Legislative Report

May 2006

The current political skirmishes in Lansing are all preliminary to the main event which will take place throughout the state within the next six months. The promoters, trainers, and hangers on are preparing the audience and the fighters for the final round in the November championship. The candidates who will star in the main event are, of course, Governor Granholm, the current Democrat titleholder and Richard DeVos who is seeking to bounce her from office and become the Republican titleholder. While the odds makers are saying the candidates are in a statistical dead heat for the title, the Governor has not officially began training while challenger DeVos has set up training camp and spent millions of dollars in an attempt to establish himself as a formidable candidate.

In the meantime, the two candidates are showing what their best punches will likely be. Mr. DeVos’ best punch will be his background as a businessman who can bring jobs to Michigan while Governor Granholm attacks his handlers for being responsible for the fiscal climate in Michigan by being pro-business and not interested in the plight of the average citizen. They lob punches at each other in the form of failure by Mr. DeVos to disclose his finances and Governor Granholm’s veto of the Single Business Tax. Each side gives it views on the best way to reduce or control the cost of gasoline. Occasionally one candidate or the other will attempt to demonstrate to the public their statesmanship abilities by proposing solutions to problems which they know the other side will reject. So, we might as well take a ringside seat and watch the battle develop and be prepared to root for our fighter to make a tenth round knockout in November. It promises to be a long six months!

Nevertheless, life goes on. The following are some of the legislative activities and business of state government which may be of interest to retirees/seniors:

HB 5811 is a bill which has passed both houses and gone to the Governor for signature. This bill would amend the public act regulating home solicitation sales by exempting natural gas and electricity sales from certain provisions of the act if the sellers of these two products were a utility regulated by the Michigan Public Service Commission and complied with the orders of the PSC. The provision of the law requiring the seller to present a written agreement or offer to purchase that designates the date of the transaction as the date which the purchaser signs and stating that the purchaser may cancel the transaction without any penalty or obligation at any time before midnight on the third business day following the transaction date would not apply to PSC regulated natural gas or electricity purchases.

HB 4423 is a consumer protection measure which has passed both houses and gone to the Governor for signature. The bill would amend the act regulating home sales solicitation by making it an unfair or deceptive practice and a violation of the act for a telephone solicitor to misrepresent in a message left for a consumer on a telephone answering device or voice mail that he/she has a current business matter or transaction or a current business relationship with the solicitor and requesting the consumer to call back to discuss the matter. The Governor is expected to sign the bill.

HB 5887is a bill which has received much publicity as the result of the activity it is intended to address and the controversy over whether the bill will infringe on constitutionally protected free speech. This bill has gone to the Governor for signature. The bill would make it a crime to conduct the following actions within 500 feet of a funeral, memorial service, or viewing of a deceased person, or within 500 feet of a funeral procession or burial: making loud and raucous noise and refusing to stop upon request; making statements or gestures that would make a reasonable person feel intimidated, threatened or harassed; and engaging in any conduct that the person knew or should know would disrupt or adversely affect the services for the deceased individual. This bill is aimed at an organized group which travels the country and disrupts services for soldiers killed in Iran. The bills are tie-barred to other bills which reflect this activity in the penal code and sentencing guidelines.

SBs 465-468 are bills addressing health information privacy and health record retention. Medical records are already governed by the Federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). These bills are intended to buttress HIPAA by mandating the confidentiality of medical records and limiting the disclosure of certain information while ensuring that patients and health care providers can gain access to records required for patient care. SB 465 would do the following: (1) require an individual licensed under the Public Health Code to maintain a record on each patient just as health facilities and agencies are required to do (2) Require the record to be maintained for 7 years, or longer if required by law or generally accepted standards of medical practice. (3) Require an individual or agency unable to comply with the record maintenance mandate to contract with another entity to maintain the record (4) Require a licensee, facility, or agency, upon ceasing to practice or operate, to notify the Department of Community Health and the patients and either transfer or destroy medical records as specified (5) allow a record to be destroyed if it were less than 7 years old provided that the patient is notified and given the opportunity to request a copy and authorize the destruction (6) Set a maximum of $10,000 administrative fine for non-compliance with the requirements of the bill if it involved gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct (7) Require a licensee or applicant for licensure to provide the Department of Community Health with an affidavit concerning their maintenance of medical records. The companion bills amend other public acts to incorporate the requirements of SB 465. The bill has passed the Senate and gone to the House Health Policy Committee.

