michigan senate

Politics
3:12 pm
Fri July 15, 2011

Public employee health benefits bills heading to conference

Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan
Matthileo Flickr

A joint legislative panel is set to negotiate how much some public employees should be required to pay into their health insurance benefits.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says the payment structure for health benefits for public employees should have been overhauled several years ago.

But he says lawmakers should still work with public employee unions to find the savings.

“We want to try and be as flexible as we can and allow as much local input as we can, but the time to act is way past right now, this should have been dealt with 10 years ago or more.”

Ray Holman is with UAW Local 6,000. Holman represents state employees who won’t be affected by the proposed changes to public employee benefits.

He says that public employees have already made many concessions over the past few years.

“That’s been done at the bargaining table, and that’s been a proven place to find those savings.”

But, Holman says, if collective bargaining is compromised in the measure before the House and Senate conference committee, all public employees will be on alert and at risk of paying more for their health benefits.

Politics
3:16 pm
Wed July 13, 2011

Michigan Senate passes welfare limit, raises wage cap

The Capitol Building in Lansing

Here's some additional material on the welfare limit bill passed by the Michigan Senate today from Rick Pluta.

UPDATE:

The Michigan Senate split along party lines to approve a four-year lifetime limit on welfare benefits.

 The House is expected to concur with the Senate version, and Governor Rick Snyder will almost certainly sign it because the budget relies on more than 60 million dollars in savings from the benefits cap.

It also means 12,600 families will lose benefits come October first.

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State Legislature
11:18 am
Thu June 30, 2011

Tax on health insurance claims approved

This just in from Michigan Public Radio Network's Laura Weber:

The state Senate has approved a tax on health insurance claims. The measure is necessary to ensure Michigan continues to receive about $800 million from the federal government for Medicaid. The federal government is expected to rule later this year on whether the state's system for funding Medicaid is legal.

The Senate had put the issue up for a test-vote yesterday but it didn't pass. As Rick Pluta noted in a story before the second vote took place:

Governor Rick Snyder has been pressuring the Legislature to adopt a one percent tax on all health insurance claims. That would put Michigan in compliance with federal rules. Otherwise, Michigan could lose 10 percent of its funding for the entire Medicaid program. The claims tax would generate $400 million, and qualify the state for twice that much in federal funds.

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Politics
4:34 pm
Mon June 27, 2011

Legislature continues discussion on changes to medical marijuana

Chuck Caveman Coker Creative Commons

Republican state Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said a few months ago that he did not want to deal with any major social issues – including medical marijuana regulations – until the budget was complete.

With the budget debate behind them, lawmakers are once again looking at the Medical Marijuana Act.

The Michigan Supreme Court is preparing to decide where and how marijuana plants can be grown, and the state Senate is looking at a bill that would regulate where patients could smoke marijuana.

Bills have come up for debate that would affect everything from where a person could smoke medical marijuana, to where it could be distributed and who could distribute it.

One would prevent convicted felons from becoming medical marijuana caregivers, or distributors, and the other would make it a crime to distribute medical marijuana near a church or school.

Meanwhile, medical marijuana supporters have shown up at every legislative hearing on bills that would add regulations to the law since it was approved by voters a few years ago.

They say any additional regulations would make it harder for people who need treatment to get access to medical marijuana.

Commentary
1:08 pm
Thu June 16, 2011

A Bridge Too Far

Once upon a time, two businessmen wanted to build a bridge across the Detroit River, using their own money to do it. 

The politicians were skeptical. It won’t make money, some said. They’ll sell bonds to finance construction, and people will lose their shirts. Detroit’s mayor had a different objection. He said that if the bridge was successful, the owners would get rich off the public. Funny, but I thought that’s how private enterprise was supposed to work. Eventually, a city-wide referendum was held, and people overwhelmingly voted for the bridge.

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Politics
4:50 pm
Tue May 24, 2011

Budget bills start rolling through Senate

The Republican-led state Senate has started approving parts of the budget.

That includes a bill that cuts funding for public universities by 15 percent.

Universities could face bigger cuts if they don’t hold tuition increases at or below 7.1 percent.

