A one-page summary of Michigan legislative activity and political news of significance to government operations, public policy, and voter attitudes. Published weekly during legislative sessions and intermittently during legislative recesses.
Written by David L. Kimball, Senior Consultant for Public Policy.
January 21, 1994
Legislative & Political News
- In his fourth State of the State address Gov. John Engler promised to be tough on crime, tougher on welfare, and to follow through on what he called historic reforms in the state’s education system. Regularly interrupted by mostly partisan applause, the speech drew its largest and only standing ovation in response to Engler’s introduction of Democratic Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer. As expected, the governor called for an end to the parole system and the imposition of flat sentences that must be served in entirety. Other centerpieces of the address called for “the end of welfare as we know it,” with current aid recipients required either to find work or enter job training programs.
- Former Ambassador to Italy Peter Secchia was named in Engler’s address as chair of a new blue-ribbon state commission. The group’s charge, said Engler, is to reengineer state government to give taxpayers more for their money. Secchia’s panel is to submit recommendations by the end of the year.
- The governor’s well-organized and upbeat text, decried by political opponents as election-year rhetoric, also urged passage of the March 15 ballot proposal to raise the state sales tax to provide local school operating funds. Engler roundly denounced the statutory backup plan, which relies primarily on a state income tax increase, that will be implemented if the ballot initiative fails.
- Gubernatorial approval this week of SB 896 (P.A. 362) concludes action on a record number of bills passed in the 1993 legislative session. Gongwer News Service notes that lawmakers approved more public acts last year than in any first year of a biennium since 1965. Many observers concluded that the shared power arrangement in the House actually speeded the deliberative process.
- State Treasurer Doug Roberts says Michigan may run out of matching funds that help finance gubernatorial campaigns. Roberts last week told the Lansing State Journal that fewer taxpayers are contributing to the voluntary campaign fund, which has been promoted on state income tax forms since 1976 as a way to help equalize spending among candidates and reduce the influence of special interests. Assuming all five current candidates for governor become eligible for the maximum two-to-one match of $990,000 in state funds, Roberts proposes that candidates receive 65 percent of this total. Alternatives include a legislative appropriation of additional funds or some candidates dropping out of the race or failing to qualify for the maximum match, leaving more available to their rivals.
- Veteran state lawmakers Reps. Dick Allen (R-Caro) and James O’Neill (D-Saginaw) have announced retirement plans at the end of their current terms. O’Neill, a former school administrator who figured largely in House education policy formation, has served for 14 terms. Allen, a former newspaper editor who serves on several appropriations subcommittees, is currently serving his sixth term.
- Two criminal proceedings for individuals charged with wrongdoing in the House Fiscal Agency scandal have yielded an acquittal and a legislative resignation. Luke Hasbany, former state retirement bureau employee, was acquitted this week by a federal jury in Lansing. Earlier this month, state Rep. Steve Shepich (D-Iron River) pleaded guilty to a single felony charge in Ingham County Circuit Court and submitted his resignation from the House effective on his sentencing date, February 16. His resignation will reduce Democratic representation in the lower chamber to 52 seats, due to the earlier retirements of Reps. Harrison and Hollister.
January 28, 1994
Legislative & Political News
- Ballot language for the March 15 school finance proposal was hammered out in a bipartisan compromise this week. Representatives for Gov. John Engler and House Co-Speakers Curtis Hertel and Paul Hillegonds agreed on an official description of the ballot proposal and the statutory plan that will automatically take effect if voters reject the ballot initiative. The Board of State Canvassers had deadlocked 2-2 on three earlier versions of the language last week. Within the 100-word constitutional limit on ballot proposal descriptions, Republicans had argued that elements of the statutory backup plan should be detailed so that voters would not think that the status quo was an option. Democrats countered that the ballot should list all the taxes—beyond income and sales—to be increased if the ballot initiative is adopted. The board has not yet approved the compromise language and such action may be moot, since the deadline for submitting language to county clerks passed this week. Democrats earlier petitioned the state court of appeals to either extend the deadline or approve the language by court order.
- “It almost breaks my heart,” confessed U.S. Canadian Ambassador James Blanchard in announcing that he would not run for Michigan’s open U.S. Senate seat. This was hard news for the former governor’s advisors who reportedly urged him to run, but cheered other potential contenders for outgoing Sen. Donald Riegle’s seat. U.S. Rep. Bob Carr (D-East Lansing) had been politely awaiting Blanchard’s decision and is now widely expected to enter an ample primary field including State Sen. Lana Pollack (D-Ann Arbor), former U.S. Rep. William Brodhead, and Macomb County Prosecutor Carl Marlinga.
- Quipping that “This proves that ‘powerful congressional chairmen’ can in fact kick the habit,” U.S. Rep. William Ford (D-Ypsilanti) this week announced his retirement after nearly 30 years in Congress. Currently chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee and a past chair of the Post Office and Civil Service Committee, Ford is one of the most senior congressional Democrats and becomes the tenth of Michigan’s 18-member congressional delegation to leave office in the past two years. U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-Trenton), the only Michigan congressman with more seniority than Ford, told the Detroit Free Press, “Bill’s retirement is going to give the people of Southeastern Michigan the best example of why term limits are not a good idea,” adding that he and Ford were the region’s “gold-dust twins,” regularly winning federal funding for area projects.
- Speaking at the Economic Club of Detroit this week, Governor Engler vaunted the fact that state government finished 1993 with its first budget surplus in 15 years. Most of the $312 million leftover will be deposited in the state’s rainy-day fund, with $26 million carried over in state accounts for the current fiscal year.
- A bill increasing nursing home staffing requirements passed 78-18 in the House this week. HB 4441 increases differentiation between nursing and other staff at care facilities and hikes minimum required ratios of licensed to unlicensed nursing staff.
- Rep. Steve Shepich (D-Iron River) moved his House resignation date to January 25. Shepich had planned to resign next month, following a Janauary guilty plea to the felony charge of filing a false travel voucher. House colleagues protested his continuation on the payroll after his plea. Former Republican Rep. Steven Dresch of Hancock is expected to run for the open seat and is currently given good odds for capturing it and increasing GOP strength in the lower chamber.
February 4, 1994
Legislative Week in Review
- Unanimous House approval sent a proposed Michigan Clean Campaign Act to the Senate this week where a similar bill received consideration during the last gubernatorial campaign. According to the Lansing State Journal, 18 other states have already adopted codes to hold candidates to a set of ethical standards, especially in campaign ads. HB 5215, passed 98-0, would require candidates to sign affidavits attesting to the truthfulness of their advertisement’s claims. Candidates would also be compelled to make personally any statements about their opponents. In other words, the candidate’s voice must be heard on the radio, and he or she must appear on camera, to make charges against an opponent. In recent campaigns, the most virulently negative ads have sought to distance the candidate on whose behalf the attack was launched from the text of the message. Under the proposed new law, those running for office would have to pledge to avoid character defamation and factual distortion in discussing opponents.
- Concurring with an earlier Senate vote on the issue, the House agreed this week that ending the automatic right of appeal of convicted criminals should be put to a public vote as a constitutional amendment. Under Senate Joint Resolution D, citizens would vote on whether criminal defendants whose convictions follow a guilty or no-contest plea would need agreement from the court of appeals to hear their case. Right of appeal in such cases is currently automatic.
- Ballot language is now official for Proposal A—which would finance public K-12 education through a sales tax increase—following last week’s approval by the Board of State Canvassers and a subsequent court ruling that the board’s action was valid even though the approval deadline had passed. Opponents to the plan were quick to emerge, with the usually neutral League of Women Voters said to be ready to join an anti-“A” coalition including the Michigan Education Association, the AFL-CIO, and the Michigan United Auto Workers.
- In Washington for National Governors Association meetings with President Clinton, Gov. John Engler is attracting national attention for his latest welfare reform proposals. Speaking Thursday to a National Press Club audience, Engler elaborated on his proposal to allow Medicaid payments for in-home care—permitting families to keep their disabled relatives at home instead of in nursing homes. He also advocated turning over the names of “deadbeat dads” to the IRS so that fathers delinquent in support payments to their Michigan children could be tracked down in other states.
- he Associated Press, however, assures us that this national attention is not luring the governor to aspirations beyond the Wolverine State. Quoted by AP at a University of Michigan Washington Alumni Club breakfast, Engler said, “I am delighted that we’re getting national recognition for some of the things we’re doing in Michigan,” and added that he is not thinking about running for president in 1996.
- House Education Committee Democratic Chair William Keith (Garden City) this week added his named to the list of legislative retirees. In announcing his decision not to seek a twelfth term, Keith said he would have ended his 22-year House tenure even earlier if school finance and education reform issues had been addressed sooner.
- By executive order, Governor Engler last week abolished the Michigan Employment Security Commission and its advisory council, transferring their powers to the Director of Employment Security, F. Robert Edwards. House Democrats and the Michigan AFL-CIO, still smarting from their loss in a 1991 lawsuit challenging the governor’s right to abolish commissions in the Department of Natural Resources, are threatening to file a similar suit over this latest abolition. Gubernatorial counsel point to the Michigan Supreme Court ruling upholding executive prerogative in the earlier action and predict that any lawsuit brought over the MESC will also fail.
February 11, 1994
Legislative Week in Review
- Sen. John Schwarz (R-Battle Creek) was elected Senate President pro tem last week by a Republican caucus secret ballot. Schwarz defeated Kalamazoo Sen. Jack Welborn for the position recently vacated by U.S. Rep. Vernon Ehlers.
- A stringent child pornography bill that would strip legal protections from materials previously held to have literary, artistic, political, or social value was passed by the House this week. HB 4177 would prohibit possession of obscene material depicting children, imposing penalties of up to one year in jail and a $10,000 fine. Critics of the bill argued unsuccessfully that medical school textbooks and parents’ home snapshots of their children could potentially run afoul of the proposed new law.
- The House also voted to tighten underage drinking sanctions by approving SB 154. The measure would mete 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine to anyone who permits minors to consume alcohol or other controlled drugs on premises over which they have authority. The bill takes aim at teen tippling at high school graduation open houses and requires Senate concurrence in changes made by the House.
- A proposed tax on real estate sales that would have been been higher (at 2 percent) under Ballot Proposal A than under the statutory backup plan (at one percent) was revised Thursday by the Senate. SB 999 would reduce the new levy to 0.75 percent under either plan. Education groups opposed the action, which reduced the total funds earmarked for education. House action is expected next week.
