The political scene in Lansing was a mixed one during March. There was legislative action on school issues (curriculum mandates and employee scrutiny), some of the 2006-7 budget bills, passage of a minimum wage bill which the Governor signed, and passage of a bill repealing the Single Business Tax (SBT)which the Governor vetoed. Of course, the most significant action politically was the passage and veto of the SBT. Legislative action would have eliminated the SBT as of December 31, 2007, some two years before it is currently scheduled to disappear. On that date, there would be an immediate shortfall of some $1.8 billion. In vetoing the bill, the Governor is insisting that the Republican controlled legislature pass corresponding legislation indicating how the gigantic shortfall will be eliminated. Until she knows what type of measures will be instituted to replace the SBT, she will not sign a bill phasing it out. We’ll have to wait and see what will be the next political move.
We know that Oakland County Prosecutor L. Brooks Patterson is heading a petition drive to obtain the required number of signatures to get the SBT issue on the November ballot. If the petition drive is successful, the voters will be the final arbiters of the SBT elimination issue. Unfortunately, we will all hear more about the Single Business Tax than we would like as the petition drive and the gubernatorial campaign heat up!
Some of the political and legislative activities occurring during the month of March which may be of interest to seniors/retirees are as follows:
HB 4811 is a bill that has languished in the House since September because the Republican leadership refuses to bring it to a vote. This bill would remove the current prohibition against bringing lawsuits against drug companies involving drugs which have been approved by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration. As a tactical move, Democrat House members have begun calling for a roll call vote on all motions to give a passed bill immediate effect. Immediate effect requires a larger number of votes than the Republicans can provide. The idea is to force the leadership to call for a vote on HB 4811 in order to obtain the Democrats’ cooperation in giving bills immediate effect.
SB 128 was contained in last month’s report. The bill has been signed into law and is now Public Act 46 of 2006. This act would allow for e-mail notification by the State Police when a registered sex offender moves into the zip code of a citizen who signs up for such notification. The information will give the location of the residence of the registered sex offender.
HBs 5176 – 78 & SB 783 have been signed into law and are acts addressing the issue of foreign garbage disposal. The bills are now Public Acts 56, 57, 58, and 59 of 2006. The federal courts have ruled that states cannot prohibit the import of solid waste because doing so violates the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. Proposals have been introduced in the U.S. House and Senate to authorize states to enact laws pertaining to solid waste generated outside of the United States. In passage and signing of the Public Acts cited above, Michigan is putting in place a ban on such solid waste in anticipation of federal legislation giving states control of this matter. The laws would prohibit a person from delivering solid waste that was generated outside of the United States to a landfill or incinerator in this state and prohibit the owner of a landfill or incinerator from accepting such waste. The bills also provide sanctions for anyone who knowingly violated these laws. Further, the courts would be required to order a violator to return or pay the state the cost of returning the solid waste that was the subject of the violation. None of the bills would apply unless Congress enacted legislation allowing state regulation.
HB 4502 is a bill which would provide harsher sanctions for gas station operators who cheat consumers in the amount of gas dispensed from a pump. A person who intentionally sells or offers for sell less than the quantity represented is guilty of a misdemeanor and may be fined between $1000 and $10,000 or imprisoned for one year, or both. Additionally, the bill provides that an owner of a gas station that intentionally delivers less gas than indicated by the pump would face civil fines as follows: first offense -$5,000; second offense — $10,000; and third offense or more — $25,000. The bill has passed the House and gone to the Senate where it has been reported out of the Committee on Agriculture, Forestry, and Tourism.
HBs 5686 – 88 would provide funding for home heating credits for certain individuals in the event that the current credits are not fully funded by federal low income home energy assistance program grants. The bills provide that the first $60 million from the Oil and Gas Severance tax go to the State’s General Fund with the next $6 million to the new Home Heating Credit Fund created in this series of bills. The bills are on the House floor after being reported out of the House Energy and Technology committee.
HB 4228 is a bill intended to prohibit a practice used by a number of city clerks of sending out absentee ballot applications to all senior citizens. The law does not provide for this courtesy to be extended to seniors. The bill would prohibit a local election official from sending an absentee voter ballot application unless the elector requested one. Officials could provide a form, approved by the Secretary of State, to be used by citizens for requesting an absentee ballot with citizen designating all elections to which the request pertains, thus establishing a permanent absentee ballot request. Basically this bill legalizes a practice that is currently in place in many communities. The bill has passed the House and gone to the Senate Committee on government operations.
HB 5659 is a bill intended to clean up local voter registration lists. This bill would allow a municipal government to adopt a resolution to cancel a voter registration if the voter failed to vote in five successive elections that included at least two general elections. The bill would also allow municipal officials to compare their voter registration records against a national data base containing death records and purge their voter registration records of names of people who have died. Further, the bill provides for cities having a population of more than 500,000 (Detroit) may compare the addresses on voter registration records with addresses of buildings which have been demolished. If the voter registration address matches that of a building which has been demolished, the voter registration would be required to be cancelled. The bill has been reported out of committee and is on the House floor for consideration.
