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 Kimball and Jonathan Hansen, Affiliated Consultants.
January 31, 1997
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- Michigan’s newly elected, 89th legislature has commenced in earnest; this week legislators braved Lansing’s bitterly cold winds to listen and react as Gov. John Engler delivered his seventh State of the State message. “America knows that Michigan is back as a state of basic values, big ideas, and bold leadership,” Engler declared in his Tuesday address, asserting that “state after state is copying Michigan, reforming school funding, reorganizing government, and reducing taxes.” Although somewhat less partisan than in past years, the speech drew predictable responses from both sides of the aisle. For example, as Mr. Engler withdrew from the House chamber, recently recrowned Majority Floor Leader Pat Gagliardi (D-Drummond Island) said the governor “has run out of gas,” while GOP lawmakers chanted “four more years.”
- As expected, the governor called for major education reforms. One is school district accountability. Under this controversial proposal, state-appointed trustees—former state superintendent and Eastern Michigan University president John Porter and former Detroit school superintendent and Edison Project principal Deborah McGriff have been mentioned as examples—would take over administration of school districts in which more than 25 percent of the students annually drop out or 80 percent fail to meet minimum standards on the high school proficiency test. Under other proposals, students would be expelled if they physically harm teachers, school districts would be permitted to mandate school uniforms, and public/private partnership “advanced career academies” would replace traditional vocational education efforts.
- With Michigan’s pothole season arriving early this year, Engler made sure to drive home his transportation plans. He stated his belief that no new gasoline taxes are needed and called instead for revenue to maintain the state’s roadways and bridges to be derived from reforms, among them reconfiguring the federal gasoline and highway tax structure, to allow the state to send less tax money to Washington, and reducing government liability pertaining to roadways.
- The governor also proposed
- requiring sex offenders entering Michigan from other states to provide the state police with a DNA sample;
- enacting a series of tougher drunk-driving initiatives, including issuing red vehicle license plates to people holding restricted driver’s licenses;
- doubling the number of Project Zero pilot project sites, to enable more able-bodied adults receiving welfare to move into full employment and financial independence;
- strengthening the legal hand of state and federal child-protection workers in their efforts to gain access to information about suspected child abusers; and
- blocking development in certain “special, irreplaceable, unique” areas of the state.
- Meanwhile, Speaker Curtis Hertel (D-Detroit) unveiled the House Democrats’ legislative goals. The Speaker articulated an “agenda for Michigan’s families” and set an ambitious 90-day time frame for passage. The Democrats—restored to a 58–52 majority status in that chamber—list as their priorities
- boosting the minimum wage,
- raising earned-income, child-care, and dependent-care state tax credits,
- expanding senior citizens’ property-tax deferment options,
- offering full-day kindergarten in “at-risk” districts,
- limiting K–3 class size to 15,
- strengthening high school core curriculum, and
- creating a $1,500 college-tuition tax credit.
- Accomplishing one item on the House Democrats’ agenda—repealing the so-called photo-voter law that was pushed through by the GOP in the waning hours of last session and requires voters to produce photo identification in order to vote—may take less work than first thought. On Wednesday, Attorney General Frank Kelley declared the measure unconstitutional and in violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. The ruling has the force of law unless overturned in court.
February 7, 1997
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- Governor Engler’s 1997–98 Executive Budget proposes funding for new programs to address present and future technology needs of the state. Also included in the lengthy document is a new general fund allocation of $43 million for road construction and repair; start-up funding for a proposed state hall of justice that would house in Lansing the geographically dispersed supreme court, court of appeals, and State Court Administrative Office; and new monies to enable the Department of Environmental Quality to facilitate the cleanup of urban “brownfield” sites and match federal safe drinking water funds.
- Recent proposals made by House Democrats and Senate Republicans to change the rules by which appropriations conference committees are run were scuttled as both chambers passed Senate Joint Resolution 2. The resolution, which includes the rules by which both chambers must abide, did not include a proposal to allow conference committee members the right to interject whatever they want into a bill under consideration. House Republicans were concerned that this practice would lead to an increase in “pork barreling.” As it now stands, conference committees may consider only the specific points of difference between the House and Senate versions of a particular bill.
- The Michigan Public Service Commission believes that sufficient telecommunication competition exists within the state to allow Ameritech Michigan to offer long-distance telephone service. The MPSC voted 2–1 Wednesday to send comments to the Federal Communication Commission reflecting the judgement. The FCC has until April 17, 1997, to render a final decision on the matter. At a press conference earlier in the week, the Michigan Consumers Federation opined that local telephone competition in the state is virtually nonexistent and that allowing Ameritech to prematurely get into the long-distance market would adversely affect Michigan consumers.
- Declaring that he will not be “bullied into taking positions based on politics instead of science,” Governor Engler Wednesday rejected a request by federal Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Health and Human Services officials to upgrade the warning on the consumption of fish from the Great Lakes.
- The new president of the Michigan Renaissance Fund will be Robert Filka. The fund fosters local economic development through state funding of infrastructure improvements and land acquisition for special projects. Filka has been the key advisor to Governor Engler in the areas of technology, telecommunication, and public utility policy. Former Renaissance Fund president Jim Storey took a job in the private sector last November.
- Hoping to sew up early the Democratic nomination for governor in 1998, East Lansing attorney Larry Owen formally kicked off his campaign Tuesday in Lansing. Amid a phalanx of Democratic legislators and other officials, Owen declared that he will be running form the “sensible center” in his second attempt for the office.
- Now comes Rep. Karen Willard (D-Algonac), who on Thursday made it official that she, too, is a candidate to succeed John Engler. Representative Willard, term-limited in 1998, becomes the only woman in an otherwise all-male field.
- And then there were 109. Rep. Greg Pitoniak (D-Taylor) assumed the mantle of mayor of Taylor over the weekend, leaving his state House seat temporarily vacant. Speaker Curtis Hertel (D-Detroit) urged the governor to expedite the special election process needed to name a new lawmaker for the 22nd district, which includes Taylor and Romulus.
- Last weekend’s Republican state convention in Detroit was an upbeat affair. Conventioneers focused primarily on ways to out-duel their future opponents, not on election results of the recent past. As expected, GOP delegates reelected Betsy DeVos to the post of party chair. The Democratic state convention will be held this weekend.
February 14, 1997
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- On Wednesday the chambers debated and passed separate measures raising the minimum wage paid to Michigan workers. For the first time in 16 years, it is all but certain that the base hourly pay rate will gradually rise, over the next year, to $5.15 from the present $3.25. The wage must be paid by businesses grossing less than $500,000 annually and not engaging in interstate trade. Differences do exist, however, between the tie-barred bills. Senate Bill 1—passed by a 37–1 margin—sets the effective date for $5.15 at January 1, 1998, allows a “training wage” of $4.25 per hour to be paid for 90 days to employees aged under 20, and keeps the restaurant workers’ minimum wage “tip credit” at its present $2.52. The House countered with HB 4177, which names September 1, 1997, as the target for the new minimum wage and raises the tip credit 13 cents to $2.65.
- House Democrats made good on their pledge to repeal a law (P.A. 583 of 1996) that would force voters to show a photo ID before being able to cast their ballots; Dems picked up nine GOP votes in passing HB 4266 by a 66–40 margin. Attorney General Kelley had recently determined the photo ID law to be unconstitutional. The repeal effort still has to get through the Republican-controlled Senate, and the merits of original law still are being considered in court.
- Senate Bill 101, a measure to affix tax stamps to cigarette packages, passed the upper chamber easily (36–1) and is on its way to the House. Illegal cigarette smuggling has been on the rise since the state raised its per pack tax to 75 cents (second highest in the nation). The bill includes additional money for wholesalers, to cover administrative costs of the program, and criminal penalties for those in possession of unstamped smokes.
- The Michigan United Conservation Clubs, concerned with curtailed official opportunities for public interaction with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, offers a solution to the problem—establishment of a public board to keep tabs on the agency. Said MUCC executive director Rick Jameson, “When DEQ was formed, in 1995, we saw that one of the most glaring problems was a lack of genuine public access to its decision-making.” Don’t count on any legislative changes just yet suggests Sen. Loren Bennett, chair of the Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs committee; he opined that complaints about the operations of the DEQ and its sister agency, the MDNR, have dropped dramatically over the last two years and work output is on the upswing.
- Books and teachers certainly are part of a good education but so is the physical condition of the school buildings, assert leaders of the School Equity Caucus and the Michigan Association of School Boards. The educators recommend that the state give priority to funding needed for new construction and repair and retrofitting of aging school facilities, annual reports describing the condition of the buildings in each district, and additional help for poorer school districts as they attempt to raise capital.
- Ameritech has temporarily withdrawn its recent application to the Federal Communications Commission for entrance into the long-distance telephone market, after the application was criticized by the FCC being incomplete. Federal rules require that competition be evident in the local phone market before monopoloy local phone service providers may be allowed into the long-distance market. Ameritech’s application cited an interconnect agreement with AT&T as proof of the presence of local competition, but the agreement has not yet been approved by the state Public Service Commission. At present, Ameritech controls 99.6 percent of the local phone market in its territories.
- Top Michigan election overseer Chris Thomas has won an election of his own. The head of the Department of State Bureau of Elections has been elected by his peers as president of the National Association of State Election Directors. Thomas’s steady hand has been at the helm of Michigan’s Bureau since 1981.
February 21, 1997
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- With the baby-boomer retirement tidal wave approaching, the Senate Health Policy and Senior Citizens Committee this week began to tackle the thorny problem of current and future abuse of Medicaid monies to pay for nursing home expenses. Although no legislation is currently in place, members heard testimony urging a lien program to recoup a portion of state expenses from an individual’s assets upon death. A public education program extolling the benefits of privately purchased long-term care insurance also was suggested.
- Showing its displeasure with Governor Engler’s recent proposals to usurp various State Board of Education functions, the House Education Committee passed two resolutions (HCRs 5 and 6) in an attempt to block the transfer of powers. The resolutions seek to repeal executive orders 1996-11 and 1996-12, which would allow the executive branch—in the person of the superintendent of public instruction—to assume certain administrative and rule-making duties now held by the board. On Thursday, HCR 5, which would repeal EO 1996–12, passed the House 70–36 and is on the way to the Senate.
- The governor, alarmed by a “waiver process that is seriously being abused,” unveiled a proposal to exhort business and university leaders to consider for hire or admission only those prospective employees and students who have passed the state high school proficiency test. Engler’s proposal stems from revelations that large percentages of high school students in certain schools are opting out of taking the recently administered test by having their parents sign a waiver. Engler contends that the waiver was intended to aid students with disabilities—not those who simply fear poor performance on the test.
- Proposals (SB 1 and HB 4177) to raise the minimum wage for workers employed by small Michigan companies not engaged in interstate commerce are on their way to the governor. If signed, the wage would increase to $5.15 per hour by September 1, 1997.
- The needs of Michigan’s roads and how to address them were a hot topic in the Capitol again this week. Senators Steil (R-Grand Rapids) and Koivisto (D-Iron Mountain) announced plans to introduce legislation authorizing the use of $200 million from the state’s $1.1 billion Budget Stabilization Fund (rainy day fund) for road resurfacing and repair. The senators believe that additional federal funding for roads will materialize in the future and that the one-time infusion of state dollars will fill the breach until then.
- Both the House and Senate judiciary committees heard testimony to repeal the so-called “fireman’s rule” of common law in Michigan; the practice prohibits public safety officers injured while in the line of duty from suing for damages. The House committee moved its proposal (HB 4044) to the floor on a party-line vote of 9-5; Senate committee members held SB 112 back for further consideration.
- Integrating Medicaid recipients into managed care programs will be the subject of House subcommittee hearings in the near future. Subcommittee chair Rep. Joe Palamara (D-Wyandotte) announced that hearings will be held in Detroit on February 27, Flint on March 10, and Ann Arbor on March 17.
- The governor tapped Dan Pero, his ex-chief of staff, to join the Judicial Tenure Commission replacing GOP activist Harry Veryser. Engler also named Chief Justice of the Oakland County Probate Court Joan Youngto replace Judge Hilda Gage on the 6th Judicial Circuit Court. Attorney Wendy Lynn Potts will replace Young on the probate bench.
