to have divested itself of the property by September 1. The latest potential buyer forfeited some $3.1 million in earnest money when it failed to meet the contractual deadline for signing closing documents on the $50 million sale. The state then decided to go the auction route.
People in the News
Attorney General Mike Cox has endorsed U.S. senatorial candidate Keith Butler which is a key endorsement, especially this early in the campaign.
Lynne Martinez, the state’s Ombudsman for Children’s Services, has resigned to become a candidate for the Mayor of Lansing. Governor Granholm has appointed Michael Harmon, a veteran employee of the independent Ombudsman’s office as Acting Ombudsman until a permanent replacement is named.
Hansen Clarke, a state representative from Detroit, has announced his candidacy for Mayor of Detroit.
Mary Waters, Assistant Minority Leader in the House, has withdrawn as a candidate for Mayor of Detroit and thrown her support to Freeman Hendrix, the deputy mayor under former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer.
Mike Flanagan, a veteran educator, has been appointed Superintendent of Public Instruction by the State Board of Education. Flanagan’s most recent job was head of the Michigan Association of School Administrators. He has also been a school superintendent, serving in that capacity with the Farmington School System.
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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