- With the vote on the state ballot proposal a scant five weeks away, interest groups continue to align themselves with one of the two school financing options. The Michigan Council for Maternal and Child Health lined up this week with the Department of Public Health behind Ballot Proposal A, due to that plan’s inclusion of a higher cigarette tax increase (50 cents per pack) than the statutory proposal’s 15-cent-per-pack hike. The tobacco levy is not the major component of either finance plan. The Michigan Association of Home Builders, the Michigan Grocers Association, and the 42 large metropolitan businesses constituting Detroit Renaissance have pledged support of the ballot proposal, which finances schools largely through a sales tax increase. The directors of the Michigan Municipal League, meanwhile, voted this week to back the statutory alternative, which would fund public education largely through a hike in the state income tax. Michigan Farm Bureau leadership says it won’t back either plan.
- Detroit made it big—and small—in the news this week. First, President Bill Clinton tapped Motown as the site of a world jobs conferencenext month. Clinton’s pick, pundits averred, reflected his accelerating friendships with automotive industry executives, his political alliance with new mayor Dennis Archer, and his need to make peace with big labor post-NAFTA. Meantime, the city itself got smaller, according to new Census Bureau estimates that slid Detroit from seventh to ninth among the nation’s largest cities. Local analysts were quick to counter that Detroit’s rate of population decline has slowed dramatically since the ’70s and ’80s, and both the greater Detroit metropolitan area and the state as a whole are actually growing.
- Nine-term House veteran Tom Scott (D-Flint) is the latest lawmaker to take himself out of the running. Scott has served on the Appropriations Committee for the past six years and in announcing his decision not to seek reelection told Gongwer News Service, “it’s time to find something else to do with my life.”
- State students did better on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) test this year. More than half of all fifth-, eighth-, and eleventh-grade students tested for science skills got satisfactory scores. But less than half the groups tested made satisfactory showings on tests for math and reading skills. This year’s Michigan high school graduates will be the first to receive diplomas that certify passing MEAP scores.
February 18, 1994
Legislative Week in Review
- The much-touted shared-power arrangement in the House buckled under partisan pressures this week as Republicans forced a real estate transfer tax bill out of committee to the floor of the full chamber where it passed 78-26. SB 999, approved last week by the Senate, reduces to .75 percent a new tax on real estate sales that comprises a tiny fraction of the state’s revamped local school funding. Under Ballot Proposal A the transfer tax would have been levied at 2 percent of real estate transactions; under the statutory backup plan, the tax would amount to one percent. SB 999 was deadlocked in the House Taxation Committee, whose members were considering their own version of the measure. Using their current three-vote majority in the lower chamber, Republicans mustered a 55-49 vote to discharge the bill from committee. Democratic revenge took the form of denying the bill immediate effect, meaning the higher transfer tax rates would remain in effect until 1995. Even without immediate effect, Governor Engler is said to be ready to sign the bill, which is seen by supporters as likely to increase support for Ballot Proposal A.
- Tempers were also strained in the Senate over the short notice preceding passage of SB 887, which would restore vocational education categorical funding. Senators complained that the bill was discharged from committee and presented for their action only moments before the 24-10 vote for passage, which will add nearly $20 million to the 1994–95 school aid act. The 70-page measure overturns a gubernatorial veto on revenue recaptures and restores “voc-ed” funds as a categorical funding item—thereby ensuring local districts continued eligibility for federal funds.
- A nine-bill package making carjacking a Michigan felony passed the Senate unanimously this week. SBs 773–781 provide for prison sentences up to life and reflect the fact that carjacking has remained a major crime problem in the state rather than the short-lived fad authorities once hoped it would be.
- Michiganians smoke more, weigh more, and live with more racial segregation than residents of most other states, according to separate surveys released last week. Results of a 1992 Department of Public Health survey showed more than a quarter of all state residents smoke—putting Michigan in the top 15 smoking states nationally. Nearly 30 percent of Michiganians are overweight, the survey showed. And Detroit, Flint, and Saginaw ranked among the nation’s most segregated cities in a University of Michigan rating using U.S. Census data. But this good news from the Michigan Safety Commission: Alcohol-related auto crash deaths are at an all-time low and seat belt use in the state hit an all-time high of 67.4 percent last year.
- As promised, U.S. Rep. Bob Carr (D-East Lansing) formally announced his candidacy this week for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat. Also joining the field of August 2 Democratic primary candidates is state Sen. John Kelly of Detroit. Michigan State University Board of Trustees chairman Joel Ferguson is reported to be considering the race.
- The state Agriculture Commission named state government veteran Gordon Guyer as Agriculture Department director, effective February 28. Guyer, who has headed both Michigan State University (1992–93) and the Department of Natural Resources (1986), is expected to stress collaborative interagency relationships and increased visibility for the state’s agriculture industry.
- State Rep. Dianne Byrum is the first announced candidate for the 24th Senate District seat being relinquished by gubernatorial candidate Sen. Debbie Stabenow. Completing her second House term, Byrum has become the senior lawmaker of the Ingham County delegation as the result of incumbents seeking other offices.
February 25, 1994
Legislative Week in Review
- Two bills passed by the House this week create endowment funds for state parks and the Civilian Conservation Corps. HB 5248 would earmark $40 million from the anticipated sale of the Accident Fund for state parks improvements, while HB 5249 would set aside $20 million from the same source to endow the conservation corps program that hires low-income youth as park workers. Opponents of the measures argued unsuccessfully that Accident Fund sale proceeds have already been earmarked for a number of other uses, including shoring up the states Budget Stabilization (“rainy day”) Fund.
- Punishment for marijuana possession would be harsher under SB 234, passed this week in the House. Aimed at people caught with lots of pot, the measure would impose a jail term of up to 15 years and fines up to $10,000 for those convicted of possessing 99 pounds or more of the illegal substance. Tougher sanctions are also meted out to those caught with more than eleven pounds of marijuana, while the existing law calling for up to four year’s imprisonment and $2,000 in fines was left unchanged for possession of lesser amounts.
- The 1994 election campaign for Secretary of State began this week with Macomb County Treasurer Candace Miller declaring her candidacy. In 1992 Miller became the first Republican in nearly a half-century to win a Macomb County election. Six-term incumbent Democratic Secretary Richard Austin has not yet announced his intention to seek another term.
- More than a year after state and federal investigations were launched into malfeasance in the House Fiscal Agency, a former HFA director and his associate will be arraigned on state and federal charges. John Morberg was charged this week with embezzlement, tax evasion, mail fraud, and racketeering. Malik Hodari is charged with embezzlement. State Attorney General Frank Kelley and a Grand Rapids grand jury disclosed the midweek indictments that allegedly involve some $0.5 million in public funds.
- House Republican Floor Leader Richard Bandstra (Grand Rapids) will leave the legislature this fall to seek a seat on the Third District Court of Appeals. An attorney and sociologist, Bandstra is currently vice-chair of the Judiciary Committee and is completing his fifth term. He is the second Republican and fifth House member to announce his retirement from the legislature this year.
- Former U.S. Ambassador to Italy, national Republican committeeman, and MSU presidential aspirant Peter Secchia was appointed by the governor this week to head a new Commission on Total Quality Government. Other members named to the panel—whose work is to be completed by the end of the calendar year—are Blue Cross/Blue Shield vice-president and former Democratic gubernatorial aide Rick Cole; Michigan Natural Resources Commission member and business executive Jordan Tatter; Civil Service Commission member and attorney Rae Chabot; and Michigan Strategic Fund board member and corporate CEO Jim Nicholson. Additional members are yet to be announced. Deputy Director of Management and Budget Donna Arduin will serve as executive director to the new commission.
- Governor John Engler’s interest in charter schools is reflected in the new office he has opened this week to assist in their development. Former Ferris State University College of Technology Dean Joel Galloway will head the Governor’s Office for Charter Schools.
- Governor John and First Lady Michelle Engler live in casual sweatsuits around the house and remain intent on someday having a family, Mrs. Engler told The Detroit News. Discussing her personal and family life, the former Texan and practicing attorney observed, “There are things more important than bad press, I gotta tell ya.”
March 4, 1994
Legislative Week in Review
- State homeowners got “just-in-time” delivery of a homestead exemption filing extension this week as Gov. John Engler signed HB 5430 into law on March 1. That date was the original deadline for taxpayers to claim a lower property tax rate for their primary residences. Citizens now have until May 1 to file, and by then they will know at what rate their home will be taxed: 6 mills will be levied on homesteads and some agricultural property if Ballot Proposal A passes, 12 mills will be levied if it fails. On all other property 24 mills will be levied under either scenario.
- Lack of a high school diploma seriously limits job opportunities—even in prison. This week the House passed a bill requiring that new inmates have either a diploma or a GED in order to work in corrections industries. HB 5350 passed 101-2. In a related action, the House passed HCR 608, calling on the prison industries advisory board to study the effects of its products’ sales on private industry.
- A five-bill pain-management package intended to divert patients from considering assisted suicide passed the Senate this week, while a similar plan is under consideration in the House. SBs 960–964 require health care professionals to receive pain management training as part of their required continuing education program. In addition, insurers are mandated to inform policyholders of hospice options available under their plans. The upper chamber rejected a proposal to make hospice coverage mandatory for insurance companies.
- A Wayne County Circuit Court ruling that overturns the recent gubernatorial abolition of the Michigan Employment Security Commission has drawn a predictable and quick reaction from the executive branch. The governor’s legal counsel reports that a request for a preemptory reversal will be filed with the court of appeals; if granted, the action permits expedited hearings before the state supreme court. Earlier this winter, Governor Engler had dissolved both the MESC and a companion advisory council by executive order, transferring the groups’ powers to agency director F. Robert Edwards.
- Democratic candidate Howard Wolpe launched a three-day campaign kickoff for the governor’s race this week with official announcements of his candidacy in Lansing, Detroit, Flint, and Saginaw. Beyond this formality, the former congressman has been an acknowledged candidate for months.
- But a majority of voters don’t know Wolpe—or any of his Democratic rivals—according to a candidate poll reported by the Associated Press. Wolpe was unknown to 60 percent of the Michiganians polled by Inside Michigan Politics; 59 percent didn’t know State Sen. Debbie Stabenow, while 78 and 81 percent drew a blank on State Rep. Lynn Jondahl and attorney Larry Owen, respectively.
- The same poll gave a name-ID rating of 50 percent or better to only two of eight hopefuls vying for Michigan’s open U.S. Senate seat. Democratic U.S. Rep. Bob Carr was known to 53 percent of those asked, while Republican Ronna Romney rang a bell with half of the sample. Trailing were State Sen. John Kelly (D-Detroit) with 48 percent; Democrats State Sen. Lana Pollack and Macomb County prosecutor Carl Marlinga (35 percent); former state GOP chairman Spencer Abraham (32 percent); former Democratic U.S. Rep. William Brodhead (25 percent); and former Republican State Rep. Judy Miller (18 percent).
