Legislative Report

January 2006

After vetoing the initial bill passed by the legislature dealing with the single business tax, the Governor requested another bill which would be acceptable to her. The Legislature complied and the Governor signed the bill. Perhaps Gongwer News Service described the year-long battle between the Governor and legislative leadership best with the following statement contained in its December 16th report:

“In the snows of January, Governor Jennifer Granholm unveiled her proposal to reform Michigan’s Single Business Tax, a plan she said would save $1.1 billion for most businesses while not affecting the state’s bottom line. In the snows of December, Ms. Granholm announced this week she would sign an SBT proposal that would save businesses, particularly manufacturing businesses, about $600 million over four years.

“But from one winter to the next, and the seasons in between, the effort to achieve an SBT measure went through a calendar’s worth of storms and sunshine that saw splits between businesses, both houses of the Legislature going down different though related tracks on the legislation, legislative/executive negotiations, maneuverings, brinksmanship and finally success on legislation that came as the state’s leading industry found itself confronting potentially life and death challenges.”

As the saying goes, “All is well that ends well.” All sides agree, however, that this is only the initial step and the description of the above activities will probably be continued and repeated in 2006.

Issues dealing with businesses and the economy were not the only matters considered by the Governor and the legislature during the month of December. The following are some legislative/executive activities which may be of interest to seniors/retirees:

SB 757 is a bill passed on the very last day of the legislative session as a stopgap measure after the Governor vetoed a series of welfare reform bills presented earlier by the legislature. The Governor’s veto of the reform bills was based on her belief that the bills, which set time limits of welfare recipients’ eligibility, were not flexible enough and too restrictive. The bills would have removed able-bodied individuals from the welfare roles after 48 months of eligibility. The Governor said this put children and other vulnerable individuals at risk through no fault of their own. She said this was especially true in the job market climate Michigan finds itself in at the present time. SB 757 provides for continuation of Work First exemptions and sanctions for the state’s welfare system which were encompassed in the vetoed bills.

The following bills have been signed into law by the Governor:

SB 444 is now Public Act 314 of 2005. This law bans the possession, display, sale, or wearing of law enforcement uniforms and patches unless specifically authorized by conditions outlined in the bill (retired law enforcement officer or his/her family, actors in the theater, etc.). Violations are a felony punishable by not more than 93 days in jail and/or a $500.00 fine. A person may be convicted of other crimes associated with violations of this law.

SB 88 is now Public Act 306 of 2005. This law removes the requirement that health maintenance organizations (HMOs) co-payments and deductibles be a nominal amount. Instead, co-payments can be stated as dollar amounts for the cost of covered services and co-insurance can be stated as percentages for the cost of covered services. Co-insurance cannot exceed 50% of the HMO’s reimbursement rate. HMOs may offer “healthy lifestyle changes” to enhance health and reduce risk of disease. Also the prohibition against HMOs offering financial incentives to enrollees that support achieving optimal health goals is removed.

The Commissioner of the Office of Financial and Insurance Services will have to make a determination of the impact of these changes in terms of increases/decreases in enrollments in HMOs.

HB 4258 is now Public Act 266 of 2005. This law provides for a person to personally sign his/her signature when such signature is required by law or if the person is unable to write, “the person’s proper mark, which may be, unless otherwise expressly prohibited by law, a clear and classifiable fingerprint of the person made with ink or another substance.

HB 5233 is now Public Act 260 of 2005. This law removes the prohibition of a property-casualty insurance company giving a gift to an applicant or an insured as long as the gift does not exceed $10 in value.

HB 5353 is now Public Act 319 of 2005. This law allows for inclusion in an installment contract for the purchase of an automobile any part of the balance owed on a trade-in vehicle or the balance of a vehicle lease that the seller took in as part of a new purchase transaction. Interestingly, the law contains the following statement: “It is the intent of the legislature that this section be construed as declaring the law as it exists before this section is enacted and not as modifying it.”

HB 4655 is now Public Act 334. This act renames a section of highway US 24 beginning at the Ohio line and continuing to M 125 the “Iraqi Freedom Memorial Highway.” The bill was sponsored by the late Representative Herb Kehrl, who recently died, in honor of one of his constituents. It was amended to memorialize all American soldiers fighting in Iraq.

HB 5395 is now Public Act 258. This law renames I 96 between I 75 and US 24 the “Rosa Parks Memorial Highway” in honor of the recently deceased civil rights icon.

The following bills were introduced during the month of December:

HB 5524 is a bill which legally recognizes a living will as it relates to continuation, withholding, or withdrawal of medical treatment when the individual is unable to participate in medical treatment decisions him/herself. The existence of a living will does not supercede a patient advocate designation. The bill outlines the requirements for compliance by health professionals when made aware of the existence of a living will. The bill is in the Committee on Judiciary.

HB 5525 is a bill which simply allows a voter identification card to be sent to a post office box if such a post office box is where the citizen normally receives his/her personal mail and does not receive mail at his/her registration address. The bill has been assigned to the Committee on House Oversight, Elections, and Ethics.

