The month of January has been an interesting one. Normally the start of a new legislative session is filled with excitement, confusion, and anticipation as the Governor begins with her inaugural address on January 1 which is followed by a flurry of activity as both legislative chambers begin their organizational efforts. This year has a bit more added excitement as the Democrats prepare to provide leadership in the House of Representatives for the first time in many years and everyone seems to finally acknowledge the elephant in the room — the looming fiscal crisis.
Obviously, the state’s budgetary problems are occupying much of the time of the Governor and her staff and legislative leadership. Lobbyists and public interest groups are trying to influence the possible solutions to the problem by making their thoughts on possible solutions known. The Governor’s recently appointed Emergency Financial Panel headed jointly by former Governors William Milliken and James Blanchard and consisting of prominent citizens knowledgeable about public finance and state government operations issued its report. Basically, the report by the twelve member group did not offer any specific solutions but suggested that the state’s unprecedented fiscal crisis cannot be solved by cuts alone. The panel is recommending tax increases coupled with cost containment measures to overcome the $800 million structural shortfall.
State agencies and school systems throughout the state are bracing for severe reductions in funding as a result of the revenue shortfalls. It all makes for an interesting time in Lansing as politicians seek ways to appease their constituents while at the same time try to assume leadership roles in arriving at solutions to a problem which will inevitably make some group or groups unhappy. It appears that the situation will get more dismal and ugly before it gets better. Stay tuned!
Some 150 bills were introduced in the Senate while 186 bills were introduced in the House during the month of January. This is not unusual inasmuch as many of the bills being introduced are merely bills which failed to pass during the last legislative session. Many of these bills will not see the light of day and will linger in Committee — again. This report will not specifically address any of the newly introduced bills until they go through the legislative committee process and the most significant are reported out of committee. Among the bills introduced were several calling for an early-out retirement program for state employees (which the Governor does not support) and ones to deal with the automated political telephone calls we experienced during last year’s election.
Governor Granholm did sign into law several bills which have been reported on in previous Legislative Reports. Among the bills she signed which may be of interest to senior/retirees are the following:
HB 5661 is now PA 610 of 2006. This law allows automobile insurers to offer a premium discount to automobile owners who are at least 50 years old and successfully complete a traffic accident prevention course that meets specific criteria. The law allows the discount in the premium for three years after successful completion of an initial or refresher course. Please see last month’s Legislative Report for additional details.
HB 5389 is now PA 634 of 2006. This law requires the Director of the Department of Community Health to designate and maintain locally or regionally based single point of entry agencies for long term care issues. “Single point of entry” means a program from which a current or potential long-term care consumer can obtain long-term care information, screening, assessment of need, care planning, support coordination, and referral to appropriate long-term care supports and services. The law calls for four single point of entry agencies to serve as pilots with no expansion beyond the four until the Department of Community Health reports to the legislature on the initial impact of the initially designated agencies. (Please see previous Legislative Reports for additional details.)
HB 6478 is now PA 674 of 2006. This law requires the Department of Community Health, the Office of Financial and Insurance Services, and the Department of Human Services to establish a long-term care partnership in Michigan. Individuals eligible for a long-term care partnership program policy would be eligible for Medicaid assistance without having to dispose of their assets as is currently required. The financing of the long-term care would be through private insurance and Medicaid. The intent is to provide individuals an incentive to insure against the cost of their long-term care needs, become Medicaid eligible without having to substantially exhaust their asset/resources, relieve the financial burden of the state’s Medicaid program by involving the private sector.
SB 309 is now PA 566 of 2006. This law is an identity theft deterrent which requires firms or state agencies owning or licensing data included in a database to notify Michigan residents whenever there is a breach of such a database making personal data vulnerable to theft. The act includes provisions for methods of notification, timely notification, additional parties which should be notified, and penalties for failing to comply with the act. (Please see the January Legislative Report for further details.)
HB 6009 is now PA 565 of 2006. This new law applies felony penalties to a third drunk driving offense regardless of when the third offense occurs, applies felony penalties for child endangerment offenses after two or more prior convictions regardless of when they occur, and requires the Secretary of State to maintain certain drunk driving records for the life of the driver. (Please see previous Legislative Reports for more details.)