- The district representative for former U.S. Rep. Bob Davis has been named as Governor Engler’s Northern Michigan Representative. Brian T. Swift replaces David Svanda, who has launched a challenge for the U.S. House seat now occupied by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Menominee).
- With Michigan Supreme Court Justice Robert Griffin scheduled to retire this year, his son, state appeals court judge Richard Griffin, has announced his plans to seek his father’s high court seat. A second state supreme court seat is also open this year with the expiration of Justice Conrad L. Mallett, Jr.’s term. Mallett is expected to seek reelection.
March 11, 1994
Legislative Week in Review
- House and Senate action approving 1994–95 budget appropriations in recent days has been largely obscured by the partisan son et lumière preceding next Tuesday’s statewide vote on school finance reform. All-funds budgets approved last week by the Senate include Corrections (SB 984, $1,223.8 million), Higher Education (SB 986, $1,360.9 million), Education (SB 985, $737.3 million), Mental Health (SB 988, $1,470.3 million), Public Health (SB 991, $567.5 million), and Community Colleges (SB 983, $247.2 million). This week the House passed two departmental appropriations, approving Military Affairs (HB 5262, $82.6 million) and State Police (HB 5265, $323.6 million) budgets.
- A 14-bill package aimed at curbing domestic violence unanimously passed the Senate this week. The package—which includes eleven House bills and three Senate bills—streamlines the process of obtaining and enforcing protective orders in domestic assault cases. The House is expected to pass the Senate bills (SBs 587, 813, and 1022) as well as to concur in Senate amendments to HBs 4024, 4308, 4325, 4357–62, 4397, and 4515.
- The House proposes to give Michiganians one less place to light up with this week’s 83-15 vote on a bill banning smoking in shopping malls. HB 5212 would restrict smokers to closed areas with separate ventilation systems. And, if the measure passes the Senate, don’t even think about puffing in the food court.
- In what could be called a split decision, Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer announced in favor of Proposal A and against reelection of Gov. John Engler. Republicans were eager for Archer’s ballot proposal endorsement, seen as critical the passage of the sales tax hike in overwhelmingly Democratic Detroit. Mollifying his party’s hierarchy, Archer tempered his school finance plan endorsement by noting his solid support of the Democratic gubernatorial candidate—whoever that may turn out to be among current contenders. The GOP actively sought Archer’s backing of the ballot proposal and sweetened the deal with passage in the Senate last week of a three-bill package extending local government’s authority to collect millage for existing bond debts no matter which school finance plan passes. Although House Democrats were hoping to defer action on SBs 1033–35 until after the March 15 vote, the bills are expected to pass.
- Democratic Lansing developer and former Jesse Jackson Michigan campaign chairman Joel Ferguson is scheduled to announce his U.S. Senate candidacy this week. Many pols give the MSU trustee chair a decent chance in the crowded primary field, assuming that he can attract the impressive African-American voter support that he produced for Jackson in the 1988 state presidential caucus.
- In two controversial votes last week, the Michigan Commission on Death and Dying mustered slender majorities supporting the concept of assisted suicide. With 7 of its 22 members abstaining on both questions, the panel voted 8-7 in favor of decriminalizing assisted suicide; a 9-6 majority supported legalization of physician-assisted suicide. The group’s meeting was disrupted by protestors seeking more panel input from handicappers. The commission must make its recommendations to the legislature by May 25.
- The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit this week to challenge the state’s informed consent abortion law that takes effect next month. Under the new statute passed last year women seeking abortions must be given written information on abortion risks, drawings of fetuses, and a list of pregnancy care and adoption services. They must then wait 24 hours before obtaining an abortion. The ACLU claims that Michigan’s law serves political, rather than medical, purposes and is biased in favor of an anti-abortion viewpoint. The Detroit Free Press observes, however, that similar laws have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, which earlier this year refused to strike down a comparable Pennsylvania statute.
March 18, 1994
Legislative & Political News
- The first shoe dropped last July when the Michigan Legislature eliminated all school operating property taxes. With a kerplop heard ’round the state, the second shoe dropped this week as Michigan voters overwhelmingly approved a school finance reform plan that
- increases the state sales tax from 4 percent to 6 percent;
- raises the state cigarette tax from 25 cents to 50 cents per pack;
- imposes a 6-mill tax on homesteads and a 24-mill tax on nonhomestead property (down from an average of 34 mills); and
- reduces the state income tax rate from 4.6 percent to 4.4 percent.
- Proposal A’s lopsided 3-1 victory over the statutory backup plan ends 25 years of debate and frustration over property tax relief and school finance reform that has generated 12 unsuccessful statewide ballot issues. Proposal A’s success has been claimed a signal victory for Gov. John Engler, who pledged to reduce property taxes in his 1990 campaign, strongly supported the ballot proposal, and overcame opposition from the labor unions, including the powerful Michigan Education Association, and from the tobacco industry, which deployed a multimillion dollar ad campaign against Proposal A.
- The new funding plan improves a system under which the state provides only 35 percent of the support for public schools, with local school taxes making up the rest; nationwide, state support is over 50 percent. State support for education will now jump to nearly 80 percent, second highest in the nation, and the lower spending districts will be brought up to no less than $4,200 per pupil in the first year, with limited increases for higher spending districts.
- Michigan has had an unbalanced tax system, with property tax burdens about 35 percent above the national average and a sales tax burden about one-third below the national average. The new funding plan moves Michigan to near the national average for both taxes. In two other, less-publicized changes the new funding plan caps assessment increases at the lower of 5 percent or the rate of inflation and eliminates separate payments to school districts for retirement and social security and rolls them into the foundation grant. The latter may result in smaller future pay increases for school employees (whose raises have lately outpaced those for private sector workers), since their districts now will be paying all retirement and social security costs rather than the state picking up this tab.
- Voters also picked favorites in several primary races across the state this week, while politicians handicapped their odds on the steadily lengthening list of open legislative seats. With partisan control of the lower chamber at stake in the April 26 special general elections, L’Anse Democrat Paul Tesanovich will face former GOP State Rep. Stephen Dresch of Hancock in the 110th House District. In the heavily Democratic 43d and 69th districts, County Commissioners Hubert Price and Lynne Martinez, respectively, will seek to retain their party’s hold on the seats. Price will face Pontiac Republican primary winner and insurance agency executive John Demers. In Ingham County, where Martinez eked a narrow victory over State Board of Education member and past chair Barbara Roberts Mason, political newcomer Maureen Bowyer won the GOP primary. In Grand Rapids, Republican Glenn Steil is counted the odds-on favorite to win the 32d Senate District seat vacated by U.S. Rep. Vern Ehlers. Winner of this week’s primary, Stiel will face Democrat W. Paul Mayhue, who won his party’s nod in light voting. In still other races, former state agriculture director Robert Mitchell is weighing a run for the U.S. House seat opened by Rep. Bob Carr’s announcement that he will run for the U.S. Senate. Also add to the list of those who are still making up their minds: Former State Rep. Perry Bullard (D-Ann Arbor), who may run for his old seat if the current incumbent Lynn Rivers (D-Ann Arbor) follows through with a bid for the congressional seat of retiring Ypsilanti Democrat U.S. Rep. William Ford.
March 25, 1994
Legislative Week in Review
- House Republicans pushed forward with hearings on a range of school reform measures that critics claim are revenge for education groups’ opposition to Ballot Proposal A, which won a sweeping popular endorsement in last week’s statewide voting. GOP-backed measures to fine striking teachers, permit privatizing of noninstructional school services, and bid out school employee health insurance are decried by the Michigan Education Association as thinly veiled retribution against the MEA for its expensive losing battle against Proposal A. House Republicans counter that they are merely following up, as promised, with post-“A” school cost-containment options.
- Background checks of prospective teachers got a House nod this week with passage of HB 4872, which permits school administrators to require prospective employees to be fingerprinted. This would allow out-of-state criminal background checks in addition to the currently mandated in-state crime record check. In a related measure, HB 5252 expands the list of felony convictions for which teacher certification would be revoked. At present, only sex and drug offenses are included. The proposed new law would add murder, assault, robbery, and controlled substance possession to the list.
- The Department of Military Affairs budget is the first 1994–95 appropriation bill passed by both chambers. HB 5262 received the Senate’s nod with its $82.6 million funding intact. The House Appropriations Committee announced its intention to complete action on remaining budget bills before breaking for a two-week recess.
- Much-discussed state parks funding bills passed the Senate this week despite a now-familiar objection from Democrats over the propriety of the funding source. Proceeds from the sale of the Accident Fund would be earmarked for a state parks endowment fund in a six-bill package approved by the upper chamber. While a recent Ingham County Circuit Court ruling contests the legislature’s authority to distribute Accident Fund sale proceeds, a 20-16 Senate majority relied instead on a statute authorizing the sale of the Fund next month.
- Both legislative chambers began their spring recess this week, with the Senate and House scheduled to return on April 11 and 12, respectively. Reflecting this hiatus, the next issue of Roundup will appear on April 14.
- A referendum petition seeking to overturn imminent auto insurance reforms was filed this week with the Board of State Canvassers. After months of contention and one failed ballot initiative, legislation passed last year revamped the state’s auto insurance provisions by temporarily reducing premiums and capping medical benefits. Opponents of the change, which is scheduled to go into effect April 1, claim to have gathered 240,000 signatures on petitions to put the question on the November ballot. The issue is headed for court and a determination whether the petition filing will have the effect of blocking implementation of the new law.
- Pencils ready? This week’s entrants in the November election sweepstakes include the following: For the U.S. Senate, former state representative and Michigan Business Ombudsman Judith Miller of Birmingham becomes the fourth GOP candidate to enter the race. For the 51st House District, Republican David Robertson hopes to oust incumbent Candace Curtis (D-Swartz Creek), who ousted him in 1992. For the 68th House District in Ingham County—where everyone not yet running for office lives next to someone who is—county clerk Lingg Brewer and Lansing police lieutenant Mike Trierwieler have both declared their Democratic candidacy for the seat vacated by Rep. Dianne Byrum (D-Holt). Byrum hopes to replace Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing), who hopes to survive a crowded primary and replace Gov. John Engler.
Erratum: The increase in Michigan’s cigarette tax under Ballot Proposal A was incorrectly reported last week. As any smoker knows, the per pack tax will jump from 25 to 75 cents on May 1.
