The End is Near: ‘Skim’ Stopper Bill Headed to Gov. Snyder

By Jack Spencer

Michigan Capitol Confidential

March 29, 2012

A bill written to end the “home health care dues skim” is headed to the governor.

On Wednesday, the Michigan House passed Senate Bill 1018 on a 63-46 straight party-line vote, with Republicans voting “yes,” and Democrats voting “no.” It now goes to Gov. Rick Snyder.

Last week, the legislation was passed by the Senate on a 25-13 vote. Sen. Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw, was the only GOP lawmaker in either chamber to vote against the bill.

“Closing down the dues skim is absolutely the right thing to do,” Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, said. “As follow up, we should work on changes to the state’s rules on unionization. We need to make sure those impacted are aware of what is taking place and understand both the potential benefits and negative effects.”

Proos is drafting legislation to require that unionization elections be posted in a manner that would let the news media be aware that they are occurring. With better public attention, it won’t be as easy for stealth elections to occur.

On the House floor Wednesday, the debate on Senate Bill 1018 was brief. Rep. Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) made the only comments.

“This bill does absolutely nothing to create jobs,” Greimel said. “All it does is deprive these workers of their legal rights in a process overseen by the state. Once again, this body presumes to be judge and jury and executioner.”

Greimel also made a new claim in the debate over the “home health care skim.” He said that special interests, including nursing homes, were involved in pressing for passage of Senate Bill 1018.

In 2005, the SEIU targeted dollars that taxpayers provide to help so-called home health care workers. Through the Medicaid Home Help program, these were workers who cared for homebound patients who would otherwise need to be in nursing homes.

The SEIU scheme, involving a dummy employer and a stealth election, was used to sign up the 43,729 so-called home health care workers into the SEIU. The majority of the 43,729 were relatives or friends of those given care.

Once these people were unionized, the SEIU began collecting dues from their checks. The continuation of this dues flow is called the “home health care dues skim.” The number of alleged home health care workers has now grown to 60,190. The SEIU has netted more than $29 million in dues from the scheme so far.

Greimel’s suggestion that nursing homes had some special interest in the legislation seems to line up with an apparent SEIU push to misrepresent what the bill would do.

Late last week, the union (or those with connections to it) called home health care providers and patients and lied to them about what the bill would do, said Rep. Paul Opsommer, R-DeWitt. Opsommer said the callers in his district told those giving or getting care at home that the pending legislation to stop the “skim” at the state level could somehow end the federal Home Help program.

On Tuesday, Opsommer issued a press release about the phone calls. He titled the news release: “Opsommer announces ‘Bald Face Lie of the Year’ winner.”

“[This legislation] does one thing and one thing only, and that is to help stop the union dues from being deducted from the roughly 60,000 people receiving this Medicaid money by clarifying that they’re not public employees,” Opsommer said. “It’s amazing that interest groups who are in favor of this pick-pocket approach to public policy are trying to get the very people who are having money taken away from them to call in to fight the legislation under the false pretense that they would make the Home Help program go away. Under this legislation, these people would not only still get their money, they’ll end up getting more than they’re getting now.”

Opsommer was the sponsor of House Bill 4003, the original measure drafted to stop the “skim.” It was passed by the House in June and voted out of a Senate committee in December, but stalled on the Senate floor after that.

Two weeks ago, Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, introduced Senate Bill 1018, which was duplicate of House Bill 4003. As a duplicate measure, Senate Bill 1018 garnered 21 Senate Republicans as co-sponsors. Only 20 votes are needed to pass a bill in the Senate.

Assuming Snyder signs the bill, the dues could stop flowing almost immediately. However, it might take a few months. Under one possible scenario, ultimately stopping the dues flow could involve the courts.

It appears that SEIU will go to any length to try to keep the “skim” going. It has started a petition drive to put the “skim” structure into the state constitution.

Zac Altefogt, spokesman for SEIU Heathcare Michigan, did not return a phone call for comment.

