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 and Jonathan Hansen, Senior Consultants for Public Policy.

January 12 and 19 and 26

January 12, 1996

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • Secretary of State Candice Miller wants to bring Michigan up to speed on the information super-highway by issuing high-tech driver’s licenses featuring digitized photographs and information-coded magnetic strips. To pave the way, the House has passed and sent to the Senate HBs 4285 and 4541. Proponents of the bills believe that having a driver’s photo and signature digitally stored in the secretary of state’s computer and encoding the information on magnetic strips in a manner much as it is on credit cards will have several advantages over the current license: It will be easier and safer for drivers to renew or replace licenses by mail, merchants will be able to more accurately and quickly verify check-writers’ identity, and eventually, such licenses can be used to verify voter signatures on petitions or at the polls. The proposed system will add one dollar to the cost of obtaining a license.
  • Representative Frank Fitzgerald (R-Grand Ledge) finds himself in the cross hairs of a recall campaign initiated by gun lobbyists. Despite Fitzgerald’s being up for reelection this November, the Citizens Self-Defense Council seeks to gather nearly 9,000 signatures to place the question of his recall on a special election ballot before then. Fitzgerald recently voted—with a majority in the House—against a bill sponsored by Rep. Alan Cropsey (R-Dewitt) that would have relaxed the concealed weapons statutes in Michigan. In a related development, the National Rifle Association has announced that it will bestow its Defender of Freedom Award on Cropsey at a dinner next week.
  • Amid reports this week revealing that Michigan spends $5 million on anti-smoking programs and an estimated $240 million on smoking-related health-care costs comes a renewed effort to get state pension funds divested of $400 million in tobacco company stocks. In a letter to Gov. John Engler, Attorney General Frank Kelley states that “Investment in the tobacco industry is inconsistent with our public health policy.” Engler spokesperson John Truscott says that the governor stands by the investments and that to interfere with the pension portfolios in this way would set an unwise precedent.
  • The Natural Resources Commission—with two newly appointed members—narrowed the list of candidates for director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources from thirty-three to four. Among those on the short list are Rodney Stokes—chief of the DNR’s Real Estate Division, Tracy Mehan—current director of the Office of Great Lakes, and Michael Carrier—head of the Parks, Recreation, and Preserves Division of the Iowa DNR. The fourth candidate’s name was not disclosed.
  • U.S. Rep. Barbara Rose Collins (D-Detroit) has fired four of her nine Washington office staff members for refusing to take lie-detector tests concerning stories that were leaked about protocol in her office. According to the Detroit News, Collins has discharged staffers who declined polygraph testing. Collins’s chief of staff, Meredith Cooper, denied the allegation about the tests but did confirm the dismissals, stating that “We thought it was an opportune time to restructure the office.”
  • A substantial majority of Detroit and metro area residents believe that Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer is making great strides in easing racial tensions, improving city/state relations, and fostering a business-friendly climate, according to results of recent Detroit News–sponsored poll. He needs to do more, however, opines Governor Engler. In a speech before the Economic Club of Detroit this week, he urged Archer to pick up the pace of the fight against “the defenders of the status quo,” in which the governor included unions, entrenched bureaucrats, and perhaps even the Detroit City Council. Interspersed among his high praise for Archer’s reform efforts of the past two years were pointed suggestions that if the city is to progress further, its administration needs to take a hard look at privatizing many city services and also expand charter school availability.

Copyright © 1996

January 19, 1996

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • Legislative activity slowed to a crawl in Lansing this week as attention focused on Gov. John Engler’s sixth State of the State address on Wednesday. “The rust belt is history,” Engler declared, asserting that “now, Michigan is driving America’s renaissance.” Pointedly partisan, the text slammed President Bill Clinton in one of only two references to Democrats in the 25-page address. Pundits who had predicted that the speech would aim to advance Engler’s standing as a national figure were not disappointed: The Detroit News counted “six references to Washington, D.C., and none to Detroit,” while columnist George Weeks sniffed that Engler’s message “reads like a resume for a spot on the GOP ticket. Maybe he’ll take a copy when he goes Friday to San Diego to meet with Republican National Convention planners.”
  • As expected, Engler called for more prisons—four new facilities, including a so-called “punk prison” for youthful offenders.
  • Also expected, the governor called for less government, through Executive Orders to consolidate state departments. He confirmed his intention to effect the much-anticipated merger of the departments of Labor and Commerce into a new Department of Consumer and Industry Services. A more controversial merger would combine the departments of Mental Health and Public Health, give it Medicaid administration (a function currently within the Department of Social Services), and retitle the new entity the Department of Community Health.
  • Although detractors complain that the governor devoted more time to extolling past achievements than to outlining new initiatives, in fact, his address proposes the following innovations:
    • No-form, no-file state income tax, eliminating paperwork for residents who don’t itemize
    • A Project Zero pilot program in five counties, with a goal of moving every able-bodied adult currently on welfare into full employment and financial independence
    • A Clean Corporate Citizen designation guaranteeing environmentally responsible industries “hassle-free” state permits
  • Plans to privatize liquor distribution were uncorked this week in Lansing, almost a year to the day from when they were promised in Governor Engler’s 1995 State of the State address. Almost 400 permanent and temporary state jobs will be ended under the plan, which closes state-owned warehouses and outsources most of the liquor distribution among the state’s 63 stores.
  • Consistent with earlier rumors, the state Department of Transportation director, Patrick Nowak, has announced his resignation, effective February 16. Nowak, a Republican, is considering a run for the 9th U.S. House District seat held by Dale Kildee (D-Flint).
  • In Lansing and Detroit this week, Speaker of the U.S. House and enthusiastic Engler fan Newt Gingrich launched the verbal fusillades for which he is so noted. Calling Michigan the epicenter of the “Republican revolution” against a “do-nothing President,” Speaker Gingrich entertained at a fund-raising breakfast for Congressman Dick Chrysler (R-Brighton) and at a $1,000 per plate dinner at the Henry Ford Estate.
  • Meanwhile, in Ann Arbor, hundreds of Clinton supporters and readers stood in rainy line for a handshake and an autograph from the First Lady, who was in Michigan as part of her book tour.

Copyright © 1996

January 26, 1996

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • Michigan lawmakers spent much of the week in committee meetings, with relatively little floor action until Thursday’s vote on the nine-bill renaissance zone package pending before the Senate. Although Governor Engler has been eager to sign the bills, which are the centerpiece of his administration’s urban renewal policy, into law yet this month, House action now is considered unlikely before February. Provisions of the main bill, SB 668, waive state and local taxes for property owners in eight designated areas, five of them urban and three rural. Democratic critics say the bills will create “elitist zones,” attracting wealthy businesspeople who wish to relocate into shoddy neighborhoods solely for the tax breaks, without concomitant reinvestment and job growth for local residents. The Democrats favor restrictions mandating that additional employees for relocated businesses be recruited from the local neighborhood. Such an amendment failed in the Senate, where the GOP majority successfully argued that such strictures constitute government micro-management of business.
  • The newly appointed head of the Department of Natural Resources is K.L. Cool, director of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. A former army tank platoon leader with a self-described “bias toward quick decision making,” Kool pledges to transform the DNR into a “consumer-driven, consumer-supported, and—eventually—a consumer-appreciated agency.”
  • The chair of Congressman Dick Chrysler’s (R-Brighton) reelection campaign minces no words in disparaging Chrysler’s opponent. Former state Sen. Debbie Stabenow “led a deceptive and malicious campaign against my husband, all the while oozing sincerity and smiling sweetly.” So says Michigan First Lady and Chrysler campaign leader Michelle Engler, according to Detroit News reports. Following up Mrs. Engler’s remarks, the governor advised, “Debbie better get used to it; she’s going to have Michelle tracking her down.”
  • Last week was a good one for top state bureaucrats, who got pay raises of up to 11 percent, the first adjustments since 1994. Directors of the six largest state departments have had their annual salaries boosted to $97,000, while eight other agency heads will see their pay hiked to $93,000, from the current level of $87,300. A gubernatorial proposal for 15-percent increases for the department heads was rebuffed by the lame-duck legislature of 1994, which instead authorized the governor to adjust salaries in 1996.
  • The National Conference of Democratic Mayors has elected Detroit leader Dennis Archer as president of the 380-member organization. Observes the Detroit Free Press, this “catapults Archer squarely into the national political spotlight, where he joins another Michiganian, Gov. John Engler, who is chairman of the Republican Governor’s Association.”
  • Can’t live with it, can’t live without it: Thus runs the apparent political wisdom about confidentiality in university presidential searches. The University of Michigan is back in the headlines over its desire to sidestep having to name names early in the process. Critics claim that the university’s use of a screening committee and a search consultant too closely parallels the 1993 closed-door U-M presidential interviews, which the state supreme court subsequently ruled to be in violation of Michigan’s Open Meetings Act. The U-M regents have approved a three-phase process for establishing search criteria and identifying five finalists, whose names will be disclosed before final interviews. However, current plans call for the six-month applicant-review process to be conducted out of public view. Meantime, the U-M vice president for research, physicist Homer Neal, has been named interim president. He will serve from June 30, when incumbent James Duderstadt steps down, until a permanent successor is named. Neal expresses adamant lack of interest in candidacy for the full-time post.

Copyright © 1996

February 2 and 9 and 16 and 23

February 2, 1996

Legislative Week in Review

  • State insurers will gain more leeway in setting rates if a controversial bill passed in the Senate this week is upheld by the House and signed by the governor. House Bill 5177 would eliminate current restrictions that require insurance companies to use rating territories and to cap price differences between adjacent territories. Opponents claim that the measure will sharply hike rates of drivers and homeowners with accident records or who live in areas that have high theft and accident rates. Supporters point out that with insurers not mandated to use territorial ratings, insurance costs can be based more on individual risk and less on geographical area, and they argue that the measure will increase competition, which acts to keep rates in line. The bill passed the Senate 29–8.
  • Michigan now is one of only two states without a law against incest, but that would change under legislation passed by the House this week. Sex between close relatives, if one of the parties is younger than age 16, is banned under Michigan criminal sexual conduct statutes, but the same prohibition does not now apply if both parties are 16 or older. The discrepancy came about in 1975, when the criminal sexual conduct laws were revised. House Bill 5076, which passed without dissent, prohibits incest between people 16 and older but precludes prosecution if a party can establish that s/he was coerced or controlled by the other party.

