Capitol News

January 9, 2022

The biggest news in the political world this past month was the approval of new district lines for Michigan’s 13 Congressional seats and 148 State legislative districts. The Legislature returns for one day on Wednesday, January 12, and then starts meeting regularly (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday) on January 18.

COLA CAP REMOVAL UPDATE

Senate Bill (SB) 775 sponsored by Sen. Curtis Hertel (D-East Lansing) at the urging of the State Employee Retirees Association would remove the $300 ($25 per month) cap on the defined benefit State employee retirees’ annual supplement. It affects about two-thirds of all defined benefit State employee retirees and was described in my December article in greater detail.

The bill has been assigned to the Senate Appropriations Committee chaired by Senator Jim Stamas (R-Midland). Please contact Sen. Stamas’ toll free line at (855) 347-8036 or e-mail him at senjstamas@senate.michigan.gov and urge him to schedule SB 775 for a hearing. A hearing will surface a Senate Fiscal Agency fiscal analysis and cost estimate, something we need to move the issue forward for adoption. Also please attend your local Senator’s coffee hour and ask her/him for support of SB 775.

The revenue to finance the increased COLA would come from the defined benefit pension fund. Any change, such as eliminating the $300 annual cap, would increase payments to pensioners and their beneficiaries from the fund (currently around $2 billion annually) and potentially increase the Annual Required Contribution the State has to deposit into the pension fund, depending on a number of factors including market returns and mortality rate of participants. The actuarial estimates are an important element in getting SB 775 moving from a proposed bill into a signed law.

REDISTRICTING

To almost everyone’s surprise, the Michigan Independent Citizen’s Redistricting Commission voted on its first try to approve proposed new political district lines in one short day of voting on Tuesday, December 28. The vote marked the first time ordinary voters rather than politicians developed and approved in open meetings the political boundaries for the next ten years in Michigan. The process took over 16 months of work with over 135 sometimes day-long meetings, many consultants, and tens of thousands of written or oral public comments preceding the final vote on the maps.

Special Majority — The Constitution requires a majority composed of at least two of the four Democrats, two of the four Republicans, and two of the five unaffiliated members of the Commission to formally adopt a map. In the end 15 maps were proposed, nine of them so-called collaboratively drawn maps and six proposed by a Commissioner. By the time of the vote, the majority favored the collaboratively drawn maps over the others. Only one Democrat, two Republicans and four of the non-affiliated Commissioners voted for all three winning maps. Two Republicans, Erin Wagner of Charlotte and Rhonda Lange of Reed City, voted for none of the winning maps.

Adopted were the Chestnut plan for the U.S. House, the Linden plan for the State Senate, and the Hickory plan for the State House. All can be found at www.michigan.gov/micrc right on the opening screen.

U.S. House — The Chestnut U.S. House map was approved by eight of the 13 Commissioners—two Democrats, two Republicans, and four unaffiliated Commissioners. The new map rearranges Detroit’s congressional seats significantly, splitting the city in half east to west and included the Dearborn area. A new Capitol area-centered congressional district includes Clinton, Ingham, Livingston, Shiawassee, and most of Eaton County.

State Senate — Nine Commissioners — all five of the non-affiliated, two Democrats, and two Republicans voted to approve the Linden plan for State Senate districts. Changed from current 2011 boundaries is the combination of Ludington and Muskegon into the same district stretching up to Benzie County; the reconfiguration of much of the northern Lower Peninsula; a reconfiguration of the Grand Rapids area; and a two-way split of greater Lansing area instead of one packed Democratic Senate district. Detroit districts were reconfigured into a spoke pattern reaching out to the suburbs.

State House — Eleven of the 13 Commissioners approved the Hickory plan for the 110 State House districts: all four Democrats, all five non-affiliated, and two Republicans. Again the Commission used a spoke pattern around the Detroit area, which included some suburban cities mixed with Detroit city areas. The Ann Arbor area and much of West Michigan differs from the current 2011 reapportionment map. A unique stair-step district along the Lake Michigan shoreline stretches from the southwestern point of Berrien County to near the northwestern point of Allegan County past Saugatuck.

Lawsuits — The Commission had been sued twice on matters unrelated to its mapmaking, once by a Detroit litigant who sought to compel the commission to meet its constitutional deadlines and more recently by news organizations seeking the release of attorney-client privileged documents and recordings of a closed meeting. The Detroit litigant lost his case and the Michigan Supreme Court in a 4-3 decision ruled in favor of the newspapers. The Commission subsequently complied without objection.

