Expungement bill moves out of Senate committee

A House bill that that would automatically set aside certain felony and misdemeanor convictions moved out of the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. The committee, however, did add language to create a specified fund to cover, upon appropriations, costs for implementation, systems upgrades and staffing needs. MAC has requested clarification language to be included to ensure that any cost at the local level are also eligible under the fund.

Still, MAC testified against House Bill 4980, by Rep. Eric Leutheiser (R-Branch), as a large concern outlined in written comments provided on June 11 has not yet be resolved: The legislation requires the Michigan State Police (MSP) database to set aside eligible convictions. However, there is no notification requirement on MSP to send that information to the local clerk and courts. Therefore, MAC is concerned some records may be public at the local level, while MSP has sealed the records. This inconsistency is contrary to the goal of the legislation and causes liability concerns for counties.

Also in committee, Sen. Tom Barrett (R-Eaton) offered language that allows a court to reinstate a conviction that was set aside, if a court has determined the individual has not made a good-faith effort to pay restitution.

The bill waits action on the Senate floor. The Senate has adjourned until late July.

For more information on this issue, contact Meghann Keit at Keit@micounties.org.

 

Senate approves summer property tax deferment bills

Individuals and businesses are one step closer to delaying their summer 2020 property tax payments to March 1, 2021, without penalty after a two-bill package gained Senate approval this week.

House Bills 5761 and 5810, by Rep. James Lower (R-Ionia), state that entities wishing to delay payments must submit an affidavit to their local tax collecting unit attesting to financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic by Aug. 28, 2020, to qualify.  Once a local unit has collected the affidavits, it would submit those to the county for tallying and submission to the Michigan Department of Treasury. Then, it would be incumbent upon the state to borrow enough money to make up for those unpaid taxes for all the taxing units, so locals do not run in to significant cash flow issues during the deferment period. 

MAC supported the concept of the legislation. The bills now move to the governor for her signature.

For more information on this issue, please contact Deena Bosworth at bosworth@micounties.org.

 

Elections panel takes testimony on absentee ballots

The clerk/register of deeds for Kent County told the Senate Elections Committee this week that she thinks the mailing of absentee voter applications to all voters is illegal and places additional burdens on county and local clerks.

Kent’s Lisa Lyons made the comments during a hearing by the committee on recent policy changes and actions of Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

Under Proposal 3 of 2018, Lyons said every voter has a right to cast an absentee ballot. However, sahe said no elected official can send a ballot unless the voter has required it verbally or in writing per case law.

Additionally, the committee approved Senate Bills 977-78, by Sen. Kevin Daley (R-Lapeer), which would: make it a misdemeanor to knowingly making a false statement on an absent voter ballot application; make it a felony for knowingly submitting an absent voter ballot application containing or using another person’s name and personal identification information; and would make it a felony for knowingly submitting an application with the intent to obtain multiple ballots for a person. The Michigan Association of County Clerks supports the bills.

Full video of the committee hearing can be found here.

For more information on this issue, contact Meghann Keit at Keit@micounties.org.

 

Law enforcement grant applications due on Aug. 14

County law enforcement and courts that were previously ineligible for direct Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Fund (CESF) grants can now apply for such funds until Aug. 14 at noon.

The Michigan State Police advises that the grant performance period spans from March 1, 2020, through Sept. 30, 2021, and all work must directly relate to the prevention of, preparation for or response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

County Sheriff, Jail and County Prosecutor Allocations can be found here.

County Allocations for Circuit/District/Probate courts can be found here.

Applications are due on Aug. 14. Forms and Instructions can be found here

 

MAC offices will be closed on July 3

MAC’s offices in Lansing will be closed on Friday, July 3 to observe the federal holiday for the Fourth of July.

Also, be advised that there will not be a Legislative Update on July 3, due to the national holiday.

Legislative Updates will resume on Friday, July 10.

 

Michigan Senate endorses flexible use of federal CARES Act dollars

The Michigan Senate called on the federal government to ease restrictions on use of the nearly $3.8 billion Michigan has received from the CARES Act via a resolution passed Thursday.

 Senate Resolution 124, by Sen. Winnie Brinks (D-Kent), acknowledges the revenue shortfalls for the state and local units of government and implores Congress to allow the use of these funds to help fill the mounting deficits faced by Michigan and local governments. The State is facing a $3 billion deficit for Fiscal 2020, which ends Sept. 30. Without additional flexibility for CARES funds, severe budget cuts across all levels of government are inevitable.

The Legislature and the Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also are in discussions about extending the July 1, 2020, deadline for presenting the governor a budget for fiscal 2021, which begins Oct. 1, ,2020. Due to the uncertainty on revenues for next year and over federal assistance, completing a new budget will challenge state leaders. An additional Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference is scheduled for August. At that time, a clearer picture of the budget damage will provide legislators more guidance on their options.

