Legislative Report

March 2008

There was relative calm in state government circles during the month of February. The Governor presented her budget without any significant criticism from the opposition party. The Appropriations Committees immediately went to work on the 2009 budget and the next several months will be the focus of their efforts. The state s economic condition continues to be stagnant with most indicators of the health of Michigan s economy not being very optimistic, although the first quarter revenue estimates for this fiscal year were up as the result of the tax measures passed late last year. This data will be closely scrutinized inasmuch as it will impact 2009 budget decisions and will be factored in regarding how to balance the budget for next year.

The legislature and its committees were very active during the month of February and addressed some legislation which may be of interest to retirees/seniors. A number of such bills are contained in this report:

HB 4684 is a bill addressing the treatment of intoxicated individuals in bars and restaurants. It has been signed into law by the Governor and is now Public Act 11 of 2008. Under this Act a, business establishment which serves alcohol could allow an intoxicated person to frequent or loiter on the licensed premises if the person had been refused alcohol but continued to remain for the purpose of eating, seeking medical assistance, arranging transportation, or any other circumstance in which requiring the person to leave the premises immediately would be considered dangerous. The bill would also prohibit the use of a breathalyzer or blood alcohol test results as evidence to prove a violation of prohibitions against serving an intoxicated person and/or allowing such a person to remain on the premises.

HB 4505 is now Public Act 7 of 2008. This bill amends the Michigan Motor Vehicle Code to prohibit the issuance of a driver or chauffeur license to anyone determined by the Secretary of State to be in this country illegally, require a U. S. citizen to state his or her citizenship on the application for a driver license, require the actual license to indicate that the holder of the license is a U.S. citizen, provide that a license issued to an alien expires on the date that the individual s presence in the United States becomes unlawful and prohibit such person from applying for an extension of the invalidated license. This bill is basically intended to allow students and foreign business people in the U.S for valid reasons to obtain a driver license for as long as their reason for being here is valid.

HBs 5287-91 and SBs 826-33 are bills summarized in last month s Legislative Report. These bills are intended to regulate the mortgage lending business by addressing qualifications of key personnel and placing certain controls on those who work in the mortgage lending industry. Since the last report, the bills have passed both chambers and are on their way to the Governor for signature. She is expected to sign the bills into law as an initial step toward preventing the continuation of home foreclosures partially resulting from weaknesses and lack of controls on mortgage lenders.

HBs 5535-36 are bills providing for enhanced driver license and state identification card. The enhanced license or card could be used as proof of identity at land and sea ports if the enhanced licensed was approved by the appropriate federal agency for such purposes. In order to obtain an enhanced license or card, an applicant would have to provide proof of his/her legal name, U.S. citizenship, identity, date of birth, Social Security number, and residence address. To prevent personal information from being disclosed, technological advanced security measures could be employed (i.e., bar-coded information on back of license or card). The Secretary of State would have to take a picture of the applicant and obtain his/her signature. If not satisfied that the supporting documentation is genuine and legal or any statements given are false, the application for a enhanced license could be rejected. The fee for an enhanced license or identification card would be fifty dollars. House Bill 5536 would amend the criminal code to create a new sanction for the false certification or statement in application for enhanced driver license or enhanced official state personal identification card. The crime would carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison. These two bills have passed both chambers and are on their way to the Governor for signature. HB 5535 is tie-barred to HB 5537 which has not yet been approved by the Senate. Until this bill is approved, HBs 5535 or 5536 cannot go into effect.

HB 4645 is a bill to place controls on tax anticipation loans that are made by some tax preparers and which carry large interest rates. This bill was reported on in last month s Legislative Report. Since then, the bill has passed the House and has gone to the Senate Committee on Banking and Financial Institutions for consideration.

HBs 5186-88 are bills which were also reported on in last month s Legislative Report. These bills are intended to provide protection of the assets of wards and protected individuals from misuse or fraud by guardians and conservators. The bills have passed the House and moved to the Senate where they have been assigned to the Committee on Judiciary.

HB 5048 is a bill which provides for dispute resolution by television cable companies. Cable companies would be required to notify its customers at least annually of its dispute resolution processes. Also the bill requires the Public Service Commission to review disputes in three areas: (1) Customer complaints against provider not resolved by the provider s dispute resolution process. This would first be done informally and if not resolved, formally. (2) Disputes between providers and franchising entities (local units of government). (3) Disputes between providers. The bill has been reported out of the Energy and Technology Committee.

HB 5453 is a bill which would permit Medicare eligible individuals to waive coverage for personal injury protection under the No-Fault Automobile Insurance Act and thereby reduce their automobile Insurance Premiums. Currently drivers 60 years of age or older can waive work loss benefits if they would not be eligible to receive them in case of an injury. The waiver would have to be on a form provided by the automobile insurance company in order to obtain the reduced rate for automobile insurance. The bill would also reduce the amount paid to the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association (MCCA) by a customer who has waived the personal protection insurance coverage to 20% of what the cost would have been if the coverage had not been waived. The bill was reported out by the House Insurance Committee, but later reassigned to the Committee on Oversight and Investigations.

HB 5727 would cause an individual who commits an act of abuse, neglect, or exploitation on a protected individual to forfeit all benefits with respect to the decedent s estate. The section of the Estates and Protected Individuals Code would be amended to apply the terms felon, abuse, neglect, or exploitation to the section of the Code that revokes provision and severs interest in property through governing instruments conferring power of appointment, or transferring interests of the decedent to the individual. The bill has been reported out of the House Senior Health, Security and Retirement Committee and is on the floor for consideration.

