New bipartisan bills introduced for 4-year commissioner terms

Through its policy platforms, MAC has long supported moving county commissioner terms to four years from the present two. Legislation to do this made good progress in 2020 but did not reach enactment.

We are back at work this year, though, with new bills — Senate Bill 242, by Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Dickinson), and SB 245, by Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Oakland) — to bring four-year terms to Michigan, beginning with the 2024 presidential election cycle.

Even as legislation stalled out last year, MAC had productive conversations with legislators on both sides of the aisle to address concerns and tweak the language.

Passage of these bills would end Michigan’s status as one of just five states with two-year terms on all commissioners. It’s time to end that dubious distinction and bring commissioner terms in alignment with the length of those for other county elected offices across our state.

The Senate bills are now before the Senate Committee on Local Government, chaired by Sen. Dale Zorn (R-Monroe).

To aid MAC in building momentum for passage, please consider a resolution of support by your county. MAC has created a downloadable template for this purpose. If your county does approve a resolution, please be sure to send a copy to sweeney@micounties.org.

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

 

Time to register for 2021 Virtual Legislative Conference

A quartet of Michigan’s top legislative leaders have been invited to keynote one of the Plenary sessions of the 2021 Legislative Conference, April 28-29.

Registration is now open for the virtual-only event.

Members who register by April 14 will pay only $100 for all sessions; the price increases to $125 on April 15. Elected county clerks, prosecutors, registers of deeds, sheriffs and treasurers ARE eligible for the member rate. Non-members pay $150 for the event.

House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Clare), Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Jackson) and House Minority Floor Leader Yousef Rabhi (D-Washtenaw) are confirmed for the roundtable discussion, which will be taped in late April. A Senate Democratic member has not been identified. If you have questions for this panel, MAC is now collecting them. Submit your questions for the legislators to sweeney@micounties.org by April 14. Please put “quadrant question” in the subject line of your email.

The conference also will feature:

  • Plenary addresses by National Association of Counties President Judge Gary Moore of Kentucky and Executive Director Matt Chase
  • A Legislative Update on the 2021 session
  • Twelve workshops tailored to MAC members and four for MCMCFC members

CE for MCMCFC members
The MCMCFC Workshops have been submitted to the Ohio Nurses Association (ONA) and National Association of Long Term Care Administrator Boards (NAB) for approval to award NHA continuing education credits and nursing contact hours.

MAC and MCMCFC appreciate the support of our “early-bird” sponsors: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Enbridge, MMRMA, MAC Service Corp., Michigan Counties Workers’ Compensation Fund and Bradford Printing.

 

MAC-backed veterans bill clears House

Another step forward in updating the county veteran service fund to reflect the realities of grant implementation and response to emergent relief efforts was taken this week as the House gave strong, bipartisan support to a MAC-backed bill.

House Bill 4122, by Rep. Annette Glenn (R-Midland) reflects the work of MAC and the Michigan Veteran Affairs Agency (MVAA) to adapt statutory changes needed as experience identifies what structures work and what do not. Among the MAC-supported changes in the bill are:

  • Allowing grant funds to be expended for direct financial assistance for an emergent relief program (as counties continue to navigate through COVID-19 response, ensuring proper care and resources for our veteran community will remain a priority)
  • A 60-day window for the MVAA to distribute the grant, once approved by the county
  • A limited reduction in the county maintenance of effort (MOE) requirement to support hard-pressed counties (counties are not able to reduce the funding and supplant the reduction)
  • An exemption for the 20 hours per week staffing requirement, if approved by MVAA

MAC appreciates the support of members who used our Phone2Action system to send messages of support to their state representatives. The bill now moves to the Senate Families, Seniors and Veterans Committee, chaired by Sen. John Bizon (R-Calhoun).

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

 

How to navigate questions on in-person vs. hybrid vs. digital

With state health orders reducing restrictions on indoor gatherings and hospitalization rates showing marked improvement in recent weeks, MAC has been fielding questions from members about moving out of purely virtual county board sessions.

First, it’s important to remember two key dates in play about board meetings:

  • March 31, 2021 – This is the last day that public boards can hold virtual sessions for “any reason” under provisions of the October and December 2020 changes to the state’s Open Meetings Act (OMA).
  • Dec. 31, 2021 – This is the last day that public boards can hold virtual sessions IF they have adopted a State of Emergency (SOE) resolution. A template for such a resolution is on MAC’s COVID Resources Page.

Next, boards must navigate the competing requirements of public access under OMA with the restrictions on gatherings under orders from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (no more than 25 persons) and/or local health departments.