April 15, 1994
Legislative Week in Review
- Critics claimed House Republicans were back with a vengeance this week, using their control of the chamber floor and a slender majority provided by the late-night return of vacationing colleagues to pass a teachers’ union regulation bill (HB 5128) near midnight Wednesday. The GOP has a three-vote edge in the lower chamber at least until the April 26 special elections to fill the vacancies in seats formerly held by Democrats, which had resulted in the 55-55 split that led to the current shared-power arrangement. Under that arrangement, Republicans control the House until May and were thus able oversee the discharge from committee of HB 5128. The bill imposes stiff fines on striking teachers and removes a variety of issues from the scope of collective bargaining. With every Democrat and one Republican (former Democrat Sal Rocca of Sterling Heights) voting against the bill, Republicans mustered the bare minimum 54 votes required for passage by sending staffers to Detroit’s Metro Airport to meet GOP Rep. Bill Bobier’s plane and driving the Hesperia lawmaker to Lansing for the late-night vote. The measures are expected to have smooth sailing through the Republican-controlled Senate despite protests from the Michigan Education Association and other teacher groups claiming inadequate public input on the controversial measures.
- Not to be outdone by House colleagues in mustering a post-recess partisan offense, Senate Republicans slapped a ban on bingo as a fund-raiser for political organizations. While both political parties’ local organizations use bingo games to raise money, they are believed to be more widely used currently by Democrats. Senate Bill 3 passed on a near-party–line vote of 19-14, with the upper chamber’s action described by Gongwer News Service as “sinking its teeth into the raw meat of political finance.” While Republicans contended that the measure was designed to close loopholes in the state’s campaign finance laws, Democrats charged the bill was being hurried through the Senate so that the reed-thin GOP majority in the House could have at it before losing control of the chamber.
- A fourteen-bill package aimed at curbing domestic violence was signed into law over the weekend by Gov. John Engler. Provisions in the eleven House- and three Senate-generated measures include increasing penalties for domestic assault, permitting warrantless arrests, and upgrading reporting and record-keeping requirements of both police and courts in domestic violence cases.
- Gov. John Engler launched his reelection campaign announcement on a ten-day, 40-city tour that began this week in Livonia and will end April 23 in Houghton, Alpena, and Sault Ste. Marie. Using a 24-passenger bus donated by a supporter and outfitted with exterior speakers, the Engler entourage is forsaking the trusty Oldsmobile that the candidate used to visit all 83 Michigan counties during his last campaign. The Oldsmobile wasn’t big enough, explained campaign officials.
- Former Lottery Commissioner and longtime Engler aide Jerry Crandall will begin his new duties with the House Republican Caucus on May 8. Crandall will be a liaison with the gubernatorial commission on government efficiency chaired by former national Republican committee member and U.S. Ambassador Peter Secchia.
- The unexpected legislative retirement of Sen. John Pridnia (R-Hubbard Lake) caught his colleagues off guard. Chair of the Health Policy and Senior Citizens Committee and four-term House member, Pridnia has said he will not seek a second Senate term. The legislative ripple effect is already being heavily conjectured, should Rep. Beverly Bodem (R-Alpena) or Rep. Pat Gagliardi (D-Drummond Island) leave their current House seats to try for the Senate vacancy. Other retirements announced over the lawmakers’ spring break are those of House Democrats Justine Barns (Westland) and Mary Brown (Kalamazoo). Brown has served nine terms, is Democratic Caucus chair and Insurance Committee co-chair. A six-term legislative veteran, Barns is co-chair of the Senior Citizens Committee. Meanwhile, Sen. Gilbert DiNello (R-Clinton Township) has announced that he’s not leaving. DiNello has dropped plans to run for the U.S. Senate and will seek instead to retain his state Senate seat. This will be his first campaign as a Republican since changing his party affiliation last year.
April 22, 1994
Legislative Week in Review
- The pitched political battle over teachers’ collective bargaining power persisted this week as Senate Republicans mustered the minimum 19 votes needed to pass HB 5128. The measure toughens current antistrike statutes and curtails teachers’ rights to bargain on working conditions. With the gallery packed with mostly booing spectators and the chamber lobby so crowded with concerned teachers that yellow police barrier tape was hung to provide passage to the floor for members, onlookers saw Republican Sen. David Honigman (West Bloomfield) in the chamber for the first time in weeks. Although recovering from stomach surgery, Honigman’s vote was necessary, so a hospital bed was installed nearby to which the convalescing senator could repair following the 19-18 vote. All Senate Democrats as well as Republicans Jon Cisky (Saginaw) and Fred Dillingham (Fowlerville) opposed the measure.
- In a related but surprise partisan move, Senate Republicans substituted a bill on political action committees (HB 5416), transforming it into a measure that blocks using union dues for political contributions and prevents automatic deductions from being used as contributions. Since unions comprise four of the state’s ten biggest political action committees, the measure is seen as severely hampering pro-union Democratic candidates. The measure passed 20-15. Summarizing Senate activity on the two bills, the Lansing State Journal wrote, “The bills culminated two weeks of Republican efforts to muscle through a political wish-list before next Tuesday’s special elections. If Democrats win the three empty House seats, Republicans will lose their 55-52 edge.” While they still had that edge, House Republicans approved the Senate’s substitute to HB 5416 by a 54-42 vote in their wee-hours session.
- Senate Bill 3, the controversial bingo ban that outlaws use of the game for political fund-raising won House passage in a marathon session running through Thursday night into Friday morning. The action, on a 55-40 vote, reflected earlier Democratic complaints that the bill was being rushed through the legislature to take advantage of the existing House GOP majority. Last year 76 of 81 political fund-raising bingo games were operated by Democrats.
- On a less contentious topic, the upper chamber passed handily two measures aimed at keeping violent offenders incarcerated. Dubbed “truth-in-sentencing” bills, SBs 40–41 mandate that people convicted of serious or violent crimes serve their sentences in secure facilities, and the bills also eliminate the practice of reducing sentences by the amount of a prisoner’s “good time.” Instead, the new bills substitute “bad time”—additional prison time added for misbehavior.
- A three-judge federal panel convened proceedings this week in a case alleging that the 1992 reapportionment of Michigan legislative districts misrepresents African-American voters in Detroit and Oakland County. A suit filed by the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union claims the revised legislative apportionment violates the federal Voting Rights Act by packing too many black voters into urban districts. The state Democratic and Republican parties are siding with the attorney general in the case and arguing against plaintiffs’ claims that two additional House districts and one more Senate district should be redrawn as majority-minority districts. The judges have raised the possibility that every legislative district—not just those in metropolitan Detroit—could be affected by the case’s outcome. Closing arguments will be heard June 7.
- More entrants have been added to the long and growing list of aspirants to Congress. In the 13th District, Democratic congressional chief of staff David Geiss hopes to ascend to the seat being vacated by his boss, incumbent U.S. Rep. William Ford. Opposing Geiss in the August primary will be first-term state Rep. Lynn Rivers (D-Ann Arbor). In the 8th District, Brighton businessman Dick Chrysler will be on the Republican ballot for U.S. Rep. Bob Carr’s seat. A former gubernatorial candidate, Chrysler lost a 1992 run against Carr. Democratic former state agriculture department director Robert Mitchell (Okemos) is also in the 8th District race.
- Detroit has a few days to prepare for President Bill Clinton’s visit Monday. Clinton will visit with emergency medical technicians and participate in some still-unscheduled activities promoting his health care reform plan.
April 29, 1994
- Democratic victories in three House special elections this week restored the 55-55 partisan split to the lower chamber pending a recount. L’Anse Democrat Paul Tesanovich nudged out former Rep. Stephen Dresch by only 49 votes in the 110th District. Dresch said that the strong Republican push in the capitol last week on bills punishing teacher strikes and limiting union influence cost him the election. Pending recounts and certification, fewer than fifty votes separated Dresch and Tesanovich out of almost 23,000 cast in the Upper Peninsula district. Margins were wider downstate, where Oakland County Commissioner Hubert Price won the vacant 43d District seat by a vote of 4,014 to 1,547, and Ingham County Commissioner Lynne Martinez had a 4,750-3,229 vote victory over Maureen Bowyer for the 69th District vacancy.
- There were no surprises in the 32d Senate District, where Republican corporate executive Glenn Steil achieved an expected victory with less than 12 percent voter turnout. Steil was sworn in this week to succeed former Sen. Vern Ehlers, who replaced the late Paul Henry in Congress.
- Three more names that will not be printed on November ballots were announced this week with Senators Paul Wartner (R-Portage) and Fred Dillingham (R-Fowlerville) disclosing plans to retire from the legislature. Dillingham, who is in his second Senate term after serving four terms in the House, created less surprise with his announcement than did Wartner, a first-term senator, chair of the Commerce Committee, and four-term House member. Redrawn Senate districts would have pitted Wartner against veteran Sen. Jack Welborn (R-Kalamazoo) in the primary for the new 21st District. In the House, six-term veteran Robert Bender (R-Middleville) announced his decision not to seek reelection.
- A national study released this week says children’s well-being in Michigan ranks near the bottom in the nation. The 1994 Kids Count report ranked Michigan third worst—ahead of California and New York—for the number of children living in severely distressed communities. Six states, including Michigan, account for almost half of all children living in severely distressed neighborhoods, according to a digest of report data published in the Detroit Free Press.
- Census forecasters expect Michigan to retain its rank as eighth most populous state in the next annual census in 2020, according to the Associated Press. The Wolverine State is expected to grow by about a million in the next three decades, during which time slightly fewer people are expected to call Michigan home. Forecasters expect the percentage of all Americans living here to drop from 3.7 to 3.2 percent.
Legislative Week in Review
- Two budget bills cleared the House this week, with the Senate growing restless at what it perceives as the slow pace in the lower chamber. The Senate Appropriations Committee this week readied some of its own spending bills for action if the House does not move faster on the remaining appropriations measures. In the House, lawmakers approved the Department of Transportation budget (HB 5260) 99-3. The package of federal and state restricted revenue contains no general funds. In passing the Labor and Commerce budget (HB 5266) the chamber redistributed $45 million in cultural grants earmarked for Detroit to smaller communities. The House also declined to adopt the governor’s recommendation that the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs be authorized to award arts grants. The budget bill passed as amended on a 63-39 vote.
- By a vote of 84-15 the House passed SB 639, excluding prisoners from certain provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. Under the bill, Michigan prisoners—who currently file an estimated 55,000 FOIA requests annually with the Corrections Department—would not be entitled to receive information on government officials and public employees.