February 28, 1997
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- President Clinton is coming to Lansing March 6 to address a joint session of the legislature on a subject of considerable concern to federal, state, and local leaders—education. A stop in Detroit also is anticipated.
- Tax cutting became much more of a bipartisan sport this week as Democrats on House committees reported out five measures to reduce the tax burden for certain lower- and middle-income citizens and the elderly. Republican committee members generally opposed the targeted cuts as haphazard or fiscally irresponsible. The bills allow seniors to defer property tax until they die or their property is sold (HB 4042); allow a $5,000 deduction for child care expenses (HB 4180), allow low wage earners to deduct 10 percent of their federal earned income tax credit from their state taxes (HB 4189); expand the homestead tax credit for seniors and the handicapped (HB 4124); and increase the college tuition tax credit from $250 per child per year to $500 (HB 4191).
- It will be 26 and out for veteran Sen. Bob Geake (R-Northville) when he ends his legislative career at the close of the present session. Geake was first elected in 1972 to the House and moved over to the Senate in 1977. Term-limited House members residing in Geake’s Senate district have expressed interest in filling his post.
- The newly created state Gaming Control Board is recommending that Detroit casinos pay a portion of the cost of regulating them— above and beyond the 18 percent casino tax. The board also expressed support for revising certain aspects of Proposal E that allow two business consortia seeking to own casinos preference for licenses.
- Higher prices and less reliable service may result from electric utility deregulation unless proper measures are taken now, say leaders of Protect Michigan, a coalition of business and labor organizations. The group has a series of radio ads on the air urging electricity consumers to discuss with their legislators the implications of imminent policy changes. Attorney General Frank Kelley has requested that the Michigan Public Service Commission conduct formal contested case hearings in the matter to ensure the broadest public scrutiny.
- Time ran out Tuesday on the attempt to rescind one of Governor Engler’s controversial executive orders to transfer certain administrative duties from the State Board of Education to the superintendent of public instruction. Proponents argued that HCR 5, a measure to overturn Executive Order 1996-12, was necessary to protect the legislature’s rulemaking ability and oversight function. Before taking up the resolution, the Senate session was quick-gaveled into adjournment. The legislature has 60 days from the time an executive order is issued to overturn it; Tuesday was day 60.
- Road repair update: Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson called for a petition drive to put on the ballot a phased-in 6.5 cents per gallon gas-tax increase. Meanwhile, the governor and legislative quadrant leaders unveiled plans to jointly lobby for changes in the federal gas-tax formula in Washington next week. House Democrats pushed a measure out of committee (HB 4147) to funnel nearly $111 million into road infrastructure projects and away from the state agencies now receiving the money. The Secretary of State’s office stands to lose almost $90 million under the proposal.
- For those keeping a 1998 gubernatorial scorecard, add one Democrat and scratch two Republicans. Promising leadership on such tough issues as raising the gas tax to fix roads, clarifying charter school authority, and assuring fairness in utility deregulation, Rep. Jim Agee (D-Muskegon) filed the necessary candidacy papers this week. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Candice Miller told Free Press columnist Hugh McDiarmid that ’98 won’t find her in a race for governor—even if Engler doesn’t run. Sen. Bill Schuette also removed himself from consideration next year, announcing his intention to stand for reelection from the 35th district instead.
March 7, 1997
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- Education issues took their place at the front of the class this week. In his address Thursday to a joint session of the Michigan Legislature, President Clinton stressed that public schools need to train students to meet high standards, be open to all who want attend them, and be held to high levels of accountability. Clinton would like to see voluntary national standards established—among them, reading tests for fourth graders and math and science tests for eighth graders—to prepare students for the changing nature of work opportunities in the 21st century. The president supports creating more charter schools and efforts to connect every classroom to the Internet by 2000. On noneducation matters, he lauded various welfare reform programs and challenged the legislature and private employers to “make sure jobs are there if [welfare recipients] go to work.”
- Senate Republicans, cognizant of Clinton’s support of the charter school concept, brought to the floor this week a measure (SB 146) to lift the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in the state; it passed 20–16. Currently, the number is capped at 100. The bill removes the cap for schools created in economically disadvantaged areas and allows academies to be established for disabled or at-risk students.
- The constitutionality of Michigan’s original charter school law was debated this week before the Michigan Supreme Court; a court of appeals panel earlier had held that the law was flawed because it does not provide sufficient public accountability and control over the newly created schools.
- A circuit court judge issued a temporary injunction Thursday against one of Governor Engler’s executive orders, EO 1996-11, that co-opts certain of the State Board of Education’s powers; the request was filed by Democrats on the education board and supported by the legislative Democratic caucus. The judge denied the request for injunction against the second order (EO 1996-12), because it does not take effect until July.
- The House Education Committee has reported a bill (HB 4244) seeking to stimulate adoption of model core curriculum standards. The bill—passed along partisan lines—offers a $5-per-student bonus to school districts that can certify compliance.
- A measure (HB 4191) to expand college tuition tax credits has been unanimously passed by the House Taxation Committee; the bill raises the credit ceiling from $250 to $500.
- More items on the House Democrats’ tax-cutting agenda were passed by the full chamber but not without considerable partisan wrangling. A measure (HB 4180) offering a child-care tax credit to working parents making less than $100,000 annually eventually passed 78–26. Republican lawmakers offered amendments that would have broadened the scope of the bill to include all child-care arrangements used by parents; the amendments were adopted but then not included in the substitute version of the bill, which passed. The partisan rhetoric was no less vitriolic a day later as the lower chamber passed a bill (HB 4189) to create a state earned-income tax credit for lower-income residents. GOP members railed against instituting a policy of income redistribution; Democrats claimed that those on the lower end of the economic scale—not just the well-heeled—deserve tax relief too.
- The saga of Michigan roads took new twists and turns this week as Sen. Jim Berryman (D-Adrian) went to court to force the governor to adhere to a 1987 law requiring that broad-based transportation needs committees be established; such panels would assess—and make recommendations regarding—the physical and fiscal priorities for state roadways. Meanwhile, two other funding approaches were broached: In Washington, Congressman Joe Knollenburg (R-Bloomfield Hills) wants to capture $200 million for Michigan road repair by returning to the states the money generated by a 1993 federal gasoline-tax increase, and, back in Lansing, Rep. Beverly Hammerstrom (R-Temperance) offered up a three-bill video-gaming package (HBs 4409–11) as a way to raise up to $500 million for highway needs and the School Aid Fund.
March 14, 1997
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- Roadways and Means: The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill (SB 174) that could steer upwards of $2.2 billion into the state’s transportation budget—$573 million in federal funds and $1.63 billion in state monies. The Senate Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee meanwhile approved SB 303, designed to achieve greater transportation-related efficiencies and provide additional funding for highway renovation; SB 225, to capture for surface road repair the interest from the state’s “rainy day fund”; and SB 302, shifting $50 million from Michigan’s Comprehensive Transportation Fund—a mass- transit funding entity—to the Michigan Transportation Fund (MTF), for road work this year. The House debated the merits of and moved to third reading HB 4147, prohibiting the use of MTF revenue for any state department other than Transportation. And in Washington, President Clinton unveiled a roads and mass transit plan to provide an additional $61 million to our state—far short of the $200 million sought by Michigan political leaders—for road repairs.
- The Senate Appropriations Committee also completed work this week on budget bills for the departments of State Police (SB 173), Environmental Quality, (SB 167), Natural Resources (SB 168), Military Affairs (SB 172), Family Independence (SB 169), Consumer and Industry Services and the Jobs Commission (SB 166), and Agriculture (SB 164) as well as for general government (SB 170) and the judiciary (SB 171). In a temporary membership change, Sen. Joe Young is replacing Sen. Michael O’Brien on the committee; both are Democrats from Detroit.
- Governor Engler has offered revised criteria for the state takeover of “educationally bankrupt” public schools: Local school districts will become takeover targets if more than half of their fourth and seventh graders score poorly in math and science MEAP tests for five years, if more than half of their fifth and eighth graders fare poorly in the MEAP test for five years, or if, for two years, 80 percent of their graduating students fail to qualify for a state endorsement in any area of the new high school proficiency. The schools will be run by a gubernatorially appointed trustee wielding great discretionary power. Three districts currently qualify as candidates for trusteeship: Benton Harbor, Highland Park, and Ecorse.
- On the heels of President Clinton’s call last week for higher standards for public school education, the House approved a measure designed to entice local school districts into adopting the state’s model core curriculum; HB 4244 will provide an additional $5 per student to districts electing to do so. If all districts opt in, the cost will be nearly $8 million. Republican critics of the bill suggest that implementing the proposal will exacerbate the funding inequities between rich and poor districts. Majority Leader Dick Posthumus (R-Alto) has declared the concept “dead on arrival” in the Senate.
- The House Tax Committee Wednesday passed on to the full chamber a proposal (SB 101) to affix tobacco stamps to cigarette packages in hopes of curtailing tobacco-product smuggling into Michigan. The measure was debated on the floor, then returned to committee Thursday when an eleventh-hour change—having packages tax-stamped at the point of manufacture instead of by Michigan wholesalers and appropriating less money for wholesaler tax-collecting administrative costs—was suggested by the governor.
- Under SB 188, which passed this week 30–8 in the Senate, Michigan welfare recipients will be required to pay back to the state a portion of their lottery winnings. Winners of $1,000 or more will have to give back either the amount of assistance they or their family previously had received or up to half of their new-found wealth.
- The Detroit News reports that since Governor Engler has been in office, the overall number of state workers has dropped by 7 percent. Currently there are 61,000 state workers—4,900 fewer than when the governor took over in 1991. Human service agencies currently operate with some 5,900 workers fewer, while the Department of Corrections payroll has increased by more than 2,500.
March 21, 1997
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- Natural resources issues dealt with by the House this week include passage of a requirement (HB 4206) that the state issue more stringent fish consumption advisories in line with those of other Great Lakes states and advocated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Engler administration officials contend that the state’s current fish advisories are adequate and that attempts to change them are grounded in politics, not science. The lower chamber also approved legislation (SB 93) to undo a mistake—failure to specify immediate effect—in drafting a subdivision control bill that had passed during the frenzied final day of last session. The fix-up measure reduces the time frame that landowners have to subdivide their property before the bill’s regulation takes effect.
- Hoping to ease the financial burden on families of college-bound students, House members voted 94–13 to double the current tuition tax credit, from $250 to $500. Students enrolled in certified vocational education entities also will be eligible for the tax break. The measure (HB 4191) removes from current law the requirement that the credit may be applied only to higher education institutions holding tuition increases to a level not exceeding the average annual increase in the consumer price index.
- “A scandalous display of government arrogance or indifference” is how Richard Headlee describes the implementation of the eponymic tax-limiting amendment to the state constitution. In testimony this week before the House Tax Policy Committee, Headlee chastised state officials for not fully enforcing the voter-approved initiative that limits Michigan taxes and prohibits the legislature from imposing unfunded mandates on local units of government. The tax committee chair, Rep. Kirk Profit (D-Ypsilanti), is preparing legislation to induce greater compliance with the 1978 amendment’s objectives.
- Measures to provide drivers with relief from crumbling roadways without having to endure a gasoline tax hike were passed by the Senate this week. The four bills are SB 303, to achieve greater transportation-related efficiencies and provide additional funding for highway renovation; SB 225, to capture for surface road repair the interest (approximately $69 million) from the state’s “rainy day fund”; SB 302, to provide some $70 million, in large part by shifting $50 million from Michigan’s Comprehensive Transportation Fund—a mass-transit funding source—to the Michigan Transportation Fund, for road work this year; and SB 174, the overall transportation budget bill authorizing expenditures of more than $2.2 billion.
- The 1997–98 Department of Agriculture budget bill (SB 164) emerged from the Senate by a 26–14 margin. The $73 million proposal was adopted after Democrats failed to gain approval of an amendment requiring disclosure of all department personal-services contracts of more than $5,000.
- The controversy is heating up over Romulus School District’s public school academy in Detroit that caters to dropouts. An attorney for the Detroit Public Schools alleged before the House Judiciary Committee this week that the Romulus-run, Detroit-based Baron’s Academy has defrauded the state of millions of dollars and that its instruction and discipline are “abysmal.” GOP members of the panel expressed anger at the last-minute scheduling of the matter and the fact that representatives from Romulus and the academy had not been invited to the hearing. An investigation of the fraud allegations is underway by the attorney general’s office.