Scenario 1: In person meeting with no declared state of emergency after 3/31/21

If your county wants to hold an in-person session and posts it as in-person at a physical address (say, the courthouse), the county may not turn away members of the public who arrive to attend the open meeting. Of course, this could lead to rooms exceeding proper capacity under COVID health orders.

One option is to plan for overflow room(s) with two-way communication for members of the public.  However, absent the authority for a virtual meeting (e.g. state of emergency declaration after 3/31) requiring the public to leave because of the capacity limitations would violate the OMA. 

Scenario 2: In person meeting with a declared state of emergency after 3/31/21

If, however, your county has a state of emergency declaration in place after 3/31 and posts the meeting as “virtual” or “hybrid” then it can proceed with some county personal (including commissioners) in the courthouse while the public is required to participate via two-way remote connections.  This would also afford commissioners the option to participate in the meeting virtually.

That does not mean a posted in-person public meeting may not permit the public to participate via Zoom (absent a state of emergency declaration after 3/31) but permitting/encouraging/requesting virtual participation is different from requiring it or otherwise turning the public away from an in person meeting.

As always, county boards are advised to consult with their corporate counsel to ensure procedures are following all relevant state laws.

 

MDHHS modifies health order, eases sports attendance rules

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) updated its Gatherings and Mask epidemic order, the department announced Friday, allowing up to 20 percent capacity in outdoor stadiums and arenas that establish infection control plans. The update also increases testing for youth ages 13-19 to ensure athletes can safely participate in sports. The changes to the Order go into effect Monday, March 22, and remain in effect through Monday, April 19. 

“More than 3.2 million doses of the safe and effective COVID vaccines have been administered in Michigan, and we are well on our way to vaccinating 70 percent of Michiganders ages 16 and up,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS, in the departmental release.

MDHHS had been closely monitoring three metrics for stabilization or declines over the past several weeks. Michigan’s metrics have been increasing for the past few weeks. The presence of more infectious variants, such as the B 1.1.7 variant, threatens our progress in control of the epidemic and MDHHS will be monitoring data closely. In recent days:   

  • Positivity rate: has increased for four weeks to 6.2%. This metric is up 177% from the mid-February low but remains below the December high of 19.4%.  
  • Statewide case rate: This metric has increase over the past four weeks to 172.9 cases per million. The rate is up 77% from the low in mid-February but remains below peak of 737.8 cases per million on Saturday, Nov 14. 
  • Hospital capacity dedicated to COVID-19 is now at 4.9%. This metric peaked at 19.6% on Tuesday, Dec. 4 and is now up 25% from an end of February low. 

And, to ensure consistency with recently issued CDC guidance, fully vaccinated individuals may now participate in residential gatherings with other fully vaccinated individuals without wearing a mask. 

The latest information is available at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus and CDC.gov/Coronavirus. To learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine, visit Michigan.gov/COVIDVaccine.  

 

How to navigate questions on in-person vs. hybrid vs. digital

With state health orders reducing restrictions on indoor gatherings and hospitalization rates showing marked improvement in recent weeks, MAC has been fielding questions from members about moving out of purely virtual county board sessions.

First, it’s important to remember two key dates in play about board meetings:

  • March 31, 2021 – This is the last day that public boards can hold virtual sessions for “any reason” under provisions of the October and December 2020 changes to the state’s Open Meetings Act (OMA).
  • Dec. 31, 2021 – This is the last day that public boards can hold virtual sessions IF they have adopted a State of Emergency (SOE) resolution. A template for such a resolution is on MAC’s COVID Resources Page.

Next, boards must navigate the competing requirements of public access under OMA with the restrictions on gatherings under orders from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (no more than 25 persons) and/or local health departments.

Scenario 1: In person meeting with no declared state of emergency after 3/31/21

If your county wants to hold an in-person session and posts it as in-person at a physical address (say, the courthouse), the county may not turn away members of the public who arrive to attend the open meeting. Of course, this could lead to rooms exceeding proper capacity under COVID health orders.

One options is to plan for overflow room(s) with two-way communication for members of the public.  However, absent the authority for a virtual meeting (e.g. state of emergency declaration after 3/31) requiring the public to leave because of the capacity limitations would violate the OMA. 

Scenario 2: In person meeting with a declared state of emergency after 3/31/21

If, however, your county has a state of emergency declaration in place after 3/31 and posts the meeting as “virtual” or “hybrid” then it can proceed with some county personal (including commissioners) in the courthouse while the public is required to participate via two-way remote connections.  This would also afford commissioners the option to participate in the meeting virtually.

That does not mean a posted in-person public meeting may not permit the public to participate via Zoom (absent a state of emergency declaration after 3/31) but permitting/encouraging/requesting virtual participation is different from requiring it or otherwise turning the public away from an in person meeting.

