I hope you're enjoying the first few days of spring (even if it has felt much more like winter)! I'm getting in touch today to update you on what's been happening at the Capitol since my last e-newsletter.
A number of bills have been passed by the House that directly impact Michigan's residents. I've included information about a notable few below.
SB 60 (Passed House on 2.21) - Firearms Dealers
Senate Bill 60 amends the handgun licensure law (PA 377 of 2012) to revise the definition of 'federally licensed firearms dealer.' As written, PA 377 of 2012 exempts federally licensed firearms dealers from having to comply with state handgun licensure requirements. For example, federally licensed firearms dealers are not required to obtain a license to purchase, carry, possess, use, or transport a pistol. Similarly, an individual who purchases a pistol from a federally licensed firearms dealer is not required to obtain a license. Senate Bill 60 amends Public Act 377 of 2012 to modify the definition of 'federally licensed firearms dealer' to mean the following:
- Before December 18, 2012, an individual who holds a type 01 dealer license under 18 USC 923.
- Beginning December 18, 2012, a person (individual, partnership, corporation, association, or other legal entity) licensed to sell firearms under 18 USC 923.
Although I voted against SB 60 when it came before the House, it passed on a vote of 75-34. It has since been signed into law by Governor Snyder.
HB 4111 (Passed House on 2.28) - Health Care Exchange
This bill is a FY 2013 multi-departmental supplemental that appropriates over $30 million in federal health exchange funding. That funding will support our state's efforts to establish a cooperative healthcare exchange with the federal government as called for under the Affordable Care Act. Under our state partnership exchange, Michigan will work with the federal government to operate plan management and consumer assistance activities. This will require us to provide customer assistance in managing the Navigator program (which will be used to educate consumers about the exchange); assure coordination with the federal exchange; plan management activities, including collecting and analyzing health plan information and monitoring and providing oversight of plans; and fund contractual services to assist with planning, designing, and implementing technology-related interfaces and systems. The funding provided through HB 4111 is incredibly important to initiating this activity, which will move us forward in establishing what I believe is a much-needed healthcare exchange. I was proud to support this bill when it came before the House, where it passed on a vote of 78-31. Unfortunately, because the Senate refused to take up this legislation, Michigan will be forced to turn back the $30 million, give up the right to control our own exchange, and be placed into a federally-run health exchange.
SBs 61 and 62 (Passed House on 2.28) - Blue Cross Blue Shield Legislation
Senate Bills 61 and 62 allow for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) to move from a charitable nonprofit to a mutual nonprofit disability insurer. SB 61 also creates a Michigan Health Endowment Fund through which BCBSM will contribute up to $1.56 billion over 18 years to fulfill its social mission.
I was very proud to introduce and pass an important amendment to SB 61. My amendment corrected an inadvertent oversight in the bill that would have resulted in BCBSM not paying property taxes on a number of its properties throughout Michigan until 2015, including the Capitol Avenue Building on 232 S. Capitol Avenue here in Lansing. The understanding between all involved parties, including Blue Cross, was that they would start paying those property taxes in 2014. On top of ensuring that the City of Lansing would receive nearly $600,000 in property taxes from BCBSM next year, my amendment ensured that a number of other communities would benefit from Blue Cross' property tax payments. In fact, the 10 buildings that Blue Cross owns in Michigan are expected to net almost $4 million in property tax payments in 2014 that will directly benefit communities throughout the state. Detroit alone will see $2.5 million in property tax revenue next year thanks to my amendment.
I supported an amendment to this legislation that would have restored funding to Medigap. However, I was disappointed that the Republican majority defeated that amendment, which would have provided much-needed support to many of our Medicare-eligible residents (including many of our seniors). I would have liked to see the final version of this legislation include Medigap coverage, but voted for the legislation because of the important impact the bills would have on the City of Lansing (among other communities in the state). I also believe that, with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, BCBSM needs to be on an equal playing field with other insurers. I am hopeful that Medigap funding can be restored before 2016 when it is scheduled to expire. These bills were signed into law by Governor Snyder just this week.
SB 48 (Passed House on 3.7) - Bear Petting
SB 48 amends the Large Carnivore Act to allow members of the public to have close and/or direct contact with bear cubs less than 36 weeks old or weighing up to 90 pounds. This bill was called the "bear petting" bill.
A number of my constituents contacted me about opposing this bill, which I spoke against when it came before my colleagues and I on the House floor. I took that opportunity to voice the concerns I heard from constituents and stakeholders for several weeks leading up to this bill's passage. Among those concerns was feedback from leaders at Lansing's Potter Park Zoo, who I met with to review information they compiled with peer AZA-certified zoos around Michigan regarding the danger to the animals and public most affected by the passage of SB 48. The zoo's leaders also shared evidence provided by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources that cites a number of violations incurred by the Oswald Bear Ranch, the business at the center of this legislation. Despite presenting that evidence on the House floor and speaking with a number of colleagues about the dangers surrounding SB 48, the bill was passed by a vote of 56-52. This bill has since been presented to Governor Snyder for his signature and final approval.
