Groups Continue to Urge Amendments to Pending No-Fault Fee Schedule
As reported by Gongwer, those representing disabled individuals and others suffering from catastrophic injuries due to automobile crashes renewed calls this week for the Legislature to make additional changes to the state’s no-fault auto insurance law to prevent what they called devastating reductions to reimbursement rates for services from insurance providers.

At issue for some businesses urging further no-fault law changes was the issue of a 45 percent provider rate cut under the 2019 auto insurance overhaul’s new mandated fee schedule.

Groups have contended that the changes, effective July 1, will lead to rehabilitation clinics and specialty physicians being put out of business due to the reimbursement rate cuts.

The groups were also calling for the passage of HB 4486 and SB 314, which would revise reimbursement provisions and medical treatment benefits for rehabilitation clinics and brain injury clinics back to their 2019 levels. During a recent press conference supporters of the proposed changes urged lawmakers to act, while insurance industry officials stood by the 2019 law changes.

A recent study by the Michigan Brain Injury Provider Council said that about eight of every 10 facilities could be shuttered if the rate cut goes into effect. The group’s president, Tom Judd, in a statement called on the Legislature to take up the legislation and not let critical businesses go under.

"As predicted, we’re seeing the first group of health care businesses announce their impending closures due to the slash in reimbursements," Mr. Judd said. "There will certainly be more. This scenario is entirely avoidable – if only our legislative leaders were willing to put vulnerable constituents ahead of the insurance lobby."

Hope Network CEO Phil Weaver on Thursday sent an open letter to insurance industry executives in the state, asking them to negotiate a solution through the proposed legislation.

"The families and guardians of the people affected will struggle to find alternative care providers that can manage their complex care needs at drastically reduced reimbursements," Mr. Weaver wrote. "Time is running out for the Legislature to act before the 2019 law goes into effect. We ask that you step up and offer a solution that honors the policies of thousands of disabled people in Michigan count on. If you do not, it will be a clear signal to the people of Michigan that your profits are more important than standing behind your policies and protecting the lives of those who you claim to care about."

Republican leaders in the Legislature have not indicated an appetite to address the law before the July 1 changes take effect. Rehabilitation and brain injury clinics, and those representing them, have been sounding the alarm about the upcoming changes for weeks.

Roadside Saliva Tests Could Be Used For Drug Impairment Under Howell Bill
Police in Michigan would be allowed to use oral fluid roadside tests to detect the presence of drugs in an intoxicated driver’s saliva under legislation considered this week by the House Judiciary Committee.

The bill would allow for tests of other bodily fluids, beyond blood, breath and urine, as well.

What sponsor Rep. Gary Howell (R-North Branch) said what he is not trying to do with HB 4701 is set a level in law of what would be considered impairment. He explained the science is not clear what level of drugs in someone’s system should count as impairment.

"With the legalization of marijuana and the popularity of drugs, we are quickly finding that drunk driving is not the sole issue that we’ve got to deal (with) on road safety. We need to deal with properly enforcing safe driving laws. How do we identify those that are under the influence of drugs? It has presented a real problem for our law enforcement community," Howell told the committee.

Howell did note that some officers have been specially trained, referred to as drug recognition experts (DREs) to develop an expertise to ask the right questions, observe the right behaviors, and "come to a reasonably accurate conclusion as to whether somebody is under the influence of drugs.

"But, obviously, that presents a real problem of manpower, training, availability, and more importantly it is a time-consuming, challenging process," Howell said.

While he is not setting a standard in the law for drugs in someone’s system that would count as impairment, he explained that is because "I don’t believe we’ve got the information at this point in time to do that."

When the science can determine impairment levels of marijuana and other drugs, those could be added to the law, Howell said.

That led committee members to balk a bit. Rep. Steven Johnson (R-Wayland) said that for preliminary breath tests, there is the .08 blood-alcohol content (BAC) limit.

