The end of one legislative period and the beginning of another is always an exciting time. It is a time of remembrance and reflection for those leaving and anticipation and hope for those replacing them. Such was the case as the 94th Legislature came to an end on December 30 and the 95th Legislature prepared to begin on January 14. While the Senate membership remains rather static, the House membership will have 46 new members as the result of term limited legislators being replaced by new ones and some turnover as the result of several legislators having been defeated for reelection. As normally is the case, a twenty-five hour marathon session was held in mid December as legislators in the lame duck session of the House tried to get their key bills passed. Some of the most controversial bills before the legislature failed to pass, however.
The two most controversial bills which had seen much debate and extreme lobbying efforts did not pass. They were the so called Blues bills (HB 5282 and HB 5283) which would have allowed Blue Cross Blue Shield to become a more prominent entity in the individual health insurance market and the ban on workplace smoking (HB 4163). These two bills drew much attention during the legislative session and had thousands of dollars expended to get them passed or defeated, depending on which side of the issue one was on. Attorney General Cox strongly opposed the Blues bills while former Attorney General Frank Kelly was an ardent supporter. The process will have to start over on these bills because bills not passed before the legislature adjourns sine die must be reintroduced in the new legislature and go through the same battles as before.
A familiar problem awaits the new legislature. This problem is how to balance the 2009-10 budget for which a shortfall is anticipated due to the state’s poor economic condition. Governor Granholm issued an Executive Order reducing state expenditures by some $133.9 million. The largest cuts came from the Departments of Human Services, Community Health, and Corrections, although every department experienced some reduction. It may well be that further reductions will have to be made depending on the nature of the stimulus package passed by the federal government and the recovery made in the state’s economy. A key indicator is the unemployment rate. The state’s unemployment rate is 9.6%, the highest it has been in seventeen years. It will not be fun time in Michigan state government anytime soon.
Among the bills which went down to defeat were some popular ones which have met similar fates in previous years. Bills which would have provided early voting (several days prior to election day), regulated cemeteries, expanded the scope of the practice of chiropractic medicine, allowed “no reason” absentee voting, protected renters in housing foreclosure proceedings are among those which passed the House but never got out of committee in the Senate and subsequently died.
One particular bill of interest to retiree/seniors which was defeated was HB 5545. This bill would have transferred the responsibility for the development, administration, and execution of health plans for state retirees from the Department of Civil Service, Office of Employee Benefits, to the Office of Retirement Systems. SERA strongly opposed this bill and as the result of SERA members expressing their concerns to their legislators, the bill failed to gain passage. We must continue to be vigilant and oppose any similar bill which most certainly will be reintroduced. Please watch your newsletter for information regarding attempts to pass a similar bill.
There are a number of bills making their way to the Governor for signature (or veto). These bills cover a myriad of issues and were passed at the eleventh hour of the lengthy legislative session in mid December. Next month’s report will detail those bills which have some impact on seniors or retirees. It will be several months before new bills begin moving as the legislature gets organized for the next two years. Many of the bills we will see are those which failed to get passed in the 94th legislature and are being reintroduced.
Michigan CD Stimulus Program — The details of the Governor’s initiative to invest $150 million of the state’s common cash in Credit Unions and banks throughout the State have been announced. The state will purchase certificates of deposit from credit unions and banks in amounts of $100,000 to $10 million with the provision that 80 percent of the money must be loaned to businesses and consumers. The interest rate paid by the financial institutions is less than the market rate: 2.5% on a 12 month certificate and 2.25% on a 6 month certificate. The certificates will be purchased between December 8, 2008 and February 6, 2009.
Insurance Guide — The Office of Financial and Insurance and Regulation (OFIR) has announced the availability of the 2008 Buyers Guide for home and renters insurance. The guide is intended to provide assistance to those shopping for insurance in terms of rate comparisons and the results of satisfaction surveys regarding various companies. The guide may be obtained online at www.michigan.gov/ofir under Publications/Guides/Homeowners/Renters Insurance or by calling OFIR toll free at 877-999-6442.
Implementation of Medical Marijuana Law — The Department of Community Health has announced a new website to inform the public on its implementation of the medical marijuana initiative law. The website includes the new law and the proposed administrative rules for implementing the law which must be in place by April 4. The website address is www.michigan.gov/mmp.
Rearview Mirror Decorations — A federal court issued an opinion regarding the restrictions against drivers having decorative items hanging from the rear view mirror of an automobile. The court struck down such a restriction because the restriction was too general and vague. Not all decorative items hanging from rear view mirrors obstruct the vision of the driver. The court found that the restriction against hanging items from rear view mirrors allowed law enforcement too much leeway and discretion in deciding who to cite. In an unusual and unexplained move the court called the opinion back shortly after it was issued, leaving the matter in limbo.
People in the News
Jeremy Stevens has been named as Director of the Department of Management and Budget, replacing Janet McClelland who has been acting director since April, 2008. Stevens comes to the state from the private sector.
Linda Parker, Director of the Department of Civil Rights, has been appointed as a Wayne County Circuit Court judge by Governor Granholm. No replacement has been named for Ms. Parker.
William Anderson, Director of the Department of History, Arts and Libraries and the longest serving department head in the Granholm administration has announced his retirement. He has held the position since being appointed by former Governor Engler in 2001. Mark Hoffman has been named interim director of the department.
Lana Pollock, a former state senator and President of the Michigan Environmental Council has retired from that position. She will be replaced by another former legislator, Chris Kolb, who left the House of Representatives in 2006.
Representative Robert Jones, a Democrat fr om Kalamazoo, has been elected Chair of the Legislative Black Caucus. He replaces term limited former Representative Brenda Clack. Representative Shanelle Jackson, a Democrat from Detroit, was elected Executive Vice Chair of the Black Caucus.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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