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 Articles of Interest - Gongwer News Service


starGongwer 12-3-02 U.S. Supreme Court Allows Medicaid Suitstar

starGongwer 12-3-02 MI Senate Panel OKs Rules Change Legislationstar

starGongwer 12-3-02 MI House OKs Overhaul of Children's Ombudsmanstar

starGongwer 12-3-02 MI House Passes Bill Ending Statewide Election of University Boardstar

starGongwer 12-3-02 MI Charter Schools Again Fall Short in Housestar


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The U.S. Supreme Court this week upheld the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in allowing a lawsuit by human rights groups alleging the state is not providing certain screening, diagnosis and treatment services to low-income children as required by federal Medicaid laws.

The state had asked the high court to review the Court of Appeals finding (Westside Mothers v. Haveman, USSC docket No. 02-227) in May 2002 that the case should move forward, which had overturned U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland, who had dismissed the case in March 2001. The high court said it would not hear the case.

Mr. Cleland had ruled the Medicaid Act was actually a contract between the states and so not subject to the lawsuit. The Court of Appeals found that the U.S. Supreme Court had already ruled that the Medicaid Act was federal law, not a contract, and was enforceable as such.

Next stages in the case have not yet been set, but both sides claim readiness to head to trial.

The plaintiffs say the state is not reaching enough children through the Medicaid program with recent studies of state services showing 22 percent of children aged 0-6 getting lead blood level tests and 34 percent getting dental inspections; for ages 7-21, 19 percent were getting dental inspections.

But state officials argue not only are those figures inaccurate, but that services have improved under the managed care program that was implemented about the same time as the lawsuit was filed in 1999.


Lawmakers would have more time to review administrative rules before they automatically take effect under a bill approved Tuesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Currently, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules has 21 days to review an administrative rule before it becomes effective. But under SB 1507, the committee would have 90 days to review rules before they took effect.

A spokesperson for bill sponsor Sen. Bev Hammerstrom (R-Temperance) said the measure was needed in light of term limits and the lack of institutional knowledge some members would have about rules. The 90-day period was designed to make sure that rules would not take effect during any legislative recess period.

However, a number of Democrats and other observers, have said the bill appeared to be designed to ensure the Republican controlled Legislature would have oversight on any administrative rules incoming Governor-elect Jennifer Granholm would try to implement.

Governor John Engler has also signaled his opposition to the bill, saying it is an intrusion into executive authority.

Despite those concerns, the bill was reported unanimously.

The Legislature and the Executive Office have tussled over authority on administrative rules for decades. One of the two successful veto overrides in the last half-century was over administrative rules. Mr. Engler created the Office of Regulatory Reform as a way of speeding through administrative rules and promoting economic development.


Case files of children who die under state supervision could become public documents, and the Office of the Children's Ombudsman would gain greater investigation powers under a bill passed Tuesday by the House.

The ombudsman also would no longer be a direct gubernatorial appointment in a move designed to give the post greater independence and freedom to investigate the Family Independence Agency, which runs Child Protective Services.

The bill, passed 88-13, arose in response to the killing of Ariana Swinson, a Port Huron-area girl who was slain by her parents while under FIA supervision. Child advocates and lawmakers complained they could get no information about the case because of confidentiality laws that prohibit the release of information about children in FIA care.

"By knowing what goes on in cases like this, it will help us as policy-makers to draft future legislation as necessary," said Rep. Lauren Hager (R-Port Huron Township), the bill sponsor who has pushed for the legislation for nearly two years.

Mr. Hager said the bill would allow the ombudsman to "truly do the job that he or she has been designed to do."

But the bill faces a difficult road to becoming law before all legislation dies at the end of the year. Sen. Beverly Hammerstrom (R-Temperance), chair of the Senate committee that will review the bill, has told Mr. Hager it will be difficult to complete action on the bill with so little time remaining in the term, Mr. Hager said. Governor John Engler, who clashed with former Ombudsman Richard Bearup over how aggressive the position should be, also opposes the bill.

"Time is short," Mr. Hager said. "The chances will be-I won't say slim-but we're going to keep working to get Senator Hammerstrom to take it up."

The bill (HB 5967) would create a 13-member board comprised of appointees by the State Bar; the Supreme Court, the speaker of the House, the Senate majority leader, the National Association of Social Workers of Michigan, the Michigan Domestic Violence and Treatment Board, the Michigan State Police, the Michigan State Medical Society and the governor, who would have three appointees. The board would recommend three candidates to the governor, who would select from those three.

The legislation also would give the ombudsman full access to all records, subpoena power and the ability to disclose otherwise confidential information if he or she determines that doing so is in the public interest. The FIA would have to provide any information requested by the ombudsman within five days. And the ombudsman would have access to FIA records within the ombudsman's office.

But Rep. Doug Hart (R-Rockford), chair of the House subcommittee that reviewed the bill, warned that the ombudsman would gain "God-like powers." And he said the end of confidentiality laws in cases where children die would harm their families.

"The public good should never supercede the interest of the child," he said. "Under bad leadership, the ombudsman ... could terrorize children and families."

But Mr. Hager angrily rejected that charge, saying that ending confidentiality in such cases would better serve the interest of all children under FIA care. In response to Mr. Hart's contention the post would take on "God-like powers," Mr. Hager said the limits on the ombudsman's budget and staff is a built-in inhibitor to such abuses.