Political News

  • Today’s word is “ubiquitous” and it describes Gov. John Engler’s placement in the intergalactic network of political career speculation. Never mind that large photo in last week’s New York Times Magazine depicting Engler looking more at home in House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s office than Gingrich did. And leaving aside the London Economist magazine’s admonition to readers not to be surprised if ” a roly-poly 47-year-old from Mt. Pleasant . . . one day pops up as president.” Now comes the current issue of Time magazine, which proposes Michigan’s chief executive as a likely compromise choice of a deadlocked GOP nominating convention in the wake of a Dole-disappointed primary season. “Flattering, but highly unlikely,” Engler’s press secretary told the Lansing State Journal about Time’s expostulation. By any measure, that’s a lot of buzz in a ten-day period.
  • Reactions are sharply mixed to a proposed $82-million statewide environmental cleanup project announced this week by Department of Environmental Quality director Russell Harding. That sum would be committed annually for the next 20–40 years to restore contaminated sites, many of them urban. The concept generally is conceded to be the good news; what drew quick protests from environment groups is the plan to fund some $25 million of the annual budget from the Natural Resources Trust Fund, the proceeds of which are constitutionally earmarked for acquiring recreation land for public use in perpetuity. The proposed trust fund transfer—or “raid,” depending on which side of this issue one is on—represents the bulk of the fund’s annual revenue, which derives from royalties on extraction of the nonrenewable oil and gas deposits under state-owned property.
  • The more things change, the more they… resemble politics. Consider Wyandotte mayor James DeSana, who once was a Democratic state senator (1977–86) until replaced by Christopher Dingell (D-Ecorse). A decade later, DeSana is back, newly Republican, and declaring a challenge for the congressional seat held for the past 22 terms by U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-Trenton), Senator Dingell’s father.
  • An ambitious cooperative program to boost the state’s lackluster immunization rate for toddlers was unveiled this week. State health care providers are teaming with the Michigan State Medical Society and the Department of Public Health in an effort to bring Michigan’s vaccination rate of two-year-olds up from dead last nationally. The current rate is 61 percent, and the goal of the initiative is 90 percent.

Copyright © 1996

February 9, 1996

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • By passing SB 769 by a wide margin, the Senate is attempting to instill a sense of responsibility in high school students who are parents. The so-called “pay to play” proposal would prohibit high school students from participating in extracurricular activities—including sports—if they are more than four weeks behind on child support payments. Current state guidelines stipulate weekly payments of $8 by noncustodial parents with incomes up to $50 a week and $13 for those with incomes of $90–100.
  • One of the most colorful, articulate, and unapologetically liberal House members will not be back at her desk next January. Although Rep. Maxine Berman (D-Southfield), will stay actively involved in Democratic political activities, she says “It’s time to try something else.” Berman is a 14-year legislative veteran who has established herself as a force in public health, education, and women’s issues. She also will be remembered for her pointed recounting, in The Only Boobs in the House Are Men, of her experiences as a female legislator in the male-dominated chamber. She says a second book, a political novel, is in the works.
  • Members of the Liquor Control Commission voted to 5–0 to approve a plan to privatize the wholesale liquor distribution system in Michigan. The commission approved the plan after it had been altered to assuage concerns articulated by businesses that sell alcohol, such as bars, restaurants, and hotels. The plan will close the state’s three main liquor warehouses and 63 smaller warehouses, eliminating 320 employees. The plan is scheduled to be implemented by May 1, 1996, but the commission chair, Phil Arthurholz, acknowledges that deadline may be affected by legal challenges to the proposed plan.
  • Colleges and universities may be the big winners in the state budget sweepstakes. Governor Engler’s proposed 1996–97 spending plan includes an overall five percent increase—the largest in a decade—for higher education. The proposal includes $580 million for capital improvements on Michigan campuses. The governor’s budget also calls for additional spending for health care programs for low-income children, in-home health care for the elderly, and two new juvenile prisons.
  • If you’ve got it , flaunt it. Due in large part to the increasing national political stature of Governor Engler, Grand Rapids is looking forward to getting a bit of national exposure. About two weeks after November’s presidential election, west Michigan’s largest city will host the 1996 Republican Governors’ Association annual meeting. Engler chairs the group, and media interest in the event could be considerable, depending on the outcome of the election and whether the governor’s national role continues to expand.
  • The wisdom of state funds being invested in tobacco companies was questioned this week by nearly two-thirds of the registered Michigan voters contacted by the Lansing-based polling firm EPIC-MRA. Sixty-five percent gave thumbs down to the practice. Michigan, which spends nearly five million dollars a year in anti-smoking programs, has more than $400 million of its public employee pension funds invested in tobacco company stock.
  • The status of Michigan’s Prevailing Wage Act will change if Attorney General Frank Kelley has his way. The legislation was struck down last fall by Judge Robert Cleland of the Eastern District Federal Court, and Kelley plans to take the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals. The law is intended to ensure that workers employed on a state building project are paid wages in line with those of other workers in that particular geographic vicinity. Judge Cleland ruled that the law is unenforceable because of a conflict with the federal Employment Retirement Income Security Act. Michigan Department of Labor director Lowell Perry had declined to appeal the ruling.

Copyright © 1996

February 16, 1996

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • Former governor James Blanchard came in from the cold this week. He will give up the “dream assignment” he has held for the past two and one-half years as U.S. ambassador to Canada to return to Washington D.C. Next up for Blanchard: resuming his law practice and volunteering for President Clinton’s reelection effort.
  • Although she has been in campaign mode for the better part of the last three years, Ronna Romney made it official: she is a formal candidate for the U.S. Senate. The former talk-radio host allowed that while incumbent Senator Carl Levin was a “nice guy,” the country “doesn’t need any more nice guys going in the wrong direction.” In the first of nine kick-off events, Romney pointedly disparaged the abortion and tax policy positions of her opponent in the Republican primary, Grosse Pointe Farms businessman James Nicholson.
  • In the wake of Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) director Pat Nowak’s recent resignation, Governor Engler has appointed Robert Welke to assume the department’s reins. The 38-year MDOT veteran acknowledges that resolution of transportation funding issues are of paramount interest, but he also wants to continue the bureaucratic streamlining and efficiency efforts of his predecessor and encourage the development of so-called intelligent transportation systems. Nowak is currently polishing up his electoral bandwagon in hopes of knocking off Congressman Dale Kildee (D-Flint) this November.
  • In other state department news, Kathy Wilbur has officially shed the “interim” descriptor and become the permanent director of the Michigan Department of Commerce.
  • Faint strains of recently deceased Gene Kelly’s standard “Singing in the Rain”could be heard as Department of Management and Budget (DMB) director Mark Murray notified the legislature that the state’s “rainy day” fund topped the $1 billion mark for the first time in its twenty-year history. DMB closed the Budget Stabilization Fund 1994-95 books documenting new contributions of $325 million, which includes $241million from the sale of the Accident Fund of Michigan.
  • A proposal to ban residency requirements for city employees received Senate approval in a contentious and racially charged atmosphere Wednesday. Seventy-six of Michigan’s 534 cities have rules requiring city residency as a condition of employment. SB 766’s sponsor, Senator David Honigman (R-Bloomfield Hills), says it is a fundamental right of the individual to choose the location of his or her domicile. Senate critics argued that it is critical for certain cities to require residency as they attempt to battle crime and provide an increased sense of security for residents.
  • Pre-funding of health care benefits for public school retirees will not be required of the state as a result of a narrow Supreme Court ruling released Monday. The decision was a reversal of last April’s decision in which the court opined that there is a constitutional guarantee that such benefits be pre-funded—a practice that Michigan has not engaged in since 1991—but that it did not have the power to order the state to make good on the payments. The decision alleviates the need for the state to find nearly $500 million to repay the retirement fund.
  • Against a Valentine’s Day backdrop, a state lawmaker introduced eleven bills eliminating Michigan’s no-fault divorce statutes. Amid national media fanfare, Rep. Jessie Dalman (R-Holland) declared that the state’s laws “undermine the institution of marriage” and subject children to the “negative impacts” of divorcing parents. The proposed legislation would require the spouse initiating a divorce to prove desertion, abuse, adultery, or criminal incarceration on the part of their partner.

Copyright © 1996

February 23, 1996

Legislative Week in Review

  • A key piece of court reform legislation in a 45-bill package cleared the Senate this week. SB 586 gives county commissioners approval power over Friend of the Court (FOC) appointees and involves commissioners in the annual performance review process. Previously, FOC appointments were confirmed by the chief judge of the Probate Court and could be removed only for misconduct or neglect of duties. Under the controversial new measure, FOC appointees would be at-will employees. Friends of the Court, responsible for determining child custody, support, and visitation cases, have been the target of sharp criticism in court reform discussions; they have been accused of making poor decisions for which there exists limited right of appeal. Supporters of the reform package contend that adding a local level of accountability—via the elected commissioners—will help make the FOC process more responsive. Critics, including the State Supreme Court Administrator’s Office, argue that the move politicizes what should more properly remain a judicial function.
  • Nearly one-quarter of Michigan’s retired state police employees will get a pension increase under provisions of SB 198, which passed the Senate unanimously this week. Sponsored by Saginaw Republican Sen. Jon Cisky, the bill provides a new minimum annual benefit of $10,800 to state police retirees with 25 years of service.
  • Call it a hard cell: State Sen. Doug Carl (R-Mt Clemens) wants prison inmates’ radios and televisions taken away. Garnering considerable publicity for his notion that convicted criminals should be incarcerated in “a very unpleasant place to live,” Carl’s proposal is not supported by some corrections experts and inmate rights advocates who suggest that greater enforced idleness would make prison management more difficult. Sen William VanRegenmorter (R-Hudsonville) told the Detroit Free Press that, although television privileges were not among the state’s most pressing prison problems, the measure could be included in discussions of broader reforms set for public hearings in March. VanRegenmorter—last week honored as legislator of the year by the National Victim Center, the largest nonprofit organization advocating crime victims’ rights—says the hearing will address prison funding, staffing, and the desirability of alternative sentencing for nonviolent crimes. Timeliness of these topics was underscored in a Sunday Detroit News story reporting that general fund spending for corrections has increased over the past decade from five to fifteen percent of the total state budget. Michigan incarcerates 6,500 more prisoners than its facilities were designed to accommodate, and twice as many inmates are serving life sentences than in 1985, reports the News.

Political News

  • It was a heartening leap in the MEAP test scores to state educators accustomed to taxpayer outcries over poor public school student performance on standardized achievement tests. Fifty-five percent of seventh-graders passed the Michigan Educational Assessment Program math test, a six percent increase over 1994 results. The percentage of fourth-graders passing a reading test shot up by five percent over the same period. Other test gains were less dramatic, but overall, public school scores outpaced those in a first, small sample of charter schools.
  • Want to put “World’s Motor Capital” on your car? If so, join the half million other Michiganians flooding the Secretary of State’s office with requests for the new commemorative license plate. Demand for the red, white, blue, and gold vehicle marker already has topped the 400,000 mark, and state officials have just ordered 500,000 more.
  • The State Civil Service Commission this week advanced the application of merit pay procedures to 600 second-tier managers and supervisors. The commission’s unanimous vote extended a merit pay plan already in force for 400 higher-level civil servants. The additional employees—including such classifications as warden, deputy warden, and county social services director—will be eligible for raises or bonuses of up to eight percent if they receive good evaluations and if there is money in the budget. Workers receiving poor evaluations could have their pay cut by up to eight percent.

