Sen. Brandenburg legislation would help businesses reduce fraud

LANSING– Legislation designed to reduce fraud passed the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday, said sponsor Sen. Jack Brandenburg.

“With the burdens of unemployment reduced, and future penalties eliminated, current businesses will have the opportunity to expand and new businesses will be able to open without bearing the burden of past penalties,” said Brandenburg, R- Harrison Township.

Senate Bill 806 includes reforms that will deter fraud, prevent overpayments, and encourage workers to seek employment before exhausting benefits. The bill also limits the ability of a person who was fired for cause or who left a job voluntarily from collecting unemployment benefits.

SB 806 is part of the package that includes SBs 483 and 484 which would repay Michigan’s debt to the federal unemployment insurance system and help to maintain solvency through bonding.

SBs 483 and 484 take advantage of Michigan’s upgraded bond rating in order to foster an environment where jobs can be created and current companies can expand.

If the Legislature does not act, Michigan employers will be faced with a seemingly endless burden of increased taxes, interest and penalties until the federal debt is paid. Without action, Michigan’s trust fund will be indebted to the federal government until 2018 and will not have a sufficient balance until 2022.

This is only one of the many steps the Legislature has taken to make Michigan more business friendly. By impeding fraud, preventing overpayment and encouraging workers to seek employment, Michigan businesses will be able to operate more efficiently,” added Brandenburg.

Editorial by Senator Jack Brandenburg

As my first year of being a state senator comes to a close, I look back and think that this year could be nicknamed "The Year of Reforms." Legislators in both the Senate and House, along  with the new administration, wasted no time getting to work fixing Michigan. Reform  legislation was introduced to address a number of issues that were either long overdue or  structurally unsustainable. From teacher tenure to workman's compensation; no-fault  insurance to social welfare benefits; enthusiastic lawmakers found solutions to problems that  had been unsolvable till now.

One reform especially important to me is Unemployment Insurance reform. For the past few months I have been working with both small and large business owners and the Unemployment  Agency to resolve what has amounted to almost a $4 billion debt to the federal government.  The Unemployment Trust Fund is completely employer financed and must be repaid through  payroll taxes on Michigan job providers.

Beginning in 2012, federal penalties on employers will be $63 per employee per year. Negative balance employers will also pay an additional $67.50 per year. Another assessment is necessary  to pay off outstanding interest on the federal loans and could be as much as $46 per employee  per year. Beginning in 2013, additional federal penalties (called the "BCR add-on") are possible  in future years for up to $231 per employee per year. Total cost = $340 for positive balance  employers and $408 for negative balance employers-per employee per year.

These additional costs are a significant burden on Michigan job providers that will continue to grow for years until the loans are paid off. This undue burden will hinder Michigan's recovery  and prevent job creation.

Thankfully I believe we can avoid this disaster. Through bonding for our debt and enacting meaningful reforms contained in my recently introduced legislation, we can fix this problem.  Bonding for our current debt will give the Unemployment Trust Fund a fresh start. However, to  ensure we do not find ourselves in the same place in a few short years, we must structurally  alter eligibility requirements, attack fraud, and avoid improper payments.

Structurally altering eligibility requirements is necessary to ensure that people receiving benefits deserve them. My bill includes common-sense measures to make sure those collecting  benefits are rightfully entitled to them. Under my proposal, if an employee negligently loses a  job requirement (for example, a truck driver receiving a DUI) they will be ineligible for  unemployment benefits. Also, if an employee is chronically absent (three consecutive no  call/no shows) they will again be ineligible. Addressing drug use in the workplace and reversing  the burden of proof on claims of voluntary separation are a few of the things that my bill does  to tighten eligibility.

To attack unemployment fraud, the first thing we need to do is to make unemployment fraud a felony; currently it is a misdemeanor under Michigan law. I introduced legislation that will make  this type of fraud a felony. Collecting benefits under fraud is the same as stealing from your  former employer. Through cracking down on improper payments and tightening eligibility  requirements, I suspect we will also flush out a lot of the fraud within the system.

We must prevent improper payment of benefits. There is no reason that a Michigan employer should be financially burdened for no reason. Anyone collecting unemployment benefits should  make it their priority to find new employment. Suitable replacement work is currently ill- defined and must be clarified. My bill will clarify that once a claimant has received half their  benefits in a benefit year they must accept an offer if it pays at least prevailing wage and is 120  percent or more of the claimant's weekly benefit amount. The longer they collect benefits, the  greater a burden they are on the system. Also, the seasonal employment designation must  have more flexibility. My bill will allow seasonal employer designation for any business that is in  regular operation for 26 weeks or less. This needs to be perfectly clear for both the employee  and the employer.

What I have briefly touched on is only the tip of a reform mountain. The bill is a little more than 200 pages and amends numerous sections of Michigan law, going back to 1936. We must set  Michigan on a path to success and end the practice of running up billions of dollars in deficits.  Structural reforms like this will set Michigan on a course to recovery and sustainable success.
 

Brandenburg: Seeking Michigan website great resource tool

LANSING — Want to explore Michigan’s past and present? Then the “Seeking Michigan” website is the perfect online resource to check out, said Sen. Jack Brandenburg.

“The Seeking Michigan website is the result of a fantastic collaboration between the Library of Michigan and the Archives of Michigan,” said Brandenburg, R-Harrison Township. “I encourage state residents to take advantage of this resource tool to find out more about the history of our great state.”

Those interested in searching for stories of Michigan families, homes, businesses, communities and landscapes through unique source documents, maps, films, images, oral histories and artifacts can visit the site at: www.seekingmichigan.org.

The website’s name is derived from the state motto: “Si quaeris peninsulam amoenam circumspice,” which translated from Latin reads: “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.”

According to Seeking Michigan, the website’s mission is to “enrich quality of life by providing access to unique historical information that promotes Michigan’s cultural heritage.”

The website was created to honor the Talbert and Leota Abrams Foundation, which has been a staunch supporter of the Library of Michigan and the Archives of Michigan for the past decade.

The Library of Michigan and Archives of Michigan began work on this site in 2008. At that time, staff recognized the benefit of collaborating to bring the public a wide array of cultural heritage materials.

For more information, email Seeking Michigan at: seekingmichigan@gmail.com.

Brandenburg: State economic outlook improving

LANSING — Following the news that the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States has ranked Michigan’s economic health second-best in the nation, Sen. Jack Brandenburg, R-Harrison Township, offered the following comments:

“This is tremendous news for Michigan. Ever since my legislative colleagues and I began serving in the state Senate 10 months ago, we have been working tirelessly to help put Michigan back on the right track. It’s rewarding to see that hard work pay off.

“While it is great to have our economic improvement acknowledged by the Bloomberg index, we must not lose sight of the vital work ahead of us. We must continue our commitment to Michigan’s job providers. Jobs are our number one priority.”

The Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States considered indicators such as personal income, tax revenue, employment and housing prices in its analysis, placing Michigan second only to North Dakota, a state in the midst of an oil boom.

The Bloomberg study follows the Fitch Ratings agency upgrade to Michigan’s bond rating outlook last summer.