The State of Michigan briefly went out of business on October 1, 2007. At 12:00 a.m., in the absence of an approved budget for the 2007-8 fiscal year, the state did not legally have money to operate and thus, a preplanned partial shutdown occurred. It was short lived, however. The Michigan legislature, which had been working most of the day Sunday continued to work into Monday and at 4:20 a.m. the Governor signed a 30 day continuation budget bill which allowed the state to continue to do business while it finalizes the cuts to be made.
Thus, what could not be accomplished in seven months was accomplished within thirty-six hours between Saturday and Monday morning. The irony of all of this is that there were no big surprises in the eventual solution. As predicted, the compromises needed to reach an agreement were made by both political parties. The Democrats received what they had been holding out for, revenue increases by way of an income tax increase (from 3.9% to 4.35% for $745 million) and a tax on certain services (for $614 million) which heretofore had been untaxed. The Republicans received what they had strongly advocated for, measures to curtail spending (for $435 million) and most importantly, allow competition in the bidding on school employees’ health care insurance. All parties were a bit bloody and battered as a result of this contest to see who would blink first. The real breakthrough came as the Democrats and the Republicans agreed to both blink at the same time.
At stake in the entire fiasco were the political lives of a number of participants. The Michigan Taxpayer Alliance, a group headed by Leon Drolet, a former state representative, had identified and targeted a number of legislators for recall if they voted to raise taxes in any manner. The targeted legislators are from swing districts which means that they were marginally elected and thus more susceptible to recall by their constituents. No sooner that the votes were cast, the recall efforts were immediately initiated against several of the targeted legislators. Interestingly, former Governor Milliken has promised support of any legislators facing recall by becoming involved and speaking out on behalf of the legislators who voted for revenue enhancements.
So, the political posturing is over. Hopefully, relationships have not been damaged beyond repair. Perhaps all the participants learned something from this ordeal. From this writer’s point of view, if there were ever a case to be made against term limits, this ordeal says it all. Lack of experience, institutional knowledge, congeniality, lack of respect, and strong partisan feelings were among the factors that allowed this issue to continue for so long. In my opinion, term limits are a contributing factor to the failure of our political leadership to resolve this fiscal crisis long, long ago.
Although the fiscal crisis consumed much of the legislators’ time during the month of September, a few other bills saw legislative action. Those of possible interest to senior/ retirees are reported here:
SBs 204 and 374 are now Public Acts 73 and 74, respectively. These bills address the asset recovery of deceased Medicaid recipients. Under these Public Acts, the Department of Human Services would be required to track the assets held by Medicaid recipients that would be subject to estate recovery, collect the amounts subject to recovery from the estates of eligible recipients, and perform other actions necessary to administer the program effectively. Such actions are required to comply with the federal Social Security Act. The provisions of the Public Acts must be reviewed and approved by the federal government before being implemented. The portion of a person’s estate that was equal to 50% of the average price of a home in the recipient’s county on the date of his or her death would be exempt from recovery. Similarly, the portion of a recipient’s estate that was the primary income-producing asset of the recipient’s heirs would be exempt. The new law also outlines the conditions under which a home could be protected.
SB 418 is now Public Act 106. This new law creates the Public Employees Health Benefit Act under which the following could occur: 1) A public employer could join with other public employers to establish and maintain a public employer pooled plan to provide medical, optical, or dental benefits to at least 250 employees on a self-insured basis. 2) the pooled plan would have to accept any public employer that applied to become a member, agreed to make the required payments and agreed to remain in the pool for three years. 3) Prohibit a public employer who left the pool from rejoining for two years. 4) Any pooled plan when procuring coverage or benefits from one or more carriers would have to solicit at least four bids when establishing a medical benefits plan and every three years when renewing or continuing a medical benefit plan. 5) Require a carrier that provided one or more medical benefit plans to a public employer or a combination of employers which together had more that 100 employees to provide claim, utilization and cost information and require public employers to disclose it. 6) Require all medical benefit plans in the state to make available claim, utilization and cost information provided the health information was “de-identified.” The law contains other administrative provisions regarding the public employer pool concept.
HB 4800 has gone to the Governor for signature and most likely will be signed. This bill requires that the pension payments to any state retiree working for the state directly or through a contract agency be suspended during the period of his/her employment with the state. The bill covers those who were working for the state at the time the bill is signed and those who plan to work for the state in the future.