For more information on this issue, contact Deena Bosworth at bosworth@micounties.org.

 

MAC expresses concern on expungement bill

Counties have concerns with the mechanics of House Bill 4980, part of a package of bills on expunging criminal records, the Michigan Association of Counties told the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety this week.

The committee took testimony on bills to expand the eligibility to remove specific convictions from the public criminal record. HB 4980 would create an automatic process, in which certain offenses would be set aside without requiring a petition process overseen by a judge. 

Countywide elected officials expressed concerns about the automatic provisions during the committee hearing. Prosecutors from Berrien and Marquette also opposed an automatic process and encouraged the committee to preserve the ability of victims to part of the expungement process. Additionally, the prosecutors pointed out that out-of-state convictions will not be considered under the current bill language. Undersheriff Daniel Pfannes of Wayne County also testified in opposition to HB 4980 on behalf of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association.

In written testimony to the committee, MAC noted that recent versions of the bill require certain records in the Michigan State Police (MSP) database to be set aside after a period of seven or 10 years. However, nothing in the bill requires MSP to then transfer a notification to the local court that these records are sealed. Therefore, the record would still be accessible through the court or county clerk. Additionally, changes to state-administered databases may occur, but it is unclear how the system changes will affect local government case management systems and the potential cost attached.

MAC will continue to work with state agencies and legislative leaders to address logistical and fiscal concerns.

For more information on this issue, contact Meghann Keit at keit@micounties.org.  

 

Candidates can now file for MAC Board seats

At the 2020 Michigan Counties Annual Conference in August, MAC members will vote on six seats on the MAC Board of Directors.

Commissioners wishing to serve on the Board, whether incumbents or new candidates, have until July 16 to file official notice of their intent to run. Board terms are for three years.

Seats representing regions are filled by a vote in regional caucuses at the conference. At-large seats are filled by the candidate that wins a majority of the six regional caucuses.

The MAC Board of Directors is the key body in guiding the legislative and organizational strategies of MAC.

2020 Board seats

  • Region 1 — 1 seat
  • Region 2 — 1 seat
  • Region 3 — 1 seat
  • Region 4 — 1 seat
  • Region 5 — 1 seat
  • At-large — 1 seat

Any member wishing to run in the election must download the application form and return it by July 16, 2020, to Derek Melot (melot@micounties.org) to be eligible. Please also share a brief statement of why you wish to serve on the MAC Board. The information will be shared with voting members on the website prior to the elections

If you have any questions about Board duties, please contact Executive Director Stephan W. Currie at 517-372-5374.

 

Policy platform drafts now available for review by members

Platforms that would guide MAC’s policy advocacy for the coming year are now available for review on MAC’s website.

The drafts were crafted by the association’s policy committees and reviewed and approved by the Board of Directors at its June 5 session.

MAC also will be sending the platforms electronically to counties to share with commissioners.

Since this year’s session will be done electronically, the Board also voted to require that all member amendments for the platforms be submitted in writing to MAC by 5 p.m. on Aug. 7. Amendments will not be accepted from “the floor” during the virtual meeting, whose date has not yet been set, but which will occur between Aug. 18-27 during the Virtual Annual Conference.

For questions on the platforms, contact Deena Bosworth at bosworth@micounties.org.

 

Counties advise on opening status

Counties across Michigan reported they have either resumed public access to buildings or on the brink of doing so via emails shared by county administrators this week.

MAC created a summary of these comments and plans that includes responses from 33 counties.

 

Benzie’s work on rural broadband opens Camp Counties series

A case study from Benzie County on their work to expand and improve internet service was the focus of the first of five webinars under MAC’s Camp Counties series.

Robert Russell, one of the leaders of the Benzie effort, walked attendees through the challenges, particularly topographical, and options the Benzie group has encountered over the last two years.

The video from the webinar and Russell’s slide deck are available for 24/7 viewing at the Camp Counties webpage.

Also visit the page to register for upcoming sessions, with the next one, on June 17, to focus on tips for planning and winning millage elections in a COVID world.

 

Nursing home monitoring bill advances

A bill to require nursing homes and medical care facilities to allow residents to place a camera in their room advanced out of a Senate committee this week, despite opposition from the Michigan County Medical Care Facilities Council (MCMCFC).

Senate Bill 77, by Sen. Jim Runestad (R-Oakland), moved out of the Senate Health Policy Committee and to the Senate floor. Under the bill, the resident would have to cover the cost, maintenance and activation of the electronic device. If a resident shares a room with another, written permission must be granted by the other party or their representative.

