Dear Friends,

Hello and welcome to the October edition of my e-newsletter!

We are well into fall! Colors are changing, bow season started October 1, and apples and pumpkins are aplenty. The past month has been filled with community events and meetings with Allegan County residents. I’ve been able to take your concerns directly to Lansing, and I am excited to continue to do so. I’m committed to maintaining an open line of communication and encourage all residents to contact our office and share your thoughts and concerns so that I can best represent you.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you ever have any questions or concerns, or if I can assist you in any way.

Sincerely,

I will hold my next set of office hours on Monday, October 15, 2018, No appointment is necessary. Residents who are unable to meet during my scheduled office hours may contact my Lansing office at (855)-737-0080 or by e-mailing me at marywhiteford@house.mi.gov. Please stop by and say hello!

This edition of my E-Newsletter provides, an update on my plan to create a mental health hotline, and an overview of our 2017-2018 Action Plan Progress Report. Some of our legislative accomplishments include:

• Putting more money in the classroom
• Expanding skilled trades training
• Fixing our crumbling roads and bridges
• Working to reduce car insurance rates
• Making government more accountable
• Cutting taxes
• Increasing access to mental health care
• Combatting the opioid crisis

There’s still more work to be done, but I’m pleased with our progress so far to make Michigan a better place for families, workers and seniors. To view the full Action Plan Progress Report, click here.

C.A.R.E.S. Hotline Update

I recently testified in front of the House Health Policy Committee on House Bill 6202, which creates a crisis hotline to connect individuals experiencing a mental health crisis to a local provider.  This will point those who have no place left to turn in the right direction and allow them to get the help or services they need. House Bill 6202 remains before the House Committee on Health Policy for consideration.

ACTION PLAN REPORT

Putting more money in the classroom
We fought for $14.8 billion in record-level funding for our K-12 students and will continue to work to ensure resources go directly into classrooms, giving students the tools they need to succeed. We must ensure accountability for every education tax dollar spent.

With the following legislation, we fulfilled our commitment to curb growing debt and end the long-term financial drain taking money away from students:

  • House Bill 5579: Provides $14.8 billion in record-high financial support from the state and the highest per-pupil funding increase in over 15 years. (PA 265 of 2018)
  • HB 4313: Includes an additional $153 million in school aid foundation allowances, an additional $25 funding per high school student, a $200 million MPSERS payment and $55 million toward MPSERS reforms. (PA 108 of 2017)
  • Senate Bill 401 & HB 4647: Reforms MPSERS to mirror the more robust state employee plan and opens a new hybrid pension plan with less long-term liability risk. (PA 92 of 2017)

Expanding skilled trades training

Our kids deserve to learn about all of their options after high school, especially in fields with employees in high demand. I supported better training opportunities that prepare students for high-skilled careers because a college degree isn’t the only path to success.

We implemented bold ideas to improve education for all children while ensuring vocational and technical education programs are stronger to prepare young people for the careers of today and tomorrow:

  • HB 4323: Includes $41 million for the Going Pro skilled trades program in the fiscal year 2018 budget. This is an increase of $11 million from 2017. (PA 107 of 2017)
  • HB 4313: Includes an additional $6.4 million for a total of $9.6 million for CTE equipment upgrades. (PA 108 of 2017)
  • HBs 4315-16: Replaces current K-12 graduation requirements of at least two foreign language credits and one visual arts/performing or applied arts credit with a total of three credits in “21st Century Skills” credits (any combination of foreign language, visual arts, performing arts, applied arts, computer science or coding), and eliminates the sunset on the foreign language equivalent. (Senate Education Committee)
  • HB 4317: Allows a student enrolled in a career and technical education program or curriculum to fulfill their health education requirement by completing an OSHA education training course. (Senate Education Committee)
  • HB 4318: Allows a student to choose between Algebra II or statistics to satisfy a portion of the mathematics graduation requirement. (Senate Education Committee)
  • HB 5139: Requires the MDE to develop or adopt a model program of instruction in career development. (PA 229 of 2018)
  • HB 5141: Allows school districts to hire CTE teachers if they possess a high school diploma and hold a professional license or certificate in the subject or field they would be teaching. (PA 235 of 2018)

Fixing our crumbling roads and bridges

Like you, I’m frustrated with the condition of our roads. For decades, not a single state general budget dollar was invested in the transportation system, resulting in the crumbling roads and bridges of today.

