As one would suspect, this being an election year, there is much interesting activity in the halls of state government these days. The Governor’s decisions are being made after evaluating the political impact on the November election and in response to pronouncements made by her gubernatorial rival, Dick DeVos. The Democrats and Republicans are pursuing legislation which puts their party in the best light and is most supportive of their party’s gubernatorial candidate. It all makes for interesting theater and politics.
The legislature is crafting bills which make political statements and cause the opposing party to express their philosophical differences through amendments to bills and tactical measures. A good example of this is the bill to correct what the Republicans call a problem with the recently passed minimum wage law. As passed, this law extends the minimum wage to groups of workers who previously were not covered such as restaurant wait staff, sales people, truck drivers, etc. As Republicans try to exempt these people from the law, the Democrats are fighting to keep them covered under the law. Obviously, this will be an issue in the upcoming campaign regardless of the outcome of the current battle. As the campaign heats up, Governor Granholm and Mr. DeVos appear to be in a statistical dead heat for the lead in the gubernatorial campaign.
The legislature held hearings on several controversial bills which have remained in committee for several months. Among the bills in this category is a bill to lift the immunity for lawsuits against drug companies when the drug has been approved by the Federal Drug Administration, various 2006-7 budget bills, a bill to transfer control of cable franchises from local government to state government, and a bill to transfer the duties of the State Board of Canvassers to the Bureau of Elections (the Governor vetoed the original bill passed to accomplish this). One bill which they will not deal with is HB 6117, the so called early out bill, which the Governor opposes and the chair of the legislative committee to which it has been assigned stated she will not take up.
Among the bills which saw action during the last month and which may be of interest to SERA NADE readers are the following:
SB 1202, which is now P.A. 246 of 2006, prohibits the use of personal identifying information of another person to obtain his/her confidential telephone record and from knowingly procuring, selling or receiving the confidential record of another person without his/her authorization. The act further prohibits the use or attempting to use personal identifying information to obtain credit, goods, services, money, a vital record, medical records or employment with the intent to defraud or violate the law or by concealing, withholding, or misrepresenting the violator’s identity. Law enforcement is exempt from the law if the actions are done within the official duties of the law enforcement official.
HB 4977 is now P.A. 184 of 2006. This act provides that the expiration date of a concealed weapons permit for permits issued on or after July 1, 2006 will coincide with the birth date of the individual holding the permit some four to five years after the date of issuance.
HBs 5142-3, 5153, 1185, and 5548 are on their way to the Governor for signing into law. These bills have been nicknamed the “Castle Doctrine” bills or the “Shoot First” law, depending on one’s views.
The soon-to-be act provides that an individual does not have to retreat while within his/her home or on his property if he/she believes ones life is in jeopardy. 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 accidents involving self-defense or the defense of others. This is a departure from what has previously been the standard for protection of property. The act spells out the specific circumstances where the use of deadly force in self-defense or the defense of others is justifiable and when force is justifiable based on reasonable fear. (See May-June SERA NADE).
HB 6009 is a bill which would make the third offense for driving under the influence a felony regardless when it occurred. Under present law, the first two offenses for driving under the influence are misdemeanors and should the third offense occur within ten years of the second offense, it is considered a felony. If the third offense occurs after the ten year period, a new ten year cycle begins. Under the proposed revision to the law, the third offense of driving under the influence, regardless when it occurred, would be classified and punished as a felony. The bill has passed the House and gone to the Senate Committee on Judiciary.
HB 4160 would increase the maximum amount of a claim which could be brought in Small Claims Court. Currently the limit on claims in the court is $3,000. The bill, as written, would raise the limit to $7,500. Individuals filing claims in Small Claims Court waive their right to legal representation and appeal. There appears to be some agreement that before the bill is finalized, the $7,500 cap in the bill will be reduced to a recovery limit of $5,000. The bill has passed the House and gone to the Senate where it is awaiting assignment to a committee at the time of this report.
HBs 5914-15 are bills which would criminalize the act of leaving a child less than six years of age unattended in a vehicle for a period of time that a reasonable person would determine posed a risk of harm or injury to the child. The bill would apply to a child six years of age or younger and unattended would mean alone without the supervision of an individual 13 years or age or older who is not legally incapacitated. The penalty would be a misdemeanor punishable for not more than 93 days in jail and/or a fine of not more than $500. If the violation resulted in physical injury other than serious physical injury to the child the penalty would be not more than one year in jail and/or a fine of not more than $1,000. If the violation resulted in serious physical harm it would be a felony punishable by imprisonment for up to 10 years and/or a fine of not more than $5,000. If the violation resulted in death of the child, the penalty would be imprisonment for not more than 15 years and/or a fine of not more than $10,000. The bill has passed the House and gone to the Senate Committee on Judiciary.
HBs 5661 and 5663 are bills which would allow automobile insurance companies to offer a premium discount to drivers 50 years of age or older who successfully complete a traffic accident prevention driver safety course certified by the Secretary of State. The discount would be provided for three years after successful completion of the course or a refresher course. The bills have passed the House and gone to the Senate Committee on Banking and Financial Institutions (HB 5661) and Committee on Transportation (5663) for consideration.