HB 4042 (Passed House on 3.14) - No Benefits to Deceased
House Bill 4042 would require the Department of Human Services (DHS) to perform monthly data matches with the U.S. Social Security Death Index to determine whether an individual receiving assistance is deceased (and then terminate benefits, accordingly). This bill, which I supported, passed the House on a 109-1 vote and is currently being reviewed in the Senate.
HB 4307 (Passed House on 3.14) - County Commissioner Special Election
House Bill 4307 amends Public Act 261 of 1966 (which governs the apportionment of county boards of commissioners) to eliminate a requirement that a special election be held when a county commission vacancy occurs in an odd-numbered year. The bill would allow for the vacancy to be filled by appointment by a county commission. Under the bill, if the appointment is not made within 30 days, the vacancy would then be filled by a special election. I supported HB 4307's passage because it represents an important cost savings and because I recognize that running four times in one year (as one of our Ingham County Commissioners had to do) is just too much. This bill, which passed the House on a vote of 75-35 is now in the Senate for review.
HBs 4093 and 4131 (Passed House on 3.20) - .08 Blood Alcohol Content
House Bill 5093 amends several sections of the Michigan Vehicle Code to maintain our 0.08 threshold for drunken driving offenses and remove sunset language that would revert it back to 0.10. Its companion bill, HB 4131, amends the Code of Criminal Code of Procedure to maintain the 0.08 BAC threshold contained in the sentencing guidelines scoring instructions. It also removes sunset language reverting the BAC back to 0.10 on October 1, 2013. I was happy to support both bills when they came before me for a vote. Both passed the House unanimously and have been transmitted to the Senate for review.
SB 233 (Passed House on 3.20) - Emergency Funding for Dredging Projects (and Other Emergencies)
Senate Bill 233 (H-1) is a FY 13 supplemental that includes funding for Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) projects, dredging projects, and a study of sentencing guidelines. Broadly, the bill appropriates $44.5 million Gross ($11.5 million GF, $32.8 million restricted).
As passed, the bill includes funding for dredging projects that is emergency funding, $10 million of which came from the General Fund. I introduced an amendment to this bill addressing another emergency our state is currently facing-- support for our communities. My amendment would have increased statutory revenue sharing by $10 million. I felt that if there is an emergency for dredging that allows us to pull $10 million from the General Fund, we should also be addressing the emergencies associated with lower tax collection (thanks to lower property values) and state disinvestment in revenue sharing over recent years that communities all over the state are facing. Unfortunately, my amendment was defeated. Amendments were also introduced and defeated that would have dedicated more money to K-12 education and addressed issues with the State Waterways Fund. While I do believe that we need to address dredging (and voted for this bill), I am disappointed that all of these amendments were defeated by the House Republicans. SB 233 has been sent back to the Senate with some small changes for final approval in that chamber.
HB 4127 (Passed House on 3.21) - GPS Tracking of Criminals
This bill amends the Code of Criminal Procedure to allow a judge or magistrate to order a defendant charged with an assaultive crime to carry or wear a global positioning system (GPS) device as a condition of release on bail. I co-sponsored this bill after consulting with several Ingham County Circuit Court Judges when it was introduced.
Public Act 192 of 2008 (known as "Mary's Law") amended the Code of Criminal Procedure to allow the court to order a defendant charged with domestic violence to carry or wear a GPS device as a condition of release on bail. In making the determination to order the defendant (accused of domestic violence) to wear or carry a GPS devise, the court must consider the likelihood that the defendant's participation in GPS monitoring would deter him or her from seeking to kill, physically injure, stalk, or otherwise threaten the victim prior to trial. With the informed consent of the victim, the court could also order the defendant to provide the victim with an electronic receptor devise capable of receiving the GPS information from the defendant's devise, notifying the victim if the defendant is located within a proximity to the victim as determined by the court. The victim has the right not to participate in this type of GMP monitoring. A defendant may only be released if he or she agrees to pay the cost of the devise and any monitoring of the device, or agrees to perform community service work in lieu of the cost.
HB 4127 would extend the above provisions to defendants accused of assaultive crimes. I am happy that this moved quickly through the House and that I was able to support its passage. I hope that this legislation will be taken up soon in the Senate so that our judges have more options in situations like these.