- Passage by the Senate of SB 927 gave environmental education a boost this week. The measure requires the director of the state Department of Natural Resources to appoint an education coordinator and to assist the state Department of Education in increasing learning about the basic sciences.
May 6, 1994
Legislative Week in Review
- In approving two appropriations bills this week, the House upheld a gubernatorial recommendation stripping a state subsidy from Pontiac’s Silverdome and reaffirmed its commitment to fully funding the outstate court system. An amendment to the General Government budget bill (HB 5267) adds $138.5 million in general funds to support judicial branch operations. Now headed for the Senate, the measure exceeds the executive branch recommendation by nearly $130 million. The 85-15 vote on HB 5254 approved the Agriculture budget at $43.3 million in general funds, upholding the exclusion of the long-controversial Silverdome subsidy.
- Closely patterned after new congressional requirements, a financial disclosure bill for state legislators passed the House 90-11. Designed to make public the income, assets, and liabilities of state elected officials, the new measure also requires disclosure of any agreements regarding future employment.
- Increased casino gambling on Michigan reservations was cited as a rationale for Senate approval of HB 4516. The measure gives full police powers to tribal peace officers who meet training and other certification requirements.
- Gov. John Engler signed into law the factious measure imposing fines on striking teachers this week, leading the Detroit News to speculate on whether the new law will spark a flurry of teacher walkouts before it takes effect in April 1995. Teacher contracts in at least 60 percent of the state’s 524 districts will expire this year—an unusually high number, the News reports.
- A measure toughening school construction bidding procedures passed the House 90-9. SB 164 eliminates an existing loophole permitting school boards to accept bids after the specified deadline has passed.
- Rep. Paul Tesanovich (D-L’Anse) was sworn in to office in the lower chamber this week, restoring the 55-55 partisan vote split. A recount in selected parts of the 110th District has been requested by former Rep. Stephen Dresch (R-Hancock) whom Tesanovich edged by 39 votes.
- This week’s legislative retirees have a half-century of capitol experience between them. Senators William Faust (D-Westland) and Jack Welborn (R-Kalamazoo) have served in the upper chamber for 28 and 20 years, respectively. Welborn also served a term in the House of Representatives. Faust served as Democratic leader for a decade, while onetime gubernatorial candidate and ranking state conservative Welborn is considered the legislature’s expert on corrections issues. In his retirement announcement, Welborn endorsed incumbent Rep. Dale Shugars (R-Portage) to succeed him.
- Former U. S. Attorney John Smietanka has announced his Republican challenge to Attorney General Frank Kelley’s 32-year tenure in the post. Prior to holding the federal appointment in Grand Rapids from 1981 through last year, Smietanka was Berrien County prosecutor.
- Former gubernatorial director of state affairs Colleen Pero began a new job in Nashville, Tennessee, this month as executive director of the Republican Exchange Satellite Network. Pero left Governor Engler’s office, where she once worked with her chief-of-staff husband Dan Pero, for positions in the private sector.
- Michigan’s governor assumed the chairmanship this week of the Council of Great Lakes Governors. The ten-year-old council includes Indiana, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan and consults with the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
- America’s “Murder Capital” has headed south, according to a Detroit Free Press study showing Detroit no longer tops the chart of high-crime cities. The report gives that dubious distinction to Atlanta, noting that Detroit ranks ninth in violent crime and fifth in homicides among major U.S. cities. Surveying statistics from 186 communities with populations larger than 100,000, the report gave Michigan’s largest urban center a kinder, gentler rating than Miami, St. Louis, Little Rock, Tampa, San Bernadino, Baton Rouge, and Baltimore. Flint lined up behind Detroit at number ten on the violent crime index, while Grand Rapids led the national list for number of reported rapes.
May 12, 1994
Political Week in Review
- Tuesday’s filing deadline for November elections saw a plethora of candidates create what will be one of the busiest Michigan campaign seasons in a generation. The eight-candidate race for a U.S. Senate seat ties a state record set in 1978 for that contest. Ten state senators—the most since 1978—and more than a dozen state representatives will not run for reelection. As expected, several representatives—including most recently Rep. Joe Young, Jr. (D-Detroit)—have filed for Senate races as soon as incumbents revealed plans to bow out. Contrary to speculation, gubernatorial candidate Rep. H. Lynn Jondahl (D-Okemos) did not use a Tuesday press conference to announce a change in his plans to seek his party’s nomination to oppose John Engler on the November ballot. Lansing developer and Michigan State University Board of Trustees Chairman Joel Ferguson, thought by some to be cooling on the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, not only filed for the office but also announced that sports legend and Lansing native Earvin “Magic” Johnson would hold three fund-raisers for his campaign. Ronna Romney, one of two Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate seat, beat Tuesday’s filing rush-hour and got additional publicity in the bargain by filing 20,000 petition signatures last week.
- Electioneering began in earnest late last week as several major labor endorsements were announced. The 600,000-member AFL-CIO gave its endorsement to Democratic gubernatorial hopeful and former Congressman Howard Wolpe, as did the UAW. Fellow gubernatorial candidates Larry Owen and Debbie Stabenow received endorsements from the Michigan Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union, respectively. This week, the Michigan Education Association endorsed Owen. The 127,000-member public school employee union also backed the U.S. Senate candidacy of Democratic former U.S. Rep. William Brodhead.
- Against this escalating level of campaign background noise, four Lansing incumbents said farewell this week to further elective office. Senate veterans Phil Arthurhultz (R-Whitehall) and Jack Faxon (D-Farmington Hills) both cited the increasingly strident partisanship of the Lansing legislative process as contributing to their decisions. Faxon, who has served continuously since 1970, previously served in the House and was a delegate to the constitutional convention of 1961-62. A former Senate page and staff member, Arthurhultz has served since 1978. He has been majority floor leader for a decade. Faxon is a former president pro tem of the chamber. Former state trooper Rep. Bill Martin (R-Battle Creek) and second-most-senior House member and co-chair of the Appropriations Committee Rep. Richard Young (D-Dearborn Heights) will not return to the lower chamber. Young’s departure ends a 30-year legislative career. Martin co-chairs the Insurance Committee and is completing his fourth term.
- An annual state education poll found parents giving schools the lowest grades since the survey began 12 years ago. Conducted by Public Sector Consultants, the survey of 800 residents found only 42 percent willing to give their local schools an A or B grade. This is down from 56 percent last year.
- Michigan firms dominate a recent list of black-owned businesses published in Black Enterprise magazine. Nineteen state firms, including 12 from Detroit, put Michigan in top position, followed by Illinois (with 18 companies), New York (17), and California (16).
- A second rape conviction could bring chemical castration to perpetrators under omnibus anticrime legislation passed by the House this week. Use of the drug Depo-Provera on paroled repeat sex offenders is among provisions of HBs 5446–48, which passed overwhelmingly. The “three-strikes and you’re out” crime package restricts parole for habitual offenders convicted of specified crimes.
- The 1994–95 Department of Education budget (SB 985) passed the House this week on a 92-24 vote. The $42 million general fund spending bill got a $2.1 million hike over the version approved by the Senate, with the additional funds earmarked for a school breakfast program.
May 19, 1994
Legislative Week in Review
- With the Senate pushing to meet a June 3 tentative adjournment date and the House playing in part to the capitol presence of some 3,500 mature Michiganians at their annual Senior Power Day, legislative business was brisk this week. With an eye to the elderly, the lower chamber increased and extended the state home heating credit through the 1997 tax year. HB 5443, passed unanimously, hiked the 1994 maximum credit 20 percent above the previous year’s total.
- Budgets for the Department of Corrections (SB 984) and community colleges (SB 983) passed the House and were returned to the Senate for concurrence. After a flurry of amendments concerning prison practices such as smoking bans, mandatory AIDS tests, and use of state funds to buy color televisions, lawmakers approved a general fund spending package nearing $1.235 million. House members agreed with Senate colleagues on community college spending levels, approving the same $247.2 million general fund package endorsed by the upper chamber.
- A three-bill package passed in the Senate requires health insurers to provide coverage to adopted children. SBs 217 and 219 and HB 4310 passed unanimously. In related action, the House passed a trio of bills preventing health insurers from denying coverage to children of customers under certain circumstances. HBs 4161, 4167, and 4218 forbid insurers to deny enrollment of insured customers’ children because the children are born outside of marriage, are not financially dependent on the insured, or do not live with them.
- Magnetic strips and bar codes could be featured on state drivers’ licenses under HBs 5493–94 passed this week in the House. The new process would provide more accurate identification and would mesh with federally mandated programs under way in other states, backers say.
- The House last week passed a measure barring financial institutions from selling most forms of insurance. After spirited debate, the chamber passed HB 5281 on an 80-25 vote. The measure prohibits banks, credit unions, and savings and loan institutions from selling insurance other than credit insurance.
- State-grown ginseng will finally compete on the world market, thanks to HB 5438. The measure would give the state Department of Agriculture authority to permit the popular root to be sold interstate and overseas. Under the bill, Michigan ginseng—cultivated largely in the UP—would have a chance to compete for the $24-million annual U.S. ginseng export market.
- The 125 women seeking major elective office in Michigan this season set a new record, according to the Associated Press. Twenty-five women are running for state Senate seats and 89 have mounted campaigns for the state House. In addition, two are running for the same U.S. Senate seat, eight have filed for U.S. House races, and one is campaigning for governor. Currently, 3 of 38 state senators are women, the state House contains 25 females, and Michigan’s congressional delegation contains one woman. Women are estimated to comprise 54 percent of the U.S. population.
- Michigan Supreme Court Justice Conrad Mallett, Jr., has announced elections plans for a six-year term on the state’s high court. Elected in 1992 to fill the unexpired term of Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, Mallett has served on the court since 1990.
- Rep. Sal Rocca (R-Clinton Township) decided last week to forsake his House seat and run instead for Macomb County commissioner. That still leaves a Rocca in the running: The incumbent’s wife Sue will be campaigning to keep the 30th District seat in the family.
- Dean of the Michigan congressional delegation John Dingell (D-Trenton), chairman of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, told the Detroit Free Press this week that passage of health care reform legislation is his single most important challenge. “I shaped virtually my entire career with this goal in mind,” he said, adding, “I am a man of no small patience. If we don’t do it now, by the great hand of Zeus, we will do it soon.”
May 26, 1994
Legislative Week in Review
- Two budget bills wended their way toward gubernatorial approval this week as the Senate approved House action on appropriations for the departments of Mental Health and Corrections. SB 984, which authorizes a general fund spending level for Corrections of $1,234.9 million, passed the Senate 19-15. Mental health spending is set at $1,011.3 million (general fund) under SB 988, passed in the Senate 35-1. This brings to seven the number of state departmental budgets already approved by the legislature. So far only the general government budget has required assignment to conference committee to resolve differences between the two chambers.