- A unanimous Michigan Appeals Court panel has upheld a state law requiring that women considering an abortion must review written information about the procedure and wait 24 hours before proceeding.
- Michigan’s current seasonally adjusted unemployment rate—4.5 percent— is at its lowest level in 27 years.
- The House has recessed for its annual spring break; it will reconvene on Tuesday, April 8.
CORRECTION: In the March 14 Roundup, we erred in reporting changes in the Senate Appropriations Committee membership: Mike O’Brien is temporarily replacing Joe Young on the panel—not the reverse. Both are Democrats from Detroit.
March 28, 1997
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- The full Senate completed work this week on a number of budget bills, including those for the departments of State Police (SB 173), Environmental Quality, (SB 167), Natural Resources (SB 168), Military Affairs (SB 172), Family Independence (SB 169), Consumer and Industry Services and the Jobs Commission (SB 166), as well as for general government (SB 170) and the judiciary (SB 171).
- Does the legislative Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) have the power to veto rules developed by executive branch administrators? Not a chance, says a unanimous court of appeals panel, which upheld two lower-court rulings on the matter; to permit the JCAR to veto rules would violate constitutional separation of powers provisions. “Once the legislature has delegated, by law, rule-making authority to an agency, it must abide by that delegation and not interfere with that authority until altered or revoked by law,” the court declared. This is another in a string of legal victories for Governor Engler as he seeks to consolidate and clarify executive-branch policy discretion.
- And, speaking of executive-branch power consolidation, the governor’s move to transfer certain State Board of Education administrative functions to the state superintendent of public instruction took another turn this week. The governor initially proposed to appeal the preliminary injunction issued by an Ingham County Circuit Court judge that temporarily has halted the plan, but his office has confirmed that he will instead seek to have the entire suit (brought by the Democrat members of the board) dismissed.
- People who assault pregnant women will be facing new criminal sanctions—up to life in prison—under legislation passed unanimously by the Senate. The way for passage of SB 21 was cleared after removal of a provision stating that life begins at conception. Currently, under Michigan common law, no criminal charge can be brought against someone harming or killing a child not born alive.
- The Office on Services to the Aging henceforth will reside in the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH), moving from the Department of Management and Budget. The autonomous agency also gained new leadership in the person of Ms. Lynn Alexander. The Commission on Services to the Aging moved to the MDCH as well.
- The governor announced Wednesday plans to implement the Michigan Childhood Immunization Registry in the southeastern part of the state on April 1. When it is fully operational statewide, in the fall, the computerized registry will comprise a network of regional immunization information systems that will enable medical providers to easily determine a child’s vaccination history. While still slightly below the national average at 74.1 percent, Michigan’s immunization level for two-year-olds has increased 13 points since 1994 and 32 points since 1991.
- The first of a series of Michigan Public Service Commission hearings on its electric utility deregulation plans drew sharp criticism from Attorney General Frank Kelley and a host of business and consumer entities as well as potential electric competitors. One key issue is the procedure by which and the amount of money that Consumers Energy and Detroit Edison—the state’s two largest electricity providers—will be able to recoup on their “stranded investment.” This reflects investments made over the years by current electric providers on behalf of their customers that presumably will be lost if other providers are allowed to compete. Opponents of the current deregulation plan claim that its stated goal of fostering competition will be thwarted by measures that stack the deck in favor of the incumbent utilities.
- Earlier this year Rep. Greg Pitoniak (D-Taylor) stepped down to become mayor of Taylor. In the May 20 special primary election to fill the legislative void in the 22d district, one of five Democrats will be selected to run in the June 17 general election against the lone Republican aspirant to file.
- The Senate has recessed for its annual spring break and will reconvene on Tuesday, April 15. Both legislative chambers will be on hiatus next week, as will Roundup. We resume coverage on April 11.
April 11, 1997
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- Key state officials, Governor Engler, Treasurer Doug Roberts, and Budget Director Mark Murray pitched three major bond rating houses in New York City on the impressive economic strides made by the state in the last few years. Their goal: an upgrade of Michigan’s bond rating, from third-highest to the highest. Rating criteria have been developed by the treasurer to demonstrate how Michigan compares favorably to other top-rated states. Among the concerns bond houses still have about Michigan’s overall financial picture is the potential fiscal fallout from the Durant case, which the state supreme court heard arguments on Thursday. The outcome of the case will determine the extent to which the state is liable for the costs of unfunded mandates directed at school districts—billions of dollars are at stake.
- Jeff McAlvey, Governor Engler’s capable legislative director for the past six years officially announced his long-rumored resignation effective May 2. Three days later, the shingle of Lansing’s newest lobbying firm, McAlvey and Associates, officially will be hung up and its owner ready for business. Engler has tapped Louise Alderson to replace McAlvey. Alderson has served with McAlvey for the past seven months as associate director of legislative affairs. Prior to that she was the Michigan Department of Transportation’s federal legislative liaison and toiled for the legal staffs of both chambers of the Michigan Legislature.
- The road games continued this week as House Minority Leader Ken Sikkema (R-Grandville) chided his House counterpart, Speaker Curtis Hertel (D-Detroit), for failing to produce a pothole-patching proposal. He noted that the governor and the Senate already have plans on the table; “Lead, follow, or get out of the way,” Sikkema said. Hertel, in turn, castigated Sikkema for playing politics and “grandstanding” on the issue, noting that House Republicans have not offered any concrete proposals to date. House Democrats currently do have a bill (HB 4147) that will move $110 million in fuel-tax revenue from such state departments as the Secretary of State back to the MDOT for road repair, but by all estimates significantly more will be needed to address the rim-bending problems. On Wednesday the governor addressed more than 700 municipal officials, reiterating his preferred plan of attack: Eliminate bureaucratic inefficiencies and an outdated fuel spillage allowance, get a fair funding shake from Washington, and pass tort reform. Engler left open the slim possibility of raising fuel taxes as a last resort. Meanwhile, Engler’s former MDOT chief, Pat Nowak, called on policymakers to find additional dollars for road repair, citing the problems and costs associated with further delay.
- The House K–12/Department of Education appropriations subcommittee made changes to the K–12 school budget bill, HB 4130, but did not report it to the full Appropriations Committee. A total of $61.8 million was added over and above the governor’s recommendation in his FY 1997–98 budget proposal. House Democrats added money to the basic foundation allowance—$159 more per pupil than the current allowance. They also increased funding for at-risk students, adult education programs, and a reading guarantee initiative for unaccredited elementary schools.
- One of the Michigan Supreme Court’s most prominent and well-respected jurists, Dorothy Comstock Riley, will resign from the bench on September 1, for health reasons.
- Former Berrien Springs resident, Muhammad Ali, and his wife, Yolanda Williams, are expected to testify before the Senate Families, Mental Health, and Human Service Committee on May 1. The ex–world boxing champ will address children’s issues and the recent report of the Office of Children’s Ombudsman.
April 18, 1997
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- Not funny, thought the governor, as he peered at a photo of Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson waist deep in an alleged pothole and holding a sign asking when the axle-buster might be repaired. Patterson maintains it was only a gag; he was really standing in a manhole. He was serious, however, when he subsequently announced that he will lead a group of business executives in an effort to place a gasoline tax initiative on the ballot in 1998 if the legislature doesn’t realistically address the gasoline tax issue on its own in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, after two reschedules, the governor and the legislative quadrant (majority and minority leaders in each chamber) will meet with congressional leaders in Washington on April 30 in an attempt to wrangle more federal transportation dollars for Michigan.
- Just back from spring break, the Senate Wednesday passed a measure (SB 208) to allow workers who receive tips to keep more of their earnings. Restaurant wait staff will be able to deduct up to $10,000 of tipped income. The loss to state revenue is expected to be $11.5 million. In passing the proposal 34–4, the Senate rejected other Democrat-sponsored amendments that would have cut taxes further.
- The House committee on tax policy has approved two new measures: HB 4144 will give college students a sales tax exemption on textbooks, and HB 4472 will allow local governments to add the cost of recovery to delinquent property taxes.
- Education programs and funding were on high on the agenda in House committees this week. The remaining bill on the House majority’s 90-day agenda, HB 4443—creating a third-grade reading guarantee—was passed by the House Education Committee on a 9–6, party-line vote; the $10-million program will provide unaccredited schools with the means to facilitate youngsters’ reading through smaller class size and enhanced parent involvement. The House Appropriations K–12 Subcommittee incorporated the reading-guarantee funding into the K–12 budget bill, along with increases in funding for the basic foundation allowance, At-Risk Pupil activities, adult education, and school readiness programs; as approved, the final budget tally is some $52.6 million over what the administration had proposed. The state’s universities scored well with the House Appropriations Higher Education subcommittee; members author-ized funding for the foundation allowance twice that proposed by the governor.
- The Detroit newspaper strike still smolders, and House Democrats jumped into it this week. HR 28, which passed by 59–47, urges the Detroit Newspaper Agency to accept its striking workers’ unconditional offer to return. The House also approved another resolution, HR 26, asking Congress to enact a prohibition against hiring permanent replacement workers for those on strike.
- To foster inmate education, the House has passed HB 4515, requiring prisoners to have a high school GED before they can receive parole; the bill passed overwhelmingly, 102–2.
- The Department of Community Health has released its new organization chart, which finalizes the consolidation of the former departments of Mental Health and Public Health. The new institutional structure also factors in the likely result of an exodus of long-serving employees under the current early retirement program. Dr. David Johnson will remain as chief medical executive but will assume the duties of acting chief executive of community public health as well. Mark Miller, former acting chief executive, will remain chief operating officer for the Department of Community Health. The Community Living, Children, and Families Bureau has been created to oversee mental-health service delivery to children and families.
- The State Board of Education, stymied by a mini-filibuster by Republican members, could not act this week on a revised mission statement; the item will be taken up again on May 15. Members did approve a lengthy, two-year action agenda but failed agree on a proposal to promote full-day, full-service schools.
April 25, 1997
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- Characterizing the State Board of Education as irrelevant to overall education policy, Sen. Bill Bullard (R-Milford) Tuesday proposed a constitutional amendment to abolish the eight-member board and transfer its constitutional powers to the state superintendent of public instruction. SJR J would require passage by a two-thirds majority in both legislative chambers and a majority vote of the Michigan electorate in November 1998.
- House Democrats made good on their pledge to enact their 90-day legislative agenda but not without a struggle. By a 55-52 margin, House Democrats mustered the bare minimum of votes needed to pass a measure they believe will improve the K–3 reading levels of students in 13 unaccredited state elementary schools. Final passage of the third-grade reading guarantee required affirmative votes from two GOP members—Reps. Mike Goschka (Brant) and Sue Rocca (Sterling Heights)—as two Democrats—Reps. Howard Wetters (Kawkawlin) and Tom Alley (West Branch)—sided with the minority.
- The House adopted its first two budget bills of the session, both deal with education. HB 4309 appropriates funds for higher education; as passed by the House, colleges and universities would garner an average increase of 5 percent over FY 1997. The bill doubles the governor’s proposed increase in the foundation allowance and comes in at $1.569 billion—$33 million over Engler’s recommendation. K-12 schools also stand to benefit from House largesse as members voted 71-35 to increase spending by $138 million over the governor’s spending target. The bulk of the extra money proposed in HB 4310, the school aid budget bill, is aimed at restoring cuts in adult education, increasing the foundation grant by $22, and adding $45 million for at-risk funding programs.
- Initiatives aimed at controlling the proliferation of highway billboards overall and banning tobacco product promotion by the outdoor advertising medium (SB 341) were offered by two Republican senators this week. Sponsored by Leon Stille (R-Spring Lake), the multi-bill package (SBs 445–445) would shore up existing state restrictions on billboard placement, permit additional oversight by local units of government, and encourage the preservation of scenic corridors. Increased fees on billboards would be used to fund the administrative costs of the package. Sen. Loren Bennett (R-Canton Township), sponsor of the tobacco billboard ban, said, “Cigarette advertising on radio and television was banned in 1971 and it’s time to ban other forums for these messengers of death.”
