The Gongwer Blog

by Elena Durnbaugh, Staff Writer

Will The Bill To Allow Alcohol Sales At College Games See A Vote Soon?

Posted: May 1, 2023 7:57 AM

A recently introduced bill that would allow alcohol to be sold at certain on-campus sporting events at Michigan universities made a splash last week, but it's not clear that the legislation will get a hearing any time soon.

Rep. Graham Filler (R-St. Johns) and Sen. Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo) are leading a bipartisan effort to allow university governing boards to apply for liquor licenses to sell alcohol at basketball, football and hockey games.

HB 4328 and SB 247 would allow the Michigan Liquor Control Commission to issue up to three tavern licenses or three Class C liquor licenses to be used for events within the public areas of university football, basketball and hockey stadiums. Sales would be permitted one hour before each game.

The legislation was referred to the House Regulatory Reform Committee and Senate Regulatory Affairs Committee for consideration, but Rep. Tyrone Carter, who chairs the House committee, said the bill wasn't one he was in a hurry to move.

Mr. Carter (D-Detroit) said the bill wasn't at the top of his list priority list for the committee as there were other reforms he felt needed to be discussed first.

"That's one of those things that if we do nothing, it's not a big deal. It's not a huge need," he said. "But we'll wait and see what side wants what."

Other committee priorities include eliminating sunsets on some laws and addressing legislation related to the cannabis industry.

"We'll get all the facts, and I'm sure that if and when we do get a hearing, we'll have people for and against. I'm sure that both sides will…advocate pretty strongly for their positions," Mr. Carter said.

One thing Mr. Carter said the committee would need to keep in mind is balancing the potential to generate revenue with any concerns about liability and safety.

"We know that people are tailgating in the parking lots and other places before and after games, and nobody's asking for ID. But the thing of it is, at least if it's being done at the stadium, we at least know that to purchase it, you have to be of legal age," Mr. Carter said.

He also said that he didn't want to create unnecessary work for people in charge of campus safety, but that lawmakers would need to be honest about what was already going on at university games.

"If you can't control it, you have to figure out a way to manage it," he said. "So, would that give us an opportunity to manage some things? Possibly."

Managing what is already going on at college games is an important part of the conversation for the bill sponsors.

"Giving universities the option to serve alcohol at their sporting events is about freedom, fairness and recognizing that the responsible consumption of alcohol inside the stadium is much safer that the binge drinking that goes on in the parking lot," Mr. Filler said in a statement. "Multiple examples exist that show alcohol-related incidents inside stadiums declining after alcohol sales are allowed."

Of the 14 schools in the Big Ten, eight allow alcohol sales at football games, and most have seen positive results with the decreases in the number of alcohol-related incidents, a press release from House Republicans said. After Ohio State started selling alcohol stadiumwide in 2016, university police reported a 65 percent decrease in alcohol-related incidents inside its sport venues.

Mr. Filler introduced similar legislation last year, but the plan did not get brought up for a vote. The current plan has bipartisan support in the House and in the Senate.

Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), chair of the Senate Regulatory Affairs Committee, could not be reached Monday to discuss the Senate bill's chances of getting a hearing.

"To me, it's not one of those hot button issues, because when you look at it, it really to me circles around capacity," Mr. Carter said. "But there's a lot of things that would have to go into that. And I'd have to probably reach out to some universities and have them come and testify…what would be the economic impact versus what would be some of the unintended consequences."

Those unintended consequences could be related to what happens if a university overserves someone and other liability concerns.

"As the old saying goes…is the juice worth the squeeze, in terms of that," Mr. Carter said.

Could The Legislature Be Ready To Revisit No-Fault Auto Insurance?

Posted: April 3, 2023 12:23 PM

In the first three months of the new legislative session, the Democratic majority has raced through its initial six priorities laid out at the beginning of the term. As lawmakers prepare to dive back in after the spring recess, one issue that could be taken up is no-fault auto insurance.

"The energy and the desire … to take up the issue is there," said Rep. Brenda Carter (D-Pontiac), who chairs the House Insurance and Financial Services Committee. "After we get through these first six bills and the gun legislation bills, then auto no fault becomes the priority."

How fast those changes could take place also is complicated by current litigation over the implementation of the 2019 overhaul in the Michigan Supreme Court case, Andary v. USAA Casualty Insurance Company.

