LEGISLATIVE UPDATES ...
October 22, 2012
BLUES BILLS CLEAR SENATE, AWAIT HOUSE ACTION
Although concerns were expressed that the “Blues” legislation was being done because of the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA, the Michigan Senate passed legislation (SBs 1293 and 1294) that would transform Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) from a charitable trust into a nonprofit mutual insurance company owned by policyholders.
The bills would also require the company to be regulated under the same code that governs the state’s other health insurers and requires BCBSM to pay an estimated $100 million in tax revenue and contribute about $1.5 billion over 18 years to a nonprofit organization to fund initiatives to improve health in Michigan. In return, the “Blues” would get quicker review of its rate requests.
With the House and Senate both adjourned until after the November 6 election, the measures will not see any action in the House until lame duck.
Even then, House Insurance Committee Chair Pete Lund (R-Shelby Twp.) says there is no definite deadline, no specific goal for handling the legislation in his committee which is likely to hold more than one hearing.
JUDGE SAYS “NO” TO CITIZENSHIP QUESTION
A U.S. federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction that puts a halt to the Secretary of State from using the U.S. citizenship checkbox in the Nov. 6 election.
Judge Paul Borman said the citizenship question “…is just not inviting, it’s creating chaos.”
The main plaintiff in the case was Ingham County Clerk Mike Bryanton.
Missing from the trial, however, was whether the Secretary of State had the authority to require a voter to declare whether or not they are a United States Citizen. That is a question for state courts to determine.
Secretary of State Ruth Johnson says she will not appeal Borman’s decision saying the turnaround time between a potential appeal and the election is too short.
Meanwhile, in a recent interview Secretary of State Johnson says she is not ruling out filing a lawsuit against the federal government over its refusal to provide information that would help clean up the Qualified Voter File (QVF). The issue has been in the spotlight relative to the context of the citizenship question on ballot applications.
Johnson said if she had citizenship data from the feds her office could contact and potentially remove ineligible, non-citizen voters before they committed a felony by voting.
The feds mandate everybody getting a driver’s license be asked if they would like to register to vote, which registers non-citizens. But efforts to determine if the person seeking the license is a U.S. citizen are being hindered, according to Secretary of State Johnson.
DEMS PUSH ELECTION REFORMS
House Democrats have introduced a seven-bill package of legislation (HBS 5954, 5971, 5972, 5973, 5978, 5979 and 5980) aimed at reforming the state’s election laws.
The measures would allow split ticket voting in primaries, making county clerk positions nonpartisan, offering online voter registration, and allowing voters to request absentee ballots without providing a reason as to why they need to vote absentee.
The legislative package would also allow people to register to vote at any county, city or township clerk office, allow 16-year-olds to preregister to vote once they have been issued a driver’s license, allow people to register to vote at their polling places on Election Day and require the Secretary of State to develop a system to allow people to submit voter registration applications electronically.
PANEL MOVES TO BLOCK MIOSHA COMMISSIONS
Legislation (SBs 1335 and 1336) is awaiting Senate lawmakers when they return after the election that would eliminate various state workplace health and safety regulation boards – measures strongly opposed by Democrats and organized labor.
The bills would streamline the current MIOSHA system by giving the director of the Department Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) the power to form an ad hoc committee to make any rule changes.
The measures would also eliminate the occupational health standards commission and update with federal hazard communication standards.
TRANSIT AUTHORITY LEGISLATION STALLS
Efforts by Gov. Rick Snyder and others to get the House and Senate to move legislation that would create a Regional Transit Authority (RTA) stalled in both chambers and will now wait until lame duck.
The legislation would create a regional transit authority for the metro Detroit area and would allow the authority to enter into agreements with road agencies to designate specific traffic lanes as public transit lanes to be reserved for buses as part of a new rapid transit system.
The RTA is also needed to get $25 million in federal funding for rapid buses and $25 million for a light rail system along Woodward Avenue connecting Detroit to the suburbs.
IS PPT ON LAME DUCK AGENDA?
Will the phase out of Michigan’s Personal Property Tax (PPT) be on agenda in Lame Duck? House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) says it could well be on the House agenda.
Keep in mind the Senate last May passed an eight-bill package of legislation that would make major reforms of the PPT including an exemption for commercial and industrial personal property, exemptions for manufacturing personal property and creation of a PPT Reimbursement Fund to help local taxing units for debt mill loss.
Speaker Bolger called the PPT “horribly designed” and expressed a desire “to continue to make Michigan more competitive.”
MICHIGAN IS MOVING ON UP
Michigan’s switch from the Michigan Business Tax (MBT) to the corporate business tax has resulted in an improvement in the state’s business climate, according to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation’s 2013 rating of all 50 states.
The foundation says Michigan has moved from 18th to 12th – a six-spot jump and the biggest of any state outside of Maine which jumped seven spots.
Michigan’s sales tax rank was seventh in the country. The biggest drag, however, was its unemployment insurance tax rank at 44th among the states. The property tax ranks 31st and the income tax ranks 11th.
STATE EMPLOYEE CONTRIBUTION REQUIREMENT BLOCKED
The law (Public Act 264 of 2011), requiring state employees to choose between contributing 4 percent of their salaries to their pensions or convert to a 401(k)-style plan, has been ruled unconstitutional by Ingham County Circuit Judge Joyce Draganchuck.
The state says it will appeal the judge’s decision.
In the opinion, Draganchuck held that only the Civil Service Commission (CSC) had the authority to make such a change.
The opinion cited an earlier case from AFSME Council 25 over the mandated 3 percent employee contribution, which was struck down at a lower court and the Court of Appeals.
MICHIGAN FILM OFFICE HAS NEW DIRECTOR
Margaret O’Riley, who has served Republican elected officials on the policy side of economic development, has been tapped by Gov. Rick Snyder to serve as the new director of the Michigan Film Office beginning Oct. 29.
O’Riley was involved in the creation of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and was most recently a senior advisor to Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and the Michigan Department of State’s chief of staff.
BIRKHOLZ LEAVES MICHIGAN OFFIC OF THE GREAT LAKES
Gov. Rick Snyder has named Consumers Energy Executive Jon Allan as the director of the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes replacing Patty Birkholz who resigned.
Allan will serve as an Executive on Loan from Consumers Energy for a minimum of one year.
He worked as director of environmental policy and intergovernmental affairs for the utility but will suspend his connections with the company.