I hope you’ve all had a chance to start enjoying the holiday season and have been able to spend some time with family and friends. I’m writing today to update you on what’s been happening in the Legislature as we gear up for our last push of the year.
Court of Claims (SB 652)
SB 652 makes significant changes to Michigan’s Court of Claims. The Court of Claims is a court of statewide, limited jurisdiction that hears and determines all civil actions filed against the State of Michigan and its agencies. Cases include highway defect, medical malpractice, contracts, constitutional claims, prisoner litigation, tax-related suits, and other claims for monetary damages. Before the passage of SB 652, the Court of Claims was located in the Ingham County Circuit Court.
I joined with a number of colleagues in active opposition to SB 652, which was unfortunately fast-tracked through the Legislature (in two weeks) with only Republican votes. SB 652 moves the state's Court of Claims from Ingham County Circuit Court to the Michigan Court of Appeals. Now that this bill is signed into law, Ingham County will lose as much as $500,000 in annual state funding, which will likely force the county to cut staff and could mean the loss of at least one of the county's five trial division judges in Circuit Court. During floor debate on this issue, I offered an amendment to require the state to reimburse Ingham County for the lost dollars and called out colleagues for failing to give county officials adequate time to plan for such a significant change to their 2014 budget. My amendment, along with more than a dozen others brought by fellow Democrats, was shot down by House Republicans.
More than one stakeholder stood up during this bill's committee hearing to note that it not only tampers with the court system but is unconstitutional. Indeed, it causes quite a few problems. For starters, it allows an appeals court judge to make a decision, then forces an appeal in that same court, which is unheard of. The bill doesn't even specify whether or not the judge who made the original ruling would then have to abstain in the decision of an appeals panel. The bill also requires an appeals judge to conduct jury trials and take witness testimony, which they are not equipped to do. SB 652 will require attorneys from the Attorney General's office to travel all around the state to fight cases when the state is sued, creating significant travel and lodging costs that the state will then be responsible for picking up. Those who take action against the state will pay more in travel costs, too, and the bill will cause a massive backlog in cases at the appeals court, delaying court decisions and justice for our citizens. In fact, because this change was rushed through so quickly, several cases in progress will now have to be delayed and moved.
SB 652 greatly expands the jurisdiction of the Court of Claims from cases in which plaintiffs seek monetary damages from the state for alleged torts to a variety of other types of cases (including civil rights, whistle-blower, environmental, Open Meetings Act, and Freedom of Information Act cases, among others). According to the State Bar of Michigan, this bill will prolong appeals that already take an alarming 12 to 18 months to complete, costing the state more money.
All of Ingham County's judges, several Ingham County Commissioners, and Ingham County's Controller testified against SB 652 in committee. Having served on the Ingham County Commission for a decade before beginning my term in the State House, I know from firsthand experience that the 'problem' this bill's sponsor claims the legislation address never came up as a concern.
Below are the comments I made on the House floor when SB 652 came before my colleagues and I for a vote:
Rep. Schor's Floor Speech re: SB 652
I started working in the Legislature 16 years ago. When I started, I met a man who had been here for many years and was widely respected by all. As I continued to work in and with the Legislature for 15 years, this man was the expert on all things dealing with the Judiciary. He recently retired after many years of distinguished service and we celebrated him on the House Floor. In this age of term limits, we needed someone who had institutional knowledge about our past and he provided that. He was well respected by Democrats and Republicans. His name is Bruce Timmons, and he was the House Republican Policy expert. Most people on the House floor here today know and respect him.
Bruce testified in SB 652's committee hearing yesterday, and in the Senate last week, noting that this bill both tampers with the court system and is unconstitutional. He recognized this bill as a bad idea, and perhaps because of him our leadership over the last 30 years has not passed a bill like this…even when Governor Engler had his epic brawls with Judge Jim Giddings and when Governor Engler had solid Republican majorities in the House and Senate in the 1990’s.
