Legislative Update as of November 10, 2017 by Todd Tennis of Capitol Services
The Michigan Legislature spent much of the last two months working on reforms to Michigan’s No-Fault Auto Insurance law. While there is near universal agreement that Michiganders (and we are officially “Michiganders” now thanks to Senate Bill 562) are paying too much for auto insurance, there is a massive debate on how to solve that problem. The plan designed by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and promoted by Speaker of the House Tom Leonard came to a sudden end on November 2 when it was defeated in the House by a vote of 45-63.
The House of Representatives plans to turn its attention to municipal pension reforms after it returns from the Thanksgiving recess.
Local Government Pensions Get Legislative Scrutiny
The Michigan House is preparing to move forward with legislation that will tackle problems with local public pension systems – particularly problems surrounding “Other Post-Employment Benefits” (OPEB). OPEB usually includes things like retiree health care, life insurance, or other benefits a retired employee receives that are not part of their pension payment. OPEB benefits vary from system to system and are usually collectively bargained.
The Governor’s Task Force on Responsible Retirement Reform for Local Government issued several recommendations earlier this year that will help rein in costs for OPEB at the local level. These recommendations were agreed upon by both management and union members of the task force, and focus on increased reporting requirements and calls for direct state intervention in only the most serious cases. Labor organization members of the task force, including AFSCME and the IAFF, have strongly urged the Legislature to adopt only those portions of the task force report that were agreed upon by all members.
Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the way House leaders will go. An early draft of proposed legislation included blanket prohibitions for local units of government that were not approved by the task force. For example, one provision would bar any municipal pension system that had been closed from ever reopening as a defined benefit plan. This could have extended impacts on the State Employees Retirement System should the legislature ever hope to reestablish it as a defined benefit plan.
This is a fight that is shaping up for this December, and we are expecting to have legislation introduced in late November or early December.
Cambensy and Yancey win House Special Elections
In addition to a large number of local races on the ballot on November 7 were two vacant seats in the State House. One was a Detroit-area seat vacated by Representative Brian Banks when he resigned earlier this year. That heavily Democratic seat was unsurprisingly won by Democrat Tenisha Yancey. The other vacant seat was the 109th District that covers the central Upper Peninsula vacated by the tragic death of Representative John Kivela.
The 109th race was one that Republicans felt they could win. Despite the fact that the seat has been held by a Democrat for decades, the area had gone for President Trump just a year ago. Both parties focused a good deal of resources and energy to win the race, but in the end, Democratic Marquette City Commissioner Sara Cambensy won a strong victory with 57% of the vote compared to her Republican opponent Rich Rossway’s 42%.
The special elections will temporarily bring the House back to full strength with 110 sitting members. However, Rep. Andy Schor’s victory in the Lansing mayoral election will create another vacancy when he takes office on January 1.
Statewide Races in 2018 Shaping Up
While Gretchen Whitmer kicked off the 2018 Governor’s race nearly a year ago, she has since been joined by numerous other candidates for several statewide offices. While we lost a great deal of potential entertainment value when Kid Rock declined to run for the U.S. Senate, a number of other individuals have either thrown their hats into the ring or have announced plans to do so.
In addition to former State Senator Gretchen Whitmer, businessman Shri Thanedar and former Detroit Health Officer Abdul El-Sayed round out the current major candidates for the Democratic nomination. Others rumored to be considering joining the race are former director of the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth Andy Levin, and prominent attorney Geoffrey Fieger.
On the Republican side, the overwhelming favorite continues to be current Attorney General Bill Schuette. State Senator Patrick Colbeck has formed something like a resistance movement with very passionate supporters, but he is heavily outgunned by establishment Republican leaders who have lined up behind Schuette. Lt. Governor Brian Calley has been expected to enter the race as well, but so far he has focused on the ballot initiative for a part-time legislature.
State Senator Tonya Schuitmaker and Speaker of the House Tom Leonard are the two heavyweight contenders for the Republican nomination for Attorney General. GOP delegates to the 2018 convention will have two well-known, conservative leaders to choose between.
Democrats, on the other hand, will likely choose between former U.S. Attorney Pat Miles and Detroit-area lawyer Dana Nessel (who achieved notoriety by leading the successful litigation at the US Supreme Court to allow for same-sex marriage) to be their standard-bearers. Neither of them have any experience in elected office, something that could be a positive or a negative with a fickle electorate. State Senator Steve Bieda has also announced his intention to run for Attorney General. State Representative Tim Greimel had also considered a run for AG, but he instead opted to run for the 11th Congressional District being vacated by Dave Trott.
Senator Debbie Stabenow will seek her fourth term in the U.S. Senate for the Democrats. With the aforementioned Kid Rock out of the race, the current leading Republican contenders are former Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young and Detroit businessman and combat veteran John James. Congressman Fred Upton has also been mentioned as a possible candidate. Lena Epstein, the Michigan chair of the Trump campaign, had earlier filed to run against Stabenow, but dropped out so she could (like Tim Greimel mentioned above) run for the 11th Congressional District being vacated by Dave Trott.