Top Mich. laws of 2013 led by Medicaid expansion

 Problems still in need of resolution include taxes for road maintenance

By David Eggert
Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Rick Snyder and legislators so far have enacted more than 200 new laws in 2013, with roughly 70 more awaiting the governor’s signature after a final burst of voting in December.

Lawmakers adjourned without resolving politically challenging problems like raising taxes for road maintenance or overhauling unlimited medical benefits for people seriously injured in car crashes, leaving those issues in serious doubt in the upcoming election year. But majority Republicans put aside their objections to the federal health care law to join with Democrats to make more low-income adults eligible for health insurance.

The top 10 laws of 2013:


Snyder persuaded just enough GOP senators to expand Medicaid, signing a landmark law to provide government-funded medical coverage to 320,000 more low-income adults in 2014 and a total of 450,000 within three years, an option to states under the U.S. health overhaul. People will be covered starting around April, and the plan includes GOP provisions designed to make recipients pay a portion of their premiums and live healthier.


Republicans and a few Democrats voted to allow primary insurance plans to cover elective abortions only when a woman’s life is at risk. Once policies renew after mid-March, an optional rider will have to be bought to cover other abortions, including those resulting from rape and incest. Snyder vetoed similar legislation a year ago but had no say this time because it was a citizens’ initiative for which anti-abortion activists gathered signatures. Abortion rights advocates are considering their own 2014 ballot measure to overturn the law.


The $50 billion state spending plan that went into effect in October includes an extra $65 million to send more disadvantaged 4-year-olds to preschool and $230 million more for road maintenance. Legislators settled on the one-time boost in transportation funding after refusing Snyder’s request for a permanent $1.2 billion annual infusion with higher gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees. The state’s savings account also got $75 million fatter, approaching $600 million.


People trading in their car or boat for a new one are paying less in sales tax. Auto buyers can subtract up to $2,000 of the value of their trade-in vehicle from the purchase price for tax purposes, saving up to $120 in the first year. The untaxed trade-in value will increase $500 a year until the cap is eliminated in 24 years. Michigan was among a small number of states to charge sales tax on the full price instead of the difference between the trade-in and the new vehicle.


Starting in March, hunters and anglers will see their first significant fee increases in more than 15 years under a plan to raise $20 million more for wildlife habitats and enforcement efforts, a 40 percent revenue increase. A new base hunting license will cost $11 for in-state residents, with lower rates for youths and seniors. Separate additional higher fees will be levied for hunting deer and other species.


Legislators passed a resolution, not a law, to lift a brief pause on spending to implement new uniform national education standards known as Common Core. The standards were approved with little fanfare in 2010 by the state Board of Education but later took heat for intruding on state and local control of schools. While proponents won out with their argument that an emphasis on critical thinking and problem solving will give students an education that’s competitive with other countries, lawmakers left until 2014 a decision on switching to a new standardized test to align with Common Core.


Counties will have to bring their public defense services for poor residents up to par under oversight from a state indigent defense commission. Defense lawyers’ workloads have to be better controlled under the law, and financial incentives or disincentives leading attorneys to short-change defendants must be avoided. An advisory group has said the current system results in too many errors at the trial level and can lead to wrongful convictions.


The state will spend $4 million to test thousands of unprocessed rape kits in Detroit, potentially bringing justice to victims and catching rapists for old crimes. After taking over the city’s crime lab in 2008, state police discovered more than 11,000 untested rape-evidence boxes dating back 25 years.


The state’s school superintendent and treasurer can dissolve a deficit-ridden district and send the students to nearby schools. The state closed two struggling districts in the Detroit and Saginaw areas before the start of the academic year, but the law may have broader implications. Though fiscal distress isn’t widespread among Michigan’s 549 districts, about 10 percent are facing deficits because of declining enrollment, funding cuts, rising employee retirement costs and poor financial management.


A new law designating wolves as a game species was suspended when opponents gathered enough voter signatures to require a statewide referendum in 2014. So legislators passed another law giving a state commission authority to schedule a wolf hunt, which began Nov. 15 and ends Dec. 31. Activists also are circulating petitions for a vote on the second measure, and pro-hunting groups plan to collect signatures for a measure protecting the ability to have future wolf hunts.