Legislative Update 9-18-20

FY21 budget won’t cut revenue sharing

The Whitmer administration and legislative leaders have agreed on a fiscal year 2021 deal to balance the state budget, a deal that will ensure counties will receive the same amount in revenue sharing as FY20 allocations, prior to the cancellation of the August revenue sharing payment. These funds will be in the form of the traditional General Fund dollars that do not require allocation to Covid-19 pandemic related expenses.

The Legislature set up budget for action next week through House Bill 5396, omnibus budget, and Senate Bill 927, school aid. After months of concern due to budget shortfall projects impacted by COVID-19, MAC is appreciative of the news and support of both the legislature and administration. Lawmakers are expected to complete the budget next week.

While limited detailed information has been released at this point, MAC will report as soon as possible the final budget details.

 

Bill to extend remote meeting option gets MAC support

MAC-supported legislation that would allow remote participation in board meetings after the pandemic Executive Orders expire has been introduced in the Legislature. Rep. Luke Meerman (R-Ottawa) introduced House Bill 6207 to amend the Open Meetings Act to allow a meeting be held electronically, while ensuring transparency and promoting public participation. A similar Senate Bill, 1108 by Sen. Lana Theis (R-Livingston), will be reviewed by the Senate Local Government Committee next week.

The meeting must allow for two-way communication so the public can hear and be heard, particularly during public comment periods. Additionally, the public body can allow comments to be typed and read or shared with members and participants. If a public body meets electronically, they must explain the reasoning and process for the public to participate in detail.

The bill specifies that a closed session may occur electronically as well and must be held in compliance of current closed session requirements under the Open Meetings Act.

The bill was sent to the House Committee on Government Operations. MAC encourages members whose representatives are on that committee to reach out to and voice support for this legislation. 

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

 

Whitmer signs court cost extension into law

The authority for trial courts to impose costs on defendants is extended to 2022 under a state law signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer this week. Passage of House Bill 5488 had been a top priority for MAC this year since the imposition of court costs was about to expire next month. Now that authority runs to Oct. 1, 2022.

Without the legislation, by Rep. Sarah Lightner (R-Jackson), county courts would have lost this source of funding for operational needs in a few weeks.

The state’s Trial Court Funding Commission has 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.”

Of course, the work on this issue is far from over. The new deadline is just two years way, and the next phase will be to finally solve the long-standing problem of a stable court funding system. MAC stands ready to continue the work with the Legislature to help streamline and improve the overall system. While a variety of reforms are needed, a key one is to rebalance state and local funds in the court system, as reported by the Trial Court Funding Commission. 

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

 

Emergency Management Department bill reviewed by committee

The House committee on Military and Veterans Affairs took testimony this week from emergency managers (EM) in support of House Bill 6148, by Rep. Jack O’Malley (R-Benzie). The bill would move emergency management functions out from under the Department of State Police and into a new department that will report and communicate directly with the governor. Compelling testimony was given this week by two county emergency management coordinators indicating support for this restructuring. The reasons cited for their support include:

  • Not all emergencies are law enforcement related and should not be treated as such. With emergency management under State Police, their focus tends to be on law enforcement activities related to an emergency and not necessarily coordination of all different types of emergency response activities.
  • State Police receive an Emergency Management Planning Grant that funds 100 percent of their activities. Local Emergency management has asked for an accounting of their expenditures for many years and have not received it, therefore they are unsure of whether or not there are additional funds that should be going to support emergency management operations at the local level. .
  • The turnover in the Department in this area is high, with those in charge and those closest to the counties only lasting 2-3 years. This, according to the local emergency management coordinators, is not enough time to develop expertise and establish clear priorities.
  • It is more expensive to pay a uniformed officer to perform these functions than it is civilians, but in this structure, civilians have no advancement opportunity and usually leave to go to FEMA.
  • The State Police has failed to provide a list of resources for the local EM coordinators to utilize. Help is given but items and assistance must be directly asked for. Without knowledge of what is available, it is difficult to ask for assistance.  
  • State agencies of all types show up to emergencies without any coordination of effort. The State should be doing this but again, the focus is on deploying law enforcement and not the coordination of all the other entities with an interest in the disaster. The local EM coordinator is typically responsible for this coordination as well.
  • Michigan is only one of two states in the nation that house emergency management strictly inside a law enforcement department.