As always, county boards are advised to consult with their corporate counsel to ensure procedures are following all relevant state laws.

 

Biden signs aid plan; Michigan counties get $1.95 billion

Thursday afternoon, President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion COVID relief package that will translate into $1.95 billion in direct federal aid to Michigan’s 83 counties.

Michigan’s amount is part of $65 billion in direct federal aid to counties across the nation.

See county-by-county estimates

“This is fantastic news for our members,” said Stephan Currie, executive director of MAC. “There’s a great deal still to learn about the specific of how the money is best used, but we are working with the National Association of Counties, which is working with the U.S. Treasury, to get such information assembled and out to members as quickly as possible.

See economic analysis by MSU Center for Local Government Finance & Policy

According to NACo’s tracking, counties could use these funds to:

  • Respond to the public health emergency with respect to the COVID‐19 or its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses and nonprofits, or aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel, and hospitality
  • Respond to workers performing essential work during the COVID‐19 public health emergency by providing premium pay to eligible workers of the county that are performing such essential work, or by providing grants to eligible employers that have eligible workers who perform essential work
  • Make provision for government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue due to the public health emergency relative to revenues collected in the most recent full fiscal year of the county prior to the emergency (i.e., Jan. 20, 2020)
  • Make necessary investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure

(It is important to note under the first bullet that the examples outlined are intended to clarify congressional intent that these activities would be eligible. However, state and local activities would NOT be limited only to these activities.)

Local governments would be required to provide “periodic reports” providing a detailed accounting of the use of funds.

Note that the NACo Clearinghouse page offers boxes to either pose questions to NACo staffers on the legislation and implementation, or to share your county’s stories about your challenges in accessing funds under the previous rounds of federal aid.

For the latest COVID-19 news affecting counties, visit MAC’s Resources Page.

 

Registration opens March 19 for virtual Legislative Conference

Members can begin registering on March 19 for the Michigan Counties Legislative Conference, April 28-29, and co-sponsored by MAC and the Michigan Counties Medical Care Facilities Council (MCMCFC).

The event will be all virtual and include 12 workshops for MAC members and four for members of MCMCFC.

Among topics to be addressed are:

  • The county apportionment process for drawing commissioner district lines
  • Decoding legislative terminology to better understand the work at the State Capitol
  • Options for local government finance reform

The conference also will have three plenary sessions for all attendees.

Please keep a watch on your email accounts for notices about the event and registrastion. You also can check for updates on MAC’s conferences webpage.

 

House committee backs MAC-opposed mandate on courts

A bill that would impose a new unfunded mandate on counties by requiring online filing and accessibility in local courts moved to the House floor this week.

House Bill 4164, by Rep. Ryan Berman (R-Oakland), passed out of the House Oversight Committee, chaired by Rep. Steve Johnson (R-Kent), with an 8-1 vote. The version that passed committee would require courts to make the register of actions and “a digital image of all documents filed in any case in that court” accessible to the public for free via a website.

MAC and Michigan Association of County Clerks opposed the original version, which only allowed attorney online access, and both groups remain opposed to the committee-passed version. No funding is attached for court technology enhancements or for any staff time that would be necessary to meet the requirements under the bill within the given timeframe.

The bill gives courts until Jan 1, 2023, to meet the new digital accessibility requirements. If the state e-file system is not fully implemented by this time, with state funding, there would be a patchwork of planning at the local level and likely later changes to transition to the state Mi-File system again.

The State Court Administrator’s Office also opposed the bill, finding it is a separation of powers violation. Additionally, the state court administrator has previously explained the ongoing roll-out of the MI-File process could be expedited with additional funding and support from the Legislature.

Counties cannot endure another unfunded mandate or support a bill based on funding promises.

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

 

Senate-approved tax-exemption bill nears passage in House

A bill opposed by MAC to extend a property tax exemption on broadband equipment moved to the House floor this week.

The House Committee on Communications and Technology advanced Senate Bill 46, by Sen. Aric Nesbitt (R-Van Buren), which passed the Senate in February on a 20-15 vote.

The premise behind the legislation is that the true barrier to broadband expansion in Michigan is the cost of personal property taxes (PPT) on the equipment.

MAC disagrees with this assumption and instead points to the cost of the equipment and labor required to install the lines down a long stretch of rural highway. It is simple economics that the providers are not building in rural areas because there are not enough customers to ensure a decent rate of return on the investment.

