Tuesday, June 25, 2013

June 2013 (Before Session Break for Summer) E-News

As many of you know, the Legislature is winding down a bit for the summer (republicans have scheduled six session days between now and September). I wanted to touch base to draw your attention to a few issues that we worked on before recessing for our lighter schedule.

Medicaid Expansion
After the House passed legislation to expand Medicaid to low-income working residents in Michigan (see my floor speech at www.schor.housedems.com), I'm very disappointed to report that the Senate republicans recessed for the summer without taking a vote on this legislation (HB 4714).

As many of you have heard, resistance to taking the measure up for a vote was led by Tea Party supporters in the Senate. Rather than heed the recommendations of Governor Snyder (who cut a trip to Israel short to come back and work on getting Medicaid expansion passed), those individuals instead chose to let their hatred of the Affordable Care Act get in the way of providing health coverage to over 400,000 of Michigan's working residents. The Senate's refusal to take action on Medicaid expansion has jeopardized our state's ability to receive federal funds that would help us reduce uncompensated care, saving our state an estimated $300 million; save taxpayers millions in future Medicaid expenses; and bring an estimated $1.9 to $2 billion in new revenue to our state over a ten-year period, for a total of over $20.5 billion worth of new revenue for Michigan. I'm extremely frustrated that one of the proudest votes of my career as a State Representative was negated by a small minority of people who let their anger get in the way of what's best for our citizens. I remain committed to passing legislation to expand Medicaid in Michigan but am very disheartened about the Senate's recent refusal to take up the issue. The Senate is scheduled to return on July 3rd but it not planning to take any votes. I urge you to have your family and friends throughout Michigan contact republican senators to tell them to take a vote on HB 4714 when they return on July 3rd.

Revisions to Michigan Merit Curriculum Standards
The House recently took up House Bills 4465 and 4466-- both of which propose changes to our state's Merit Curriculum Standards.

HB 4465 would alter the current Michigan Merit Curriculum standards as they relate to Algebra II, foreign language and Physical Education by: (1) Establishing the option that career and technical education courses may be taken in place of Algebra II; (2) Allowing approved participation in extracurricular activities involving physical activities to count as a 1/2 credit toward health; and (3) Mandating that two foreign language credits must be earned, but can be substituted for technical education credits.

HB 4466 alters the current Michigan Merit Curriculum standards to: (1) Add Anatomy as a possible science credit alternative to either Chemistry or Physics; (2) Change certain current Personal Curriculum Guidelines; (3) Allow the Algebra II requirement to be completed as part of a CTE program; (4) Allow students that participate in a PC program to satisfy the math requirement with only three credits of math instead of 3.5; and (5) Develop a pupil's education plan so they must be informed that CTE courses are an option to fulfill many of the requirements.

While I'm generally hesitant to make changes to Michigan's Merit Curriculum standards, I voted for HBs 4465 and 4466 when they came before me on the House floor because I liked that they provided students with a broader set of options for fulfilling graduation requirements without eroding the overall quality of their high school curriculum. Both bills have been referred to the Senate's Education Committee where they will be taken up at the discretion of Committee Chair Pavlov.

Final Passage of Legislation Amending the Michigan Fireworks Safety Act
On June 19th, HB 4743 (which makes significant changes to the Michigan Fireworks Safety Act) was signed into law with immediate effect. It is now PA 65'13.

Before this bill was signed into law, local governments could not put any restrictions on the discharge, initiation, or use of consumer grade fireworks on the day or, day before, or day after a national holiday. HB 4743 changed that provision to allow municipalities to restrict the hours of use of consumer grade fireworks on the day or, day after, or day before a national holiday as follows:

• A city with a population of 50,000 or more OR a local unit of government located in a county with a population of 750,000 or more may enact local ordinates to restrict fireworks usage between the hours of 12:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. or between the hours or 1:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. on New Year's Day;
• A city with a population of 50,000 or less OR a local unit of government located in a county with a population of 750,000 or less may enact local ordinates to restrict fireworks usage between the hours of 1:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m.

Among other things, the bill also addresses the fireworks safety fee for retailers, where the fee is distributed, and who is responsible for submitting the fee. The Senate substitute made a minor change to the bill to allow retailers which operate 25 or more retail locations to remit their fireworks safety fee in an aggregate form instead of on an individual store basis.

I was happy to support this bill when it came up for a vote and am confident that it will provide some important clarification and options for our local units of government as they consider measures to make our community a safe, enjoyable place for celebrations (especially those coming up this summer).

Repeal of the 90 Day Pre-Foreclosure Law
House Bills 4765 and 4766, which make changes to the state's 90-day pre-foreclosure law, have been passed by the House and the Senate and have been sent to Governor Snyder for his signature.