MCMCFC opposes the legislation due to concerns around the dignity and privacy rights of the resident. According to an article in The Elder Law Journal, “Monitoring technologies that aim to safeguard residents against perceived threats to health and safety can, in so doing, create their own threats to their autonomy and well-being.”

“Most nursing homes already have cameras in hallways and other common areas, but cameras in bedrooms, where residents are being dressed, bathed or receiving other medical treatments, is something that most people would not want for themselves,” said Renee Beniak, executive director of MCMCFC.

Additionally, the larger issue at hand should be addressed regarding resident care: the shortage of nurses and nursing assistant. Without adequate staffing, nurses are put under extreme pressure to care for their residents in a timely manner.

MCMCFC will continue to work to improve the legislation.

For more information on this issue, contact Meghann Keit at keit@micounties.org.

 

Oscoda moves into new building, 4 years after fire

Oscoda County opened its new Government Building to the public on June 10.

“So far, so good,” reported Clerk Jeri Winton. “It has been a joy to be in the new building after four years of being in a double-wide, and to be able to allow our voters in so they can conduct their business has been great!”

The new building was needed after a fire in May 2016 destroyed the county’s historic courthouse, which was built in 1888 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

 

Court sides with governor on emergency powers in 1945 law

Michigan’s Court of Claims turned aside a challenge to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency powers under a 1945 state law in a ruling issued Thursday.

Judge Cynthia Stephens rejected the challenge by House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Emmet) and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Jackson) that the governor had exceeded her powers.

“It would take a particularly strained reading of the plain text of the (law) to conclude that a grant of authority to deal with a public crisis that affects all the people of this state would somehow be constrained to a certain locality,” Stephens said.

However, Stephens did rule that the governor cannot use a 1976 law to “unilaterally make emergency declarations,” the Associated Press reported. Whitmer had issued emergency orders under both the 1945 and 1976 statutes after the Legislature had declined to extend a state of emergency in late April.

Legislative leaders said they will appeal the decision.

In the meantime, all the governor’s executive orders remain in force.

For more information on this issue, contact Deena Bosworth at bosworth@micounties.org.

 

Podcast 83 delves into federal aid prospects, state budget crisis

Aid proposals for counties and others continue to float around Capitol Hill, while the state of Michigan has nothing but grim budget news for the next two years, said MAC staffers during the most recent episode of Podcast 83, MAC’s audio briefing on all news and policies related to counties.

Also discussed was the decision this week by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to revise her Stay at Home order for northern regions of Michigan: “Restaurants and bars can open, but at half capacity, and again protocols are just like the rest of the industries that have gone back to work,” explained Deena Bosworth, MAC’s governmental affairs director. “This is all just in time for Memorial Weekend. It’s probably really good news for those Up North.”

On Capitol Hill, said Executive Director Stephan Currie, numerous proposals are in play that would send more rescue funds to Michigan, but they are not all the same: “I think it’s important to note that when you look at the two packages, HEROES vs. SMART, HEROES does provide a lot of flexibility, where SMART does kind of put some guardrails on there, which I think we’re comfortable with going forward. We understand people should not be making pension payments and things like that. This is not just bailout funds. These are funds used to deal with direct revenue loss because of COVID-19.”

Less encouraging was the report from the Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference that Michigan is in the hole about $6 billion over the rest of this budget year (FY20) and the next (FY21).

“It takes three to tango,” said Keit, regarding the prickly relationship among Gov. Whitmer, House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Emmet) and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Jackson) that must be navigated if budget compromises are to be found in Lansing.

To hear the new episode, or listen to prior ones, visit the Podcast 83 page.

 

New order loosens restrictions on retail activity, social gatherings

On Thursday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued Executive Order 96, loosening restrictions on retail and social activity in Michigan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Locals would gain spending flexibility on roads under House bills

Local road agencies could reallocate their share of state road funding dollars to the roads they determine need it the most under two bills approved by the House this week.  

Current law dictates that 75% percent of the money must be spent on primary roads, leaving only 25 percent for secondary roads. But House Bill 4965, by Rep. Rodney Wakeman (R-Saginaw), and HB 4966, by Rep. Andrea Schroeder (R-Oakland), eliminate the requirements to allocate the funding in a 75/25 split.

This comes in the wake of new asset management plan requirements that created asset mapping. The maps, approved by the State Transportation Asset Management Council, identify the conditions of roads and rank them. The flexibility will allow locals to allocate their resources in a manner consistent with need, instead of restricting the funds according to percentages. 

MAC supports both bills, which now move to the Senate.

For more information on this issue, contact Deena Bosworth at bosworth@micounties.org.   

