FOIA bills threaten integrity of public bodies
Legislation that alters the Freedom of Information Act in ways detrimental to county government will be up before the House Committee on Oversight (Chair Steve Johnson) next week and MAC needs your voice to urge the House to set aside this ill-advised package.
Among the problems in the package are provisions to impose penalties on public bodies when mistakes are made, an inevitable increase in costs for compliance with the act and the removal of the anonymity of volunteer task force members when serving their communities.
House Bill 5921, by Rep. Steve Johnson (R-Kent), limits the reason for FOIA request denial to only the ones(s) stated in the beginning. This amendment could have the unintended consequences of releasing protected records if someone didn’t catch the right exemption the first time and could potentially force a local agency to violate other laws. MAC anticipates an amendment that will also require a $500 penalty payable to the requestor should a public body deny a request for the wrong reason.
House Bill 5923, by Rep. Greg VanWoerkom (R-Muskegon), requires the public body to acknowledge that exempt records exist and provide a description of the record. These amendments will likely require public bodies to consult legal counsel in each record request denial. In addition, this change has the potential of exposing private information that the law was originally intended to protect, especially in cases of mental health allegations, sexual assault allegations, legal opinions and law enforcement investigations, these disclosure requirements undermine the intent of the privacy exemptions.
House Bill 5924, by Rep. Andrew Fink (R-Hillsdale), requires that a record in the possession of outside legal counsel be considered to be in the possession of the public body. This amendment blurs the line over what is FOIA-able in an outside legal practice.
House Bill 5925, by Rep. Bryan Posthumus (R-Kent), allows for civil actions regarding the determination of whether the record is considered primarily for the public benefit and therefore should not be subject to fees for compiling the record. Again, these amendments would open the floodgates of litigation against public bodies, especially by the press who would claim public benefit for every request. Then the public body would likely have to absorb the entire cost of fulfilling these requests to avoid litigation.
MAC is opposed to these bills as written and urges county leaders to use our advocacy platform to send a pre-drafted message of opposition to your House member before next week’s hearings.
For more information on this issue, contact Deena Bosworth at email@example.com.
Veterans property tax reimbursement bills stalled in Senate; your voice needed now
Long-sought legislation to properly reimburse local governments for losses due to the state’s property tax exemption for disabled veterans remain stalled in the Senate.
Senate Bills 783-84, by Sen. Jon Bumstead (R-Newaygo), are the culmination of years of negotiations between counties, other local government organizations, veterans organizations and the Legislature. These bills signify the first time we have all been able to rally around a method for reimbursing local units for their losses due to the veterans exemption.
The bills provide a reimbursable income tax credit, payable to the local unit, in the amount of the exemption granted to eligible veterans. Nothing in this legislation alters the benefit, nor does it require any additional steps for the disabled veteran. It is a win-win for veterans and locals.
Nevertheless, although the bills passed out of committee in early March, no action has been taken on the Senate floor on them due to opposition from the Whitmer administration, which is not too keen on the state paying for the consequences of state policy.
The annual loss to local revenues is estimated at nearly $100 million each year, and that amount is expected to increase as property values rise and veterans trade up for more expensive homes.
Your voice as a county leader is urgently needed to push the Senate into a vote on these bills before the Legislature reduces its meeting schedule for the summer.
To assist you, MAC has created a message of support which you can email directly to your senator with just a couple of clicks. If each county commissioner across the state contacted their senator in support of reimbursement, we would surely see the legislation move forward in Lansing.
For more information on this issue, contact Deena Bosworth at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Podcast 83 resumes live episodes on May 16
The Podcast 83 team will be live on Monday, May 16 to discuss what’s coming up for action in Lansing.
The update will begin at 4 p.m. To join the session, just use this Zoom link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82867692853.
Viewers will be able to ask questions of the team as well.
In their most recent episode, on May 2, the team discussed state budget news, veterans property tax exemption legislation and the ongoing work of MAC’s six policy committees. Click here to view the video.
If you can’t catch any episode live, a recording will be posted later next week to MAC’s YouTube channel.
And you always can find details about any Podcast 83 episode on the MAC website.
Report: Quarter of ‘federal aid’ roads in ‘good’ condition
Michigan made some progress in addressing road conditions in 2021, says a new report from the Transportation Asset Management Council.
