Legislative Report

June 2008

Each month in the Capitol, unique sets of issues dominate the actions or inactions of legislators. Certainly, May was no exception. The Speaker of the House vacationed for a week in Mexico while his supporters fought the effort to recall him for his votes in support of tax increases last year. It appears that even though some 15,500 petition signatures were collected and some 8,724 valid signatures were required to get the recall effort underway, his supporters were successful in challenging the validity of the signatures and/or the appropriate residency of those collecting the signatures. Given the number of signatures submitted, getting enough signatures rejected by the Department of State is quite a feat.

The Senate considered a bill passed by the House that would ban smoking in most public places. However, in the bill that was sent to the Senate, a number of exceptions were made to the ban: union halls, cigar shops, casinos, etc. The Senate stripped the House bill of all the exceptions to the ban contained in the House bill before passing their version of the smoking ban bill. Rather than having the two versions of the bill go to a conference committee to resolve the differences, the House put aside its original bill and sent an entirely new bill back to the Senate to consider. As yet, nothing has been resolved.

Another battle ensued over a so-called partial birth abortion bill which made no provisions for consideration of the health of the woman. The same bill was vetoed by the Governor last year because it did not allow the health of the woman to be considered in deciding whether an abortion should be permitted for medical reasons. So contentious was the battle within the Democratic Caucus, Representative Mark Meadows devoted a page and a half of his weekly newsletter to the battle which resulted in the bill’s passage. He concluded with these comments:

“Choice groups also see this bill as a symbol and as vehemently opposed the bill as its supporters touted it. Two thirds of our caucus are pro choice. Ultimately, the numbers did not matter.

I feel I failed all of you, whether pro or anti choice. This is not an important piece of legislation. It does nothing to prevent so called partial birth abortion. It was promoted for the sole purpose of dividing people, not bringing them together. I was not able to convince the caucus to refuse to take the matter up. And I was not persuasive enough to prevent this very divisive matter from dividing the caucus.

Divide and conquer has new meaning.”

Another contentious problem finally has been settled. The Michigan Democratic Party Executive Committee’s recommendation for seating the delegates to the Democratic National Convention was accepted by the National Democratic Party rules committee. The delegation will be seated at the convention with each having 0ne-half vote. The votes cast in the January 15 election were apportioned 69 for Hillary Clinton and 59 for Barrack Obama. Michigan was penalized for moving up its primary election to January 15 in defiance of National Party rules.

The following is a summary of certain bills which may be of interest to retirees/seniors:

Revised snowmobile registration requirement — HB 5085 which is now PA 145 does the following (1) requires a snowmobile registration to include the names and addresses of any security interest in the snowmobile; (2) Permits the Department of state to suspend, revoke or refuse to issue a registration if the applicant does not provide all of the information, if the required fees have not been paid, or under other circumstances; (3) establishes penalties for delinquent fees of $25 for a fee delinquent 15 days or suspension if not paid in a timely manner; (4) and makes other provisions of a more technical nature.

Amendments to the Adult Foster Care Facility Licensing Act — HB 5894 is now PA 135. This Act delays for one year the deadline by which employees of adult foster care facilities must submit fingerprints to the Michigan State Police for background checks; Requires the Departments of Human Services and State Police to maintain, rather than develop and implement, an electronic web-based system to assist adult foster care facilities in identifying individuals who are convicted of offenses disqualifying them for employment; Adult foster care facilities may not employ or independently contract with individuals who have contact with or provide services to patients of residents if they have been convicted of certain crimes. Criminal history checks must be performed. Employees hired before April 1, 2006 are exempt from the above provisions although such employees must submit fingerprints to the State Police to be entered into the automated fingerprint system.

Revisions to perpetuities laws — Previous Legislative reports outlined the changes contained in HBs 4602 and 5909, which are now PA(s) 149 and 148, respectively. The Acts removes personal property from the “rule against perpetuities” and permits the establishment of personal property-based perpetual family trusts.

Divestiture of Retirement Funds — If passed, HBs 4854 and 4903 would require the Department of Treasury to ultimately sell, redeem, divest, or withdraw all publicly traded securities of a company actively involved with the Sudan or Iran. This action would take place over a 15 month period. Under the bills, such companies are referred to as “scrutinized companies” and no state retirement system funds could be invested with companies that have an active business operation in these two countries. HB 4854 pertains to Sudan, while HB 4903 pertains to Iran. Both bills have been reported out of committee and are on the Senate floor.

