Tax incentives, retirement changes among top 2017 laws
By DAVID EGGERT
LANSING — New economic development tax incentives and the cost of retirement benefits for public-sector workers dominated Michigan’s list of new laws in 2017.
Gov. Rick Snyder and lawmakers also approved measures designed to fix a troubled unemployment benefits system and to keep criminals from re-offending. The Republican governor had signed 245 bills as of Friday, with many more awaiting his signature after a burst of voting in recent weeks — the halfway point of the GOP-led Legislature’s two-year term.
The top laws or soon-to-be-signed laws of the year:
Starting in February, newly hired school employees will be enrolled in a 401(k)-only retirement plan, unless they opt out within 75 days and choose a pension that will cost more than it does for current workers. Republican lawmakers, who failed in their quest to end pensions for new hires but made other changes and remain concerned about unfunded liabilities, hope more school employees are coaxed into 401(k) plans.
≤ ‘GOOD JOBS’
Qualified companies that create hundreds or thousands of jobs can receive special tax incentives, a policy reversal after Snyder replaced such breaks with a scaled-backed economic development program. The “Good Jobs” bills won approval as Michigan tried landing Foxconn, which decided to build a massive electronics factory in Wisconsin instead. The incentives are capped at $200 million annually and have been dangled in Detroit’s bid for Amazon’s second headquarters.
≤ ’TRANSFORMATIONAL’ BREAKS
Developers with “transformational” plans to redevelop contaminated brownfield sites into mixed-used projects, typically in cities, will receive up to $1 billion in tax incentives — by keeping income and withholding taxes from people who live and work at the sites. Supporters say the laws will unlock private investment in places where it is too costly, while opponents say government should stay out of picking “winners and losers.”
≤ UNEMPLOYMENT FRAUD
High penalties for improperly collecting unemployment benefits will drop under laws passed in the wake of more than 40,000 people being wrongly accused of fraud over a two-year period. Employers and past employees will be able to better flag claims filed by identity thieves. And claimants accused of fraud will qualify for help from an advocacy program. Snyder and the Legislature will next consider compensating victims beyond restitution.
≤ MUNICIPAL RETIREMENT PLANS
Municipalities will have to prefund new hires’ retiree health care costs beginning in July. They also will have to file financial reports annually with the state about their pension and retiree health plans — a bid to get a handle on underfunded systems — and some will have to propose corrective actions. Republicans backed away from a proposal to let the state impose changes in recalcitrant communities due to opposition from police, firefighters and others concerned about benefit cuts.
≤ OPIOID EPIDEMIC
Starting in June, doctors will be required to check a prescription database before prescribing painkillers and other powerful drugs under legislation Snyder plans to sign soon. Other bills will limit the amount of opioids that can be prescribed and require a “bona fide” physician-patient relationship to dispense drugs. From 1999 to 2016, the number of opioid overdose deaths rose more than 17 times, from 99 to 1,689.
≤ PAROLE/PROBATION CHANGES
Under anti-recidivism laws, the state will adopt a new program with progressively harsher penalties for violating the terms of parole, as opposed to sometimes automatically sending released inmates back to prison. Probation, the primary form of supervision for people convicted of a felony, also will be tweaked. Probationers who commit “technical” violations — not new crimes — will be incarcerated for no more than 30 days per violation.
≤ SUPER PACs
Michigan political candidates can solicit unlimited contributions for independent committees, or super PACs, supporting their candidacies under GOP-backed laws that codify and expand upon federal court rulings. Independent expenditure committees running ads or other communications can use the same attorney, vendor or other agent that a candidate committee employs as long as that person does not convey information about the campaign’s “plans, projects, activities or needs.”
≤ POLICE PERSONNEL RECORDS
Beginning in January, law enforcement agencies will have to keep records about the circumstances surrounding any officer’s employment separation. The law is designed to prevent police misconduct from being kept secret when officers leave for a new job at another department.
≤ BEER KEGS
A law requiring beer kegs to be sold with tags that can identify who bought them is no longer, effective in February. The law was enacted in 2010 to curtail “keggers” that attract underage drinkers, but critics say the requirement is burdensome and has not curbed underage or binge drinking.
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