Democratic state Senator Morris Hood says tuitions are already too high.

"Our profound disinvestment has led to tuition increase after tuition increase, making a degree even harder to attain," said Hood. "We’re passing this problem onto our already struggling constituents. Budgets are about priorities, and I think we are sending a clear message; the wrong message."

Republican leaders in the Legislature expect to wrap up work on the budget quickly and easily in comparison with recent years.

The budget bills will volley between the Senate and House over the next week as lawmakers try to wrap up work on the budget by next Tuesday.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says he does not anticipate any big battles between the Republican-controlled chambers. But he says there may be a few hang-ups over schools funding.

"The K-12 budget is one of the more complicated budgets and made some adjustments during targets," said Richardville. "That one being also being one of the biggest budgets has the highest propensity to have some problems with it. But I think those problems will be mostly technical. I don’t anticipate any problems with getting the budgets passed."

Democrats are upset that additional funds for K-through-12 schools will not go directly to reduce cuts to per-pupil funding. Additional projected tax revenue will instead go toward districts that approve cost-saving measures, and make retirement payments.

Politics
5:21 pm
Thu May 12, 2011

Tax overhaul passes Michigan Senate

The Michigan Senate passed a tax overhaul plan today that rolls back taxes on Michigan businesses by about $2 billion. The Michigan House is expected to quickly concur with the Senate action and send the measure to Governor Snyder for his signature.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Update 5:21 p.m.

Republicans eked out a legislative victory today as Governor Rick Snyder's tax overhaul package cleared the state Senate.

It fell to Snyder’s lieutenant governor to cast the tie-breaking vote.

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley delivered a short speech before he cast the vote to break the deadlock on the tax reform package he had a hand in designing.

Calley predicted some lawmakers will pay a price for supporting the administration's tax reforms.

"Because real change comes with real consequence," said Calley. "Real change will come with drama."

Seven Republicans joined Democrats to vote against the package, largely because the measure will end the tax exemption on pension income for anyone born after 1946.

Democrats say it will shift the burden of paying for government services to families and the elderly.

State Senator Steve Bieda was one of the Democrats who voted against the measure.

"It’s shifting the tax to those who are least able to pay in our society," said Bieda. "We are talking about the elderly, people who are living on pensions are going to see a huge increase. I think it’s unjust, unwise, and it’s certainly very unfair."

Bieda tried to delay the vote until next week when the state adopts new revenue numbers. It’s expected there will be a windfall of more revenue than was anticipated at the beginning of the year.

The package eliminates the Michigan Business Tax in favor of a corporate profits tax.

It also eliminates a host of tax breaks, including the income tax exemption for people on pensions.

Overall, the package rolls back taxes on businesses by nearly $2 billion. Most of the businesses that would benefit are small and medium-sized corporations.

Republicans say the result will also be a tax code that is simpler and easier to follow.

State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says there are some hard choices in the package, but they combine to make Michigan more business-friendly.

"So we put the good, the bad, the ugly altogether in one package and said, we believe the greater good is worthy of some of the not-so-good or ugly, so to speak."

The Senate bill restores the earned income tax credit for working poor families, but at a reduced rate.

The House is expected to quickly concur with the Senate action and send the measure to Governor Snyder for his signature.

3:55 p.m.

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley has cast the tie-breaking vote to win Senate approval of Governor Rick Snyder's tax overhaul plan.

The package scraps the Michigan Business Tax in favor of a corporate profits tax.

It will be a net tax cut on many small and mid-sized businesses.

It also eliminates a host of tax breaks, including the income tax exemption for pensions.

Republicans say the result will be a tax code that is simpler and easier to follow and more business-friendly.

Politics
11:46 am
Thu May 12, 2011

Close vote expected on broad Michigan tax proposal

The Michigan Senate is voting on a bill that would overhaul Michigan's tax structure today.
user cedarbenddrive Flickr

Michigan could see some sweeping changes to its tax structure after today's vote.

Michigan's former Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop sent out this Tweet:

"Here we go ... Senate in caucus now, but will soon emerge to vote on Gov's tax proposal. If it passes, I expect it will be by a vote or 2."

