Legislative Report

August 2006

It is the season of politics at its best or worst, depending on one’s point of view. There is no escaping the political campaigns unless we don’t open our mail, or listen to the radio, or watch television, or read the newspapers or answer our doors. It is interesting to watch candidates of the same party beat up on each other during the primary race. Afterward, the winning candidates of the respective parties will slug it out leading up to the November general election and try to emerge as an honorable elected official. As in most years, the campaigns appear to be bitterly fought and in many instances down right ugly. It is the good ole American political system!

Detroit Free Press columnist Brian Dickerson, in an article written several months ago, suggested that we do not perform due diligence in electing people to public office. He said we attempt to find out what political candidates think about issues instead of what their track record reflects what they are capable of doing. Dickerson suggested that we examine the work history of our babysitters or contractors we hire to fix our homes more thoroughly than we examine the work history of those we elect to attend to and fix the problems of government. He suggested we shy away from professional politicians and, as a result, get amateur politicians to run our governments. He concluded that, “We get public servants who are incompetent to accomplish the most basic tasks of governance because we’ve neither given enough thought to what those tasks are nor kept them in mind as we evaluate applicants for public office.” A word to the wise as we head into the November general election!

A number of bills were signed into law during the last month and may be of interest to retirees/seniors:

HBs 4870, 4891 and 5836 are now Public Acts 299, 300, and 301, respectively. These three new laws address issues of burial arrangements. Public Act 299 uses the order of priority as contained in the Estates and Protected Individuals Code as the presumed order of priority of individuals who would have the rights and powers to make decisions about the body of a person who dies without a will. Should no one in the order of priority exist, exercise the rights and powers, or be located, the rights and powers could then be exercised by a guardian or personal representative, or the county administrator or medical examiner. Further the bill allows an individual to challenge in circuit court the presumed order of priority as described above and seek to get authority to make decisions about the body of the deceased person. A funeral home having custody of the body could petition the probate court if a dispute arose concerning who has authority to make these decisions. Finally, the act specifies that the funeral home, mortician, cemetery, or crematory would be able to rely on the instructions of the person in the order of priority or determined by the court in disposing of the body. The act specifies the activities for which the funeral home, etc. would not be responsible or liable. Public Acts 300 and 301 change other applicable sections of the former laws to be consistent with Public Act 299 as described above.

HB 5953 is now Public Act 288. This new law specifies that for any divorce or separate maintenance action filed on or after September 1, 2006, the assignment of rights in and to any pension, annuity, or retirement benefits also would have to include a proportionate share of all components of those benefits unless the judgment expressly excluded one or more components. Components would include supplements, subsidies, early retirement benefits, postretirement benefit increases, surviving spouse benefits, and death benefits. Regardless of the characterization of the benefit, the new law would apply unless the judgment of divorce or judgment of separate maintenance expressly excluded a particular characterization or classification.

HBs 5142-3, 5153, 1185 and 5548 are now Public Acts 309- 14. This is the new law that is commonly known as the castle doctrine. These bills which are now law were reported on in last month’s Legislative Report. Basically they provide that a person does not have to retreat if they believe one’s life is in danger when in his/her home or on his/her property. The person may take the offensive and defend his/herself by using deadly force and have the law as a defense if such action results in criminal or civil charges for the use of such deadly force. This was a very controversial piece of legislation that some believe will result in abuse and needless deaths because of the leeway it gives to those who believe they are threatened and kill or injure someone in defense of one’s property.

HB 5061 is now Public Act 267. This law allows state employees who are skilled in emergency relief assistance and certified as disaster services volunteers by the American Red Cross to be granted an unpaid leave of absence to provide disaster relief in Michigan. (For classified employees, the Civil Service Commission must enact rules to accomplish this.) Also, the law allows for the granting of paid leave to qualified employees for not more than 10 days in any 12 month period to participate in disaster relief inside or outside of Michigan provided all of the following has occurred: (1) the President or Governor declared a disaster (2) the American Red Cross had specifically requested the employee’s services (3) the employee’s department head had approved the leave (4) the governor approved the leave if the services were rendered outside the state by an executive branch employee, and (5) the Civil Service Commission approved the leave for a classified employee. No more than 50 employees could be granted paid leave during a fiscal year; however, the governor could increase that number by executive order.

