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Posted on 02.01.2018 Under Legislative, Recent Post

 

Judy Augenstein, Legislative Consultant

With 267 public acts in 2017, covering health care, state government, economic development and other areas of residents’ lives, here are the 10 laws political pundits see as the most significant.

In ranking the statutes, the pundits assessed the sweep of each law’s impact on the public and the controversy surrounding it. Some similar acts are grouped together.

10. SUPER PAC LEGISLATION PROMPTS SWIFT RESPONSE: Depending on where one falls in the debate over money in politics, legislation that passed allowing candidates for state office to raise funds for Super PACs so that said groups can use those funds to promote the same candidate for office is either an expansion of free speech or a way for donors with deep pockets to potentially affect the outcome of races.

335 and SB 336 were signed into law in September, which supporters called a clarification of state law following the Citizens United decision. Critics of the change called it a massive injection of dark money into Michigan politics. The legislation prompted a quick response, with a Super PAC backing Attorney General Bill Schuette’s gubernatorial campaign filing paperwork within days of the bills being signed.

9. MUNICIPAL RETIREMENT PACKAGE WATERED DOWN: Communities statewide will now need to follow increased reporting standards to determine if agreed-upon municipal retirement systems are being properly funded following passage of legislation lifted from a task force report highlighting billions of dollars in underfunded pensions and health care benefits.
The package passed during an overnight session after being rewritten to reflect a task force report after the original version, which contained provisions for allowing greater state control in fixing underfunded retirement systems, did not have close to enough votes to pass over objections from Democrats as well as fierce resistance from local union leaders. After being implemented, an enforcement measure may be contemplated in the future. The package consisted of SB 686, SB 688, SB 691, SB 692, SB 694, SB 696, SB 699, HB 5301, HB 5304, HB 5306, HB 5308, HB 5310 and HB 5313.

8. PFAS FUNDING SEEN AS PRIORITY: A portion of unused state dollars will be used for tackling a growing health threat in and around several Michigan communities through a supplemental appropriations bill. HB 4320 passed in the final days of the year. The bill provides $23.2 million for remediation and looking at contamination at sites in and around communities from perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS. Testing, laboratory equipment, and additional staff will be used with the dollars, with additional resources being a possibility in the next years’ budget.

7. POLICE DEPARTMENTS CAN NOW WEED OUT ‘BAD COPS’: Law enforcement agencies will now have to keep records of reasons their officers leave the department and will have to provide those records if other departments request them during the hiring process under legislation meant to keep officers who have had issues with conduct from jumping to other departments. Under SB 223 the number of officers who move on to other departments despite having checkered employment histories may be reduced.

The law keeps those who have left one department through resignation deals instead of being fired from being able to keep their employment histories from being known if they apply for law enforcement jobs elsewhere. Documentation of several such instances was detailed in a Detroit Free Press investigative report earlier this year.

6. MAJOR TAX INCENTIVE PACKAGE HASN’T YET LED TO A MAJOR INVESTMENT: While Michigan may have missed out on enticing electronics manufacturer Foxconn to set up shop in the state, officials are hoping 2018 will be fruitful in attracting a major business investment through a new large-scale business incentive law. The “Good Jobs for Michigan” program, SB 242, SB 243and SB 244, is meant to bring large businesses to the state creating hundreds or thousands of new jobs. Authorized businesses would be able to capture state income taxes withheld from certain new employees in varying amounts depending on wages and the number of jobs created.

While Foxconn opted to locate in Wisconsin this summer as the Good Jobs legislation was being finalized, officials say they are still in talks with the company over locating another facility in the state and hope to attract some form of major business investment in 2018.

5. LAWMAKERS HAIL A FIRST STEP IN COMBATTING OPIOID ADDICTION: The state is taking a first step in taking on the explosion in the number of people addicted to opioid painkillers in recent years, hoping to curb what has become a national epidemic. Legislation passed this fall includes requirements for physicians to check a patient’s medical history to ensure they are not getting excess medications, capping prescriptions for acute pain at seven days, parental consent for prescribing controlled opioid substances under certain circumstances, improved reporting requirements and instruction to school students on opioid abuse prevention.

While a comprehensive solution to combatting the opioid epidemic has not been discovered or enacted legislatively in Michigan or any other state, additional requirements, reporting and educational efforts like those found in HB 4408, SB 270, SB 166, SB 167, SB 273, SB 274, SB 47, HB 4403, HB 4406 and HB 4407 are seen as initial common-sense measures on which to build.

4. BROWNFIELD SITE CLEANUP TO EXPAND UNDER NEW TAX INCENTIVES: A tax incentive program to spur remediation of major brownfield sites and economic development was passed with the hope of cleaning up blighted areas and bringing them back to life. Legislation creating a program for submitting a Transformational Brownfield Plan to the state to receive incentives for large-scale remediation and economic development projects is meant to provide for up to five projects in a calendar year.

Projects submitted to the Michigan Strategic Fund for approval under the program must be mixed-use and contain office, retail, residential and hotel space. The first major project submitted under the new law, a four-building downtown Detroit project, will come before the Strategic Fund in March. The brownfield incentives were passed in SB 176, SB 111, SB 112, SB 113, SB 114 and SB 115.

3. AT-RISK FUNDING SEEN AS MAJOR K-12 STEP: While a majority of items in the education omnibus bill for the fiscal year, 2017-18 were provided inflationary increases, funding for at-risk K-12 students were given a more substantial expansion in aid for the year. HB 4313 included a $120 million increase in funding and granted eligibility changes to ensure all students regardless of what school district they reside in can receive the additional dollars. That came with new requirements on school districts that will bear watching.

2. TEACHER PENSIONS SEE NEW OVERHAUL: Republicans pushed through significant teacher pension changes over Democratic objections by creating a hybrid plan in which employees will share more of the costs while state and employer contributions to the 401(k) plan will be increased. SB 401 will affect teachers hired after February 1, 2018, and if the unfunded liability reaches a five-year average of more than 15 percent for two consecutive years, the plan would be closed to new members. The state would first be given a year to appropriate enough money to bring the unfunded liability down, while other changes were made to both the defined benefit and defined contribution plans as to who contributes what.

1. UIA FIX: Following a whirlwind period in which the Unemployment Insurance Agency took fire for thousands of incorrect fraud determinations, a legislative fix is designed to shepherd problems plaguing the agency in the past few years toward a solution. The agency was slammed after having to reverse nearly 44,000 cases of fraud determined between October 2013 and August 2015 when its computer system was entirely in charge of making fraud determinations during that period. Lawmakers passed HB 5165, HB 5166, HB 5167, HB 5168, HB 5169, HB 5170, HB 5171 and HB 5172 to address agency processes, reduce penalties for committing fraud and addressing imposter claims made by identity thieves, among other changes.

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