 

Immunity bill stalls in committee; Whitmer issues new EO on nursing homes

A bill to provide civil and criminal immunity to health providers during the coronavirus crisis got its second hearing this week before the House Judiciary Committee.

Senate Bill 899, by Sen. Michael MacDonald (R-Macomb) was held over, however, after several committee members voiced concern with the language that provides immunity due to a shortage of PPE and the time frame that runs to Sept. 30, even if Michigan is not then under a State of Emergency.

The bill sponsor and committee members continue to work on potential amendments to the bill.

In other medical news, the governor issued Executive Order 95, rescinding last week’s EO 84 and extending enhanced protections for the health and safety of residents and employees of long-term care facilities. The order took effect immediately and will run through June 17.

The order came shortly after criticism by the Republican majority in the Senate Oversight Committee of the governor’s executive orders relating to nursing homes and safety concerns over admitting or readmitting patients who had previously tested positive for COVID-19.

The new order “…-95 provides for a holistic decision-making process so that COVID-19-affected residents will only be discharged from a hospital to a facility that is capable of safely isolating the resident. In doing so, the order requires all hospital discharges be made consistent with current CDC and DHHS guidance. To ensure residents and employees are receiving the protections it affords, Executive Order 2020-95 authorizes the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) to take actions necessary to assure the proper level of care and services in connection with this order.”

For more information on this issue, contact Meghann Keit at keit@micounties.org.

 

NACo cancels 2020 Annual Conference planned for July

The National Association of Counties (NACo) will not hold its 2020 Annual Conference in July, the group’s board announced this week. Instead, the group will proceed with a virtual Annual Business Meeting, including the election for second vice president, consideration of by-laws amendments and other association business.

The 2020 NACo Annual Business Meeting will be on Monday, July 20 at 2 p.m. on a secure online platform with the ability of NACo members to vote in accordance with NACo by-laws. Participation will be free for all NACo members, but registration is required. Click here to register for the virtual Annual Business Meeting. Voting delegates must complete the credentials form as part of this registration process.

If you are not sure if your county is a NACo member, contact NACo’s John Losh at jlosh@naco.org.

In addition, NACo is planning a virtual membership town hall meeting on Monday, July 13 at 4 p.m. that will include: a forum for second vice president candidates; an overview of proposed by-laws amendments; a status report on voting delegate credentials totals; and a Review of NACo policy resolutions.

 

Rural communities can get federal grants to fight opioid abuse

Rural communities can apply for grants from a $12 million fund to fight opioid abuse under the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program (R-CORP), the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) announced on May 13.

The grant will support the expansion of prevention, treatment and recovery services for opioid and other substance use disorders.

To be eligible, the applicant must serve rural communities at the highest risk for substance use disorder. Rural counties and counties serving rural census tracts within the county are eligible to apply.

Program applications are due by July 13 and HRSA is expected to disburse funding by Sept. 1. Grant funding may be used to support the following activities, many of which fulfill county priorities in addressing substance use disorders in our communities:

  • Distributing naloxone to individuals and organizations;
  • Providing community-based naloxone training;
  • Recruiting and training providers and support staff in medication assisted treatment (NOTE: These grant funds cannot be used to pay providers/support staff to deliver medication assisted treatment);
  • Creating a strategy to reach and engage individuals at high risk of substance use disorders (SUD) or opioid use disorders (OUD);
  • Working with law enforcement to develop a diversion program; and
  • Training providers, administrative staff and other relevant stakeholders to optimize reimbursement for treatment encounters through proper coding and billing.

 

Webinar will aid government leaders in rethinking operations

County leaders are invited to a June 5 webinar on how to evaluate operations and adapt them to current needs.

Leaders across all industries and sectors are currently figuring out how to navigate priorities, customer needs and business operations during the unfolding coronavirus pandemic. Defining a short-term strategy to lead your organization through this health crisis takes resourcefulness, flexibility, a clear vision and the ability to ask yourself some big questions. It’s been proven time and again that the best strategies are built on good information.

Click here to register for this free event, from 1 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., put on by the Lansing firm of Public Sector Consultants, Inc.

 

Staff picks

Revenue meeting paints bleak outlook for Michigan into 2022

The state has a $3.2 billion hole in its current budgets, public finance experts testified today before the state’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference. The conference is used to set revenue targets for elected officials each year. Of that gap, $2 billion is in the state’s roughly $11 billion General Fund, which finances a wide variety of services that counties are mandated to provide.

The outlook for FY21 is little better, with the experts seeing another $3 billion combined revenue drop for the General Fund and School Aid Fund. For FY22, which begins Oct. 1, 2021, the shortfall should be $2 billion.