This bill causes all sorts of problems. It allows an appeals court judge to make a decision, then forces an appeal in that same court. That is unheard of. Does the judge that ruled originally have to abstain in the decision of the panel? It doesn’t specify that in the bill. It requires an appeals judge to conduct jury trials and take witness testimony, which they are not equipped to do. It will require attorneys from the Attorney General’s office to travel all around the state to fight cases when the state is sued, creating significant travel and lodging costs for the state. The bill will not save money for those that take action against the state because instead of traveling to Lansing, they will have to travel to some other part of the state. This bill will cause a massive backlog in cases at the Appeals Court and delay court decisions and justice for our citizens. It greatly expands the jurisdiction of the Court of Claims from cases in which plaintiffs seek monetary damages from the state for alleged torts to cases involving state civil rights, whistle-blower, environmental, Open Meetings Act, and Freedom of Information Act issues, among others. According to the State Bar of Michigan, this bill will prolong appeals that already take 12 to 18 months to complete. This will also cost the state more money.
Why is the Court of Claims housed in the Ingham Circuit Court? How about because Lansing is the seat of government. I am pretty sure I read that in the Constitution and swore an oath to follow that Constitution. And when someone sues the state, it should be litigated where the seat of government is located. Lansing was chosen because it is a central location in the state, and our Court of Claims, which defends the state, should be housed here.
All Ingham County Judges as well as several Ingham County Commissioners and the Ingham County Controller testified against SB 652 in committee. Although the sponsor claimed that this bill would help Ingham County, I can tell you that in my 10 years as a County Commissioner this issue never came up as a problem. SB 652 will cost Ingham County almost a half a million dollars a year, and it blows a huge hole in the recently-passed county budget. Despite that, there was no consideration to reimburse Ingham County for those dollars. As the Lansing State Journal pointed out in their editorial, this is an unfair financial burden to Ingham County’s taxpayers. The Lansing State Journal also noted that the speed at which this bill is moving suggests a political agenda rather than a better government agenda.
I know where the votes are in this chamber and I know that this debate means little, which is unfortunate, but I hope that the Governor is listening to Michigan's residents and not just to his political operatives. I hope he vetoes this bill and stands up for the rights and needs of the residents of Michigan instead of those seeking to gain political advantage.
Deregulation of Nutritionists (HB 4688)
As a member of the House's Regulatory Reform Committee, I heard from a number of stakeholders about the benefits and concerns associated with deregulating the Dietetic/Nutrition Profession through House Bill 4688. I remain supportive of allowing nutritionists to practice and would like to see the current law amended to address the scope of practice to include nutritionists. I don’t, however, support repealing current licensure requirements. I offered to work with both parties and the bill sponsor to try to find language to include nutritionists in the current licensure law in the hopes of finding a good middle ground to ensure safety through licensure without preventing nutritionists from practicing. Because we weren’t able to arrive at that perfect balance, I passed (abstained) on the bill when it was considered for a vote in committee and voted against it on the House floor.
Schor Introduced Legislation
HB 4711, Micro Brewery Expansion
This bill is part of a package that will help promote economic development by allowing Michigan's thriving craft brewery industry to produce more and have more places where people can come purchase and drink the beer (called tasting rooms). Michigan has the 5th largest craft brewer industry, and these bills will create many jobs and support growth in what has become one of our state's great local industries. All three bills in this package have been passed by the House and sent to the Senate for consideration, where they are expected to be brought up and sent to Governor Snyder for his signature before the end of the year.
HB 5164, Issue Ad Disclosure
As some of you heard, our Secretary of State recently proposed a rule requiring better disclosure on issue ads—an issue I, too, have been working to address. Secretary of State Johnson proposed an administrative rule to require groups funding so-called issue ads about candidates for office to disclose their donors and spending activity. The same day she proposed that administrative rule, the Senate took action on a bill (SB 661) forbidding the accountability Secretary of State Johnson called for in her rule proposal.