While the problem can’t be solved overnight, I fought for record funding of $4 billion to fix roads and bridges, including additional emergency funding without raising taxes:

  • HB 4323: Provides $3.6 billion in road funding, the most dedicated state funding for roads and bridges in recent years. (PA 107 of 2017)
  • HB 4321: Provides an additional $175 million in state funding for roads in the 2018 budget. (PA 82 of 2018)
  • SB 848: Includes $1 billion in new funding for roads in the 2019 fiscal year (over $4 billion total spent on road and bridge repairs). (PA 207 of 2018)

Working to reduce car insurance rates

Michigan is the only state in the nation to force drivers to buy unlimited coverage, even if they already have coverage through their health insurance. This has resulted in some of the highest car insurance rates in the country. Several factors contribute to these high costs, including uninsured drivers, out-of-state residents who don’t pay into the system, increased car insurance fraud, and the skyrocketing costs of health care.

We continue to work at reassessing the car insurance system with an eye toward reducing costs because we are getting ripped off, and people deserve a more efficient and fair car insurance system that protects drivers while making car insurance rates more affordable:

  • HBs 4624-4627: Clarifies what a claimant must do when seeking benefits through the Michigan Assigned Claims Plan (MACP) and requires a claimant to cooperate with the Michigan Automobile Insurance Placement Facility (MAIPF) to receive benefits. (House Floor)
  • HB 5013: Makes multiple changes to Michigan’s Auto No-Fault Law including allowing drivers Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Choice and providing a senior PIP opt-in, guaranteed PIP premium rate reduction, provider fee schedule, family attendant care weekly hour limit and fraud authority. (House Floor)

Making government more accountable

The governor and state legislators should be held to the same transparency laws as local governments and state departments. That’s why I helped pass common-sense legislation to increase transparency and accountability in state government by requiring the governor to be subject to the Freedom of Information Act. The legislation also creates a similar transparency requirement for all state legislators. Michigan is one of only two states that still exempts its governor, lieutenant governor and the Legislature from these transparency laws.

I also believe people deserve more transparency when it comes to government records. One of our first actions this legislative session was to remove the roadblocks to public access of government records.

We continue to make government more accountable and accessible to its people:

  • HBs 4150-57: Creates the Legislative Open Records Act (LORA) under FOIA to provide for the public inspection of state legislator records created after Jan. 1, 2019. (Senate Government Operations Committee)
  • HBs 4148-49: Subjects the governor, lieutenant governor and their employees to FOIA starting Jan. 1, 2019. (Senate Government Operations Committee)
  • HB 4259: Gives the Auditor General the ability to obtain confidential and electronic data from state departments and agencies during audits. (Senate Government Operations)
  • HB 4184: Requires elected officials subject to the Open Meetings Act to be physically present when voting on a matter before the public body but provides a once-a-year exception for everyone to vote via video teleconference. (Senate Elections and Government Reform)
  • HB 6052: Creates the Economic Development Incentive Evaluation Act to provide transparency for all the economic development activities authorized through the Michigan Strategic Fund and requires the department to contract with an outside expert to conduct the evaluation. (House Floor)
  • SB 223: Creates the Law Enforcement Officer Separation of Service Record Act. (PA 128 of 2017)
  • HBs 4545-4546: Amends the Michigan Employment Security Act to expand access of unemployment insurance data to higher education institutions, intermediate school districts (ISDs), and Michigan Works agency for course training program planning or evaluation. (PAs 72-73 of 2018)

Cutting taxes

Government must live within its means just like hard-working taxpayers are forced to do every day. I’m pleased to say we have reduced the state’s overall general budget spending and paid down billions in debt while saving $1 billion in the state’s emergency fund.

The people of Michigan work hard for their income, and I am committed to working just as hard to protect it. A simple and fair tax code is key to signaling that Michigan is a welcoming place for workers and job providers alike. I have worked with my colleagues to lower the state’s tax burden and improve the lives of every worker in Michigan, especially those living paycheck to paycheck:

  • SBs 94 & 95: Provides tax relief for all Michigan citizens by accelerating the elimination of the unfair sales and use taxes when trading in a car, boat or RV. (Veto Override 1/17/2018)
  • HB 4396: Eliminates the pension tax for many retired police and fire personnel. (PA 149 of 2017)
  • HB 4976: Allows Treasury and a taxpayer to avoid expensive court costs by voluntarily settling tax disputes during the free informal conference. (PA 215 of 2017)
  • HB 5422: Creates $100 income tax credit for seniors 62 and older. (Senate Government Ops)
  • SBs 748 & 750: Clarifies and increases the personal and dependent exemptions offered to taxpayers on their income tax filings from $4,000 to $4,900 by Tax Year 2021. (PAs 38-39 of 2018)
  • SBs 992-94: HICA Repeal & Replacement with the Insurance Provider Assessment Act (IPA). (PAs 173-175 of 2018)
  • SB 1016: Reduces gross direct premiums tax from 1.25 percent to .95 percent for 2019 and lowers rate each successive year depending on a calculation utilizing previous year taxpayers’ liability. (PA 22 of 2018)

Increasing access to mental health care

I am committed to evaluating our existing behavioral health system to help Michigan residents live happier, healthier lives.

