state legislature

Cedar Bend Drive / Flickr

Welfare recipients could not use their state-issued debit cards to draw cash from casino ATMs or buy lottery tickets, alcohol and tobacco under legislation moving through the state Legislature.

The Michigan House passed bills Wednesday that would restrict the use of Michigan Bridge Cards, used like debit cards for state food assistance and cash programs. The major bills passed 108-0 and advance to the Senate.

Monthly food assistance in Michigan is based on income, how many people are in their household and other criteria. Funds are made available on a debit card swiped through electronic reader when buying groceries.

Other bills in the package would require the state to deactivate a Bridge card when a recipient is in jail.

Photograph courtesy of Senator Whitmer's office

The Michigan Legislature is back in session this week, so we took some time to speak with state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-23rd) about what she would like to see happen in the state legislature this fall.

Cedar Bend Drive / Flickr

Michigan lawmakers are expected to resume votes to impose a stricter, four-year limit on receiving welfare benefits.

The votes could come Wednesday with the Michigan Legislature scheduled to meet for full sessions.

The welfare limit already has been approved as part of the state budget that kicks in Oct. 1. Lawmakers plan to put the cap in a separate state statute to help implement the budget plan.

Michigan already has a four-year cap on welfare benefits but the new version of the limit would grant fewer exceptions.

Critics say the tougher limits would boot roughly 12,000 families off public assistance.

Lawmakers might also continue votes aimed at requiring many public employees to pay more for their health insurance coverage.

Ifmuth / Flickr

The state Legislature will meet this week after two months of summer recess and a couple controversial issues await lawmakers at the state Capitol.

Republican leaders in the Legislature say they worked through the summer to prepare to vote on a proposal to require teachers and some public employees to pay more for their health care benefits.

“A lot of important work is happening, and a lot of the most important work happens outside of the session schedule," says House Speaker Jase Bolger.

The state Senate also has a final procedural vote waiting on a plan to set a four year lifetime cap on cash assistance for unemployed people. Democratic leaders say Republican proposals have made it harder for people to live and find jobs in Michigan.

A new tax on all health insurance claims waits for approval from lawmakers in the state House. As Michigan Public Radio’s Laura Weber reports, the tax is essential to balance the budget for the coming fiscal year.

Lawmakers must approve the health insurance claims tax in order to replace the existing tax on Medicaid HMOs. The federal government is expected to rule later this year that the existing Medicaid tax is illegal. To continue to receive funds from the federal government to help pay for Medicaid the state must approve the new tax on insurance claims.

Some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said they do not like the new tax proposal – Republicans saying they will not vote for a new tax, and some Democrats arguing that it would disproportionately affect some seniors who had their pensions taxed earlier this year.

The House is expected to approve the tax changes when lawmakers return in a couple weeks.

Cedar Bend Drive / Flickr

The state House will be in session today but, as the Associated Press reports, no roll call votes are expected and lawmakers' attendance won't be recorded. The AP notes, "the relatively inactive summer continues for the Michigan Legislature." There are no formal meetings planned, but, a House appropriations subcommittee will hold a hearing. The AP reports:

The next scheduled House session is set for Aug. 24. Sessions of the House and Senate will be relatively infrequent in July and August. Lawmakers already have approved the state budget plan for the fiscal year starting in October. Lawmakers spend some of the summer working in their home districts.

The session comes as lawmakers are in the middle of a two-month legislative break.

Cedar Bend Drive / Flickr

The state Senate is expected to approve legislation in a few weeks that would strengthen penalties against dog fighting. Dog fighting has been illegal in Michigan since the late 1800's.

But state Senator Rick Jones says the state needs to get tougher on dog fighting to get rid of it once and for all.

“And so we want to toughen the law to make it easier to charge the people that are running these dog fights and take their property away and sell it off, because it’s just inappropriate for this behavior.”

The Senate proposals would consider dog fighting to be racketeering, and would allow law enforcement officers to seize property from people who profit from dog fighting.

Cedar Bend Drive / Flickr

A state Senate panel will hold hearings soon on whether Michigan should extend its 10-year statute of limitations for charging people with violent crimes such as kidnapping, assault, and murder.

Republican Senator Rick Jones says he understands that extending the statute of limitations does not mean every old crime will be solved.

“Well certainly the colder the case, the more difficult it is for a prosecutor to obtain a conviction. But if somebody comes forward, there’s evidence – whether it be scientific evidence or a confession, certainly they should be able to bring charges.”

Jones says he wanted to take up the issue after he learned the statute of limitations prevented the Ingham County prosecutor from filing charges in a manslaughter case.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin hearings when lawmakers return to the Capitol later this summer. Jones chairs the committee.