My bill (HB 5164) requires a person who pays for a publication or broadcast of a communication that references a candidate or ballot question to file an electronic report with the Secretary of State that includes the following information:
(1) The name and address of the person who paid for the communication;
(2) The cost of publishing or broadcasting the communication;
(3) The full name and street address of each person from whom the person who paid for the publication or broadcast received money that was intended to be used for the publication, as well as the amount of money received.
My bill requires the Secretary of State to publish that information online within 24 hours of receiving it and lays out late filing fees for individuals who fail to file their report within the time slot specified in the bill. Disclosure requirements would apply for ads appearing in the 60 days leading up to an election where referenced candidates or ballot questions appear on the ballot. Like our Secretary of State, I believe that Michigan’s citizens deserve to know who is funding ads so that they’re able to make well-informed decisions at the polls. With political spending on the rise, proposals like the one Secretary of State Johnson is putting forth and legislation like the bill I’ll be introducing promote much-needed transparency in campaigning.
I continue to work with a variety of stakeholders on drafting legislation to address issues facing our community and state. 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.
HBs 4949, 4952, and 4953 (passed the House on 10.22) – 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 error) and indigence. 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 4953 establishes a procedure for charging an employer’s account benefits paid to 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, as required by HB 4950. These bills were recently signed into law by Governor Snyder.
HB 4889 (passed the House on 10.22) – Revision of Sentencing Guidelines for Drug Traffickers
HB 4889 revises the sentencing guidelines to allow increased penalties for drug traffickers who travel from out of state to Michigan with the intent to deliver illegal drugs.
HB 4352 (passed the House on 10.23) – Allowing Pharmacists to Prescribe Epinephrine Auto-Injectors Directly to School Districts
HB 4352 amends the Public Health Code to allow a prescriber to issue a prescription and a dispensing prescriber or pharmacist to issue epinephrine auto-injectors directly to school districts/school boards.
HB 4353 (passed the House on 10.23) – Allowing Authorized School Individuals to Administer an Epinephrine Auto-Injector
HB 4353 amends the Revised School Code to allow for school nurses (or trained and authorized individuals) to administer an epinephrine auto-injector without risk of criminal or civil liability as long as it is administered in good faith.
SB 352 (passed the House on 10.23) – Expansion of the Property Tax Exemption for Disabled Veterans
SB 352 amends the General Property Tax Act to expand the property tax exemption provided for disabled veterans. Current law provides for a property tax exemption on a homestead for an honorable discharged disabled veteran and unremarried spouse who has a service-connected disability (where the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has adapted the home to deal with the disability). SB 352 bill would expand the exemption to disabled veterans who are totally and permanently disabled and eligible for benefits at the 100% rate, regardless of whether the VA has adapted the home.
HB 4384 (passed the House on 10.29) – Revision of the “Michigan Do-Not-Resuscitate Procedure (D-N-R) Act”
HB 4384 amends the “Estates and Protected Individuals Code” to do the following: (1) Require that a guardian ad litem inform a ward of their right to limit a guardian’s power to execute a D-N-R order on behalf of the ward, (2) Require that a guardian ad litem inform a ward that if a guardian is appointed, the guardian may have the power to execute a D-N-R order on his or her behalf. (3) Grants guardians the power to execute, reaffirm, and revoke a D-N-R order on behalf of a ward, and (4) Outlines specific requirements that a guardian must follow in order to execute an order.
HB 4958 (passed the House on 10.29) – Exclusion of J-1 and H-2B Visa Holders from Unemployment Insurance
HB 4958 would specifically exclude J-1 and H-2B Visa Holders from Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance System.
HB 4570 (passed the House on 10.30) – Postponement of Jury Duty for College Students
House Bill 4570 would allow a full-time college student to postpone jury service.