SB 624 is now Public Act 52. This bill requires a presidential primary in Michigan to be held on January 15, 2008 unless all the political parties will be using another method to select their delegates to the National Conventions. The law further requires the Secretary of State to establish procedures for absentee voters and safeguard the confidentiality of their selection; limits the use of elector ballot selection data derived from the election to use by the political parties only and provides sanctions for violation of this provision; and changes February 2008 regular election date to coincide with the presidential primary. The law has additional provisions which space considerations will not permit to be included here.
SB 758 is a recently introduced bill which would eliminate the yet-to-be implemented requirement for a photo ID in order to vote. (Actually a person without a photo ID could still vote under current law if he/she signed an affidavit attesting to their identity and residence.) The current law this year was ruled valid by the Attorney General after the previous attorney general ruled it violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Secretary of State is planning to implement the ID requirement in the November, 2007 election. This bill would repeal the photo ID requirement. It has been assigned to the Committee on Elections and Campaign Oversight.
HB 5046 is a recently introduced bill which would require retail establishments to allow customers with certain medical conditions to use toilet facilities usually reserved for employees. The bill would apply to customers with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, any other inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or any other medical condition requiring immediate access to a toilet facility. Such customers would have to provide the business establishment with a copy of a statement on a prescription form and signed by a doctor indicating they suffer from one of the above listed diseases. A person presenting a forged prescription attesting to his/her condition would be guilty of a misdemeanor. The bill would exempt business establishments if the toilet facility was located in a area where it would be an obvious health or safety risk to the customer or an obvious security risk to the retailer. The provision of the bill would apply only when the retailer had two or more employees working at the time the request to use the toilet facility is made. The bill establishes sanctions for violations by the retailer. It has been assigned to the Committee on Health Policy.
Pain Management Website — The Department of Community Health has established a website which provides information for managing chronic diseases which cause pain. The website also provides information on medications which can be used to treat such symptoms. Further, the website has a tool which assists individuals in finding a physician for pain management. The website address is www.michigan.gov/painmanagement.
U.S. Supreme Court to review voter ID laws — The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear challenges to the constitutionality of several states’ voter ID laws (Michigan is not one of the States). A number of groups believe that the requirement is unfair and discourages minority groups from voting thus making it unconstitutional in terms of equal treatment under the law. Decisions by various U.S. District Courts have been split on this issue. Thus, the Supreme Court will weigh in on the matter and settle it within the next year.
Secretary of State Land opposes paid petition circulators — Michigan Secretary of State Terri Land has indicated her opposition to the current election laws allowing paid petition circulators. Her opposition is based on the potential for fraud inasmuch as the petition circulators get paid by the number of signatures they obtain. This issue came to a head when groups claimed they were duped into signing petitions by petition circulators for the anti-affirmation action ballot issue two years ago. We probably can expect to see legislation introduced to ban the use of paid petition circulators.
Circuit Court PAC deduction ruling — An Ingham County Circuit Court judge recently ruled that state departments must process union employees’ payroll deductions for contributions to political action committees as long as the political action committee is willing to reimburse the state’s cost involved in collecting the contribution. The Secretary of State previously had ruled that public agencies could not process such deductions as part of the payroll processing system even if reimbursement of costs was made by the PAC. It is not known whether the state will appeal this ruling.
People in the News
Jerry Lawler, retired Executive Director of the Michigan Capitol Committee which is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the Capitol, recently died at the age of 64. Mr. Lawler oversaw the restoration of the Capitol in the early ‘90s.
Representative Kevin Green, a Republican from Wyoming, and his wife recently experienced the loss their newborn daughter.
James Smith, a former state representative from Davison died at the age of 84. Mr. Smith served 5 consecutive terms in the House beginning in 1966 when he defeated Bobby Crim who later returned to become Speaker. Mr. Smith held many political positions in local government.
Kathy Wilbur, Vice President for Governmental Relations at Central Michigan University who was director of three state agencies during the Engler administration, was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.
Mike Cox, Michigan Attorney General, has announced that he is stepping down as the Michigan Chairman of presidential candidate John McCain’s campaign. It is believed that Mr. Cox became disenchanted with the lack of movement in McCain’s campaign nationally and the campaign’s funding problems.
Geoffrey Fieger, a prominent and outspoken Detroit area attorney, had sanctions imposed by the Michigan Supreme Court lifted by a federal judge for negative remarks he made about three Michigan Court of Appeals judges. The federal judge ruled the remarks, made by Fieger on a Detroit radio talk show, were covered under free speech rights and the laws censoring attorneys was unconstitutionally vague.
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: email@example.com.
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