Copyright © 1996

March 1 and 8 and 15 and 22 and 29

March 1, 1996

Legislative Week in Review

  • Dozens of failed amendments littered the House floor this week, as lawmakers struggled toward passage, 71–37, of an environmental audit bill. Senate Bill 727 provides both immunity and confidentiality to companies at which internal audits uncover pollution problems that the company subsequently cleans up. While both business and environmental interests support the bill’s provisions for immunity from civil suit for companies voluntarily reporting violations, the two sides disagree on the need for secrecy about the audits. The argument was summarized by David Dempsey, of the Michigan Environmental Council, who asked, “If you provide immunity, why do you need to provide secrecy?”
  • Tax-free zones to stimulate urban redevelopment enjoyed a legislative renaissance this week, after slipping precipitously out of the realm of political possibility. House Republican tinkering with the measure last week would have allowed municipal governments to recapture up to half the property and income taxes of the designated zones—a compromise the executive branch rejected as over-generous. With the House Committee on Tax Policy’s vote to restore full tax-free status to the zones, the revived measure is expected to move to full House consideration.
  • A restructuring of fees that will permit continued fire inspection of new public buildings swept through the Senate 24–10. Senate Bill 761 sets aside a fixed percentage of construction funds for such facilities as hospitals and schools. If enacted, the revenue-generating measure may forestall the anticipated layoff of two dozen employees in the state fire marshal’s office.
  • For Michiganians, multi-state lottery odds have become anybody’s bet: the governor has signed HB 4484, now P.A. 95, into law. The enabling statute permits the state to enter into multi-state lottery agreements with other states. Will huge jackpots boost flattening lotto sales? That’s what the state is gambling on.
  • High school juniors who have completed graduation requirements would earn college credit for post-secondary course work, under a two-bill package passed by the Senate. One of only two opponents to HBs 4640 and 4643, Sen. Jim Berryman (D-Adrian) was quoted by Michigan Information and Research Service (MIRS) as objecting that “[y]ou cannot have public dollars going to private, nonpublic schools for high school credit. This is simply a toe in the door to a voucher system.” High school seniors already can take college-level courses for credit.

Political News

  • Governor John Engler announced Wednesday a computerized car college, whereby Michigan State University and the University of Michigan will collaborate to provide instruction to help train replacements for the state’s aging automotive work force. The initiative follows up a U-M study predicting that the Big Three manufacturers will need to hire more than 100,000 new workers by early next century. The state employment security commission will create a job clearinghouse of auto assembly candidates who would benefit from the new instructional program.
  • It’s all the in the (First) Family: Don’t think that with the recent national magazine photographs with and without triplets, Gov. John “Dad” Engler is getting all the ink. This week’s full-page newspaper ads feature First Mothers Michelle Engler and Lt. Gov. Connie Binsfeld, with smiles and teddy bears supporting the Chance at Childhood Foundation. Underwritten and promoted by Hudson’s department stores, the charity seeks to raise awareness of child abuse and prevention programs.
  • University of Michigan regents decided this week not to let a Ph.D. degree come between them and potential university presidential candidates. In approving the search process to replace outgoing chief James Duderstadt, trustees agreed that holding a doctorate or professional degree is preferred but not required for the school’s next chief executive officer.

Copyright © 1996

March 8, 1996

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • The Senate Republican caucus, led by Sen. Dan DeGrow (R-Port Huron), has unveiled a proposal to add an additional $156 million to the K–12 school aid budget. This initiative would raise the basic K–12 foundation grant from $5,266 per pupil to $5,345—a 3.7 percent increase over the current year’s grant. DeGrow also proposes a one-time technology grant of $20 per pupil to facilitate purchasing classroom telecommunication equipment. The move runs counter to Governor Engler’s proposed budget, which calls for only a 2.2 percent increase for the 1996–97 school year. Department of Management and Budget Director, Mark Murray, panned the plan, stating that he believes it to be based on faulty economic assumptions. The senators claim that they can pay for the boost by capturing $80 million from a planned multistate lottery game, a projected $18 surplus in this year’s School Aid Fund, and by assuming that a federal capital gains tax cut will not happen, yielding another $58 million.
  • Where there is smoke, there is smuggling. Michigan’s second-highest-in-the-nation cigarette tax (75 cents per pack), combined with woefully inadequate enforcement tools, could be costing the state more than $100 million annually, according to a Senate subcommittee report. (Note: Public Sector Consultants’ research leads us to believe the loss to smuggling much less.) The report recommends that Michigan join 44 other states in establishing a cigarette tax-stamp program, impose tougher sanctions on convicted smugglers, and beef up enforcement activities to help curtail the illicit trade.
  • The Senate was active this week on other cigarette fronts; it rejected the lower chamber’s recent addition of a local preemption provision to SB 730—legislation that seeks to toughen the penalties on retail clerks who knowingly sell cigarettes to minors. The preemption provision would allow local communities to enact their own—usually more stringent—criteria for dealing with tobacco-sales regulation. The bill has been sent to a conference committee for final resolution.
  • In the past few months the two legislative chambers have taken differing approaches on the Michigan speed limit issue: The Senate has passed SB 80, raising the speed limit to 70; the House has approved HB 5123, capping it at 65 mph. Hoping to help remove roadblocks to a decision, Governor Engler has endorsed a compromise plan calling for establishment of several 70-mile-per-hour “trial zones” on northern Michigan freeways. Location of the proposed test zones would be determined by recommendations from the head of the Department of Transportation and the State Police, and they would be kept in force long enough—perhaps through the summer of 1996—for transportation safety studies to be completed. The governor also has called for passage of HB 5000, which would make failure to wear a seat belt a primary traffic offense.
  • Speculation about the future legislative career plans continues to swirl through the halls of the Capitol Building. The Lansing State Journal Wednesday reported that House Speaker Paul Hillegonds will not seek reelection in November. The nine-term lawmaker quickly denied the story, but he did acknowledge that he recently has discussed his political future with legislative colleagues—leading , he suspects, to the increased amount of conjecture. Hillegonds has vowed to make clear his intentions by the end of March. Three other House members did, however, announce plans to leave the lower chamber at the end of their terms. Jan Dolan (R-Farmington Hills) and Carl Gnodtke (R-Sawyer) both cite the need to begin spending more time with their families. Tracy Yokich (D-St. Clair Shores) will step down in favor of running for an open district court judgeship in her hometown.

Copyright © 1996

March 15, 1996

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • In the wake of Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s latest legal triumph—besting Oakland County prosecutor Richard Thompson for a second time on assisted suicide charges—comes a renewed legislative effort to establish guidelines for the highly contentious issue. Believing the legislature to be incapable of coming to consensus on the matter, Sen. Jim Berryman (D-Adrian) Monday implored his colleagues to allow the Michigan electorate a voice in the decision. Berryman’s SB 640 would allow voters the opportunity in November to approve a limited form of assisted suicide. Taking another tack were five Republican lawmakers who believe that the underlying issue is one of pain management. Chair of the House Health Policy Committee, Rep. John Jamian (R-Bloomfield Hills) said he will not take up any assisted suicide proposals until his committee has favorably dealt with the so-called “Assuring Choices in Treatment” legislative package. Among the ideas advanced by this initiative are granting greater latitude for physicians in prescribing pain control medications—including narcotics, legal respect for “do-not-resuscitate” orders, and requiring health insurance entities to cover newly approved pain management techniques unless they explicitly state that they do not.
  • One of the key proponents of the pain management legislation knows firsthand of the ravages of chronic pain. Tuesday found Sen. David Honigman (R-West Bloomfield) articulating his support for the pain management package. The following day, Honigman—in part because of the debilitating effects of pain he suffers from lingering medical problems—announced his imminent resignation from the upper chamber. Honigman has undergone numerous back and intestinal surgeries in recent years, which have severely affected his physical ability to carry out the responsibilities of elective office. The congenial 12-year lawmaker received two standing ovations from his Senate colleagues during an emotional, impromptu tribute to his personal courage and political integrity. A special election will be scheduled to determine his replacement; Reps. Barbara Dobb (R-Commerce Township) and Willis Bullard (R-Milford) have indicated interest in succeeding Honigman.
  • Michigan’s Republican presidential primary colors have faded somewhat in the past few weeks, as U.S. Senator Bob Dole’s superior national campaign organization finally achieved what most pundits had expected of it. Cruising into Tuesday’s contest for Michigan’s 57 delegates, Dole already has three-quarters of the 996 delegates he needs to win the nomination; a sweep of Tuesday’s four primaries—in which a total of 229 delegates are at stake—will leave him just shy of the nomination. The senator is the prohibitive favorite among likely Michigan voters, and his chances have been further enhanced by the exit of flat-tax advocate Steve Forbes from the dwindling field. Forbes’ official withdrawal triggered a Dole endorsement from both the Republican Governors Association and Gov. John Engler. Dole’s other main rival, Pat Buchanan, has yet to show any sign of getting out of the race, fervently proclaiming his intention to stay the course to San Diego; Buchanan reportedly is spending more than twice as much as Dole on television spots in metro Detroit this week and next. Recent polls, however, document a massive erosion of support for Buchanan in Michigan in the past few weeks.
  • The John Engler “veep bandwagon” roared on in high gear this week. Michigan’s favorite son pops up on virtually every short list offered, including those of U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich and CBS News anchor Dan Rather. Engler’s spokesman, John Truscott, stated that he is “shocked” that Gingrich would offer the suggestion; “This is nothing the governor has been pursuing,” said he. Meantime, Engler postponed his planned trip to Israel until sometime after that country’s May 29 election and announced plans to visit Britain and Germany in the near future as well. On Thursday, the governor addressed the Republican Women’s Federal Forum in Washington, D.C., and attended the American Council on Germany Gala Dinner in New York City.

Copyright © 1996

March 22, 1996

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • Juvenile crime was on the mind of the legislature this week as state senators overwhelmingly approved a proposal to increase penalties for “walkaways”—juvenile prison escapees. Senate Bill 840 will impose new felony sanctions on prisoners who escape, or attempt to escape, from a juvenile facility. Over in the House, legislators adopted two of Gov. Engler’s juvenile justice reform measures: One (SB 681) paves the way for the establishment of a privately run prison for violent youth offenders, and the other (HB 4723) authorizes a “punk prison,” housing youths who have been tried and sentenced as adults.
  • U.S. Senator Bob Dole was the big winner in the four Midwest presidential primaries held this week; he now is virtually assured of the Republican presidential nomination. Although he garnered a majority in Michigan (51 percent of the votes cast), this state gave Dole his toughest sledding of the day; Pat Buchanan out polled him in the counties of St. Clair, Bay, Houghton, Lapeer, Otsego, and Tuscola. When the dust cleared, Buchanan had the support of more than one in three Michigan primary voters—to date, the high-water mark of his campaign.
  • Also stepping up to the electoral plate Tuesday—and knocking the hide off the ball—were Detroit mayor Dennis Archer and Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch. Motor City voters overwhelmingly gave the pair the go-ahead to use city funds to forsake the ball yard at Michigan and Trumball in favor of building a new $240-million stadium and entertainment complex. Still more good news came their way when Ingham County circuit court judge James Giddings ruled in their favor on a lawsuit brought by Tiger Stadium Fan Club members, who attempted to block the use of $55 million—pledged by Gov. Engler, without legislative approval—from the state Strategic Fund to help finance the project. Giddings ruled Thursday that the monies in the fund are essentially private (they come from Indian casino gaming revenue) and not subject to legislative review.
  • Chief Justice James Brickley ended speculation about his future plans by announcing Thursday that he will seek another term on the Michigan Supreme Court. He currently is spearheading an effort to overhaul Michigan’s court system. Brickley’s seat and that of Justice Charles Levin are up this fall. Court age restrictions bar Levin—the court’s only Independent—from running again.
  • The architect of the so-called “Bounce Bonior” effort—having come up empty-handed in her efforts to field a viable candidate—may wind up challenging Congressman David Bonior (D-Mt Clemens) herself. Republican state party chair Suzy Heintz of Birmingham (which is not in Bonior’s district) will announce soon whether she will take on the 10-term lawmaker and thorn in House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s side.
  • To fill the Oakland County Senate seat vacated last week by Sen. David Honigman (R-West Bloomfield), an unusual special primary election date has been announced. State office elections traditionally are held on Tuesdays, but this primary will be held on Monday, May 13. Two sitting Republican state representatives have signaled their intention to vie for the post; the Monday date will allow the loser to refile in the nick of time (4 p.m. the following day) for his or her present House seat. The general election will be held on Tuesday, June 4.
  • Trading state highways for the campaign trail this fall will be former state transportation director Patrick Nowak. He hopes to park U.S. Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Flint) on the side of the electoral road come November.
  • Speaker Paul Hillegonds (R-Holland) reluctantly will lay his gavel down for the last time at the end of this year. The universally well-regarded 18-year legislative veteran confirmed Thursday that despite his love of public policy, spending more time with his wife and young children will be his main priority. Ten years ago, Hillegonds took a divided minority caucus under his wing and systematically led it into “a can-do majority.” His vocational plans seem uncertain at present, but possibilities—both in the private and public sectors — abound.