HBs 4593 and 4595 (passed the House on 10.31) – Amending Regulations Concerning the Buying and Selling of Scrap Metal
HB 4593 amends regulations concerning the buying and selling of scrap metal, including amending the definition of scrap metal, requiring sellers to provide scrap metal dealers certain information at the time of purchases, and the dealer to retain that information. The bill also requires that scrap metal dealers implement and maintain purchase records and make the records available for law enforcement purposes. The legislation creates standards for how and when a scrap metal dealer may pay a seller, as well as a list of items a scrap metal dealer cannot purchase unless the seller has proper authorization. The bill also includes penalties for sellers and purchasers who buy or sell scrap metal that they know or should have known was stolen. HB 4595 amends the Michigan Penal Code to include scrap metal theft under the crime of larceny.
HBs 4858 and 4859 (passed the House on 11.7) - Denial of Cash Benefits from a Bridge Card When Used at an ATM in Certain Places
These bills amend different statutes to require financial institutions to work with the Department of Human Services (DHS) to ensure that automated teller machines do not allow an individual access to cash benefits from a Michigan Bridge Card through an automated teller machine (ATM) that the financial institution owned, operated, or managed on the premises of any of the following: a casino; a casino enterprise; a liquor store; or an adult entertainment establishment. HB 4858 amends the Banking Code, HB 4859 amends the Savings Bank Act, and HB 4860 amends the Credit Union Act.
HBs 5014 and 5015 (passed the House on 11.7) – Denial of Cash Benefits from a Bridge Card When Used at an ATM at Certain Businesses
These bills would amend different statutes to require certain businesses to work with the Department of Human Services and persons who provide point of sale devices or ATM services on the business’ premises to prevent an individual’s access to cash benefits from a Michigan Bridge Card by electronic funds transfer or withdrawal from an ATM on the business’ premises. HB 5014 would amend the Michigan Liquor Control Code and apply to a retailer, except a retail food store as defined in the bill and under federal regulations. HB 5015 would amend the Horse Racing Law and apply to a track license holder. HB 5016 would amend the Social Welfare Act to require DHS to work with providers of ATM services to create and implement a program or method to block access to FIP assistance through point of sale devices and ATMs located in liquor stores or adult entertainment establishments.
HB 4484 (passed the House on 11.7) – Limit on the Value of Property Stored in a Self-Service Storage Facility
HB 4844 allows self-service storage facility owners to limit the value of property stored in a unit or at the facility, and charge a reasonable late fee against tenants that fail to pay rent in a timely fashion; broadens an owner’s ability to dispose of property to which a lien has attached when the tenant is in arrears of rental payments; and limits an owner’s liability during and after disposal.
HB 4485 (passed the House on 11.7) – Elimination of Licensing Requirements for Insurers of Self-Service Storage Facilities
HB 4485 would eliminate licensing requirements for persons who sell insurance solely to individual renters of self-service storage facility units under a lease agreement of less than one year.
HB 4878 (passed the House on 11.12) – Allowing Municipalities to Conduct Election Administrative Duties with One Another
HB 4878 would amend the Michigan Election Law to allow municipalities to enter agreements with other municipalities to conduct certain election administrative duties. Additionally, the bill would allow the Bureau of Elections or a county to enter into an agreement with the clerk of any city or township to allow the Bureau of Elections to handle its Qualified Voter File list maintenance.
HB 4156 (passed the House on 11.12) – Creation of a Special Volunteer License for Nurses
HB 4156 amends the Public Health Code to create a Special Volunteer License for retired nurses. A nurse who provides care under this Special Volunteer License would not be liable in a civil action for personal injury or death proximately caused by professional negligence or malpractice of the individual if certain conditions are met.
HBs 4133, 4350, and 4134 (passed the House on 11.12) – Exemption of Certain Corrections Officers from “Pistol-Free” Zone Prohibition
HB 4133 and HB 4350 exempt certain corrections officers, prosecuting attorneys, and retired federal law enforcement officers from the “pistol-free” or “no carry” zone prohibition for concealed handguns. HB 4134 exempts retired federal law enforcement officers from the “pistol-free” or “no carry” zone prohibition for concealed handguns. In addition, the bill waives certain educational requirements, such a pistol safety training course, for peace officers and persons on active duty service status with the armed services or those who received an honorable discharge at the time of separation.