Local units of government are dependent on property taxes to provide services mandated by the state and needed by our residents. These services only can be delivered if we have revenue to do so. Yet the trend in Lansing is to trade local government revenue for tax breaks to private businesses. It is much easier for those at the state level to forgo property tax revenue since the state relies far more on income and sales tax dollars.

MAC will continue to work with the bill’s proponents but remains in opposition to the existing language.

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

 

Podcast 83 to discuss Capitol activity over previous week

The Podcast 83 team will continue its weekly reviews of legislative activity in Lansing and Washington, D.C., on Monday, March 15 at 3 p.m.

Click here to register for the live event, which will include a Q&A session on all of the hot legislative topics.

Members can view any previous episode of the Podcast, sponsored by DTE Energy, on the podcast webpage.

 

MSU Extension offers ‘County Café’ learning sessions in March, May

Visits to the local café often lead to discussion about current issues. The County Café will be no different (except that it’s on Zoom). This follow-up program to the MAC-MSUE New Commissioner School is designed to bring together both experienced and new commissioners and county leadership; present some current topics of relevance to county government; and give you a chance to talk about how these topics might impact your county and actions you can take to make the impact more positive. There will also be an opportunity for discussion following the presentation.

These are free sessions and open to all commissioners and other county officials, but you must register at the link below to participate.

March 18, 3 p.m.-4:30 p.m. EST – Michigan’s Economic Outlook and Its Impact on County Government
The economic uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges for many local governments. As counties face significant budget decisions this year and going forward, working with the best information possible is an important piece of moving towards fiscal sustainability. Dr. Eric Scorsone, director of the MSU Extension Center for Local Government Finance and Policy, will present on Michigan’s economic outlook and its impact on county government.

May 6, 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. EST – Counties Supporting Regional Economic Development
Counties are important economic development entities in Michigan. Yet successful economic development depends on collaboration, partnerships, and regional approaches. The MSU Economic Development Administration (EDA) University Center for Regional Economic Innovation (REI) leverages higher education assets in collaboration with communities to support the co-creation, co-implementation, and dissemination of new and innovative economic development strategies.

To advance Michigan’s long-term economic recovery from COVID-19, REI was awarded CARES Act funding in summer 2020 to establish a Comprehensive Economic Recovery Initiative (CERI). CERI will allow REI to leverage higher education assets to work with local businesses, governments, nonprofits, economic developers, and others to develop new economic development strategies, document new economic development practices, and provide technical assistance to hard hit communities to facilitate action focused projects under four pillars: Resiliency Planning, Financial Resiliency, Circular Economies, and 21st Century Communications Infrastructure.

Join Jennifer Bruen of the MSU REI to learn about CERI, technical assistance, and partnership opportunities to advance regional economic development in Michigan.

To register for either event, visit: https://events.anr.msu.edu/countycafe21/.

 

Monroe administrator briefs House panel on court funding

At the panel’s invitation, Monroe County Administrator Michael Bosanac testified on trial court funding before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Judiciary this week. As the MAC representative on the statutorily created Trial Court Funding Commission, Bosanac provided the committee a high-level overview of the general revenues available to support the 242 trial courts in Michigan.

While court funding reform is not a new topic for MAC, or in Lansing, the looming statutory sunset of October 2022 on courts’ ability to levy fees will hopefully encourage lawmakers to act on recommendations set forth in the commission’s report. Rep. Sarah Lightner (R-Jackson), the subcommittee’s chair, has introduced House Bill 4447, which would take a first step toward streamlining the county/state funding process. The bill would remove the reimbursement process in which a county receives judicial salary funds from the state and make the full funding of judge salaries a direct state responsibility.

The Legislature also continues to focus on court data collection and supporting a more centralized and efficient system, both areas that Bosanac endorsed for attention in his testimony. He emphasized that the size of the challenge requires a phased approach over time, with the state and counties working in a close partnership.

To see video of the hearing, click here.

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

 

Massive federal aid plan wends way through Congress

Two versions of a massive federal response to the ongoing COVID crisis are now in play on Capitol Hill. Passage of either version would mean hundreds of millions of dollars for Michigan counties.

The version passed by the U.S. House, the American Rescue Plan, has an overall price tag of $1.9 trillion and includes $65 billion in direct aid to U.S. counties. Of that amount, Michigan would receive about $1.95 billion. (Click here to see an estimated distribution under the House-backed plan.) Both MAC and the National Association of Counties (NACo) have backed this plan.

Later in the week, however, Senate Democrats released a slightly different version of the aid plan, which would lower the direct aid to all counties to $60 billion, of which $1.8 billion would come to Michigan. (Click here to see an estimated distribution under the Senate plan.)