HB 6213 is being held hostage by politicians. This bill corrects problems created when the minimum wage increase bill was passed several months ago. Certain employees became eligible for overtime by being covered by the bill increasing the minimum wage when they had not previously been eligible and were not intended to be made eligible under the bill granting the minimum wage increase. The subject bill was intended to rectify this situation and is being supported by certain segments of the business community. It has passed both houses of the legislature but is awaiting a vote on immediate effect which the Democrats refuse to support unless they get the Republican controlled legislature to include one of several key bills which the Democrats have been unable to get through the legislative process. It has become a game of who is going to blink first. Will the Democrats cave in and finally vote to give the bill immediate effect, which is sorely needed, or will the Republicans cave and include a Democrat sponsored bill as part of the package in order to get the Democrats’ vote on immediate effect for HB 6213?


Ballot Proposals — It appears that there will be seven constitutional amendment proposals on the ballot in November. Two very controversial proposals did not garner enough petition signatures to be included. These were the proposal for a unicameral legislature and the Michigan Citizens for Life proposal to virtually ban all abortions. The proposals that were certified by the Board of Canvassers and will appear on the ballot are:

  • A proposal to eliminate the Single Business Tax
  • Michigan Civil Rights Initiative to ban the use of affirmative action
  • Citizens for Education proposal to tie K-12 spending to the rate of inflation
  • Stop Over-Spending proposal limiting state spending increases to the rate of Inflation plus factoring in the state’s population changes
  • Referendum on PA 160 of 2004 which allowed dove hunting in Michigan
  • HJR “Z” intended to protect the DNR Trust Fund by establishing it constitutionally
  • A proposal to limit eminent domain for public purposes only

The above list could be reduced to six proposals if the legislature enacts a bill to eliminate the Single Business Tax within the 40 day time limit established by law after the required number of signatures is certified. The Elections Bureau anticipates having actual ballot language for each proposal available by the end of August. The language for the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative already has been established by court order.

Photo ID Requirement — A battle is brewing regarding a decade old law requiring a citizen to produce a photo ID if requested when going to the polls to vote. Attorney General Frank Kelley ruled at the time that the requirement was unconstitutional because it caused a financial barrier to the exercise of one’s voting rights for those who do not routinely have photo identification such as the disabled and poor. Formal Attorney General opinions have generally been considered to have the force of law unless challenged and subsequently overturned by a court. House Speaker Craig DeRoche has challenged the long standing practice of the Attorney General issuing opinions on the legality of laws and in so doing drawn the ire of fellow Republican Attorney General Mike Cox. The exchange between the two has been very public and bitter. The issue of the photo ID is now before the Michigan Supreme Court and the Democratic legislative caucuses of both chambers, the Legislative Black Caucus, and the Democratic Party have filed briefs with the Supreme Court defending the practice of the Attorney General ruling on the constitutionality of laws when officially requested to do so. The Civil Rights Commission and Civil Rights Department have also filed briefs in support of the Attorney General’s power in this regard. A Supreme Court decision on the legal impact of Attorney General opinions is expected soon.

Freedom of Information Act Clarification — The Michigan Supreme Court has clarified the application of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in certain circumstances. In a case involving local government, the Court ruled that documents advancing “frank communications” are exempt from FOIA. Such documents are defined as (1) advisory in nature (2) within or between public bodies (3) covers more than purely factual issues (4) is preliminary to a final agency determination. The Court said that an entity, when challenged, must show that frank communications is in the public interest and thus outweighs or trumps the public interest in disclosure.

People in the News

John Fitzgerald, a member of a legendary political family from Grand Ledge died at the age of 81. He served on the Michigan Supreme Court from 1973 to 1983. He followed his grandfather and father into politics and was the father of a former state senator, the late Frank Fitzgerald.

Chris DeRose, Director of the Office of Retirement Systems, is one of four finalist candidates for the directorship of the Ohio Public Employee Retirement System. The other three candidates are directors of state retirement systems in Louisiana, Maryland, and Colorado.

Marc Shulman, a former state representative who served as chair of the Appropriations Committee, has announced that he is a candidate for the Michigan Supreme Court. He will seek nomination at the Republican Convention in August.

Lt. Governor John Cherry has been chosen as president of the Lt. Govenors Association, Gary Gordon, a veteran assistant attorney general, is retiring from the Office of the Attorney General. He has served in several supervisory capacities during his tenure. Most recently, he has held the position of Chief Deputy Attorney General. He will be succeeded in this position by Carol Issacs.

Maryann Mahaffey, a 30 year member of the Detroit City Council, died recently at the age of 81. Ms. Mahaffey served as president of the Council several times during her tenure and is remembered as the champion of the voiceless and the downtrodden and as one of the most popular political figures ever to grace the Detroit political scene.

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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