Legislative Update 7-24-20

FY20 budget deal uses federal COVID aid to compensate counties for revenue sharing cuts

Legislative leaders and the Governor’s Office reached final agreement this week on a plan to balance the current FY20 state budget by making large cuts to state spending and backfilling them with federal COVID aid dollars.

Of note for counties is a $97 million cut in revenue sharing from the state, backfilled with $150 million in federal aid that has some restrictions.

So, the August revenue sharing payment will not go out as a revenue sharing payment. Instead, the state will be sending out payments to local governments out of a new $150 million pot of CARES funding. The amount that will be sent to each unit eligible for the August revenue sharing payment will be based on their proportion of the total pot of the $97 million that was cut.

If your county, for example, was getting 2 percent of the $97 million, you will get 2 percent of the $150 million.

MAC has confirmed that this will be a disbursement, but it is assumed at this point that counties will have to issue a report back to the State certifying that the funds were allocated to COVID-19-related expenses. Eligible allocations would include non-reimbursed public health and public safety payroll expenditures, personal protection equipment and facility modifications.

In addition to the revenue sharing changes, the budget bill has also extended the July 17 deadline to apply for the payroll reimbursement program. The deadline to apply for that now will be one week from the time this supplemental budget is enacted. This was done to accommodate those entities that were not originally eligible to apply for the funds, included public safety authorities and district health departments. 

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


MAC forming workgroup to study options on tax foreclosure

Following a Michigan Supreme Court ruling that gutted the system of tax foreclosures that counties have used for years, MAC will be forming a workgroup to study ways to address the consequences of the decision.

In Rafaeli v. Oakland County, the court ruled county treasurers cannot keep excess funds after a foreclosed property is sold and the overdue tax bill is satisfied. The court said such funds, minus the owed taxes, must be refunded to the former homeowner.

“We are disappointed in the decision,” said Stephan Currie, executive director of the Michigan Association of Counties. “We are still trying to determine the fiscal impact on our members. And we have concerns about the costs to our members of those properties that we end up selling at a loss, and concerns about the loss of funds used to remove blight from our communities.”

Oakland County had argued in the case that keeping the profits was constitutional because the tax foreclosure law gives delinquent homeowners a type of due process, reported Michigan Radio. Therefore, the county reasoned, counties aren’t taking the homeowners’ rightful property, because the homeowner had already forfeited it.

MAC continues its legal analysis of the ruling and will be reporting back to members when that analysis is complete.

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


Live talk with Tom Izzo confirmed for Annual Conference

Legendary Michigan State University coach Tom Izzo will address attendees of the 2020 Virtual Annual Conference LIVE on Aug. 20 at 11 a.m., MAC confirmed this week. After his remarks on leadership and team building, the national championship coach will take questions.

The live chat will be one of the highlights of the 2020 MAC Virtual Annual Conference, which will include events on days between Aug. 18 and Aug. 27.

Other highlights include:

  • Plenary sessions that will feature MAC’s Legislative Update, the semi-annual “State of MAC” report and an address by MAC Board President Veronica Klinefelt
  • The Annual Business Meeting, during which members will vote on MAC’s policy platforms for the 2020-21 year
  • Seven policy workshops that will focus heavily on the implications of COVID-19 for counties in the coming months
  • A Virtual Exhibitor Show that will allow attendees to select up to five firms from which to hear 10-minute presentations

The unique nature of this event also brings changes to registration procedures:

  • The conference registration fee is only $50 for members, which includes all county officials
  • Attendees must register by a new deadline prior to the event – Aug. 7
  • MAC will not accept “walk-up” registrations during the conference (this is due to credentialing and election procedures adopted for the conference)

Start your registration with our Attendee Packet.


Senate committee approves trial court fee authority extension

Extension of the authority of trial courts to levy costs on defendants is one step closer to enactment this week, after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved House Bill 5488

The bill, by Rep. Sarah Lightner (R-Jackson), would extend statutory authority, and maintain the status quo, for Michigan’s trial courts to levy costs to defendants. Currently, that authority expires this October.

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 percent. 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.

Without completion of HB 5488, a longer-term stable funding solution cannot be worked out as an assurance that courts will not be in financial crisis is the utmost importance at this most difficult financial time for county governments.

Passage of the extension is a key priority for MAC this year. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill when it returns for session work in early August.

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


Legislative goals identified for jail reforms

This week, legislative leaders and bill sponsors teed up September priorities to include jail task force recommendations.

The “Smarter on Crime, Better for Communities” campaign focuses on four principal objectives: 

  • Eliminate driver’s license suspension as a penalty for offenses unrelated to dangerous driving
  • Expand the use of arrest alternatives at the system’s forefront, allowing policemen the discretion to issue citations for all misdemeanors and re-identifying some traffic misdemeanors as civil infractions
  • Convert low-level offenses to jail alternatives and eliminate mandates for minimum jail sentences to serve
  • Reduce jail admission for probation and parole violations, which is Michigan’s fifth-most-common reason for incarceration

Senate Bills 1046-51 and House Bills 5844 and 5846-5852 are before the judiciary committees in their respective chambers. MAC will be evaluating each one and partner with other key stakeholders in making policy decisions that conform with MAC platforms.