In each case, the aid moves directly to counties (unlike in prior federal rescue plans), is distributed based on population and goes to all counties, regardless of size. The Senate plan would allocate half the funds upfront, with the other half to be released within one year. The Senate version requires counties to spend the aid by December 2024.

NACo is working to include language that would prevent the states from taking away county money because we will get federal money.

The Senate plan also includes an extra $10 billion for water, sewer and broadband, with each state getting a base of $100 million and the rest distributed based on population, poverty rates and how rural a state is.

The Senate is expected to spend all of Friday on amendments to the spending plan. If the Senate clears the plan, as expected tonight or tomorrow, it will head back to the House next week for final approval.

For more information on this issue, visit NACo’s advocacy center.

 

State loosens restrictions on public gatherings; MAC gets detailed response on effects for county board meetings

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced further loosening of state restrictions on public and economic activity due to the COVID pandemic during a Tuesday afternoon press conference.

The orders come from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services via its responsibilities under the Public Health Code.

“While we continue to have virus very present across the entire state, our improvements in case numbers, test positivity, and vaccinations mean we can move forward with reopening in an incremental way,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, MDHHS chief medical executive and chief deputy for health. “I am glad we continue to make progress, but that progress is fragile. Everyone should continue to do important things like wearing a mask, washing hands, avoiding large gatherings and getting one of the three safe and effective vaccines when it becomes available to you.”

The changes, which take effect today and run through April 19, include: 

  • Indoor gatherings involving people from different households are allowed to have up to 25 people. (*See note below.)
  • Restaurants and bars may have 50% indoor dining capacity, up to 100 people. Tables must still be six feet apart, with a max of six people at a table. A curfew on indoor dining is still in effect, but this order bumps it back from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. 
  • Retail shops are allowed to operate at 50% indoor capacity, up from 30%. 
  • Indoor private residential gatherings are capped at 15 people from three separate households. Outdoor residential gatherings are allowed to have up to 50 people. 
  • Outdoor gatherings can resume with up to 300 people. 

*MAC asked the Governor’s Office if public meetings or board meetings are permitted under this order?

MAC was told: “Yes, up to 25 board members may gather for a meeting. Under Public Act 254 of 2020, public meetings may be conducted virtually for any reason through March 31, 2021.

“The public may also attend the meeting in person subject to all applicable masking and distancing requirements. For public attendance to be permitted beyond 25 persons, the event must be designed to ensure that every person can avoid mingling or engaging in physical contact with persons from outside their household. For example, a reception larger than 25 persons would not be permitted indoors. All meetings covered by the Open Meetings Act – whether conducted virtually or in person – must also comply with Public Act 254 of 2020.”

With that in mind, MAC continues to advise counties to rely on virtual-only or hybrid virtual and in-person meetings to both comply with OMA and adhere to MDHHS orders and MIOSHA rules.

In related COVID news, Crain’s Detroit reported this week that MIOSHA, the state agency that oversees workplace safety and practices, is “very likely” to extend the ban on in-person office work beyond the current expiration date of April 14.

On the vaccination front, the state has updated its access calendar and announced that Michigan residents between the ages of 50 and 64 will be eligible for shots this month.

With all residents at skilled nursing homes having been offered their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine and a vast majority having had their second dose, the Residential Care Facilities Order goes into effect immediately. The order encourages communal dining and group activities for residents and allows indoor and outdoor visitation in all counties regardless of county risk level. Visitation is allowed as long as the facility has not had a new COVID-19 case in the last 14 days and all indoor visitors ages 13 and older are subject to rapid antigen testing.

As always, for the latest county-related news on COVID-19, visit MAC’s Resources Page.

 

Virtual Legislative Conference set for April 28-29

Dates are now set for the 2021 Michigan Counties Legislative Conference: April 28-29.

The event will be all virtual and include 12 workshops for MAC members and four for members of the Michigan County Medical Care Facilities Council. Among topics to be addressed are:

  • The county apportionment process for drawing commissioner district lines
  • Decoding legislative terminology to better understand the work at the State Capitol
  • Options for local government finance reform

The conference also will have three plenary sessions for all attendees.

Registration information will be released in coming days. Please keep a watch on your email accounts for notices about the event. You also can check for updates on MAC’s conferences webpage.

 

Legislature adopts $2.3B COVID aid plan; governor’s response unclear

The Senate and House agreed this week on a plan to spend $2.3 billion to support businesses and help cover their costs incurred over the last year, including a property tax relief program. Additionally, the bill that now moves to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer supports an increase direct care worker hazard pay, vaccine distribution and continued COVID testing funds.

In fact, the direct care worker hazard pay adjustment would increase from the current $2 per hour to $2.25 per hour beginning March 1 and running through Sept. 30, 2021.