Copyright © 1996

March 29, 1996

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • That noise under the Capitol dome this week is the crunching of numbers: Lawmakers are hustling to put 17 state-agency budgets to rest at least tentatively before leaving for a two-week recess. Both chambers will return from spring break on April 16, and Roundup will be published next on April 18.
  • The Senate approved the following appropriations bills:

    Community Colleges (SB 846)—$262 million in general funds(GF), a 3.6 percent hike over the current budget
    Higher Education (SB 850)—$1.495 billion GF; the 5-percent increase is the largest in a decade
    Education (SB 849)—$43 million GF, 1.8 percent more than currently appropriated
    K–12 School Aid (SB 851)—includes $307 million GF and, after passionate and sometimes blistering debate, removes adult education as a categorical item in this budget
    Community Health (SB 847)—combines the merging departments of Mental Health and Public Health as well as Medicaid in a $2.34 billion GF mega-budget
    Corrections (SB 848)—a 3.8 percent GF increase, to $1.3 billion, the smallest increase in nearly two decades

  • Among the budget amendments passed in the Senate, two that drew headlines will deduct domestic-partner benefits paid by public post-secondary institutions from those schools’ appropriations. Supporters claimed that tax dollars should not fund benefits for homosexuals; opponents argued that gays and lesbians pay taxes, too.
  • In the lower chamber this week, House-passed budget bills are the following:

Agriculture (HB 5584)—$36.6 million in general funds
Regulatory Affairs (HB 5583)—includes $167 million GF for the Jobs Commission and the new Department of Consumer and Industry Affairs (née the departments of Labor and Commerce);
Family Independence Agency (HB 5591)—just over $1 billion GF, incorporating reforms set out in the legislature’s earlier renaming of the Social Services department. Three crossover Democratic votes gave the GOP-controlled chamber a 56–50 squeaker on passage; controversy swirled primarily around the executive budget’s assumption that there will be a major increase in federal funding for welfare and Medicaid
General Government (HB 5586)—the omnibus funding vehicle for departments of Management and Budget, Civil Rights, Treasury, and Secretary of State, as well as for the legislative and executive branches; totals just under $395 million and exceeds current budgets by $27 million

  • And then there were nine, as Rep. Walter DeLange (R-Kentwood) announced his legislative retirement. A fourteen-year House veteran, DeLange is the fifth Republican to bow out of a 1997 campaign, along with four Democrats who also have gone lame duck.
  • “The Sexiest Governor,” proclaims a Newsweek headline this week. Turns out they don’t mean sexy in THAT way. Columnist Jonathan Alter writes, “. . . Engler represents state-of-the-art GOP governance. In terms of getting what he wants, he is phenomenally successful.” The April 1 New Yorker sees Engler as “a forty-seven-year-old conservative with the look of a Midwestern burgher—partly bald, blindingly Caucasian, about average height, more than a little above average weight— and with the savvy of an old-style machine pol.” He is, the magazine concludes in its Talk of the Town section, “the epitome of Republican devolution chic.”

Copyright © 1996

April 19 and 26

April 19, 1996

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • Lawmakers returned from recess this week to the usual quantity of school buses ringing the capitol grounds as elementary-school class trips enter peak season. Adding to the influx Wednesday were 2,500 extra grownups, who were protesting on the capitol steps against proposed adult education funding shifts and cuts proposed by the administration. School districts from across the state bussed supporters to Lansing to speak and march against the controversial plan that will move adult education funds from the school aid budget to the Michigan Jobs Commission. The budget currently under consideration in legislative committees differentiates adult education from job training and limits the former to those under age 20.
  • Supporters of “death-with-dignity” legislation cheered House passage this week of two bills permitting hospices to be licensed separately from nursing homes. Sponsors of HBs 5490–91 explained that the measures will allow the terminally ill to die in a home-like setting.
  • Familiar faces in new places include former gubernatorial aide Dan Pero and former Department of Licensing and Regulation department director Kathy Wilbur. He’s moved, she hasn’t. Relocating from Tennessee after directing Lamar Alexander’s failed presidential bid, Pero returns to his native state to run the U.S. Senate campaign of Republican-primary hopeful Jim Nicholson. Wilbur advances by staying in place; the long-time Engler loyalist saw her first state department subsumed by Commerce, which she subsequently headed. Effective next month, she will preside over the newly created Department of Consumer and Industry Services, which consolidates the former departments of Commerce and Labor. Lowell Perry, the former Labor Department director, meanwhile, remains on the scene as head of the governor’s new Office of Urban Affairs.
  • Other faces we’ve seen before include new Michigan Government Television (MGTV) executive director William Trevarthen, an East Lansing civic leader and cable television personality. High on the list of recycled out-of-towners is former Department of Natural Resources field deputy Frank Opolka, who was lured out of an abrupt February retirement by incoming MDNR director K.L. Cool to resume his department leadership duties in the Upper Peninsula.
  • Then there are those folks we may not be seeing more of: Sen. Doug Carl (R-Breckenridge), for example, will leave the legislature if his run for Macomb County treasurer is successful. The three-term senator will not have to leave his post to run for the county office. More definite in his legislative plans is Rep. Gary Randall (R-Elwell), who says his district will benefit if he does not seek reelection. “With term limits causing roughly ninety House members to leave in 1998, the 93rd District would have an advantage if a new representative were elected this November,” the ten-term lawmaker told Michigan Information and Research Service. Randall’s announcement brings the total number of retiring legislators to ten; seven are Republicans, three (not four, as erroneously reported in the last issue) are Democrats.
  • Engler Veepstakes Buzz: Those who predicted that the gibes would get nastier if the governor’s name persisted in national headlines were right. Joshing about the governor’s girth got serious in a Washington Post column earlier this month when writer Mark Shields implied that Engler, while a college undergraduate, gained weight to avoid the draft. Engler fired off a response to the paper, charging a “blatant and unfair attack on my credibility.” And the April 15 Detroit Free Press alluded ominously to “shadowy, unsubstantiated stories” in the national press about Engler’s conduct during his first marriage. Among those keeping a cool head and a civil tongue are Michelle Engler, who told the Free Press that “Issues are more complicated now; it’s easier to talk about someone’s personal life,” and the governor’s former wife, Colleen House, who told the Free Press in a separate interview that she has nothing bad to say about Engler, adding “I’ve voted for him every time he’s been on the ballot.”

Copyright © 1996

April 26, 1996

Legislative Week in Review

  • Motor vehicle operator’s licenses were the driving force behind legislative activity this week. On a 35–1 vote, the Senate passed a bill giving state motorists a new license with a digital image in place of a photograph and a magnetic strip on the back as is used on charge and bank cards. The strip would contain additional identifying information and, along with the higher-tech image, foil counterfeiters whose computers and laser printers can more easily forge the state’s current cut-and-paste laminated license. Solving one problem poses another for lawmakers, however. They must now enact driver’s license–privacy legislation in advance of a congressionally mandated 1997 deadline. The new format means there is the potential for more information to fall into the wrong hands.
  • Senate Republicans look at HB 4763 and see school driver education program revision. Although Democrats see it instead as an ominous precedent for public school vouchers, the legislature ended the 40-year mandate under which public schools were required to offer driver training, instead providing students with vouchers worth an estimated $70–100 each that can be used at private driving schools. Republicans call the vouchers a convenience for working parents and their busy kids, whose schedules couldn’t always accommodate driver training when it was offered by the schools. Sensing the camel’s nose of privatization well into the tent of public education, Democrats argued unavailingly that vouchers for chemistry or algebra classes could be a logical next step.
  • Somewhat obscured by the debate over vouchers are provisions in the bill that will put new restrictions on the licenses of teenage drivers. Level one, two, and three operator’s licenses will be issued to drivers aged 14 years nine months through age 17, depending upon their age and experience. A level two license, for example, could be granted to a 16-year-old with documented training and experience who has passed a newly revived state road test. Drivers in this category may not operate a vehicle between midnight and 5 A.M. without either permission or an adult passenger.
  • Emergency medical personnel could respect the do-not-resuscitate orders of patients or their medical advocates under a bill passed by the Senate this week. SB 452 would change current statutes that require emergency personnel to attempt resuscitation in every instance where an individual is found without vital signs.

Political News

  • Rep. Floyd Clack won’t be back: The seven-term Flint Democrat has announced his decision to retire from the House this fall and run for a seat on the Genesee County Commission. This brings the total of open legislative seats to eleven, four of which are Democratic.
  • Speaking of legislative terms is what House Speaker Paul Hillegonds (R-Holland) did this week at a Lansing workshop, and his forecast was not collegial. Gongwer News Service reports that Hillegonds described the term-limited House as having perpetually lame-duck membership whose 110 incumbents would cast hungry eyes at 36 Senate seats. By next session, 80 House members will have to leave, and “a number of them will run against incumbent senators, so there could be a lot of suspicion and tension,” Hillegonds predicts.
  • Engler Veepstakes Watch: The governor may be gone (out of the country on a European trade mission through the end of the month), but the political speculation lingers on, catalogued most recently by the electronic data service, Nexis, which informs cybertourists that Engler’s name has surfaced in U.S. magazines and newspapers more than 1,000 times since January 1. And was anyone surprised to read in the Detroit News that Engler has tapped former top adviser and gubernatorial campaign manager Dan Pero to be his “spin doctor” for vice-presidential-type media inquiries? Pero, back in Michigan to work on a U.S. Senatorial campaign, says the job is an unpaid favor, adding, “I’ll do it when I can, in my spare time.”

