Legislative Report

November 2005

Having resolved one major political problem, balancing the 2005-6 state budget, the politicians in Lansing have embarked on several other battles which promise to keep them occupied for several months. The major current battle involves how to jumpstart the economy and bring economic recovery to the state. The more basic issue is how to use the available resources to accomplish this. There is agreement that the securitization funds (derived from selling part of future revenues from the tobacco settlement) should be partially used for this purpose, but exactly how is the question. The Republicans are pushing for additional tax cuts as a means of stimulating the economy while the Democrats believe that creating more jobs is the answer. We are back to the “architectural” evaluation of how to fix the structural deficit, but the two architects responsible for the fix can’t agree. It is an extremely complicated issue and I will not bore you with the technical details at this point. The other political battle to watch is the finalization of the rewriting of the Telecommunications Act which has a sunset provision requiring it to be revisited periodically. This battle centers around protecting the consumer versus the interest of the business community.

In the meantime, various other pieces of legislation are acted upon. Among the legislation receiving attention during the past month which may be of interest to seniors/ retirees is the following:

SB 503 — is now law in the form of Public Act 160 of 2005. This new law allows those filing Michigan income tax returns to designate, by check-off on the income tax form, an amount to go to the Children’s Trust Fund. The Trust Fund is a nonprofit organization administered by the Department of Human Services dedicated to the prevention of child abuse and neglect. After January 1, 2005, taxpayers may designate an amount of $5 or more to go the Children’s Trust Fund. The amount so designated will come from any tax refund due the filer. Should there not be a refund, the amount designated by the taxpayer for this purpose shall be added to the taxpayer’s liability.

HB 4996 — is also now law as Public Act 161 of 2005. This law changes the definition of “grantee health agency” to include schools or nursing homes on the list of agencies to receive grants for the purpose of providing dental care to a dentally underserved population. Under the terms of the bill, a qualifying agency would have to employ or contract with at least one dentist or dental hygienist to be eligible to receive grantee designation. The original act was intended to serve the dentally underserved. It was discovered not many people were being served because of the narrow definition of the dentally underserved.

HB 5389 — is a recently introduced bill which provides for a single point of entry for “long-term care that shall serve as visible and effective access points for individuals seeking long-term care and that shall promote consumer choice of long term care options.” In short, the bill is intended to make it easier for those in need of long-term care to learn what is available in the area of the state in which they live without having to find and research the various options. Long-term care options usually are not explored until they are needed. This one-stop-shopping assists individuals and their families in learning of what is available in their geographic area. The bill was referred to the Committee on Senior Health, Security, and Retirement.

HBs 4789 & 4792 are two bills which have moved to the Senate for their consideration. These bills pertain to nursing home operations. HB 4789 would allow nursing homes to use dining assistants to feed residents who need assistance or encouragement with eating or drinking but who do not have complicated feeding problems, such as difficulty swallowing, recurrent lung aspirations, and tube or parenteral feeding. The dining assistant would have to complete a state-approved training course for dining assistants that satisfied minimum federal training course requirements. Dining assistants would have to work under the supervision of a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse. This bill is in the Senate Committee on Health Policy. HB 4792 would require that the Department of Community Health transmit to a nursing home a written or electronic copy of the results of each visit and survey it conducts within 10 business days after such visits. The nursing home would have to post in a conspicuous place a copy of the report and any necessary plan of correction to be viewed by the patient and his/her family. The bill contains a number of other requirements regarding disclosing and correcting deficiencies found through inspections. HB 4792 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health Policy for consideration.


Home/Renters insurance guide — The Office of Financial and Insurance Services has released it Buyers Guide to Home and Renters Insurance. It provides rates offered by each state-licensed insurance company as well as tips for shopping for this type of insurance. The document is available by calling OFIS or visiting their website.

Sales tax on out-of-state purchases — Thirteen states are involved in an agreement which is now in effect to collect sales tax on out-of-state purchases. Amnesty has been granted on the collection of past taxes by these states if they agree to collect future taxes. The agreement will set collection standards. The involved states will also be reimbursed for the cost of collection. The 12 other states involved in the agreement are: Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and West Virginia.

Settlement nets state $15 million — The state of Michigan will receive $15 million as its share of a lawsuit settlement stemming from the MCI  Worldcom corporate accounting scandal. This scandal caused a loss in investment earnings which resulted in a lawsuit. Fourteen other states are involved in the settlement. Of the $15 million Michigan will receive, $10.2 million will come from the settlement itself while $4.9 results for audits performed by the Michigan Department of Treasury.

Governor pushes for rollback in insurance costs — Governor Granholm has announced that she will push for legislation to rollback the cost of home owners and automobile insurance by 20%. Included in the14 bill package she is endorsing is a ban on using credit scores in determining insurance rates. Various aspects of rate setting will be covered along with a bill providing for the appointment of an advocate for insurance payers. There certainly will be much debate regarding this package of bills once it is introduced.