- Governor Engler and Rep. James Agee (D-Muskegon) caused other headaches this week for the tobacco industry as they joined forces to unveil a proposal to make tobacco manufacturers responsible for affixing tax stamps on cigarette packs. The pending Agee legislation is at odds with another proposal (SB 101) currently in the House Tax Policy Committee that directs tobacco wholesalers in Michigan to apply the stamps and collect the 75-cent-per-pack tax.
- Tort reform, as applied to the state’s road system, was passed Wednesday on a straight party-line vote (22-16) in the Senate. Proponents of Senate Bill 306 argue it will bring greater efficiencies to the Michigan Department of Transportation and free up money for road repair now being paid out in “frivolous” lawsuits. The bill substantially limits the state’s liability in auto accidents occurring on Michigan highways and is a cornerstone of Senate and administration road repair plans.
- Sen. Jim Berryman (D-Adrian) meanwhile threw a new wrinkle into the road repair debate by proposing that revenue received from a proposed eight-cent-per-gallon fuel tax increase be used for specific road repair projects. He suggests that the Transportation Needs Study Committee of the Transportation Commission develop a priority list of critical repair and maintenance endeavors; items on the list would require subsequent approval by two-thirds of both the House and Senate.
- Conclusive evidence of sexual harassment was not found by the three-member panel charged with investigating allegations made against Sen. Henry Stallings (D-Detroit) by one of his former staff members. The panel did recommend, however, that the senator undergo interpersonal training and continue to keep his office functions under the control of the Senate Minority Leader John Cherry (D-Clio).
May 2, 1997
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- Seeking to mitigate political campaign finance abuse, the House has approved a resolution (HCR 34) to create a bipartisan, bicameral commission to develop campaign finance reforms in Michigan. Philosophical disagreement over the composition of the proposed panel, however, was manifest in committee and on the floor. As it stands, HCR 34, sponsored by Trenton Democrat George Mans, dictates that all eight members will be legislators; a Republican amendment to allow members of the public to serve on the special committee was voted down.
- Last December, changes watering down the scope of the state’s Freedom of Information Act were approved by bleary-eyed legislators near the end of a 24-hour, last-session-day marathon. The Senate this week unanimously approved and gave immediate effect to a corrective measure undoing the action of five months ago; HB 4339 restores the language that had been stripped from the act.
- The governor and leaders of both chambers finally made it to Washington to meet with Michigan’s congressional delegation, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater, and other key players. They sought to apprise federal politicos and bureaucrats of the need to change the funding formula under which states now receive federal transportation monies. Speaker Hertel describes the meetings as “productive,” but cautions that the federal transportation appropriations process is a long and winding road.
- Public school academy advocates attempted to impart a few lessons to legislators Wednesday. They rallied on the steps of the capitol building in support of lifting the cap on the number of charter schools allowed under law and in protest of HB 4395— proposed regulations requiring additional charter school oversight. Meanwhile, Governor Engler tapped David Winters, an Okemos attorney and former director of the Michigan State Employees Association, to be his special advisor for charter school development; Winters replaces Mary Kay Shields.
- Personnel shifts also occurred in two state agencies this week. State Treasurer Doug Roberts unveiled an updated organization configuration that he believes will address the additional responsibilities taken on by that agency in the last few years and also the effect of early retirements. Roberts also named Legislative Deputy Madhu Anderson as chief deputy treasurer; the former chief deputy, Nick Khouri (now a vice president at Public Sector Consultants), resigned at the beginning of the year. Attorney General Frank Kelley’s shop announced that Deputy Attorney General Joe Sutton will assume responsibility for day-to-day office operations, legislative liaison functions will be handled by Assistant Attorney General Thomas Boyd, and, come June 2, Assistant Attorney General Theodore Hughes will coordinate attorney general opinions.
- Under legislation (HB 4230) passed this week by the House, law enforcement officials exposed to the blood or body fluids of a person they are lawfully arresting can request that HIV and hepatitis B and C testingbe administered to the suspect.
- The lower chamber also approved HB 4472, a bill to allow local units of government to pass on to the debtor the cost of delinquent tax collection.
- Downward trend in voting? Make it more convenient and accessible for Michigan residents, says Rep. Agnes Dobronski (D-Dearborn.) The House agreed, unanimously approving her “no excuse needed” absentee ballot legislation (HB 4448). The bill will allow qualified electors to obtain an absent voter ballot—for any reason, not just the six currently allowed by law—and cast their vote by mail.
- Legislators and other fans of Muhammad Ali had ringside seats Thursday as the former boxing champ came out swinging against child abuse and neglect. During appearances before both chambers and two committees, Ali urged lawmakers to adopt recommendations made by Richard Bearup, the state’s Children’s Ombudsman. Later in the day, the Senate unanimously approved a measure (SB 342) to up the sanction against stalking a minor from a misdemeanor to a felony.
May 9, 1997
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- The week started with a call from the Coalition to Fix Our Roads to put $400 million into annual road repair efforts; the appeal includes an increase in the state’s fuel tax. The coalition—a broad-based group of business interests comprising the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Michigan Farm Bureau, Michigan Manufacturing Association, Michigan Trucking Association, and Detroit Renaissance and others—is urging lawmakers to focus attention on the pothole problem before adjourning for the summer. A day later, Charlie Owens, state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, begged to differ with the impression that all business in Michigan is of one mind on the issue: He says small business owners in the state are very reluctant to hop aboard the tax bandwagon and will support a gasoline tax increase only after all other alternatives are exhausted.
- Thursday found Governor Engler in a state highway garage in Grand Ledge, articulating a plan to raise an estimated $570 million a year for road maintenance. Engler’s plan includes hiking the gasoline tax by four cents a gallon, reallocating to the state $105 million in federal highway funding now going to the counties, and taking responsibility for maintaining many county roads (tripling, from 9,606 to 33,113, the roadway miles the state maintains). To take part of the bite out of the gasoline tax hike, the governor proposes changes in Michigan’s no-fault insurance law that he believes will result in savings on motorists’ automobile insurance. Engler also announced the appointment of Jim DeSana—Wyandotte mayor and former state senator—to the directorship of the Michigan Department of Transportation; he replaces Bob Welke, who is retiring. Upon hearing Engler’s proposal, House Democrats unveiled their own road plans; they envision being able to conjure up $430 million without the need for a tax increase.
- The Senate adopted a series of bills designed to increase the access of children to their divorced parents; SBs 288–93 will restrict where custodial parents may take up residence in relation to their ex-spouse. If the custodial parent decides to move more than an hour away from his/her current residence, the bills allow the noncustodial parent a court ruling on whether the move is allowable under the current custody arrangement. Opponents argued in vain that custodial parents in search of better vocational possibilities—especially those who live in areas of high unemployment—should be allowed to do so without sacrificing their custody for this reason alone.
- A slew of new policy mandates may be in store for the Department of Corrections and the prisoners in their charge. In approving the House corrections budget bill (HB 4307), the lower chamber imposed conditions including requiring chemical castration of repeat rapists, not allowing inmates to acquire a college degree, charging prisoners for electricity use, and using nonviolent offenders on certain state road-maintenance projects. The bill calls for a $24.1 million increase over the current $1,299 million budget.
- Sen. William Van Regenmorter (R-Jenison) has had a change of heart over the last few years regarding the efficacy and fairness of the laws requiring life without parole for certain drug offenses. The senator is sponsoring a four-bill package to loosen certain mandatory minimum sentence requirements for those convicted of possessing less than 650 grams of cocaine and allow for the possibility of parole in cases involving over 650 grams. Testimony on the proposals was taken this week in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Van Regenmorter chairs.
- Thirteen private qualified health plans have been preliminarily approved by the Michigan Department of Community Health to provide comprehensive managed-health care for Medicaid recipients in southeastern Michigan. The department expects that the managed-care plan will be operational by July 1.
- The House Education Committee traveled to Macomb County this week, to begin a series of hearings to learn more about the state’s high school proficiency test. In coming weeks the committee will hear from interested citizens in Battle Creek (May 16), Flint (May 23), Dearborn Heights (June 6), and Grand Rapids (June 9).
May 16, 1997
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- The details of Build Michigan II—Governor Engler’s road repair, gasoline tax, and car insurance proposals—continued to be clarified and debated this week. Engler believes that the fuel hike will cost the average Michigan driver only an additional $22 a year and the increase can be more than offset by a $100 savings per vehicle per year if car owners are allowed to drop now-mandatory liability insurance coverage for accident claims for noneconomic (pain and suffering) damages. House Speaker Curtis Hertel characterizes the governor’s insurance proposal as “extreme, unworkable, and reckless” and offers a counter proposal to instead refund to motorists part of the $1.7 billion surplus of the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association.
- In other road-related news, the Senate Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee has approved SJR “E”—a resolution to abolish the Michigan Transportation Commission. Sen. Jim Berryman (D-Adrian) has unveiled an idea to allow the state’s gasoline tax to be set by a sliding scale rate indexed to the transportation needs of the state at any given time; the tax would range from 15¢ to 23¢ a gallon, automatically adjusting up or down according to perceived road-funding requirements. And in response to the Engler plan, Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson has dropped his intention to promote a petition drive to place on the November 1998 ballot a proposal to raise the gasoline tax.
- The House was busy on the education front this week. The full chamber approved the community college budget (HB 4305) on Tuesday, with the average increase per school at 5.5 percent over last year; the bill adds money for job training and prohibits reverse discrimination and use of employee-health benefits for abortions. The Appropriations Committee sent to the House floor a relatively uncontroversial $805 million budget for the Michigan Department of Education (HB 4308). In the Education Committee, House Democrats pushed through, on a straight 9–6 party line vote, a measure (HB 4395) to mandate additional clarification of charter school operational behavior.
- The Senate Appropriations Committee approved Wednesday a $260 million supplemental appropriations bill (SB 272) that includes funding for environmental cleanup activities, computer maintenance and upgrades, and restoration of annual school bus inspections by the State Police.
- Physicians in Michigan will be free, under a three-bill package reported out by the Senate Health Policy and Senior Citizens committee, to discuss all treatment options with their patients without fear of reprisal from health insurance companies or health maintenance organizations. SB 501 and HBs 4392 and 4394 prevent insurance providers from imposing gag orders on physicians. The same committee approved legislation (SB 297) allowing emergency medical service operators to offer services—if they meet certain requirements—over and above what their current licenses dictate.
- Abortion clinics will have to meet the same medical standards as other surgical facilities in the state if HBs 4750–52 are signed into law. The package—sponsored by three Right to Life–backed representatives—Terry Geiger (R-Odessa), Mike Griffin (D-Jackson), and Michelle McManus (R-Lake Leelanau)—will mandate state licensure and various physical plant requirements for abortion clinics performing 50 or more such procedures annually.
- In regard to men’s health issues, freshman Rep. Buzz Thomas (D-Detroit) proposes that health insurance providers be compelled to pay for mandatory prostate cancer tests for Michigan males.
- Other new legislation proposed this week includes a measure to require manufacturers of tobacco products to list their ingredients; Rep. Frank Fitzgerald (R-Grand Ledge) believes that “consumers deserve to know the facts about products that they are using.” And Rep. Liz Brater, (D-Ann Arbor) seeks to mitigate the increasing importation of out-of-state trash with a five-year moratorium on new solid-waste landfills in Michigan.
May 23, 1997
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- This year’s round of budget negotiations met with a pleasant twist this week—upwardly revised tax revenue projections. House and Senate fiscal agencies, even after cautionary cajoling from the Engler administration, now predict that for the balance of the 1997, state revenue will be 5.1 percent higher than they believed in January, and for FY 1997–98 it will be 3.9 percent above the earlier estimates. The good news bolsters the intent of leaders on both sides of the aisle to enact additional tax cuts and increase education spending.
- Both of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Art Ellis’s budgets—personal and professional—were in jeopardy this week. Rep. Ted Wallace (D-Detroit), miffed by Ellis’s approval to certify the attendance figure at Baron’s [public school] Academy in Detroit at a number much higher than what Wallace believes it to be, filed an amendment to strip Ellis of his $90,000 salary. The amendment failed in the end, and the Department of Education budget (HB 4308) finally was approved, 94–12. House Dems tacked on a provision, however, penalizing the department for giving funds to districts operating charter schools outside their geographic boundaries. They also added, against the wishes of the Senate and administration, $2.7 million for school readiness grants.