SB 1017 is a bill pertaining to the Public School Employees Retirement System. This bill would permit a retiree whose spouse was deceased and who later remarried, or a retiree who first married after his/her retirement, to select his/her current spouse as a retirement allowance beneficiary under certain conditions. Currently, if a retiree selects a beneficiary and the beneficiary dies before the retiree, the retirement allowance reverts to a straight retirement allowance payable for the remainder of the retiree’s life. This bill makes an exception to this general rule. The retirement allowance of someone who selected a beneficiary under this bill could not be greater than the actuarial equivalent of the retirement allowance he/she would otherwise be entitled to under a straight retirement benefit. If an individual became a retirement allowance beneficiary under the conditions spelled out in this bill, the individual would generally not be eligible for health insurance benefits. The bill is before the Committee of the Whole of the House.
HB 4042 is a bill which would allow an individual holding a concealed weapons permit to renew such a permit without being fingerprinted provided the individual was fingerprinted at the time of application for the initial permit and has prints on file. The bill was on the House Floor at the time of this report.
SBs 1315-23 are a package of bills addressing jury issues. The bills, among other things, would make it more difficult to get out of jury duty, increase daily pay for jury duty, allow jurors to pose written questions to witnesses through the judge, permit discussion of evidence during recess, limit service on a jury to once every twenty-four months, and provide penalties for not reporting or failing to serve on jury duty. These bills have recently been introduced and been assigned to the Committee on Judiciary.
HBs 5193-4 & 6135 are bills which would require a prisoner convicted of a sexual crime to provide the location of his intended residence to the Department of Corrections prior to his/her release from prison. Refusal to do so or incorrectly reporting the residency information would constitute a felony. The Department of Corrections would then be required to inform the local sheriff or the state police of the location to which a person convicted of a sexual crime, and consequently required to be on the sex offender registery, is to live prior to his/her being released from prison. Under current law, such a prisoner has ten days after his release to inform authorities of his residence. The bill has passed the House and gone to the Senate Committee on Judiciary for consideration.
Prescription Drug Website — The state has established a website which allows individuals to perform price comparison for prescription drugs. Individuals can search for commonly used medications by price, pharmacy, or by region. This allows them to find the cheapest medications in their area. The site has links to other discount programs. The site address is www.michigandrugprices.com.
Single Point of Entry Grants — Governor Granholm has announced the awarding of five single point of entry demonstration grants which will allow informed decisions and better choices to be made regarding long-term care issues. These demonstration grants will allow for dignified, person-centered and quality lifestyles for those needing long-term care. The grants were awarded to: Detroit ($13.1 million); Southwest Michigan Area on Aging ($7.18 million);UP Commission on Area Programs ($5.4 million); Western Michigan HHS Options and AAA of Western Michigan ($9.15 million). The grants will last for 27 months and be administered by the Department of Community Health.
Interest Rates on Delinquent Payments — The Department of Treasury has announced an increase in the interest rates taxpayers will have to pay for delinquent tax payments. Effective July 1, the rate will increase from 7.2% to 8.2%. The state will pay taxpayers the same interest rate on delayed refunds. By law, the rate is set at 1% over the rate charged for commercial paper.
Michigan Civil Rights Initiative — The Department of Civil Rights has issued a report calling for follow-up action by the Supreme Court and the Attorney General regarding the allegations of fraudulently collected signatures for getting the controversial anti-affirmative action initiative, known as the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, on the November ballot. Petition signers claim they were mislead regarding the thrust of the initiative. The Department of Civil Rights report asks the Attorney General to formally investigate the allegations and it asks the Supreme Court to specify who has the authority to take action on the allegations. In a separate move, the Speaker and Majority Leader of the House asked the Attorney General and the Auditor General to investigate the Civil Rights Commission and the Department of Civil Rights for the role they played in investigating citizen complaints. Meanwhile, practically every major state organization of note has come out in opposition to the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative.
Stop Overspending Initiative — A major battle is developing regarding the proposed constitutional amendment to limit state spending to the rate of inflation and the state’s population growth. Many business organizations, unions, chambers of commerce and human service agencies have come out strongly in opposition to the proposal. It is believed that vital state services would have to be cut if the proposal were to pass. This was the experience of the State of Colorado after a similar bill was passed.
People in the News
Nancy Williams Gram who served as First Lady of Michigan as the wife of G. Mennen Williams from 1949 to 1961, died recently at the age of 91. She lived in Savanah, Georgia with her second husband whom she married in 1989, a year after the death of the former Governor and Supreme Court Justice.
Judy Wolpe, the wife of former gubernatorial candidate Howard Wolpe, died as the result of a swimming accident at the age of 62. She was divorced from David Hollister, former legislator and Mayor of Lansing. In 1992, she married Howard Wolpe.
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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