Members of the three elected public university governing boards would run for office from districts instead of on a statewide basis under a bill approved Tuesday by a House committee.

Supporters of the bill say it would ensure representation from all parts of the state on the boards of Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University. Political parties would nominate two candidates for each board from districts (the same boundaries used by the Court of Appeals) with a different district up for election every two years.

But Democratic opponents say the bill is a blatant partisan maneuver by the Republican-controlled Legislature to ensure GOP power on the boards. Although few issues that come before the governing boards take on a partisan tone, control of the boards is a matter of pride for the parties. Recent notable partisan issues on the board were domestic partner benefits at MSU in the mid-1990s and U-M's legal defense of its affirmative action policies.

The bill cleared the House Commerce Committee on a 10-5 vote. It now goes to the full House for consideration.

If the current board members were broken up by district, they would tend to be concentrated in the district where their university resides. Six of MSU's trustees live in the 4th District, which stretches from Ingham County northward through the entire Upper Peninsula. Five of U-M's regents live in the 3rd District, which is based in West Michigan, but also stretches eastward to include Washtenaw County. And five of Wayne State's governors reside in the 1st District, which is based in Wayne County.

The bill (HB 6483) would grandfather in current board members.

Based on the Court of Appeals districts, the 1st District would elect Democrats, the 2nd District in the northern Detroit suburbs would be fairly competitive, the 3rd and 4th districts would elect Republicans. For Republicans, it would likely mean no worse than a 4-4 split on the boards. Presently, Democrats control the Wayne State Board, Republicans control the MSU board while the U-M board is split.

The legislation would create geographic, philosophical, racial and political diversity on the boards, MSU Trustee David Porteous told the committee. Further, it would aid governing board members' ability to work with residents by only having one-quarter of the state as constituents, not the entire state.

"This legislation provides an opportunity for those universities and significantly enhances the way we elect our university board members," he said.

But Rep. Chris Kolb (D-Ann Arbor) questioned what the bill would accomplish.

"What is the problem we're trying to fix here?" he asked. "We have as a state elected board members from all four regions. These are great statewide research universities that should be governed statewide."

But Rep. Jim Koetje (R-Walker) denied accusations of partisanship. "I looked at it as an opportunity for accountability, accessibility," he said.



The Republican-controlled House again fell short Tuesday in its efforts to increase the number of charter schools in Michigan, but leaders indicate they have not given up on passing the nettlesome bill before the Legislature adjourns for the year.

In its latest attempt to muscle a charter school bill through the House, Republicans came up five votes short of the 56 needed for a majority. And no Democrats supported the legislation. With six Republicans strongly opposed to charter school expansion, Democratic support is essential.

Republican leaders on the issue again thought they had the necessary votes in place, but were stymied. House Minority Leader Buzz Thomas (D-Detroit) has lifted the "caucus position" of Democrats against the bill, but no Democratic lawmakers seemed eager to support the legislation despite that freedom.

"We were assured the votes were in place," said Rep. Wayne Kuipers (R-Holland), the chair of the Education Committee. "Things are pretty fluid. I'm hopeful that we'll be back at this yet one more time before we're done for the year."

The Charter School Commission was created by legislative leaders to attempt a solution to the recurrent issue of expanding the number of charter schools that can be chartered by universities, a number now set at 150. Opponents of charter schools have been able to block legislation expanding that number in the House. Helping push opponents to discuss possible compromises is that Bay Mills Community College, which serves a statewide population as it is the only Indian community college in the state, can charter schools anywhere in Michigan.

Under the commission's provisions 55 charter schools would be allowed between 2002-2007. Another 175 charter schools designated as "special purpose" schools would be allowed between 2003-2017 at a rate of 10-15 per year. These special purpose schools have to have at least 50 percent of their students come from at risk backgrounds.

The Department of Education would get new oversight powers and charter schools would be subject to the Freedom of Information Act. New regulations would be in place to better ensure open enrollment in charter schools and to better advertise themselves to special education pupils. Bay Mills Community College would be under the cap.

But the House did significantly deviate from the commission's recommendation by increasing the number of new charter schools that could be started in Detroit-the most popular locale for the academies-from one per year to a total of 22 between now and 2007.

House Speaker Rick Johnson (R-LeRoy), who declared in May it would "have to snow pretty damn hard" before he took up the bill again after it was defeated then, was noncommittal on whether he would hold another vote. Mr. Johnson said he could not understand why Democrats refuse to back the bill when their traditional ally, the Michigan Education Association teachers union, is supporting it.

"If the Democrats can't seem to come across and understand what's going on, I'm more than willing to pick up five more seats for the Republican caucus because we're the ones who support education, we're the ones that's working these issues," he said, referring to the GOP's five-seat gain in this year's elections. "I just think it's great they want to give us some more positions on election issues."

But Mr. Thomas said Democrats plainly dislike the bill from a policy standpoint. He said he was not surprised at the absence of Democratic support even though he had lifted the caucus position. The expanded ability to put charter schools in Detroit only heightened Democratic opposition, he said.

At this point, Mr. Thomas said he and Mr. Johnson have not discussed any possible deals on the long-running issue.

"We have a policy difference," he said. "It's even stronger today than it was six months ago."                  

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