The Governor and legislative leadership will face a new year hopefully wiser than they were one year ago and having a new perspective on the problems with which they will be dealing. Whether they can put partisan considerations aside and demonstrate the leadership which was largely absent in 2007 remains to be seen. Certainly if they are guided by public opinion, we will see a more cooperative and congenial attitude displayed by these individuals as they address the critical issues facing Michigan’s citizens and which they are entrusted to resolve.
There are a number of issues awaiting resolution most of them associated with improving the economic climate of the state. When Governor Granholm gives her State-of-the-State address on January 29th, she will outline her priorities for the coming year. Likewise, the leadership of each chamber of the legislature will outline their respective party’s priorities. Hopefully, there will be consistency in the priorities of the three groups. Some of the priority items are already on the table in the form of legislative bills yet to be enacted. Undoubtedly, there will be new initiatives presented. The true test of effectiveness will be how the various stakeholders work together to achieve a stronger and better State of Michigan.
The stability of the 2008 budget will be one of the key factors to observe as the year progresses. The state still has some serious fiscal problems which must be addressed on a long-range basis. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a national organization which supports government spending for social programs, includes Michigan as one of twenty-two states likely to have budget shortfalls in the current fiscal year. It may well be that we are having a short respite from open bickering over budget issues. I would suspect that this fiscal year will see some of the same budget challenges that we have faced for the last several years. The question becomes does the state’s leadership have the ability to craft long-range solutions to this continuing problem.
The following are among the bills which saw action during December which may be of interest to SERA membership:
HB 5545 is a bill which was introduced and reported out of the Retiree Health Care Reforms Committee within one week. This bill would move the administration and control of retiree health, dental and vision programs for state retirees from the jurisdiction of the Civil Service Commission to the Office of Retirement Systems. Neither the bill nor any of the official analysis of it gives any indication of the reasons for such a move. Nor does it indicate whether state retiree post retirement benefits for health care would continue to track with the health care benefits of active employees. Because of the lack of rationale behind the bill and our perception of the level of input we would have with the program being administered by the Office of Retirement Services as opposed to being administered by the Civil Service Commission staff, SERA opposes this bill as it is currently written and so testified at a hearing. The bill has been reported out of Committee and is awaiting action by the full House.
SBs 450-53 are now Public Acts 155-158. These new laws better regulate the activities of residential builders or residential maintenance and alteration contractors. Among the significant provisions of the bills are (1) increasing criminal penalties for a person performing these functions without a license. (2) Allow civil action to be brought against a person not licensed under the law for performing residential builder/maintenance activities. (3) Require a pre-license course of study for those seeking a residential builder/contractor license. (4) Establish continuing competency requirements for those engaged in this business. (5) Revise the time period to file a complaint against a licensed contractor/builder. (6) Provide for restitution as a sanction for any violation of the law. In general, these new laws are intended to protect the public from shoddy workmanship and inappropriate practices of those engaged in the residential builder/maintenance profession.
HB 5259 is a bill intended to inform elderly persons of the need to be vaccinated for influenza and provide for such vaccinations. Beginning October 1, 2008, hospitals would have to have a strategic plan for managing its supply of influenza vaccine. Consistent with the strategic plan, a hospital would have to inform each person 65 years or older who is admitted to the hospital for 24 hours or more during flu season that the vaccine is available and must offer to provide the vaccine to those patients for whom it is not contraindicative. The vaccination would have to be administered and documented in the patient’s medical record prior to his/her being released. Documentation would include the reason a person did not receive the vaccine if such were the case. The bill has passed the House and is now in the Senate Committee on Health Policy for consideration.
HB 5501 is a newly introduced bill which states that “an officer or employee of the state who intentionally provides information that he or she knows is false or misleading to any committee or subcommittee of the legislature is guilty of perjury punishable by imprisonment for not more than 15 years.” This bill would apply regardless of whether the information is provided under oath. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Appropriations.
