on November 26, 2012 at 6:50 AM
on November 26, 2012 at 6:50 AM
LANSING, MI - At least in theory, there’s no need for the Michigan Legislature to cram too many weighty issues into its so-called “lame duck” session – which begins in earnest this week.
Republicans will maintain majorities in both the House and Senate when the 2013-14 Legislature convenes in January. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder will still be in office. Issues that aren’t resolved by the end of this year can be resurrected later with many of the same key players involved.
But “lame duck” sometimes takes on a life of its own as lawmakers push for their priority projects. That makes it difficult to pinpoint exactly what lawmakers will – and won’t – accomplish over the next few weeks.
Lawmakers are likely to pass dozens of bills between now and the end of the year. Here are 15 topics bound to at least be discussed at the state Capitol over the next few weeks:
Right to work: How deep will Michigan lawmakers dive into this politically charged labor relations issue? Republican leaders say a discussion about right-to-work is likely over the next few weeks. But that doesn’t necessarily mean action on any specific proposal is forthcoming – particularly since Snyder has repeatedly said right-to-work isn’t on his agenda. Right-to-work laws prohibit labor contracts that require workers to pay union dues. Indiana’s move to become the nation’s 23rd right-to-work state has intensified the debate in Michigan. So has union-backed Proposal 2, which would have guaranteed collective bargaining rights in the state constitution and short-circuited a right-to-work movement. Voters rejected Proposal 2 in this month's election. Supporters will continue to push for right-to-work, but it's difficult to tell how much attention the issue might get during lame duck.
Emergency manager law: Voters also rejected Proposal 1, which means Public Act 4 of 2011 is repealed. That leaves lawmakers wondering if they should pass a different measure aimed at giving emergency managers more powers to fix the financially troubled cities and schools they’re appointed to run. It’s a tricky balance. Lawmakers say they don’t want to be seen as trying to override a vote of the people. But while Public Act 4 may be gone, the financially troubled cities and schools that sparked its passage remain. It will at least be a significant discussion item – and possibly an action item -- during lame duck.
Personal property tax: Phasing out or eliminating the tax paid by businesses on some types of equipment is a priority for many Republicans. But they’ll have to reach agreement on how to replace revenue that would be lost to some local governments and schools relying on the money. Supporters say shedding the personal property tax could spark more business investment in Michigan.
Abortion: Remember “Vaginagate” and protests at the state Capitol after the Michigan House passed a sweeping proposal that would add regulatory and insurance requirements for some facilities that perform abortions? House Bill 5711 is likely to be taken up in the Senate sometime in the next few weeks. The bill also would enact screening requirements aimed at making sure women aren’t forced into having abortions, among other provisions. Critics say they think the goal of the legislation is to make abortions more difficult to get and more expensive by forcing some abortion providers out of business. Supporters of the measure say it seeks to improve safety for women.
Medical marijuana: Attorney General Bill Schuette says the state’s voter-approved law allowing marijuana use for medical purposes has “more holes than Swiss cheese” – and the Legislature is likely to try and plug some of them. One bill would more strictly define the relationship needed between a doctor and a patient in cases where medical marijuana is recommended. Another would allow law enforcement officers or other officials to access medical marijuana patient information. Critics are worried the legislation may go too far and unjustifiably limit access to pot.
Health care: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan – the state’s largest health insurance provider with more than 4.4 million Michigan subscribers -- has long played a unique role in the state’s health care system. A plan pending in the Legislature would transition Blue Cross into a nonprofit mutual insurance company and make multiple changes. Also: How will federal health care reform or “Obamacare” factor into Michigan’s decisions? Republicans aren’t happy that Obamacare remains on the books, but they may have to figure out what to do about an online health insurance exchange and Medicaid coverage anyway.
Auto insurance: Michigan requires drivers to carry no-fault insurance and is the only state in the nation that provides unlimited lifetime medical care for auto-related injuries. Some lawmakers say that makes Michigan’s auto insurance rates too expensive and makes the funding system unsustainable. Legislation is pending that would allow motorists to buy potentially less expensive insurance in exchange for limited personal injury protection coverage. Critics say motorists opting for less coverage could wind up underinsured and in big financial trouble if they are seriously injured in an accident. It’s difficult to tell if lawmakers will come to agreement on the issue during “lame duck.”
K-12 education: Snyder wants to put the Education Achievement Authority into state law so it will be easier to expand it beyond Detroit. Plans call for the district to eventually include the lowest-achieving 5 percent of Michigan public schools. The EAA bill might get some action within the next few weeks. But a broader school choice bill may be more likely to wait until 2013, along with a school finance proposal that is now in draft form.
Cell phones and teen drivers: A measure that would ban cellphone use by novice drivers – those with Level 1 or Level 2 licenses – has passed the Senate and is pending in the House. It’s one of the dozens of items that possibly could be taken up by year’s end, but action is not guaranteed. It would be called Kelsey's Law – named after a 17-year-old who died in a car crash while using her cellphone. The measure is aimed at helping prevent distracted driving.
Juvenile lifers: The U.S. Supreme Court in June ruled that mandatory sentencing of minors to life in prison without the possibility of parole is a form of cruel and unusual punishment that does not take into account a young person's potential for cognitive and character development. So is Michigan going to revamp its laws in response? Cases already are in the state court system as the Legislature ponders the issue. A bipartisan group of state lawmakers has introduced bills seeking to address the retroactivity issue and rewrite state law in anticipation of future cases. But it’s not clear if the issue will be resolved by the end of the year.
Medical malpractice: Personal injury lawyers and their clients contend proposals in the Legislature would make it harder to win medical malpractice cases and make it tougher to hold bad doctors accountable. Bill supporters say the legislation would address inequities in liability statutes and improve access to care by creating a more welcoming environment to help address a looming physician shortage. The bills are likely to get some action in the Senate, but it’s unclear if enough support exists for final legislative passage by the end of the year.
Detroit/southeast Michigan issues: As of August, only about 35,000 of Detroit’s more than 88,000 streetlights actually worked. Legislation aimed at allowing the Motor City to move forward with a plan to improve its streetlight system has stalled in the Senate. Expect attempts to forge a compromise and get the deal done. Also, Snyder is still pushing for a regional transit authority that would serve Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties.
Indigent defense: The House has approved a plan to create a full-time commission tasked with improving the system for providing lawyers to criminal defendants. The legislation’s future in the Senate is unclear. Michigan is just one of seven states where counties are fully responsible for funding indigent defense. The goal of the legislation is to crack down on counties that don’t spend enough on legal assistance for low-income defendants.
Community college degrees: A bill pending in the Legislature would allow community colleges to award four-year degrees with baccalaureate programs in certain fields such as nursing, maritime technology, energy production technology and culinary arts. Final passage of the bill may depend on whether lawmakers are able to work out a compromise palatable to both community colleges and universities.
Wolf hunting: Some farmers and livestock owners in the Upper Peninsula want Michigan to at least consider allowing a limited wolf hunting season now that the animal is no longer classified as an endangered species. But the measure has opposition, and with a crowded lame duck agenda, it could be a longshot to be taken up by the end of the year.