HB 4277 (Passed House on 3.21) - Conditional Liquor Licenses
House Bill 4277 allows the Liquor Control Commission (LCC) to approve or deny a conditional liquor license for applicants seeking (1) to transfer ownership of or interest in an exciting license at the same location to sell liquor for consumption on or off the premises, or (2) an initial liquor license except for a resort or resort economic development or within a city redevelopment project area or development district and for a specially designated distributor license or for sale for consumption on the premises. I introduced an amendment to HB 4277 when it came before the House Regulatory Reform Committee and to the House floor for a vote that would have required the LCC to give local governments notice when an application for a conditional license was received. The local government would then have the opportunity to file an objection to the application. Unfortunately, my amendment was defeated by the House Republicans both times I brought it up. This bill, which was passed by the House on a 109-1 vote, has been sent to the Senate for review and approval.
HB 4369 (Passed House on 3.21) - Educational Achievement Authority
House Bill 4369 establishes the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) in statute. This alarming bill would allow governor's appointees to take over up to 50 public schools (including several potential schools in Lansing) deemed by arbitrary, flawed rankings to be in the state's bottom five percent. One of the last-minute amendments to HB 4369 allows school boards that oversee a school in that bottom five percent to put that school under the oversight of its regional intermediate school district to handle the responsibilities and functions the EAA would otherwise take on.
Several of my colleagues introduced amendments to this bill, which would have required EAA schools to have the same testing standards as public schools, require parent groups at EAA schools, require the EAA to hold monthly public meetings just like public school boards, limit the terms of EAA members to 4 years, prohibit EAA schools from converting schools to for-profit charters, put the EAA under the State Board of Education, require the State School Board to decide which schools are EAA schools, require EAA be subject to FOIA, add a sunset to the legislation, prevent court shopping, and do an educational and organizational audit, among other things. Unfortunately, all of these reasonable amendments were rejected by House Republicans.
I spoke out against this bill when it came before my colleagues and I on the House floor to voice the number of concerns about its provisions that I heard from community members and constituents in the days and weeks leading up to its passage. My comments were as follows:
Mr. Speaker, I would like to speak today about the effect this legislation will have on the schools and the students in my school district, the Lansing Public Schools.
Lansing is unique. Eastern High School in the Lansing School District is home to students who speak dozens of languages because they are recent immigrants. Walk the halls and listen to international students from the Congo, Burma, Nepal - the world. Eastern must teach these students to learn a new language and then teach them how to learn. These kids are great and want to learn and be productive students here in Michigan. In Lansing, diversity is an asset. But to the state and the EAA, those new students must pass the same tests given to other more naturally privileged kids - or our Lansing students are considered a failure.
Governor Snyder talks about the need for immigrants here in Michigan and the importance of having communities that are welcoming to all in order to attract talent and bring jobs to Michigan. Well I say to my colleagues, I agree with the Governor. When these children come to America, we need them to succeed and lead, but the road to success can be bumpy. Lansing knows how to embrace diversity and make students successful - but it takes time, and it takes an investment - not fewer resources directed toward education and schools being taken over under legislation like this.
Lansing does have students with challenges. We have a wide variety of socio-economic backgrounds…some middle class and some lower income working families. Our new superintendent and our school board are in the process of working through those problems to help our students. They have priority schools, and have chosen the transformation model - one of the four allowed under Race to the Top legislation. Now, this legislation - HB 4369 - will have them taken over by an unaccountable authority. Eastern High School replaced its principal and has complied with the eleven other requirements. The problem is not that the school district is missing the mark…it is that the mark keeps changing!
Lansing schools are complying with current law and helping more and more students succeed, and now the law is poised to change again. EAA does not use the same metrics or assessment instruments to determine student achievement as do the schools that are currently identified as 'priority' schools. The EAA reform model is not comprehensive nor does it consider the “whole child,” as it only focuses on content mastery. There are no options for extra-curricular activities like sports, band, orchestra, visual/performing arts, career/technical education, special education, English-language learners, etc. EAA is not required to employ highly qualified teachers like No Child Left Behind is. Under No Child Left Behind, all public schools are required to use highly qualified teachers. So again, we are asking for something different from our schools and our children.
Additionally, the No Child Left Behind Act already has in place a provision for state takeover of schools by the Michigan Department of Education and the State Board of Education, who are elected representatives of the public. This EAA legislation will create a parallel educational bureaucracy when we already have a state education agency. So, we know the State Department of Education is accountable to the people and the elected school board. And to the US Department of Education is, too, because it is required to follow NCLB requirements. But we don't know who the EAA is accountable to.
This bill also fails to include an in-depth audit of existing issues in the school buildings and districts with concerning performances, and it takes away our local communities' ability to establish education policy, direct curriculum, and manage community resources. Even worse, it allows for these activities without providing any substantive local controls to establish standards, create missions and goals, monitor performance, or audit the finances of new schools created by HB 4369.