SB 786 would extend the jurisdiction of the Small Claims Court to disputes involving amounts up to $6,000, from the current $3,000. The Small Claims Court allows disputes to be settled without incurring legal fees or following the formal procedures of higher courts. Parties waive the right to an attorney, to trial by jury, and in most cases, an appeal. The bill has passed the Senate and gone to the House Committee on Judiciary.

HB 5545, the bill that transfers responsibility for the design, administration and approval of state retirees  health care plan from Civil Service to the Office of Retirement Systems has seen no action since it was reported out of the Retiree Health Care Reforms Committee. SERA along with others oppose this bill for several reasons. Among them are such a move would destroy the continuity of health care benefits when a state employee retirees, it appears to separate retiree benefits from those of active employees, the State Employee Retirement Board will have to undertake a responsibility which it is ill-quipped to do. While the bill s sponsor indicates that this move is part of a larger effort to streamline the health care benefits for state retirees and save money, the complete picture of how this would be accomplished or the amount of money to be saved has never been clearly stated. One of our greatest concerns is the amount and quality of input we currently have in the plan design process would be diminished. Currently SERA has considerable input into that process. We ask that SERA members continue to contact their legislators and the Governor and voice their opposition to SB 5545.


Consumer Advocate Position Created — Governor Granholm issued Executive Order 2008- 2 which changes the name of the Office of Financial and Insurance Services to the Office of Financial and Insurance Regulation. The consumer advocate position was created in the newly named office to advocate on behalf of consumers regarding automobile and home owner insurance matters. This person would review current laws and submit regulatory and legislative changes to benefit consumers of these services. The consumer advocate also would represent consumers before the commissioner of the Office of Financial and Insurance Regulation. These changes will go into effect unless overturned by the Legislature within 60 days.

Tyco Lawsuit — Attorney General Cox and State Treasurer Robert Kleine have announced that a lawsuit has been filed on behalf of the State to recoup some $50 million lost in retirement funds as the result of these funds being invested in Tyco Industries. Top management of Tyco have been convicted of fraud as the result of deceit regarding executive compensation packages and their hiding the true financial condition of the company. The state is hoping to have Tyco repay the funds lost on institutional investments in the company.

Petition Drives — It appears that there will not be a lack of ballot proposals in the November election. Among the petitions which committees will be circulating within the next several months the following:

  • Fair Tax Proposal Committee: an effort to abolish the income tax, Michigan Business Tax, and personal and real estate tax on business property. To offset the loss of income from these sources, a 9.75% sales tax would be imposed with a provision for relief for those whose income places them at the federal poverty level.
  • Stem Cell Research Committee: would expressly prohibit cloning and permit the use of stem cells less than 14 days old if they were created for fertility treatment. The person seeking fertility treatment would have to give permission for the stems cells to be used.
  • Proportional Senate Committee: This measure would expand the senate to 50 at large members with members having a vote proportional to the popular vote they received during the election.
  • Personal Educational Account Committee: This proposal would create a statewide education grant to be used by parents to pay for their child s education. The grant could be used at any school in the state and after completion of high school, any remaining funds could be used for the child s college education.
  • People s Choice Tax Repeal: Under this proposal, any tax increase or new tax would have to go to the voters (including the tax measures passed last year) for approval before becoming law.
  • Committee to Turn Michigan Around: This ballot proposal would require that legislative sessions end by May 31 each year with no more than 100 regular session days. The governor and legislative leadership could call a special session each year to last for not more than 15 days. Lawmakers would receive a salary equal to 80% of the medial income in the state.
  • Part time Legislative Ballot Question Committee: Under this proposal, the legislature could meet between the second Wednesday in March and July 1 each year. There could be a special legislative session lasting not more than 20 days. Legislator s salaries would be $40,000 with no fringe benefits.
  • Michigan Coalition for Compassionate Care Committee: Under this ballot proposal the use of medical marijuana would be legal in Michigan. This Committee already has collected the requisite number of signatures for the issue to go on the ballot.

People in the News

Doug Fraser, who served as the president of the United Auto Workers from the mid seventies until 1983, died at the age of 91. Mr. Fraser is credited for helping get the funding needed to save Chrysler during his tenure.

Jennifer Granholm, Governor of Michigan, has been named Vice Chair of the Midwest Governors Association. She is in line to become Chair of the Association next year.

Ken Ross, who has been serving as Acting Director of the Office of Financial and Insurance Services since Linda Watters left that position late last year, has been named the permanent director of that agency.

Andrew Rocky  Raczkowski, a former legislature who ran against Carl Levin for his Senate seat six years ago has announced that he is dropping his plan on running against Levin again this year. He is in the military reserves and is being called to active duty. Thus, he will be out of the country and unable to campaign.

Representative Barbara Farrah, a term limited Democrat from Southgate won $2 million dollars in the Michigan Lottery. She purchased a $20 ticket and won $1000 which later allowed her to be in a pool of five people for a drawing at a Detroit Pistons game. In that drawing, she became the top winner.

Ed Sarpolus, a Lansing based pollster, has accepted a position as chief lobbyist for the Michigan Education Association. Sarpolus replaces Al Short who died last year.

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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