state law

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and his fellow Republicans could find themselves knee-deep in health care issues Wednesday when lawmakers briefly return after a five-week break.

Snyder needs to get reluctant House Republicans on board with his efforts to create an online site where individuals and small businesses can comparison shop for private health insurance.

Battle Creek is opting out of a new state law that requires local government employees pay more for their health insurance. And it’s not alone. The Michigan Municipal League says about a third of the cities it surveyed plan to exempt themselves from the law requiring an 80/20 split on health insurance costs.   

The law allows a temporary opt out. And there are many reasons.  

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In Michigan, voters are allowed to overturn laws they don't like. This is how it works: you try and get enough signatures to get a referendum to repeal the law on a ballot. If a majority of voters vote against the law... it's repealed. But there's a catch: laws that have appropriations attached to them cannot be repealed by voters.

Just this week, Michigan Radio reported on a proposal that would drastically alter the state’s no-fault auto insurance law. The House proposal includes a $50,000 appropriation that protects the measure from a voter-led ballot initiative.

This is the fourth time this year Republican lawmakers at the state Capitol have added appropriations to a controversial bill to keep it referendum-proof.

I spoke with Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network, about this cunning, political maneuver. He’s been keeping an eye on this story for months.

Why We Should Care

For some, the words, “referendum,” “appropriation,” and “voter-led ballot” aren’t that important; in fact, maybe they just sound like more of the same insider politics. But, Pluta explains it this way:

If you’re a voter who does not think that anything the legislature does should ever be challenged, I guess you would consider [this] not too terribly important. But, if you do think that [the right to vote against a law in a referendum] should be preserved… then you might find the whole thing to be a little devious.

A state lawmaker says tax-funded sex changes for prisoners need to be outlawed. The Department of Corrections says it already has a policy to reject sex-change requests.

Republican state Representative Tom Hooker says even though there is a department policy against granting tax-funded sex change operations, it needs to be set in Michigan law.

“It’s certainly not targeting any specific lifestyle or organization. I’m trying to save the taxpayers of the state of Michigan money.”

Hooker says it could cost taxpayers between 20 and 60-thousand dollars per sex change, with ongoing hormone therapies. And Hooker says he hopes to make sure taxpayers do not foot the bill for other elective surgeries for prisoners. But he says this was a good place to start as a preventive measure.

A spokesman for the Department of Corrections says they do receive occasional requests for sex change operations, and those requests are denied. He says the prisoners argue it is not an elective surgery, but rather a matter of mental wellbeing.

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The federal government is expected to rule soon that Michigan’s system for funding Medicaid is illegal. That would put more than a billion dollars in federal funds and the state’s balanced budget at risk unless the Legislature adopts another plan to come up with that money.

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.

The governor says the state’s balanced budget for the coming fiscal year is at stake, as well his promise not to cut Medicaid services for the poor as Michigan is just beginning to emerge from a long recession.

“I think it’s a good thing to do to ensure we balance our budget and we have good Medicaid in our state.”

But support among lawmakers for a new tax has been elusive. The measure failed when state Senate leaders put it up for a test vote.

A state law that would require punishment for Michigan teachers who go on strike appears to be on a fast-track in the state legislature, Steve Carmody reports. Republican State Representative Bill Rogers has authored one of two bills that would require a two year license suspension and a large daily fine for striking teachers. Carmody reports:

Rogers expects the anti-teacher strike bills will move quickly through the legislature and may reach the governor's desk before a possible statewide teachers' strike next month. The state's largest teachers' union is mulling possible job actions, including teacher walk-outs, to protest cuts in school funding and other issues.

A press release on Rep. Rogers' website explains the rationale behind the measures:

Teacher strikes put the education of students and teachers' jobs at risk and have recently been encouraged by Michigan Education Association (MEA) President Iris Salters. Striking is illegal in Michigan, although penalties for doing so are hard to enforce.

House Bill 4466... will fine the Michigan Education Association $5,000 per teacher for each full or partial day that public school employees are engaged in a strike or strike like activities. The bill also orders employees to pay a fine in the amount equal to one day of pay for every day or partial day in which an employee participates in a strike...

House Bill 4465... requires that state superintendents suspend a teacher's license for a period of two years or permanently revoke their license, if caught breaking existing strike laws.

"This legislation discourages teachers from striking by putting teeth into the current strike law," said Rogers, R-Brighton. "We need to put the focus back onto educating our children. Children are the ones who suffer from teacher strikes and this legislation makes sure those who choose to participate face consequences for their actions."

Governor Snyder says he hopes teachers won’t authorize their union to call a statewide strike in response to his budget plans. Snyder proposed a $470 per-pupil-cut in state education spending earlier this year.

State lawmakers are on a Spring break until April 11th.

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Michigan lawmakers return to Lansing this week. The new state legislature will be sworn in at the state Capitol. 

Michigan Public Radio's Laura Weber filed this report from Lansing:

New and returning lawmakers will be greeted in Lansing by a nearly $2 billion budget deficit, and no new federal stimulus to help them fill the holes. Many new Republican lawmakers say they were elected to cut state spending and reduce the size of government. Republican leaders in both the House and Senate say local government revenue sharing could be on the line for deep cuts. The Legislature has several months to balance the budget. This week lawmakers will be sworn in, choose their seats on the floor, and establish rules of the chamber.