Copyright © 1996

May 5 and 10 and 17 and 23 and 31

May 3, 1996

Legislative Week in Review

  • House passage of a “no-form-no-file” state income tax bill originally proposed by Gov. John Engler in his State of the State address has lawmakers of both parties claiming credit for the initiative. HBs 6494–5 would permit taxpayers whose income is solely from wages to authorize a 4.4 percent payroll deduction in lieu of filing any other forms. Although this formless, filing-free taxation allows limited exemptions and deductions, those who opt to try it still will be allowed to later file, without penalty, the old-fashioned way. House Democrats boast that their amendments make more revenue-neutral the bills’ original provisions, which they claim favored taxpayers who earn more than $125,000. Republicans counter that the measure is aimed at reducing paperwork, not taxes, for those who elect to use it.
  • Lawmakers issued a speedy response to last month’s ruling by the attorney general on campaign literature. The ruling, stating that Michigan’s campaign disclosure law violates First Amendment free-speech protection, is addressed in HB 5765, which would exempt private citizens but not candidates or candidate committees from identifying themselves as the distributors of written campaign material.
  • Lest we forget that in Michigan, environmental contentiousness is as big as all outdoors, now come the fish rights activists and a new law enjoining them. A four-bill package, unanimously passed by the Senate, would make it illegal to harass anglers by boating, swimming, dropping rocks, or engaging in other fish-frightening activity in an area where folks were fishing. Will the measures discourage animal rights groups from attempting to establish no-fly zones in state trout streams? Sports enthusiasts will have to wade and see (sorry).

Political News

  • Legislative race update Who’s out: Rep. John Jamian (R-Bloomfield Hills), influential chair of the House Health Policy Committee, is retiring after three terms. He’s not ruling out future political office, but says he wants a sabbatical year or two. Who’s in: WXYT-AM radio personality Chuck Moss wasted no time in declaring his candidacy for the GOP nomination for Jamian’s 40th House District seat. Total open House seats: 12, eight of which are held by Republicans.
  • The state closed its books on fiscal year 1995 last week, and the ink was very black. With a $67.4-million contribution to the budget stabilization fund pushing that rainy-day account over the $1 billion mark, state government marked the third consecutive year in which no agency overspent its appropriation.
  • On campuses, however, prospects for the coming fiscal year are said by some to be less bright. The much-heralded 5-percent budget increase for higher education in the administration’s proposed 1996–97 budget depends on federal welfare reforms that have not yet materialized—and may not. During a House Appropriations Committee hearing this week, university presidents in attendance were admonished to have a “fall-back position” if the promised funds are not delivered. An Associated Press report notes that “the university presidents were uniformly dismayed, noting that they had spent a decade being funded at or below the rate of inflation . . .”
  • Engler Veepstakes Watch: The governor’s greeting upon his return from a European trade mission was less warm welcome than heated headline. “What’s Going On In Lansing? Not Much,” lambasted the Detroit News in a page-one story criticizing the “absentee governor” and reporting “legislative defiance” in moving his administration’s agenda through the House and Senate. Engler loyalists, while conceding that he may be scanning a broader political horizon these days, predict in the News story that their man will prevail in ongoing state policy debates. Meantime, watch for a further jump in Engler’s name recognition in September, with his scheduled appearance on the QVC home shopping network to tout Michigan-made goods.

Copyright © 1996

May 10, 1996

Legislative Week in Review

  • Amid a chorus of Democratic “I-TOLD-YOU-SOs,” Governor Engler and legislative leaders agreed to a $100 million set-aside in the state budget in case anticipated federal reforms fail to materialize. The governor’s proposed fiscal year 1996–97 budget assumes massive federal Medicaid and welfare reforms that will give more control of the programs to the states, along with funding to run the programs. The reforms haven’t happened and may not, giving rise to persistent Democratic complaints that the governor’s budget is potentially as much as $300 million out of balance.
  • The House considered this week changes to Michigan’s workers’ compensation statutes passed by the Senate last week. Senate Bill 895 passed the upper chamber along strict party lines, 21–16. Republicans describe the measure as toughening up the fraud and abuse provisions in existing laws. Democrats protest that the bill narrows eligibility, thus benefiting employers at the expense of workers.
  • Minors seeking tans, tattoos, and body piercings will need prior parental permission, under two bills passed in the House last week. Senate Bill 51 passed unanimously and requires parental consent for branding, piercing, or tattooing a minor’s person. Mom or dad also would have to sign off on the “electric beach”: SB 840 limits underage use of tanning salons.

Political News

  • Ex-governor Jim Blanchard in a second-term Clinton cabinet? It was a near-miss once and is a near-certainty again, according to Detroit News columnist George Weeks. Quoting a recent political memoir by state pol Morley Winograd, Weeks recounts that Blanchard interrupted his 1992 Christmas holiday to fly to Washington, D.C., to finalize his appointment as secretary of transportation. “Assured that he had been selected after a thorough review, Blanchard was stunned to hear CNN proclaim two days later that Federico Pena had been chosen,” Weeks quotes.
  • Engler veepstakes watch: Who’s had more cause to ponder the implications of John Engler’s truncated gubernatorial term—should he receive a vice-presidential nod—than Lt. Gov. Connie Binsfeld, his constitutionally mandated successor? Binsfeld told the Michigan Information and Research Service that from her years of legislative and executive branch service with Engler, she well knows both the cast and the agenda in the executive office. “But I have to tell you,” she continues, “I am very close to the governor, and he has told me—and I believe him—that no one has asked [him to run].” Binsfeld also predicts that her name will not be on the ticket if Engler stays in Michigan and runs for an additional term. “I will not close the door tightly, but I can’t think of any reason why I would run again,” she said.
  • Twenty-year House veteran Michael Bennane will not run again in the 14th District; during his tenure he has chaired the chamber’s Public Health and Urban Affairs committees. Total open House seats: 13, five of which are held by Democrats.
  • Ripple effects are likely in the crowded primary anticipated for Michigan’s 15th Congressional District. Incumbent Barbara-Rose Collins reportedly will seek reelection, although she is dogged by charges of personnel and financial improprieties in her office. State Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick and state Sen. Henry Stallings, both Detroit Democrats, are expected to be among as many as four contenders jockeying with the incumbent in the August 6 primary.
  • Longtime Engler ally John Kost will leave state government this July to accept an inside-the-beltway consulting position in McLean, Virginia. Currently the chief information officer in the Department of Management and Budget, Kost was Engler’s program director during the latter’s days as Senate majority leader.

Copyright © 1996

May 17, 1996

Legislative Week in Review

  • People who are terminally ill and desirous of not being resuscitated from respiratory or heart failure will get their wish. Governor Engler signed the Do-Not-Resuscitate Procedure Act (SB 452, now P.A. 193), requiring emergency medical personnel to abide by a patient’s formally declared do-not-resuscitate order.
  • If legislation overwhelmingly passed by the Senate this week becomes law, deadbeat dads and moms will face revocation of their state-conferred licenses if they fall too far behind in child support payments. All occupational licenses will be fair game.
  • As technology evolves, so does criminal activity. A package of bills designed to curb computer/telecommunication fraud passed the House after concerns about the privacy of intellectual property rights were partially resolved. House Bill 5749 allows for seizure of telecommunication property used in illegal pursuits; confiscated computer records would be placed under court supervision.
  • Youthful criminals will find it harder laugh off the consequences of “kiddy court,” under toughened guidelines in a 20-bill juvenile justicepackage passed by the House. Among the proposed new provisions are an expanded list of enumerated crimes for which a juvenile can be automatically waived to a higher court and tried as an adult, a lower age, 14, at which a youth may be waived from probate to circuit court and tried as an adult, and authority for probate court judges to try juveniles as adults without regard to age.
  • Having already rejected the governor’s original idea to raid the Natural Resources Trust Fund to help pay for environmental cleanup, the Senate has passed a scaled-back version Engler’s cleanup plan. Left out of SB 919 are key but costly proposals that would have addressed leaking-underground-storage-tank problems not previously covered by the financially troubled Michigan Underground Storage Tank Financial Assurance Fund.

Political News

  • Candidate filing day 1996, earlier this week, found embattled U.S. Rep. Barbara-Rose Collins (D-Detroit) with six Democratic primary opponents, including one state representative and two state senators. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick and Sen. Henry Stallings have long been expected to make the attempt at unseating Collins, an incumbent saddled with alleged financial misdeeds. A primary opponent Collins probably hadn’t counted on is Sen. George Hart of Dearborn; Dearborn is not in Collins’s district—the 15th. It’s legit, however: One does not have to reside in a given district to run to represent it. Hart will unveil his strategy at a press conference next Monday.
  • It’s official: More than a dozen Michigan House members will not be returning to the lower chamber next January. Democrats are Mike Bennane (D-Detroit), Maxine Berman (D-Southfield), Floyd Clack (D-Flint), Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Detroit), Joe Porreca (D-Trenton), and Tracy Yokich (D-St. Clair Shores); Alma Stallworth (D-Detroit) is expected also to be pulling out, with the hope that her son, who filed as a primary candidate in her district, will succeed her. Republicans seeking other pastures are William Bryant (R-Grosse Point), Willis Bullard (R-Milford), Walt DeLange (R-Grand Rapids), Jan Dolan (R-Farmington Hills), Carl Gnodtke (R-Sawyer), Speaker of the House Paul Hillegonds (R-Holland), John Jamian (R-Bloomfield Hills), and Susan Grimes Munsell (R-Brighton).
  • Rep. Willis Bullard (R-Milford) soundly defeated colleague Rep. Barbara Dobb (R-Commerce Township) in the primary for the state Senate slot left open by the recent resignation of Sen. David Honigman (R-West Bloomfield). Dobb refiled to run for her House seat.

by Jon Hansen, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1996

May 23, 1996

Legislative Week in Review

  • More than two dozen House Republicans uncharacteristically broke ranks this week to defy the Engler administration’s proposed slashes in adult education funding. A lopsided, 79–26 vote restored full funding ($120 million) for the adult education component of the school aid budget (SB 851). The measure now heads to conference committee. Unlike the House, whose members all face reelection this fall, upper chamber seats are not on the ballot, and observers expect Senate incumbents to hang tough on this issue.
  • Tough was the Senate’s byword in concurring with House action on a 12-bill juvenile justice package that expands conditions under which youths can be tried as adults and jailed. The measures now go to the governor, who is expected to sign them, and include the following provisions:
    • Lower to 14 the age at which some offenders may stand trial as adults
    • Expand the list of offenses for which juveniles may automatically be tried as adults, and mandate adult sentences for resulting convictions
    • Broaden judges’ discretion in sentencing juveniles as adults
    • Permit juveniles to appear in lineups and be jailed while awaiting trial.
  • The chambers continued action on agency budget appropriations. A longstanding roadblock to passage of the Department of Transportation budget in the House was resolved this week with a 104–1 vote on HB 5582, signaling a major compromise. At issue was local units of governments’ share of federal transportation funding. Locals have been seething over what they claim was gubernatorial hijacking of about 15 percent of their federal funding. The House vote restores the previous funding level. Funding for the new Family Independence Agency was approved by the Senate without debate; HB 5591 totals just under $3 billion, of about one-third is state General Funds (GF). The Department of Military Affairs budget, in HB 5581, withstood a one-percent cut, to just under $85 million ($37.3 million GF). The Education Department budget passed the House, by a 93–6 vote, at just over $800 million ($43.1 million GF). And Higher Education got its best budget in a decade, in the form of a 5-percent overall increase reflected in a $1.5 billion appropriation; SB 850 includes in its language prohibitions from using the funding to pay for employee abortions or medical benefits for same-sex partners. One unsuccessful amendment would have banned payment for employee vasectomies.
  • Don’t bet the farm on casino gambling legislation quickly winning its way through the legislature. Separate resolutions (SCRs 274, 276) granting Indian tribes authority to open gaming facilities in New Buffalo and Mackinaw City failed on identical 8–28 votes in the Senate this week. Detroit Democrats are united in their opposition to casinos elsewhere until their city is cut into the action (a resolution permitting a Detroit-area casino failed last week).

