Republicans drop bills to cut municipal retiree health care

By David Eggert
Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Majority Republicans on Tuesday abandoned legislation that would have eliminated health insurance for newly hired municipal workers and made retirees pay more, removing a contentious item from the postelection agenda and turning their attention toward bills with widespread support.

GOP House Speaker Kevin Cotter, a main sponsor of the plan that was unveiled last week, said local governments’ $11 billion in unfunded liabilities are a problem that is “only going to get worse,” but more work is needed on all but one of the 13 bills. His decision came the day hundreds of police and firefighters protested the legislation outside the Capitol.

“We need to take more time,” said Cotter, who is leaving the House under term limits and has warned that municipalities could face bankruptcy from retiree health bills. “We need to be very thoughtful about something of this kind of consequence.”

Rep. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, said it was “shocking” that House Republicans proposed “such a reckless plan to rob public employees of their health care, and force even current retirees to pay more for it.”

A committee did advance one bill that is aimed at shedding light on the extent to which each county, city, township and village is pre-funding retiree health costs.

Also Tuesday, lawmakers were poised to finish enacting a statewide regulatory framework for ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft and to take a significant step toward joining 30 states that compensate exonerated prisoners. Senate-passed legislation up for approval in the House would pay ex-inmates $50,000, tax-free, for each year of their wrongful incarceration, along with attorney fees.

Some would not qualify for the money if they served simultaneous sentences for other crimes. Others would be ineligible because they successfully sued for civil rights damages, which can be a difficult effort since police and prosecutors often have immunity.

Michigan has released more innocent prisoners than all but four states. A related bill up for a vote would require the state Corrections Department to provide services to inmates whose sentence is reversed, vacated or overturned — similar to assistance given to parolees.

The House also was expected to vote to lighten the penalty for underage drinking, making a first offense a civil infraction instead of a misdemeanor crime.

Bills not passed by Dec. 15, the end of the two-year legislative term, could be considered by a new GOP-controlled Legislature starting in January.
 

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