5 issues likely to be hot topics in state capital
DETROIT –– Here are five of the top issues the Michigan Legislature likely will grapple with during the final dozen or so scheduled meeting days before the end of the year.
Emergency Manager Law: Gov. Rick Snyder and fellow Republican lawmakers are keen on replacing the law rejected this month by voters that lets emergency managers take over struggling local governments and gives them sweeping powers. But the challenge will be crafting something that helps turn around broke cities and school districts without running afoul of the voters' will. Ideas abound, but Snyder and leaders of the GOP-controlled Legislature are loath to discuss them in detail. A potential replacement of the former law known as Public Act 4 was drafted before the election, but it has yet to surface.
Right to Work: The majority of Michigan voters likewise had no interest in approving a ballot proposal that would have enshrined collective bargaining rights in the Michigan Constitution and ban right-to-work laws limiting unions' ability to collect fees from nonunion workers. That provides an invitation for some Republican leaders to come forward with right-to-work legislation. But this again represents a challenge: The issue typically finds favor with Republicans but it's politically dicey in a state with such long and strong ties to labor unions. House Speaker Jase Bolger appears ready to put it on the table, but Snyder and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville say it's not on their agenda. Does "not on my agenda" mean not supporting or signing it? That's a big unknown, perhaps even to them.
Blue Cross: The company synonymous with health insurance in Michigan is aiming to make major changes to how it is governed and how it operates. Likely invisible to customers, the proposed overhaul of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan nonetheless will require some heavy legislative lifting, by doing away with a law that gives the insurer's immunity from paying taxes in exchange for providing insurance coverage regardless of a customer's health status. The company's rate-change requests would be reviewed the state insurance commissioner - as other insurers currently are - and no longer subject to an extra layer of scrutiny by the state attorney general. Is the proposal a big deal? It depends on whom you ask. Blue Cross and the governor say it's merely modernizing the insurer and bringing it line operationally with its competitors. Detractors say it short-shrifts seniors and removes oversight from a company that controls 70 percent of the market. Bottom line: The legislation passed the Senate with some critics' changes included and is being debated by the House, where GOP leaders want to see a version of it passed by year's end.
Medical Marijuana: The Senate could look at changes aimed at clarifying the voter-approved medical marijuana law. One bill seeks to better define the type of doctor-patient relationship needed before medic al marijuana use could be certified. Another would let law enforcement officers obtain medical marijuana patient information. Senate leader Richardville says the marijuana legislation is driven by "the fact that medical marijuana was voted in, but (authorities) didn't have a way to regulate it - and still don't have a way to regulate it." Such changes would be the first to the law approved by Michigan voters in 2008. The House has already passed versions of the legislation. Critics say the proposed changes might make the drug harder to get for those in need.
Personal Property Tax: It's the House's turn to take up the personal property tax - specifically the legislation passed by the Senate that would eliminate the taxes businesses pay on computers and equipment. Supporters said the bills would remove a personal property tax that's not charged by neighboring states and make Michigan a more attractive place to do business. Critics counter that they would further cut funding for already hurting school districts and local governments. Local jurisdictions would be reimbursed by the state as business tax credits for battery manufacturers and other companies expire. But none would be completely repaid. The rollback of the tax is expected to amount to $600 million a year once it's fully phased in about a decade from now, but the state thinks it will be able to make up most of that money to local jurisdictions once the battery credits and other tax credits expire.