Senate approves reform to help avoid layoffs

LANSING — Legislation aimed at helping job providers avoid laying off workers was approved Wednesday by the Michigan Senate, said state Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart.

“This measure will allow job providers to retain highly skilled workers during times of reduced demand,” Hansen said. “Additionally, getting this proposed law on the books would benefit Michigan’s hard workers, as it can help them avoid the emotional and financial hardships of being laid off.”

Senate Bill 1094 would create a work share program allowing employers to avoid layoffs by reducing the hours of employees and supplementing their pay with partial unemployment benefits.

Under the proposal, to be eligible to apply for a work share plan, an employer must be up to date on quarterly reports and unemployment tax payments, have a positive reserve in its experience account and have paid wages for 12 consecutive quarters prior to application.

Employers applying to the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) for a work share plan must promise not to lay off participating employees or hire new employees into the affected unit. Furthermore, employers must certify that they obtained the approval of collective bargaining representatives and notified employees.

Lastly, employers must certify that implementation of the plan is in lieu of layoffs that would affect at least 15 percent of employees in the affected unit.

Participating employees would have their normal weekly hours reduced between 15 to 45 percent; the reduction must be the same for all participating workers and cannot be changed during the plan, unless modified with the UIA.

Employees participating in a work share plan would receive partial unemployment benefits to supplement their reduced income. Benefits would be calculated by multiplying the employee’s weekly benefit rate by the reduction percentage.

For example, an employee eligible for $362 in weekly benefits with hours reduced by 20 percent would receive 20 percent of the weekly benefits, or $72.

Currently, 22 states and the District of Columbia have a work share program in place.

“Having a work share plan will help job providers avoid the costs associated with recruiting, hiring and training new employees when business improves,” Hansen said. “I strongly encourage my colleagues in the House to take swift action on this bill and send it to the governor for his signature.”

SB 1094 now advances to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

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Senate approves pro-consumer, pro-tourism measures

LANSING — Legislation that would boost industry while lessening the tax burden on Michigan residents was approved Wednesday by the Michigan Senate, said state Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart.

“These measures will help making boating more affordable,” said Hansen, chair of the Senate Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Committee. “In addition to the Great Lakes, Michigan also has more than 11,000 inland lakes and the perfect way to enjoy these bodies of water is on a boat. Reducing the tax burden will encourage more people to become a boat owner and enjoy all the natural beauty our state has to offer.”

Senate Bill 126 would amend the Use Tax Act to exclude taxation on the trade-in values of used cars and boats when the trade-in value is being applied to a new or used car or boat.

SB 127 would amend the General Sales Act and create a six-year phase-in for the program. In 2012, only $2,500 would be exempt, and this amount would increase by $2,500 each year until 2017, when it would reach $15,000. After that, the trade-in value is uncapped.

For example, if a five-year-old car valued at $5,000 is traded in after the law is fully implemented, and the owner of the car applies the trade-in value to a new or used car valued at $25,000, the car being purchased would be taxed at $20,000 – the difference between the value of the new car and trade-in value of the old car.

Michigan is the only Great Lakes state and only one of six states nationwide that taxes trade-in values.

“I look forward to seeing these proposals signed into law,” Hansen said. “People shouldn’t be punished for buying a new car or wanting to own a boat, and that’s exactly what these bills will prevent, and just in time for boating season!”

SBs 126 and127 now advance to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

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Senate approves regulatory reform of nursing home facilities across Michigan

LANSING — Skilled nursing and rehabilitation facilities across the state would operate in a fairer and consistent regulatory environment under a measure approved Thursday by the Michigan Senate, said bill sponsor Sen. Goeff Hansen.

“The central theme of this reform legislation, Senate Bill 884, is ensuring the health, safety and welfare of our most vulnerable citizens, who reside in nursing facilities,” said Hansen, R-Hart. “My measure speaks directly to Governor Snyder’s call for regulatory reform and reinventing Michigan. Our most vulnerable Michigan residents deserve a state government that is focused on being more consumer- and customer-friendly and accountable to the people they serve.”

According to Hansen, performance of the Bureau of Health Systems (which regulates nursing facilities) in Michigan has consistently been an anomaly, as compared with other states across the nation.

Hansen’s measure would help improve the current survey/enforcement process; provide an opportunity to reduce unnecessary, duplicative and inefficient processes, which will save the State Survey Agency time, staff and monetary resources; and protect the safety and care of nursing home residents.

SB 884 would require greater collaboration on joint provider and surveyor training sessions; require the nursing home survey process to be effectively and efficiently coordinated by developing and implementing an electronic system to support coordination of these activities; and create more efficiency in the survey scheduling process while maintaining all federal survey interval requirements.

The State Survey Agency has a history of imposing civil monetary penalties against more skilled nursing facilities and at a rate four to 290 times higher than other states in the same region. In fiscal year 2011, Michigan imposed more than $9.2 million in civil monetary penalties alone. Meanwhile, Ohio ranked second with $2.2 million, despite having 300 more nursing facilities than Michigan.

SB 884 would maintain a robust regulatory oversight and enforcement process while holding the Bureau of Health Systems accountable for process improvements. The goal is to promote fairness, accuracy and timeliness in the process. The inconsistent application of the process currently causes unnecessarily long survey and enforcement periods, which have serious consequences for a facility’s community reputation and financial stability.

“My focus was to hold the State Survey Agency to a higher standard, and Senate Bill 884 builds a solid foundation toward codifying these important reforms on behalf of Michigan’s senior citizens,” Hansen said.

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Enjoy Michigan’s free fishing weekend June 9-10

 

LANSING — Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, is reminding residents to take advantage of the annual Summer Free Fishing Weekend, scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, June 9-10.

According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, both residents and non-residents alike can fish without a license that particular weekend, though all other fishing regulations still apply.

“This is a great opportunity to take advantage of all the great fishing available in Michigan for free,” Hansen said. “I encourage every resident of the 34th Senate District to get outside the weekend of June 9 and 10 and enjoy fishing.”

Since 1986, Michigan has annually celebrated the Summer Free Fishing Weekend as a way to promote awareness of the state’s vast aquatic resources and the sheer fun of fishing. With more than 3,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, 36,000 miles of rivers and 11,000 inland lakes, Michigan and fishing go hand in hand.

“This summer’s Free Fishing Weekend is a great way to get outdoors and experience some of the finest freshwater fishing in the world,” said DNR Director Rodney Stokes. “Fishing is such an affordable activity – anyone can pursue it – so get out this June and try it yourself, for free!”

To encourage involvement in Free Fishing Weekends, organized activities are being scheduled in communities across the state. These activities are coordinated by a variety of organizations, including constituent groups, schools, local and state parks, businesses and others.

There’s still plenty of time for communities to plan their own Free Fishing Weekend events, or to find an activity occurring nearby. Visit www.michigan.gov/freefishing for all things related to this unique weekend, including help on event planning and promotion, a registration form for official events, and a chart identifying activity locations.

The DNR is committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state's natural and cultural resources for current and future generations. For more information, go to www.michigan.gov/dnr.

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