HB 5470 is a bill which would legalize use of marijuana for medical purposes and outlines the circumstances that a physician could prescribe this substance and the controls which must be in place. To qualify for marijuana use for medical purposes, a physician would have to certify that the patient has a debilitating medical condition and the potential benefits of the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the risk to the patient of the medical use of marijuana. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Health Policy. It should be noted that the federal government still makes marijuana use by anyone for any purpose illegal and subject to prosecution.

HB 5511 would authorize the sale of “Thin Blue Line” license plates and create the fund and provide for distribution of revenue created through the sale of these plates. The purpose of the sale of the plates is to create funds to assist the families of disabled officers and fire fighters. $15 of the revenue from the sale of each plate would go to the Thin Blue Line Fund, $5 to the Police Officers’ and Firefighters’ Survivor Tuition Fund, and $5 to the Crime Victims Rights Fund. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Transportation.

HB 5527 would remove the ban on lawsuits against drug companies for drugs which have been approved by the Federal Drug Administration. The bill changes FDA approval from an absolute defense against lawsuits to a rebuttable presumption. Michigan is one of a few states which afford drug companies protections against lawsuits pertaining to use of their products if approved by the FDA. The bill has been referred to the Committee on House Oversight, Elections, and Ethics.


Insurance fraud unit — Attorney General Mike Cox has announced the establishment of an insurance fraud unit within his office. The unit, which is being funded by a grant from the Auto Theft Prevention Authority, will have three attorneys and three investigators. The Auto Theft Prevention Authority receives one dollar for every insured vehicle in Michigan.

Governor’s state of state address — Governor Granholm has requested that legislative leadership hold a joint session of the legislature on Wednesday, January 25, at 7 p.m. for the purpose of hearing her State of the State Message. The speech will be broadcast statewide.

Special elections — The Governor is deciding when to hold special elections for two vacancies in the House and one in the Senate. She can call for stand alone elections or incorporate them in the regularly scheduled elections. She has to weigh the cost of special elections against a district not being represented. The House vacancies were created by the death of Herb Kehrl of Monroe and the resignation of Clarence Phillips who was elected mayor of Pontiac. The third vacancy was created in the Senate when Virg Bernero resigned after being elected Mayor of Lansing.

Cox names special prosecutor — Attorney General Mike Cox has named Patrick Shannon of Chippewa County as special prosecutor to investigate allegations against prominent lawyer Geoffrey Fieger for violations of the Campaign Finance Act in financing an advertisement campaign to defeat a Supreme Court justice. Cox who was conducting the investigation, recused himself after Fieger was accused of trying to blackmail Cox by exposing Cox’ extramarital affairs. No charges were filed in the blackmail allegation. Shannon, a Democrat and former county prosecutor, was recommended by five former presidents of the Michigan Prosecutor’s Association.

State Employee pay increases — The Department of Civil Service has approved pay increases for non-represented employees of 2% beginning October 1, 2006 and another 2% beginning April 8, 2007. The Commission also approved a $1500 retention bonus for pharmacy managers with five years of service. Other adjustments were made for certain Corrections classifications.

Michigan Civil Rights Initiative — The anti-affirmative action proposal for which sufficient signatures were collected to put on the November ballot but which has not been certified because of allegations of fraud in obtaining petition signatures was ordered to be certified by the Court of Appeals. The members of the bi-partisan Board of Canvassers failed to certify the petitions after various people claimed they were mislead into signing the petitions. The Court of Appeals certified the petitions after the Board of Canvassers failed to follow its order to do so. The Court is considering contempt charges against two Democrat members of the Board - one who failed to vote and the other who voted to not certify. The Court gave the State Elections Director until January 20th to craft ballot language for the proposal.

People in the News

Ira Polly who served four governors as State Controller and Superintendent of Public Instruction died recently at the age of 88. He served in the administrations of Governors G. Mennen Williams, John Swainson, George Romney, and William Milliken. The well respected Mr. Polly ended his career as Assistant Provost at Michigan State University.

Hilda Gage, a Court of Appeals Court judge, announced she is resigning due to health reasons. Ms. Gage has suffered from Multiple Sclerosis for a number of years. She has served as a judge for twenty-seven years, 19 as an Oakland County Circuit Court judge and 8 as a Court of Appeals judge. Governor Granholm will name a replacement for Judge Gage to fill her unexpired term.

John Garfield, a Republican Representative from Rochester Hills, pleaded guilty to driving while impaired and was sentenced to 12 months probation, 40 hours of public service, serving on a MADD Impact panel, and random testing.

Jack Kovorkian, the seventy-seven year old doctor who is serving a prison sentence for assisted suicide, was denied early release for health reasons by Govenor Granholm. The Governor followed the recommendation of the Parole Board in refusing to grant Kovorkian’s request for early release for health reasons.

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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