Local residents, workers and employers are affected by Michigan laws that took effect in late December or will do so as calendars flip to 2012. Gov. Rick Snyder this year signed legislation regulating home foreclosures, charter schools, student bullying, teachers' unions and other areas.
Take a look at some of what's now the law of our state as a new year starts:
Mortgage lenders must provide a list of nonprofit consumer counselors with the first foreclosure step so borrowers can seek immediate advice. Two bills signed Dec. 22 also provide additional time and ways for owners to arrange modifications such as interest rate reduction and principal reduction to cut monthly payments.
To minimize solicitations by for-profit "rescue" advisers, foreclosure notices no longer must appear in a local newspaper. "This legislation helps protect families and ensures the stability of Michigan communities," Snyder said in a statement. Rep. Jeff Farrington, R-Utica, introduced the main bill last April.
Eligible applicants after Jan. 1 will get up to 20 weeks of state unemployment benefits, down from 26 weeks. Some can be required to take available jobs after 10 weeks even if the work is outside their previous experience or pays less than previously earned. "It's to encourage people to work," Snyder said. "It's easiest to find a job when you’ve gotten a job."
School districts must develop and enforce clear anti-bullying policies by the 2012-13 academic year to protect students from harassment, intimidation and attacks. "Bullying is wrong in all its forms and will not be tolerated," the governor said in early December. "No child should feel intimidated or afraid to come to school."
Poignantly, Snyder spoke as a former victim: "I was beaten up in elementary school, I was beaten up in middle school . . . high school and actually in college for being a nerd, and it’s not right."
Public education districts needn't negotiate about when school years start, placement of teachers, classroom observations, open enrollment, use of technology, who's on school improvement committees, who provides group health insurance, and other items. Public Act 260 took effect Dec. 14, a day after being signed.
In another education move, legislators and the governor are lifting and eventually removing a limit of 150 university-authorized charter schools statewide. When the 2011-12 academic year ends next June, the number of charter schools that may be authorized doubles to 300 through 2012 and later reaches 500 through 2014. After that, there's no cap. Free public charter schools must participate in state assessments under the new law.
"Charter schools play a critical role in providing Michigan students and parents with alterative educational options," Snyder said in a Dec. 20 signing statement. "This reform gives families who are trapped in failing schools more freedom to take control of their future."
Utility bill assistance for the needy comes from a one-season Vulnerable Household Warmth Fund, which will distribute $58 million to the Salvation Army and other nonprofits to pay energy bills for people facing shutoffs. Those earning 60 percent of the state's median income qualify, with a focus on households containing youngsters, seniors or citizens with disabilities.
Consumers over 18 can buy bottle rockets, Roman candles and other "low-impact" fireworks without visiting Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin or Ontario to stock up for July 4. Previously, the only pyrotechnics legal here were sparklers, smoke devices, "snakes" and tiny noisemakers. Public Act 256 takes effect Jan. 1.
There are several parts to the new legislation regarding film credits:
- Incentives for movie and TV productions shrink. Eligible applicants can get grants worth 27 percent to 35 percent of production spending and payroll in Michigan, down from tax credits of 40 percent to 42 percent.
- They must spend at least $100,000 to qualify, twice the previous threshold.
- Overall grants are capped at $25 million per year and decline over the next four budget years.
- The previous $100 application fee now starts at $200 and can hit $5,000, depending on the grant amount requested.
Two or more municipalities can form a joint authority to provide police and fire protection, which the governor describes as "common sense collaborations." Union contracts apply at least six months after a merger, and "negotiations on a collective bargaining agreement with an authority shall begin no later than 180 days before the date the employees transfer to the authority."
Public Act 261 and two related laws took effect Dec. 14, a day after Snyder signed them and said: "By reaching across historical boundary lines, dynamic communities are built and valuable taxpayer dollars are saved." Rep. Eileen Kowall, R-White Lake, introduced the main bill last February.
Other public partnerships
County, city, village or township governments and agencies can provide joint services for recreation, transportation, senior citizens or any other "function, service, power or privilege that the local government or public agency could each exercise separately." Public Act 258 also kicked in Dec. 14.
The Michigan Business Tax (MBT) is replaced Jan. 1 with a 6 percent Corporate Income Tax, which applies only to companies that file as "C" corporations. Nearly 100,000 small businesses with gross receipts of less than $350,000 no longer must file returns.
Incentives are offered to build battery factories that cost at least $200 million. A successful applicant can get up to $43 million in credits in 2012 and again in 2013, and only $9 million in 2014. Carmakers can get up to $15 million in 2012 and again in 2013 for engineering, prototyping and launch expenses to support battery integration if they build at least 1,000 electric cars in the state. Jobs must be created.