From the Associated Press:

The Republican-led Michigan Senate is preparing for what likely will be a close vote on a proposal that would significantly shake up the state's tax structure.

The vote planned Thursday is on a proposal that would cut overall business taxes by about $1 billion in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 and $1.7 billion the following year. The key would be replacing the Michigan Business Tax with a 6 percent corporate income tax while eliminating many types of tax credits and exemptions.

Some exemptions on retiree income would end, which has drawn opposition from some Republican lawmakers. Some Republicans also will oppose the measure because it would delay scheduled rollbacks in Michigan's personal income tax rate, which is 4.35 percent.

A committee reported the bill to the Senate floor Thursday.

Politics
3:03 pm
Wed May 11, 2011

State Senate debate continuing on Michigan tax proposal

A Michigan Senate committee isn't yet ready to make a decision on a broad plan that would significantly change business and income tax structures in the state.

The Senate Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing Committee adjourned Wednesday without a vote on the legislation.

It's still possible the proposal will be voted on in the Republican-led Senate as early as Thursday.

The plan backed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder would cut overall business taxes about $1 billion in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 and $1.7 billion the following year. The key would be replacing the
Michigan Business Tax with a 6 percent corporate income tax while eliminating many types of tax credits and exemptions.

Some exemptions on retiree income would end, which has drawn opposition from some Republican lawmakers.

State Legislature
6:40 am
Tue May 10, 2011

State Senators to take up tax reform bill

Inside the Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan
Cedar Bend Drive Flickr

A state Senate panel is scheduled to hold a hearing later today on Governor Rick Snyder’s tax reform proposal. The Associated press reports:

The Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing Committee is scheduled to take testimony Tuesday on legislation that would cut overall business taxes and lead to taxes on certain types of retirement income.

The Republican-led House passed the main bill in the package by a 56-53 vote last month. The legislation will face a tough challenge in the GOP-led Senate because some Republicans already have come out against it.

Some Republicans are opposed to taxing retiree income and to measures that would delay lowering the state's personal income tax rate.

Democrats generally oppose the plan.

State Legislature
7:54 am
Wed May 4, 2011

Tax plan meets resistance in state Senate

Inside the Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan
Cedar Bend Drive Flickr

Leaders in the Republican state Senate say they still have to wrangle more votes to get a sweeping tax-reform package passed.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says he will meet with Governor Rick Snyder and House Speaker Jase Bolger to update them on where the tax overhaul stands in the Senate.

"We want to be in sync. We're worked together as a team so far, and we want to continue to do that."

Even though Richardville has been able to work well with Snyder and Bolger on the tax reform package, it appears he is still meeting resistance to the deal from his fellow Senate Republicans. A handful of Republican senators have said they will not vote for the deal that includes a tax on future pensioners. Richardville says he will not make changes to the proposal as it was agreed upon and passed by the House. But he hopes to have enough votes to pass it through the Senate next week.

Politics
1:46 pm
Wed March 9, 2011

Michigan Senate passes controversial emergency manager bill

The Michigan Senate passed the bill that around 1,000 union members loudly asked them not to pass.

From the Detroit News:

Legislation that would allow emergency financial managers to throw out union contracts and overrule elected officials in financially distressed municipalities and school districts was approved in the Senate today.

The measure passed 26-12 along party lines in the Republican-controlled chamber. Similar bills passed in the House in late February. The chambers must now agree on a final version to send to Gov. Rick Snyder for his signature. More than 1,000 union members demonstrated opposition to the bills Tuesday, chanting loudly outside the chamber doors as senators worked through details of the legislation.

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Politics
7:50 pm
Mon March 7, 2011

Unions to protest changes to emergency manager laws

Teachers protest in Lansing on February 26th, 2011.
mea.org

Teachers, police, firefighters and other public employees plan to march on the state Capitol tomorrow.

They oppose a measure in the Senate that expands the authority of emergency managers named to run troubled local governments and  school districts.

Unions say the measures strike at their bargaining rights.

Union leaders hope for a big enough turnout to persuade Senate Republicans to delay a vote.