HB 4765 repeals the state's 90-day pre-foreclosure law as of January 9, 2014 (when the federal rules for mortgage servicing go into effect). Federal rules prohibit servicers from commencing the foreclosure process until a mortgage loan account is more than 120 days delinquent, which will give borrowers a reasonable amount of time to submit modification applications or seek foreclosure alternatives. HB 4766 would require certain lenders to comply with provisions requiring them to designate an agent to meet with a borrower to negotiate modifications. While I have some concerns about other foreclosure-related bills currently moving through the House and the Senate, I voted in favor of HBs 4765 and 4766 when they came before me for a vote on the House floor.

The House also passed Senate Bills 380 and 383.

SB 380 would extend the subset on the state's foreclosure prevention act (90-day pre-foreclosure law/mortgage loan modification law) through January 9th, 2014. Currently the Revised Judicature Act sets forth conditions that a party must satisfy to begin proceedings to foreclose a mortgage by advertisement. Under the mortgage loan modification program, the Act prohibits a party from beginning proceedings if a required notice has not been mailed to the borrower, if applicable time limits have not expired, or if the parties have agreed to modify the mortgage loan and the borrower is not in default. SB 380 extends the sunset on that requirement to January 9th, 2014. SB 383 would allow the purchaser of a property at a sheriff's sale to periodically inspect the property during the redemption period and to sue for possession if the homeowner damaged the property. The bill would also shorten the redemption period for certain abandoned properties.

I voted for SB 380 but against SB 383 because I had concerns about it allowing lenders to inspect houses without any notice to occupants (and without any limits). The bill also allows the redemption period to be completely eliminated if minor violations (such as broken windows) were reported. I am expecting (and hopeful) that this bill will be cleaned up a bit before it takes effect but simply couldn't support it in its current form. Both bills are currently awaiting Governor Snyder's signature.

My interest is revising Michigan's foreclosure laws lies in protecting both our families and our neighborhoods. Many people continue to grapple with the effects of our state's housing crisis (which is still a big problem in our community and state) and need the ability to negotiate with lenders before foreclosure. That being said, I don’t want to see people staying in houses rent-free, then stripping the house (cabinets, copper wire, appliances, etc.) and leaving a bare space that cannot be re-sold, which negatively affects the surrounding neighborhood and community. We need the law to ensure housing stability, safe communities, and economic recovery while also ensuring that we are not harming our citizens, home values, and neighborhoods. As such, I will continue to hear from all interested parties on foreclosure-related legislation.

Dissolution of School Districts
Many of you have heard about House Bills 4813 and 4815, which provide a mechanism by which a severely distressed school district can be dissolved and absorbed by neighboring districts.

HB 4813 amends the Revised School Code to outline the criteria under which a district can be deemed a candidate for dissolution as follows:

• The district lacks a population sufficient to serve the various district officer positions; OR
• The Superintendent and Treasurer determine that (a) The district either failed to submit a Debt Elimination Plan (DEP) when called upon to do so, or lacks the capability of implementing a DEP and lacks the capability of providing education services to its residents; AND (b) The district is not financially viable and is unable to provide K-12 education services for a full year and for the requisite number of hours.

Among other things, the Senate-passed substitute for HB 4813 makes intermediate school districts responsible for performing the functions and responsibilities of the dissolved district regarding debt repayment, managing ongoing sinking fund levies, etc. (as opposed to the House version which mandated that the receiving district which acquired the largest share of the SEV of the dissolved districted be tasked with those responsibilities).

HB 4815 amends the State School Aid Act to outline the various ways in which taxes, lingering financial obligations, and other matters are to be handled in the event of a school district's dissolution and absorption of that district by other entities. The bill provides $2.7 million to fully fund the foundation allowances of the receiving districts in order to replace the local school operating revenue from the dissolved district, which would be diverted to pay the dissolved district's debt. The receiving district would continue to receive its current per pupil foundation allowance for all students (including those received from the dissolved district). The bill also holds that the intermediate school district must act as the board of the dissolved district for the purposes of resolving debts, taxation, millage proposals and the like. It outlines that residents of the dissolved district cannot be made to pay taxes at the higher rate of the receiving district (if applicable), presumably until being provided with a chance to vote. The bill also excludes using the taxable value of residences as part of the new district's overall estimates while those within the dissolved district continue to satisfy debt obligations.

While these bills were originally introduced to address situations of financial stress in about 55 school districts with smaller populations, the legislation was narrowed to only affect Inkster and Nuena Vista (which actually ran out of money this year). I am generally opposed to measures that remove parents’ (and local school officials’) input and say from determining how to best serve their children's educational needs. I also had concerns that we were only addressing these two school districts and not looking at the entire problem by enacting a more comprehensive solution. Finally, I recognize that dramatic state cuts to education over recent years are one of the biggest factors putting schools in financial distress. Now, instead of re-funding our schools, we're embracing measures like dissolving them. The Legislature cannot continue to create problems and then punish those who cannot cope with them. As such, I voted against both bills when they came before me for consideration. Despite some strong opposition, both bills were passed by the House and Senate and have been sent to Governor Snyder for his signature.