MAC policy platforms, before the membership this August, were amended to include “continued partnership with the Michigan Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration to support smart criminal justice reform and lessening burdens on county jails while maintaining public safety.”

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


Health worker immunity legislation has uncertain fate

Legislation to clarify legal immunity to health workers dealing with COVID-19 cases is headed to the governor after final approval this week by the House and Senate of two bills.

Senate Bill 899 (H-2) clarifies when immunity applies and under specific circumstances.

The immunity will apply during the period from March 10, 2020, to Jan. 1, 2021 and “extend to any death or injury arising out of or resulting from any act or omission by a health care provider or health care facility, including a county medical care facility (MCF) while engaging in one or more of the following activities: 

  • Rendering COVID-19-related health care services to a person with presumed, suspected, or confirmed COVID-19
  • Arranging, scheduling, rescheduling, canceling or postponing the rendering of health care services, including a decision to use telehealth or other remote services instead of an in-person encounter, in reliance on or in compliance with any administrative or governmental agency, division, or department policy, rule, or directive or any executive order or law regarding health care services provided by a health care provider or health care facility
  • Acts, omissions, or decisions resulting from a shortage of necessary resources, including blood products, medical equipment, pharmaceuticals or staffing

However, it is uncertain if Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will sign the bill, as she and legislative Democrats have said they believe the protections go too far.

“The governor put in place liability protections for frontline workers when cases were spiking and she’s prepared to do so again if necessary,” said Whitmer aide Tiffany Brown in a MIRS News Service report. “The only obstacle frontline workers face is the legislative majority that refuses to recognize a state of emergency during this once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic, casting doubt on these protections.

 “This bill attempts to paper over that failure. Moreover, it’s also just bad policy. Immunity should be available in very limited circumstances; it should not be a permanent feature of any emergency, which will only harm the people receiving care.

 SB 956 (H-3) requires the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to do the following:

  • By Aug. 15, 2020, conduct an evaluation of the operation, efficacy, clinical outcomes and performance of each COVID-19 regional hub that was implemented and operating during the state response to coronavirus in nursing homes and provide a detailed report on that evaluation to the House and Senate Health Policy committees.
  • By Sept. 1, 2020, in consultation with hospitals located in each of the state’s eight health care regions, develop a plan based on relevant and updated guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), describing a process to ensure that there is at least one dedicated facility available for coronavirus-positive patients in each of the eight health care regions to provide care only for those ineligible for admission at a hospital, nursing home, or adult foster care facility. DHHS would have to submit the plan to the House and Senate Health Policy committees upon its completion.
  • Beginning Sept. 1, 2020, if a hospital determined that a coronavirus-positive person was not eligible for hospital admission and the person was not a nursing home resident, the hospital would have to transfer him or her to a dedicated facility described above or a field hospital or other facility used as a surge capacity for the hospital.
  • Beginning Sept. 1, 2020, a person who had tested positive for coronavirus and who was being moved from another health facility or agency could not be admitted or retained for care in a nursing home unless the person had since recovered from coronavirus.
  • Beginning Sept. 1, 2020, unless a nursing home could provide care to a coronavirus-positive resident in a physically separate building, the nursing home would have to move the resident to a dedicated facility described above or a field hospital or other facility used as a surge capacity for a hospital.

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


MDHHS rescheduling, changing format of opioid town halls­­­­­

The Michigan Opioids Task Force and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) are rescheduling and changing the format of previously announced local town halls on opioids. These town halls will now be in a virtual format.

The following is the new town hall schedule:

  • Northern Lower Michigan (previously the Gaylord town hall), Wednesday, Sept. 23.
  • Flint and Thumb Region (previously the Flint town hall) Friday, Sept. 25.
  • Upper Peninsula (previously the Escanaba town hall) Thursday, Oct. 8.
  • West Michigan (previously the Grand Rapids town hall) Friday, Nov. 6.
  • Macomb and Oakland counties (previously the Sterling Heights town hall) Thursday, Dec. 3

“During the events, state officials will seek to learn more about how the opioid epidemic has impacted different regions of the state. To ensure information gathered reflects the experience of the local communities, residents are asked to only participate in the virtual town hall for the area in which they reside,” the department said in a statement.

More details on how to participate will be provided at Michigan.gov/opioids closer to the events.

In 2018, Michigan recorded more than 2,000 opioid-related overdose deaths and more than 8,000 Michiganders have lost their lives to this epidemic in the last five years. At the town halls, MDHHS and the Michigan Opioids Task Force will share the 2020 strategy to turn the tide on the crisis, seek feedback from the public and host a Q& A about the crisis response.      

A few key questions will guide the conversation:

  • How has the opioid epidemic affected you, your family or your community?
  • What services, programs or policies would you recommend to help address the crisis?
  • How can the state help combat stigma and change the narrative around opioid use disorder?

For more information about the state’s opioids response and available resources, visit Michigan.gov/opioids.


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