On January 6, several current and former African-American lawmakers, activists, and residents from Detroit filed a lawsuit challenging the maps with the Michigan Supreme Court alleging constitutional and Voting Rights Act violations. The lawsuit asserts that the Black vote in the city of Detroit was diluted in the new maps and represents a bipartisan racial gerrymander. In Detroit Caucus, et al v. MICRC (MSC Docket No. 163926), the plaintiffs claim that “Although the commission indicated they planned to protect communities of interest, they produced a U.S. Congressional plan that divided Detroit into eight pieces. Of those eight pieces, not one district as a whole contained Michigan’s largest Black populous, the city of Detroit, but instead, sections of Detroit’s Black community are apportioned to other, majority-white polities including: Bloomfield Hills, Birmingham, Canton, Farmington, Madison Heights, New Baltimore, Sterling Heights and Clinton Township.” The lawsuit notes that the current 2011 U.S. House map and the State Senate map each contains two majority Black districts and that the adopted Chestnut and Linden plans contain no majority Black districts. The current 2011 State House map has 12 majority Black districts; the Hickory House plan has only six according to the lawsuit complaint.

The Commission’s spokesperson said that it had trusted their Voting Rights Act attorneys’ analysis showing they were on solid ground to unpack the densely Black and Democratic districts forged through deals between the Democratic and Republican parties in 2011. The current 2011 map has three House districts with over 90 percent Black population and others with very high Black population.

Candidates Scramble — The litigation involving district lines may result in the Commission’s district lines being endorsed by the court(s)—or not. Meanwhile, candidates currently have a filing deadline of April 19 and need to know what the district lines are. Some incumbents have been placed in the same district as other incumbents; some are pledging to move into a new district to run for election. The filing deadline could be delayed by court decision or legislative enactment, but the August 2 primary looms over the whole process.

PETITION DRIVES

Petition drive entities seeking to make the 2022 ballot which influences who turns out to vote were active again during the last month. At its December 14 meeting, the Michigan Board of State Canvassers approved as to form the Michigan United initiated-statute petition to re-establish good time credit for prisoners described in this 100-word official summary:

Initiation of legislation to: repeal Truth in Sentencing law and eliminate mandatory minimum sentences extended by disciplinary time for misconduct; establish new types of earned credits that reduce prisoner sentences for earning a college degree or certification, being employed in prison, working in a training program, or earning special rehabilitation credits for prisoners with disabilities; allow prisoners sentenced as minors or military veterans to earn additional credits; establish board to review prisoner records and earned credits; require Department of Corrections to promulgate rules for disciplinary time and earned credits; apply law to everyone sentenced for a crime committed in Michigan.

Additionally, the following 100-word summary for the initiated-statute petition drive submitted by Michiganders for Fair Lending was approved:

Initiation of legislation amending the deferred presentment service transaction act, 2005 PA 244, sections 2, 33, and 40 (MCL 487.2122, 487.2153, and 487.2160), and adding new section 40a (MCL 487.2160a) to: describe deferred presentment service transactions as payday loans, prohibit service fees on these loans that are above an annual percentage rate of 36 percent; deem transactions that exceed this rate void and unenforceable; and provide powers to the Attorney General to enforce and penalize attempts to evade the Act’s requirements.

The Secretary of State, Bureau of Elections, has requested public comment during January on three new petition drives from:

    1)
  1. Audit Michigan to create a State Forensic Audit Board and require the Board to hire a third-party private contractor to do a forensic audit of the November 2020 election and all future general elections under the new Board’s supervision and procedures. The new Board would be composed of 16 active precinct delegates attending a meeting where precinct delegate names would be drawn at random. The measure also empowers a Grand Jury to subpoena witnesses and evidence among other provisions; 2)
  2. Raise Michigan to increase the minimum wage to $15/hour by 2027 and index it to inflation in the future as well as increase the tipped wage to the minimum wage over 6 years; and 3)
  3. Reproductive Freedom for All to add a constitutional amendment to give Michiganders the right to make decisions about all matters relating to pregnancy, including prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, contraception, sterilization, abortion care, miscarriage management, and infertility care. Coalition sponsors include the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, and Michigan Voices.

There are two circulating petitions that the Michigan SERA Coordinating Council opposes: Unlock Michigan 2 to reduce the power of public health departments to control disease outbreaks and Secure MI Vote to rollback access to voting. Both were discussed in November’s SERA-Nade.

Two petitions creating a tax break for those paying private and parochial school tuition in Michigan are circulating. Let MI Kids Learn (A) would create the Student Opportunity Scholarship Act which would require the Michigan Department of Treasury to run a scholarship program to award up to $8,700 scholarships ($500 limit for public school students) for K-12 students meeting income, disability, or foster-care requirements. Let MI Kids Learn (B) amends Michigan’s Income Tax Act to allow tax credits for those who donate to the Student Opportunity Scholarship program. Governor Whitmer vetoed practically identical bills in November because the Michigan Constitution, Article VIII, Section 2 forbids such public subsidy of private or parochial education so if enacted, there would likely be litigation challenging it. The Yes on National Popular Vote petition drive has suspended its effort for undisclosed reasons.

Editor’s note: Mary Pollock is the Lansing SERA Chapter and SERA Council’s Legislative Representative. She may be contacted at 1200 Prescott Drive, East Lansing, MI 48823-2446; Phone 517-351-7292; E-mail michigansera@comcast.net.

Michigan SERA Recent News, a compilation of links to articles of interest to state employees, is no longer produced.

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