HB 5852 is a bill which would encourage local jurisdictions to hold special elections for the House and Senate on one of the four consolidated elections dates (late February, early May, August, and November). If a local jurisdiction chose to hold a special election on one of these dates, the state would reimburse the local unit for “valid costs” as determined by the Departments of Treasury and State. Local units of government sometime cannot afford to hold a special state legislative election and thus citizens go unrepresented in Lansing for long periods of time. The intent of this bill is to avoid such situations. The bill has passed the House and gone to the Senate Committee on Judiciary.
HBs 4745-46 would permit health insurers such as HMOs and Blue Cross/Blue Shield to refuse to provide or pay for a health care benefit or service on ethical, moral, or religious grounds as reflected in its articles of incorporation or bylaws or by an adopted mission statement. Such refusal could not be the basis of a civil or criminal lawsuit or administrative liability. The insurance companies could not refuse to provide services on the grounds stated if the service was specifically covered under a contract, policy, or certificate. The bill has been reported out of the Committee on Insurance and is on the House floor.
Special Election Dates — Dates for the special elections to fill House vacancies have been set. The elections will run concurrently with the August primary and the November general election. Vacancies will be filled for the 29th (Pontiac), 56th (Monroe), and 69th (East Lansing) House seats.
Affirmative Action Issue on Ballot — The anti-affirmative action measure known as the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative will be on the ballot in November. The issue was finally settled when the Michigan Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal regarding the alleged fraudulent solicitation of signatures.
Recognition of Michigan 211 — The Michigan Public Service Commission has officially adopted 211 as the official helpline number for those experiencing a crisis or for the elderly needing assistance. It is the social services equivalent of the emergency 911 number. The Federal Communications Commission has nationally reserved 211 for this purpose. Currently there are call eight centers in 24 of the State’s eighty three counties. To find out whether your county has an operating 211 call system, contact your local United Way agency.
Utilization of Lifeline Service Discount — The Michigan Public Service Commission has reported that the Lifeline discount authorized for telephone service under the recently passed Telecommunications act is not being fully utilized. This discount is available for certain low income individuals even if they earn above the income limit of 150% of poverty. If you believe you are or may be eligible, contact your telephone company.
Item Pricing Violation Allegation — Attorney General Mike Cox has filed complaints against Wal-Mart for item pricing violations. Tests performed at five stores revealed between 20% and 75% compliance with the state’s item pricing law. The Okemos store was the highest with the 75%. Wal-Mart has 10 days to comply with the cited infractions and pay fines and the $30,000 cost of the investigation. Incidentally, the Michigan Retailers Association is pushing for “modernization” changes or relaxing of some provisions in Michigan’s item pricing law which is one of the strongest in the country.
Time/Life Settlement Announced — Attorney General Cox has announced a settlement with Time/Life publishers. The publishing company was accused of automatically renewing subscriptions without authorization. Individuals who had automatic renewals occur between 1998 and 2004 will receive refunds. The total settlement refund amount is $210, 855. The state will also receive $75,000 for the cost of its investigation. This is part of a $8.8 million lawsuit settlement filed by a group of attorneys general.
Gubernatorial Candidate Files Complaint — Dick De Vos the Republican candidate for Governor filed a complaint against Governor Granholm with the Secretary of State alleging campaign finance violations. The Governor participated in radio advertisements for DTE Energy promoting an anti shut-off campaign for those unable to pay their utility bills. De Vos claimed this constituted free campaign advertisement on the Governor’s behalf by DTE. The Department of State ruled that such an advertisement was appropriate and not in violation of the campaign finance act.
People in the News
Gretchen Whitmer, a state representative won election to the senate to replace Virg Bernero, now mayor of Lansing. She defeated Republican opponent Vince Green by a 4 to 1 margin.
Richard Vanderveen, a former Democrat Congressman from Grand Rapids died recently at the age of 83. Mr. Vanderveen succeeded Gerald Ford as a U.S. Representative in 1976 after Ford became President.
Coleman Young, Jr., son of the legendary former state senator and mayor of Detroit, has announced his candidacy for the House seat being vacated by term-limited Mary Waters. Young, Jr is currently a legislative analyst for the Detroit City Council.
Verlie Ruffin was confirmed by the Senate as the state’s Childrens’ Ombudsman. She is a social worker who most recently worked for the Michigan Association of Children and Families.
Gary Peters, state Lottery Commissioner; Greg Pitoniak, a former state representative and currently a Treasury Department official; and Doug Drake, a retired Management and Budget official (and Chairperson of the State Employees Retirement Board) are under consideration for appointment as State Treasurer, according to Gongwer News Service.
William Van Regenmorter a state representative from Jenison and former state senator who has been in the legislature since 1982 announced he will not seek reelection. He was eligible to serve one more term before being term-limited.
Gloria Jeff who recently resigned as Director of the Department of Transportation, has accepted a position of Director of Transportation for the City of Los Angeles.
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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