Gov’t Affairs News: Hurry up, it’s time for vacation

Legislature takes quick break before year-end push

The legislature made sure to rush through a list of items the last two weeks before heading out on its two-week “hunting break” that falls each year between Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, Congress is still in session and the U.S. House is poised to take the first big vote on tax reform this week. Let’s hope it goes better than the Michigan’s House’s recent vote two weeks ago to reform no-fault auto insurance which ended up 10 votes short.

Michigan legislators will return on Nov. 28 for a final three weeks of session in 2017. Don’t get too excited though – legislative bills will live on into the new year. Legislation is viable during the full two-year session cycle that ends in December 2018. With Michigan legislators taking a break, MRA’s government affairs updates will also take a quick vacation.  Regular updates will resume on Friday, Dec. 1 once session resumes.

House committee reports enhanced retail fraud penalties

Legislation MRA has supported over the span of several terms that would further discourage retail theft finally cleared a critical hurdle last week. SB 44, a bill that would add retail fraud and organized retail crime to the list of crimes the courts can ask convicted individuals to seek cost recovery for law enforcement’s time investigating, was reported by the House Law & Justice Committee on Nov. 7. The legislation will give law enforcement additional incentive and resources to address the ongoing problem of retail fraud and organized retail crime. The committee chairman originally expressed some concerns but agreed to a compromise bill after meeting with MRA. The compromise only allows courts to order cost recovery from individuals who steal or attempt to steal more than $200 worth of merchandise or have previously been convicted of retail theft. Next step: House floor. | MRA Position: Support.

House committee considers restricting SNAP benefits

On Nov. 2, MRA testified in opposition to a bill that would create a logistical nightmare for retailers by requiring low income individuals to pay for bottle deposits using personal funds rather than Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. HB 4278 attempts to crack down on the illegal act of “water dumping” which occurs when an individual purchases beverages subject to the 10-cent deposit with SNAP benefits, dumps out the contents, and returns the bottles to redeem the deposit as cash. The legislation would seek a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which currently allows SNAP recipients to pay the deposit using their benefits since the product cannot be purchased without the container and subsequent deposit. USDA has rejected numerous similar waiver requests in the past and would require the state to submit substantial documentation that the change would not harm SNAP beneficiaries before even considering the request.

USDA has already addressed the problem of “water dumping” in 2013 by clarifying that the practice will be categorized as a trafficking offense and could result in a recipient losing benefits. For retailers, the proposed change in HB 4278 would create a real headache in terms of execution for retailers. In addition to software and POS system changes, cashiers would have to ask the customer if that person will be paying with SNAP benefits before the cashier could correctly calculate the total. This could create a frustrating and potentially embarrassing experience for the customer. The cashier would then need to collect an alternative form of payment for the bottle deposits or refuse to sell the product to the customer if they do not have an alternative form of payment. The end result is a huge administrative burden on top of the already burdensome system created by the bottle bill – Initiated Law 1 of 1976.

MRA reminded committee members that retailers, especially grocers, are already operating on razor thin margins and every added administrative burden makes it harder to keep their doors open. As an alternative, MRA suggested the committee consider looking instead at repealing the Michigan Beverage Container Deposit Law. Without a deposit, no fraud could occur and no changes to SNAP would be necessary. Several committee members and other business groups expressed their concerns with the bill. It is uncertain whether the committee will bring the bill up for a vote when they return from the short two-week break. Next step: House Families, Children and Seniors Committee vote. | MRA Position: Oppose.

House continues school calendar discussions

On Nov. 2, the House Education Committee held a second hearing on HB 5157, legislation that would allow schools to start prior to Labor Day. The committee discussion shifted away from the bill, which would restrict school days to Tuesday-Thursday during the summer and towards a discussion on allowing a balanced calendar vs. an agrarian calendar. The committee adopted a substitute that beginning in the 2018-19 school year, school could not begin before Labor Day, unless the school district operated under a balanced calendar, or had additional educational programs that aligns with a partnering college’s calendar. While the substitute was adopted, it was not reported by the committee. Committee members were passionate about the discussion and it is clear this is just the start of more robust conversations on changing the school calendar. School districts and education groups support the bill; business and tourism groups oppose the bill. Next step: House Education Reform Committee vote. | MRA Position: Oppose.

Other important items to note:

  • Beer growlers: A bill that would expand a recently approved law allowing retailers to fill and sell growlers was approved by the House Regulatory Reform Committee on Nov. 8. HB 5175 would allow retailers with a Specialty Designated Merchant (beer and wine) license to fill and sell growlers. Currently, only retailers with a Specialty Designated Distributor (liquor) license may fill and sell growlers which led to some confusion. Next step: House floor. |  MRA Position: Support.
  • Beer keg tag elimination: Legislation to eliminate the requirement to tag certain kegs of beer was recently signed into law by Gov. Snyder as Public Act 166 of 2017 (SB 372). The new law, which takes effect Feb. 11, 2018, removes a burdensome requirement for retailers to stick a label on a stainless-steel cylinder that is sweating and prohibits them from accepting the keg back if the label is missing. Next step: None. |  MRA Position: Support.
  • Gas station skimmers: On Oct. 31, the House unanimously approved legislation that would require certain security measures to combat credit card skimmers on motor fuel pumps. SB 415 includes enough flexibility for retailers to reasonably meet the requirements and for the department to approve new methods as technology improves. Next step: Governor’s signature. |  MRA Position: Neutral.
  • Urban grocery incentives: Last week the House approved legislation to create grants for grocery store improvements necessary to locate in, or remain in, neighborhood and commercial corridors. The bill, HB 4207 seeks to address food deserts. Both new and existing stores are eligible for grants but under a substitute, new stores must be at least one mile away from existing stores. Next step: Senate Economic Development and International Investment Committee. |  MRA Position: Support.

