I hope all our students, teachers, and parents have had a pleasant time getting back to school and that everyone has had a chance to enjoy some of Lansing's seasonal offerings with the beginning of fall. I'm getting in touch to give you a brief update on some of the major issues the Legislature has been tacking over the summer and so far this fall.
Health Care and Medicaid Expansion
The House passed legislation to expand health care (through Medicaid) to low-income working residents in June. The Senate refused to vote on the legislation at that time, though, because of Tea Party resistance to the legislation and to federal law.
After weeks of negotiations (which I lead for the House Democrats) the House, Senate, and Governor were able to come to agreement on this legislation (HB 4714) and pass it into law. While the bill we passed wasn't a perfect solution, I am happy that over 400,000 of Michigan's low-income workers will be able to access quality health care plans without relying on emergency rooms for their ailments. The federal funds Michigan will receive for expansion will help us reduce uncompensated care, saving our state an estimated $300 million; save taxpayers millions in future Medicaid expenses; save small businesses from fines; 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.
Unfortunately, the Senate did not pass “immediate effect,” so HB 4714 won't take effect until late March or early April of 2014. In the meantime, some individuals will have to utilize the federal exchange first, then move to Medicaid when the new law goes into effect. Even with this bump in the road, though, casting a vote for this legislation (then again for the compromise) was one of my proudest moments as a State Representative so far and I was honored to join the Governor for the bill's signing.
Common Core Implementation
This summer, the House also spent a significant amount of time discussing possible resolution to the discrepancies about implementation of the Common Core standards for our schools. The budget for Fiscal Year 2013-14 (HB 4328) prohibited the Michigan Department of Education from spending money implementing the Common Core State Standards and the Smarter Balanced Assessments, which were adopted statewide by the State School Board 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 left school boards, administrators, teachers, and parents with no clear direction on how to continue planning their locally-developed curricula to meet state standards. Even worse, the State Board of Education warned that unless the Legislature took affirmative action on Common Core and Smarter Balanced, every school in Michigan would fail to meet Adequate Yearly Progress standards, jeopardizing important federal funding for our students.
I was appointed by the Speaker of the House to serve on a special Common Core subcommittee, which met and took more than 20 hours of testimony over the summer to determine the future of Common Core in Michigan. On Thursday, September 26th, the House passed HCR 11, which sets conditions for the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and allows the State Board of Education to spend money implementing the use of those standards, which demand critical thinking and problem solving of our students to help them compete with peers across the county and be career and college-ready upon graduation. The resolution also ensures that the State School Board engages in an active review of the Smarter Balanced Assessments and compare it to other alternatives available to be used. I was able to get language included in HCR 11 that will ensure parents, teachers, administrators, and others will be able to provide necessary feedback to the Department of Education, and I was proud to vote for the final version of the resolution. Unfortunately, there is some doubt about the Senate's support of this resolution (or even a version of their own). In the meantime, the Department of Education is prohibited from spending any dollars on Common Core. I am disappointed that the Senate hasn't taken action on this issue yet and will continue urging colleagues in that chamber to pass HCR 11 as soon as possible so that the Department of Education cam assist schools in finalizing the implementation of Common Core.
Affordable Health Care Implementation
October 1st marked an important benchmark in the implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA): it was the day citizens could begin enrolling for health insurance programs through their state's Health Care Marketplaces. Michigan's Health Care Marketplace is a federally operated insurance marketplace (also called an exchange) where individuals and small businesses will be able to shop for and compare health coverage. Enrollment in programs is for coverage that will begin on January 1, 2014 (so long as enrollment happens before December 15, 2013). Residents are encouraged to go to the Health Insurance Marketplace to find a health plan best suited to their needs by visiting www.healthcare.gov. Those who prefer not to use the website can receive a paper application and consumer assistance through the Health Insurance Marketplace Call Center at 800.318.2596.
It's important to note that individuals who are on Medicare, Medicaid, or already have health insurance through an employer are already covered (they won't need to enroll for a plan through Michigan's Health Care Marketplace). The Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services is available to answer any questions about health insurance options offered through Michigan's Marketplace at www.michigan.gov/hicap. Residents can also e-mail DIFS-HICAP@michigan.gov or call 877.999.6442.
Remember that in 2014 and beyond, the ACA requires individuals who don’t already have health insurance to choose a plan through their state's marketplace. Be sure to visit healthcare.gov for more information.