- Food stamp recipients received a message from the Senate on Thursday: Don’t use illegal drugs. Recipients convicted of drug offenses—dating back to August 1996—will lose a portion of their benefits for one year. The upper chamber added the sanctions to the $270.8 million supplemental appropriations bill (SB 270), which eventually passed 34–1.
- Will legislative term limits become a reality in 1998? Not if the Democrats have anything to do with it, claims Betsy DeVos, chair of the Michigan Republican Party. DeVos believes that Michigan Democrats are maneuvering to challenge in court the constitutional amendment approved in 1992 by the Michigan electorate. It generally is acknowledged that given the political makeup of the existing state House districts, the advent of term limits will tend to favor Republican candidates.
- Say “cheese,” senator. Michigan Government Television (MGTV) broadcast its first live legislative session from the Senate chambers this week. The highlight was a Memorial Day tribute featuring an address by Peter Lemon, the youngest living Congressional Medal of Honor winner.
- Good news for state workers: the value of their pension funds has doubled over the last six years, according to state Treasurer Doug Roberts.
- The score this week was Senate Local, Urban, and State Affairs Committee 1, Joe Camel 0. Committee members voted 3–1 to ban billboard tobacco-products advertising in Michigan (SB 341). The committee has scheduled three statewide hearings on other billboard-restricting legislation (SBs 445–55 and 465): Petoskey (June 2), Pontiac (June 5), and Grand Rapids (June 9). Committee members also approved a measure (SB 494) allowing local jurisdictions to impose a curfew on people aged 16 and under who are unaccompanied by an adult in a private shopping mall.
- On Tuesday Ray Basham, a Taylor City councilman, bested the five-person Democratic field in the special primary election in the 22d district to fill the slot left open by retiring Rep. Greg Pitoniak. Basham will face Republican Richard Butkowski in a general election showdown on June 17 in the heavily Democratic district.
- The governor met this week with Jordan’s King Hussein and signed a trade agreement with mayors of Israel’s Central Galilee Region. Italy is next in Engler’s overseas travels.
- A proposed moratorium on the sale of natural gas leases on state land and a thorough audit of the 3,200 existing wells were rejected Thursday by Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director K.L. Kool. The Michigan United Conservation Clubs and the Michigan Land Use Institute had urged the Engler administration to investigate concerns regarding excessive production costs and royalty underpayments to the state.
May 30, 1997
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- Action in the House this week increased oversight for charter schools. A lockstep party-line vote of 55–48 passed HB 4395, which requires chartering agencies to report to the state Board of Education the number and qualifications of full-time staff at such schools, along with breakdowns on supervisory staffing patterns and procedures.
- Charter school critics’ fears that the institutions will become elitist, publicly supported academies are baseless, according to a new study. Statistics released this week by the U.S. Department of Education show that African-American students comprise nearly 53 percent of the 4,639 pupils in Michigan’s charter schools. According to the report, this figure is the highest in the nation and more than double the 22 percent of African-American students in other Michigan public schools.
- Major philosophical differences over the Department of Community Health (DCH) budget have divided Michigan’s political parties and legislative chambers. In the Democratic-controlled House, the DCH budget (HB 4306)—passed on a 56–49 vote—exceeds the governor’s $7-billion recommendation by $150 million; underscoring their desire to distance themselves from that measure, House Republicans took the unusual step of failing to offer any amendments. Republicans’ studied indifference on this matter in the lower chamber contrasts with their aggressiveness in the upper chamber, where the Appropriations Committee approved its own version of the DCH budget (SB 176), which, at $7.16 billion, is closer to the House version than to the administration’s. Next week the House version will cross over to the Senate, and the Senate is expected to substitute its own bill for the House-passed measure.
- Anyone wondering Why Michigan Works should read the article with that title in the current issue of Readers Digest. Tax cuts, welfare reform, and job creation under the focussed leadership of Gov. John Engler are listed as primary causes. In the same vein, the Detroit News weighed in with its own rosy analysis last weekend, under the headline “Engler era wins applause of state firms”; columnist Jon Pepper rates the Engler-created Michigan Jobs Commission as “one of the best successes of his two terms.”
- Speaking of work, Michigan—the rust-belt’s former poster child—now boasts more jobs than job-seekers, at least in certain categories. The Detroit Free Press reports that an unprecedented, $50,000 newspaper-advertising blitz, to lure out-of-state workers to Michigan, has been launched by the Michigan Employment Security Agency; ads are running in New Jersey and in Chicago and Decatur, Illinois, to recruit engineers, machinists, programmers and other workers in mobile fields. “There are jobs in Michigan that pay $50,000 to $100,000 a year that are going unfilled,” explains an MESA spokesperson. Adds Michigan Jobs Commission chief Doug Rothwell, “People outside Michigan don’t appreciate how dramatic our reversal of fortune has been.”
- The state’s peripatetic chief executive touches down on Mackinac Island this weekend after a highly publicized, 13-day international trip. A featured speaker at the Greater Detroit Chamber of Commerce annual conference/schmoozefest, Governor Engler’s every word will be examined as zealously as fortune-tellers’ tea leaves for signs that he is/isn’t leaning toward running for a third term.
- The search committee is long gone, but the acrimony lingers on over Michigan State University’s alleged violation of the Open Meetings Act. MSU Trustees voted unanimously this week to seek state supreme court review of an appeals court ruling that the school broke the law by interviewing university presidential finalists in private in 1993. A suit filed against the school by the Lansing State Journal and Detroit News has been litigated ever since.
June 6, 1997
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- State students’ math, science, and reading scores are up in the second year of Michigan’s high school proficiency test, a two-day exam designed to assess pupils’ basic skills mastery. But writing skills dropped by four percentage points over last year, leaving educators to debate the accuracy and relevance of the battery of tests that replace the Michigan Education Assessment Program. It wasn’t just the students who fumbled written communication skills: The national firm scoring the tests made computational errors that delayed for several days announcement of the test results. Fewer than half of Michigan’s students passed the controversial exam in its first year, a number that inched up to almost 53 percent this year on the math test.
- In a push to wrap up budget action, the Senate passed three budget bills this week and sent them back to the House for concurrence.
- School aid HB 4310 totals $9.2 billion for FY 1998 and passed on a 28–9 vote. The Senate version allocates a per pupil foundation grant increase of 2.9 percent, or $154. The House earlier had approved a 3 percent increase; the governor’s recommendation had been a 2.6 percent hike.
- Corrections Senators stripped from the $1.4 billion budget of HB 4307 several House-passed social policy amendments, including those dealing with castrating sex offenders, guaranteeing substance abuse treatment for prisoners, and inmate Braille transcription services.
- Education Not a single amendment slowed the upper chamber’s disposition of HB 4308. All but a half-million of the $835.5 million department budget is pass-through funding.
- Cigarette manufacturers will be forced to kick the billboard habit under a Senate-passed bill banning outdoor advertising of tobacco products. SB 341 passed 31–6 and includes a last-minute amendment adding sexually explicit materials to the types of advertising banned on any billboard in Michigan. The measure offers no definition of sexual explicitness. Liquor—another controlled, legal substance that Michigan adults may buy—initially was on the billboard blacklist but was removed from the measure on a vote of reconsideration.
- An Ingham County circuit court judge has ruled that the governor’s reorganization of a state department is unconstitutional. Sound familiar? It should; in recent years, circuit courts have several times ruled that Gov. John Engler’s executive orders encroached on constitutional autonomy or legislative prerogative. Engler has nearly always prevailed in higher court, however, which is where the current case involving the State Board of Education is headed. After a Democratic majority was elected to the state board, the governor issued two executive orders currently being disputed: One made his appointed superintendent of public instruction, Arthur Ellis, head of the Michigan Department of Education; the other transferred from the board to Ellis well over 100 specifically named board responsibilities and duties.
- Steering clear of a potential political pothole, the governor canceled his planned participation in the Oldsmobile Classic Pro-Am Golf tournament this week so that he could—in the words of his press release—”spend the day working on legislative matters, including his transportation package . . ..” This U-turn in the schedule occurred only days after what Detroit News columnist George Weeks terms an “unseemly spat” on Mackinac Island between Engler and Michigan’s congressional delegation: Testy words were exchanged about federal highway funds and who is more to blame for the state not getting a bigger share of them.
June 13, 1997
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- Odds are that the 21-bill casino regulation package won’t be completed by the Senate this week. Completion of an 18-bill package in the House also is a long shot, although both sides in both chambers are inching toward compromise on the three new Detroit casinos and how they will be taxed, regulated, and so on.
- The Michigan Jobs Commission budget took a $24 million hit in the House, as lawmakers stripped funding for Economic Development Job Training Grants from the proposed $1.62 billion regulatory budget. The chamber’s Democratic majority claimed the training grants constitute corporate welfare and passed SB 166 on a 55–51, party-line vote; a GOP restoration measure went down, 49–54. Another Jobs Commission budget amendment heavy with political implications is the provision, passed 75–27, mandating a two-year wait before departing commission employees may take jobs with corporations that have received a commission grant or loan.
- The Senate gave its nod to a $397 million capital outlay budget that is $50 million slimmer than Executive Branch recommendation. Gone is construction funding for a proposed Hall of Justice, where the state’s supreme and appeals courts would be housed; instead, senators tucked in $350,000 for planning. SB 165 also includes $1 million toward the state’s long-planned Vietnam veterans’ memorial.
- In a decision applauded by both sides, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled this week that state-mandated special education costs must be reimbursed to the school districts incurring them. The 16-year-old case arose from the so-called Headlee amendment to the state constitution, and its resolution by the high court leaves state officials and local school boards uncertain about what happens next. The state could be liable for more than $3 billion in past claims; one method of payment would be a tax cut for residents in the affected districts. Parties in the venerable suit have three weeks to respond to the court’s questions about the scale of monetary relief and to whom it should be paid.
- As the early-retirement dust settles behind some 5,500 departing state employees, a temporary injunction has been filed to halt the potential out-sourcing of many of those jobs. Ingham County Circuit Court Judge James Giddings sided with the Michigan Coalition of State Employee Unions, which sued to block new rules approved by the state Civil Service Commission that boosts the limit on individual private consulting contracts from $5,000 to $500,000. According to an Associated Press account, Giddings ruled that the new procedures violate a 1940 constitutional amendment establishing civil service guidelines to prevent a political spoils system.
- Five of the 20 wealthiest African-American communities in the nation have Michigan zip codes, according to a study by the Detroit News. All five are in Oakland County: Farmington Hills, Troy, West Bloomfield, Bloomfield Township, and Southfield. In West Bloomfield, African-American income surpasses that of other residents by a greater margin than in any other comparably sized U.S. city, the News reports, citing an analysis of 838 communities with populations greater than 25,000 and African-American populations of at least 1,000.
- A bipartisan advisory committee on elections released its report this week, calling for more absentee ballots and fewer elections. The blue-ribbon team empaneled by Secretary of State Candice Miller favors removing all restrictions on who may use absentee ballots, limiting state and local special and regular elections to no more than four days annually, streamlining the candidate qualifying process, and instituting vote-by-mail programs for small local elections.
June 20, 1997
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- Who was it who said you can’t go home again? Most recently it was Gov. John Engler exhorting the legislature to stay in session until the two chambers agree on legislation to fund road repairs and reform the highway maintenance system. Lawmakers are currently straining to meet a tentative summer recess date of July 3.
- Pronouncing its legislative pace well ahead of the House, the Senate took the week off, adjourning until June 24 after passing SB 581, a graduated increase in truck registration fees, and SB 580, another piece of the governor’s “Build Michigan II” program that saves state funds by extending workers’ compensation insurance coverage to private contractors working on state road projects.
- Lawmakers moved transportation funding out of the breakdown lane by passing a Department of Transportation budget containing $200 million in road repair appropriations. SB 174 passed 98-9, with House Democrats reversing their previous position and backing a GOP proposal to reroute $100 million in anticipated surplus state revenues into state, county, and local road projects. Last week, the House approved a measure (SB 225) tapping the state’s “rainy day fund” for $69 million to use for current road improvement projects.
