Legislative Report

November 2006

Both locally and nationally, it appears that during the recent 2006 political campaign we witnessed some of the most contentious, non-civil and in many cases downright ugly campaigns in American history. Many of these campaigns did not distinguish themselves by upholding the civil-toned tradition of American politics. Too many candidates of both parties conducted campaigns which appealed to the basest instincts of human nature.

If this trend continues, individuals will be reluctant to become candidates for public office inasmuch as their entire life is examined for possible cannon fodder to be used by the opposing candidate. The legitimacy and truthfulness of the accusations is immaterial. Most disturbing is the fact that the candidates can disassociate themselves from the negative campaign advertising because many of the advertisements are paid from independent organizations such as the major national political parties. After the rocks are thrown, the candidate on whose behalf they were thrown can feign legal innocence.

The system is broken. We as citizens should demand that it be fixed and that candidates distinguish themselves by merely debating the issues and not disparaging the opposing candidate.

Because the political campaign overshadowed the business of government activity in Lansing, there is little to report on in terms of legislation. The Governor did sign two bills which may be of interest to our membership:

HBs 5348-49 are bills which amend the state Insurance code to incorporate features of a model act for long-term care insurance developed by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. . House Bill 5348 places the long-term care coverage provided by Blue Cross under the Insurance Code and specifically includes assisted living facilities as a setting where services covered by long-term care insurance could be provided. HB 5349 would add consumer protections, including requiring policies to contain non-forfeiture benefits and contingent benefits to prevent the loss of coverage when policy premiums increase; revise rate-making regulations; and address agent training requirements. Both bills have been signed by the Governor. HB 5348 is Public Act 441 and HB 5349 is Public Act 442.


Winter Home Heating Protection Plan — The Michigan Public Service Commission announced expansion of the voluntary agreement it initiated with utility companies last year. To be eligible for the shutoff protection program, a household income could be up to 200% below the federal poverty level. Benefits of the program are that participants in the program will pay 6% of their estimated annual heating bill each month between November 1 and March 31 and have 20 days in which to pay this amount. The balance would have to be paid between the months of April and October.

Auto Dealerships to issue new plates and tabs — The Secretary of State has announced a new program whereby automobile dealers may immediately issue license plates and tabs for newly purchased vehicles. The additional cost for this service is $24. The purchaser may avoid this cost by using the normal process where temporary plates are put on the vehicle at the time of delivery and the permanent plates and tabs are ordered from the Secretary of State and received at a later date.

Emergency Ballots for hospital patients — The Michigan Hospital Association, local hospitals, and the State Bureau of Elections officials are studying how patients with unanticipated stays in hospitals may vote. The largest problem is assuring that the ballots are handled properly and how out-of-town patient ballots are delivered to the proper clerk’s office. The Henry Ford Health System has a absentee ballot system it employs by utilizing a special volunteer staff to handle emergency applications and ballots. Once a system is developed and refined in the southeastern Michigan area, it probably will be offered statewide.

Automated Teller Machines in Secretary of State Offices — The Secretary of State has announced a one year pilot program is being introduced at selected offices throughout the state for the installation of ATM machines in SOS offices. Most of the machines are being placed in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb Counties although machines will be placed in Genesee, Ingham, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Kent, Saginaw, Ottawa, Muskegon, and Washtenaw Counties. The pilot project is for one year and involves five different vendors. If the pilot is successful, bids will be taken for the placement of the machines on an expanded basis.

Settlement announced with Walgreens — Attorney General Cox has announced a $550,000 settlement with the Walgreen Drug Store Chain for item pricing violations. This represents the second largest settlement for violating Michigan’s item pricing law. Earlier this year a $1.5 million settlement with Wal-Mart was announced by Mr. Cox. The settlement amounts include cost of the investigation and penalties.

School for the Blind Sold — The Michigan School for the Blind has been sold for $960,00 to the Mid-Michigan Leadership Academy which has long occupied a building at the School. The Leadership Academy retained 8.4 acres around the building it occupies and sold the remaining property to the Lansing Housing Commission. The Housing Commission will convert the old Administration Building to senior citizen Housing and construct some 100 new housing units on the property it purchased.

2005-6 Lottery Statistics — The Michigan Lottery announced record sales for last fiscal year: $2.2 billion in ticket sales with $686 million going to the School Aid Fund. Sales were up 7% from the previous year. Instant game sales totaled $711 million. The payment to the School Aid Fund was three percent higher than the previous year. Prizes were up by 9% and totaled $1.3 billion. Sales commissions were up by 8.3% to $165 million.

People in the News

William Milliken, former governor of Michigan took the Republican Party to task for their attacks on Andrew Levin who is running for Congress from Oakland County. Mr. Milliken ran for governor against the candidate’s father, Sander Levin in the 1970s. Referring to that race, Mr. Milliken said, “But while we fought vigorously to achieve victory, we never resorted to scorched earth, take no prisoner strategies. He said he was extremely disappointed at the “victory at all costs” that the Republican mailings against Levin exemplify.

Bert Johnson is administrative assistant to term-limited Representative Bill McConico and is running unopposed to replace the Detroit Democrat. Mr. Johnson was involved in an armed robbery at an Oakland County golf course as a teenager. He pleaded no contest to that charge and served a short time in jail. House Speaker Craig DeRoche has announced that he will seek to prevent Mr. Johnson from assuming his legislative seat because the Constitution prevents anyone convicted of a breach of the public trust within the last 20 years from holding a legislative seat. In 1976, then Attorney General Frank Kelley issued a formal opinion stating that the phrase “breach of the public trust” refers to a person committing a crime while holding a public office and involving public funds. At the same time, there are rules which state that both legislative chambers are the sole judges of the qualifications of its members. The Republican challenge to Mr. Johnson’s taking office will surely become a legal and political battle that will have a lasting impact in the new legislature’s ability to get bipartisan cooperation.

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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