House Subcommittee on Common Core
As I noted in my last e-newsletter, I have a number of reservations about the fact that this year's omnibus budget (HB 4328) included language prohibiting the Michigan Department of Education and local schools across Michigan from implementing the Common Core State Standards and the Smarter Balanced Assessments, which were adopted statewide in 2010 and have been successfully implemented by our local school districts since then.

Michigan's local school districts have spent hundreds of hours planning and implementing the high-quality Common Core Standards to empower their students to be career and college-ready. Language included in HB 4328 would leave school boards, administrators, teachers, and parents with no clear direction on how to continue planning their locally-developed curricula to meet state standards that have were thoroughly vetted by citizens (including teachers, parents, students, school administrators, and post-secondary educators) when they were adopted three years ago. Members of the Michigan Legislature provided input and commentary on the construction of the standards at that time. Even worse, the State Board of Education has warned that unless the Legislature takes affirmative action on Common Core and Smarter Balance, every school in Michigan will fail to meet Adequate Yearly Progress standards, jeopardizing important federal funding for our students. While there are a number of opinions about whether or not Michigan's Common Core State Standards are good for our schools, for our children, for our businesses, and for our state's economic future, one thing is certain: it would be tremendously problematic for us to reverse course now, three years after we've established Common Core as a standard in our schools and have invested much into implementing those standards.

I'm pleased to share that I have been named to a special bipartisan House subcommittee (The Subcommittee on Common Core) recently assembled to determine the future of Common Core in our state. We'll be meeting throughout the summer to address this important issue and I anticipate working closely with our local school districts, education associations, and others to ensure that we take action in the best interests of our schools and students.

Schor Legislation

House Bill 4478 (Passed the House on 6.13) - Signature Stamp Legislation
I am thrilled to share that my first bill passed the House on June 13th! As many of you know, House Bill 4478 allows 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. This legislation is in response to an issue that arose in a local mid-Michigan community. Under current law, a person can make his/her mark but cannot use a voter stamp. At its hearing, the bill was supported by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Michigan Disability Right Coalition, the Michigan Municipal League, AARP (Michigan), GCSI, the Association of County Clerks, and the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks. The bill passed the House unanimously and is now in the Senate for review and consideration. Special thanks to all of the community members and stakeholders who had a hand in getting the bill moved through the House!

House Bill 4800 - Judicial Foreclosure
In an attempt to address foreclosure fraud, I introduced HB 4800 which amends the Revised Judicature Act to allow for judicial foreclosure proceedings when a lender engages in one or more of the following 'bad practices:'

(1) Purposely failing to record mortgages or assignments on mortgages;
(2) Advising mortgagors not to make payments on mortgages; or
(3) Placing false signatures on mortgage foreclosure documents

While most of our lenders are good actors and playing vital roles in Michigan's recovery, we must allow our residents to have recourse and to delay foreclosure actions if they are put into foreclosure due to unscrupulous acts initiated by bad actors. It's important for us to prevent lenders from engaging in behaviors and lending practices that ultimately harm Michigan's homeowners. I have requested that this consumer protection bill be taken up along with the other foreclosure-related bills being considered in the House and am hopeful that it will be included in evolving conversation on this issue. HB 4800 has been referred to the House's Financial Services Committee where it will be taken up at the discretion of Committee Chair Callton.

House Bill 4844 - Pre-Labor Day School Start Date
Under current Michigan law, our K-12 schools are required to commence their academic year after Labor Day. HB 4844 proposes to gives our schools the option of starting before Labor Day (if they so choose). My intent in introducing HB 4844 is to grant our local school districts more autonomy to set the fall start date for their students. Knowing that every one of Michigan's school districts is unique, I believe that we ought to empower our locals to make decisions that best fit the needs of their individual students and communities.

My bill does not require schools to start earlier; it only provides them with the option of commencing their academic years before Labor Day if they decide it is in the best interest of their students to do so. To ensure that my legislation doesn't impact travelers' Labor Day plans (a very important weekend for Michigan's tourism industry!), my bill stipulates that schools may not be in session the Friday preceding Labor Day. HB 4844 has been referred to the House Tourism Committee where it will be taken up at the discretion of Committee Chair Pettalia.

House Resolution 163 - Microenterprise Month
House Resolution 163 declares October 2013 as Microenterprise Month in the state of Michigan—a move that I was asked to make by the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan (CEDAM). As many of you know, microenterprises are businesses with five or fewer employees. Today, they are actually responsible for 17% of Michigan's employment and provide jobs for approximately 969,584 of our citizens. Microenterprises continue to be essential to Michigan’s economic development and recovery from the Great Recession, which is one of the reasons I introduced HR 163.

