September 5, 2021
The House and Senate were scheduled to return for their fall session September 9 and must tackle the looming budget deadline of September 30.
Good News — The Pfizer COVID vaccine is now fully approved by the FDA. At this writing, the State of Michigan has administered over 9.6 million total doses of the COVID-19 vaccines. The proportion of those 12 and older in Michigan who are fully vaccinated now stands at 56.1 percent. The proportion of children age 12-15 vaccinated is still low — 37.3 percent — just when school is starting. Many school districts and counties are mandating masking in schools but protests about it are continuing. To view the total distribution of vaccines and more vaccine information, visit www.michigan.gov/covidvaccine to view the COVID-19 Vaccine Dashboard.
Among the fully vaccinated population 12 and older, Leelanau County leads the way at 74.8 percent. Among the areas with the lowest numbers are the city of Detroit (35.7 percent), Cass County (35.9 percent) and Hillsdale County (38.6 percent).
Bad News — The total number of positive cases of COVID-19 in Michigan rose to 946,698 and 20,257 deaths as of September 1.
SEN. HERTEL TO SPONSOR RETIREE COST OF LIVING ADJUSTMENT (COLA) BILL
Sen. Curtis Hertel (D-East Lansing) has agreed to sponsor a stand-alone bill to remove the $300 cap on the defined benefit (DB) State employee retiree’s annual supplement that was established by statute in 1987. The cap affects approximately 85 percent of DB retirees now and today is worth just $129 due to inflation in the last 34 years. If the cap is removed entirely, DB retirees would get an annual three percent supplement similar to school employee retirees.
Sen. Hertel is the Minority Vice Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee and has a strong record of getting his sponsored bills passed in the GOP-controlled chamber. The greatest concern will be the increased cost to fund the State’s Annual Required Contribution to finance the pension fund.
Sen. Tom Barrett (R-Grand Ledge) has agreed to co-sponsor the bill once introduced. He shared advice with us on who in the Senate was important to contact. Please attend your State Senators’ coffee hours or contact them and mention the need to address the problem of our annual supplement cap and that the bill needs their support when introduced. No bill number is available at this time.
ELECTION LAW REVISION PROPOSED
Voter-initiated law language has been submitted by Secure MI Vote to the Secretary of State that would amend current Michigan election law with regard to voter identification, funding of elections, and access to applications for an absentee ballot. Secure MI Vote is a ballot committee established last December.
2020 Election — After election law reforms were passed by voters in 2018 permitting no-reason absentee voting, the November 2020 election saw the highest turnout in Michigan history (71 percent) despite the COVID pandemic and 60 percent absentee voting. President Trump and his allies disputed Michigan’s election results without success, 250 audits found no voting fraud, and a Republican-led Michigan Senate investigation affirmed there was no fraud. However, many are still convinced that election law revisions are needed.
Proposal — The proposed ballot language to amend Michigan’s election laws would:
Initiated Law — Republican Senators introduced a 39-bill package making similar changes but the Governor has said she would veto any bills diminishing voting rights. Using the initiated law petition drive process in Article II, Sec. 9, of Michigan’s Constitution would allow the Republican-controlled Legislature to enact an initiative petition to amend current statutes, provided organizers collect at least 347,047 valid signatures in a 180-day window period from registered voters, with Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer having no opportunity to veto the measure. Additionally, the GOP-controlled Legislature in the past has adopted an initiated law and then amended it in the same session to skirt the ¾ amendment requirement in the Constitution after an initiated law effective date. A Republican Attorney General opinion permits this and so far the courts have refused to intervene.
Significantly, it is unlikely the sponsors of Secure MI Vote would be able to submit their signatures and have them certified before the end of 2021. With Senate Democrats having the votes to deny immediate effect, it means if the Legislature enacted the initiative petition in 2022, it would almost certainly not take effect until 2023, as initiative petitions lacking immediate effect do not take effect until the expiration of 90 days following the sine die adjournment of the Legislature, which generally happens in December. That would mean the initiative, if successful, would not affect the 2022 elections but would affect the presidential election of 2024.
Sponsors — Jamie Roe, a Secure MI Vote spokesperson and longtime Republican operative in Michigan, stated in a press conference, “The success of this initiative will make it easier to vote, harder to cheat, and restore confidence in the electoral system.”
Response — “Democracy works best when voters have choices and options to cast their ballots securely,” Nancy Wang, executive director of the non-partisan Voters Not Politicians, said in a September 3 statement. “No matter what the sponsors of the petition say, this petition has nothing to do with election integrity, and everything to do with perpetuating the Big Lie. If their scheme to circumvent the voters succeeds, it will cut off access to the ballot for eligible voters.”
Next Steps — The deadline for submission of suggested petition summary and/or explanatory materials to Bureau of Elections staff in response to the Secure MI Vote proposal submitted on September 3 was September 9. The Board of State Canvassers then has to meet and approve the petition language. The deadline for the Board of State Canvassers to approve or reject the summary of the content of the petitions is October 1. Likely those opposing the proposal will try to delay approval as long as possible.
Funding — Michigan GOP chairman Ron Weiser stated in March that the state party planned to pay county parties to circulate a petition to bypass Whitmer’s veto of bills introduced by GOP State senators proposing a major overhaul of elections. In June, longtime GOP strategist and former general counsel for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce Bob LaBrant asked the Secretary of State to issue a declaratory ruling on whether the Michigan GOP can use its administrative fund to direct undisclosed contributions to a petition drive. On September 1, the Department of State issued a preliminary review stating that party administrative account funds — which can accept corporate funds and are not required to reveal the donors — are not permitted.
The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC) has been meeting up to three times per week to draw preliminary district lines for Michigan State Senate, State House, and U.S. Congressional districts.
Census Released — Preliminary U.S. Census numbers were released August 12 (six months late) permitting the MICRC to begin drafting some lines based on population. Generally, west Michigan counties around Grand Rapids and the Detroit northern and western suburbs grew in population as central cities and rural areas outside of the I-96 corridor and not near Lake Michigan shrank in population. The majority of Michigan’s 83 counties — 50 of them — lost population, largely in rural areas along the Indiana-Ohio border, in the Thumb, the I-75 corridor, the northeast Lower Peninsula, and the Upper Peninsula. Detroit again lost a huge chunk of its population, 10.5 percent, continuing a trend since the 1950s, falling from 713,777 to 639,111. The biggest city decline in population was in Flint, which fell by 20.1 percent, from 102,434 to 81,252 people. Saginaw also saw a significant population loss, falling 14.2 percent to 44,202. Lansing, Kalamazoo, Jackson, and Bay City all lost a few thousand people. These changes will shift political district lines accordingly.
Racial Diversity Increased — Michigan also became more diverse during the decade. The State’s white population fell by 4.6 percent, while the Black population fell by 1.7 percent, and the American Indian and Alaskan native population fell by 1.2 percent. The Asian population soared by 40.3 percent, the Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander population rose by 17.2 percent and the Hispanic or Latino population climbed by 29.3 percent. The number of people identifying as two or more races was up 175.8 percent from 2010, the greatest increase in racial categories now offered in the Census questionnaire.
Second Round of Hearings — The MICRC has an aggressive schedule to conduct its second round of public hearings on the proposed maps which will be released about October 1. You can attend in person, register and participate virtually, or watch on the MICRC You Tube portal. Final maps after the public hearings are scheduled for release by December 31, so speak up now. See www.michigan.gov/micrc for more information.
The public hearing itinerary will be:
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