Another $347.3 million for epidemiology and laboratory capacity contingent funds cannot be spent or distributed unless the governor also signs Senate Bill 1, which limits the effectiveness of an emergency public health order issued by the director of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)  to 28 days, unless the Legislature approves an extension.

And the Legislature approved spending of $2 billion of federal education money under House Bill 4048. However, $800 million of that mount is tied to House Bill 4049, which passed 60-50 in the House. That bill stipulates local health departments could close schools for in-person instruction or halt school sports based on specific criteria in the bill. The bill passed without support from the state or local health departments.

It is unclear what the governor’s options are with the language in the legislation that ties funding to limits on the state’s pandemic powers. Gov. Whitmer has also been clear that she wants the full $5 billion of federal money from 2020 allocated, a result that is not reflected in the bills heading to her desk.

 

Reforms for veterans’ services advance in House

Legislation to improve state law on the delivery of services to Michigan’s more than 600,000 military veterans cleared a House committee this week.

House Bill 4122, by Rep. Annette Glenn (R-Midland) reflects the work of MAC and the Michigan Veteran Affairs Agency (MVAA) to adapt state law to the realities of service delivery to Michigan veterans.

As with many new programs, statutory changes are needed as experience identifies what structures work and what do not. Among the MAC-supported changes in the bill are:

  • Allowing grant funds to be expended for direct financial assistance for an emergent relief program (as counties continue to navigate through COVID-19 response, ensuring proper care and resources for our veteran community will remain a priority)
  • A 60-day window for the MVAA to distribute the grant, once approved by the county
  • A limited reduction in the county maintenance of effort (MOE) requirement to support hard-pressed counties (counties are not able to reduce the funding and supplant the reduction)
  • An exemption for the 20 hours per week staffing requirement, if approved by MVAA 
  • A process for distribution if the state does not award enough for each county’s base amount (this is not expected, but will act as a protection in uncertain times dominated by COVID-19)

HB 4122 cleared the House Committee on Military, Veterans and Homeland Security on March 2 and now heads to the house floor. MAC appreciates the support of committee members in advancing this bill, but that’s just the first step in this process.

Please click on this link to use our P2A platform to send your personalized call to your House members to enact HB 4122 as quickly as possible.

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

 

Podcast 83 to discuss Capitol activity over previous week

The Podcast 83 team will continue its weekly reviews of legislative activity in Lansing and Washington, D.C., on Monday, March 8 at 3 p.m.

Click here to register for the live event, which will include a Q&A session on all of the hot legislative topics.

Members can view any previous episode of the Podcast, sponsored by DTE Energy, on the podcast webpage.

 

State to issue $5M to counties on marijuana

Counties will receive almost $5 million from revenue collected on marijuana businesses in fiscal year 2020. The state began distributions on Thursday.

The FY20 amount available per each licensed marijuana retail store and microbusiness is $28,001.32. For FY20, the Michigan Department of Treasury is distributing $4,984,234.96 to counties , plus an additional $4,984,234.96 is to cities, villages and townships.

For more information on this program, click here.

A word of caution on this year’s distribution: The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs did not fund the $20 million for research this year, but will be funding that for the next two years. Additionally, they expect more licenses in FY21 and similar consumption levels, while prices are down about 20 percent. As a result, the distributions on a per store basis may go down for FY21.

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

 

Webinar examines intersection of public safety and mental health

A new webinar will “explore interdisciplinary partnership and collaboration efforts from three innovative Michigan communities” in the intersection of public safety and mental health.

The webinar will be held March 26 from 10:30 a.m. to noon.

Amid a global pandemic, the related economic downturn and a renewed focus on racial justice, mental health, and public safety, the intersection of law enforcement and mental health have come to the fore in public discussion and debate. When placed on the shoulders of law enforcement, the list of community needs burdens them with an ever-growing list of expectations from the public – expectations beyond the core responsibilities and capacities of any law enforcement professional.

As we look forward to shared strategies that enhance the capacity to respond to a variety of crisis situations, Michigan communities have developed innovative and effective partnerships between local law enforcement agencies and community mental health systems.

To register for this free event, click here.

For information, contact J. Eric Waddell at jericwaddell@thecardinalgroup2.com.

 

Senate approves GOP plan on COVID spending

In another move over the dispute on how to spend billions in federal COVID aid for Michigan, the Senate approved a $2 billion supplemental spending plan advanced by the Republican majority this week, but not without heated debate.

