MDTC Legislative Section
By: Graham K. Crabtree, Fraser Trebilcock Davis & Dunlap, PC
MDTC Legislative Report
As I complete this report on the last business day of 2016, much of the dust from the recent election and lame duck session has settled, and the scene at the capitol building across the street is eerily quiet. Although there is widespread and often bitter disagreement on many important issues today, most everyone will agree that this year’s presidential election was one for the record books. Its result, now finally official, has generated feelings of vindication for some, intense anger and disbelief for others, and surprise for a great many interested parties on all parts of the political spectrum. And it has provided lessons for both of our mainstream political parties that will perhaps produce some critical evaluation of who they represent, how future elections should be conducted, and where our country will go from here.
On December 28th, the House and Senate met briefly to declare the year’s sine die adjournment, marking the official end of the 98th Legislature’s service, but its work on legislation was concluded on December 15th. The election has left the Republicans comfortably in control of both houses for the next session, and thus, with no sense of urgency requiring fast action at the end of the year, the “lame duck” session was uncharacteristically orderly and peaceful, with several planned initiatives being deferred until 2017. As one commentator noted, it might have been more appropriately dubbed a “tame duck” session. Legislation revising Michigan’s energy policies was finalized along with a few other initiatives discussed below, but a number of controversial issues, including proposals for stricter voter identification requirements, amendments to the Freedom of Information Act, and changes to the Public School Employees Retirement Act and municipal retirement systems to address unfunded liabilities, were deferred for more thoughtful consideration in the next session. And for a day or two in the last week of the session, there were seemingly credible reports that the long-stalled no-fault insurance reform legislation would be resurrected and cleared for final passage, but that discussion was also deferred when the necessary votes could not be mustered.
2016 Public Acts
As of this writing, there are 402 Public Acts of 2016, with many more bills addressing uncontroversial matters yet to be presented to, or considered by, Governor Snyder. The additional public acts of interest filed since my last report include:
2016 PA 389 – Senate Bill 853 (Stamas – R), this new act will prohibit local units of government from adopting or enforcing ordinances that prohibit, restrict, or regulate the use of plastic bags or other “auxiliary containers” designed for “transporting, consuming, or protecting merchandise, food, or beverages from or at a food service or retail facility.” This new act will take effect on March 28, 2017.
2016 PA Nos. 360 to 366 – House Bills 5618 to 5621 and 5693 to 5695, this bipartisan package will amend several sections of the Revised School Code to allow school administrators discretion to impose alternative sanctions for misbehavior in lieu of the presently mandated expulsions and suspensions. These amendatory acts will take effect on August 1, 2017.
2016 PA Nos. 332 to 334 – Senate Bills 995 to 997 (Kowall – R and Warren – D), this bipartisan package has amended several sections of the Vehicle Code and adds new sections to facilitate the development of “autonomous” or driverless vehicles in Michigan and the experimental use of those vehicles on public roadways. These amendatory acts were approved by the Governor on December 8th, and took effect immediately upon their filing with the Secretary of State the next day. 2016 PA 335 – Senate Bill 998 (Horn – R) is a companion to those acts, which will amend the Revised Judicature Act, MCL 600.2949b, to add a new subsection (3) providing that “A motor vehicle mechanic or a motor vehicle repair facility that repairs an automated motor vehicle according to specifications from the manufacturer of the automated motor vehicle is not liable in a product liability action for damages resulting from the repairs.” That amendatory act will take effect on March 9, 2017.
2016 PA 341 – Senate Bill 437 (Nofs – R) and 2016 PA 342 – Senate Bill 438 (Proos – R), passed on the last day of the session and enthusiastically approved by Governor Snyder, these amendatory acts have effected a wide-ranging revision of Michigan’s energy laws, and are considered by many to be the most important legislation enacted during the lame duck session. They will take effect on April 20, 2017.
Other Bills in the Pipeline
Senate Bill 289 (O’Brien – R), which would create a new “bad-faith patent infringement claims act” to provide new protections against “patent trolls” – individuals or entities that assert unfounded claims of patent infringement in bad faith to extort payments of royalties from businesses that often feel compelled to acquiesce rather than bear the considerable cost of defending threatened infringement litigation. This bill has been enrolled, and was presented to the Governor on December 28th. If approved, it will take effect on October 1, 2017.
Senate Bill 982 (Schuitmaker – R) proposes a variety of amendments to the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act, MCL 566.31, et seq. This Bill has been enrolled, and was presented to the Governor on December 28th. If approved, it will take effect 90 days after the date of its filing with the Secretary of State.
Senate Bill 1104 (Shirkey – R) proposes an amendment of the Revised Judicature Act to add a new section MCL 600.1482, which would provide that, in actions alleging medical malpractice, the damages recoverable for past medical expenses or rehabilitation service expenses shall not exceed the actual damages for medical care arising from the alleged malpractice, and that the court may not allow presentation of evidence of past medical expenses or rehabilitation service in excess of the actual damages for medical care. The new section would define “actual damages for medical care” as the dollar amount actually paid for past medical expenses or rehabilitation services by or on behalf of the individual whose medical care is at issue, but excluding any contractual discounts, price reductions or write-offs, and any remaining dollar amount that the plaintiff is liable to pay for the medical care. This bill has been enrolled, and was presented to the Governor on December 27th. If approved, it will take effect 90 days after the date of its filing with the Secretary of State.
House Bills 4423 and 4424 (Jacobsen – R), 4425 (Outman – R) and 4426 (Kivela – D) propose amendments of the Vehicle Code addressing establishment of speed limits and speeding violations. The amendments would include new provisions which would require MDOT and the State Police to increase the speed limit to 75 miles per hour on at least 600 miles of limited access highways and 65 miles per hour on 900 miles of trunk line highways within a year after the effective date of the legislation if engineering and safety studies determine that the speed limits may be raised to those levels. These bills have been enrolled, and were presented to the Governor on December 22nd.
House Bill 4686 (Santana – D) would amend the Governmental Liability Act, 1964 PA 170, to amend MCL 691.1402a, regarding municipal liability for maintenance of sidewalks, to insert a new Subsection (5). The new provision would clarify that a municipal corporation having a duty to maintain a sidewalk under subsection (1) may assert, in addition to other available defenses, “any defense available under the common law with respect to a premises liability claim, including, but not limited to, a defense that the condition was open and obvious.” This bill has been enrolled, and was presented to the Governor on December 21st.
What Do You Think?
Our members are again reminded that the MDTC Board regularly discusses pending legislation and positions to be taken on bills and resolutions of interest. Your comments and suggestions are appreciated, and may be submitted to the board through any officer, board member, regional chairperson or committee chair.