- ’Tis the season for budget blitzes and frayed tempers; the House saw both this week as it contemplated a schedule calling for the approval of seven agency budgets in two session days. Two angry House Republicans were separated by a floor sergeant and hustled into a back room to cool off. According to Gongwer News Service, Minority Leader Ken Sikkema (R-Grandville) and Rep. David Jaye (R-Washington) were nose-to-nose in a dispute over a procedural vote.
- Funding for the Family Independence Agency passed the House this week, 70-36, at a level some $14 million above the administration’s recommendation. SB 169 received a $9.5 million infusion for child care programs from the lower chamber, which also added $4 million for job training.
- Picking its way through the thorny thicket of a 19-bill casino regulation package, the House mustered the required three-fourths majority to pass four of the least controversial measures. The bills amend Proposal E, the citizen initiative that provides for three Detroit gaming sites. HB 4666 requires posting of a problem-gambling toll-free hotline number in casinos, HB 4721 clarifies duties of licensees, HB 4732 requires casinos to provide assistance to compulsive gamblers, and HB 4744 exempts Michigan from certain federal provisions barring the transport of gaming devices.
- The state’s newest holiday was created this week as the Governor signed into law PA 28, designating the first Monday after February 4 as Rosa Parks Day.
- The House regained its 58-seat majority with the swearing in of newly elected 22nd District Rep. Raymond Basham (Taylor). Basham, a former city councilman and UAW official, replaces Greg Pitoniak who left the legislature in January to become Taylor’s mayor.
- Michigan’s unemployment rate sank to its lowest level ever last month, marking over two years that the state’s jobless rate has run below the national average. The May unemployment figure of four percent is the lowest recorded since such records were kept, beginning in 1970.
- One reflection of the state’s low unemployment rate is the concomitant swell in home ownership. According to latest HUD statistics, the percentage of Michigan households who were homeowners rose by a full percentage point over last year to 73.3 percent. In Detroit, increases were more dramatic, with home ownership climbing from 53.1 to 58.3 percent.
- “We’ve all been twisting his arms. We think he’s going to do it,” reports Iowa Governor Terry Branstad. The twistee in this case is Michigan Gov. John Engler and the “it” is running for a third term. An Associated Press account from Washington this week quoted the state’s chief executive as promising to announce his decision “very soon,” which pundits interpret as September.
June 27, 1997
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- Will Independence Day arrive next week for state lawmakers? At press time major items of unfinished legislative business—including casino regulation, agency budgets, and transportation funding—posed a major challenge to House and Senate plans to begin summer recess on July 4, although longtime observers do not discount legislators’ talents for grinding through wee-hour, marathon sessions to meet adjournment or recess deadlines.
- In observance of the July 4 holiday, Michigan Roundup will not publish next week. The next issue will appear on July 11, to report either on the successful wrap-up of the spring session or to resume coverage of the chambers’ efforts to conclude their agendas.
- With passage of the general government budget by the House this week, the lower chamber completed work on state agency appropriations, permitting overall spending target and conference committee compromising to begin. SB 170, which includes budgets for the legislature, Executive Office, auditor general, and other specialized agencies, passed narrowly, 56-52, after consideration of more than 50 amendments.
- Legislation bearing down on dangerous drivers was introduced this week, although its fate in the pre-recess legislative floor flurry is uncertain. HBs 4959-4961 would exact heavy penalties on residents who drive after their license has been suspended for drunk driving. Specially colored plates would mark their vehicles and could alert law enforcement personnel that other family members, but not the repeat offender, were licensed to operate the vehicle. The worst repeat offenders would have their vehicles seized under the proposed statutes. In related news, State Police released statistics this week showing an increase of nearly three percent in the number of arrests for drunk driving in the past year. Although the number of arrests—61,000—was up, fewer highway deaths were attributed to alcohol use, suggesting that Michigan’s ever-tougher drunk driving sanctions are working.
- On an 89-19 vote, the House passed HB 4526, putting 5,000 community police on Michigan streets by the year 2,000. This hot-button policy issue was championed by Democrats as signalling safer streets and state participation in the federal program launched in 1994 by President Bill Clinton. Some Republicans disparaged the legislation, which relies heavily on federal funds, predicting it will lead to overcrowded prisons and overloaded local prosecutors.
- A recent report issued by New Detroit designates metropolitan Detroit as the second most racially segregated region in the country. Michigan’s midwestern neighbor, Gary, Indiana, is number one, the report states.
- Call him Governor Angler: In his State of the Great Lakes Report released this week, the governor proposed spending over $18 million to renovate Michigan’s six fish hatcheries, and $3 million over three years to fight sea lamprey infestations in lakes Huron and Michigan. The governor said the funds are necessary to protect the $2 billion in annual revenue the state receives from its sports fishing industry.
- After early retirement stripped its workforce by 20 percent, the state Department of Natural Resources will replace half of the workers opting for early out. According to the Lansing State Journal, the DNR received executive office approval to double the statewide replacement ratio of 25 percent, or one of every four vacant positions. DNR director K.L. Kool said the increased replacements would permit the department to retain its current complement of wildlife biologists and technicians and forest firefighters.
- Non-teaching school employees would have access to binding arbitration to resolve employment conditions and labor disputes under a bill passed 59-43 by the House. HB 4755 amends a controversial anti-strike law for school employees passed three years ago and faces dim prospects in the Senate, according to Gongwer News Service.
July 11, 1997
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- That’s not heat lightning over the Capitol Building; lawmakers are burning the midsummer midnight oil in an effort—unsuccessful, so far—to reach and keep agreements on transportation funding. Failing a pre-Fourth target for summer recess, legislators returned for what was billed as a brisk, one-day cleanup session this week. It didn’t happen that way, with both consensus and focus eluding the chambers; the solons spent idle hours awaiting new compromises for their consideration. Deliberations will continue next week.
- The GOP-controlled Senate took a detour around an earlier, bipartisan transportation funding proposal in a late-night vote hiking the gasoline tax. HB 4872 passed by a hairsbreadth, 20–16, reflecting two Republican defections and one Democratic crossover. The measure generates $262 million annually in new revenue, which will be used to improve state roads, relying chiefly on a four-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax hike, effective August 1. This tax increase will be offset in the Senate Republican plan by a four-year phaseout of four cents of the current sales tax on gasoline.
- The Associated Press describes the legislative pace to agreement on 1997–98 agency budgets as “tiptoeing.” Final spending totals are yet unresolved—a handful of budgets still require conference committee concurrence votes.
- While final agreement on road funding remains rocky, public school funding looked rosier this week. House and Senate conferees reached final agreement on a budget adding more than $6 billion to current spending levels. After weeks of negotiations, consensus occurred on HB 4310, resulting in a total school aid budget of $9.15 billion. Adult education funds will remain at the current level; efforts of House Democrats to substantially boost them were unsuccessful.
- Conference committee agreement on the school aid budget signaled the demise—for this session at least—of a controversial school takeover proposal. In his State of the State address, Gov. John Engler had called his top education priority a new initiative whereby the state would intervene in school districts with remarkably and demonstratively poor performance, replacing local administrators with state-appointed receivers. Opponents of the measure succeeded in progressively weakening it, and a much-diminished version disappeared altogether in final negotiations this week.
- More news for schools: The governor is expected to sign a bill making Michigan schools eligible for up to $2.25 million in telecommunications services discounts. SB 637 enables Michigan institutions to participate in a federal program offering low-cost Internet connections, among other services.
- Southeast Michigan will be designated a major disaster area if President Clinton approves Governor Engler’s request. Recent thunderstorms and tornados cost Michigan more than $31 million and 16 lives.
- This week’s Wall Street Journal advertises a vaccine laboratory for purchase by interested investors. Michigan readers may recognize the facility as the state’s Biologic Products Institute, which is being privatized by the Engler administration. Solicitations to take over the facility also have been sent to current customers and other vaccine makers.
- Still regretting that unflattering driver’s license photo? Cheer up: Polaroid Corp. has snagged an $8 million contract to help Michigan revamp its driver’s licenses and ID cards; clearer, sharper photo images are expected by next spring.
- The Crime Victims Services Commission has a new home and new federal funds, the governor announced this week. The commission, which replaces the Crime Victims Compensation Board and is given expanded responsibility, moves by executive order from the Department of Management and Budget to the Department of Community Health, where it is eligible to receive nearly $14 million in federal grant funds over three years.
July 18, 1997
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- It wasn’t exactly 20 miles of bad road, but it was 17 eye-blearying hours of marathon session before the House and Senate finally ground out an agreement on transportation funding. With passage of a complex package of bills aimed at fixing Michigan roads, lawmakers headed for the highways themselves, leaving undone the Department of Transportation budget appropriation for the fiscal year beginning October 1.
- The House and Senate both will return to session on September 23. Michigan Roundup will recess as well, resuming regular publication in the week of the legislature’s return.
- The capitol all-nighter, which lumbered on until 5 A.M. Wednesday, saw Gov. John Engler walking the halls after midnight, reassuring the faithful and encouraging the reluctant to climb aboard the administration-endorsed package that combines a gasoline tax hike with offsetting state income tax cuts. By dawn’s early light, lawmakers had put in place the following, which the governor promises to sign into law:
- A four-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax increase, effective August 1
- A 1998 sunset date for the current formula for distributing Transportation Fund revenue
- A 30-percent increase in truck registration fees
- A one-time withdrawal ($69 million) from the state’s “rainy day” fund, to finance highway improvements
- State income tax relief—higher personal exemptions and credits for families with young children and children in college
- As sleep-deprived legislators crawled into their beds, commentators weighed in with evaluation of their efforts. “It’s really a joke to spend that much time on that little,” sniffed Wayne County Executive Ed McNamara to the Detroit Free Press, which noted that the county’s share of the tax increase will pay for barely 500 feet of new urban freeway. “Smidgens of Smooth Pavement About All We’ll See—For Now,” the Free Press opined in its headline.
- Despite administration pressure for passage, House Democrats declined to act on a proposed bond sale to help fund teacher retirement programs, pointedly stating that they require “sound actuarial data” before they will take up the Senate-passed bill to issue $1 billion in bonds to repay under-funded school employees’ pension plans. The Engler administration had favored fast passage of the bond issue, hoping the affected school districts would agree to waive their claims for retroactive reimbursement for local money they had to spend on state-mandated special education. Although the Michigan Supreme Court recently declared victorious the 80-some school districts that had fought the lengthy court battle—the Durant case— to require the state repay the locals, the high court has not yet ruled on the amount; high-end estimates exceed $3 billion.
- James Haveman, director of the Department of Community Health is one of nine national recipients of a distinguished service award from the National Governors’ Association.
- Call this big news: Michiganians are the nation’s fifth heftiest citizens: 31 percent of the state’s adults are overweight. We’re hefty but healthier, observes the governor, announcing this week declines in Michigan’s rates of infant mortality and deaths from heart disease, stroke, and diabetes-related illness. Chubbiness is on the increase, however, and it is accompanied by a 30 percent increase in 8th grade smoking.
- Michigan residents may be getting bigger, but Big Labor is getting smaller, according the Detroit News. Nationally, UAW membership has dropped by half in less than two decades: the union’s ranks have diminished from 1.5 million in 1979 to 742,454 last year. According to the News, the Michigan-headquartered union now is seeking new members in the South, to help replace union jobs lost in the Midwest as Big Three automakers downsize to reflect simpler vehicle design and more efficient plants. The News states that GM expects to lose 38,000 hourly workers through retirement over the next three years and plans to replace only 6,000.
September 26, 1997
Legislative & Political Week in Review
With this issue, Michigan Roundup resumes weekly publication when the legislature is in session.
- Like unruly kids at recess, lawmakers began partisan scrapping from the start of fall session this week. Governor Engler set the stage for the back-to-session squabble with his veto of an item in the school aid budgetthat would have provided $252 million in funds for at-risk students. The governor’s veto aimed to sequester the funds for possible use in reimbursing Durant plaintiffs (84 school districts), which the state supreme court ruled are owed an estimated $200+ million to compensate them for special education programs the state mandated but didn’t fund. In addition to the funding hedge gained by the veto, the Engler administration greeted returning lawmakers with a Durant payoff plan relying on a combination of new bond issues, the diversion of some interest—but not principal—from the state’s Budget Stabilization (“rainy day”) Fund, and earnings from optimistically recalculated projected growth in state-managed teacher pension funds.