MAC’s Finance and General Government Committee voted this week to support the legislation.

If your county would like to weigh in on this proposal, contact Deena Bosworth at bosworth@micounties.org.

 

Broadband bill advances despite local control issues

A MAC-opposed bill ostensibly designed to boost broadband access cleared the House Communication and Technology committee this week.

House Bill 4288, by Rep. Michele Hoitenga (R-Wexford), would create the “Connecting Michigan Communities Act” to establish a statewide grant program to expand broadband in underserved areas. 

While MAC supports greater access to broadband, this bill excludes local governments from accessing the grant program. It does provide requirements to show “evidence of community support for the project with a narrative on the impact that the investment will have on community and economic development in the area.” However, MAC is unclear what “evidence” means for the process.

MAC will continue to work to ensure clear, collaboration with local and county boards to encourage better infrastructure planning and deployment of these grant funds.

Local partners such as MML and MTA were also in opposition as the bill passed committee. The bill now moves to the House Ways and Means Committee.

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

 

2020 Annual Conference videos now available

Video files from MAC’s recent Virtual Annual Conference are now available on MAC’s YouTube Channel

Members can view all of the seven conference workshops and two of the plenary sessions, headlined by Tom Izzo’s keynote remarks, via the conferences page on our website.

 

COVID liability shield bill clears House committee

A house bill to provide liability protections to health facilities, including Medical Care Facilities (MCFs), advanced out of the House Judiciary committee this week.

House Bill 6159, by Rep. Roger Hauck (R-Isabella), would create the “pandemic health care immunity act.” Facilities would not be liable for an injury, including death, sustained by an individual while received services at the facility. The immunity would be applied from March 9 to July 15, 2020.

The Michigan County Medical Care Facilities Council (MCMCFC) supports HB 6159, along with other health care partners such as HCAM and MHA. The bill now awaits action from the full House of Representatives.

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

 

Currie talks COVID impacts with Lansing Chamber panel

Michigan counties have weathered the initial fiscal crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but dangers loom on the horizon, MAC Executive Director Stephan Currie said during a panel discussion at the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Club last week.

During his remarks, Currie discussed the broad scope of county responsibilities under COVID, from public health and safety to aiding businesses to stay open via treasurer and register of deeds offices.

Asked about county innovation during the crisis, Currie noted the quick and broad adoption of videoconferencing technology, particularly in the court systems; Oakland County’s efforts to supply businesses with PPE; and even Ottawa County’s new “greeter,” a robot that meets visitors at the county building and offers touch screen services to guide residents to the appropriate office.

He added, however, that the crisis had shown a need to improve broadband services across Michigan and that counties are still wrestling with the details of filing for federal aid for COVID efforts.

Currie was joined on the “local government” panel by Summer Minnick of the Michigan Municipal League, Neil Sheridan of the Michigan Townships Association and Eric Scorsone of the Center for Local Government Finance and Policy at Michigan State University.

 

NACo town hall features election experts

America’s counties traditionally administer and fund elections, overseeing more than 109,000 polling places and coordinating more than 694,000 poll workers every two years. Faced with new election-related challenges due to COVID-19 and concerns over cybersecurity, foreign influence and aging technology, election administrators across the country have worked tirelessly to finalize preparations to conduct a free and fair election.

Join the National Association of Counties (NACo) on Sept. 22 at 2 p.m. EDT for a special virtual town hall and hear from federal and local elections officials about how they are working to ensure a safe, fair and secure election this fall.

 

Opioids town halls set for Sept. 23, 25

The Michigan Opioids Task Force and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) have announced the details of the first two virtual opioids town halls:

  • Northern Lower Michigan (previously the Gaylord Town Hall), Wednesday, Sept. 23, 5 p.m.-6:30 p.m.
  • Flint and Thumb Region (previously the Flint Town Hall) Friday, Sept. 25, 3:30 p.m.-5 p.m.

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.

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.

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

 

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