  • 90-day prescriptions: On Nov. 9, Gov. Snyder signed SB 360 into law as Public Act 165 of 2017. The legislation allows pharmacists to dispense a 90-day or longer supply of medication so long as the prescription allows for enough refills to fill a 90-day supply. It ensures that pharmacists will not have to call the prescriber for approval as currently required by some insurance plans. Pharmacists will need to consult with the patient prior to dispensing more than a 30-day supply. The bill takes effect on Feb. 11, 2018. Next step: None. |  MRA Position: Support.
  • Biosimiliars: On Nov. 1, the House Health Policy Committee heard testimony on HB 4472, legislation that would allow pharmacies to dispense a new category of drugs made with biologic components referred to as biologics, biosimiliars and interchangeable biosimiliars. MRA is working with the bill sponsor and committee members to strike outdated language in the statute. The committee chairman has made it clear that the bill will not move until all impacted parties are happy with the language. Accordingly, we do not expect the committee to hold a vote anytime soon. Next step: House Health Policy vote. MRA Position: Support with changes.
  • Opioids: On Nov 1, the Senate Health Policy Committee reported HB 4403 and 4408. The House bills would allow Medicaid to cover addiction treatment, require licensing of pain management clinics (in an attempt to shut down “pill mills”), require appropriate grade-level education for students about opioid abuse as part of school health education programs, and require parental consent for opioid prescriptions for minors. Next step: Senate floor. |  MRA Position: Neutral.
  • Prescription drug cost reports: HB 5223, introduced on Nov. 7, would require manufacturers to file an annual report on the costs associated with making and advertising prescription drugs if the cost of the drug is more than $10,000 annually or per course of treatment. Next step: House Health Policy. |  MRA Position: Under review.

Prescription price information: HB 52285229, introduced on Nov. 8, would ensure that pharmacists could disclose the price of a prescription to a customer by prohibiting pharmacies from entering into contracts that forbid the practice. Next step: House Health Policy. |  MRA Position: Under review.

  • 911 fees: Legislation that would increase charges related to operating the state’s 911 system was approved by the Senate Energy and Technology Committee last week. SB 400 was amended to increase the current 42 cent county 911 charge to 48 cents, instead of the 55 cents in the original bill. Prepaid wireless 911 surcharges for retail transactions would also increase from1.92 percent per transaction to 5 percent per transaction. The original bill only called for a 4.19 percent prepaid wireless surcharge. To fund upgrades and improvements, the 911 fund is projected to have a negative balance in 2020 and may not show a positive balance until 2024. Next step: Senate floor. |  MRA Position: Oppose.
  • Consumer contracts: HB 5193, introduced on Oct. 31, would amend the Consumer Protection Act to prohibit a seller from including certain clauses in consumer contracts. Contracts could not waive a customer’s right to make a statement about the seller, product, or services provided, or threaten or penalize a customer for making a statement. The bill would allow the removal of online reviews or comments, allow defamation charges, and prohibit a consumer from disclosing proprietary information. Next step: House Commerce & Trade Committee. |  MRA Position: Under review.
  • Monthly payday wages: A bill making a technical fix to keep businesses that pay employees monthly in compliance was introduced as HB 5235 last week. The legislation modifies the statutory requirement to all pay monthly wages on the first day of the month to within 16 days after the end of a monthly pay period. Next step: House Commerce and Trade Committee. |  MRA Position: Support.
  • Unemployment reforms:  Last week, the House unanimously approved legislation (HB 51655172) that makes a number of reforms to the Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency and the unemployment insurance program. The bills included several technical amendments that do not change the intent of the legislation. Next step: Senate Oversight Committee. | MRA Position: Support.

  • TIFA roll-up: SB 393, legislation that would roll all of the state allowed tax increment finance authorities (TIFA) into a single act, received a hearing on Nov. 2 in the Senate Economic Development and International Investment Committee. The bill is an attempt to address the lack of compliance in the reporting process and the same rules for reporting apply to all TIFAs. According to testimony, only 90 TIFAs of some 700 are regularly reporting information. Specifically, the bill would require every TIFA have a website with detailed information available to the public (or available in another format if not on a website) and they must report financial information to the state. To increase compliance, the bill would prohibit the TIFA’s ability to collect taxes if they do not report financial information. The committee chairman indicated the bill needs some additional changes and the bill sponsor is working with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. The Michigan Downtown Association is supportive of the legislation and considers this a thoughtful approach that does not place any additional burdens on DDAs. Next step: Senate Economic Development and International Investment Committee vote. |  MRA Position: Neutral.

  • Ballot proposal circulator reforms: A series of bills seeking various ballot proposal reforms were introduced on Nov. 1 as HB 52085214. The democratic bill package would prohibit groups from hiring a signature gatherer if that person has been convicted of a crime and require signature gatherers be paid hourly rather than per signature. Groups paying signature gatherers must also register with the state, keep a log of gatherers and only allow the first signature to be counted if a voter signs a petition more than once. Other reforms include requiring circulators to wear an ID badge indicating whether they are paid or volunteering, adds penalties for misrepresenting the contents of a ballot question and allows a voter to remove his or her signature via written request. The committee chairman had questions about how the state would enforce some of these provisions and wants to review the package further before considering a hearing. Next step: House Elections & Ethics Committee hearing. |  MRA Position: No position.