- Lawmakers warned Michigan youngsters not to take guns to school by passing SB 966, which sets mandatory expulsion as the penalty. The Senate measure stipulates a full-year suspension for students above the fifth grade; younger kids would be banned from school for half a year. SB 1099 requires offenders to receive alternative education under provisions of the Juvenile Code.
- Proposed new statutes adopted in the Senate make it less desirable than ever to be the object of a high-speed police chase—or to get in the way of one. SB 1041 caps noneconomic damages to innocent bystanders, while SB 1040 toughens current penalties for fleeing a police officer, and SB 1042 limits police liability for damages incurred in such chases.
- A package of nine Senate-passed bills cracking down on carjacking got the lower chamber’s nod this week. SBs 773–781 create a new felony category for auto piracy and permit the prosecution of juveniles. Coincidentally, state police statistics released this week showed an eight-year decline in state auto thefts. Michigan has dropped from second place in number of thefts per citizen to fifteenth since 1985.
- Insurance companies would cover services of a nurse-midwife under bills passed without dissent in the House this week. HBs 4989 and 4991 would mandate that insurers providing obstetrical coverage must extend the same benefits to services provided by nurse-midwives. Some, but not all, carriers currently reimburse these services, backers noted.
- Call it the best thing since white bread: On a unanimous vote the House repealed a 1941 statute setting the minimum size for a loaf of bread sold at retail. Growing numbers of singles and empty-nesters were clamoring for lesser loaves, and lawmakers were clearly determined not to be heels on the issue.
- State leaders found no easy answers this week to the latest fiscal issue confronting them: a projected revenue surplus of up to a half-billion dollars by 1995. This optimistic news was first reported by the Senate Fiscal Agency. Proposals for deploying the anticipated bonanza include repealing the real estate transfer tax, reducing income taxes on pensions, addressing deferred maintenance needs at state higher education facilities, and beefing up statewide community policing. Less enthusiastic about the new-found surplus—estimated at $400 million in the current year, with $100 million in additional funds predicted in the next fiscal year—is Public Sector Consultants Vice President and Senior Economist Robert Kleine. Kleine says Proposal A cut school operating revenues by more than it raised in other taxes, creating a long-term structural deficit of about $1 billion in the school aid fund.
- “Detroit never had a better champion,” said Senate Minority Leader Art Miller (D-Warren) about his late colleague Sen. David Holmes(D-Detroit), who died unexpectedly over the weekend. The six-term civil rights advocate ran unopposed in his last election and served eight terms in the House. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Detroit) had filed but withdrawn from Holmes’s newly renumbered 3d District, not wishing to run against him. State elections bureau officials have told her she is free to launch a write-in campaign for the Senate and decide after the August primary if she will appear on the ballot as a candidate for her current House seat or the vacant Senate seat.
June 2, 1994
Legislative Week in Review
- With the campaign trail beckoning, lawmakers continue whittling away at a legislative agenda with 1994–95 appropriations bills at the top of the list. Last week the House passed the Department of Public Health budget, 74-23. SB 991 appropriates $607 millon, of which $177.2 million comes from the general fund. This week the Senate approved and forwarded to the House a Department of Natural Resources budget of $101.24 million in general fund spending. In adopting a $118.8 million general fund Regulatory budget, the Senate’s solid Republican control slipped momentarily. On a 19-17 vote that saw four GOP senators voting with the Democrats, the upper chamber amended HB 5266—which covers the departments of Commerce and Labor—with language barring long-term assignment of commerce and labor employees to the governor’s office while their salaries are still paid from their agency’s budget, a practice that results in an executive branch staff far larger than it appears on paper. The Senate version of the commerce budget restores $4.5 million in cultural grants to Detroit that had been reallocated to other cities in the House version. In approving the Department of Agriculture budget, the Senate modified its spending totals to match those already approved by the House for HB 5254, thus avoiding the need for a conference committee. The upper chamber’s 33-3 vote approved a $42.9 million general fund spending level.
- A package of criminal sexual conduct bills passed the Senate unanimously this week. HB 5389 broadens the definition of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct, while HBs 5414 and 5415 make it easier to conduct DNA profiles of convicted sex offenders.
- Youth violence would take a hit under provisions of the Juvenile Gang Board created within the attorney general’s office by HB 5508. Passed unanimously in the lower chamber, the bill would establish a 13-member board authorized to award grants to programs that combat gang violence.
- A new, 19-member commission would propose judicial sentencing limitations for legislative approval under a bill passed in the Senate this week. HB 4782, which aims to provide more uniformity in sentencing, is tie-barred to two Senate bills currently awaiting House action.
- Ebullient spokeswomen in the Office of the First Lady confirm that Michelle Engler is expecting triplets just prior to Christmas 1994. She is on leave from her legal practice and is said to be restricting her appearances.
- A closing chapter in the 18-month-old House Fiscal Agency malfeasance scandal transpired in Ingham County Circuit Court this week as former agency director John Morberg pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges. Morberg will be the seventh individual convicted for participation in a thicket of embezzlement and kickbacks.
- Seizing the campaign initiative, Gov. John Engler sent letters to his four Democratic opponents this week suggesting a trio of fall debates with whomever emerges from the August primary. Several of his challengers were quick to reply that the offer was too little, too late and that Engler should make himself more available. The Detroit News quoted Engler predicting his November opponent: “Debbie Stabenow. She’s the odds-on favorite,” to which Senator Stabenow (D-Lansing) is quoted as retorting, “That’s the first time in three-and-a-half years we’ve agreed on anything.”
- Hot on the heels of a state fire marshal’s report that arson and suspicious fires jumped by 7 percent last year came a poll disclosing that most Michiganians back the death penalty even though innocent persons might be executed. The statewide survey found 55 percent of voters affirming capital punishment. Taken together, these facts suggest that saying Yes! to Michigan is not for everyone.
June 9, 1994
Legislative Week in Review
- House lawmakers bit off the first key recommendation of a legislative ethics panel by banning officeholder expense funds. HB 4837, spearheaded by a bipartisan group of 21 first-term legislators, passed 97-3. Supporters hailed the measure as a way to curb potential abuse of monies often perceived by the public as slush funds. Other reforms urged by the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee—including a ban on all cash honoraria and better record-keeping of legislative expenses paid by lobbyists—are likely to receive House approval before the chamber recesses.
- Unanimous rejection in the House of Senate changes in the regulatory budget proposed for the departments of Commerce and Labor sent HB 5266 to conference committee this week. Disagreements over the disposition of cultural grants and the assignment of Commerce and Labor employees to other state departments continue to defy legislative compromise. In other budget bill news, House concurrence in Senate changes to the Department of Agriculture budget (HB 5254) sent that appropriation of just under $43 million in general funds to the governor for signature. It is the tenth of 18 spending bills to clear the legislature for the 1994–95 fiscal year. The Department of Social Services (DSS) budget cleared the House on its second try this week. HB 5264 earmarks $2.2179 billion in general fund spending. The higher education budget also passed the House this week, with representatives approving SB 986 with a general fund spending level of $1.356 billion. Neither the higher education nor DSS appropriations bills attracted an adequate majority to give the measures immediate effect, however.
- Unusually specific legislation passed the House this week concerning the candidate filing deadline for the 4th Senate District seat vacated by the sudden death last month of Sen. David Holmes. HB 4093, which has already passed the Senate and has Governor Engler’s support, extends the filing deadline for the seat. The prime beneficiary of the measure is Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Detroit) who originally filed for the seat, then withdrew on learning of Holmes’s plan to run again. Holmes died 11 days after the filing deadline. A special election for the seat’s unexpired term running through December 31 has been set, with primary balloting on August 2 and a general election date coinciding with the statewide ballot on November 8. Representative Kilpatrick is reportedly not planning to enter the special election, in which Representative Holmes’s widow has expressed interest. Were Kilpatrick to enter and win the special Senate election for the lame-duck legislative session, her necessary resignation from her current House seat would give that evenly split chamber a one-vote Republican majority during November and December.
- To the very end, consensus on assisted suicide eluded the state’s Commission on Death and Dying, which sent a final report containing three conflicting recommendations and a sheaf of appendices to the legislature this week. Meantime, the Michigan Supreme Court is scheduled to hear appeals beginning in October in five different cases challenging the constitutionality of the state’s ban on assisted suicide and involving criminal charges against its best-known proponent, Dr. Jack Kevorkian.
- Will State Insurance Commissioner David Dykhouse leave his post? Detroit’s major daily newspapers and Lansing’s legislative reporting services say yes, indicating that the impeccably credentialed Wall Street attorney and Milliken administration Insurance Bureau chief might be an election year liability, due to “lack of political savvy.”
- The National Rifle Association will work on improving its image, according to its new national president. Michigan United Conservation Clubs Executive Director Thomas L. Washington was elected to a one-year term as head of one of the nation’s most powerful interest groups. “Clearly, we [the NRA] don’t have the right image, or the image we deserve,” he said in a Detroit News interview.
June 16, 1994
Legislative Week in Review
- Lawmakers disposed of the last major departmental budget this week, as unresolved disagreement over the Department of Social Services budget sent HB 5264 to conference committee. As usual, DSS spending symbolized diametric partisan political philosophies, with the Senate passing the budget 20-11, and the House unanimously rejecting it 0-92. The $2.2-billion general fund DSS appropriation approved by the Senate is $10 million short of the spending level passed last week in the House. This spending bill is one of five major budgets on which lawmakers hope to reach final consensus when they resume session next Tuesday.
- After a long session and a string of unsuccessful amendments to Engler administration-approved bills, the House approved on Tuesday seven bills offering tax cuts totaling $155 million. Small businesses are expected to reap $85 million through measures including a 0.05-percent reduction in the state single business tax. A feet-to-the-fire amendment—reminiscent of last year’s SB 1 abolishing property tax–based school financing—to eliminate the SBT was defeated by the lower chamber 36-63.
- An additional $70 million in revenue reduction passed the House in the form of two bills offering tax relief to retirees. HB 4801 would raise income tax exemptions on private pension income, while HB 5278 permits retirees without pensions to claim more tax-exempt interest or dividends. The total package of $155 million in tax breaks reflects a painstakingly negotiated agreement with legislative quadrant leaders and the executive branch, prompted by optimistic revenue estimates that may push the state beyond the constitutional limit on total taxes that it can collect in the next year.
