state legislature

Workers compensation
4:07 pm
Wed December 14, 2011

Michigan workers' comp: quick facts and possible changes

user gadgetgirl Flickr

Potential large-scale changes to Michigan's workers' compensation laws now hinge on a stroke of Governor Rick Snyder's pen.

The Associated Press reports that Snyder "will likely support the bill pending final review."

In case you haven't been keeping up on the issue, here's a list of important facts about workers' compensation in Michigan from Changing Gears Public Insight Analyst, Sarah Alvarez.

We've also highlighted one of the more controversial changes that could take effect should the governor sign off on the bill.

5 things to know about workers' compensation:

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State Legislature
6:09 am
Tue December 13, 2011

A few controversial issues still hanging around Capitol for 2011

Cedear Bend Drive Flickr

A fight could be brewing at the state Capitol over funding an exchange that would allow people and businesses to comparison-shop for health insurance. The state is supposed to create the exchange as part of the new federal health care reform requirements.

Republican lawmakers at the state Capitol have debated whether funding the health insurance exchange would be showing support for the new federal health care law.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says it’s one of the handful of pressing questions that should be settled this week before the Legislature begins a month-long winter break. He says there are other issues that can wait.  

“We want to have a docket ready to go come January, and we want to use that month of January a little more effectively than in the past.”

The Legislature is also still debating whether to allow more K-12 charter schools, and whether to overhaul the state’s workers compensation rules. And a lingering question remains whether the state House will vote to dramatically alter Michigan’s no-fault insurance laws.

State Legislature
6:25 am
Mon December 12, 2011

Michigan Lawmakers expect home heating deal before winter break

Republican leaders at the state Capitol say they expect to wrap up work on a plan to ensure there’s money to help low-income families with their heating bills this winter. But, their efforts are already being criticized because they don’t encourage energy efficiency.

About 600,000 Michigan households needed heating aid last winter. House and Senate leaders say they will continue discussions to fix a problem created last summer by a court decision that forced lawmakers to find a new way to pay for the program.

Republican state Representative Ken Horn says the new program will not include money for a part of the program that pays for energy efficiency projects on public buildings.

“That is not helping low-income families. What we are doing very specifically it is very targeted, is helping the most-vulnerable families in the state of Michigan.”

Representative Jeff Irwin, a Democrat, says that’s a mistake.

“Shouldn’t we at least continue with the projects that are half-baked and not waste hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money?”

Republicans say that’s a discussion that can wait until next year.

Politics
4:58 pm
Tue December 6, 2011

Michigan lawmakers search for ways to keep poor residents warm

user dominic's pics / Flickr

At the state Capitol, the debate continues over how to ensure there’s money available to help thousands of low-income families that need help paying their heating bills this winter. The need for a solution is becoming more urgent as temperatures start to dip below freezing, and the Legislature is a week away from starting its winter break.

Senator Mike Nofs chairs the Senate Energy and Technology Committee. He said a solution will be in place before the Legislature begins its holiday break next week.

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Politics
3:54 pm
Tue December 6, 2011

Michigan Senate commitee approves update to funeral protest law

Protestors from the Westboro Baptist Church often stage protests at military funerals
user csuspect Flickr

Michigan lawmakers are working  to fine-tune a law intended to protect both freedom of speech and the dignity of military funerals.

The Grand Rapids Press reports:

The bill on Tuesday cleared the Senate's Military and Veterans Affairs Committee by a 3-0 margin, with two Democratic senators absent.

The original law came in response to members of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, which has staged controversial protests at military funerals. Church members assert that military deaths are God’s punishment for tolerance of gays.

Michigan’s law keeps such protesters at least 500 feet from a funeral ceremony, but lawmakers have said other people could have been affected – such as a person parked near a funeral home with an an anti-war bumper sticker on their car, or someone mowing their lawn near a cemetery.