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Flexibility in High School Graduation Requirements Gives All Students a Chance to Succeed

When Michigan adopted one of the nation’s most rigorous set of high school graduation requirements, the goal was to ensure all high school graduates were ready for college, enabling them to compete for jobs in the high-tech, global economy.

I believe two key components were left out – vocational and technical education.

I recently co-sponsored legislation introduced in the Michigan Senate to allow students to count additional career and technical education courses towards meeting the state’s high school graduation requirements.

Senate Bill 997 would allow seven credits to be filled either through the current route or through career and technical courses, including work-based learning like an internship or apprenticeship.

I support a rigorous education that prepares our children for college, but we must acknowledge that college is not the right path for everyone.

Allowing more flexibility in high school curriculum will give all Southwest Michigan students a chance at success by allowing them to choose the educational path that best fits their skills and desires.

Manufacturing helped build our great state and remains a solid career choice for many people.

However, manufacturing companies are already finding it increasingly difficult to find young people with the technical skills needed for these positions.

We have done much to bring jobs to our state and manufacturers are now looking for qualified workers to fill those jobs. We must ensure that Michigan will continue to have young people who possess the skills necessary to fill those openings.

State Senate Bill Seeks to Score $400M in Fed Road Aid

By Karen Bouffard

The Detroit News

March 28, 2012

Michigan could provide the matching funds needed to tap an additional $400 million in federal road money this year under a bill passed by the Senate on Tuesday.

The bill would restructure how sales tax charged at the pump is allocated, ending a yearly scramble to come up with the matching money, according to Sen. John Proos of St. Joseph, who sponsored the bill.

If approved by the House and Gov. Rick Snyder, the bill would raise between $120 million and $136 million annually depending on the price of gas and how many gallons are purchased, Republican Proos said.

“This would be an annual support to achieving federal match as opposed to each and every year having to cobble together the money to get the federal match,” Proos said Tuesday. In 2011, federal road dollars available to the state totaled $1.9 billion.

The proposal came a day before the release of a study by the Road Information Program, a nonpartisan research group in Washington, D.C., that said the average Michigan household will save nearly $2,000 annually in transportation costs by 2022 if the state provides adequate funding for its roads, highways and bridges.

The Senate bill would earmark more of the sales tax on each gallon at the pump that goes to the State Trunkline Fund, which pays for state road projects. About $135 million that goes into the general fund annually would instead go to roads.

Under the state constitution, 60 percent of the first four cents collected under the sales tax goes to schools, and 15 percent goes to revenue sharing with counties and municipalities. About 18 percent of the remainder would be earmarked for state roads. Proposal A earmarks the last two cents for the School Aid Fund.

Lance Binoniemi, spokesman for the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, said the bill is a start but falls short of the $1.4 billion annually Snyder said is needed to maintain Michigan roads in their current condition.

“We’re encouraged by any increases to transportation funding in Michigan, … but we think it’s a small portion towards a bigger goal,” Binoniemi said.

The bill passed 26-11 in Senate, where Democrats opposed the measure because the bill will not increase funding for county and local roads, according to Bob McCann, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing.

It heads to the House for approval, and would also have to be signed by Snyder to become law.

Michigan Senate Approves Bill to Dedicate Part of 6-Percent Sales Tax to Road Repairs

By Dave Murray

Jackson Citizen Patriot

March 27, 2012

A portion of the sales tax would be earmarked for the state’s crumbling roads if a bill that cleared the state Senate Tuesday becomes law.

Senators overwhelmingly approved a plan to take a part of the 4 percent sales tax that now heads to the budget’s general fund and earmark it for roads with an eye toward landing more federal matching funds.

State residents pay a 6 percent sales tax, with 2 percent headed directly to the school aid fund and the rest is divided to other areas of the budget, including revenue sharing to municipalities.

Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, said the plan would designate more money for roads without raising taxes at a time when families are struggling with high pump prices.