Senate Bill 114, by Appropriations Chair Jim Stamas (R-Midland),  was approved on a party-line vote and includes:

  • $110.2 million for vaccine distribution
  • $184.9 million for COVID testing
  • $150 million for a $2.25 per hour direct care worker wage increase through Sept. 30
  • $220.3 million for emergency rental assistance

Much floor debate centered on vaccine distribution requirements tied to the spending. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has adopted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) when determining the county allocation of vaccine. Per DHHS vaccination guidance:  “(T)he CDC Social Vulnerability Index (CDC SVI) for targeting distribution of supplies by geography within a phase of vaccination. The CDC SVI was used in establishing testing sites for COVID-19. The CDC SVI combines 15 U.S. census variables into a tool that helps local officials identify communities that may need support before, during, or after disasters. The CDC SVI is made up of indicators of socioeconomic status; household composition and disability; minority status and language spoken; and housing type and transportation. The CDC SVI status in Michigan communities correlates with the communities hardest hit by COVID-19 this spring, as well as areas of that state with high rates of risk factors for severe COVID-19 outcomes.”

The spending bill, however, would not allow “the use of race, gender, color, national origin, religion, sex or socioeconomic status as factors in determinizing the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.” Proponents contended removing the index would get more vaccine more quickly to older Michiganians.

A second bill, SB 29, would spend more than $1.2 billion for education-related efforts.

Both bills await further House action when the House returns next Tuesday.

Also this week, the Senate Appropriations Committee moved House Bill 4047, by Rep. Tim Beson (R-Bay), that allocates $593 million. Of this, $150 million from the state General Fund would be dedicated for the unemployment trust fund. Additional federal funds would be dedicated to small business relief programs. The bill was not taken up for a Senate floor vote this week but is expected to be part of the final spending package presented to the governor.

 

State commission rejects MAC concerns, alters grant guidance manual

MAC voiced concerns with sections of the manual used to guide indigent defense policies during a meeting this week of the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission (MIDC).

MAC provided input and suggestions during the creation of the original grant manual in early 2020 to ensure it maintained a balance of supporting local control and administrative processes at the county level, while advancing the commission’s goal to streamline and rationalize the grant processes.

With just a few days’ notice of proposed changes, MAC quickly gathered input from county administrators and identified concerns on prohibiting grant funds for use as compensation for standby attorneys; costs incurred for feasibility studies; cumbersome time reports/studies for personnel, which could include salaried and union employees; and costs associated with local bar dues.

The commission went through each proposed change, with Isabella County Administrator Margaret McAvoy explaining the county point of view, and then rejected all but one concern raised by MAC. A footnote was included to allow costs of a feasibility study to be reimbursed by MIDC grant funds.

The final version with the changes can be found here.

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

 

Podcast 83 to discuss Capitol activity over previous week

The Podcast 83 team will resume its weekly reviews of legislative activity in Lansing and Washington, D.C., on Monday, March 1 at 3 p.m.

Click here to register for the live event, which will include a Q&A session on all of the hot legislative topics.

Members can view any previous episode of the Podcast, sponsored by DTE Energy, on the podcast webpage.

 

MAC directories entering the mail next week

MAC’s 2021 Membership Directory will be mailed next week to all commissioners, administrators and county board offices across Michigan. The 2021 edition carries full listings of elected officials for all 83 counties and detailed information about MAC services and the Michigan Legislature in its 150 pages. MAC also will deliver copies to each legislative office, so lawmakers are reminded of the central role counties play in the delivery of local public services.

Each directory, on its Table of Contents page, also has the URL and password to access the digital, searchable flipbook of the directory, which MAC will update on a quarterly basis.

Once initial distributions are complete, MAC will have a small quantity of directories for sale at a price of $40. For more information on extra copies, contact MAC’s Derek Melot at melot@micounties.org.

 

MCMCFC leader pushes for visitation changes

Renee Beniak, executive director of the Michigan County Medical Care Facilities Council (MCMCFC), joined other health leaders on Wednesday to testify on nursing home visitation policies before the House Health Policy Committee at the invitation of Rep. Bronna Kahle (R-Lenawee), chair of the committee.

Beniak explained the frustrations facilities face, and manage, each day as state-set daily risk levels determine facility visitation practices. When risk levels drop and facilities begin a process to open for safe visitation, families are notified, but within a day, a single positive case can bring everything to a halt. Facilities then must turn away families and disappoint residents, leaving them frustrated and upset. The residents’ frustrations are often passed on to the nursing staff, making it even more difficult to provide care in facilities that were short-staffed even before COVID.  