Changes were made to Michigan's no-fault auto insurance in 2019 with the passage of bipartisan legislation that created multiple levels of personal injury protection coverage to make it more affordable. The multi-tiered PIP rate was created as an alternative to the mandatory lifetime health coverage (See Gongwer Michigan Report, June 30, 2020). The legislation also mandated medical fee schedule that imposed a 45 percent provider rate cut and limited reimbursement for family-provided attendant care to 56 hours per week (See Gongwer Michigan Report, May 12, 2021).

"The impact has been devastating," said Tom Judd, executive director of Michigan Brain Injury Provider Council, a trade association that serves providers in professions related to brain injury rehabilitation, and which has strongly objected to the reforms (editor's note: This story was changed to correct Mr. Judd's first name).

The fee schedule went into effect in July 2021, causing problems for the approximately 17,000 people receiving care under the prior no-fault law, which assured unlimited coverage for "all reasonable charges" needed to provide care for those catastrophically injured. Providers also said they could no longer afford to provide care for patients due to a lack of funds.

"We warned legislators about this before the fee-cap system was implemented in 2020, and everybody kind of took a wait and see approach," Mr. Judd said. "Well, we've seen the impact."

Erin McDonough, executive director of Insurance Alliance of Michigan, said that the reforms have benefited Michigan drivers.

"The goal of them was to drive down costs for Michigan's 7.2 million drivers, and we think the reforms are working," she said.

The Department of Insurance and Financial Services released a report showing that as a result of the new law, the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association deficit of approximately $2 billion had been eliminated and the associations assessment could be reduced by $1 billion. The MCCA also stated the changes resulted in an estimated $3.5 billion reduction in liabilities.

The report also said that, as of December 29, 2022, the department reviewed 47 percent of the personal auto insurance filings, and those filings reflected $106 million in savings passed on to consumers as the result of the application of the fee schedule provided by the no-fault reforms.

"They've kept costs in check by preventing overcharging and reducing incentives for medical providers to push harmful procedures and have established a reasonable reimbursement rate for medical services," Ms. McDonough said.

The state also developed a hotline to ensure that fees were being paid in a timely manner, Ms. McDonough said, and people who didn't have car insurance before the reforms are now buying that protection.

"We have a choice," she said. "We have savings in the form of a fee schedule. We have accountability through programs like utilization review that allow third party disputes to be overseen by the department. We've had 60 new companies enter the market since the reforms passed."

Last month, the Coalition Protecting Auto No-Fault called into question the accuracy of the number of new insurance companies since the law changes (See Gongwer Michigan Report, February 13, 2023).

Unclear is how the new Senate Democratic majority will handle the issue. Sen. Mary Cavanagh (D-Redford Township), chair of the Senate Finance, Insurance and Consumer Protection Committee, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Both Ms. Carter and Ms. Cavanagh were co-sponsors of House Bill 4486 during the 2021-22 term, which would have restored payments to rehabilitation clinics to what they charged prior to the 2019 no-fault changes.

The Michigan Supreme Court is currently hearing a case related to the fee schedule. The case, Andary v. USAA Casualty Insurance Company (MSC Docket No. 164772), will decide whether the 2019 changes apply retroactively (See Gongwer Michigan Report, March 2, 2023).

Mr. Judd said that the decision of the Supreme Court won't prevent the Legislature from addressing the reimbursement system.

"It's a very narrow, small part of the law that really needs to be fixed so that people can get the care that they deserve and that they paid for," he said. "That's a legislative caused problem, and the only solution has to come from the Legislature with an amendment to the law that makes sure that providers are getting paid a reasonable amount."

Ms. McDonough said any discussions about no-fault reforms were dependent on the court case.

"We need to understand what decision the Supreme Court is going to make," she said. "It will determine constitutionally what the Legislature can and can't do, and what's at the heart of this is the medical fee schedule."

Ms. Carter said she is in ongoing discussions with House Speaker Joe Tate's (D-Detroit) office about bringing the insurance industry and the provider industry to the table to develop solutions to auto no-fault insurance.

"I'm really optimistic, especially with the subject matter experts we have on the committee, that we will come to some kind of resolution where both sides of the industry wins," she said.

The biggest concerns to address are the fee schedule and the cut in fees paid to providers, Ms. Carter said.

"That's the 800-pound gorilla in the room for both sides," she said. "We've watched this law since 2019-20, and we see that there's been a reduction in claims and a reduction in price, however the provider industry is being disproportionately impacted."

Mr. Judd said that when the no-fault auto insurance laws were originally passed, stakeholders like the Michigan Brain Injury Provider Council would have liked an opportunity to discuss what the fee schedule looked like and different strategies to reasonably lower costs in the system.

