Legislative Report

December 2005

For a day or two, it appeared that my prediction of a long, heated battle between the Governor and the legislature over how to jump-start the economy and make Michigan “business friendly”, was going to be proven incorrect. But alas, after a day of sweetness and light and celebration, an apparent agreement the two sides had reached fell apart. It seems that one particular issue, the repeal of the sunset provision of the Single Business Tax, had not been agreed upon and that became the deal breaker. The Governor vetoed the business friendly provisions, but signed into law bills which will provide incentives for business to remain in Michigan and expand. All the bills were thought to be tie-barred together, meaning if they did not all get signed into law, none of them could become law. But there was a technical loophole in the language that allowed the Governor’s initiatives to move forward. With the Single Business Tax repeal being the major issue, my prediction for a long battle looks sound. Resolution of political issues is seldom easy.

In a nutshell, here is the argument: The Governor wants the sunset provision in the SBT to continue, while the Republican controlled legislature wants it repealed. If repealed, the Governor argues, the lost of revenue from the SBT as a state revenue source will fall upon the citizens to replace. She insists that there be a business dependent replacement source of revenue.

The following are bills which were addressed during the month of November and may be of interest to retirees/seniors:

HB 4834 is now Public Act 244. This new act places controls on the practices of so-called payday lending firms which make short-term loans which are repaid when the borrower receives his/her paycheck. Among the primary provisions of the act are requirements that such firms must be licensed by the Office of Financial and Insurance Services by June 1, 2006; that the maximum outstanding loan cannot exceed $600; and that a sliding scale is established for the amount to be charged for a loan. The scale ranges from 15% for a $100 loan to 11% for a loan of $500 to $600. The act also requires that certain notices must be displayed at the premises of the lending firm and the loan agreement must contain certain information.

HB 5237 is now Public Act 235 commonly known as the Telecommunications Act. This act represents a rewrite of the previous Telecommunications Act which had a sunset provision requiring that it be revisited and rewritten. While dealing with many technical provisions of the telecommunications industry, the major impact on the average citizen is the cost of telephone services. The act defines and regulates the “primary basic local exchange service.” Such service is defined as the provision of one primary access line to a residential customer for voice communication that includes at least 100 outgoing calls per month, at least 12,000 outgoing minutes per month, and unlimited incoming calls. The telephone service provider must offer primary basic local exchange service within the service area where it was offering residential basic local exchange services. The provider must set the rate for primary basic local exchange service by April 1, 2006 and is prohibited from establishing a rate higher than the rates for the lowest-cost calling plan that included a limited number of outgoing calls. The new sunset provision in the act is December 31, 2009. There was heavy lobbying by the telephone industry regarding many of the provision of this act.

HB 5268 would define and make torture a felony crime subject to life in prison or any term of years. Any person “who, with the intent to cause cruel or extreme physical or mental pain and suffering, inflicts great bodily injury or severe mental pain or suffering upon another person within his or her custody or physical control commits torture . . .” This bill was prompted by an individual’s specific act of domestic violence which pointed that there was no Michigan statute against torturing a person. The bill has passed both the House and the Senate and is on its way to the Governor for signature.

HB 5325 is a recently introduced bill which would require a hospital, during flu season, to inform each elderly person who is admitted to the hospital for a period of 24 hours or more that the influenza vaccine is available. The exception to this requirement is if a flu vaccine shortage has been declared. If the elderly person requests to be vaccinated and a medical practitioner determines the vaccine is in the patient’s best interest the vaccination would have to be given and documented in the patient’s medical record. An elderly person is defined as 65 years or older. Flu season is defined as that period between September 1 and April 1. The bills have been reported out of the Committee on Senior Health, Security, and Retirement and is on the House floor awaiting action.

HBs 5402 & 5403 are recently introduced bills which would provide an exemption from the state’s sales and use taxes for energy-efficient home appliances. The exemption would apply to a clothes washer, dehumidifier, refrigerator, dishwasher, freezer, room air conditioner, air cleaner, or water cooler that meets or exceeds the applicable energy star energy efficiency guidelines developed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy. The bills are in the Committee on Energy and Technology.

HB 5104 recently passed the House and would set a speed limit of 60 miles per hour on a freeway for trucks with a gross weight of 10,000 pounds and truck-tractors with trailers. The current speed limit for these types of vehicles is 55 miles per hour. Additionally, the bill would set the speed limit on freeways for a vehicle pulling another vehicle or trailer at 60 miles per hour. The current speed limit for a passenger car pulling another vehicle or trailer is 55 miles per hour while the presumptive speed limit for a pickup truck pulling another vehicle or is trailer is 70 miles per hour. The new 60 miles per hour provision would apply to all vehicles towing another vehicle or trailer. The bill has passed the House and gone to the Senate Committee on Transportation.

HB 4959 is the very controversial bill dealing with importation of wine from out of state. An agreement has been reached whereby out-of-state vineyards may ship up to 1500 cases of wine per year directly to Michigan citizens and in-state vineyards may do likewise. In-state vineyards will be able sell directly to retail stores and restaurants, but out-of-state wineries must sell through Michigan beer and wine dealers. This arrangement makes a distinction between in-state and out-of-state wineries relating to selling to commercial establishments. This may not meet legal muster. Should it be found to be illegal, the entire bill will be null and void in accordance with a provision in the bill. The bill is on its way to the Governor for signature.