Schor Introduced Legislation
HB 4982, Year-Round School District Pilot Program
Education is absolutely vital for our state's future, yet far too much of our students' hard-earned educational progress is lost every year over the summer break. One of the biggest issues our schools are facing is that when students return to class in the fall, they often have to spend one to two months relearning everything that they lost over the summer. This means that out of the currently mandated 175 days, 30-60 of them are used for catch-up and not for learning new material. This is especially true in at-risk schools, where students often do not have access to educational camps and other resources over the summer. Our most at-risk students are often left behind at the beginning of the school year, which makes it increasingly difficult to catch up as the year progresses. This is one of the reasons that students can be low-achieving and is a major factor in the result of several schools being on the priority schools list (lowest 5%).
House Bill 4982 creates an incentive for schools that choose to move to all-year calendars but lack the resources for necessary one-time expenditures (for things such as air conditioning in the building). Specifically, my bill would create a $10 million fund that could be used for these expenses by schools that choose to go to an all year format. The fund would be maintained by the Department of Education, and schools that currently qualify for free or reduced price lunches would be eligible to apply for the available dollars. Oftentimes these schools have more outdated buildings in need of renovation before summer use and the district's students tend to lack the resources to take advantage of educational camps and other enrichment opportunities during the three months that they are off in the summer.
My legislation would not increase the already required number of school days; it would simply require a balanced calendar where the school spreads the days out across the calendar year. The choice of which schools participate in the pilot program is left up to the individual school districts. HB 4982 has been referred to the House Appropriations Committee where I am hopeful it will be granted a hearing.
HB 4992, Assessment Test Information
HB 4992 was introduced after Lansing's Superintendent called an important issue to my attention. In the Lansing School District, the staff and students of Eastern High School have worked very hard during recent years to improve the school's educational environment and increase student achievement. This last year was no exception; everyone was focused, students were motivated, and the staff was ready to lead positive change. The Michigan Merit Exam (MME) was given in March with a student participation rate that exceed expectations. Based on enthusiasm alone, there was every hope that Eastern would be able to boost its performance ratings.
After testing was finished and all booklets were submitted to the Michigan Department of Education (MDE), it was discovered that the MDE had invalidated 18 tests due to a failure to bubble in the corresponding ID number of some test booklets with answer sheets. Had just ten of those tests been considered valid, Eastern could have shown remarkable improvement in its performance ratings; the students whose tests were invalidated and who took other tests during the MME testing window scored advanced proficient and proficient on all of their other tests.
Once a student takes the MME, all tests booklets go into a box and are shipped off to the MDE. Eastern's staff didn't discover the issue with 18 of their test booklets until the first week of June (well past the 'appeals' window) when it was brought to their attention by the State Reform Office. Our students work hard to learn every bit of vital information needed to pass tests throughout the year because the weight we attach to state assessments is so heavy. Allowing something technical and unrelated to the subject content to disqualify a student's test is wrong and detrimental both to our hard-working students and to our school districts. As a result of this issue, Eastern was unable to move off of the 'Priority Schools' list.
HB 4992 would allow teachers and school administrators to change technical and non-substantive test information on state assessments for students, including portions that collect demographic and other information from pupils that isn't related to the actual content of the test. The Michigan Department of Education does not currently allow schools to amend non-content errors on tests, resulting in a number of tests (like the 18 at Eastern) being disallowed for school ratings.
This bill has been referred to the House Education Committee where it will be granted a hearing at the discretion of Committee Chair Lyons.
Passed by the House on October 3rd, HR 163 declares October 2013 as Microenterprise Month in the State of Michigan. The resolution's purpose is to call attention to Michigan's microenterprises-- our small businesses with 5 or fewer employees. Those businesses actually comprise over 17 percent of our state's employment and provide jobs for over 950,000 individuals. I was honored to be approached by the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan (CEDAM) to help recognize one of the most important components of our state's economy.
I was excited to pass a resolution to declare October 5, 2013 as 'Buy Nearby, Get Caught Blue-Handed Day' in the State of Michigan. 'Buy Nearby' is an ongoing, year-round campaign launched by the Michigan Retailers Association to benefit retail businesses and local communities across Michigan. The campaign is intended to serve as a call to action to our citizens to choose Michigan stores when they head out to shop.
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:
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 9.10) - 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.
HBs 4284, 4299 (passed the House on 9.12) - Allowance of ORVs on the Shoulders of State Highways
These bills allow authorized local units of government to adopt ordinances allowing for the operation of Off-Road Recreation Vehicles (ORVs) on the shoulders of state trunk line highways.