HJR JJ is a joint resolution to amend the state Constitution to provide that “The Governor may appoint a chief administrative officer who serves at the Governor’s pleasure, which position is excepted from the state classified service. The chief administrative officer shall receive a base annual salary of $500,000.00, adjusted annually by any percentage increase established for employees in the state classified service. The Governor may award the chief administrative officer an additional annual bonus in an amount that is not more than the base salary.” Introduced by Representative Lorence Wenke, a Republican from Kalamazoo, the resolution apparently is intended to make a statement regarding the need to have a high caliber executive run state government. Should the resolution pass both chambers (it won’t pass either), the question would then be put before the voters. The bill was referred to the Committee on Government Operations.
Miscellaneous Bills — There are a number of other bills in various stages of consideration by the legislature for which space limitations will not permit a detailed summary. Among these bills are HBs 4940-45 addressing anatomical gifts (organ donations), currently in Senate Committee on Health Policy. HB 5581 is a recently introduced bill which provides for an elder death review team for sudden deaths of institutionalized senior citizens. HBs 5284-85 are highly controversial bills which would permit Blue Cross/Blue Shield to compete with other health insurers in offering individual health care policies (while still being the insurer of last resort) but continue to maintain their non-profit, tax exempt status. These bills have passed the House and are now in the Senate Committee on Health Policy where they are likely to remain. As these bills receive further legislative action, they will be outlined in more detail in future reports.
Civil Service Commission approval — Consistent with the current practice for approving state retiree health care programs, the Civil Service Commission approved the 2008 health plan for retirees including Medicare Advantage. The plan which was approved calls for retirees paying a 10% insurance premium (a 5% increase) and increases in co-payments and deductibles which mirrors what was approved for active employees. This may be the final time approval is granted by the Civil Service Commission, depending on what happens to HB 5545.
Petitions approved for ballot issues — The Board of Canvassers has approved the wording on petitions for constitutional changes on three different issues: (1) Part-time legislature, (2) automatic referendum on tax increases and (3) requirement for the state to provide health insurance for all citizens. In order to get on the ballot next November, each issue would need 380,126 valid petition signatures.
The part-time legislature petition calls for the legislature to meet between March and July each year with a provision for 20 days of limited special sessions. Legislative pay would be limited to $40,000 per year (as opposed to the $79,650 current salary) with a 1% reduction for each day a legislator is absent. The Governor would have to submit the Executive budget three days after the legislature convenes.
The tax increase petition provides that beginning with an election on February 10, 2010 voters would have to approve each law enacted after May 1, 2007 that created a new tax or raised or continued a tax. Thereafter, voters would have to approve in each general election any new tax proposal that had been adopted. If rejected, the proposal would remain in effect until the end of the fiscal year.
The health insurance proposal requires that the legislature pass laws which “assures all Michigan residents” have an affordable and comprehensive health care coverage financed by “a fair and effective” system.
Lane change defined as turn — The Michigan Court of Appeals rendered a decision which should serve as a reminder to all drivers. A lane change while driving requires that the driver use his/her turn signal before making the lane change. The court ruled that there was no distinction between a turn onto a street or highway and a lane change. The Court ruled that lane changes are turns because they require rotation of the steering wheel.
Legislative recall update — No elections have been scheduled for those legislators who are facing recall because of their votes for the tax increases necessary to balance the 2008 budget. The legislators who are being threatened by recall are in various stages of challenging the petitions seeking their recall. The challenges are both administrative and legal over whether the petition language is clear. The most recent petitions to be filed are seeking to recall Representative Aldo Vagnozzi, a Farmington Hill Democrat and Representative Martin Griffin, a Jackson Democrat. There has been no decision on the clarity of the language in their recall petitions.
Perfect voting records — Two Lansing area legislators, Representative Joan Bauer and Representative Rick Jones, are among twenty-two legislators who had perfect voting records in 2007. The did not miss any recorded vote.
People in the News
Teresa Takai, Director of the Department of Information Technology, has announced her resignation to accept a similar post in the State of California. Ms. Takai was the first DIT director after that Department was established.
Ken Theis, who has been a senior executive with the Department of Technology since it was established in 2001, will succeed Ms. Takai. Prior to joining state government in 1999, Theis had been a business and technology executive with General Motors.
Tom Downs, a Lansing area attorney who served as the Vice President of the 1961 Constitutional Convention, died at the age of 91. Mr. Downs was a nationally known expert on election law and also considered an expert on Michigan’s Constitution.
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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