Data and conclusions provided Friday by the University of Michigan, the Center for Automotive Research, the House and Senate Fiscal Agencies, the Michigan Department of Treasury and the State Budget Office included:

  • 22% of the state’s population is unemployed; and that level will persist through the end of June 2020
  • The state’s payroll tax revenue will be down 9% for FY20
  • One in seven businesses across Michigan will close, resulting in the loss of about 4.9% of jobs in the state
  • Light vehicle sales will be down 50% compared to last year, but should rebound to 2019 levels in 2021 

With only four months left in the current fiscal year, serious decisions about cuts to the programs, services and departments supported by the state’s General Fund are imminent. Of the $3.2 billion FY20 shortfall, about $2 billion is in the General Fund. And the $1.2 billion gap in the School Aid Fund will put additional pressure on lawmakers to find more savings in the General Fund.

Restoring a balanced state budget, as required by law, can happen via a negative supplemental appropriations bill advanced by the Legislature or an executive order from the governor, which only would need approval by the House and Senate Appropriations committees, not the full chambers. The specifics of cuts, and the mechanism to enact them, are not yet apparent.

For more information on this issue, contact Deena Bosworth at bosworth@micounties.org.

 

Supplemental could provide $1,000 per first responder

Public safety workers could get $1,000 payments under the terms of Senate Bill 690, sponsored by Appropriations Chairman Jim Stamas (R-Midland), which was unanimously approved by the Senate this week.

If the bill is also approved by the House and signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in its current form, first responders could get the payments if their local employers agrees to it, thus qualifying for reimbursement via the state dollars.

The bill allocates more than $500 million of the $3.8 billion of federal COVID relief Funding. It includes large support for counties and their front-line workers, including:

  • $100 million for up to $1,000 one-time, either lump sum or hourly, bonus payments for local public safety officers (police, fire, EMT, 911 etc.) under the following conditions –
  • Requires bonuses be paid by September 30, 2020
  • Allows local units until December 31, 2020, to apply for reimbursement through Treasury
  • Requires that reimbursements be made on a first-come, first-served basis and that the payment be made no later than 45 days after all required information is submitted
  • Sets a maximum award of $5 million to any city, township, village, or county
  • $178M in temporary pay increase for direct care workers as follows –
  • Those already receiving $2/hour under the governor’s order would receive $1 more for $3/hour total
  • Nursing home workers added to receive $3/hour increase (this includes county medical care facilities)
  • Eligibility would be until Sept. 30 and retroactive to April 1
  • $62 million for PPE and testing needs for:
  • Meat plants and other agricultural processing centers
  • Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
  • Other entities included in DHHS prioritization guidance
  • $125 million in financial help for childcare providers and impacted families
  • $11 million in funding for UIA to hire 300 temporary workers to handle unemployment claims
  • $2.5 million to the Replenish Hospitality Employee Fund to help restaurant workers adversely impacted by closures

 

House committee advances trial court funding bill

Statutory authority extending the ability for Michigan’s trial courts to levy fees, is one step closer to the governor’s desk. This week, the House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved House Bill 5488, by Rep. Sarah Lightner (R-Jackson), thereby keeping court funding stable until long-term reforms can be enacted.

The bill originally extended the authority until October of 2023, but after some committee members expressed concerned with the three-year extension, the bill was amended for a two-year extension. MAC supports this change and encourages the Legislature to continue swift action to ensure a long-term funding solution for our courts.

The state’s Trial Court Funding Commission said court costs “directly account for as high as $291 million annually in support (most of the 26.2 percent generated). Additionally, approximately $127 million of the annual funds transferred from the State originate from court assessments at sentencing. When totaled, Michigan trial courts are supported, in significant part, by over $418 million assessed to criminal defendants.”

The Commission also reported “findings from the survey of local funding units show that the total cost of Michigan’s court system (outside of the supreme court and court of appeals) amounts to between $1.14 billion and $1.44 billion.” Of the total amount, the percentage of local court operations expenses covered by state general fund is 2.24%. The report calls for a rebalancing of state and local funds and makes recommendations for the Legislature to consider for a stable court funding system.

For more information on this issue, contact Meghann Keit at keit@micounties.org.

 

Governor extends deadlines on property tax disputes

A Board of Review now has until July 21, 2020, to hear property tax disputes under a new order (Executive Order 87) issued by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Thursday night.

The order also directs that Board of Review decisions are due by Sept. 1, 2020. Further, EO 87 pushes back the deadline for commercial and industrial real and personal property tax disputes from May 31, 2020, to July 31, 2020.