HB 5078 is now PA 656 of 2006. This law prevents the taking of private property for transfer to a private entity unless certain conditions are met. There must be some benefit accruing to the public. The law states that the taking of private property to be used for private purposes is not a public use unless “the proposed use of the property is invested with public attributes sufficient to fairly deem the entity’s activity governmental” by one of three criteria. Included in the criteria is that the property is selected on facts of independent public significance or concern, including blight, rather than on the private interest of the entity acquiring the property.
Lottery for sale? — Among the proposals being tossed around to help the state overcome its fiscal crisis is one which would sell the Michigan State Lottery. This idea is being discussed in some legislative circles but the Governor, as yet, has not shown any real interest in the idea. Neighboring states of Indiana and Illinois are considering seeking legislation to sell their lottery operations. There are many legal hurdles to overcome if this were to be given serious consideration and most likely would require a vote of the people. No one knows how much revenue the sale of the Lottery would generate. The two other states have tossed around a figure of $11 billion.
Stringent fiscal controls imposed on three departments — Three departments — Corrections, Human Services, and State Police — which overspent their 2005-6 budgets by a total of $69 million have had tight fiscal controls imposed by the State Budget Director. Among the controls placed on these agencies are the withdrawal of their ability to override the system established to control agency expenditures, a monthly allotment system rather than the usual quarterly system, hiring must be approved by the Office of the Budget, and Department of Management and Budget controls on contracts of $250,000 or more or equipment purchases of $5,000. It is unusual for these types of controls to be placed on specific departments.
Legislative committee assignments — Representative George Cushingberry, a Detroit Democrat, was named Chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee by House Speaker Andy Dillion. Mr. Cushingberry garnered support for Mr. Dillion when he was running for the Speaker’s post. The naming of Representative Cushingberry was somewhat of a surprise inasmuch as he has a felony perjury charge and a misdemeanor campaign finance charge pending against him. He will go on trial soon. If he is found guilty of the felony charge, Cushingberry may have to resign from the legislature. Another surprise came when Speaker Dillion ignored the recommendations of the Minority Leader of the House regarding committee assignments. Several individuals whom Minority Leader Craig DeRoche recommended for committee assignment did not get the assignments. Speaker Dillion instead chose other Republican legislators to put on the committees.
Same sex benefits ruled unconstitutional — The Court of Appeals ruled that the payment of benefits that some municipalities and universities were paying for individuals who had been registered as same sex partners of employees are unconstitutional and cannot be paid. The Court ruled that the Constitutional provision that marriage is a union between a man and a woman precludes payments of benefits for same sex partners living in the same home in a “marriage-like” relationship. This ruling will undoubtedly go to the Michigan Supreme Court on appeal.
People in the News
Scott Bowen, a Wyoming, Michigan attorney who valiantly, but unsuccessfully, sought the Democratic Party nomination for Michigan Attorney General, was appointed Director of the Office of the State Employer by Governor Granholm.
Herman Coleman, former head of the Michigan Educational Association and State Insurance Commissioner under Governor James Blanchard, died at the age of 67.
Keith Cooley was named by Governor Grandholm as Director of the Department of Labor and Economic Growth. Cooley was previously head of Focus: HOPE, a Detroit agency that works for racial harmony and operates a number of training programs.
Andy Levin, who ran for the State Senate from Royal Oak, was appointed a Deputy Director of the Department of Labor and Economic Growth in charge of a number of agencies including Michigan Rehabilitation Services, Commission for the Blind, and Commission on Disability Concerns.
Ken Sikkema, the recently term-limited Senate Majority Leader, has joined Public Sector Associates, a Lansing think tank, as a senior research fellow.
Clifford Taylor, Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, was re-elected to that position by his fellow justices.
Elizabeth Weaver, a Michigan Supreme Court Justice, is embroiled in a battle with her fellow Republican nominated justices (Taylor, Corrigan, Markman, and Young). The issue is over the Court’s decision to keep internal discussions, memoranda, notes, etc. private even after a case has been decided. Weaver has accused four of the other six justices of unethical conduct and abuse of power and did so in a written dissent in a specific case. The fight has gone public and become an embarrassment to the Court and created a dilemma as to how to resolve the issue.
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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