The new version of the bill which cleared the House would make it clear that the actions must be intended to intimidate, threaten, or harass people attending a funeral, service, viewing, procession, or burial.

The Grand Rapids Press reports that the law is in accordance with a U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the Westboro members' rights to conduct their controversial protests.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Education
1:21 pm
Mon December 5, 2011

Charter school expansion up for possible vote

Mercedes Mejia Michigan Radio

More charter schools may soon be allowed to open in Michigan. The state House is expected to vote this week on a measure that would get rid of the cap on the number of university-sponsored charter schools in the state.

State Representative Tom McMillin chairs the House Education Committee. He said it’s important for lawmakers to approve the changes before they leave for a winter break.

“I want to unchain as many kids as I can from failing schools,” said McMillin. “And the sooner we put in place how that can be done, the more that people who are interested in filling that need that desperate need, will be able to start planning and putting it in process so they don’t lose a year, you know so they can do it quicker.”

But Peter Spadafore disagrees. Spadafore is with the Michigan Association of School Boards, which opposes the proposed changes. He said most of the testimony lawmakers heard was from representatives of high-performing charter schools.

“But what’s not being talked about is that one third of failing schools in the state of Michigan are charter schools, and one third of all charter schools are on the bottom 20 percent of the Michigan Department of Education’s list of persistently low-achieving schools,” Spadafore said.

Spadafore said the proposal should include requirements that all charter schools perform well as a condition of staying open.

Supporters of the measure say parents and students –especially in neighborhoods with low-performing public schools – deserve more options.

Politics
1:14 pm
Fri December 2, 2011

Michigan retirees call for repeal of new retirement income tax

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Organizations representing retiree groups say they want the Michigan Legislature to repeal an unpopular tax on pensions, or lawmakers will pay the political price in the 2012 election.

The AARP and groups representing public employee retirees called for a repeal Friday before the new tax plan takes effect in January.

The groups say they haven't ruled out filing suit in federal court to try and block the changes, but they are focused on getting lawmakers to take action.

Politics
12:36 pm
Wed November 30, 2011

Michigan House panel OKs bill to allow more charter schools

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A proposal designed to allow more charter schools or public school academies in Michigan has taken a step forward.

The Republican-led House Education Committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would end some numerical and geographical limits on charter schools. The bill passed by an 11-6, mostly party line vote and advances to the House floor.

The measure narrowly passed the Republican-led Senate in October.

The state has roughly 250 charter schools. Supporters say more should be allowed to boost educational options in public schools.

Politics
4:25 pm
Mon November 28, 2011

Michigan Governor Snyder could veto first bill this week

Governor Rick Snyder
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder could veto his first bill this week. He faces a Friday morning deadline to sign or a reject measure sent to him by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The bill would make it difficult for state agencies to enact rules that are stricter than federal standards without first getting permission from the Legislature.

Sara Wurfel is the governor’s press secretary.

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Politics
4:26 pm
Mon November 14, 2011

Dems call for hiring tax break, credit help for small businesses

Democrats in Lansing have outlined a package to help small businesses grow and hire unemployed people.

The plan includes taking a portion of the money that’s in a state trust fund and investing it in local banks and credit unions to make small business loans.

State Representative Vicki Barnett said that will help small businesses having trouble getting credit from larger banks and investment funds.

“We know that a very teeny investment can have huge dividends in terms of job creation and access to capital,” said Barnett.

“There is no other state that I know of that is taking this approach to aggressive investment – doing things they already do with taxpayer money and targeting it to grow jobs in their own state,”she added. 

The Democratic package would also allow small banks and credit unions to pool their finances to invest in larger projects.

Barnett says that would make larger loans possible while allowing the institutions to share the risk.

The plan also calls for a tax credit for small businesses that hire long-term unemployed people and veterans.

Republicans shy away from job creation credits. They say the state should not single out specific businesses for tax breaks.

