Thursday, May 13, 2010

House Passes Anti-Bullying Legislation, School Retirement Deal Close

Today's happenings in the legislature, let's start with some positive news. The House does good - although "some members of both parties say they were upset with parts of the House-approved version". As vague as that is, reading through the language on the actual bill, it seems wide enough to be open to all interpretation - meaning everyone and every situation should be covered, much to Gary Glenn's chagrin.

The state House has passed legislation that would require Michigan schools to adopt anti-bullying policies.

The Democratic-led House passed the bill 76-29 Thursday. The bill now goes to the Republican-led Senate.

Similar measures have been introduced by Michigan lawmakers for nearly a decade without gaining final approval and becoming state law.

The important thing is to get this on the books, and then help schools get the tools they need to address the problem. You will never eliminate bullying entirely, but educating kids about it and letting them know there is help available to them will go a long way towards preventing a tragedy. Looks like the schools get a year to get something in place if they don't have something already, and there will probably be squabbling at the local level on language, but this is an important step towards raising awareness - and that is half the battle. Hope that the Senate finds a heart and moves this through.

The other big story: It looks like the school employee retirement plan is going to pass - and indications are that the House has agreed to the Senate version. How can you tell? The MEA is upset and Bishop is taking credit for the plan.

The House agreed late Wednesday to accept the Senate's retirement proposal in principal. The Democrats added language that would prohibit retired school employees from continuing to work on contract while drawing a pension, and the Senate has agreed, Bishop said.

"They've brought some ideas to the table that will make our plan a little better," he said.

Bishop wants the governor to stay late, and Dillon is indicating that he will have to work to get votes, so you know that whatever is happening is favoring the Republicans. Bishop would throw a fit and walk away if that were not the case. Derek Merlot at the LSJ notices:

Funny. I thought a deal involved each side getting some of what they want. I guess that’s not the case in House Speaker Andy Dillon’s world.

Wouldn’t Michigan save some money if we just made Mike Bishop speaker of the House, in addition to Senate majority leader?

Ouch. It appears there was compromise though on the multiplier used to calculate the amount of pension checks, which was one of the big stumbling blocks. The House wanted 1.7, the Senate wanted 1.5, and they ended up at 1.6 for those eligible to retire now and 1.55 for those that would use a combination of age and years of service to be eligible. The disturbing part is loss of guaranteed benefits - employees will begin contributing 3% towards retiree health benefits, but it "does not guarantee those benefits will still be offered when employees retire". Ouch again.

Folks, take what you can get right now. This has the possibility of going very bad on you next year, if you catch my drift. You'll be lucky to get "buy-one-get-one-free" coupons from McDonalds as you walk out the door if the Republicans really go to town on you, so run with it. For school districts themselves, the most important figure is how much they have to pay towards the state retirement system, and that hasn't been revealed yet. And many schools are indicating that it is late in the game, and they have already offered their own retirement deals.

We will see the reaction when it's all said and done. Too many "deals" have been made in the past few years that have gone south at the last minute, so don't count anything yet. If all goes as planned, the legislation is supposed to save $213 million out of a $450 million school aid deficit.

One last note: In a totally mind-blowing move, the Senate increased funding for the arts. Granted, this comes after years of cutting them down to almost nothing, and it's not a huge amount, but there must be one great lobbyist out there to avoid having it cut altogether.

That's it for today...