We created the bipartisan House C.A.R.E.S. Task Force in 2017 to help gather information from patients, families, doctors, clinics and organizations across the state to learn how to provide better access to mental health services in Michigan.

Using the task force’s recommendations, we crafted a plan to ensure our investment in behavioral health is targeted, meets certain minimum standards and provides people with the care and job training needed to live independent, self-determined lives:

  • HB 4323: Requires the Michigan Department of Corrections to ensure that mentally ill prisoners are referred to mental health care providers that are able and willing to treat prisoners; increases direct care workers’ wages 50 cents per hour; increases support for state psychiatric hospital staffing with the addition of 72 acute care staff spread across four of our state psychiatric facilities; and continues to integrate physical and behavioral health care services by requiring several pilot programs with all savings related to the pilots be reinvested into behavioral health services in the counties where the savings occurred. (PA 107 of 2017)
  • SB 649: Amends the funding model for community mental health to allow for the Section 298 pilot projects in the FY 18 budget. (PA 224 of 2017)
  • SB 848: Invests an additional $65 million statewide in community mental health funding and additional funding for House Mental Health C.A.R.E.S. Task Force initiatives including Crime Victims’ Rights Advocates, Specialty Courts, Psychiatric Services, Community Mental Health, Veteran Services, and Provider Access in Rural Areas. This bill also provides another $30 million for mental health services to schools for the 2018 fiscal year. (PA 207 of 2018)
  • HB 5439: Requires the Department of Health and Human Services to create a psychiatric bed registry for the state. (Senate Floor)
  • HB 5524: Requires MDE to develop a mental health first aid professional development course for teachers. (Senate Health Policy) 
  • HB 5810: Updates and modernizes “Kevin’s Law.” (Senate Health Policy)
  • HBs 5818-19: Allows a guardian to consent to mental health treatment for a minor. (Senate Health Policy)
  • HB 5820: Revises court procedures for referring an individual for mental health treatment. (Senate Health Policy)
  • HBs 5243-44, 5246: Places time limits on the completion of psychological evaluations performed by a clinician, and allows department to certify other individuals or organizations as necessary to ensure psychological evaluations are being completed in a timely manner. (Senate Judiciary)

Combatting the opioid crisis

The opioid epidemic continues to harm our families and communities. Prescription drug abuse has become one of the fastest-growing public health concerns. With the ever-increasing number and strength of opiates on the market, the likelihood of a person accidentally overdosing or abusing products continues to rise.We have taken steps to protect individuals suffering from these new threats:

  • HB 4323: Includes $700,000 to support statewide programs that target opioid addiction and abuse in the 2018 budget. (PA 107 of 2017)
  • HBs 4403-08: Increases access to opioid addiction treatment, allows pharmacists to refuse to fill a prescription under certain circumstances, requires the creation of student curricula regarding the risks of prescription drug abuse, and requires providers to counsel minors on the risks of opioids when prescribed. (HBs 4404 and 4405 are in Senate Health Policy Committee) (PAs 68-79, 81, 246, 253-255 of 2017)
  • SBs 47, 166-67, 270, 273-74: Requires reporting to the Michigan Automated Prescription System (MAPS), a bona fide prescriber patient relationship, information to be provided for treatment upon treating an opioid-related overdose, allows a pharmacist to partially fill a prescription under certain circumstances, and limits opioid prescriptions to a seven-day supply for acute pain. (PAs 247-252 of 2017)

Visiting Lansing?

My priority is always you! If you plan to visit Lansing for a conference or meeting, please contact my office in advance so I can make every effort to meet with you while you are in town.

Celebrating a Special Occasion?

My office is happy to offer legislative tributes in honor of a number of noteworthy events such as retirement, anniversaries of businesses in our community, awards and public recognitions.

STATE GOVERNMENT RESOURCES

 

State Government Links

The Official State, County and City Government Website Locator: www.statelocalgov.net/state-mi.cfm

Michigan Senate website: www.senate.michigan.gov

Michigan House of Representatives website: www.house.michigan.gov

Michigan Legislative Website: www.legislature.mi.gov

Unemployment Issues: If you are having issues connecting with the state unemployment office or receiving your unemployment benefits, please feel free to contact me by calling 517-373-0836. You may also find additional helpful information at the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency website: http://www.michigan.gov/uia/0,1607,7-118-26831—,00.html