“It is time to rethink visitation policies and safely reconnect residents with family members,” Beniak said. “With the overwhelming majority of residents having received both vaccines, now is the time to relieve the tremendous burden that severely restricted visitation requirements have placed on our residents, families and staff. Our nurses and CNA staff have witnessed firsthand the physical and mental toll the extended isolation has taken on their residents, despite their best efforts to support alternate ways to connection them with family and friends over many months.”

Witnesses urged state leaders to begin considering a risk-benefit analysis to contracting COVID versus the psychological and physical consequences endured by residents with no or limited visitations. With all medical care facilities (MCFs) with a 90 percent vaccination rate, and routine precautionary measures in place, visitation restrictions should be lifted.

Beniak added there is a cost to this as well. Recently, one patient and their family specifically chose to stay longer in a hospital, rather than moving to a nursing facility for rehabilitation, because they will be allowed to visit their loved one in the hospital. Some hospitals offer this option because they have what is referred to as a “swing bed,” which changes a hospital bed into a nursing home bed. The swing bed, however, can cost 300 percent or 400 percent of the cost of a day of care in an MCF.

David Gehm, president of Wellspring Lutheran Services, told the committee that states like Indiana and Minnesota have visitation models that follow CDC guidance with some local adaptations.

Full video of the committee testimony can be found here.

 

Commission offers redistricting briefings for counties

Members of Michigan’s new Redistricting Commission (MICRC) will be available in March to present information and answer questions about their work authorized by the voters at the ballot box in 2018.

“For the first time in Michigan’s history, citizens are now in charge of redistricting to ensure fair congressional districts, Michigan State Senate districts, and Michigan House districts,” the commission stated in announcing the public outreach campaign. “The MICRC would like to send one of its commissioners or staff to present at the beginning of county board meetings for two to three minutes.”

Counties interested in such presentations should send an email to Redistricting@Michigan.gov and type “Redistricting Michigan” in the subject line. In the email, include the date or dates you have available and the time for the presentation.

MSU Extension also is offering a March 24 webinar on “Redistricting and Communities of Interest” as part of its “Current Issues” series.

“This webinar will provide participants with an overview of the redistricting process including work done by the University of Michigan Center for Local, State and Urban Policy on defining communities of interest. Participants will also have a chance to hear from three organizations that are deeply involved in this process about the work they are doing throughout the state to identify communities of interest that exist.”

The session will run from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. EST on March 24. Click here to register for this event.

 

Deadline approaches to register for mental health courses

The deadline is March 5 to register for a series of live webinars on managing mental health crises during March.

The sessions will occur on March 10, 11, 17 and 18 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. This course is the equivalent of the 2-day classroom training and participants must attend all four sessions to receive a certificate.

“Managing Mental Health Crisis” is designed specifically for Michigan law enforcement, public safety and community mental health responders. It is funded by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, endorsed by the state’s Diversion Council and is MCOLES-approved and meets with MCOLES recommended annual officer trainings.

The cost is free, but seating is limited. Click here to register.

For additional information, contact J. Eric Waddell at jericwaddell@thecardinalgroup2.com.

 

Broadband equipment property tax exemption passes the Senate 

SB 46, sponsored by Sen. Aric Nesbitt (R-Van Buren) is a bill that will exempt eligible high speed broadband equipment installed after December 31, 2020 from property taxes if that equipment resolves a lack of broadband service and can deliver at least 25 megabits per second (Mbps) downstream and three Mbps upstream for internet service. The bill passed the Senate this week on a party line vote. MAC remains committed to finding solutions that will expand broadband to unserved and underserved areas, but oppose legislation that exempts property from property taxes without full reimbursement of those funds from the State. We all recognize Michigan’s digital data infrastructure is not adequate for the needs of all residents. The question is: How do we resolves the access issue, so every resident can have the opportunity to prosper regardless of their geographical location? MAC disagrees with the assumption that a broad-based property tax exemption is the solution to the problem. The simple economics are that the providers are not building in rural areas because there are not enough customers to ensure a decent rate of return on the investment. The biggest hurdle to overcome is the cost of installation and the return on investment. Exempting property for the specific business classes may provide encouragement to investment, but it significantly strains the ability of local units of government to provide the services their residents need and deserve. 

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

MDHHS director discusses vaccine progress with Podcast 83

Elizabeth Hertel, newly appointed director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, discussed Michigan’s vaccine distribution efforts and other COVID-19 work during a special edition of Podcast 83 on Feb. 16.
 
Hertel was named to lead the state’s largest department, with more than 14,000 employees, by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. She is currently awaiting confirmation by the Michigan Senate.
 
The Podcast 83 team will be taking a one-week break from its current weekly schedule, resuming live episodes on Monday, March 1.
 
To see any prior episode of Podcast 83, visit its webpage on the MAC website.

 

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