Allieosmar / Flickr

The state Senate is meeting today to take up a few outstanding issues. The session comes as lawmakers are in the middle of a two-month legislative break. A stricter limit on welfare benefits is one issue that is expected to be brought up during the session. The Associated Press reports:

One of the bills that could come up for a vote Wednesday would put a stricter four-year lifetime limit on welfare benefits into state law. The legislation would reflect welfare limits approve earlier this year as part of the state budget plan. Michigan's current law has a similar time limit but it has more exceptions than the revised plan. The current law is due to expire in late September unless it's renewed or changed by lawmakers. Critics say the limits would boot some needy families off public assistance. The House already has approved the welfare limits legislation.

Meanwhile, State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says lawmakers will also likely continue debate over what to do about wild boar on hunting ranches. Laura Weber reports:

The Department of Natural Resources has pushed back enforcement of a rule that would require hunting ranches to get rid of wild boars. Ranch operators say that would put many of them out of business. Richardville says he’s not deeply moved by the issue, but understands it is an important to the agriculture community.

The Senate is also expected to deal with health insurance benefits for public employees.

Matthileo / Flickr

State lawmakers are on a summer break but, they will be meeting infrequently throughout this month and next.

“The Senate Appropriations Committee has a meeting set for Tuesday to discuss bills related to transportation funding, court of appeals fees and quality assurance assessments at some health facilities. The state Senate is expected to meet in a full session Wednesday,” the Associated Press reports.

State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville also plans to introduce legislation this week that would boost the value of Michigan’s film incentives. As the Michigan Public Radio Network’s Rick Pluta reported yesterday, “the state Senate leader says he is looking for ways to make Michigan more attractive to filmmakers now that the state has scaled back generous tax breaks for the industry.”

Meanwhile, the state House has a session scheduled for July 27th.

Matthileo / Flickr

State lawmakers wrapped up their work late last night before they take a two-month summer break. As Michigan Public Radio’s Laura Weber reports, one of the issues that pushed debates into the night was big changes to teacher tenure rules:

The tenure bills would make it easier for school districts to get rid of teachers in underperforming classrooms. But many Democrats say teachers should not be held responsible for the shortcomings of school districts and for deep cuts to education funding.

Democratic state Senator Coleman Young says the proposed changes to teacher tenure won’t help students.

“Paris Hilton has a better chance of winning an Oscar than this bill does of doing anything positive or for reforming the public education system.”

Those cheers came from teachers’ union members and supporters filling the Senate gallery. But the bills did pass the Senate, moved to the House for final approval, and are now on their way to Governor Rick Snyder for his signature.

Lawmakers target public worker health costs

The Republican-led state House passed another version of a bill that would require many public  employees to pay more of their own health insurance costs, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

A bill approved by a 56-52, mostly party-line vote Thursday would cap the dollar amount a public employer can pay toward health insurance for a public employee. An example would be $15,000 a year for family coverage.

Local governments and school boards could vote to change that requirement so that public employees must cover at least 20 percent of their health coverage costs.

It's possible the proposal will be a compromise between versions previously passed by the House and Senate. It was not immediately clear if Senate leaders would be on board with the House plan.

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.

Matthileo / Flickr

The Republican-led state Senate approved a Congressional redistricting map yesterday… that means it now goes to Governor Snyder for his signature. The bill passed 25-13, mostly along party lines. But, that might not be the end of the story. Reports this morning seem to indicate that the maps could be challenged in court.

From the Detroit News:

The state Legislature on Wednesday sent new political district maps to the governor for signing, but the final configuration of congressional and state legislative boundaries could still end up being decided in court… Democrats claimed throughout the review process that wildly irregular districts — especially in Metro Detroit — were engineered to protect Republican incumbents.

Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer refused to comment on whether the party would file a lawsuit charging one or more of the maps don't meet the requirements of state and federal laws to protect voter rights.

"We'll be consulting with the congressional delegation about our next steps," he said. "That's all I can say right now.”

The article continues:

Court challenges are nearly a given, according to Ari Adler, spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall.

"We wouldn't be surprised (by a court challenge) because that tends to be what happens — whichever party is in charge, the other disagrees with the maps," Adler said. "That's why when we looked at our maps we addressed them so they would pass muster with the federal government and with any court."

Common Cause of Michigan will consider filing a court challenge, Executive Director Christina Kuo said late Wednesday.