Politics
4:49 pm
Mon November 7, 2011

Michigan State Democrats call for “fracking” moratorium

Democrats at the state capital are calling for a two-year moratorium on a procedure used to extract hard-to-reach oil and gas deposits.

They are taking aim at a process called hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking” – where water, sand, and chemicals are sent down a well to loosen stubborn pockets of gas and oil.

Here's a demo of how it works from Chesapeake Energy:

Critics say it has caused pollution and dried-up water wells in other states.

State Representative Jeff Irwin thinks the procedure needs to be more tightly regulated as it becomes more common in Michigan.

He said more study is needed on the potential effects of deep-rock fracking on the world’s largest supply of fresh water.

“We have a tremendous amount to protect here in Michigan with our surface waters and our Great Lakes,” Irwin said. “When you think about what makes Michigan a special place to be, it’s really our water. It’s the one thing that we have that makes us unique over and above anyplace in the world. We have the best water resources in the world.”

Irwin said new rules should include limits on groundwater withdrawals and full disclosure of all chemicals used.

Brad Wurfel with the state Department of Environmental Quality said Michigan has some of the strictest fracking regulations in the country, and that the process has been safely used in the state's shallow rock for decades.

“If you look around the state, you’ll see where oil and gas producers over the past 60 years have fracked probably on the order of around 12,000 wells,” said Wurfel.

Wurfel said the state updated its drilling regulations in May to address hydro-fracking deeper into the rock.

Politics
3:54 pm
Mon November 7, 2011

State lawmakers try to reduce driver responsibility fees

The additional annual fees Michigan driver’s pay if they have seven or more points on their license may soon be reduced. The state House is expected to vote this week on proposed changes to the unpopular driver responsibility fee.

The state currently collects about $120 million every year from drivers with at least seven points on their records. State House spokesman Ari Adler said that’s too much money to simply cut from the state budget.

“We looked at doing this in a little bit more of an incremental approach without taking so much money out of the budget all at once,” Adler said. “The long term goal is to try to reduce or eliminate these driver responsibility fees but the reality is that there is a good chunk of the budget that is predicated on these fees and penalties.”

Senator Bruce Caswell agreed the state cannot afford to completely eliminate that amount of money from the budget right now but he said the fee is unfair to drivers who have already paid their fines.   

“These later bills coming, I don’t care what the charge is, are inappropriate I believe and shouldn’t be done. So my hope eventually is to get rid of this thing   entirely,” said Caswell.

Drivers with seven or more points on their license are assessed the annual fee in addition to the cost of their ticket. The proposal would omit or reduce the fee for minor infractions, but major traffic violations, such as driving under the influence of alcohol, would still be assessed the annual fee.

State Legislature
6:24 am
Tue November 1, 2011

Michigan Legislature preps remaining ’11 agenda, looks to ’12

Michigan Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
Ifmuth Flickr

There are only a few weeks of work left for lawmakers at the state Capitol before they break for the rest of the year and there are still many issues legislative leaders would like to tackle in 2011.

House Republican spokesman Ari Adler says the Legislature is able to focus on a lot of different issues this fall, in part because lawmaker approved the state budget many months earlier than usual. Adler says much of the work left before the Legislature is on issues the public will notice:

“We’re going to be looking at Michigan’s helmet law for motorcycle riders, we’re going to be looking at making some reforms within the no-fault insurance plans that are out there to make that a system that can be sustained.”

Adler says the House will look at a Senate proposal to allow more charter schools in the state. The Senate is expected to work on proposals to further regulate medical marijuana before the end of the year.

Politics
4:43 pm
Mon October 17, 2011

Snyder: Infant mortality rates reflect overall health in state

Governor Rick Snyder says the state should be more concerned with bringing down infant mortality rates in Michigan. Infant mortality rates have gotten worse in Michigan in the past three years. He says infant mortality rates reflect the overall health of a state.