“Instead of it going to the general fund, which can be used for any number of priorities including overspending in the Department of Corrections in the last few years – of which that budget I chair – I’d rather see us do right by our constituents who believe that what you pay at the pump, those dollars go to roads.

Proos said the change would claim about $135 million for the roads from the general fund. Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget proposal already targets $119 million in general fund money for road projects, but Proos said that is intended as a one-year plan.

He’d rather not use Snyder’s recommendation, leave the $119 million in the general fund and come with other cuts to cover the $17 million gap.

Snyder has said it will take about $1.4 billion to maintain roads, and more for new projects, and has called for lawmakers to look at a variety of ways to raise money.

Revenue from a per-gallon gas tax and vehicle registration fees have dropped because the state has fewer drivers, and people still on the road are driving less and have more fuel-efficient cars.

That means there is less money available for repairs. The Senate Fiscal Agency points to reports that 28,000 miles of state and local roads in poor condition.

Senate leaders have floated the idea of a higher gas taxes, and Sen. Howard Walker has pushed the idea of a 1 percent increase on the sales tax dedicated to roads.

“Folks are having trouble with their own current state in life, and now they can’t afford to get to work. When see gas prices in Southwest Michigan at about $4.15 and going up, we have to question whether people can afford any tax increases,” Proos said.

But he said Walker’s proposal “makes some sense,” saying revenue will be boosted as the economy grows.

“These are tough issues, especially at a time when our schools are seeing the number of students in free or reduced-price lunch increasing on a daily basis, more and more kids coming in for breakfast, that’s indicative of our economic situation in Michigan,” Proos said.

Proos Promotes Reading and Listening

By John Eby

Dowagiac Daily News

March 26, 2012

CASSOPOLIS – State Sen. John Proos practiced what he preached to kindergarteners Monday afternoon at Sam Adams Elementary School.

Proos, R-St. Joseph, read “Click Clack Moo — Cows That Type” by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin, about Farmer Brown’s cows’ demands when they find a typewriter in the barn and go on strike, joined by hens withholding eggs. It wins out over the Michigan-made wildlife photo book “Lost in the Woods” and “Hop on Pop” by Dr. Seuss, whose birthday leads off March Reading Month. Students’ kites fly on one corridor, tails telling how many tales each read.

Sam Adams is home to 572 students grades K-6 with two enclosed playgrounds. Proos graduated from Lake Michigan Catholic High School in 1988. He and Kristy have three children, who also include Jack, third grade; and Elena, fourth grade.

“I read to my kids every night,” the lawmaker said, emphasizing that reading at school is only half their job.

Children ask if Proos knows President Barack Obama. “I was at a breakfast with him in February, but I have not met him. He’s almost as tall as I am (6-foot-3), but he’s got a better jump shot. President (George W.) Bush is shorter, 6-foot-1. His dad is taller, 6-foot-4. President Clinton and I are about the same height.”

Proos looks like he’s empaneling a grand jury when he directs each student to raise their right hand to swear they will practice reading every day, including summer.

“Computers help” him do his job. So does his Taurus commuting between the 21st Distict of Cass, Berrien and Van Buren counties and Lansing. “But the most important thing I do in my job,” a boy named Logan guesses, is listening.

“I learn when I’m listening and show respect to others,” Proos said.

Proos switches to listening mode for a tour, which, thanks to a $16 million bond, added two new wings for fall — one for kindergarten and first grade classrooms and another two-story wing for second through sixth grade rooms; 31 new rooms were added to the former high school.

The bond ushered new technology into classrooms, including interactive whiteboards, laptops, document cameras, iPads and surround sound systems in each classroom. Lower grades rolled into Sam Adams from Frank Squires, which will house the administration, making Red Brick School expendable.

Proos peaks in on fifth graders creating dinosaur PowerPoint presentations.