SB 50 (passed the House on 9.12)- Waiver of Permit Requirements for ORVs
SB 50 expands the activities for which an ORV license is not required, allows the Department of Natural Resources to enter into license reciprocity agreements with other states, establishes a free ORV-riding day, and prohibits a permit from being needed for group recreational ORV riding on DNR-owned land or for an ORV event on the frozen surface of public waters.
HB 4786 (passed the House on 9.12) - Increase of Vital Records Fees
HB 4786 increases most existing fees for vital records searches, copies, authenticated copies, amendments to vital records, and verification of vital records facts. I opposed this legislation as an unnecessary fee increase on citizens who need these vital records.
SB 162 (passed the House on 9.19) - Amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure
SB 162 allows a defendant to face prosecution in any county where he or she intended the offense or acts to have an effect. Under current law, whenever a felony consists of two or more acts done in the perpetration of that felony, the perpetrator may be prosecuted in any county where any one of the acts was actually committed. SB 162 expands this law a bit by allowing prosecution in any county where the effect of the acts was intended.
HBs 4694-4697 (passed the House on 9.19) - Establishment of Mental Health Courts
HBs 4694 through 4697 statutorily establish mental health courts. The bills are all tie-barred to each other.
HB 4930 (passed the House on 9.25) - Repeal of Law Prohibiting a Person from Displaying an Emblem on a Motor Vehicle
HB 4930 repeals an archaic section of law that prohibits a person from displaying an emblem or insignia on his or her motor vehicle.
HBs 4949-4954 (passed the House on 9.26) - Revisions to Employer's Unemployment Insurance Benefits
HB 4949 allows the Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) to retroactively reverse a decision that an individual is qualified for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits and to recollect any benefits already disbursed to that individual. The H-4 substitute requires that the UIA grant waivers of recollections in cases of administrative error, most employer errors, and indigence. HB 4950 establishes a procedure for charging an employer's account benefits paid to a claimant as a result of the employer not providing or not fully providing required information. HB 4953 is a clean-up bill that makes an amendment to Section 32 of MESA, as required by HB 4950. HB 4951 makes changes to how amounts recovered in certain situations are to be credited. HB 4954 makes a technical change, required by HB 4951. HB 4952 stipulates that any claimant who is offered a job subject to passing a drug test will be considered to have refused the job if the claimant refused to take the test or failed it without good cause.
HB 4811 (passed the House on 10.3) - Changes to the Military Relief Fund
HB 4811 makes a number of changes to the Military Relief Fund that will increase access to the funds and further promote the availability of the funds.
HB 4194 (passed the House on 10.3) - Allowing Local Government Unites to Create Budget Stabilization Funds
HB 4194 amends PA 30 of 1978, which allows local units of government to create Budget Stabilization Funds (BSF), to increase the limit on the local unit's BSF revenues. A county, city, village, or township may create a BSF by an ordinance of the municipality's most recent general fund budget or 15% of the average of its five most recent general fund budgets, whichever is less. The bill would increase this limit to the 20% of either of these amounts, whichever is less.
SB 25 (passed the House on 10.3) - Allowing Requests from Property Owners in Regard to a Principal Residence Exemption
SB 25 would provide a mechanism by which property owners can request a principal residence exemption (PRE) from Treasury for any year the exemption was erroneously not provided by the local unit of government. The bill would also allow Treasury to deny an improperly granted PRE for the same time frame.
HB 4656 (passed the House on 10.9) - Expansion of the Youth Employment Standards Act
HB 4656 expands the Youth Employment Standards Act to include 16 year olds who obtain a high school equivalency certificate.
Coffee and Tea with Andy
My next 'Coffee and Tea with Andy' gathering is scheduled for Saturday, October 26th, from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. at The Avenue Café (formerly Gone Wired), located at 2021 East Michigan Avenue here 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.
Details about my final 'Coffee and Tea with Andy' for 2013 are below:
Monday, December 2
Letts Community Center
1220 W. Kalamazoo Street, Lansing
My office is currently in the process of lining up 'Coffee and Tea' gatherings for the first half of 2014. We'll be sure to share the schedule as soon as it is confirmed!
Health Care Reform and Expansion Town Hall Event
On Monday, October 28th, Senator Whitmer and I will be hosting a Town Hall meeting to help residents learn about their health care options. We'll be gathering from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the New Saint Paul Church of God in Christ (COGIC) located at 1717 E. Cavanaugh in Lansing. Presenters and resources from the Ingham County Health Department, Michigan Consumers for Health care, and Enroll-Get Covered America! will be available to all participants.
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