In its 2021 Annual Report, the council says Michigan has “… the highest percent of roads rated in good condition since 2005.
“The 2021 condition data for Michigan’s federal-aid eligible paved roads has made progress with
- 25% Good
- 42% Fair, and
- 33% in Poor condition.
In 2020, estimated breakdown was
- 22% Good,
- 36% Fair, and
- 42% were in Poor condition.
“This improvement in road surface condition,” the report says, “may be due in part to several factors including a mix of fixes of road surface treatments and increased revenue. The reasons for this improvement will be analyzed further and better understood as the 2021 project data becomes available.”
By contrast, conditions with Michigan’s bridges declined in 2021, with 4 percent of them falling into the “severe” category, which “measures the criticality and is a warning that these structures are in jeopardy for closure due to structural concerns that could pose a threat to traffic.”
The council is an appointed group that advises state officials on infrastructure. Kelly Jones, Ingham County Road Department managing director, is the MAC representative on the council.
Treasury launches improved document search site
The Michigan Department of Treasury is launching a new and improved Document Search site to provide greater access to local unit audit reports and other related financial information, the department announced this week.
“The Document Search site is a public online repository of document submissions and determinations for local units of government. For example, individuals can view a local unit’s audit or the determination of a local unit’s prior-approval application for borrowing.
“The new Document Search site retains all the previous features while adding new ways to search. New features include:
- “Search Bar: Type the name of the desired municipality instead of selecting from several cascading dropdowns
- “Document Groups: Related documents are grouped together into categories, like audit, finance and retirement
- “Improved Interface: Visual modernization and accessibility improvements
“Effective June 3, 2022, access to the old Document Search site will cease. Individuals are encouraged to add the new site to their browser’s favorites and replace any favorites directing to the old site by June 3, 2022.
“To access the Document Search site via our website, visit www.michigan.gov/localfinancialreporting. Afterward, click on the ‘Document Search’ button.”
Behavioral health effort expands to more Michigan counties
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) has expanded the Behavioral Health Home (BHH) initiative to more Michigan counties to provide intensive care management and coordination services for Medicaid beneficiaries with a serious mental illness (SMI) or serious emotional disturbance (SED).
“The expansion of the BHH will help address the complexity of physical and behavioral health conditions in Michigan and improve access to essential services,” said Elizabeth Hertel, director of MDHHS. “For enrolled beneficiaries, the Health Home will function as the central point of contact for directing patient-centered care across the broader health care system.”
The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently approved Michigan’s State Plan Amendment (SPA) to expand its BHH initiative into five counties within two Prepaid Inpatient Health Plan regions (PIHP): CMH Partnership of Southeast Michigan and Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network. The expanded SPA will allow thousands of Medicaid beneficiaries meeting the eligibility criteria to receive BHH services.
The Behavioral Health Home is a benefit offered to Medicaid beneficiaries who have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness or a serious emotional disturbance and reside within one of the following PIHP regions/counties:
- NorthCare Network (counties in the Upper Peninsula)
- Northern Michigan Regional Entity (21 northernmost counties of the Lower Peninsula)
- CMH Partnership of Southeast Michigan (Lenawee, Livingston, Monroe, Washtenaw)
- Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network (Wayne)
- Oakland Community Health Network (Oakland)
Individuals who meet the criteria can work with a team of providers who will attend to the beneficiary’s complete health and social needs. Participation is voluntary and enrolled beneficiaries may opt out at any time.
According to a 2019 report, half of Michigan Medicaid beneficiaries with a mental illness do not receive needed treatment in a given year. Behavioral Health Homes are a proven model to increase access to coordinated and integrated care, which is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For BHH information, including eligibility and available resources, visit Michigan.gov/BHH.
MAC corrects list of 10 longest-serving current commissioners
Due to an editing error, Alcona’s Carolyn Brummund was left off the list of longest-serving commissioners published in the April 2022 edition of Michigan Counties. MAC regrets the error.
- Up North businesses are buying housing just to lure summer staff (Bridge magazine)
- Who’s at fault for Midland dam failures? Pretty much everyone, report says (Bridge magazine)
- States and cities are moving to make virtual hearings permanent (RouteFifty)
- ‘Anatomy of a Murder’ to be performed in historic (Lapeer) courthouse (The County Press)