“We’ve got this up on our dashboard. On the state dashboard, not just the health and wellness dashboard, because this is something we really need to do a better job on that is an important indicator of how well our state is. And more important, we’re talking about real lives,” Snyder said, speaking this morning at an infant mortality awareness summit in Ypsilanti.

Michigan has one of the worst infant mortality rates in the nation (nearly eight deaths per 1000 live births) and ranks 37th among the states. The national rate is nearly seven deaths per 1000 births.

Snyder has had some pushback recently from lawmakers who do not like the governor’s health proposals – which include body-mass-index reporting and banning smoking on state park beaches.

Snyder said he thinks he will be able to sway skeptical lawmakers:

“Well they’re all in the pipeline, they’ll come along in terms of looking at those types of issues, because health and wellness is a big issue.”

Snyder said he does not think there needs to be anything done legislatively to help drive the rate of infant deaths down in the state, but he said state officials and medical science leaders need to get together to come up with a plan to reduce the rate of infant deaths.

Politics
11:46 am
Wed October 12, 2011

Snyder signs partial birth abortion law

Governor Rick Snyder (R-MI)
Photo courtesy of the Snyder Administration

Governor Snyder has signed the state's partial birth abortion ban into law. Senate Majority Floor Leader Arlan Meekhof sponsored Senate Bill 160 that, "outlaws the practice of partial birth abortion in Michigan, unless determined necessary to save the life of the mother. The law was modeled after the federal Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court," the Holland Sentinel reports.

From The Associated Press:

The approval from the Republican governor, which was expected, could end more than a decade of efforts by anti-abortion activists to get the ban added to state law. Previous attempts were rejected by courts or vetoed by then-Democrat Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

Supporters of the Michigan bill say it should survive a legal challenge this time because it mirrors the federal ban. They argue it was important to include a ban in Michigan in case the federal law changes.

Opponents say the federal ban makes the state proposal redundant and unnecessary. Some opponents of the Michigan measure have said it may be vulnerable to legal challenge.

The outlawed procedure typically is used to end pregnancies in the second and third trimesters and involves partially removing the fetus intact from a woman's uterus and then crushing or cutting its skull to complete the abortion.

Granholm vetoed a similar bill in 2008. She also vetoed a bill in 2004, but hundreds of thousands of voters signed petitions that allowed the bill to become law with only the approval of the Legislature. Federal courts later declared that ban unconstitutional, however, because it also could have prohibited other abortion procedures.

A Michigan law from the 1990s also was eventually overturned by federal courts.

In a statement released today, the Governor said, "the people of Michigan have repeatedly spoken on this issue and this legislation reaffirms the value of human life.  It also brings Michigan in line with federal law... I want to thank state Sen. Arlan Meekhof and state Rep. Ben Glardon for their leadership on this issue.”

Politics
6:28 am
Mon October 10, 2011

Black lawmakers in Michigan to ask federal court to throw out new district maps

A coalition of African-American and civil rights groups is expected to challenge Michigan’s new congressional and legislative district maps approved earlier this year by the Republican-controlled Legislature. The leader of a group of African-American lawmakers say he expects the lawsuit to be filed in federal court by the end of the month.

State Representative Fred Durhal chairs the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus. He says the new maps violate voting rights laws. He says that’s because they diminish the voting power of urban minority voters – and the evidence of that is how many Democratic incumbents from minority districts will be forced next year to run against each other.

“We want to see new lines drawn that are more fair than the lines that we have and that recognize and allow  all African-American and minority citizens in this state to be able to participate in the franchise.”

Republican leaders say a court challenge to any redistricting plan is normal, and was entirely expected. GOP leaders say the maps reflect population shifts, and that they were very careful to comply with the law.

A lawsuit is the only way to challenge the new political map. A technicality in the law makes it immune to a voter referendum.