Governor approves Public Service Commission rules to ease impact of heating cost — Governor Granholm has approved emergency rules promulgated by the Public Service Commission to lessen the impact of anticipated increases in home heating costs this winter. The rules are intended to assist those who may have difficulty paying their utility bills. Among the provisions of the emergency rules are (1) increasing the number of days to pay utility bills after receipt from 17 to 22 (2) prohibiting the disconnection of a utility service if the unpaid bill was based on an estimated charge (3) limiting the amount to be paid per month in a settlement reached with the utility company on past due amounts to no more than $50 and (4) revising the definition of Poverty level from the current 150% of the federal poverty guidelines to 200% in determining eligibility for assistance. The emergency rules will expire in March, 2006.

Secretary of State grants funds to improve voter access — Secretary of State Terri Land has announced the awarding of $400,000 in grants to some 80 communities throughout the state to make physical changes to voting sites to enhance voter access for those with disabilities. The grants will be used for improvement such as parking spaces, ramps, and other physical changes. Communities in the state’s three largest counties- Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb - were included in awards.

Court decision in same-sex partner benefit lawsuit — After an Ingham County Circuit court judge refused Attorney General Cox’s request to stay her order granting same sex partners health benefits, the Court of Appeals ordered a stay of the order. The lawsuit results from the Attorney General’s interpretation that the Constitutional ban on same sex marriages also extended to same sex partner benefits. The trial court judge ruled it did not. The stay was granted by the Appeals Court which also ordered an expedited hearing on the merits of the case. This will prevent any entity from initiating same sex partner benefits for their employees until the issue is resolved by the courts. Those that are already granting such benefits are not affected.

Forums held on plans for services to elderly — The Commission on Services to the Aging will hold forums on their plans for services to be offered to the elderly. The first forum was held in Mt. Pleasant on October 21. The second forum will be held at the Holiday Inn West in Lansing on November 18. The Holiday Inn is located on West Saginaw just east of I-96.

Court orders Certification of disputed petitions — The Court of Appeals ordered the State Board of Canvassers to certify the petitions for the Civil Rights Initiative, the anti-affirmative action proposal which will now be on the ballot in November, 2006. A dispute arose when the Board of Canvassers heard testimony from individuals who said petition circulators deceived them concerning the purpose of the petitions. They claim they were told the petitions were in support of affirmative action. The Board then deadlocked on certifying the petitions which were proper in form and number. The Court ruled that the duties of the Board of Canvassers are limited to verifying the proper form of the petitions and determining whether a sufficient number of valid signatures exist to put the issue on the ballot.

Federal court clarifies wine distribution decision — While the legislature continues to seek a compromise on the wine distribution issues created when the U.S. Supreme court ruled that Michigan’s ban on out-of-state purchase of wine by individuals was unconstitutional, the federal courts have weighed in once again. At the request of the Troy couple who filed the original lawsuit, the U.S. District Court clarified what had to be done to meet the requirements of the Supreme Court decision. A district judge ruled that Michigan must now allow it citizens to purchase wine from out-of-state wineries and have it shipped into Michigan. So it remains up to the legislature to craft a law that is fair to in-state independent wine producers and acceptable to the Michigan Wine and Beer Distributors Association and its powerful lobby. As long as wine can be shipped by independent wine producers within the state, it must also be shipped from out-of-state wine producers. The Wine and Beer Distributors Association does not want this. If the Association gets it way, the independent in-state and out-of-state wineries will be hurt.

People in the News

Michael Bouchard, a former legislator and current sheriff of Oakland County, has announced he will be a candidate for the U.S. Senate. This pits him against Keith Butler and David Zanstra in seeking the Republican nomination to run against incumbent Senator Debbie Stabenow.

Keith Butler, the wealthy black minister who has been endorsed by most of the Republican party’s top leadership for his U.S. Senate candidacy, announced he is against the Civil Rights Initiative, the anti-affirmative action ballot initiative to be on the November, 2006 ballot. Dick De Vos the Republican gubernatorial candidate also announced his opposition to the ballot proposal.

David Fink, Director of the Office of the State Employer since 2003, has left that position to return to private law practice in Oakland County. Tom Hall, a 25 year veteran of OSE has been named acting director, replacing Mr. Fink.

David Dekker of Lansing and Harry Posner of Haslett have been named by Governor Granholm to the State Employees Retirement Board, both representing active employees. Mr. Dekker replaces Janet McClellan for a term expiring July 31, 2008. Mr. Posner replaces Linda Taylor-Lewis for a term expiring July 31, 2006.

Geoffrey Fieger, well known Detroit area attorney and former Democrat gubernatorial candidate, has announced his candidacy for Attorney General.

David Law, a state representative from West Bloomfied, pled guilty to a reduced charge of operating a motor vehicle while visibly impaired. He was put on 6 months probation and fined $1151 plus court costs.

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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