Arthritis prevention — HB 5364 — would create the Michigan Arthritis Prevention and Control Act. The bill places emphasis on this disease with the hope that its effects can be mitigated through early detection and appropriate treatment. The bill has been reported out of the Committee on Health Policy and goes to the House floor for consideration.

Change in composition of State Employees Retirement board — HB 6120 is a bill addressing the composition of the subject board. It is intended to enhance the passage of HB 5545 which SERA opposes. The bill would change from two to three the number of retiree board members and the number of active employee board members, thereby increasing the total membership to eleven. Also, the bill would change the length of the appointments to the Board from three to four years. Finally, the bill would prohibit the appointment of an active employee member from a department represented by one of the five statutory board members (the Insurance Commissioner, the Attorney General, the State Treasurer, the Deputy legislative Auditor General, and the State Personnel Director) The bill was recently introduced and assigned to the Committee on Retiree Health Care Reforms.

Responsibility for development, approval and administration of state retiree health care plans — The status of HB 5545 remains unchanged. SERA continues to oppose this legislation and encourages our membership to contact their representatives to let them know of your opposition to this bill which would transfer responsibility for state retiree health care plans from the Civil Service Commission to the State Employees Retirement board. Please go to the SERA website (www.mi-sera.org) for a summary of the reasons for our opposition.


Fraud against seniors — Attorney General Cox has announced a cooperative effort by his office and the U.S. Social Security Administration. This is being done through project SCAMS (Stop Crimes against Michigan Seniors). The project is focused on Social Security fraud against nursing Home residents. Initial efforts will be in three geographical areas of the state ; west, north west, and the Upper Peninsula. Of the twelve cases prosecuted to date, all involve relatives of the victims.

Bear Stearns securities lawsuit — State Treasurer Robert Kleine and attorney General Cox have announced that they have petitioned the Federal court to be named lead plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against Bear Stearns to recover some $62 million lost in the investment of retirement funds due to the alleged failure of Bear Stearns to disclose the risk of its hedge fund portfolio investments based on the sub-prime mortgage market during a period of December 14, 2006 through March 14, 2008. Bear Stearns was purchased by JP Morgan Chase for a fraction of its previous value as the result of the revelation that the sub-prime mortgage market had undercut the value of its hedge funds. Michigan’s attempt to become the lead plaintiff is based on the fact that it had the greatest exposure and the largest losses.

Citizens Research Council’s report on the state’s long-range financial outlook — the highly respected Citizens Research Council has issued a special report on the state’s long range finances. The report disclosed that between now and 2016 there will be a $6 billion difference between General Fund revenues and spending pressures. A comparable figure for the School Aid Fund is $3.6 billion, while the Highway Fund will be some $417 million short unless corrections are made  either through spending reductions or revenue enhancements.

Needless to say, the structural deficit continues to plague state government.

Request made to Governor to remove Detroit Mayor — the Detroit City Council has petitioned Governor Granholm to remove Kwame Kilpatrick as Mayor of the City. The request is based on a number of allegations of misdeeds including inappropriate use of City funds, perjury in a lawsuit and misleading the City Council in seeking approval of lawsuit agreements. While the Governor has the authority to remove an elected official for cause, such authority has never been exercised. The Governor’s legal advisor is beginning a preliminary review to determine what her options are. Mayor Kilpatrick is under indictment in Wayne County for misconduct in office, perjury and a number of other charges relating to his firing two policemen and not disclosing conditions of a settlement agreement associated with a lawsuit by the policemen.

Meijer’s fined by Secretary of State — Retail giant Meijer’s stores was fined an unprecedented $190,139 for violating campaign finance laws. Meijer’s officials inappropriately used corporate funds to finance a ballot question regarding a zoning ordinance and in a recall effort against Acme Township (near Traverse City) officials due to their opposition to Meijer’s request for permits to construct a store in the township.

People in the News

Governor Jennifer Granholm has returned to work after recuperating at home for approximately a week and a half following surgery for an intestinal blockage.

Nelson Westrin, a former assistant attorney general and the first Executive Director of the Michigan Gaming Control Board died recently at the age of 61. Mr. Westrin left the Gaming Control Board to accept a position as Vice Chairman of the National Indian Gaming commission. He most recently was in private law practice.

Geoffrey Fieger, well known Detroit area attorney of Jack Kervorkian fame, was acquitted in a federal court for violating federal campaign finance laws by encouraging employees and friends to contribute to John Edwards 2004 Presidential campaign and reimbursing them through his law firm. Fieger could have served up to 10 years in prison if he had been found guilty.

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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