Legislative Report

August 2008

July was a relatively quiet month for legislative activities inasmuch as the Legislature was operating on a very limited schedule with only one session per week. At least one of those sessions was cancelled in the House. The primary source of news was the Governor’s Office as Governor Granholm signed a number of bills into law, announced several economic stimulus measures and established time tables for the filing of motions and documents and set a proposed hearing date to hear arguments to oust Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick after being petitioned by the Detroit City Council to do so. The Governor also signed the Alternative Energy Projects bill which will provide some $45 million to jump start this new industry and create new jobs. Another bill signed by Governor Granholm was the Great Lakes Compact which makes Michigan the last of the eight states to become a part of the Compact to protect the Great Lakes water basin. The U.S. Congress must now ratify the Compact.

There are a number of important bills which must be acted upon in the lame duck session, including HB 5545 transferring the responsibility for retiree health care plans to the Office of Retirement Systems. SERA continues to oppose this bill. The last two months of this year should be extremely interesting, legislatively speaking. Stay tuned!

Among the bills signed by Governor Granholm are several which may be of interest to retirees/seniors. They are summarized as follows:

Use of volunteer parking enforcement personnel — HB 4817 which is now PA 171 amends the Michigan Vehicle Code to expand the parking violations for which a law enforcement agency or local unit of government may permit people, other than police officers, serving as volunteers to issue citations. Currently, such volunteers may issue citations for the following violations: Parking in a space for use by people with disabilities, parking in a space or in a manner that blocks access to a fire lane and parking in an access aisle or access lane next to a space designated for parking by people with disabilities. The new law expands the use of volunteers by allowing them to issue citations for the following additional violations: Parking on a sidewalk; in front of a public or private driveway; within 15 feet of a fire hydrant; parking on a crosswalk or within 20 feet of a crosswalk or, if there is not a crosswalk, within 15 feet of the intersection of property lines at an intersection of highways; parking at a place where a sign prohibits parking or stopping; and parking in violation of an official sign restricting the time or manner of parking. Under this new law, 40 hours of formal instruction in parking enforcement by local or county law enforcement officers is required. If a collective bargaining agreement prohibited the use of volunteers from issuing citations as outlined in the law, such a program could not be implemented or administered.

Tax credit for the donation of food items to certain organizations — SB 150 which is now PA 207 allows a taxpayer to claim a credit for the value of food items donated to homeless shelters, food kitchens, food banks and similar entities. The donations may be included in the current credit now permitted for cash contributions to these organizations. The credit is 50% of the cash contributions and value of the food contributions combined. The credit limits are $100 for a single state tax filer and $200 for joint state tax filers. The law applies to the 2008 tax year and beyond.

Owner’s responsibility for dog bites and duty to assist bitten person — HB 4065 is now PA 206 which requires the owner or responsible person of a dog or wolf-dog cross to be responsible for the actions of the animal and if they knew or had reason to know the animal had bitten an individual to remain on the scene until the provisions of SB 346, now PA 205, are met. PA 205 requires an adult responsible for a dog or wolf-dog cross who knew or had reason to know that the dog had bitten an individual to give his or her name and address, if the person did not own the animal to give the name and address of the owner to the individual who was bitten, and provide the individual with information, if known by the person, as to whether the dog or wolf-dog cross was current on all legally required vaccinations. A violation of the act would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to 93 days of imprisonment, a maximum fine of $500, or both. The act takes effect on January 1, 2009.

Gift card/certificate protection and regulation — Last month’s report outlined the provisions of HBs 4050, 4317, 4680 and SB 388 which are bills addressing the problems associated with businesses not accepting credit cards or changing the conditions after sale, charging fees for acceptance, or causing the value of the card to decrease in value if not used in a timely manner and other deceptive practices. The series of bills which eliminate these unfair practices have been signed into law by the Governor and generally provide maximum protections to consumers in the use of gift cards. Under the law, credit cards which are sold cannot expire within five years of the sale. The PA numbers assigned to the bills are PA 208, 209, 210 and 211. The new laws take effect November 1, 2008.

Global Positioning System tracks stalkers and those charged with domestic violence — HB 4330 is now PA 191 and requires a prisoner to wear an ankle bracelet allowing his location to be determined by GPS monitoring when released on parole if the victim of the crime had registered to receive notice about that prisoner under the Crime Victims Rights Act. If the victim registers after the prisoner is released on parole, the parole order will have to be immediately modified to require the parolee’s location be monitored by a GPS system and the parolee would be required to wear the ankle bracelet. HB 4453 is now PA 192 and allows a judge to require a defendant charged with a crime involving domestic violence to carry or wear a GPS monitoring system device as a condition of release. The law also allows the court, with the victim’s informed consent, to order the defendant to give the victim a device to monitor the defendant’s GPS device. The victim could request the court to terminate his or her GPS monitoring of the defendant at any time. The defendant could be released only if he or she agreed to pay the cost of the GPS system or perform community service in lieu of payment.