Political News

  • The Michigan Supreme Court this week took a rosier view of a judge once characterized by Governor Engler as a “lunatic” who obtained his law degree from a “mail-order school.” In the latest chapter on the saga of whether Ingham County Circuit Court Judge James Giddings should hear a prisoner property-rights lawsuit, the high court ordered Giddings to immediately schedule the case for trial. The ruling reversed an earlier court of appeals’ disqualification, for bias, of the judge.
  • Susie Heintz resigned her post as chair of the Michigan Republican Party to run for the 10th Congressional District seat currently held by US Rep. David Bonior (D-Mt.Clemons). Replacing her at GOP headquarters in Lansing is former GOP National Committee member Betsy DeVos. Saying Yes! to Michigan is David Kochel, executive director of the Iowa GOP, who will assume similar duties in Michigan beginning next month.

by David Kimball, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1996

May 31, 1996

Legislative Week in Review

  • The much-discussed revamping of the Friend of the Court system slid easily through the House this week in the form of a 13-bill package that mostly passed on unanimous votes. The bills tighten oversight of child support collection and visitation orders; other provisions include
    • providing custodial and noncustodial parents equal access to their children’s medical and school records;
    • making it a felony for parents to falsely report child abuse;
    • adding a person’s child-support payment history to his/her consumer-credit report; and
    • statistically compiling complaints about visitation-order violations.
  • A unanimous Senate vote on a juvenile justice bill would create a boot camp for youthful offenders. HB 4723 mandates creation of at least one such facility, under the aegis of the Family Independence Agency, where troublesome teens will receive military-type discipline and exercise for terms of 90 to 180 days.
  • Michigan will lose its status as one of only six states without a cigarette stamp, under a bill passed this week in the House. HB 5662 would require wholesalers to add the tax stamp to each pack of cigarettes sold in the state and would double the tax collection fee, to two percent. Supporters hope the measure will help enforce the state’s cigarette tax, which is the nation’s highest. Detractors claim that the projected increased revenue will be offset by higher administrative costs and more smuggling.
  • In a triumph of legislative preventive medicine, the House this week passed two measures banning from Michigan events that haven’t happened here yet. Passage of SB 937 and HB 5662 outlaw same-sex marriage in the state and refuse to recognize gay/lesbian unions legally performed in other states. Same-sex marriage ceremonies have no legal standing in any of the United States at present, although Hawaii’s supreme court is expected to rule on their legality in that state this year. Michigan law currently also bans marriages between first cousins, but the state does recognize the legal unions of first cousins married in other states. Among the party-line defections on both sides was House Speaker Paul Hillegonds (R-Holland) who went on record with, “If two people of the same sex want to have a stable relationship, I’m not sure we should get in the way of that.” The measures passed the Senate last week, and Governor Engler is expected to sign them.
  • The lower chamber’s second instance of preemptive prevention came with passage of HB 5889, the so-called partial-birth abortion ban. Opponents contend that the practice never has been conducted in Michigan and the legislation is therefore gratuitous, election-year, anti-abortion saber rattling. Supporters counter that if the procedure were performed, it would be more dangerous to the health of women than any other abortion procedure, and thus licensing sanctions against physicians performing the procedure are warranted.

Political News

  • Engler Veepstakes Watch: Michigan’s governor took President Clinton to task last week for “political pandering of the worst kind.” National GOP leaders had tapped Engler to record the five-minute radio address. Known for his strong stand on welfare, Engler called disingenuous Clinton’s failure to endorse Republican-led welfare reforms.
  • Metropolitan Detroit topped the nation in exporting manufactured goods in 1995. Its $27.5 billion in exports—reflecting the robust automobile industry—edges Detroit ahead of such other commercial centers as New York City, Los Angeles, Seattle, and San Jose, which rank second through fifth, respectively.

by David Kimball, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1996

June 7

June 7, 1996

Legislative Week in Review

  • Michigan’s legislative chambers raced toward summer adjournment a week ahead of their original schedule and called it a wrap at 4:00 a.m. Friday morning. Lawmakers completed almost everything (see the next item) on their platter and will return to regular session in September. Roundup will resume weekly publication at that time.
  • Legislators return to the capitol for at least one day on July 2, however, trying to resolve the thorny issue of court reorganization, solutions for which have so far been elusive and divisive. Controversial provisions eliminating Detroit Recorder’s Court and redistributing some current Wayne County court funding outstate (HB 5158) squeaked through the Senate 19–17, but the House declined to concur, sending the measure to conference committee.
  • In the session’s waning hours, the legislative chambers agreed on a 65-mile-per-hour speed limit on most state freeways. Some 170 miles of roads considered dangerous will be limited to 55 mph, and 70 mph will be allowed in five designated test zones. The test stretches will let vacation travelers put pedal to the metal in August, September, and October, with police and highway officials making subsequent recommendations on higher speed limits statewide.
  • The long-discussed prospect of a so-called arts millage for southeast Michigan advanced this week, with Senate passage of SB 1053. The measure would permit metropolitan Detroit residents to vote on a property tax increase earmarked for arts and cultural activities, including theaters, orchestras, museums, and zoos.
  • Anyone want to vote against a new, bipartisan Legislative Ethics Commission to promote cleaner election campaigns? We didn’t think so: The House was unanimous in supporting creation of the eight-member panel specified in HB 5560. The four legislative and four public members are to draft a new ethics code for lawmakers and their staffs by next January.

Political News

  • Susy Heintz’s fledgling “Bounce Bonior” campaign is in need of a fast rebound. In a partisan deadlock, the State Board of Canvassers failed to certify of the former state GOP director’s candidacy for the August primary ballot—she wants to challenge Mt. Clemons Democrat David Bonior for his 10th Congressional District seat. In a 2–2 tie, the canvassing board nixed signatures collected by Heintz’s campaign manager on ground that he is not a district resident, as is required by law. Further muddying the waters is the matter of 89 signatures apparently mislaid within the canvassers’ office, although copies subsequently have been provided. Heintz’s attorneys are filing suit in the court of appeals.
  • If you add Detroit industrialist Max Fisher, Amway founder Richard DeVos, and Republican fund-raiser extraordinaire Heinz Prechter, what do you get? Hopefully, $5 million, according to GOP strategists planning the $1,000-per-ticket Cobo Hall dinner in next month, just ahead of the Republican national convention. According to the Detroit Free Press, plans call for GOP presidential nominee-to-be Senator Bob Dole to be joined at the event by former presidents George Bush and Gerald Ford.
  • State Rep. Willis Bullard (R-Milford) moves to the Senate this week, after an easy victory in the race to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Sen. David Honigman.
  • No one has said it was cheap, but the American Institute of Architects has pronounced it beautiful. Renovations to Michigan’s capitolearned the AIA’s Honor Award, its highest recognition, at an award ceremony held this week in the capitol rotunda, locus of the $54 million restoration completed in 1992.
  • Engler Veepstakes Watch: This week’s buzz was provided by Bob Dole himself at a luncheon in the heart of Macomb County, where he praised the governor’s transformation of Michigan from “a poster child for the rust belt,” into “a growth model for the nation.”

by David Kimball, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1996

September 13 and 20 and 27

September 13, 1996

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • They’re back, but not much is expected to happen in the abbreviated legislative session preceding the November election. Senate Majority Leader Dick Posthumus (R-Alto) noted, however, that with the stepped-up activities of Michigan’s most famous pathologist, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the Senate may speed up its efforts to “find the right legal tools” to mitigate the assisted suicide activist’s escalating exploits. Kevorkian’s attorney, Geoffrey Fieger, filed a $25 million lawsuit Wednesday against the Bloomfield Township police department and two prosecutors for allegedly violating the civil rights of Kevorkian and Isabel Correa by breaking up a counseling session between the two; Correa died in Kevorkian’s presence one day later.
  • Acknowledging recent Congressional action and election-year pressure from Democrats, the state House voted overwhelmingly for a minimum wage boost, the first since 1981. A 94–12 majority of members voted for HB 4180 after a Republican substitute for the bill emerged from committee. As in federal guidelines, the measure calls for an increase in the minimum wage from $3.35 an hour to $4.25 an hour on October 1, 1996, and to $5.15 an hour on September 1, 1997, and reduces the applicable age of workers from 18 to 14. Several last-minute changes to the bill were approved, including the use of a “training wage” that would allow businesses to pay workers 20-years old and younger at the rate of $4.25 an hour for the first 90 days of employment. One GOP change that wasn’t approved was a proposal to freeze the minimum wage for tipped-employees at $2.52 an hour—much less than current law’s minimum of 75 percent of minimum wage. By a 59–47 margin, members voted to restore the 75 percent ratio to the “tip-credit” wage, which would equal $3.86 an hour in September 1997.
  • It’s likely that the final school bell tolled Tuesday for those hoping to restore $83 million to the adult education budget for next year. Senate Democrats sought to override Governor Engler’s line -item veto of SB 599, which would have provided the additional money to schools for such services. Although the Senate voted 32–2 in favor of the funding last spring, it voted in a strictly partisan manner—16–21—to quash the override this week. The last time a governor’s veto was overridden in Michigan was 1977.
  • Few deviations from the script were in evidence last weekend as the party faithful assembled for their state political conventions—Democrats in Detroit and Republicans in Lansing. Sparks flew, however, when a slim majority of GOP delegates turned back John Engler’s selection for University of Michigan Regent, pro- choice Judy Frey, in favor of pro-life candidate Mike Bishop, backed by the Michigan Christian Coalition and Right to Life of Michigan. Engler, in this instance more concerned with winning the seat in November than with abortion litmus tests, ascended the podium to second Frey’s nomination in a vain attempt to have a woman—historically larger vote-getters in university board elections—on the U of M ticket. The other U of M board slot went to 24-year incumbent Deane Baker after Engler was unable to persuade soon-to-be-retiring House Speaker Paul Hillegonds, among others, to challenge Baker for the post. Other GOP nominations for statewide offices include:
  • Supreme Court James Brickley and Hilda Gage
  • State Board of Education Marilyn Lundy and Louis Legg
  • Michigan State University Board of Trustees David Porteous and Colleen Pero
  • Wayne State Board of Governors Vernice Davis Anthony and Dr. Paul Fecko

Democratic nominations include:

  • Supreme Court William Murphy and Marilyn Kelly
  • State Board of Education Herb Moyer and Marianne Yared McGuire
  • State Board of Trustees Robert Weiss and Joel Ferguson
  • University of Michigan Board of Regents Olivia Maynard and S. Martin Taylor
  • Wayne State Board of Governors Murray Jackson and Annetta Miller

by Jonathan Hansen, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1996

September 20, 1996

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • Driving home a point on auto safety for teens, the House and Senate this week adopted a tough new approach to granting initial driving privileges, and the governor announced this morning on WJR radio that he will sign the bill. The role and responsibility of parents will increase: to gain their restricted license, teen drivers will have to rack up at least 50 hours of driving time in the presence of a parent or authorized adult. To receive their unrestricted license, Michigan adolescents will have to wait an extra year—the magic age will be bumped to 17 from 16—and pass a road test, something not required since 1980. The bill (HB 4763) also releases schools from the mandate of providing driver education. A $75 voucher will be provided to those students whose districts drop the training; the voucher may be redeemed at private driver-training facilities, some of which charge in excess of $300.
  • Members of the House Republican caucus desirous of bringing to the floor—before the upcoming election—legislation to limit affirmative action practices by state government were displeased with their leadership’s decision to hold off a vote on the measures until the lame-duck session. Gongwer News Service reports that outgoing Speaker Paul Hillegonds feared that debate about the issue was unlikely to be “sound and reasoned” in the legislative interval before November’s electoral storm.
  • For Dr. Gerald Miller, the acronym of FIA will soon change in meaning from Family Independence Agency to Family In Austin. The acknowledged architect of Michigan’s—and the nation’s—recent welfare reform efforts will relinquish the reins of Michigan’s social service agency on October 4 in order to head up Lockheed Martin Corp.’s new privatized welfare management division in Texas. Miller’s first task is to land a contract with the lone star state to run its entire social welfare operation—over nine years the contract is expected to be worth $6 billion. Miller’s public service to Michigan dates back to the Romney administration; he was the wunderkind state budget director for Bill Milliken and has been at the fore of Engler administration initiatives for the past six years.
  • It also will be adios to Margaret O’Riley, the state’s small business ombudsman. She too soon will trade public sector employment for private, when she leaves the Michigan Jobs Commission to become manager of government and community relations for Allied Signal Automotive of Southfield.
  • The Michigan Strategic Fund board of directors voted to change the name and mission of the economic development organization. Henceforth, it will be known as the Michigan Renaissance Fund. Until now the fund has directly subsidized private companies that promised new job creation; under the new strategy, grants and loans will be made to communities, for site development—land acquisition, demolition, and infrastructure upgrades—to assist them in enticing private-sector job providers.
  • If you were anxious lest Michigan’s national political prominence fade now that John Engler’s year-long veepstakes vignette has ended, fear not. The Michigan presidential timber farm was operating in full gear this past week, featuring former, current, and wanna-be varieties from which to choose. Last Friday, citizens Bob Dole and Jack Kemp touched down and fired up 5,000 followers in an airport hangar in Freeland. On Tuesday, President Clinton’s visit to Western Wayne County—the place pundits are tripping over themselves to proclaim as the new political bellwether in the state and nation—brought out 10,000 cheering partisans. A day later, at a golf course in Dearborn (western Wayne County), former president George Bush, stroked the crowd gathered for a fund-raising event thrown by U.S. Senate aspirant Ronna Romney.
  • It’s really name ID, not face ID, that counts in elections anyway. The youthful visage of U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) prompted a store clerk in the lawmaker’s hometown to “card” the forty-three year old as he sought to purchase beer recently. “She doesn’t know I’m a congressman, and I’m not going to tell her; that’s not my style,” said he. For some, it can get mighty thirsty on the campaign trail.

by Jonathan Hansen, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1996

September 27, 1996

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • With all 110 seats up for election, the Michigan House adjourned Wednesday to head back home for a final six weeks on the campaign trail; it will reconvene on November 12. The Senate, although not subject in this election cycle to the vagaries of constituents, also will recess after convening for two days next week.
  • The concept of judicial one-stop shopping for domestic legal matters is much closer to reality. This week both legislative chambers approved SB 1052, creating the Family Court Division within the state’s circuit courts. The purpose is to provide greater continuity in resolving similar types of cases now being heard in varying parts of the existing judiciary structure. Except for mental competency hearings and guardianship and estate proceedings—which will remain with the probate court—all family matters will be adjudicated by the new entity.
  • The City of Detroit has filed suit against the state, officially registering disapproval of an earlier court reorganization measure. Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer seeks to mitigate what he believes to be the unfair financial burden imposed by the state’s forsaking responsibility for running the 36th District Court. Legislation passed last June abolished Detroit Recorders Court and substantially cut back on state funding for Wayne County Circuit Court and 36th District Court. Governor Engler’s office believes the case to be without merit.
  • Against a backdrop of the seemingly inexorable trend toward the use of managed-care programs, health care consumers scored a major victory in the House this week: The so-called Patients’ Bill of Rights is prescribed as a remedy to the perceived lack of accountability, compassion, and information accessibility between health insurers and their clients. Soon-to-be-retired Rep. John Jamian (R-Bloomfield Hills) received high marks from both sides of the aisle for both the legislation’s content and the procedural form he exercised in shepherding the five-bill package to unanimous approval.
  • Election eve crime bills were passed this week.
    • The House classified the tranquilizing drug, fluniztrazepam, as a “schedule 1” con- trolled substance; the drug has been adversely linked to instances of date rape in Texas and Florida (HB 6067).
    • The House approved DNA profiling by police agencies of convicted murderers and kidnappers, including juveniles (HBs 5783, 5912–14, 6061–62).
    • The Senate passed a prohibition on sexually explicit material being permitted in Michigan prisons (SB 702).
  • In addition to his present duties as director of Management and Budget, Mark Murray, will also assume the helm of the Family Independence Agency until a permanent replacement for the welfare agency can be can be found. Outgoing FIA head Gerald Miller heads down to Texas on October 4.
  • Citing “a sputtering economy,” Bob Dole vowed to the Detroit Economic Club audience on Tuesday to stay with his economic message and continue to stress that the 15-percent tax cut he promises is needed to stimulate economic growth. In Detroit a day earlier, Laura Tyson, chair of President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisors, proclaimed Dole’s initiative as “all smoke and mirrors.”
  • Vice president nominee Jack Kemp opined to a Grand Rapids crowd Tuesday that the GOP ticket this year will capture 25–30 percent of the African-American vote. A recent Detroit News poll, however, indicates that Clinton is out pacing Dole by an 81 to 2 margin among black Michiganians; Perot is garnering 3 percent.
  • Newsweek journalist Joe Klein, the recently “outed” author of the steamy political campaign primer Primary Colors, continues to be relatively anonymous—at least to students of Oakland University. The political correspondent drew a crowd of only 60 students to a campus speech for which he was paid $12,000. In other PC developments, a New York tabloid has it that John Travolta will star in the film version of Klein’s work of fiction.
  • And speaking of relevant political issues . . . This week the Freep reported that if elected, citizen Dole will be the first president to go by the name of Bob.

by Jonathan Hansen, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1996

October 4

October 4, 1996

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • The state’s budget belt may tighten several notches: If matters stay as they are now, the state will be stuck with a bill of $500 million and perhaps as much as $3 billion. In deciding to let stand a lower court’s 1995 ruling in Durant v. State of Michigan, the Michigan Supreme Court has severely limited the legal options available to the state in its 15-year battle to avoid paying the 84 local school districts who sued to recover the costs of having to provide state-mandated special education, driver’s training, and breakfast/lunch programs. Unless the court responds favorably to the filing of a last-ditch petition for a rehearing of the case, the state will be forced to pay for violating the unfunded-mandate provisions imposed by the so-called Headlee amendment to the state constitution. Governor Engler has ordered a unilateral hiring freeze across state government as a precautionary measure.
  • In a decision by another high court, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review two federal appeals court rulings that deal with the assisted suicide provisions of New York and Washington state law. Six years ago the court recognized terminally ill people’s constitutional right to die, by allowing them to refuse life-sustaining procedures. Last year the justices declined to hear Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s challenge to Michigan’s assisted suicide ban.
  • Unfunded-mandate (Headlee) implications also are manifest in a temporary injunction granted this week by a Wayne County Circuit Court judge against the legislative plan to transfer responsibility for the 36th District Court from the state to the City of Detroit. There may be constitutional violations, and it is possible that an emergency legislative session will be necessary to be to mitigate the perceived problems. Other court reorganization plans moved ahead more smoothly with the signing into law of SB 1052 (now Public Act 388), which creates a family court division within the circuit court.
  • The Senate adjourned for the duration of the campaign season but not before Republicans were able to pass a series of bills that Senate Majority Leader Dick Posthumous (R-Alto) believes will “optimize the way transportation dollars are spent.” Amid acrimonious partisan debate, the upper chamber sent to the lower measures that will
    • raise from 9 to 19 cents a gallon the motor carrier fuel tax; the $21 million the hike is expected to raise will be offset by revenue reductions created by eliminating a fuel sales tax rebate and other federally ordered requirements on truckers that soon expire (SB 746),
    • limit state liability in lawsuits brought by accident victims on Michigan roads (SB 353),
    • cap certain administrative costs of state and county road agencies (SB 1011), and
    • expedite the state’s private property condemnation procedures for roads and other public works (SB 788).
  • Before hitting the road, senators also honored two former governors by passing legislation to name prominent state office buildings after them: The Law Building will become the G. Mennen Williams Building, and the Olds Plaza will be renamed after George Romney.
  • Slip-sliding away from Michigan and eight other states will be clout in Washington if estimates by the Congressional Research Service hold true. Although the state’s population is growing, demographic trends indicate that Michigan will lose a congressional seat (we currently have 16) come reapportionment time in the new millennium.
  • Politics on the Internet: For coverage of the upcoming election—the good, the bad, and the ugly—please visit Public Sector Consultants’Election Watch web site. Weekly commentaries by PSC prez Craig Ruff and the favorite son of Inside Michigan Politics, Bill Ballenger, can be found there, along with a district-by-district analysis of the Michigan House races, current polling info from EPIC-MRA and others, hot links to additional political sites, and further reverent and irreverent features. Show the world your electoral erudition by entering our interactive ElectionPundit Contest. Come visit us at www.pscinc.com.

by Jonathan Hansen, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1996

November 15 and 22

November 15, 1996

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • Twice this week the Senate rejected measures that would have placed resolving the assisted suicide conundrum in the hands of the state’s electorate two years hence. Instead, the upper chamber passed SB 1102, requiring Michigan physicians to disclose to terminally ill patients their treatment options—including information about pain-killing medication, the patient’s right to refuse treatment, and the use of a patient advocate—and the fact that assisted suicide is illegal under Michigan common law. In related news, the Clinton administration, through its Justice Department lawyers, has urged the U.S. Supreme Court not to recognize the right of terminally ill patients to end their lives with lethal medications from their doctors.
  • Although the bill’s sponsor acknowledges a lack of evidence that Michigan colleges and universities currently give preferential treatment to minority or female students, the House has passed legislation to outlaw the practice. HB 4054, originally intended to curb the alteration of admission and academic exam test scores, was expanded to ban test score adjustments of students with athletic or musical prowess or those with a relationship to people having influence with the school. A more controversial affirmative action bill (HB 4972) dealing with public-sector hiring practices was not taken up.
  • In the wake of an unprecedented push by special interests in the race for Michigan Supreme Court, Senate Majority Leader Dick Posthumus has come out in support of a State Bar proposal to create a commission to examine alternative ways to name judges to the high court and the court of appeals.
  • The long-held suspicion that outgoing Speaker Paul Hillegonds (R-Holland) is indeed a “renaissance man” was confirmed this week by the announcement that the well-respected leader will take his political acumen and leadership talent to the presidency of Detroit Renaissance.
  • As dictated by the reversal of partisan political fortunes in the Michigan House of Representatives last week, members—new and old—of each caucus held their own election to name their legislative leaders for the upcoming session.