- The Democrats were having none of it and began their first day back in session launching a veto override on the school aid budget bill. That action ended with a whimper: A straight party-line House vote of 56–52 fell way short of the necessary 74-vote majority. Each side blames the other for getting the session off to a bickersome partisan start, and at week’s end the House Dems’ appropriations panel was crafting its own school funding and Durant repayment plans—making full use of principal from the rainy day fund.
- On these combative notes was launched a House and Senate fall session tentatively scheduled to adjourn on December 4, although few expect the chambers to be ready to call it quits by then. More likely to occur as scheduled is the two-week Thanksgiving recess set to begin on November 14. (Roundup will not be published during the recesses.)
- To keep close track of daily legislative goings-on, those armed with curiosity and computers may point their browsers to www.MichiganLegislature.org for the full text of bills, calendars, journals, and related legislative documents. Want more? Stay tuned: live broadcasts of Senate deliberations may begin October 14—if the upper chamber can negotiate rules changes designed to limit senators to five minutes of on-camera time per point of legislative debate.
- The worst pickup truck accident in state history this summer—in which 11 persons were killed—has prompted passage of a bill barring most children from riding in truck cargo areas. HB 4255 passed on a 67–37 vote after several amendments weakened the original legislation. Farm and construction workers aged under 16 and anyone older than 16 are exempt from the bill’s provisions.
- Without Democrats’ support, the Senate passed a bill exempting health insurers issuing special six-month policies from the requirement that they offer renewals on these policies. Supporters of the measure seek to protect insurers from certain provisions of the Patients Bill of Rights legislation that becomes effective on October 1. Senate Bill 514 excuses companies that write one-time policies to bridge gaps for individuals who are between jobs or to meet other special circumstances from the guaranteed renewability requirements in the Patients Bill of Rights. Opponents worry that insurers will use the measure to circumvent the new patient protection laws.
- Senate colleagues paid tribute to the late Doug Carl (R-Macomb Township) as their first order of business this session. Sixteen candidates will vie in a special November 4 primary for the 12th District state Senate seat left vacant by Carl’s sudden death this summer. Favored in the heavily Republican district are Carl’s widow, Maria, incumbent representatives David Jaye and Alvin Kukuk, and former Rep. (and current county commissioner) Sal Rocca.
October 3, 1997
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- The combination of an abbreviated session week and the start of a new fiscal year put pressure on lawmakers to complete two critical budget bills. As September’s last day dwindled, legislative conferees finally okayed and sent to the chambers for final approval a Department of Transportation (MDOT) budget (SB 174) some ten percent larger than the current year’s total. As a hedge against possible lack of agreement on the $2.1 billion budget, MDOT had sent layoff notices to some employees in the event a new fiscal year began with no authorized spending level for the agency.
- The other budget winning eleventh-hour passage was the Capital Outlay Budget (SB 165) of just under $4 billion. Lack of legislative action on this appropriation would have put the state in arrears on its debt service. Included in SB 165 are planning funds for a new Hall of Justice consolidating several Lansing judicial offices, and planning money to study consolidation of the departments of Military Affairs and State Police.
- Before adjourning on Wednesday for the Rosh Hashanah holiday, the Senate passed three bills implementing Gov. John Engler’s proposed disposition of court-mandated Durant plaintiff payments. The strict party-line votes on each of the measures left Democratic Senators voting in vain for the alternative plan their House colleagues had passed last week. Senate Bills 52, 240, and 719 enact the administration’s plan to repay 84 school districts for unfunded, state-mandated special education programs. Democrats favored repaying the schools through a single, $200+ million withdrawal from the state’s Budget Stabilization (“rainy day”) Fund. The GOP plan uses interest only from the Fund over three years and relies on a bond issue to pay other districts that were not plaintiffs in Durant. While Democrats argue that bonding is expensive long-term debt, Republicans counter that the BSF should not be raided for this cause but, rather, set aside for use in the inevitable future economic downturn.
- For the millions of Michiganders outside the Capitol beltway, October 1 was not about a new fiscal year, it was about deer hunting season. To the combined concern of sportsmen, the state’s sizeable hunting industry, and hapless motorists, Michigan’s declining number of hunters has reportedly swelled state herds to the point that Michigan motorists have more collisions with deer than drivers anywhere else. A coalition of concerned groups announced plans this week to try to reduce both the deer population and the number of deer/car wrecks.
- A full-time “swat team” within the Michigan Jobs Commission will identify four to seven high-profile business prospects to lure to the state, according to the Detroit News. MJC director Doug Rothwell told the News that the state’s business and economic climates have improved to the point where it can compete for such “sweepstakes prizes,” adding, “Michigan is ready for prime time.” The MJC will spend the next few months identifying prospects and cultivating ties to companies that could include Toyota, Volkswagen, and Samsung.
- The National Alliance of Business has named Michigan its State of the Year. The award was presented this week in recognition of the state’s successful rehabilitation of its workforce development programs. This year, Michigan is expected to spend $200 million on workforce development.
- Was that the Governor of Michigan stranded on I-96 Monday night with a flat tire? Wayne County Executive Ed McNamara thought it might be and called 911 as he sped past, late for an appointment. The guv and his driver got the temporary spare on and were headed back to Lansing by the time police arrived, according to the Detroit Free Press, which quoted McNamara as quipping, ” I wonder, was that flat tire caused by a pothole, and is there that much poetic justice in the world?” McNamara was referring to Engler’s recent political strife over paying for new roads.
October 10, 1997
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- In the wake of the Durant ruling, which guarantees significant additional funding for many state schools, local systems should be in great fiscal shape, right? Not exactly. Because Senate and House lawmakers have not yet reconciled the two competing repayment plans now before them, the first school aid payments from the state this new fiscal year (which began October 1) will be smaller, not bigger, than anticipated, forcing some districts to borrow money to meet their payroll. Negotiators won’t start meeting for at least a week to hammer out a compromise between a Senate-passed bill that meets Durant costs primarily through bonding and a bipartisan bill passed this week in the House that relies mainly on one-time payments from the Budget Stabilization Fund. Meantime, the first of nine scheduled aid payments—being processed this week, for distribution to districts by October 20—will be short by the more than $250 million in at-risk funds earlier vetoed by the governor as part of a strategy to force resolution of the funding impasse.
- Over the vigorous objections of educators, the House Tourism Committee approved 5–3 legislation requiring state schools to open after Labor Day. The vote moves the measure to the full House floor, where a major collision between business and education interests is guaranteed. On the one side are arguments that a later school start will boost Michigan’s $8.5 billion annual tourism take by an additional $50 million. On the other are school administrators deploring legislative intrusion into the sanctity of local control of education. Moreover, educators observe, the combined pressure for a longer school year and a later opening threaten to push the end of the school year to late June or beyond. This is the first time such legislation has been before the House tourism panel; previous attempts to postpone the start of school year in the state have been referred to—and defeated in—the chamber’s Education Committee.
- The Michigan Chamber of Commerce has added its voice to the pre-primary cacophony in the crowded 12th Senate District race that will fill the seat of the late Doug Carl. Endorsing Carl’s widow, Maria, over other front-runners Rep. David Jaye and former Rep. Sal Rocca, the Chamber’s statement pointedly contends that Mrs. Carl will be “in the mainstream of the Republican caucus, rather than a maverick on traditional business climate issues or a divisive personality destructive to the institution of the Senate.” Capitol pundits didn’t need a program to tell them who the chamber thinks is a maverick (Rocca, who often sided with Democrats on economic issues) or divisive (Jaye, who regularly makes headlines with controversial stands—he recently suggested that Mrs. Carl’s candidacy so soon after her husband’s death is unseemly).
- A group of Michigan voters has mounted a challenge to the state’s term limits amendment, seeking to block it from taking effect in 1998 (at which time 65 state lawmakers will be forced to retire). The plaintiffs, constituents of reps. Bob Emerson (D-Flint) and David Gubow (D-Huntington Woods), seek a preliminary injunction in U.S. Eastern District Court to block implementation of term limits, claiming that lifetime term limits violate individuals’ First Amendment rights. The plaintiffs also argue that the local effect of term limits has racial implications. Quoted by Gongwer News Service, plaintiffs’ attorney Robert Sedler said, ” . . . impact [of lifetime limits] falls most severely on minorities who have to rely on an experienced incumbent legislator to advance their interests. White, suburban people can be represented by novices because they have power by who they are.” In a similar suit brought in California, a lower court ruling striking down term limits there recently was upheld.
- Two bills passed in the Senate make it clear that environmental audits cannot be used to conceal illegal activity. SBs 706 and 707 reiterate that the audit process aims to provide voluntary, confidential evaluation of contaminated sites and specify that confidentiality cannot be invoked to forestall criminal investigations or proceedings. The measures passed unanimously, with broad industry and regulatory agency support.
October 17, 1997
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- Live coverage of state Senate debate began this week with Michigan Government Television (MGTV)’s gavel-to-gavel coverage broadcasting upper-chamber deliberations on wiretap legislation. SB 633 will give Michigan police officers authority to wiretap telephones of suspected drug traffickers. Opponents objected that expanding police power will invite abuse of citizen privacy, but the measure passed 279, picking up six Democratic votes. Proponents say the bill, which is comparable to laws in 30 other states, is stricter than current federal wiretapping statutes. Similar measures have passed the Michigan Senate previously, only to languish in the House.
- A streamlined version of the mandatory high school proficiency test passed the House in the form of an eight-bill package of reforms. The tests—designed to measure students’ academic proficiency—will be pared from eight to six hours’ duration and administered in the senior rather than junior year, and test results no longer will appear on diplomas as “endorsements.” Instead, a new scoring system will be included in student transcripts.
- Michigan joins 21 other states on a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency list of air polluters. In an effort to reduce smog-causing chemicals that drift across state boundaries, the EPA has charged Great Lakes states and much of the Eastern United States to develop tougher air-quality laws within two years. Michigan is mandated to reduce its airborne pollutants by 32 percent. A spokesperson for the Engler administration says the new EPA standards ignore the significant cleanup already achieved in the state and will cost state jobs.
- A suit filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit this week challenges the University of Michigan’s college-admission policy. Two Caucasian students denied entrance to the Ann Arbor campus contend it was because of their race. The two are plaintiffs in a class-action suit brought by the Center for Individual Rights, a group that last year won a suit charging race-based preferential admissions policies at the University of Texas.
- After one false start, lawmakers have named a bipartisan, bicameral committee to study the state’s campaign finance system. Such a group was approved by a joint resolution last spring but never empaneled. Legislators instead became sidetracked by the pending emergencies of road funding and state agency appropriations. This week legislative leaders somewhat sheepishly got around to naming the committee: from the House, Democrats Pat Gagliardi (Drummond Island) and Deb Cherry (Burton) and Republicans Bill Bobier (Hesperia) and Andrew Richner (Grosse Pointe Park); from the Senate, Republicans George McManus (Traverse City) and Robert Geake (Northville) and two Democrats yet to be named.
- Opponents of Michigan’s recently imposed four-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax hike lost a court battle this week. Their argument that the boost in the levy was enacted improperly by the legislature was overturned by Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Glazer. An appeal, along with a possible request for reconsideration, is expected. Meanwhile, Judge Glazer has yet to rule on arguments that the gasoline tax hike violates the so-called Headlee Amendment to the state constitution.
- Considering a run for state office? The hours may be long, but officeholder pay is good, according to a new survey finding Michigan officials at the top of corresponding national salary schedules. StateNet, a government information service, released 1996 salary data listing Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelley and Secretary of State Candice Miller as the nation’s highest paid for their positions. Governor Engler’s compensation ranks second among governors, behind only New York’s George Pataki.
October 24, 1997
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- Lawmakers convened in joint session this week to hear state Supreme Court Justice Conrad Mallett, Jr., deliver the 1997 State of the Judiciary address. Mallett’s televised remarks mark the start of live Michigan Government Television (MGTV) coverage from the lower chamber. MGTV cameras began rolling last week in the Senate. The two legislative bodies have sorted out the issue of who gets coverage when by agreeing that the Senate’s proceedings will be televised on Tuesdays and the House’s on Thursdays, and previously taped material will be beamed to MGTV watchers on Wednesdays.