"We did not get that opportunity," he said. "We need to see a change to the reimbursement level for post-acute services. Those services that have had their reimbursement rate slashed by 50 percent. That's not sustainable…We're not looking to touch any other aspect of the law except for this one very narrow solution that looks for justice and fairness in terms of making sure that people who are injured have care providers that are getting paid at reasonable rates."

Mr. Judd said he's cautiously optimistic about the chance of reform.

"We think that we have champions at key points in the Legislature, within leadership and within both parties who have been championing for a change, and the new legislators coming into this session have really shown some great insight into this issue, and they recognize the need," he said. "We know that over the past few years, Governor Whitmer has said she wants to see some solutions to her desk, and so we're very hopeful and optimistic now that she has her party with the majority that a solution will get to her desk."

Ms. McDonough said that the medical fee schedule is helping keep costs in check because it allowed providers to charge people with no-fault insurance more for procedures than they charged people without no-fault insurance.

"Loading costs into the system makes rates go up, and when you have choice, unchecked medical costs can prevent people from getting the value of their policy," she said. "Think about it: You could only afford a $50,000 policy. Why should you have to by a $5,000 MRI when it costs everybody else $500?"

Ms. Carter also said that the Legislature was not prevented from making adjustments going forward, regardless of the Supreme Court decision.

"We will still have to look at how the law impact pricing going forward," she said. "The obligations that the provider industry will have to meet going forward. And that, once again, is a discussion between the two sides."

Sen. Mark Huizenga (R-Walker) was less confident about the ability of the Legislature to do anything prior to the Supreme Court's decision. Mr. Huizenga is the minority vice chair of the Senate Insurance and Finance Committee.

"In general, any time you have major policy change like that, it's never perfect, and it's not that uncommon to see technical fixes, legislative adjustments and modifications after the fact," he said. "But I think that's all on hold now, just because of litigation."

Mr. Huizenga said that his office still regularly is contacted by people with concerns about auto no-fault. Still, he said he couldn't speculate on whether the Senate committee would take it up as an issue or what kind of changes could be considered.

"I don't think it'd be fair for anyone to speculate as to what changes might or might not occur because of the litigation," he said.

The Republican caucus largely supports the 2019 law because many members feel that the changes made the state more competitive by lowering prices and made Michigan safer. The biggest priority is making sure that people are getting their medically necessary care.

There hasn't been much discussion at the committee level on no-fault auto reform, but Ms. Carter said she was confident that there would be a bipartisan effort.

"With the implementation of the law, there were a lot of eruptions around it," she said. "That doesn't mean that they may not occur once (auto no-fault) starts surfacing as an issue again, but as of right now, it seems like both sides are willing to come to some type of agreement."

Bill Introduced To Repeal School Letter Grading System

Posted: March 13, 2023 8:52 AM

The House has introduced a bill that would repeal Michigan's controversial letter grading system for schools.

The system was put in place during the 2018 lame-duck session. Under the legislation, schools receive letter grades, A-F, based on student proficiency in math and English, student growth in math and English, student growth among English language learners, graduation rates and school's academic performance of the state assessment compared to similar schools.

"This was something that was registered during lame duck and passed by quite literally one vote," said Rep. Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth) the sponsor of the bill. "It was a 56-53 vote, and a 63-47 majority Republican legislature, so that shows you how divisive this was."

Michigan also has a school index system that provides feedback on how schools are performing in different areas, but the letter grade system was introduced because some people felt it wasn't sufficiently clear for parents.

"As of right now, it's not even being used because it doesn't meet federal standards." Mr. Koleszar said. "So, because it doesn't meet federal standards, and we already use the index system for the state of Michigan, which is federally approved … there's a lot of questions why we would keep it at statute."

Peter Spadafore, executive director of the Michigan Alliance for Student Opportunity, called the legislation (HB 4166) to repeal the grading system "long overdue."

"Michigan's dual accountability systems lead to confusion and fail to improve outcomes for students," Mr. Spadafore said. "The current system fails to measure student growth, doesn't inform parents, and doesn't help student learning. Michigan's letter grading system was ill-informed when it was signed into law and has not led to improved student performance since."

Mr. Koleszar said that there are some people, especially within the charter school community, who are concerned that repealing the A-F grading system might hurt accountability measures at schools. He said that was important for people to remember that even if the letter grade system was repealed, the state index system would still provide that accountability.