For more information on this issue, contact Deena Bosworth at bosworth@micounties.org

 

Skilled nursing facilities move into Lansing focus this week

Senate Bill 899, by Sen. Michael McDonald (R-Macomb), which would provide immunity for certain health care workers from civil or criminal liability during the declared COVID-19 state of emergency, or through Sept. 30, 2020, whichever is later, was debated before the House Judiciary Committee this week.

The bill already has passed on party lines in the Senate and many Democratic members of the House committee questioned whether a bill to codify legal protections for hospitals treating new coronavirus patients would protect workers as much as it aimed to protect the hospitals themselves from potential lawsuits. The bill is supported by hospitals and doctors but is opposed by union groups representing hospital staff.

The bill is expected to come before the committee for a vote next week, but uncertain if there will be any changes at this point.

Also this week, the Senate Oversight Committee met regarding the governor’s executive order related to nursing homes (EO 50). Committee members focused on the operation of regional hubs created in the order and questioned Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon and other senior officials at DHHS. A full video of the committee hearing can be found here. 

The governor did re-issue orders, rescinding EO 50 and 51, and extending “capacity for disaster relief child care services for essential workforce” and “protecting residents and staff in long-term care facilities.” The new versions are: 

For more information on this issue, contact Meghann Keit at keit@micounties.org.

 

There’s still time to sign up for next Treasury webinar on May 18

In partnership with the Michigan Association of Counties, Michigan Municipal League and Michigan Townships Association, the Michigan Department of Treasury is pleased to announce the third joint webinar, “COVID-19 Updates and Resources for Local Governments,” at 2 p.m. on Monday, May 18.

Topics will include an update after the state of Michigan’s May Michigan Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference, an update from the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) on project timelines and financing and best practices around local government cash and debt management.

Participants can register and submit questions on the webinar’s registration page.

Each webinar is limited to 1,000 attendees. With previous webinars reaching capacity limits, participants are strongly encouraged to register early.

A fourth webinar is tentatively scheduled for Monday, June 8. Additional information and registration details about this June webinar will be sent in the coming weeks.

The state Treasury Department has developed a website with numbered letters, communications and resources regarding COVID-19 information for local governments and school districts. This website was created to ensure that Michigan communities have access to the most up-to-date guidance and will be updated frequently with information and resources as they become available.

 

Prosecutors group: Governor’s orders valid unless court says otherwise

The Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan (PAAM) – an association consisting of all 83 elected county prosecutors and affiliate member of MAC – issued a statement Wednesday that said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Executive Orders remain in force.

In the statement, PAAM acknowledged the legal challenge brought by the State Legislature against Governor Whitmer over her authority to issue Executive Orders but stated that, because no court has issued a ruling, “the Executive Orders are still in force.”  

This statement comes after Attorney General Nessel issued similar guidance on May 5 to law enforcement across the state where she found the two orders – Stay Home, Stay Safe Order (2020-70) and Places of Public Accommodation Order (2020-69) – to be valid under the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act and asked local law enforcement agencies to continue their enforcement efforts.   

Oral argument was heard today by Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens in Michigan House of Representatives and Michigan Senate v Whitmer, (Case No. 20-000079).

No timeline was set for a decision in the case.

 

Jail Task Force issues memo on gaining COVID funds

Michigan’s Jail and Pretrial Task Force has released a memo to county and city officials as they consider spending options from Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding through the federal Bureau of Justice. Some counties were eligible for funding directly through the federal government, but the remainder will be funded through the state allocation. The Michigan State Police is the lead agency and will provide more information to MAC members when the application and information are available. Until then, county leaders can begin thinking about innovative ways to use funds, with this memo as a reference point.

For more information on this issue, contact Meghann Keit at keit@micounties.org.

 

Opioid summit information posted to web

The Center for Behavioral Health and Justice at Wayne State University thanks the 360 people who joined us for the first ever Opioid Treatment Ecosystem Community of Practice Summit on May 5, 2020. We have attached a copy of the presentation slides and responses to your questions from the Q&A portion of the event.

Watch the full recording of the event or navigate to a specific section here. 

 

Governor extends State of Emergency, court battle looms

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed new Executive Orders Thursday night to extend Michigan’s State of Emergency and Disaster Declarations until May 28.

EO 66 terminated the previous State of Emergency (SOE) order that expired April 30. EO 67 states that Michigan remains under an SOE via the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act of 1945, which, unlike the Emergency Management Act of 1976, has no time limit on a declaration and no requirement for the Legislature to extend the declaration. The governor also issued EO 68, which declares the new State of Emergency and disaster under the Emergency Management Act through May 28.

Also, limits on places such as bars, restaurants and theaters are extended for the duration of the SOE under EO 69. The order continues to allow businesses to offer food and beverage using delivery service and takeout services.

