Politics & Government
8:43 am
Wed October 10, 2012

Commentary: Home health care amendment

Michigan voters next month are going to be asked to decide the fate of five proposed amendments to the state constitution, plus whether they want to keep the Emergency Manager law. Some of the amendments have gotten a lot of publicity, like the one that would require a statewide vote before any new bridge could be constructed.

The amendment that would guarantee collective bargaining rights is getting attention, as is the one that would require utilities to get 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources.

But perhaps the least well-known amendment is Proposal Four, which would establish a registry called the Michigan Quality Home Care Council, and extend collective bargaining rights to in-home care workers. This may be bigger than it seems.

We are an aging population, and sooner or later, if we live long enough, most of us are likely to require some help if we want to stay in our homes in our later years.

There are numerous studies that show that it is far cheaper to help people stay in their own homes rather than move to nursing homes, not to mention far better for their happiness.

But does a proposal mandating this really belong in the constitution? Constitutions are designed to set broad principles, and this proposal is also extremely detailed.

It seems to mandate union representation for home health care workers, and spells out rules for how they would be organized, represented, trained and compensated.

Why are they trying to do this? Simple. When Republicans won the legislature two years ago, they quickly moved to dismantle the registry that then existed and take away collective bargaining rights of home health care workers in what was clearly an anti-union move.

Governor Rick Snyder signed that legislation, and the union and the workers don’t see any sign they can get lawmakers to reverse that vote, any time soon. So they are trying to go around them by getting the people to stick it in the constitution.

Here’s what bothers me about this. We have a system of representative government. And when you lose a vote, the solution is not to try and go around your lawmakers and put what you want in the state constitution instead.

Nor should any constitution be packed with minutiae. I certainly don’t want a slaughterhouse on my street. But I don’t want to try to amend the state constitution to prevent that. Instead, it’s a matter for my local zoning board.

There’s something else troubling about this amendment: It would require the new quality home care council to “provide financial services to patients to manage the cost of in-home care.”

But would that money come from? I asked a public relations man hired to promote the amendment, and he first said “Medicaid.”

Then he said they wanted to leave the funding question open.

Which sounds like another unfunded mandate. Governments at all levels are in crisis in part because politicians have been telling them to do things and not giving them the money to get it done.

There are plenty of reasons to believe our home health care system needs strengthening. But we may want to think twice before trying to lock specific details into our state’s constitution.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.