 

Democrats
Speaker: 
Curtis Hertel (D-Detroit)
Majority Floor Leader: 
Pat Gagliardi (D-Drummond Island)
Speaker Pro Tempore: 
Ray Murphy (D-Detroit)
Associate Speaker Pro Tempore: 
Sharon Gire (D-Clinton Township)
NOTE: The full contingent and structure of Democrat leadership still is to be decided.
Republicans
Minority Leader: 
Ken Sikkema (R-Grandville)
Minority Whip:
Beverly Hammerstrom (R-Temperance)
Minority Floor Leader: 
Dan Gustafson (R-Williamston)
Caucus Chair: 
Harold Voorhees (R-Grandville)
Minority Assistant Leader: 
Charles Perricone (R-Kalamazoo)
Assistant Caucus Chair: 
Andrew Richner (R-Grosse Pointe Park)
Minority Assistant Floor leaders:
Mike Green (R-Mayville) and Patricia Birkholz (R-Saugatuck)

 

  • The House has been at less than full strength for the last few months because of vacancies left by the departure of Rep. Willis Bullard (R-Milford) to the Senate and the death of Rep. Robert DeMars (D-Lincoln Park). In electing Republican Nancy Cassis to replace Bullard and Democrat Gloria Schermesser to DeMars’ former seat on November 5, voters brought the Republican majority back to full strength—56–54—for the remainder of the current session.
  • The Michigan legislative calender for the end of the 1995–96 session is as follows: The House will meet on November 19–21, and both chambers will convene on December 3–5, 10–12, and maybe the 13th.

by Jonathan Hansen, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1996

November 22, 1996

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • The Michigan Supreme Court, by a 6–1 decision, has had a change of heart and will indeed hear arguments in the ticking fiscal time bomb known as Durant v. State of Michigan. The nearly seventeen-year-old case brought by school districts, to recover the cost of state-mandated-but- not-funded special education and other programs, may be heard as early as April. While the high court’s action is not a predictor of the eventual outcome, it does allow the Engler administration and legislative appropriations committees time to plan for a very expensive future if the outcome goes against the state—which so far has lost every round in the suit.
  • The Michigan Economic Growth Authority (MEGA) chalked up another big week. On Tuesday, the economic development entity announced that it is providing $6.8 million in tax relief for a Swedish company planning to build a steel mill in Ingham County. Wednesday brought news of House approval of HB 4840—a three-year extension of the program—by a 57–44 margin.
  • Watching with great interest as the House passed the last of the tax exemption bills needed to complete the renaissance zone package were the twenty Michigan communities that have applied for the economic development benefits of the program. Nine of the communities will receive an early holiday gift when the winners are announced in mid-December.
  • It turns out that House Democrats needed more than smoke and mirrors to conjure up the requisite number of votes needed to prohibit the state treasurer from investing public pension funds in tobacco stocks. An amendment to do so was defeated 45–52. The lower chamber did pass unanimously a provision (HB 5925) to place limits on state investment in derivatives.
  • If you want a glimpse of the future direction of the state’s Medicaid service delivery, follow carefully the recent request for proposals from the Michigan Department of Community Health. The MDCH will select a handful of health care plans to administer a capitated Medicaid managed-care system in five southeast Michigan counties. Most Medicaid recipients in the pilot counties will be required to receive their health care from the chosen plans, which will be paid a specified amount per recipient whether that recipient uses its services or not. The state figures to save millions of dollars, and the contracted health plans are gambling that they likewise will come out ahead. Proposals are due January 31, 1997.
  • Scant weeks after the last election, they’re lining up for the next one. Democrat Larry Owen (East Lansing), hoping to cut off organizational and financial resources from other potential candidates, held the first of a series of gubernatorial campaign soirees this week. Also in the hunt for the Democrat nod are former Commerce director Doug Ross (Oakland County), Sen. Jim Berryman (Adrian), and Chrysler employee Edward Hamilton (Oakland County). The players on GOP side of the aisle are on hold until John Engler makes his intentions known. Should the governor decide to move on, Sen. Dick Posthumus (Alto), Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, and physician Gary Artinian (Bloomfield Twp.) are poised to leap into the fray. Sen. Joe Schwarz (Battle Creek) is mulling over a bid as an independent.
  • A former state senator and author of Michigan’s “polluters pay” legislation, Lana Pollack, of Ann Arbor, will become the new executive director of the Michigan Environmental Council. She replaces Carol Misseldine, who has moved on to become the Great Lakes director of The Natural Step, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping private organizations reduce, reuse, and recycle waste.
  • In covering the orientation of seventeen newly-elected House members, the Michigan Information and Research Service reports that among the helpful hints offered to incoming lawmakers by Clerk of the House Mel DeStigter is the admonition not to “let the job go to your head; you’re a state representative with a job and responsibility, but don’t let it become more than what it really is. I’ve seen that happen to a lot of them—they think they’re little gods. If you want an example of that, go across the rotunda to the Senate.”

by Jonathan Hansen, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1996

December 6 and 13

December 6, 1996

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • House Republicans took advantage of their soon-to-be-retired majority status and mustered the bare minimum number of votes needed to considerably alter the way in which future state and public school retirees will be compensated. HBs 6206–7 and 6229–30 provide early retirement options for certain state employees and reverse the current defined-benefits pension arrangements in favor of a 401(k) defined contribution plan; future state workers—including legislators, judges, governors, secretaries of state, and attorneys general—will be affected by the proposal. School employees will not be much affected unless the current unfunded accrued liability for their pensions—nearly $6 billion—can be paid off by July, 1998.
  • While still in a partisan mood, the House also passed a reapportionment blueprint (HB 5275) that authorizes the state supreme court to draw legislative districts, come the new millennium, in much the same manner as in the last two decennial reapportionments. Democrats believe this will favor the GOP, but lost, 56–39, on a party-line vote.
  • The Senate provided little holiday cheer to the governor and the Liquor Control Commission (LCC) as it passed two liquor privatization bills at odds with the LCC plan set to go into effect in just over 30 days. The first, SB 1171, passed by a lopsided 34–2 margin. This measure differs from the LCC plan in a number of ways, chief among them a ban on party stores selling liquor to restaurants and bars and a reduction, to 56 percent, in the allowable state liquor price markup (the LCC plan is 58 percent; the current markup is 65 percent). The second bill, HB 4821, was unanimously adopted and requires legislative approval of any eventual liquor privatization regulatory structure. This week, in anticipation of the January 12 privatization date, nearly 350 current state employees involved with liquor distribution received layoff notices.
  • Further recognition of the entitlement of the executive branch of government to reorganize itself was handed down by the Michigan Supreme Court this week. By declining to hear a case involving an executive order put on hold five years ago, the court paved the way for elimination of the Michigan Employment Security Commission (MESC) and the Michigan Employment Security Advisory Council. Governor Engler favors moving the responsibilities of the entities to the director of the Michigan Employment Security Agency (MESA). The MESC is housed in the Department of Consumer and Industry Services; the MESA will conduct its work under the auspices of the Jobs Commission. Those seeking to preserve the status quo have 20 days in which to file a motion to have the case reheard.
  • With opponents charging that the fiscal cure may be worse than the malady, the House passed HB 6192, which authorizes the state to sell off the assets of the Michigan Biological Products Institute (MBPI). For 60 years the state-run laboratory has produced vaccines, many of which are not sufficiently lucrative to be produced by private firms. The state estimates the value of the entity at $10.5 million, but critics of the sale contend that it is much more valuable. A companion bill, HB 6191, which addresses retirement concerns of MBPI employees, passed unanimously.
  • The Senate has decreed that where there is smoke, there will be stamps. When the state tax on a package of cigarettes went from 25 to 75 cents, after passage of the school reform measure known as Proposal A, smuggling cigarettes into Michigan became the “top crime of the 1990s,” opines Sen. Doug Carl (R-Mt. Clemens), sponsor of SB 883. His bill requires every package to bear a state stamp; convicted smugglers will get burned by a $50,000 fine and a possibly five years in prison.
  • The Senate has unanimously moved to curb so-called frivolous lawsuits filed by Michigan’s prison population. SBs 1214 and 1215 seek to cut down on the amount of time and resources the attorney general’s office spends in responding to inmate suits. The bills require prisoners to bear financial responsibility for the costs associated with filing civil actions.

by Jonathan Hansen, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1996

December 13, 1996

Legislative & Political Week in Review

  • The sweeping state employee pension benefits package was approved by both houses. HBs 6206–07 and 6229–30 provide early retirement options for certain state employees and replace the current defined-benefits pension arrangements in favor of a 401(k) defined contribution plan for future employees.
  • In response to budget needs cited by MDNR officials, legislators approved a measure (SB 940) that will raise additional revenue by increasing hunting and fishing license fees.
  • Two bills (SBs 211–12) changing the Freedom of Information Act and the open meetings laws, to allow 4-year higher-education institutions more privacy in the selection of university presidents, were agreed to by both chambers.
  • A path to the governors desk also was cleared for the so-called Patients’ Bill of Rights (HBs 5570–74) after agreement finally was reached on how preexisting conditions shall be covered; a tiered system of insurance exclusions for such conditions affecting only commercial insurers was established.
  • By passing SB 959, the House made certain that various details about convicted sex offenders will be open to public scrutiny.
  • The Republican majorities in both chambers successfully pushed through a plan (HB 5275) by which legislative districts will be redrawnfor state and federal elections in 2002. Democrats argued in vain that the standards established—essentially the same as have existed since 1982—will hurt their electoral chances in urban areas. GOP legislators also provided the votes needed for another bill they believe will mitigate voting fraud practices: HB 5402 will require registered voters to display picture ID to poll workers before being allowed to cast their ballots; the names of voters who do not present such identification will be subjected to further review by election-certification officials.
  • The transportation package finally ended its long, strange trip early Friday morning, arriving with only two of its four original bills. SB 746 raises truckers’ tax on diesel fuel, from 18.5 cents to 21 cents a gallon, and will generate $18 million a year; SB 778 speeds up MDOT’s and other government agencies’ property-condemnation procedures. Fatalities were bills that would have changed liability laws and restricted raids on the state transportation fund by other agencies.
  • Privately run liquor distribution will become a reality next January, as planned by the Liquor Control Commission but slightly changed by SB 1171, adopted at the tail end of the final, 22-hour legislative session.
  • The chair of the State Board of Education, Clark Durant, won’t be serving in that capacity come January, when the panel becomes equally divided along partisan lines. The board may be in for other changes in the new year as well: A move is afoot by Governor Engler to transfer by executive order certain board functions to the state superintendent.
  • The House Democrat leadership team for the upcoming session has been rounded out with the addition of newly created positions to help address leadership continuity issues brought on by term limits. Michael Hanley (Saginaw) and Eileen DeHart (Westland) have been tapped by their colleagues to serve as assistant associate Speaker pro tem. Elected to the post of assistant associate majority floor leader are Deborah Cherry (Burton) and Samuel Thomas (Detroit).
  • Governor Engler will ascend the House podium to deliver his seventh State of the State message on Tuesday, January 24, 1997, at 7 P.M.
  • This week the members of the House and Senate closed the book on the work of the 88th legislative session. The official end—sine die—is scheduled for Monday, December 30, at 11:30 A.M. The 89th legislature officially begins on Wednesday, January 8, 1997, at noon. Roundup will resume publication the following week.

by Jonathan Hansen, Senior Consultant
Copyright © 1996

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