- A measure expanding the school aid budget continued to pick its way back and forth between legislative chambers this week, with the House concurring in Senate changes to HB 5463 that add nearly $42 million for schools in the 1994–95 fiscal year. Back in the Senate, lawmakers stripped from the bill provisions added in the House to give wealthier districts the same ability to seek voter-approved funding increases that poorer districts now have. If the House fails to concur in these latest Senate changes, the bill will end up in conference committee.
- With an offer of $291 million, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Michigan had the wining bid in the state sale of the Accident Fund. The Fund’s 400 employees will have until mid-August to match the bid and thereby take over the company themselves. Other bidders included the Michigan Insurance Partners, created by Physicians Insurance Company of Michigan and Michigan Physicians Mutual Liability Company, both in Okemos, and The Michigan Fund Company in New York. Meanwhile, the state has requested a supreme court decision on whether the Fund’s policyholders have a right to the assets of the Fund as the policyholders allege; an affirmative opinion could undo the BCBSM deal.
- State Superintendent of Public Instruction Robert Schiller is reported to be considering a new job in New Jersey, where he worked for two decades before assuming the Michigan Education Department’s top administrative post. Schiller’s three-year tenure has been marked by tension with an executive branch eager to downsize and deemphasize the department. His contract runs through 1997.
- National women’s groups are targeting Michigan’s U.S. Senate race as one of their best shots in the fall elections. Seven women now serve in the upper chamber of Congress; of this year’s 34 U.S. Senate races, 15 have at least one woman running. Michigan’s crowded primary field for one of the Senate’s seven open seats includes Republican Ronna Romney and Democratic State Senator Lana Pollack.
- As expected, Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Detroit) has abandoned her House reelection campaign in favor of running for the state Senate seat vacated by the late David Holmes. Gov. John Engler signed into law a special extension of the Senate district filing deadline, facilitating Kilpatrick’s switch.
September 16, 1994
Legislative Week in Review
- With virtually every legislative seat up for grabs—only 54th House District incumbent Kirk Profit (D-Ypsilanti) is unopposed—lawmakers reconvened in Lansing this week for what most predict will be a brief and bland interval before returning to the final heat of their 1994 electoral campaigns. Senate Republicans, who control the upper chamber, decided only hours after returning to engage in a succinct, two-week fall session and recess on September 29. The House likely will follow suit, and all legislators will head for the hustings as each party tries mightily to retain or regain partisan dominance in the House and Senate.
- As both parties try to outgun the other with their tough-on-crime stance, a six-bill weapons permit package shot unopposed through the House this week. Senate Bills 972–977, already passed in that chamber, add restrictions to handgun licensure and require that information on ineligible applicants be filed in a computerized law enforcement data base. Thus, names of potential handgun buyers under certain restraining orders, on conditional bail, or with a history of mental illness would show up on a newly created “no-license” list.
- The House also passed, 99–7, a long-term health care pilot program that would extend certain Medicaid benefits to middle-income families whose private insurance will not cover costs of long-term care. House Bill 5559 would permit combining Medicaid funds with a patient’s private insurance.
- The Senate was forced to close its doors against the clamor of dozens of protesters urging action on a bill to boost nursing home staffing. Demonstrators claim to have 25,000 petition signatures backing Senate enactment of HB 4441, which would increase nursing home staff by setting a minimum number of direct care hours residents must receive.
- It was a sunny summer of picnics and primaries that thinned contenders’ ranks for Michigan’s thousand-odd county, state, and federal elected offices. In a particularly combative Democratic gubernatorial primary, Howard Wolpe emerged victorious. He has been endorsed by former Republican First Lady Helen Milliken, but the GOP has countered with the anointment of incumbent John Engler by former Democratic Lt. Gov. Martha Griffith.
- With the general election six weeks away, Michigan is getting a good deal of national attention, and the political stars are coming out for state candidates. Former Vice President Dan Quayle has already been to Detroit and will return later this month to Lansing on behalf of his former staffer, Spencer Abraham. The race between Abraham and U.S. Rep. Bob Carr for Michigan’s open U.S. Senate seat is one of the most closely watched races nationally—pundits are pondering the odds of a partisan power shift in Congress.
- Feminist and author Gloria Steinem does breakfast next week at a Lansing fund-raiser for Democratic congressional candidate Bob Mitchell, a former Blanchard administration department head who is taking on wealthy businessman Dick Chrysler for Carr’s U.S. House seat. Carr, meanwhile, hopes to benefit from Vice President Al Gore’s presence at a Detroit fund-raiser later this month.
- Jaded voters in Flint-Saginaw-Bay City may be the winners in WNEM-TV’s decision this week to nix all political ads for the duration of the campaign. According to the Detroit Free Press, the station says it can make more money from other advertisers, who pay higher rates. The station’s market covers four state Senate districts and all or part of more than a dozen House districts. Likely to be hurt most are candidates challenging incumbents in the affected districts.
- Employees of the Accident Fund were bit by the Blues this week when their bid to buy the newly privatized workers’ compensation insurer fell short of a competing offer from the state’s largest health insurer. The State Administrative Board has rejected the employees’ purchase offer and declared Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Michigan to be the successful bidder. Loan charges on funds the employee group planned to use as a down payment reduced the value of the offer below the $291 million bid from BCBSM that already was on the table.
September 22, 1994
Legislative Week in Review
- Faster than a speeding bullet, state legislators adjourned for their preelection recess days earlier than originally planned after passing new penalties for gun-toting teens. The House and Senate are scheduled to return on November 10. Roundup will resume publication on November 18, appearing weekly through the lame-duck session that statutorily ends in December.
- Both parties pushed hard on the crime “hot button” Wednesday, sending the governor a measure that would automatically expel studentscarrying guns or knives at school. Rape and arson committed on school grounds are also punished with expulsion under House amendments to SB 966, which Gov. John Engler has pledged to sign. Students through grade six would face mandatory 90-day expulsions for any of these infractions. Older students would be barred from school for six months, with the option to petition for reinstatement after 150 days. Extensive House debate failed to gather support for amendments requiring alternative education programs in lieu of expulsion. Narrow exceptions to expulsion exist for students who can prove they either unknowingly possessed the weapon or were unaware of its danger. A 78-23 House vote on the amended bill sent the measure back to the Senate, where unanimous concurrence sent it to the governor.
- Construction of guard towers at the state’s high-security prisons won Senate approval on a 31-2 vote this week. Opponents of SB 1219 argued that without additional personnel to staff them, the towers are less useful than additional fencing. The House has not taken up the measure. In a related move, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a budget transfer to pay for tower construction at two state prisons. These funds had already been approved by the lower chamber, whose Appropriations Committee members declined this week to authorize an additional $10 million to expand the project.
- Senate changes to a measure implementing portions of federal “Motor Voter” legislation parked the bill in conference committee when the House unanimously rejected Senate changes. HB 5531 enacts the national Voter Registration Act intended to ease the registration process. Several states have challenged provisions of the federal law.
- There will be three, the backdrops will be blue, and no props are allowed. With these and other ground rules hammered out in an eight-page agreement, the dates and sites for gubernatorial debates were finally disclosed. The no-prop ban presumably extends to the nickel—that five-cent piece used to such good effect by then-candidate Engler in the 1990 gubernatorial race to signify the paltriness of property tax reductions proposed by his opponent. Governor Engler will defend his claim to the title against challenger Howard Wolpe in rhetorical matches set for September 26 in Grand Rapids, October 9 in Southfield, and October 18 in East Lansing. Hectored, say some, into picking up the gauntlet tossed by candidate Debbie Stabenow, Lt. Gov. Connie Binsfeld has agreed to a debate on October 13.
- Congressional dean John Dingell told President Clinton this week that health care reform is a dead issue in this legislative session awaiting a “decent burial.” The 20-term Trenton Democrat, who chairs the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, has introduced health care reform legislation each session since 1955. In a letter to Clinton, U.S. Rep. Dingell concluded “with sadness” that the insurance industry and other interest groups spent “tens of millions of dollars aimed at poisoning any chance of action.” Dingell’s letter was excerpted in the Detroit News.
- Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick’s election campaign is now focussed on the House, where she seeks a ninth term in the 9th District. A recount on her write-in campaign for the 3d Senate District primary race last week certified Henry Stallings II the winner by an 8,000-vote margin.
November 17, 1994
Legislative & Political News
- While Michigan’s capital city readies a minor league baseball stadium site, Michigan’s first family delivered two triple plays last week. The three daughters born to Michelle Engler mark the first time since 1864 that an incumbent governor has become a father. Meantime, a one-seat GOP majority in the House gave Republicans control of both legislative chambers for the first time in a quarter-century in addition to the executive branch, which Engler retained in a landslide election victory.
- The Democratic view from the top of the ticket was lonely, with only Attorney General Frank Kelley (playfully tagged by some wags as the Eternal General) retaining his office in a GOP administration made more so by the election of Secretary of State Candice Miller, who deposed Kelley’s longtime running mate Richard Austin.
- House and Senate races saw only one incumbent ousted: Republican Sen. Gil DiNello (East Detroit). A GOP victory in a formerly Democratic open seat kept the partisan tilt in the upper chamber at 22-16. In the House, Republicans captured retiring veteran Dearborn Democrat Dick Young’s seat for a 56-55 edge that ends shared leadership of the chamber. Rep. Sandra Hill (R-Montrose) eked out a 70-vote reelection victory—doubling her 1992 victory margin of 35 votes.
- Familiar faces were reappointed to legislative leadership posts by quadrant caucuses. Detroit Democrat Rep. Curtis Hertel will head his party as House minority leader. While House Republican caucus rules prohibit leadership elections until at least eight days after an election (they have been scheduled for November 21), it is a virtually foregone conclusion that longtime caucus leader Paul Hillegonds will assume the Speaker’s chair. Important GOP vacancies include majority floor leader, held by outgoing Rep. Richard Bandstra, who won election to the 3d District Court of Appeals. In the Senate, as expected, Dick Posthumus (Alto) and Art Miller (Warren) retained their posts as majority and minority leaders, respectively. Sen. Dan DeGrow (Port Huron) ascended to the vacant majority floor leader position; DeGrow’s post as caucus leader was taken over by Mat Dunaskiss (Lake Orion).
- Early executive branch shuffles saw Carol Viventi, gubernatorial deputy chief of staff, named as secretary of the Senate, ending speculation about the likelihood of her replacing chief of staff and campaign director Dan Pero, who is leaving at the end of the year to work with potential presidential aspirant Lamar Alexander. Viventi will serve out the year as head of Engler’s second-term transition team.
