Governmental Affairs: February 14, 2014

Comprehensive recycling push begins

The state’s comprehensive recycling workgroup met yesterday and received DEQ Director Dan Wyant’s proposal. His plan was based on feedback from several meetings and only takes the first step toward establishing more recycling opportunities in Michigan, expanding curbside and residential recycling opportunities in all 83 counties by 2017. The proposal also lays out broad plans to develop an educational campaign, establish a measurement system, determine existing markets and create a small Governor’s Council on Recycling to work on the next phase of comprehensive recycling. After months of meetings, the director was clear that it’s time to move forward and start the process with the pieces everyone agrees on and allow the Council to tackle the rest.

While retailers are disappointed that changes to the Bottle Bill were not included in this proposal, the director made it clear that those suggestions remain on the table. The Council will oversee the remaining pieces of the comprehensive recycling puzzle where the workgroup could not agree on a solution. It is imperative that the retail community have a seat at the table and that we present a united front to best accomplish our goal of reforming the Bottle Bill.

House and Senate tackle meth abuse

The past two weeks have seen a lot of action on pseudoephedrine legislation. As a quick recap, the legislation under consideration seeks to reduce meth abuse by limiting access to over-the-counter products containing pseudoephedrine or ephedrine and creating penalties for individuals who work as a team to combine quantities of the product, an activity known as “smurfing.” The House Criminal Justice Committee held a hearing on its package of bills (HB 50885090) last week, and this week the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to move its package of bills (SB 535563564756).

MRA was successful in getting language included in both packages to ensure the NPLEx system will contain an override option in the event a pharmacist or pharmacy tech feels he or she is in imminent danger. Retailers are supportive of efforts to reduce meth abuse that do not make pseudoephedrine products prescription-only.

Animal adoption legislation moves

The House Judiciary Committee approved legislation (HB 4534475550615062) last week that seeks to reduce animal abuse by requiring animal protection shelters or private adoption agencies to check an electronic list of animal abuse offenders before approving an adoption. Access to the list maintained by the Michigan State Police is free for the agencies required to check it. The legislation does not include pet stores.

MRA was successful in adding language that ensures pet stores and other retailers can continue to allow adoption agencies to host adoption events at their location without being held liable for those adoptions or being considered an adoption agency. An amendment to include pet stores was offered and defeated in committee. MRA has been assured that if the amendment resurfaces on the House floor it will also be defeated. With the addition of the clarification language, MRA was able to support the legislation.

Senate committee discusses unfair unemployment taxes

The Senate Reforms, Restructuring, and Reinventing Committee took up legislation this week that seeks to eliminate the requirement for employers to pay unemployment taxes on a worker’s pay if the worker will not be eligible to collect unemployment. Specifically, the legislation (HB 4958 and SB 686) deals with H2B and J1 workers, who are most often used in seasonal positions.

In order to qualify under the H2B program, the employer must be unable to fill positions using local workers and require help from foreign workers here on a temporary visa. There are tremendous costs associated with using the H2B program, including application fees, transportation costs and housing costs. The committee appeared to be in favor of exempting these workers’ pay from unemployment taxes and plans to have further discussion on the issue.

Executive budget introduced, few surprises included

Governor Rick Snyder presented his executive budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year to the legislature on February 5. The proposed transportation piece of the budget includes a $254 million increase towards infrastructure repairs. The increase comes from a shift in general fund dollars.

For the current fiscal year, $121 million was added in December, meaning the proposed budget will see a $132 million increase for next year. The increase is designed to help capture federal matching dollars due to a shortage in baseline state transportation revenue. In addition, the budget includes $40 million for highway maintenance. However, it should be noted that due to the severe winter Michigan has experienced, the state has already seen its expenses double from last year and anticipates a lot of repair work will need to be done this spring.

On the pharmacy front there are two areas of concern. The executive budget did not include prescribed amounts for pharmaceutical dispensing fees. This has been an ongoing concern for the last few years, and MRA plans to address the language with the chairs of the subcommittees in each chamber. The budget also recognized a $110 million funding gap in the Health Insurance Claims Assessment (HICA) that will need a legislative or administrative remedy, but it did not offer any suggestions to resolve the shortfall. MRA will continue tracking how the legislature plans to deal with this HICA hiccup.

Youth e-cigarette ban moves

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously reported legislation (SB 667668) Thursday that would regulate the sale and use of e-cigarettes by minors, despite calls to wait for FDA regulations on the topic. The state’s chief medical executive in the Department of Community Health testified and expressed concerns that acting now may be pointless since the FDA rules will supersede any state action.

Other important items to note:

  • The Senate Finance Committee approved legislation (HB 4288 & 4292) that reforms the sales and use tax audit system by promulgating rules used by the Department of Treasury.
  • Retail fraud cost-recovery legislation (SB 729) passed the Senate on February 5 by a vote of 32-2. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Criminal Justice.
  • Joint resolutions (SJR V and HJR CC) that call for a convention of the states in order to amend the U.S. Constitution to require Congress to pass a balanced budget (in the absence of a national emergency) passed the House Financial Liability Reform Committee on February 13.
  • Legislation that would speed up implementation of the sales and use tax on the difference legislation was introduced last week. The Senate Finance Committee reported the use tax portion (SB 754755) on February 12. The House Tax Policy Committee has not yet taken up the sales tax portion (HB 5280).