HB 5142-3 & 5153 & 5548 are controversial bills which would change the law pertaining to a person protecting himself/herself and home/property. The bills delineate when and where the duty to retreat does not apply; provide for criminal and civil immunity under certain circumstances; and regulate the investigation of incidents involving self-defense or the defense of others. HB 5142 would amend the criminal procedure code to allow a person to use deadly force in self-defense when a criminal was forcibly entering or intruding into a home or vehicle. It further provides a defense during prosecution for an allegation that a person acted unlawfully in the use or attempted use of deadly force in self-defense or the defense of another person. The bill spells out the specific circumstances where deadly force is justifiable and where force is justifiable based on reasonable fear. It also provides for exceptions to the reasonable fear concept and circumstances. The bills have passed the House and gone to the Senate Committee on Judiciary.


Debate on Massachusetts health insurance model — The State of Massachusetts has adopted a plan which mandates health coverage for all citizens of the state. The state has established a low-cost health insurance program and requires all residents not covered by other insurance plans to purchase a low-cost plan or be subject to a state tax penalty. Massachusetts becomes the first state to mandate universal coverage for its citizens. This plan is now being looked at by Michigan’s Governor and legislature to see if it could have possible application in Michigan. Nevertheless, some Massachusetts residents question how they are going to purchase even the low-cost insurance coverage.

Governor’s gas petition drive — Governor Granholm has begun a petition drive on her website to implore Congress and the President to stop the windfall profits being experienced by the large oil companies and initiating price control measures to reduce the cost of gasoline. Officials of the State of Wisconsin have indicated they would join with Governor Granholm in this effort. Those wishing to sign the e-mail petition to the President and Congress can go to www.michigan.gov/lowergasprices to express their concern.

Wal-Mart settlement — Attorney General Cox has reached a settlement with Wal-Mart over their violations of the item pricing law. Terms of the settlement are as follows: The total cost is $1.5 million broken down as follows: $750,000 in fines and $30,000 in cost for the investigation by the Attorney General; $620,000 to be held in an account to pay for future violations with the possibility of getting it back if substantially in compliance. There will be 30 audits over the next two years with penalties to be paid out of the $620,000. Wal-Mart also will give $100,000 to Michigan Food Banks.

Consumers Energy overcharge — In a settlement approved by the Public Service Commission, Consumers Energy Company will refund some $1.9 million, representing overcharges, to its customers in the form of reduced charges on future bills. The individual bill reductions will be relatively small.

State plaintiff in pension fund lawsuit — Michigan is a plaintiff in a securities fraud lawsuit against HealthSouth Corporation claiming that the Corporation overstated its income which wiped out some $2.8 billion in profits over a number of years. As a result, the pensions administered by the Office of Retirement Systems (State Employees, School Employees, State Police, and Judges) lost some $33 million in pension funds.

Michigan Supreme Court to issue advisory opinion on voter ID — The Supreme Court has agreed to review and issue an opinion on the constitutionality of a requirement, contained in a recently passed law that takes effect January 1, 2007, that citizens have to show identification containing a photograph when voting. The opinion was requested by the legislature. The Court has requested Attorney General Cox to provide legal briefs on both sides of the issue, after which it will render an opinion. Justice Marilyn Kelley opposed the Court reviewing the issue because the request did not state a legal basis for the opinion. She pointed out that other litigants would have their cases thrown out for failure to pose a legal question.

People in the News

Robert Kleine — a veteran state employee has come out of retirement to accept appointment as State Treasurer. Mr. Kleine is the author of the controversial Single Business Tax and an economist by profession.

Elford Cedarberg, a former Republican Congressman who represented the Bay City area for 25 years, died recently at the age of 88. He served in the U.S. Congress from ’52 until ’78.

Gerald Graves, a former state representative from Alpena who was elected at age 27, and who later became Mayor of Lansing and served in that capacity for 12 years, died at the age of 82.

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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