Principal DeeAnn Melville-Voss, a former Miss Cass County who has been with the district for 22 years, including as a teacher and coach, decorated her office in an inviting pirate motif, including a life-size cutout of Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow from the four-film franchise, “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

Proos, who oversees the $2 billion corrections budget, shares with librarian Jean Porath, who divides her time between Sam Adams and the junior/senior high, his frustration that prison libraries seem better staffed, with a librarian, assistant librarian and librarian supervisor. “That makes no sense to me.”

Porath, a Dowagiac graduate who has been integrating 15,000 to 20,000 volumes 2½ days a week with a paraprofessional, asks, “Can I have that many people?” Voss treats sixth-graders as mentors for younger students. “They take being leaders of the school very seriously.”

Proos chats with third-grade teacher Joan Potter, who expects her daughter in Texas to make her a grandmother over spring break. He wonders about correlation between “a big new beautiful building” and parent engagement.

“They want to take care of the building and their children to have Ranger Pride,” Voss said, “and focus on positives — not negatives. We offer support and help — values like we were raised with. Parents know I and my very caring staff are here to take care of the kids, who need this quiet and structure.”

“You can feel it when you come in” after ringing the buzzer, Proos said.

Limiting Distractions for Inexperienced Drivers will Save Lives

The Senate recently approved a bill to prohibit young drivers from using cell phones while behind the wheel.

The legislation is called “Kelsey’s Law,” in honor of Kelsey Raffaele, a Sault Ste. Marie teenager who was killed in a car accident in January 2010 while talking on her cell phone.

As a father, my heart goes out to Kelsey’s family for their loss. The loss of a child is a terrible thing, especially when the tragedy was preventable. I supported this measure to help save the lives of our children by limiting unnecessary distractions to inexperienced drivers.

Multiple studies have shown that teen drivers are much more likely than any other age group to be involved in a fatal crash where distraction is reported.

Senate Bill 756 would ban an individual with a Level 1 or 2 graduated license from talking on a cell phone while driving. The law would be a civil infraction and a primary offense, meaning a police officer could stop someone for the offense without any other reason.

Thirty states ban all handheld and hands-free cell phone use by novice drivers, generally drivers younger than 18 or with probationary licenses.

The bill includes exemptions for reporting a traffic accident, a medical emergency or a crime. It would also allow a driver to use a voice-operated system that is integrated into the vehicle, such as OnStar.

The intersection of immortality and inexperience is a dangerous one and sometimes our kids don’t make it. We should be helping ensure our children are as safe as possible, which will give them the best chance to grow in experience.

I encourage all young drivers not to use their cell phones while driving. A distraction could be a fatal mistake.

Bill Opens More Career Paths

Dowagiac Daily News

March 13, 2012

Sen. John Proos recently co-sponsored legislation introduced in the Michigan Senate to allow options for students to count additional career and technical education courses toward the state’s high school graduation requirements.

“This is about expanding choices for Michigan students and parents by allowing more flexibility in the curriculum required to graduate high school,” said Proos, R-St. Joseph. “I co-sponsored this reform to give southwest Michigan students the ability to choose the educational path that best fits their skills and desires.

“I support a rigorous education that prepares our children for success in college and beyond, but that guideline must acknowledge that college is not for everyone.”

Senate Bill 997 would revise the state’s high school graduation requirements to allow seven credits be filled either through the current route or through career and technical courses, which would include work-based learning like an internship or apprenticeship.

“As the current workforce ages and retires, southwest Michigan manufacturers are finding it increasingly difficult to find young people with the technical skills needed for these jobs,” said Corey Carolla, director of Business and Industry at Michigan Works of Benton Harbor. “Allowing more vocational and career courses as part of a path to a high school diploma will help us meet the needs of job providers and students.”

“We have done much to make Michigan more competitive in the pursuit of jobs, including manufacturing jobs,” Proos said. “While we work to bring these jobs to our state, we must ensure that Michigan will continue to have workers with the skills necessary to land these jobs.