- By most reckoning, the legislature’s lame duck session won’t be lengthy. Current plans call for the chambers to return on November 29 for a week or two at most. High on a very short list of legislative priorities in the waning days of an evenly divided lower chamber are Proposal A implementation bills—several of which were reported out of the House Taxation Committee this week—as well as legislative action on charter school funding recently deemed unconstitutional and community policing and domestic violence measures.
- On the congressional front, Washington insider Spencer Abraham claimed the vacant U.S. Senate seat also sought by Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Bob Carr, whose House seat was taken by Republican Dick Chrysler. Incumbents won remaining races, yielding a House delegation with a 9-7 Democratic edge and a senator from each party.
- U.S. Rep. Vernon Ehlers will be one of ten House members on that chamber’s transition team preparing for the Republican majority takeover in January. Ehlers holds a Ph.D. in physics and will be charged with getting Congress on line via the Internet. He told the Associated Press that his aim is to offer the average citizen access to government comparable to that of the highest paid lobbyist.
- The next edition of Roundup will be published on December 1.
December 1, 1994
Legislative Week in Review
- With the empty chair of the state’s longest-serving Democratic legislator draped in mourning, it looked and felt like the end of an era as Co-Speaker Curtis Hertel (D-Detroit) gaveled to adjournment Wednesday the final House session under his party’s control for at least two years. The Democrat’s last month of shared power in the lower chamber was cut a day short by cancellation of Thursday’s session, to permit lawmakers to attend the funeral of Dominic Jacobetti (D-Negaunee). Representative Jacobetti’s 40-year legislative tenure included almost two decades as chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee.
- To no one’s surprise, Paul Hillegonds (R-Holland) was elected Speaker of the House by his caucus last week. Frank Fitzgerald (R-Grand Ledge) survived a challenge by Alan Cropsey (R-Dewitt) to retain the Speaker pro tem position, and Ken Sikkema (R-Grandville) replaced newly elected judge Richard Bandstra as floor leader. The new positions of associate Speakers pro tem went to Jessie Dalman (R-Holland) and Penny Crissman (R-Rochester).
- A five-bill package of domestic violence legislation passed the House this week, including one measure that puts abusive dating relationships in the category of domestic violence. The House bills—5804–08—are virtually identical to measures already passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee; action by the full Senate on its package is expected before year’s end.
- A dozen bills addressing technical implementation aspects of Proposal A also passed the lower chamber this week, despite unsuccessful amendment attempts on the floor. HBs 5680, 5846, 5931, 5933, 5935, 5937, 5940, 5942–3, 5945–6 address collection and distribution, school aid funding, and millage assessment formulas.
- Secretary of State-elect Candice Miller has named a transition team headed by state Chamber of Commerce Vice President Robert LaBrant and Lansing attorney Ken Brooks; the group also includes her husband, Don.
- In other news of Millers, spouses, and transitions, Republican Sharon Miller—who put up a good fight against incumbent Jim Berryman in the 17th state Senate District—was appointed by the governor to head the Michigan Women’s Commission. Miller, whose spouse is director of the state Department of Social Services, replaces Anne Mervenne; Mervenne is returning to the governor’s office, as a member of his transition team’s executive committee.
- Figures just in from the U.S. Commerce Department list Michigan as the nation’s third-largest exporter, trailing only California and Texas and ahead of New York and Washington.
- Montrose Republican Rep. Sandra Hill’s minuscule 70-vote victory margin in the 47th House District has been formally challenged by opponent Rose Bogardus, who asked this week for a recount of the 16,207–16,137 tallies. Expressing perhaps the most guarded optimism of the campaign season, Ms. Bogardus predicted her chances of winning a recount, and thereby returning the House to a shared power arrangement, range from slim to none.
- Concluding a round of sparsely attended public hearings, members of the State Officers Compensation Committee (SOCC) are leaning toward recommending a six percent pay hike for top state officials. The SOCC—whose salary recommendations for the governor, lieutenant governor, state senators and representatives, and Michigan Supreme Court justices take effect automatically unless both legislative chambers vote to reject them—earlier received a report listing Michigan officeholders’ compensation as among the ten highest in the nation.
- In the U.S. House of Representatives, David Bonior (D-Mt. Clemens) remained in the saddle as Democratic whip, despite a challenge from conservative Texan Charlie Steinholm, in caucus elections held this week. In other news, Barbara Rose Collins (D-Detroit) has been awarded an title even loftier than congresswoman: The Ghanan town of Pepease has designated her as a queen mother. In describing plans for her installation ceremony next month in the West African nation, Collins said that “this is not merely an honorary position, but a genuine coronation, with all the responsibilities and privileges afforded to royal family members.”
December 9, 1994
Legislative Week in Review
- This week’s flurry of law-making belies a relatively light legislative session, according to the Lansing State Journal, which reports total session days for the House and Senate at 75 and 68, respectively, down from 117 and 112 last year. Notwithstanding the campaign demands of an election year, the 1994 session is the shortest since 1965.
- Over the catchy but unheeded admonition of Sen. Jim Berryman (D-Adrian) to “keep government out of our deathbed,” the upper chamber passed a permanent ban on assisted suicide on a 26-9 vote. The governor is expected to sign the ban outlined in SB 1311 if it passes the House next week.
- A revamped charter schools statute passed by the Senate is aimed at overcoming objections of the circuit court judge who last month ruled an earlier measure unconstitutional. Substitute SB 1103 specifies that charter schools—like the rest of the public education system—fall under the authority of the State Board of Education. The state board also is awarded authority to charter schools under the measure, whose 20-14 vote for passage was insufficient to give the bill immediate effect.
- A four-bill package of often-ballyhooed-but-never-passed ethics reforms won Senate approval handily this week. Each chamber has a history of ignoring the other’s initiatives in this area, so House approval of the measures will be an acid test of legislative will. The four bills passed by the Senate are: HB 4731, banning cash honoraria (but not travel reimbursement or awards); HB 4326, imposing a one-year waiting period on former legislators accepting employment as Lansing lobbyists; HB 4837, sunsetting Officeholder Expense Funds on January 1, 1996; and SB 1319, increasing lobbyists’ reporting requirements for travel expenses.
- Fundamental changes in the state banking code permitting financial institutions to sell insurance won the required two-thirds approval of the House so easily as to surprise nervous supporters of the much-negotiated six-bill package. HBs 4021–22 and 4726–29 passed with seven or fewer votes in opposition.
- New dad and Gov. John Engler kept his first-term campaign pledge to visit all 83 state counties annually but plans to travel less as a family man, according to an announcement from his office removing the all-county itinerary from his second-term agenda.
- Increased family responsibility is also cited as the reason for canceled holiday parties at the Lansing gubernatorial residence. The half-dozen open houses have been scrapped, says press secretary John Truscott, because “it’s tough to disrupt the household when you’re feeding the triplets every two hours.”
- At an estimated cost of $35,000 less than his first inauguration, the governor’s second-term swearing-in festivities are billed by inaugural committee chair Susy Heintz as “low-key.” A formal New Year’s Day ball will kick off ceremonies including an inaugural mass in Lansing celebrated by Adam Cardinal Maida and a public receiving line in the capitol.
- All this and a pay hike, too, according to the recommendations of the State Officers Compensation Commission (SOCC) that call for the chief executive to receive a 4 percent raise in 1995 and 1996; other elected state officials will get 3 percent salary boosts under the panel’s plan. In supporting the increases, SOCC chair Don Barden told Gongwer News Service that Engler’s 61 percent electoral majority “speaks for itself as an expression of satisfaction by the public in his performance.”
- Guess who’s making a list and checking it twice: The Commission on Total Quality Government whose report, due December 20, is now in final draft form with discussion and recommendations on 37 issues.
December 15, 1994
Legislative Week in Review
- The 87th session of the state legislature ended Wednesday as it began, with spirited debate on school funding. Eleventh-hour compromise saw the chambers okaying legislation to reauthorize charter schools and to restore funding to eight existing charter academies whose continued state support had been jeopardized by a court ruling. SB 1103 amends the charter statute earlier ruled unconstitutional by an Ingham County circuit court judge. An interim funding bill (SB 887) providing current-year operating funds to most extant charter schools passed the House and Senate on votes of 87-5 and 30-2, respectively, as the legislature’s last substantive action. Not covered in the provisional funding bill is Noah Webster Academy, the computer-linked home school network.
- Effectively killing an assisted suicide bill, the Senate received without action a House version of SB 1311, which named conferees to iron out differences between the chambers including whether to send the issue to voters in 1996. Legislative disposition of the emotionally charged issue got a nudge Tuesday from the Michigan Supreme Court in the form of an usual evening decision that upheld the validity of an earlier, temporary prohibition that noted that assisting in a suicide is proscribed under common law and declaring that there exists no constitutional right to assisted suicide. The issue is not closed, with partisans on both sides vowing to raise it in the next legislative session.
- A vision of expanded optometric practice became reality last week after a decade of wrangling. House concurrence to Senate changes in HB 4331 will permit optometrists to diagnose and treat patients over the opposition of ophthalmologists, who expressed keen disappointment at the measure’s passage in the waning hours of a lame-duck session.
- At the time, Governor Engler’s executive-ordered reorganization of the Department of Natural Resources in 1992 spawned a squabble that reached the Michigan Supreme Court. Last week, SB 257 codified the once-controversial restructuring that includes the elimination of 19 boards and commissions.
- New gubernatorial chief of staff Sharon Rothwell continues a tradition of husband/wife teams in Engler administrations. The replacement for Dan Pero—whose wife served as director of state affairs—is the former director of the Office of the State Employer and is married to the CEO of the Michigan Jobs Commission. Top executive office staff reporting to Sharon Rothwell remain unchanged, although press secretary John Truscott assumes the additional title of communications director while former director Rusty Hills has been named public affairs director.
- At press time Thursday, pay raises of up to 15 percent for state department directors and other unclassified employees had not received the required approval of the House Appropriations Committee. The governor’s requested fund transfer to implement the salary hikes for his top administrators needs approval from the appropriations panel in both chambers, not from the entire legislature. The Senate committee has given its nod to the proposal.
- When Congress reconvenes next month, it will contain the first Republican chairman from Michigan in 40 years. Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Holland will chair the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee. In other committee assignments, GOP Rep. Joe Knollenberg of Bloomfield Hills has been appointed to the appropriations committee. Several key retirements and Republican control of Congress have diminished the state’s congressional committee clout from the past session, when Democratic Michigan delegation members chaired four committees and two subcommittees.
- Under a constitutionally mandated timetable, the 88th session of the Michigan legislature convenes on January 11. Regular publication of Roundup will resume on January 19.