And, the Detroit Free Press notes, "...legal challenges to the new districts, which dropped from 15 to 14 because of population losses in the state, are likely from any number of sources including the Michigan Democratic Party, Congressional Black Caucus and Michigan Legislative Black Caucus."

cha400 / MorgueFile

Federal officials are trying to talk Michigan political leaders out of repealing the state's motorcycle helmet law. Members of the National Transportation Safety Board are in Lansing today to meet with Governor Snyder's administration.

Insurance groups are also getting involved. Laurie Conarton is with the Insurance Institute of Michigan. She says more people will be injured or die if the law is repealed:

"After Florida repealed their helmet law, there were 81% more fatalities and 80% more closed head injuries."

Matthileo / Flickr

State lawmakers have a busy two weeks ahead of them before they take a two-month summer break. This week, legislators will debate the threat of feral pigs to woods and farmland, whether the state should mirror a federal ban on so-called “partial birth abortions,” and how the state’s new political maps should be drawn.

Perhaps the most contentious issue at the Capitol right now is whether the state should build a publicly owned bridge from Detroit to Canada. State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says the Detroit bridge issue impacts everyone in the state. One reason for that is the bridge project is linked to federal road money that would go to every region of the state.

“This is part of a bigger issue in Michigan, and that’s infrastructure, period. I look at the roads in the state – whether they’re county roads, local roads, state highways – that infrastructure is important to people too. And I really think this is one piece of a much bigger issues that we have in Michigan.”

But Richardville says the Senate will not vote on any bridge legislation until lawmakers return from the summer break. Governor Rick Snyder had hoped to approve the bridge legislation before July. Snyder will, however, get to sign the state budget for the coming year into law. The governor is expected to sign the budget bills this week.

Allieosmar / Flickr

Leaders in the state Legislature say there is still a lot of work they would like to get done before lawmakers take a two-month summer break.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer says some of the issues she expects to see in the coming weeks include education reforms, redrawing Michigan’s political maps, and whether the state should build a second bridge between Detroit and Canada.

“I expect most of that will be done before we break for the summer, yes. June ought to be a very busy time around here. Just because the budget bills get signed into law next week doesn’t mean we won’t be working very hard around here for the next month or so.”

The Republican-led Legislature sent Governor Rick Snyder the state spending plan last week. The governor is expected to veto some items within that budget and sign them into law next week.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - State economists agree that Michigan is expected to take in $429 million more this fiscal year than they forecast in January.

But their predictions for the next budget year have dropped as deep business tax cuts take effect.

Lawmakers will be able to use some of this year's surplus in the next budget year, and lawmakers are likely to consider putting some of the money toward easing deep cuts for public schools in 2011-12.

Without the business tax cut, the state would have gotten nearly $500 million more in the next budget year than state economists had predicted in January. But that will largely disappear as business revenue declines.

The heads of the Treasury Department and House and Senate fiscal agencies agreed on the revenue figures Monday.

Michigan Municipal League / Flicrk

Governor Rick Snyder had to compromise along the way-- but approval of his tax reform package hands the governor a significant legislative victory. And, signing the bill will allow the governor to retire the signature issue of his election campaign.

Governor Snyder campaigned heavily on scrapping the complex and unpopular Michigan Business Tax and replacing it with a corporate profits tax. He took office saying fulfilling that promise would be part of an agenda of “relentless positive action.”

“So I believe we’re on a positive path to make that happen. It’s that old ‘relentless positive action.’ I think it’s a little bit contagious and I hope it is.”

His legislative win caps months of negotiations that often placed him at odds with Republicans who opposed extending the state income tax to pensions. He scaled back his original propose, and also relented on ending the earned income tax credit for working poor families. The governor says he’s still happy with the result and predicts it will help spur job creation.

But not enough to convince many Democrats, who intend to make this tax package an issue in legislative elections next year.

Matthileo / Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder enters a critical week as he tries to sell his tax and budget plans to state lawmakers. The governor is still trying to build support from his fellow Republicans in the Legislature. There’s wide agreement on scrapping the Michigan Business Tax and switching to a corporate profits tax while giving most businesses a tax cut. But even a lot of Republicans are balking at a new tax on pensions as well as ending nearly two dozen tax breaks.

On the budget side, many lawmakers continue to push back against the size of cuts the governor’s suggested for to K-through-12 schools. But the governor says the work will get done on time:

“I just view it as part of the process. We did our proposal.  We get different feedback from the House and the Senate. There’s differing views in both of those houses, and we’re going to work through it and we’re on a path to get it done by May 31st.”

That’s the deadline the governor has set for finishing work on the budget and tax reforms.

A state Senate committee is expected to hold hearings and vote on the governor’s tax plan this week -- with a Senate floor vote as soon as Thursday.

