News Manager

March Legislative Report by Todd Tennis of Capitol Services

Legislative Update
March 28, 2014

The Michigan Legislature is nearly halfway through the budget process as they prepare to take time off for much of April for their spring recess.  Of course, when I say “taking time off,” for most State Representatives and State Senators that means “attending town halls, hosting constituent coffee hours, reading to students at elementary schools, and knocking doors in their district.”  Nonetheless, we should have a fairly good idea of which portions of the Governor’s Budget Recommendations will slide through and which will be contested after the various House and Senate Subcommittees wrap up their work by the end of April.

Privatization of Prison Food Service Not Going Well

From the “Who Could have Predicted” file, the Department of Corrections has recently fined the Aramark Corporation nearly $100,000 for multiple failures regarding its food service contract.  Apparently, Aramark, the company to which Michigan prison food services was outsourced last December, has had several major breaches and failures as it has tried to carry out food service in Michigan prisons.  Issues including food shortages, employees fraternizing with prisoners, and improper security of dangerous items such as knives have culminated in a hefty fine and warning from the Department of Corrections.  In response, Aramark has promised to do better, and claims that its 30% staff turnover rate is still below the industry average.

In response to the situation, the Michigan Civil Service Commission is being urged to reject the contract and return the delivery of food service to state employees.  Representatives of the Michigan Corrections Organization and AFSCME  Council 25 recently testified before the Commission and warned that the safety of their members, the public and the prisoners themselves is being compromised by the incompetence of Aramark.  Even Senator Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba), who had originally supported the privatization of food service, has reconsidered that decision and also called upon the Commission to dissolve the contract with Aramark.

While the DOC has yet to support termination of the contract, if there is not major improvement very quickly, they may have no choice but to agree.

Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital Nurses Meet with Rep. McCann

After working for the last two months in an effort to connect MAGE members at the Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital with state lawmakers, two members of the KPH nursing unit sat down with Representative Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo) on March 17.  They shared the huge amount of mandatory overtime that nurses at KPH are being forced to work, and the dangers that poses to patients, staff and the community.  While there are no quick and easy solutions that the Michigan Legislature can implement, getting enough lawmakers to exert pressure on the administration and leadership in the Department of Community Health is the first step toward forcing needed changes. 

We are working on scheduling follow-up meetings with other key legislators including Rep. Margaret O’Brien (R-Portage), Rep. Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton), and Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker (R-Lawton). 

House Subcommittee Votes to Close Maxey

The W.J. Maxey Training School, a state-run juvenile justice facility that has been the target of repeated cuts over the past decade, would be closed in the version of the Department of Human Services budget that was reported from the House Appropriations DHS Subcommittee on March 26.  The Governor’s budget proposal did not call for the closure of Maxey, but the House Subcommittee included the closure in their version of the budget.  The subcommittee vote to adopt a version of the budget that closes Maxey was 3-0, with both Democratic members of the committee abstaining from the vote.

It is unclear how much support closure of Maxey has with the Governor’s office and the full House and Senate Appropriations Committees.