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Legislative Report for April 2015

MAGE Legislative Report, April 2015
The Michigan Legislature is a little over half-way through the budget process.  The House passed its version of the 2015-16 Appropriations bills for both the state and public schools in late April.  The Senate is expected to do the same the first week in May.  Then the two chambers will place each budget item into a conference committee where the real wheeling and dealing will take place.  The final product should be sent to the Governor sometime in late May or early June.  Aside from a few major differences in the DCH and DHS budgets (see below), the Legislature is largely supportive of the Governor’s budget recommendation for next year.  There were few major changes requested, and most departments can expect a fairly flat budget going into 2016. 
Closure of Maxey Training School Debated in Lansing
Governor Snyder’s budget recommendation made waves by combining the Departments of Human Services and Community Health.  However, he avoided one of the more contentious issues that has often surfaced over the last decade – that of whether or not to close the Maxey Boys Training School in Washtenaw County.  Instead, that issue was raised this year by Senator Peter MacGregor (R-Rockford), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the DHS budget. 
The Senate Appropriations Committee reported a budget that would close Maxey on October 1 of this year.  Senator MacGregor contends that there are ample alternative facilities in Michigan – both public and private – that can handle the population at Maxey for much lower costs.  This assertion was contested by Senator Vince Gregory (D-Southfield), who raised questions as to whether or not other facilities were truly up to the task of handling the types of issues often seen in the youth sent to Maxey. 
The House version of the DHS budget bill would keep Maxey open, but reduced its funding by $400,000.  This continues a long trend of reducing the usage at Maxey as more youthful offenders are sent to private facilities elsewhere in Michigan and even out of state.  Even though Governor Snyder’s budget proposal made no significant changes to Maxey, based on the House and Senate budget process, it seems the question will now be whether to drastically cut its funding or close it altogether.  Either way, it does not bode well for employees currently employed there.
Legislature Seeking Savings from Combination of DCH and DHS
Despite the fact that Governor Snyder has consistently maintained that his executive order combining the Department of Community Health and the Department of Human Services into a single entity (the new Department of Health and Human Services) was to promote administrative efficiency rather than cost savings, the Legislature is nonetheless seeking to use the merger as a way to reduce costs.  Both the House and Senate Appropriations committees are baking in budget and staffing cuts based solely on the combination of the two departments.
The House version of the DHS budget bill would cut nearly $2 million ($1 million General Fund) based on administrative savings generated by the merger.  It only spells out a reduction in 3 full-time equivalent positions, but could spell more staff reductions as the savings are implemented.  The Senate version of the DHS budget did not make specific reductions based on the merger, but instead made several smaller cuts to various programs that were predicated on the merger.  For example, operating funds for DHS offices were reduced by over $250,000. 
Nick Lyon, the director of the newly minted Department of Health and Human Services, has yet to lay out a detailed plan for state and local departmental consolidation.  However, he has made statements in various settings that hint at the direction the department is heading.  For example, he recently praised Ingham County for having its DHS and Public Health Department facilities housed in the same location.  This could indicate that similar situations could be sought across Michigan in an effort to reduce cost and provide a “one-stop shop” for clients seeking both public assistance and health care.
Could Private Prisons Return to Michigan?
Legislation that would allow the mothballed private correctional facility in Baldwin to take in prisoners of any security level was recently introduced and reported from the House Judiciary Committee.  House Bill 4467 was sponsored by Representative Jon Bumstead (R-Newaygo), who represents the area in which the facility is located.  Originally built as a private facility for youth offenders, the prison was operated by the GEO corporation (formerly Wackenhut) until it was closed in 2005.  The state terminated its contract at that time based on security issues and the fact that the prison had failed to generate promised savings.
Legislation was passed in 2006 that allowed the prison to take in prisoners from outside of Michigan, though the law contained restrictions on what types of prisoners could be accepted and prohibited work release programs.  The prison housed inmates from California for some time, but has been closed since 2011.  In 2012, the law was again amended to allow the prison to house inmates from Michigan that were no higher than a Level IV security rating as defined by the Michigan Department of Corrections.  Apparently, this change was still not enough for the GEO corporation to reopen the facility, so HB 4467 has been introduced to remove security restrictions altogether.
GEO has reportedly made recent upgrades and renovations to the facility in anticipation of once again housing prisoners.  Apparently their plans include housing some of the most dangerous prisoners in Michigan, which is why they are pursuing this legislation.
The bill is now awaiting action on the House floor.