Meanwhile, Republican majorities in the Legislature adopted HR 250 (Rep. Hernandez R-St. Clair) and SR 114 (Sen. Stamas, R-Midland), which authorize legal action on behalf of each legislative chamber against the governor for taking steps to extend the SOE.

With a court fight looming, Gongwer News Service reported, “Not only do several attorneys who have worked in state government for both parties say the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act clearly empowers the governor to put the state under an emergency and issue necessary rules and orders to address the situation without legislative approval, there’s also a theory that Ms. Whitmer could simply issue a new declaration under the Emergency Management Act with that declaration good for 28 days with nothing the Legislature can do, as long as she can point to new circumstances.”

In other actions on Thursday:

  • The Legislature sent Senate Bill 858 to the governor, which codifies some EOs issued for various dates between April and July, while not addressing six of the governor’s orders, including the Stay at Home order. Bars, restaurants and other similar businesses would be able to open on May 16 under the legislation. Other key orders that would continue under the bill include protocols for prisons and jails (EO 62 through July 30) and restrictions for nursing homes and other long-term care facilities (EO 50 until July 30). The governor announced she intends to veto this bill.
  • The House passed House Bill 5709 (Rep. Sheppard, R-Monroe), which would make disobeying a rule, order or directive issue by the governor a civil infraction, rather than the current misdemeanor, and allowing a fine of up to $100. The bill specifically says the statutory fine would take precedence over language of any order stating that the violation would constitute a misdemeanor.

 

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NACo leader touts ‘3 T’s’ and ‘guardrails’ for next federal rescue bill

In final event of 2020 Virtual Legislative Conference, the head of the National Association of Counties urged Michigan leaders to contact their members of Congress to back a “CARES Act 2.0” measure that would include $125 billion in direct aid to counties.

Matt Chase, NACo executive director, said the U.S. House is expected to take the lead on the bill. “Bipartisanship support for local aid is building,” Chase said. “But we need to keep up the pressure.”

Chase said NACo’s message to Congress centered on two themes right now:

  • Focus on the 3 T’s of testing, tracing and treatment
  • Counties want “guardrails, not third rails,” a response to criticism by some lawmakers that local governments want to use COVID funds to handle longstanding and unrelated fiscal issues, such as pensions

Chase said NACo supports the creation of a federal ombudsman or rapid response team in the 2.0 bill to give counties immediate answers on whether a specific use of federal funds was appropriate. “We are totally for accountability.”

The discussion was the final event of MAC’s two-week Virtual Legislative Conference, launched after the association was forced to cancel its traditional in-person event in Lansing. All eight virtual events can be viewed 24/7 by visiting the conference page on our website.

“Matt’s comments were an excellent cap to our conference,” said MAC Executive Director Stephan Currie. “We averaged 40 to 50 people viewing each event live, and we know far more will view them at their convenience later.”

 

Maximize your use of MAC’s heat map to track COVID’s advance

MAC members are encouraged to regularly visit micounties.org to use the COVID tracking heat map put together for us by Munetrix. The map has many features of which members may not be aware.

For example, using the cases per 100,000 residents function (see images), you can see the advance of COVID while adjusting for population. Some notable results in this feature:

  • Otsego and Crawford counties have rates approaching 400 cases per 100,000 residents
  • Shiawassee, Hillsdale, Tuscola, Lapeer, St. Clair, Iosco and Alpena counties are near or over the 200 cases per 100,000 residents rate

The highest county rate remains Wayne with 1,783 cases per 100,000 residents; five UP counties (Alger, Baraga, Iron, Keweenaw and Ontonagon) show a rate of 0 cases, when adjusting for population. (All figures are from the state’s April 30 report.)

In related news this week:

  • AP and Crain’s Detroit both reported that four rural counties — Arenac, Branch, Lapeer and Mecosta —had ICUs that were at 100 percent capacity on Monday.
  • Crain’s Chad Livengood noted on Thursday, “In the past 10 days, there’s been a 169% increase in positive cases in Kent County, +230% in Ionia County, +133% in Allegan, + 85% in Muskegon, +97% in Kalamazoo, +57% in Branch, +54% in Calhoun, +51% in Berrien (and) +48% in Van Buren.”
  • A University of Maryland tracker on social distancing has shown a clear downward trend for Michigan: On March 30, Michigan scored a 64 out of 100 on its index, which “represents the extent residents and visitors are practicing social distancing.” On April 13, the score had risen to 66. Since then, Michigan has seen a steady decline, hitting 57 on April 20, 52 on April 27 and 48 on April 28 (last date available).

For more information on MAC’s heat map, including the software code if you wish to embed the map on your own county’s website, contact MAC’s Derek Melot at melot@micounties.org.