HB 4706 would permit bars and restaurants which have prescribed hours, established by the state Liquor Control Commission, for selling alcoholic beverages to obtain an extended hours permit allowing the establishment to provide certain types of activities and entertainment after the serving of alcohol has ended. Such permits could be issued for hosting the performance or playing of an orchestra, piano, or other types of musical instrument, or singing, or any publicly broadcast television transmission from a federally licensed station. The purpose of the extended hours permit would be to expand the business opportunities of the establishments granted permits. Permits could not be granted for certain types of activities such as gambling, continued serving and/or consumption of alcohol, topless activity. The bill is on the way to the Governor for signature.

SB 693 is a bill which would clarify the concept of eminent domain and prohibit the taking of private property for transfer to a private entity unless the proposed use of the land was to accomplish some governmental purpose in which the property and its use would be subject to public oversight and accountability after the transfer and be devoted to public use independent of the will of the entity taking it. Another consideration would be that the property was selected on facts of independent public significance or concern, including blight, rather than the private interests of the entity to which the property would eventually be transferred. The bill has passed the Senate and is the House Committee on Government Operations. There is a Senate Joint Resolution pending which, if passed, would put the same philosophy embodied in SB 693 on the ballot as a state Constitutional amendment.


Energy savings measure — Peter Lark, Chair of the Michigan Public Service Commission is urging citizens to convert from incandescent light bulbs to fluorescent ones. He advocates this based on their energy saving qualities, cost savings, and pollution reduction (less green gas emissions). The fluorescent bulbs cost more initially but use less energy.

Camp site reservations — The Department of Natural Resources has announced that citizens can now reserve specific camp sites at any of the seventy parks. Interactive maps allowing for specific site reservations become effective January 1, 2006. The actual site may be reserved as opposed to a certain type of site. The January 1st launch date will allow selection of campsites for June and beyond reservation dates.

Record Lottery revenue — The Commissioner of the Michigan State Lottery reported the second consecutive year of record revenue for the Michigan School Aid Fund. The fund received some $667.8 million for the 2004-5 fiscal year. Last fiscal year also saw a record transfer to the Fund of some $644.8 million from the Lottery. The increase is attributable to the Keno game.

Revise policy for public meeting sign-in — The Department of Management and Budget has announced that it is revising it procedure for the public to sign in when attending a public meeting in a state-owned building. The former procedure was thought to be in violation of the Open Meetings Act by requiring individuals to sign in and wear an identification tag with their name on it. Under the new procedure, individuals will not be required to sign in, and will be given a tag with a number on it before being escorted to the actual meeting site.

Treasury Building renamed — The Michigan Department of Treasury Building on Ottawa Street has been renamed the Richard Austin State Office Building in honor of the longtime late Secretary of State. (The Secretary of State offices are located in the Treasury Building.) Mr. Austin was the longest serving Michigan Secretary of State and died in 2001. The Governor signed legislation renaming the building after him. A ceremony attended by the Governor and Mr. Austin’s family was held to mark the renaming.

MDOT Director’s tenure questionable — Rumors have been floating around Lansing that Michigan Department of Transportation Director Gloria Jeff is on her way out. As various media reports of the rumors explain, there is tension between Ms. Jeff and Governor Granholm. When both individuals have been publicly questioned about the rumor, they are non committal in their responses.

People in the News

Herb Kehrl, a first-term Democrat State Representative from Monroe, died recently after a relatively short illness. He was 63. Mr. Kehrl, a retired educator, realized his lifelong dream when he was elected to the House. His position will be filled by special election.

Gary Woronchak, a former Republican State Representative from Dearborn, announced he is switching parties and is now a Democrat. He indicated he felt philosophically closer to the Democrats.

Clarence Phillips, a Democrat State Representative from Pontiac was elected Mayor of that City and Virg Bernero, a Democrat Senator from Lansing was elected Mayor of Lansing. Both will leave the legislature to assume their new positions. Their legislative positions will be filled by special elections.

Burton Leland, a Democrat State Representative from Detroit, has asked the Wayne County Board of Commissioners to appoint him to a vacancy created by a commissioner being elected to the Detroit City Council. If appointed, Mr. Leland who is term-limited, would have to resign from the legislature and his seat would be filled by special election.

Mike Cox, Attorney General and Geoffrey Fieger, a prominent Detroit area attorney and former gubernatorial candidate, made headlines recently. Mr. Fieger was accused of attempting to blackmail Mr. Cox, through an intermediary, by threatening to expose Mr. Cox’ alleged involvement in two extra marital affairs. Mr. Cox is investigating Mr. Fieger for an alleged major campaign contribution violation. Mr. Cox then held a press conference and admitted to one of the affairs. He asked the Oakland County prosecutor to investigate the alleged blackmail attempt. This was done and no charges were filed although the Republican prosecutor said he was 100% sure that there was some truth to the allegation. This statement cause the prosecutor to be criticized for making that comment but not filing charges. The story gets weirder and weirder.

Dick De Vos, the announced Republican candidate for Governor, has indicated his opposition to the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, the anti-affirmative action issue which will be on the November, 2006 ballot.

Jerry Hollister, son of former Lansing Mayor and former State Representative David Hollister, has announced he will be a candidate for the 68th District seat which at one time was held by his father and is now held by term-limited Representative Michael Murphy.

Jim Marcinkowski, Deputy City Attorney of Royal Oak and a former CIA agent, has announced he will run as a Democrat against 8th District Republican Congressman Mike Rogers.

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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