HBs 4715, 4716, and 4714 (passed the House on 11.12) – Prohibition of Felons from Possessing Ammunition
HB 4715 prohibits a felon from possessing, using, transporting, selling, carrying, shipping, or distributing ammunition until three years have passed since their offense. HB 4717 allows an individual to apply to the concealed weapons licensing board in the county in which he or she resides for full restoration of his or her rights to possess ammunition once he or she is eligible. HB 4716 updates the sentencing guidelines description for the criminal offense “possession or sale of firearm by felon.”
HB 4277 (passed the House on 11.13) – Allowing the Liquor Control Commission to Issue Conditional Liquor Licenses
HB 4277 would allow for the Liquor Control Commission (LCC) to issue conditional liquor licenses.
SB 174 (passed the House on 11.14) – Creation of the “Security Freeze Act”
SB 174 would create the “Security Freeze Act” to allow consumers and authorized representatives of protected consumers to request that a consumer reporting agency (CRA) place a freeze on their credit reports, if the request meets certain conditions. The bill also provides the procedures to temporarily lift or remove the freeze.
HB 4624 (passed the House on 11.14) – Allowing Firefighters to Moonlight
HB 4624 would specify that firefighters are allowed to moonlight in another fire department and expressly forbids a local government from prohibiting this.
HB 4513 (passed the House on 11.14) – Right of First Refusal for Disabled Tenants of Low-Income Housing
HB 4513 would require certain low-income housing to offer current mobility disabled tenants the right of first refusal to relocate to a lower level apartment.
SBs 35-39 (passed the House on 11.14) – Increased Sanctions on Persons Delinquent in Paying Blight Violations
SBs 35-39 would provide for increased sanctions on persons delinquent in paying for blight violations. The bills would establish additional civil and criminal penalties on delinquent payers of blight violations, provide zoning-based and building-permit based sanctions, and allow the city to file a garnishment action. The bills would also revise provisions dealing with liens against property involved in blight violations.
HB 5046 (passed the House on 11.14) – Allowing Consumers to Bring Unopened Bottles of Wine into a Licensed Premise
HB 5046 allows consumers to bring unopened bottles of wine into a licensed premise (restaurant, bar, etc.), prohibits the removal of opened wine from the licensed premises unless the wine is completely re-corked, and allows the licensee to charge a corkage fee for each bottle brought by the consumer and opened on the premises.
HB 4257 (passed the House on 11.14) – Expansion of Issuance of Public Liquor Licenses in Redevelopment Areas
HB 4257 expands the issuance of public on premise liquor licenses in redevelopment and development project areas in villages and townships, in addition to cities.
HB 5086 (passed the House on 11.14) – Allowing Qualified Blind Persons the Same Credit as Lower-Income Seniors
HB 5086 amends homestead property tax credit provisions to allow qualifying blind persons the same type of credit available to lower-income seniors and qualifying persons that are quadriplegic, paraplegic, totally and permanently disabled, or deaf, which is likely to be higher than the credit currently provided for blind persons.
Coffee and Tea with Andy
My ‘Coffee and Tea with Andy’ schedule for the first half of 2014 is as follows (note that all gatherings will take place from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.):
Monday, January 13
Foster Community Center
200 N. Foster Avenue
Saturday, February 8
Potter Park Zoo
1301 South Pennsylvania Avenue
Monday, March 10
Gier Community Center
2400 Hall Street
Saturday, April 26
Flap Jack Waverly
1601 S. Waverly Road
Monday, May 19
Alfreda Schmidt Southside Community Center
5825 Wise Road
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 series of productive discussions.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org), 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