Finally, I want to note that I am very disappointed that the Republican majority in the Michigan House of Representatives REJECTED several common-sense amendments that attempted to fix some of the many problems in this bill. Those amendments include:
- Requiring EAA schools to have the same testing standards as public schools;
- Requiring parent groups at EAA schools;
- Require the EAA to hold monthly public meetings just like public school boards;
- Limiting the terms of EAA members to 4 years;
- Prohibiting EAA schools from converting schools to for-profit charters;
- Putting the EAA under the State Board of Education;
- Requiring the State School Board to decide which schools are EAA schools;
- Requiring the EAA be subject to FOIA;
- Adding a sunset to the legislation;
- Preventing court shopping; and
- Performing an educational and organizational audit
Instead of passing this legislation, we need to focus on helping our local schools do better. This legislation is not good for the students or parents in Lansing or in other Michigan schools, and I hope you will join me in voting to reject it.
Unfortunately, this bill passed the House on a vote of 57-53. It now heads to the Senate for review.
For a list of all legislation that has passed the House and the Senate, visit www.legislature.mi.gov and select the 'Daily Intro/Passed/Enrolled' link underneath the 'Legislative Activity' header on the site's home page.
I continue to be hard at work assembling legislation and have introduced five more bills since my last update.
This bill proposes to allow split and/or mixed ticket voting in primary elections in Michigan. As I campaigned in my Democratic primary, I heard from many people that wanted to vote in my race as well as in the Republican Party primary; there was a great deal of frustration about only being able to cast votes for candidates on one party's primary election ballot. Michigan's voters should not be limited to voting for candidates in only one party's primary-- I believe they should have the chance to decide who they want to come out of a race regardless of which party's primary that individual contest is in.
HB 4479 is part of a legislative package concerning digital court records. My bill repeals certain provisions related to district courts retaining paper copies of judgment records and registries.
HB 4477 would allow a voter to take a photograph of himself or herself (but not a photo of his/her ballot) in a polling place. Last cycle, a number of voters took pictures of themselves voting and inserting their ballots into the voting machine and then put those photos on Facebook. According to the Secretary of State's rules and interpretation of election law, such action is actually illegal. In this day of social media, I think people should be excited about voting and should be allowed to take pictures of themselves doing just that.
This bill would allow a voter who is unable to sign his or her name on an election document to execute the election document where a signature is required either by making his or her mark or by using a signature stamp. As some of you know, this legislation is in response to an issue that arose in a local community during last November's election cycle. Under current law, a person can make his/her mark but cannot use a voter stamp, which I think we need to change. I'd like to encourage voting and make it easier for all engaged citizens to participate in the electoral process.
This bill corrects an inequality in campaign finance law that currently prevents a candidate from paying a late fee for their annual statement using campaign committee funds. Currently, candidate committee funds can be used for all other late filing fees, but not for the annual statement. At the request of our county clerk, my bill eliminates that prohibition and allows a candidate to pay that fee using candidate committee funds.
For an up-to-date list of all legislative I've sponsored and co-sponsored to date, click on the below links:
Coffee and Tea with Andy
My next 'Coffee and Tea with Andy' gathering is scheduled for Monday, April 8th, from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. at the Gier Community Center, located at 2400 Hall Street in Lansing. These gatherings are a great opportunity for me to share news about what's going on at the Capitol and gather your thoughts and concerns about our community. Hearing from you helps me better represent the interests of Lansing and Lansing Township in the Michigan House, so I hope you’ll consider joining in what promises to be another productive discussion.
My 'Coffee and Tea with Andy' schedule for the rest of 2013 is below. We also expect to have some special community meetings on issues like the budget which will be announced separately. The set schedule is as follows:
Saturday, June 22
Flap Jack Waverly
1601 S. Waverly Road, Lansing
Monday, August 5
Alfreda Schmidt Southside Community Center (Community Room)
5825 Wise Road, Lansing
Saturday, October 26
The Avenue Café (formerly Gone Wired)
2021 East Michigan Avenue, Lansing
Monday, December 2
Letts Community Center
1220 W. Kalamazoo Street, Lansing
For a full list of events happening in and around our community in the coming weeks, click here.
Thank you very much for your interest in my legislative activity. I look forward to keeping you updated on what's happening in the House and invite you to stay in touch with my office via phone (517.373.0826), e-mail (email@example.com), or by stopping in to visit (we're located in office 1087 of the Anderson House Office Building, located at 124 North Capitol Avenue in Lansing) to share your thoughts or if we can be of any assistance to you.
State Representative, 68th District