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.

Matthileo / Flickr

A state House panel has voted to cut aid to the state's 15 public universities by about 15 percent. The Associated Press reports:

The Republican-led state House appropriations subcommittee dealing with higher education funding approved the plan by a party-line vote Wednesday. The measure next goes to the House Appropriations Committee.

The funding plan started by the House is similar to one proposed by Gov. Rick Snyder but it has a few differences.

The House plan calls for an across-the-board funding cut of 14 percent to each of the state's 15 public universities in the budget year starting Oct. 1. Another 1 percent would be weighted depending on how much state aid each university gets on a per-student basis.

Funding cuts could be higher if universities don't agree to certain tuition restraints.

It's been a busy couple days at the state Capitol as Governor Rick Snyder and Republican legislative leaders announced yesterday that they had agreed on a tentative tax deal. And, earlier today, a GOP-led Senate committee approved measures to require public employees in Michigan to pay at least 20 percent of their health insurance costs.

Governor Snyder has said he wants a completed state budget for the new fiscal year by May 31st. The state is currently facing a projected $1.5 billion deficit for the fiscal year that begins October 1st.

Ifmuth / Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder and Republican leaders in the Legislature have struck a tentative bargain on tax reform and the state budget. The plan delays an October 1st income tax rollback and includes a compromise on taxing pensions.

Michigan is one of just a handful of states that does not tax pensions. The deal between Governor Snyder and GOP leaders would shield people 67 years old and older from a pension tax. The governor originally wanted to tax all pensions, but he says compromises were necessary. Governor Snyder:

“So it’s a transitional plan that I think addresses the shorter-term requirements while being structurally sound for the long term.”

The plan also calls for scrapping the complicated and unpopular Michigan Business Tax in favor of a corporate income tax. That’s part of an overall tax cut for most businesses to spur job creation.

The plan would eliminate the tax break for working poor families, but offer some new tax relief for low-income homeowners and renters.

The plan must still be approved by the House and the Senate.

wikimedia commons

With the detailed U.S. Census numbers in, Republicans in the state legislature can begin the process of redrawing the state's political boundaries for Congress and for the State Senate and the State House of Representatives.

Some ground rules first.

  • Because the state lost population, Michigan will now have 14 Congressional districts (down from 15). When these districts are drawn, they must hold an equal number of people in them. That's why you see districts that cover large areas in the state's northern districts (places where there's less population) and smaller districts in the southeast (places where population is more concentrated).
  • For Michigan's state legislature, districts must hold close to an equal number of people (they can deviate within 95% to 105% of each other), and "existing municipal and county boundaries should be respected as much as possible."
Matthileo / Flickr

Michigan lawmakers return to the state Capitol today for the first day of the 2011-2012 legislative session. Lawmakers will be sworn-in and adopt rules, including a dress code.

As the Associated Press reports, the majority of lawmakers in both the Senate and the House will be new to their jobs:

The turnover is caused partly by the state's term limits law and a strong showing by Republicans in last year's elections. Republicans built on their advantage in the Senate and grabbed control of House from Democrats.

Lawmakers will begin the new session with a new Republican Governor and a projected $1.8 billion dollar budget deficit for the fiscal year that begins October 1st.

Both the Senate and House will also see new legislative leaders. Republican Randy Richardville will be Senate Majority Leader and Democrat Gretchen Whitmer will be the Senate Minority Leader.  In the House, Republican Jase Bolger will be Speaker and Democrat Richard Hammel will be the House Minority Leader.

Kate Ebli
kateebli.com

Former State Representative Kate Ebli died yesterday after a recurrence with breast cancer.

The Democrat served 56th District of Michigan (Monroe County) for two terms. She lost her bid for a third term in the November elections to Republican Dale Zorn.

The Monroe Democratic Party released a statement:

"We are extremely saddened with the news that State Representative Kate Ebli has lost her courageously fought battle with cancer. It is a sad day for Kate's family and also for everyone that knew her."

Ken30684/Creative Commons

Today is the day that a bill that allows alcohol sales on Sunday mornings and Christmas Day goes into effect. But, liquor control officials are still working on how to implement the new law. 

The Associated Press reports:

A spokeswoman for the Michigan Liquor Control Commission said Tuesday the agency will be posting applications for the $160 license needed to sell alcohol on Sunday mornings and notifying local governments about the new law this week. Local governments will have until Dec. 15 to notify state officials if they opt to ban Sunday morning sales.

Lawmakers last month approved the bill  that allows alcohol to go on sale starting at 7am on Sunday mornings and on Christmas Day.

Pages