House Resolution 192 -Harvest Gathering Month
House Resolution 192 declares October 2013 as Harvest Gather Month in the state of Michigan. Currently, 18% of Michigan residents regularly face hunger in their households while 23% of our state's children do not have a consistent source of health and nutritious food. The Food Bank Council of Michigan has successfully served the State of Michigan for some time by trying to alleviate hunger through the 'Michigan Harvest Gathering'. The Harvest Gathering has made significant impacts in alleviating hunger throughout our state's recent economically challenging years. HR 192 not only calls attention to the Food Bank Council's tremendous efforts but attempts to remind all residents of the hunger issues still facing so many of our citizens.

I continue to work with a variety of stakeholders on drafting legislation to address issues facing our community and state. I plan to continue working on and introducing legislation throughout the summer, too. I invite you to stay up to speed on all of my legislative action on my website (www.schor.housedems.com). For an up-to-date list of all legislative I've sponsored and co-sponsored to date, click on the below links:

Sponsored Legislation
Co-Sponsored Legislation

Other House Bills
A number of other bills have been passed by the House that directly impact Michigan's residents. I've included information about a notable few below.

HB 4668 (passed the House on 6.5) - Restructuring of Hunting and Fishing Fee Licenses
HB 4668 restructures hunting and fishing fee licenses in Michigan and increases certain fees (as proposed by the Governor). The license changes would take effect on March 1, 2014, and sunset on March 1, 2019. A substitute for this bill was passed by the Senate and has been returned to the House for reconsideration.

HB 4629 (passed the House on 6.6) - Amendment to the Highway Advertising Act
HB 4269 amends the Highway Advertising Act, including, but not limited to: requiring a new permit process and other restrictions for digital billboards; addressing enforcement issues related to nonconforming billboards and other issues to ensure compliance with federal requirements; and amending procedures and penalties related to vegetation management in the vicinity of billboards. HB 4629 has been referred to the Senate Transportation Committee.

SB 27 (passed the House on 6.11) - Allow Merchants to Sell Beer Growlers
SB 27 will allow eligible merchants, such as a restaurant or bar, to fill and sell growlers with beer for off-premises consumption under certain conditions. The bill was also passed by the Senate and has been presented to Governor Snyder for his signature.

SB 79 (passed the House on 6.11) - Provision to Conduct Wine Tastings at Farmer's Markets
SB 79 and SB 279 provide for a farmer's market permit to allow a qualified small wine maker to conduct wine tastings and sell wine at farmer's markets. HB 79 was also passed by the Senate and has been presented to Governor Snyder for his signature.

HB 4768 (passed the House on 6.11) - Prohibition of the DEQ from Establishing or Enforcing the Amount of Sodium in Groundwater
HB 4768 adds a section to the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act to prohibit the Department of Environmental Quality from establishing or enforcing an effluent limitation for the amount or concentration of sodium in groundwater or a groundwater discharge. This bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, Environment, and Great Lakes.

HBs 4529 and 4530 (passed the House on 6.13) - Creation of a Permanent Commission to Improve Criminal Defense
HB 4529 creates a permanent, state-funded commission to improve criminal defense for indigent defendants in Michigan while HB 4530 revises how counsel is appointed for indigents. HB 4529 was also passed by the Senate and has been sent to Governor Snyder for his signature. HB 4530 is currently passage by the full Senate.

HB 4272 (passed the House on 6.19) - Requirement that all K-12 Schools Implement a Cardiac Emergency Plan
HB 4272 requires that all K-12 schools adopt and implement a Cardiac Emergency Plan for their school and mandates that cardiac emergency response drills be conducted regularly. These drills my take the place of a single mandated fire drill over the course of a school year. HB 4272 is currently in the Senate's Education Committee.

HB 4307 (passed the House on 6.20) - Elimination of a Requirement that a Special Election be Held when a County Commission Vacancy Occurs in an Odd-Numbered Year
HB 4307 eliminates 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. If an appointment is not made within 30 days, the vacancy will be filled by a special election. After agreeing to changes the Senate made to this bill, the House passed it and sent it to Governor Snyder for his signature.

HB 4439 (passed the House on 6.20) - Waiver of Recreation Passport Fee
HB 4297 waives the recreation passport fee for veterans purchasing military specialty license plates. After agreeing to changes the Senate made to this bill, the House passed it and sent it to Governor Snyder for his signature.

Community Update/Events

Coffee and Tea with Andy
My next 'Coffee and Tea with Andy' gathering is scheduled for Monday, August 5th, from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. at the Alfreda Schmidt Southside Community Center (located at 5825 Wise Road here in Lansing). We'll be meeting in the building's Community Room that morning.

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.

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 (andyschor@house.mi.gov), 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.


Andy Schor
State Representative, 68th District

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