Michigan Republicans — November 25, 2011 at 11:01 am

Republican goal achieved: Workers compensation “reform” bill hearing goes nearly unreported


On Tuesday of this week, Michigan Republicans held a public hearing on a controversial piece of legislation, HB 5002. As I have written about in the past, this bill makes law certain practices used by insurance companies to reduce or eliminate benefits for injured workers by using “imaginary wages” and “imaginary pensions”. While the legislation is highly controversial, Senate Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing Committee Sen. Mark Jansen nevertheless decided to hold the hearing two days before Thanksgiving while the Senate was on their holiday/deer hunting break. At the time, I wrote that this was completely intentional and predicted this would result in poor attendance at the hearing nearly no reporting on it.

Senate Republicans know damn well this legislation is going over like a turd in a crystal punchbowl in our state. In order to sneak this through, Sen. Mark Jansen, the chair of the Senate Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing Committee is holding hearing on the bill NEXT WEEK. Why is this significant? Because the Senate is still on their fall break next week and it’s a holiday week, virtually assuring poor attendance and minimal press and coverage.

I was only half right. Opponents to this bill, including We Are The People Michigan turned out over 100 people who have had their benefits reduced through the use of the very techniques this bill would make into law. That was very gratifying.

Reporting on the event, however, was almost non-existent. The only reporting I was able to find was by Michigan Radio.

More than one hundred workers, union representatives and business lobbyists showed up at the state Capitol today to testify on proposed changes to Michigan’s workers compensation law.

The proposed changes before a state Senate panel would reduce an injured worker’s benefits based on the amount an insurance company believes the worker could be earning at another job.

Chris Luty, with the Michigan State Police Troopers Association, told lawmakers finding a job, especially while injured, is not as easy as some insurance companies would claim.

“What’s available out there – what’s really available out there – and what’s theoretically available out there are often two very different things,” said Luty.

Luty told lawmakers about a state trooper named Drew Spencer, who was hit by a car while on the job. Spencer’s injuries were severe and left him dependent on workers compensation benefits.

Drew Spencer, like most people within the Department of State Police, has a lot of experience before he came in. He has an education. And when you apply the virtual wage language as I understand it, Drew Spencer would get nothing under this bill, as I understand it,” said Luty.

The proposed changes also includes extending the length of time an injured worker must see a doctor assigned to them by insurance companies rather than their own doctor.

The two subscription-only news sites, GONGWER and the Michigan Information & Research Service (MIRS) reported on it but their coverage was not picked up by the publicly-available media outlets.

Susan Demas, writing in her role as a “political analyst” for MLive, wrote about the event the day it was happening. However, so far as I can tell, she didn’t actually attend the hearing. Rather she watched it on television and her only “reporting” on it appears to have been her piece criticizing me for saying it was “almost-secret”, would be poorly attended and would go virtually unreported. To be clear, my use of the phrase “almost-secret” referred to the fact that it was held during a Senate holiday break, a choice that can only (in my opinion) be seen as an attempt to diminish coverage. I was, as it turns out, correct about that. I was quite happy to have been wrong about it being poorly attended, however, and give much of the credit for the good turnout to We Are The People Michigan.

By the way, be sure to check out Christine’s skewering of Demas at Blogging for Michigan. It’s a riot.

In addition to turning out people to the hearing, We Are The People Michigan live-tweeted the event, as well. Their twitter stream tells of speaker after speaker getting up to ask that this legislation not be turned into a law. Between speakers, even more comments were read from cards submitted. During the entire three hour event, the only supporters of the legislation were the ones you would expect, businesses who will benefit from it like Amway, Kellogg, Michigan Manufacturers Association, DTE, National Federation of Independent Business and the Michigan Grocers’ Association.

I have to say, however, that I was extremely disappointed in the Democrats on Tuesday. There are two Democrats on the Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing Committee, my own senator Rebekah Warren and Coleman Young II from Detroit. Young didn’t show up until the hearing had been going on for an hour and Warren didn’t show up at all. Considering the impact that this legislation will have on injured workers in Michigan, I find it rather shocking that these two weren’t more outspoken and VISIBLE at the hearing. I emailed Senator Warren asking why she didn’t attend and never received an answer. This reflects very poorly on her, particularly in light of recent revelations that she ranks fourth on the list of legislators taking free lunches from lobbyists. Very poorly indeed.

There isn’t much standing between Republican overreach and the working citizens of Michigan. It would be nice if the Democratic lawmakers that are our primary advocates in the legislature took the job a bit more seriously.