Gov’t Affairs News: Lawmakers head home for the holidays

Happy Holidays

The legislature adjourned this week for the year and will not return until Wednesday, Jan. 10. Accordingly, our government affairs updates will be put on hold until after the holidays. We will send updates on an as-needed basis until legislators return.

The legislature headed home a week earlier than usual, giving lawmakers, legislative staff, and those of us around the Capitol an extra week to shop for the holidays. We’ve drilled the importance of buying nearby into legislators, so hopefully you’ll see some of them in your stores this week.

Traditional December back-and-forth results in retail wins

Several items MRA was watching and working on made it all the way through the legislative process before legislators headed home earlier this week. Legislation must be approved by committees in both chambers and by the full chamber in the House and Senate before it can be enrolled and presented to the governor. Each December, legislators scramble to check lingering items off their to-do lists resulting in a back-and-forth volley of bills between the two chambers. There is often some trading involved in order to get bills back from the House that Senators sponsored or vice versa. The following items MRA supports were given approval and now head to the governor’s desk:

  • Retail fraud cost-recovery: Legislation MRA has supported over the span of several terms that would further discourage retail theft is finally headed to the governor’s desk. SB 44 will add retail fraud and organized retail crime to the list of crimes that a judge can order convicted individuals to reimburse law enforcement for the time and resources used to investigate the crime. The legislation gives law enforcement additional incentive and resources to address the ongoing problem of retail fraud and organized retail crime. Under the bill, courts can 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.
  • Unemployment fraud reforms: Bills that make a number of reforms to the Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency and the unemployment insurance program head to the governor’s desk this week. The bills are seen as a fair but fragile compromise between unemployment claimants and employers that addresses issues both groups are currently facing. The legislation, HB 51655172, strengthens the identity verification process, establishes a prompt and thorough process for handling imposter claims, implements a consistent communication method for notifying employers when they are not responding quickly enough and could be penalized, and modifies the penalties for fraudulent claims to ensure they can be recouped rather than dismissed.
  • Opioid reforms: Legislative approval of SB 47, SB 166167, SB 270, SB 273274, HB 4403, and HB 44064408 was a big win for the governor, who was hoping to get bills that seek to address the opioid crisis on his desk before Christmas. Nearly the entire package of opioid reforms MRA has been watching was approved. Of greatest importance is a bill requiring physicians to check the Michigan Automated Prescription System (MAPS) before writing a prescription for pain medication containing opioids. Also included are requirements for patient and student education, prescribing limits on opioids for chronic and acute pain sufferers, as well as requiring physicians to have an established relationship with a patient before writing a prescription for opioids to cut down on doctor shopping.
  • Urban grocery incentives: Senate approval of HB 4207 this week helped send a program creating grants for urban grocery store improvements to the governor’s desk. The bill seeks to address food deserts by allowing both new and existing stores to apply for grants for store improvements. In order to be eligible for the grants, new stores must be at least one mile away from an existing store.

Senate approves bill codifying anti-competitive half-mile rule

The Senate approved legislation last week that would codify an anti-competitive rule into law referred to as the half-mile rule. The rule, created by the Michigan Liquor Control Commission (MLCC), prohibits the issuance of a liquor license to a store if there is an existing store with a liquor license within a half mile. The MLCC has decided to rescind the rule because of its anticompetitive nature and the fact that no other licenses are given that same protection. The potential rescission has prompted those who benefit from the rule, current liquor license holders, to fight to keep the policy alive.

SB 501, the legislation approved by the Senate, attempts to update the rule to allow the commission to use GPS to determine the half-mile radius rather than the current, complicated measuring process done along streets from door-to-door. The bill also includes several exemptions from the rule:

  • If the existing licensed store purchased less than $100,000 in spirits from the MLCC within the last calendar year (this amount is increased from the current $10,000 threshold under the current rule and it would be adjusted each year for inflation);
  • If the existing license is for an entity holding a Class A or Class B Hotel license;
  • If the two stores are separated by four or more lanes of traffic; and
  • If the new store is at least 20,000 square feet and is either located in a shopping center that has at least 150,000 square feet of retail space or derives at least 20 percent of its sales from food

MRA remains opposed to any attempts to codify this rule and was pleased that the House adjourned without the House Regulatory Reform Committee considering the legislation. It’s possible the House may consider the bill when it returns in January, but we do not believe there is enough support on the committee to report the bill. Next step: House Regulatory Reform Committee. | MRA Position: Oppose.