"This is why we have bills that go through a hearings process at a testimony process. We can make sure that we're weighing all concerns and making sure we can come up with the best possible law that can hopefully get as many people as possible on board," he said.

Beth DeShone, executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project, was critical of repealing the grading system.

"Parents expect more from the House than legislation designed to hide school performance data from families and taxpayers. Let's be very clear about this – House Bill 4166 is disdainful anti-transparency legislation. It's a push to sweep learning loss under the rug, and kids along with it," Ms. DeShone said.

She went on to say that the legislation would strip transparency requirements for schools, which serve to inform parents and policymakers.

"It's a bill that will exacerbate inequalities, widen the learning gap, and disproportionately punish students in schools that struggle the most," Ms. DeShone said.

Repealing the current system would remove ratings the state isn't currently using, but the state's index system would still be in place, Mr. Koleszar said.

"If there are ways to improve the index system, I'm all for it," he said, "But it's always important to remember that anything we do with the state index system, if we change it, it has to be approved by the U.S. Department of Education to make sure it meets the standards."

Mr. Koleszar could not say how quickly the bill might move through the committee process, but he said he hoped it would be soon.

"The sooner the better," he said. "This is something that I think is overdue, especially because it was pass(ed) in 2018 and we're still not using it now. But again, I want to make sure everybody that would like to have a conversation with me has the opportunity to do so."

If Reps. Win Local Elections, How Fast Could A Special Election Be Called?

Posted: February 5, 2023 5:18 PM

Two members of the House of Representatives plan to run for mayor in their respective cities this year. If both win, the timing of when they resign from the House could affect Democrats' thin 56-54 majority.

Rep. Kevin Coleman (D-Westland) announced he is running for mayor in his home city of Westland in December.

The current mayor is resigning before the end of his term, so it's still unclear if the winner of the election would take office immediately following canvassing of the November election results or if the new mayor would take office in January, when a new term for mayor normally begins in Westland.

"A determination has not yet been made regarding when the winner of that election would be permanently seated to complete the balance of the unexpired term," Westland City Clerk Richard LeBlanc said in an email.

The city attorney has been consulted, and the Clerk's Office is waiting for a response, Mr. LeBlanc said.

Rep. Lori Stone (D-Warren) also is gearing up for a run for mayor in Warren. Earlier this month, she formed a candidate committee to seek the office of mayor. Ms. Stone is also hosting a kickoff fundraiser on Saturday, according to an event posting on Facebook.

Ms. Stone declined to comment on her plans on January 26 when a Gongwer News Service reporter inquired with her at the Capitol.

They mayoral term for the city of Warren will begin in November following the completion of canvassing, according to City Clerk Sonja Buffa.

The timing of the Westland term beginning is key, assuming Mr. Coleman wins.

If it's November – and Ms. Stone wins – he and Ms. Stone would exit the House at about the same time and cause House Democrats to see their 56-54 majority become a 54-54 tie. House Rules would keep Democrats in charge of the gavel and thus in control of committees and the floor agenda but Republicans could prevent any bill from passing should they all vote no for perhaps as much as two to three months.

However, if Mr. Coleman and Ms. Stone win and Ms. Stone exits in November/December and Mr. Coleman in January, there would likely be a much shorter window of time with the House at 54-54. Democrats with a 55-54 majority could still pass bills the same as now, needing all of their members to vote yes.

This is all academic, of course, unless both Mr. Coleman and Ms. Stone win.

If either Mr. Coleman or Ms. Stone win their local elections, the results likely wouldn't be official until mid-December, Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum said.

That means a special election to fill a seat in the House wouldn't be able to be called until late December or early January.

"Looking back to December 14 of 2021, the governor called a special election for March 1 and then the general election for May 3," Ms. Byrum said. These special elections were to fill three House seats triggered by November elections that saw two House vacate their seats to move to the Senate and one vacancy caused by a death.

The turnaround for a special election will be even tighter this year with the new election laws that require military members and overseas voters to have absentee ballots 45 days prior to the election.

If the Legislature moves the presidential primary up to February, that could further shrink the timeline, as it's likely that the special election would be called to be on the same ballot to avoid costs for the local communities. The governor, however, has substantial discretion on when to schedule a special election.

"That doesn't get much time for the county clerk to do election programming and ballot printing," Ms. Byrum said. "That's why it's important that the legislature enact legislation for Proposal 2 so that some clerks, if desired, can start doing pilots for early voting and Proposal 2 implementation this coming August and November elections."

– By Elena Durnbaugh

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