Reform Michigan Government Now! — Supporters of the very controversial initiative to get a multi-faceted measure on the ballot to amend various sections of the Michigan Constitution submitted some 570,016 signatures in fulfillment of the requirement for 380,126 valid signatures. The measure would impact all three branches of state government by, among other measures, reducing the size of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, reducing the size of the legislature and reducing legislative salaries, eliminates two unnamed state departments and tying the pensions and health care costs of state officials to the same level as the highest classified employee. Neither Republicans nor some Democrats like the proposal and the manner in which it came about. The amendments cover some 28 sections of the Constitution. It is generally believed that if it is determined that there are enough valid signatures, legal challenges will prevent it from going on the ballot. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce has already filed suit to prevent it from being certified. The general feeling is that it goes beyond amending the Constitution and is, in reality, a major Constitutional revision which should be done by a Constitutional Convention. Governor Granholm has indicated that she likes some of the measures in the package, but is not sure that it should be done in this manner. There are several legislators who are suggesting that the legislature should call for a Constitutional Convention in 2009. In 2010, the question of having a Constitution Convention will automatically be put before the voters. Under the Michigan Constitution, voters get to answer that question every 16 years. The last time it was before the voters in 1994, a Constitutional Convention call was defeated by a 2-1 margin. In the coming months, we will probably hear more than we want to about Reform Michigan Government Now!

Health Care for Michigan — Petition drive efforts by organizers of this group to get the Michigan legislature to adopt a health care plan for all residents has failed due to lack of sufficient signatures. The leaders of the effort have announced that they are now joining forces with Health Care America Now!, in a national effort to get a universal health plan in place in 2009.

Attorney General Cox sues Blues — Mr. Cox has filed suit against Blue Cross Blue Shield claiming the organization improperly gave its for profit organization, the Accident Fund, $125 million to use to purchase other insurance companies to expand its insurance products. The transaction was approved by the Director of the Office of Financial and Insurance Regulation, Ken Ross. Cox alleges that Blue Cross Blue Shield violated a 1980 act governing its operations and a 1994 act allowing BCBS to purchase the Accident Fund. Cox said the Accident Fund lacked statutory authority to purchase the insurance companies. He is asking that the $125 million be returned to BCBS.

Attorney General Cox files to become lead plaintiff in lawsuit — The Attorney General has asked to be named lead plaintiff in a federal class action lawsuit against American International Group (AIG), one of the nation’s largest insurance companies. AIG is accused of providing misleading information regarding sub-prime mortgage loan activities which resulted in the loss of some $109 million by the various state retirement systems. Becoming lead plaintiff in a lawsuit allows for the management of the case in terms of negotiating a settlement and developing trial strategy if the case goes to trial.

Governor launches Invest Michigan Now! — Governor Granholm recently launched a new initiative called Invest Michigan Now! The program was first introduced in her State of the State message. Some $300 million in various pension funds will be used to invest in start up businesses and small businesses. The program will be overseen by a business council headed by Roger Penske, a Detroit businessman. The funds will be invested by Treasury Department employees in accordance with established investment guidelines to maximize interest earnings.

Governor accelerates schedule for briefs and sets date for Kilpatrick removal hearing — Governor Granholm announced the schedule for briefs to be filed by the parties in the issue of removing Kwame Kilpatrick as Mayor of Detroit as requested by the Detroit City Council. She gave each side five days to file brief (later extended another five days) and five days to respond to each others briefs. She set a date of September 3 at 9 a.m. for hearing arguments, if it becomes necesssary. Governor Granholm refused to allow a two month extension of the hearing date as requested by the Mayor’s attorney.

People in the News

Tom Shawver, an Associate Press and Detroit Free Press Pulitzer Prize winning reporter who later became the spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Transportation recently died at the age of 81. Shawver served as Transportation spokesperson from 1968-92.

Lisa Webb Sharpe, Director of the Department of Management and Budget, received from the National Governor’s Association, the prestigious Award for Distinguished Service to State Government at the Association’s National convention.

Tom Casey, State Solicitor General since 1992 and an Assistant Attorney General since 1975, recently retired from that post.

Jim Barrett, President of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce for 32 years has retired from that position.

Bob Bowman, State Treasurer under Governor Blanchard, has announced he will not be a candidate for Governor in 2009. Currently Director of Internet Operations for Major League Baseball, Bowman said family considerations and his present job convinced him to abandon his consideration of running for Governor as a Democratic candidate.

Kwame Kilpatrick, Mayor of Detroit was jailed by a District Court Judge for violation of the terms of his bond relating to felony charges for perjury. Kilpatrick violated his bond by traveling to Canada without the permission of the Court. This was the second time he had violated the conditions set by the Court.

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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