 

MAC sets May 6 webinar to aid counties on return-to-work plans

Counties continue their planning to return more employees to on-site operations. In a webinar on May 6, experts from the Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority (MMRMA) will walk participants through MMRMA’s COVID-19 Model Response Plan and then take questions from MAC members.

To pre-register for this event, click here.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

 

Wave of property tax forgiveness bills hits State Capitol

With 25 percent of Michigan’s work force unemployed and continued uncertainty about when the state will reopen, legislators are advancing property tax relief measures that would affect counties: 

  • House Bill 5705 (Rep. Yaroch, R-Macomb) would exempt property taxes for second homes during the period of time owners were banned from utilizing that property. 
  • House Bill 5738 (Rep. Elder, D-Bay) would allow county treasurers to temporarily suspend strict compliance with the foreclosure process and extend the redemption deadline for 30 days after the State of Emergency is lifted.
  • House Bill 5750 (Rep. Sheppard, R-Monroe) and Senate Bill 901 (Sen. Stamas, R-Midland) seek to codify the governor’s Executive Order granting an extension to the date by which a property owner must make payment to redeem property in foreclosure until May 20, 2020, or 30 days after the termination of the State of Emergency.
  • House Bill 5761 (Rep. Lower, R-Montcalm) would waive interest, penalties, fees and late charges for unpaid property taxes levied in 2020 until the property reaches delinquency status. It also allows local units to apply to the Michigan Department of Treasury for reimbursement.  Funds would have to be appropriated to the department for such purpose. However, with the projected $3 billion deficit the state is facing for FY20 alone, such an appropriation is unlikely.

County governments, while always seeking to make payment arrangements so owners can stay in their homes, rely on the approximate $15 billion in property taxes collected each year to provide the services our communities require. Losing these revenues for extended periods would inevitably put more pressure on county budgets and create serious cash flow issues.

Additional grace periods for foreclosures due to access issues with county offices are workable in the short term, but an overall exemption for taxes for any period of time is not; removing penalties for non-payment of taxes that sweep in residential and commercial properties regardless of hardship would cripple county revenues.

MAC opposes HB 5705 and is carefully studying the other measures.

For more information on this issue, contact Deena Bosworth at bosworth@micounties.org.

 

Return of construction work has counties staffing up

With an Executive Order expected at any time to allow for most construction work to resume during the State of Emergency, county leaders across Michigan are pulling in staff to ensure building departments are ready for regulatory and permit requests

A flood of requests is expected on May 7, the expected date of the easing of restrictions on the industry.  

Some counties have asked staff to return to work already in order to prepare. Many administrators and building department staff are working on formalizing protocols: some counties will interface with the public by appointment-only, while some will open the county building and follow social-distancing protocols and require face masks.

So far, at least 12 counties have confirmed plans to resume building inspections by May 7. 

 

Enbridge moves ahead with Line 5 permitting process

Enbridge has filed a new state permit application with the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) that would allow work to begin sooner on the tunnel that will house the Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac.

The energy firm is seeking a declaratory ruling from the MPSC it already has the authority to relocate the pipeline to the new tunnel, which would sidestep a lengthy approval process that could take an additional year. MPSC is now holding two weeks of public comment, which opponents of the pipeline say is an attempt to diminish public input on a controversial topic during a global pandemic. Representatives from Enbridge say they are working to stay on the schedule that was agreed to in 2018 under Gov. Rick Snyder and “have been communicating with state and federal agencies to ensure we remained aligned in terms of the timing of this application.”

This comes weeks after the U.P. Energy Task Force, created by Executive Order by Gov. Whitmer, released an initial report outlining alternatives to Line 5, such as increasing propane reserves, utilizing railroad lines, and more.

The public comment period for Enbridge’s request ends May 13.

For more information, contact Michael Ruddock at ruddock@micounties.org.

 

18 mental health entities get federal help under Stabenow bill

Eighteen Michigan community mental health organizations have been selected as Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow announced this week. Michigan will receive $54,452,014 in new funding for the clinics.

Stabenow’s announcement is a result of the passage of the “Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Act,” which she sponsored.  Stabenow discussed this important legislation and upcoming funding with Michigan county leaders during a MAC-sponsored briefing with her in March on Capitol Hill.

The Community Mental Health Association of Michigan, a MAC affiliate member, praised Stabenow’s efforts in support of continued funding for Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHC):

“The recent SAMHSA announcement totaling over $54 million designates 18 Michigan organizations as CCBHC sites. Some of these sites are current CCBHC sites who have received continuation funding; some are newly designated CCBHC sites. These funds will allow those organizations to provide much needed community-based and integrated services for the people in their communities at a time when service demands are at an all-time high.”

For more information, contact Meghann Keit at keit@micounties.org.

 

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