April Legislative UpdateBudget Season in Lansing
Spring has finally sprung in Lansing, and it is a time when a young legislator’s thoughts turn to…appropriations. The House and Senate are back from the spring recess and are busily putting together the FY 2014/15 budget. Standing committees are also meeting, considering issues ranging from utility deregulation to road funding. Read on for more information on issues of particular interest to MAGE members.
Bill Would Create Early Retirement Option Solely for MDOT Employees
Legislation was introduced in late April that would provide a 70 and out retirement option for MDOT employees. House Bill 5443, introduced by Rep. Dianda (D-Calumet), would also grant a 1.75 multiplier for those opting to take advantage of the early out. The bill is wrapped up in the politics surrounding plans to increase transportation funding. Rep. Dianda, who was an MDOT employee before running for the Michigan House, has argued that MDOT’s administration is top heavy, and he hopes that the early retirement option can be part of a larger effort to reduce supervisory staff in the department.
Although the bill is unlikely to go very far, Rep. Dianda hopes that it will start a discussion on proper staffing levels within MDOT. For example, Rep. Dianda has also called for a reduction in Transportation Service Centers as a way of dedicating a higher percentage of transportation funding to road construction and maintenance.
HB 5443 was referred to the House Financial Liability Reform Committee.
Legislation Introduced to Cap Prison Population
In what has been seen by some as an effort to promote private prisons, Senator Proos (R-St. Joseph) has introduced Senate Bill 909 that would cap the population in Michigan state prisons at 38,000. The current prisoner population is 44,000. The bill comes in the wake of negativity surrounding the disastrous implementation of privatized food service in Michigan prisons.
The bill specifically limits the prisoner population to 38,000 for those prisoners housed “in correctional facilities operated by the department.” Excess prisoners would therefore need to be housed either in county jails, or in “other secure facilities considered appropriate by the department.” The last phrase has been interpreted by most observers as meaning private prisons. Therefore, the bill, if passed, would potentially put the state in the position of having to contract with a private prison to house inmates, or to release potentially thousands of prisoners.
The bill was referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
House and Senate Appropriations Committees Complete First Steps in 2014/15 Budget
The Legislature is about halfway through the budget process as the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have both completed their initial work. The House and Senate are expected to both pass their own versions of the 2014/2015 budget by early May, and then the leaders on both sides will use work groups to address the differences.
One major area of difference is the Maxey Boys Training School, which was slated for closure by the House Appropriations Committee, but not by the Senate Appropriations Committee. The Department of Human Services, which operates the facility, is opposed to its closure.
Legislators Tour KPH – Little Discussion on Staffing Issues
In the midst of a potential staffing emergency at the Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital, a number of Michigan lawmakers received a tour of the facility in late April. Representatives Callton (R-Nashville), Dillon (D-Grand Rapids), McCann (D-Kalamazoo), O’Brien (R-Portage) and Yonker (R-Gaines Twp.) received a guided tour accompanied by a number of Department of Community Health and hospital managers. The tour lasted two hours, and included a demonstration on patient restraint techniques in which 5 KPH staff persons attempted to restrain a 6th staff person who acted the role of an unruly patient.
The legislators were given information on the facility, particularly relating to the patients. Those leading the tour told the State Representatives that the approach to handling clients was to treat them as victims rather than criminals.
There was very little discussion regarding staffing, though Representative McCann asked about the problems with mandatory overtime for nurses. One of the explanations for the use of mandatory overtime dealt with the high number of complaints against staff. It was explained that, since the clientele were often in a fragile mental state, a high number of complaints were lodged against hospital staff. While the vast majority of the complaints are baseless, they nonetheless require staff to be placed on leave while they are investigated. This then in turn leads to the use of more mandatory overtime.
This explanation leaves much to be desired, especially since schedules are routinely created that call for mandatory overtime regardless of administrative leave issues. We are still working to get a meeting with Rep. O’Brien to further discuss this issue. Her office has agreed to meet with MAGE members in Kalamazoo, and we are presently waiting to receive a list of possible dates from her scheduler.