Unions are particularly opposed to a part of the legislation that would allow emergency managers to vacate bargained contracts.

Mark Gaffney, president of the AFL-CIO of Michigan, says that’s unfair when the state is also looking to cut money for schools and local governments:

“You’re saying to a city that it’s easy to get a dictator and you’re taking money away from that city that puts you at the point where you might need him or her.”

Republicans say the measures offer local governments early help to avert a financial takeover, but once it happens, emergency managers need crisis tools to set things right.

Scott Kincaid, a member of Flint City Council, favors keeping the law and the authority it grants emergency managers.

"These bills give them unlimited authority to do certain things that, currently, we were able to solve our problems without doing those things. The system works right now, and I’ve experienced it. And it worked very well. We had financial problems in our community and we turned them around in 18 months."

Flint was placed under an emergency manager in 2002. The city recently asked the state for the authority to sell bonds to cover a $17 million budget shortfall and meet its payroll.

The state Senate is expected to vote on the emergency management bills as soon as tomorrow.

Politics
4:15 pm
Wed March 2, 2011

Senate GOP prepared to reject unmarried partner benefits

Roberto Occhialini Flickr

Republicans in the Michigan Senate have begun the process of reversing the policy of extending benefits to the unmarried live-in partners of state workers – including those in same-sex relationships.

A vote on the Senate floor is expected next week.

A Senate budget subcommittee voted along party lines to reject the new benefits policy. Now, Republicans must muster super-majorities in the Senate and the House to reverse the decision by the independent Civil Service Commission to allow unmarried partner benefits.

The Granholm administration spent years negotiating the agreement with employee unions in an effort to ensure coverage for people in same-sex relationships.

But Governor Rick Snyder says that would cost too much money as the state faces a budget crisis.  

Senator Mark Jansen chairs a budget subcommittee. He says adding new benefits to cover unmarried partners could force additional costs onto other state employees who are already being asked to pay more for their health care.

Jansen says the Civil Service Commission made the wrong decision as the state faces a budget crisis.

“I do respect it, but we’re broke, and so now it literally is adding eight million dollars at least to my bottom line. I can’t afford to add anything anymore. So it’s time to take a breath and say, let’s help those that we have right now.”

Ray Holman is with U-A-W Local Six Thousand, which represents thousands of state workers. He says the Legislature should not renege on a deal that took years to negotiate.

“This was negotiated back in 2004 and the appropriate place to deal with this stuff is the bargaining table, and to respect the agreements that have been made. So this should be handled by the Civil Service Commission and we obviously deal with the office of the State Employer on these matters.”

If the Senate and the House don’t reverse the policy, it will take effect October first.

State Legislature
7:23 am
Fri November 5, 2010

Whitmer to lead state Senate Dems

State Senator Gretchen Whitmer
Photo courtesy of www.senate.mi.gov/whitmer

Democratic state Senator Gretchen Whitmer will be Michigan's next Senate Minority Leader. Whitmer's fellow Democratic Senators elected her to the position yesterday. She'll be the first woman to hold the job. She became a state Senator in 2006.  Before that, she was as a member of the Michigan House of Representatives from 2000 to 2006.

Death of a candidate
10:51 am
Wed October 20, 2010

Mayor of Kalamazoo to run for Michigan Senate

Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell will make a quick run for the Michigan Senate.
Kalamazoo Public Library

Democratic Party leaders in Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties have chosen their candidate to replace Robert Jones - Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell.

Robert Jones was running for the Michigan Senate in the 20th district when he died over the weekend. He was battling esophageal cancer.

In Michigan, votes for a deceased candidate do not count, so party leaders had to put forward a new candidate.

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Death of a candidate
1:03 pm
Mon October 18, 2010

Death of Robert Jones raises questions about election

Michigan State Representative Robert Jones and friend
Photo from Jones campaign website

Michigan House Representative and current Democratic candidate for State Senate Robert Jones died this past weekend. He was 66 and being treated for esophogeal cancer, but officials at Kalamzoo's Democratic Party Headquarters say his death still came as a surprise.

Jones' death has raised several questions about the race for the State Senate seat in Michigan's 20th district (representing parts of Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties).

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