Other important items to note:

  • Beer growlers: The House approved legislation last week that would expand a recently approved law allowing retailers to fill and sell growlers. 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: Senate Regulatory Reform Committee. | MRA Position: Support.

  • Chiropractor reimbursement under worker’s compensation: The Senate Insurance Committee considered legislation this week, SB 282283, that would allow chiropractors to be reimbursed under worker’s compensation claims for additional services than those currently allowed. The limitation stems from a 2009 agreement when chiropractors asked the Legislature to expand their scope of practice. At the time, employers/insurers agreed to the expansion so long as worker’s compensation and no-fault claim payments were not required on the expanded scope. While committee members seemed split on their support for the bills, the business community was mostly opposed to the legislation. Next step: Senate Insurance Committee vote. | MRA Position: Oppose.
  • Right-to-Work repeal: Under SB 724725, introduced this week, Michigan’s Right-to-Work legislation would be repealed. The legislation’s referral to the Senate Government Operations Committee is a signal it will not be given serious consideration. Next step: Senate Government Operations Committee. | MRA Position: No position.
  • Wage theft penalties: Legislation that seeks to substantially increase the penalties for employers violating the wage and fringe benefit payment requirements was introduced as HB 53265330 last week. A similar package of bills was introduced in the Senate as SB 716720. Next step: House Commerce and Trade Committee or Senate Government Operations Committee. | MRA Position: Under review.

  • 911 fees: Legislation that would increase charges related to operating the state’s 911 system was approved by the Senate last week. SB 400 would increase the current 19-cent charge on phone users to 25 cents and allow county commissioners to levy up to a 48-cent charge (currently only allowed up to 42 cents). In addition, it would raise prepaid wireless 911 surcharges for retail transactions from 1.92 percent per transaction to 5 percent per transaction. The bill is intended to help fund upgrades and improvements to the 911 system and proponents claim the increases are necessary since the 911 fund is projected to have a negative balance in 2020 and may not show a positive balance until 2024. Next step: House Communications and Technology Committee. | MRA Position: Oppose.
  • Drones on Mackinac Island: Legislation to allow only Mackinac Island to regulate drones was introduced as SB 715 this week. Mackinac Island officials already attempt to regulate drone use on the island since they say it frightens the horses (no cars are allowed on Mackinac Island). Next step: Senate Transportation Committee. | MRA Position: Under review.
  • Monthly payday wages: A bill making a technical fix to keep businesses that pay employees monthly in compliance had a hearing in the House Commerce Committee last week. HB 5235 modifies the statutory requirement for the date of the month by which employers who pay employees a monthly wage must pay them by. Instead of requiring payment be received on the first day of the month, the bill pushes that back to within 16 days after the end of a monthly pay period. Next step: House Commerce and Trade Committee vote. | MRA Position: Support.

  • Alternative resolution: The Senate approved legislation this week (HB 4976) that would allow taxpayers and the Michigan Department of Treasury to use new methods to resolve tax disputes. Next step: Governor’s signature. | MRA Position: No position.
  • Mosquito abatement assessment: The Senate Local Government Committee heard testimony this week on legislation (HB 4573) that would allow townships to seek a special assessment to fund mosquito abatement efforts. Currently cities can ask voters to approve these special assessments but townships cannot. Next step: Senate Local Government Committee Vote. | MRA Position: No position.

  • Credit freeze: The House approved legislation this week that would prohibit a consumer reporting agency from assessing fees to place or remove a credit freeze. HB 5094 is in response to the Equifax data breach and subsequent fees that are assessed to freeze or unfreeze credit reports. Next step: Banking and Financial Institutions Committee. | MRA Position: Neutral.
  • Emotional support/service animal identification: HB 5356, introduced this week, would allow an individual to request a special designation on a dog’s license as a service animal, emotional support animal, or therapy animal if they sign an affidavit and provide a certificate of completion from a basic obedience program. The companion bill, HB 5357, would amend the current voluntary service animal patch/ID card program to require a basic obedience training certification. Next step: House Agriculture Committee. | MRA Position: No position.
  • TIFA roll-up: SB 393, legislation that would roll all of the state allowed tax increment finance authorities (TIFA) into a single act, was approved by the Senate this week. 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. 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: House Tax Policy Committee. | MRA Position: Neutral.