Commentary
12:09 pm
Fri October 7, 2011

Shared Sacrifice? Not So Much

When your local state legislator campaigns for reelection next time, or runs for some other office, they may remind you of how they helped save the state by gallantly giving up their retirement health care benefits.

When and if they do, you might want to remember that this is mostly a form of horse exhaust. With a very few exceptions, they didn’t vote to give up their benefits at all.

They voted to deny benefits to other people who haven’t been elected yet, and who could theoretically change the law back.

As for our current band of elected leaders - they are mostly keeping their benefits, thank you very much.

Here’s what’s really going on. Retired Michigan legislators have, in fact, been getting taxpayer-subsidized health care benefits since the nineteen-fifties. By the way, it was a solidly Republican legislature that first voted to do this. Contrary to some propaganda you may have been hearing, the benefits aren’t completely free, and they don‘t kick in till the ex-lawmakers reach age fifty-five.

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State Legislature
7:22 am
Fri October 7, 2011

Michigan State House approves cut to lawmakers' retiree health benefits

Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
Matthileo Flickr

The state House passed legislation yesterday that would eliminate retiree health care benefits for future and some current state lawmakers. The state Senate passed the measure earlier this week. The Associated Press reports:

The retiree benefit will be eliminated for lawmakers who have not served at least six years in the Legislature before Jan. 1, 2013.

Most current state senators would remain eligible for the benefit once they retire and reach age 55. Most current members of the Michigan House would be ineligible for coverage because they don't have enough years of service.

Lawmakers have debated the issue for years but didn't agree on a final version of the plan until this week.

The legislation now goes to Governor Snyder for his signature.

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State Legislature
6:27 am
Mon September 19, 2011

Snyder health reform bills to go to Legislature this week

Draft versions of Governor Rick Snyder’s health care reform plan are to be presented this week to state lawmakers. Governor Snyder has asked lawmakers to adopt major portions of  his health reform plans before their Thanksgiving break.

The governor faces a lot of skepticism from GOP leaders because there are so many mandates in the plan. House Speaker Jase Bolger says he’s going to carefully examine the details.

“But I think the time to enact something is still quite a ways off.”

Bolger and other Republicans are wary of requiring insurance companies to cover childhood autism treatments, a government database of children’s health statistics, as well as adopting mandates in the federal Affordable Care Act, such as health coverage exchanges.

“The reason I would look at exchanges is with what the federal government has done and it would be reluctantly and it would only be if we have to.”

The fact that many Republicans are skeptical of the mandates in the Snyder health agenda could force the Republican governor to turn to Democrats for support. Representative Rick Hammel is the state House Democratic leader.

“In general, I think the message was very good, you know, pro-action, positive stuff, intervention, I like all those things – and investment in seniors and veterans programs, I like all those things, but let’s look at the legislation to see where it is.”

House Speaker Bolger says he wants to wait for courts to rule on the challenges to the federal law. The governor says an exchange that would allow people and businesses to comparison shop for health coverage is a good idea no matter the fate of the federal health reforms.

Education
6:38 am
Fri September 16, 2011

House panel to consider cuts to MSU, WSU over tuition hikes

A Republican lawmaker wants to dock Michigan State and Wayne State universities millions of dollars in state aid for skirting the intent of a law meant to hold down tuition increases.    

State Representative Bob Genetski chairs the House higher education budget subcommittee. He says Michigan State and Wayne State used a calendar trick to exceed a seven percent cap on tuition increases. Governor Rick Snyder’s budget director ruled – grudgingly – that the two universities are in technical compliance with the law, but Genetski says that’s not good enough.

“The spirit of what we wanted to protect people from has been violated.”

Genetski has submitted an amended higher education budget that would dock MSU $18 million dollars and Wayne State $17 million dollars. Genetski says every other state university complied with both the letter and the spirit of the tuition restraint law. 

A Michigan State spokesman says the Legislature should not continue a pattern of disinvestment that’s cost the university a quarter of its public funding since 2001.

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