- The state attorney general’s office had second thoughts—literally—about Indian casinos this week. A Tuesday ruling that the state’s gaming compacts with Indian tribes are not properly authorized was modified Wednesday by a formal clarification from the AG’s office. Lawmakers had approved by resolution (requiring consent of only the majority of those present) the recent agreements governing Indian gambling enterprises, but Attorney General Frank Kelley ruled on Tuesday that to legally bind the parties, the Michigan Constitution requires formal legislation (requiring consent of the majority of the total membership of the House and the Senate). Mr. Kelley’s subsequent clarification exempts from the requirement the seven tribal-state compacts created in a 1993 federal court consent decree.
- Speaking of gaming, in the fiscal year just past, what some would call the wages of sin paid handsomely for the Michigan Lottery. FY 1996–97 revenue—which supports the School Aid Fund—exceeded $580 million, a $35-million increase over the prior fiscal year. Winning ticket holders, meanwhile, pocketed an enviable $866 million, and lottery ticket retailers collected $112 million in commissions.
- Executive Branch comings and goings: In the former category is Jack Wheatley, named to head the newly created Michigan Unemployment Agency (MUA), to be housed within the Department of Commerce and Industry Services. A veteran civil servant, Wheatley takes charge of one of two new entities that the governor created from the former Michigan Employment Security Commission. (The other new entity, the Michigan Employment Security Agency—handling job searches—has been made part of the Jobs Commission.) Departing state government is Department of Management and Budget director Mark Murray, who will become assistant vice president for finance at Michigan State University.
- Striking a great blow for common sense, the Senate has passed a bill saying that students who physically assault teachers should be expelled. SB 313, passed 32–2, is part of the so-called Teachers Bill of Rightspackage. Other components approved so far include SB 190, encouraging schools to adopt policies requiring student uniforms, and SB 72, permitting institutions housing court-placed juveniles to become charter schools. Still more bad news for bad kids: Ground breaking is expected by year’s end for Michigan’s first youth correction facility.
- The House bit off more than it could chew in considering a five-bill package of banking legislation this week, which, if state banking law is being amended, requires passage by a two-thirds majority. So it settled for passage of one—HB 4893—requiring all chartered banks to disclose their ATM fees at the time of transaction. The Michigan Constitution imposes the two-thirds majority requirement on banking law amendments, but because the ATM fee-disclosure requirement is new, it is exempt from the requirement and was approved 76–30.
- Mirroring action in a House committee last week, members of the Senate Education Committee narrowly endorsed delaying the fall opening of K–12 schools. The 3–2 vote sending the controversial measure to the floor of the upper chamber bars schools from beginning classes earlier than September 4. Unlike the House version, which stipulates that classes may not start until after Labor Day, SB 300 will not prevent schools from opening on or after September 4 in years in which Labor Day falls later in the month.
October 31, 1997
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- Details of a potential Durant settlement specifying how and when Michigan public schools will be repaid for the underfunding of special education programs have been trickling from the capitol this week. Legislative approval likely will be sought next week on a compromise said to include (1) an immediate payoff of the 84 school districts party to the suit and (2) bonding to generate revenue to pay the remaining districts. Such a plan combines elements of two partisan approaches that so have far resisted consensus resolution.
- State senators continue debate this week on Michigan’s so-called drug lifer law, which mandates a life sentence without parole for those convicted of possessing 650 grams or more of narcotics. The state’s notoriously tough law was intended to lock up drug kingpins, but even the measure’s former supporters concede that the objective has not been met. Instead, judges have no choice but to sentence first-time offenders to penalties more severe than those required for many violent crimes. Under SB 280, those convicted will be eligible for parole after 15 years if certain conditions were met.
- Opponents to tougher seat belt laws finally buckled: A 63–44 House vote makes failure to wear the harness a primary offense. Under terms of HB 4280, police may stop motorists suspected of not wearing seat belts and issue a $25 ticket. Belt use already is mandatory in Michigan, but drivers may be ticketed for noncompliance only if they have been stopped for another infraction. Although applauded as a lifesaver by supporters, the bill earlier was twice defeated in the House. Opponents decry giving police increased powers, saying it smacks of government intrusion and invites harassment of minority drivers. The legislation provides for one warning before a fine is levied and does not add points to one’s driving record. If passed by the Senate and then signed by the governor, this bill will make Michigan the 13th state where failure to wear a seat belt is a primary traffic offense.
- Motorists won’t be stuck in line in Secretary of State Candice Miller’s offices. Phone-in license plate renewal begins this weekend for the approximately 50 percent of Michigan drivers whose insurers are set up to provide computerized verification to the state. Miller estimates that half the people in line in Secretary of State branch offices are there to renew vehicle registrations—a chore that can now be accomplished from home or work in about four minutes if one has a credit card, a touch-tone phone, and a participating insurance company.
- Confirmed government watchers enjoyed their first full week of MGTV cablecasts this week. Founded and funded by the state’s cable television industry, Michigan Government Television’s recently negotiated agreements with the House and Senate give Michiganians live session coverage.
- Governor Engler has added big bucks to the state’s tourism slogan, “Great Lakes. Great Times.” At the Grand Rapids tourism conference this week, the governor announced that an additional $2.3 million in the tourism budget will fund a ten-point plan to make Michigan the top Great Lakes travel destination. Current marketing in Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, and Minneapolis will be expanded to Ontario, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Milwaukee.
- AIDS deaths in Michigan dropped 36 percent last year, and AIDS fell from the number one to number two cause of death among African-American male residents aged 25–44. In releasing the Michigan Department of Community Health statistics, a spokeswoman from the Midwest AIDS Prevention Project observed that one implication of the statistic is that the number of people living with HIV infection and AIDS is increasing. Nationally, there was a 26 percent reduction in AIDS deaths for the same period.
- That crash you heard wasn’t the stock market. Michigan’s official holiday tree was felled Thursday in Gladstone by volunteers from the Michigan Timbermen’s Association. The big blue spruce arrives on the capitol building’s front lawn this weekend.
November 7, 1997
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- Senate approval of two bills funding the Durant public school judgment inched the arduous policy debate closer to resolution. As reported by Gongwer News Service, the Senate unanimously (34–0) approved SB 178 and HB 5083, which authorize (1) a $212-million withdrawal from the Budget Stabilization (“rainy day”) Fund (BSF) for payments to plaintiff districts and (2) a combination of bond issue proceeds and additional BSF money for non-plaintiff districts. The House has not yet climbed on board, however: The word is that the lower chamber believes itself to have been inadequately consulted about certain details of the bills and will reject SB 178, forcing formation of a joint conference committee in which the details can be ironed out.
- Michigan’s much-heralded welfare reform ratcheted forward in the legislature this week with Senate passage of SB 411. The bill caps benefits received by newly arrived welfare recipients at the level paid by their former state of residence. Designed to discourage recipients from relocating to Michigan for the sake of a bigger benefit check, the measure is decried by opponents as harmful to mothers and children, the only groups eligible for substantial aid under the state’s new and tougher guidelines. Those guidelines, by the way, appear to be achieving their goal: State officials announced last week that welfare caseloads declined for the 42d consecutive month.
- Citing too many miles of bad road, AAA Michigan contends that deteriorating state highways contributed to recent premium increases levied on its members for their comprehensive coverage—the average hike is 4.6 percent. “Triple A,” which writes about a quarter of the state’s vehicle insurance, announced that the number of claims for pothole damage is up 10 percent over last year and broken windshield claims are up 15 percent. The Detroit News reports that year-to-date paid claims for windshield damage from flying debris have cost AAA $151 million—up 38 percent over last year. A spokesperson for AAA told the News, “The deterioration of our roads—they have really gotten bad—is having a significant impact on the frequency of glass claims.”
- Along with other past and present national leaders, Governor Engler joins former U.S. President and native son Gerald Ford in Texas this week at dedication ceremonies for the George Bush presidential library. Ford and Engler will meet again on the dedication circuit next spring in East Lansing, when the 38th president will give the keynote address at the April 21 formal opening of the Detroit College of Law at Michigan State University.
- Reinforcing her reputation as a “high-tech sec,” Candice Miller vows to put campaign finance information on CD ROM. Secretary of State Miller—whose innovations have given Michigan residents the option of conducting business with her department by telephone, fax, and e-mail—is introducing a pilot program through which the agency will provide free software and training that will permit candidate committees to file financial information electronically. These reports will be available for citizen download from the department’s Web site within hours, she pledges, and on CD a few days later, for about $10. Initially, the program will save time, because electronic filing will relieve Election Bureau employees from tedious hand transcription of documents. Eventually, the system—the Michigan Electronic Reporting and Tracking System (MERTS)—will facilitate electronic audits of campaign committee filings.
- Faced with too few contributions to mount a statewide race, Rep. Jim Agee (D-Muskegon) withdrew this week from the field of Democratic gubernatorial candidates. The term-limited lawmaker has not yet given his support to another candidate in the contest; the front-runners are East Lansing attorney Larry Owen and former state Commerce Department head Doug Ross.
- Two bills bringing state environmental audit processes into compliance with federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations were passed by the Senate this week. HBs 5092 and 5093 sailed through the upper chamber without dissent and are headed to the governor for signature.
November 14, 1997
Legislative & Political Week in Review
- Never mind that the malls have been filled with Christmas tinsel since Labor Day; the capital’s most visible holiday harbinger is he legislative calendar, with its frequent recesses between now and year’s end. No sessions were held on Veteran’s Day, and lawmakers left at week’s end for their Thanksgiving break, from which they will return on December 4 for a wrap-up session of yet undetermined length. Michigan Roundup will publish next on December 11.
- Opining that “a wide yawn has engulfed the capitol this year,” Gongwer News Service reports that a modern record-low number of bills have been passed and signed into law this session. The partisan power split between the two chambers has slowed legislation to a trickle, Gongwer reports, citing the mere 123 bills signed by the governor to date. This contrasts with the 1993 session, in which 362 bills passed, and even 1991—a year in which power was split between the chambers in the same way as today—when 201 measure became public acts.
- The partisan split was much in evidence last week when House Democrats successfully reinstated unemployment benefits pared by Republicans two years ago when the GOP controlled the lower chamber. On a 58–48 vote with two Republican crossovers, HB 5303 restores the weekly jobless benefit rate to 70 percent of after-tax earnings; it previously had been reduced to 67 percent.
- Go figure: Two weeks after voting tougher seat belt laws for motorists, the House voted to let motorcyclists hit the road bare headed. The sponsor of the measure to revoke the mandatory helmet law, Rep. Timothy Walberg (R-Tipton) argued successfully that statistics on helmet use and longevity don’t correlate. In fact, he says, helmets actually cause cycle accidents by obscuring vision and hearing. Insurers, physicians, and traffic safety experts disagree but apparently were drowned out—figuratively if not literally—by the roar of motorcyclists in Lansing on their annual lobbying pilgrimage for the legislation. Despite House passage of HB 4284, the Senate is apt to tell state bikers to keep their hats on, and the governor’s spokesman predicts a veto if the upper chamber agrees to revoke the 30-year-old mandatory helmet law.
- The state needs five new prisons, Governor Engler told lawmakers this week, or it risks an overcrowding crisis that will put more violent criminals on Michigan streets. In a special report to the legislature, Engler warns that the state’s prison capacity may be exhausted by next month and needs to be expanded by some 5,500 beds. According to the Detroit Free Press, such expansion will add more that $150 million to the state budget. Engler reportedly has ordered the Department of Corrections to add more than 700 beds to existing facilities and seek prisoner out-placement in other state’s penitentiaries.
- Legislation guaranteeing Michigan drivers a brighter outlook has passed the House in the form of HB 5264, which bans installation of prohibited tinted auto glass. The measure holds installers liable for illegally tinted windows that obscure the driver’s identity.
- Michigan’s graduates are welshing on their college loans at a rate above the national average, according to the Associated Press. Loan default rates for fiscal 1995 average 11.7 for the state; the national average is 10.4 percent. Likeliest offenders are graduates of for-profit beauty, barber, and technical schools. Congratulations and good credit ratings go to UM and MSU alumni, with loan default rates of only 4 and 5 percent, respectively.
- Recommendations of the Senate’s Youth Gang Violence Task Force were presented this week. A package of bills aimed at reducing gang violence through a combination of early detection, family support, and increased community policing will be introduced in the upper chamber early next year.