June 2014 Legislative Report
Legislature Leaves for Summer – Passes budgets, fails to address roads
Many in the Michigan Legislature had hoped to wrap up the spring session with a plan to increase transportation funding to address the critical needs of Michigan’s roads and public transit systems. However, despite calls from Governor Snyder and Senate Majority Leader Richardville, the House and Senate failed to win agreement on any significant new funding.
However, the Legislature did complete the budget process for the upcoming fiscal year before leaving for the summer – something they have not always successfully done.
Governor Signs Omnibus State Budget
In late June, Governor Snyder signed two Omnibus budget acts into law that will lay out state spending for the 2014-2015 fiscal year. House Bill 5314 is the Omnibus Education budget bill that provides funding for K-12, Community Colleges, and Universities. House Bill 5313 if the General Omnibus Budget Bill that provides funding for state departments, including the Department of Education. The two budgets combined total over $53 billion.
In the general omnibus budget, despite an overall increase in the state budget, many departments ended up with flat or reduced budgets. The breakdown is as follows (percentage increase or decrease of gross budget by department):
Agriculture and Rural Development 5.3%
Community Health 7.6%
Environmental Quality -2.8%
Attorney General 5.3%
Civil Rights 9.5%
Executive Office 10.2%
Legislative Auditor General 5.7%
Technology, Management and Budget 6.0%
Strategic Fund 1.6%
Human Services -4.4%
Financial and Insurance Services -13.5%
Licensing and Regulatory Affairs 7.9%
Military and Veterans Affairs 0.1%
Natural Resources 12.1%
State Police 5.4%
The Human Services budget in particular contains items that are of importance to MAGE members. One of the ways the budget achieves savings is through staffing reductions which will hit supervisory positions hard. While the budget calls for reductions in supervisory staff throughout the department, it specifically reduces non-child welfare field staff supervisors by 30 FTEs.
On a more positive note, efforts to close the Maxey Boys Training School were unsuccessful. Despite the fact that the House version of the DHS budget called for its closure, the Senate disagreed, and the final budget keeps the school open.
Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital Staffing Problems Continue
Mandatory overtime problems continue to plague nurses at the Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital. Representatives from MAGE met with Representative Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo) earlier in the spring, and more recently with a staffperson for Representative Margaret O’Brien (R-Portage). Todd Tennis from Capitol Services has also discussed the issue with Representative O’Brien personally, as well as Senator Tonya Schuitmaker (R-Lawton).
Hospital administrators are continuing to use mandatory overtime not as an emergency response to shortages but as a regular part of scheduling. This not only causes major morale problems among hospital personnel, but also seriously endangers the health and safety of both staff and patients. Hospital staffing problems are not unique to KPH (see related article below), but they are certainly exacerbated at any facility that has inherently dangerous patients.
Representatives O’Brien and McCann, along with Senator Schuitmaker, made an effort to try and address some of these staffing issues in the 2015 Department of Community Health Budget. Unfortunately, they were not able to affect any significant changes in funding for nursing services. Representative O’Brien has stated her intention to continue to push for additional funds for nursing staff at KPH. There may be an opportunity to add those funds in a supplemental budget bill later this year.
MDOC Gives Aramark “Last Chance”
Last December, the Michigan Department of Corrections turned over prison food services to a private company – Aramark. This led to the termination of hundreds of state employees as the private company stepped in. Unions representing state employees warned that Aramark had a spotty track record at best in other states, and even many Department of Corrections leaders opposed the move. The Legislature, however, specifically Representative Greg McMaster (R-Kewadin) and Senator John Proos (R-St. Joseph) pushed hard for the privatization to take place, and they eventually go their way.
Problems began almost immediately, as complaints of food shortages and substitutions led to prisoner unrest. Even more troubling were the large number of Aramark employees who were terminated in the first few months of the contract for infractions ranging from intoxication on the job, getting too friendly with prisoners, and smuggling contraband, including narcotics, into the prisons. The state fined Aramark $98,000 for violations of the contract, and demanded that services improve.
In late June, the Department of Corrections notified Aramark that beginning July 1 there would be no further grace period and the contract would be strictly enforced. If Aramark continues to violate the terms of the contract, it could face much larger fines or even the cancellation of the 3-year agreement.
MAGE Supports Better Nurse Staffing Requirements
MAGE and other groups which represent nurses in Michigan are promoting the passage of legislation to require minimum staffing levels for nurses. House Bill 4311, sponsored by Representative Jon Switalski (D-Warren) and Senate Bill 228, sponsored by Senator Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor) would require minimum nurse/patient ratios in hospitals. Dubbed the Safe Patient Care Act, the bills have lain dormant in committee and have yet to even receive a hearing.
The reason for the lack of action stems from the opposition of the Michigan Health and Hospital Association which vehemently opposes the bills. They maintain that national protocols exist that require safe staffing levels already, and that mandating increased nurse to patient ratios would increase the cost of care. Proponents of the bills show statistics that hospitals with more nurses per patient demonstrate lower rates of infection and other preventable hospital ailments. Moreover, the hardships nurses experience by frequent use of mandatory overtime would be lessened with improved minimum staffing levels.
The bills are still awaiting action in the House and Senate Health Policy Committees. MAGE urges its members to contact their State Representative and State Senator and ask them to support HB 4311 and SB 228.