"If they get an .03, you are good to go," Johnson said. "I feel we almost need a number here, otherwise law enforcement is going to have no idea what is acceptable to bring someone in and what isn’t acceptable . . . But should we have some sort of standard here, because I don’t want to put law enforcement in a tough position."

Bridget Lorenz Lemberg, toxicologist with Forensic Fluids Laboratories in Kalamazoo, said her company has partnered with the Michigan State Police to run two studies of such roadside tests in what she said were the largest ever conducted in the U.S. comparing results of oral fluid tests with blood tests and DREs for a variety of drugs.

Some 19 states have set levels for what counts as impairment as have other countries, including European countries, Brazil and Canada, she said.

Lemberg explained the oral tests don’t require a blood draw and results come back in 18 hours. She also said the tests can distinguish between marijuana and CBD oil.

The committee did not vote on the bill. Chair Graham Filler (R-DeWitt) explained the committee had a lot questions, so he believed there would be further discussion.

Livingston County Sheriff Mike Murphy, who is also president of the Michigan Sheriff’s Association, said the organization has not taken a position yet on oral drug tests because they’re not proven technology.

Speaking as the sheriff, Murphy said he doesn’t know if the bill or a set level is really needed. The operating while intoxicated (OWI) law allows police to arrest based on field sobriety tests if the officer is willing to testify that the driver was operating the vehicle and was "visibly and substantially impaired."

"We’ve already got the ability to do that without a magic number test. Again, is it another tool in the toolbox? Yes. Do we need it? I don’t know," Murphy said.

He said the testimony of DREs, who take intensive training, does hold up in court.

"I come in as a drug recognition expert and say when I pulled this guy over because his car was weaving. I get him out and I do my field sobriety tests. Based on my 8,000 people that I’ve done sobriety tests on before, he was definitely on something," Murphy explained. "And then we get breath, blood or urine and it comes back that you’ve got whatever it is in your system. That is enough to seal the deal for an OWI."

Short Term Rental Bills Divide Cities, Realtors, Hosts
Two Michigan bills that could change the way cities approach short-term home rentals have created intense debate around who gets to determine how to regulate these dwellings, more popularly known as Airbnb or vacation rentals.

The issue has put interested groups such as the Ann Arbor-based Michigan Municipal League and Lansing-based Michigan Realtors on opposite sides with each asking its constituents to email, call and write to their local legislators about the bills.

The Michigan Municipal League last week held a Zoom call during which officials outlined their stance against Michigan Senate Bill 446 and House Bill 4722, both of which have similar wording. MML Legislative Associate Jennifer Rigterink said the two bills would limit a city’s ability to create a short-term rental solution that fits its needs, especially in Michigan’s tourism-heavy municipalities.

"We’re not opposed to short-term rentals. We’re opposed to a big government, one-size-fits-all solution," Rigterink said.

The two bills would amend the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act. Rep. Sarah Lightner, R-Springport, introduced the House bill in late April. Sen. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, introduced the Senate bill on May 13. Under the bills, for the purposes of zoning, a short-term rental would be a residential use of property and a permitted use in all residential zones. It would not be subject to a special use or conditional use permit or procedure different from those required for other dwellings in the same zone. Also, it would not be a commercial use of property.

The two bills define short-term rental as the rental of a single-family home, a one- to four-family house or any unit or group of units in a condominium for a term of not more than 30 consecutive days.

The Michigan Municipal League opposes the bills because its members that have or want short-term rental ordinances may see their local rental-inspection programs put in jeopardy, its regulations made null and void and businesses buying up homes to serve as "mini-hotels," creating issues around housing supply and affordability.

Cities such as Boyne City in northern Michigan, which is considering a short-term rental ordinance, as well as areas such as Frankenmuth, which already has an ordinance, spoke during the recent Zoom call. They called the bills a "cookie-cutter approach" to legislation that ignores the different needs among Michigan cities when it comes to regulating short-term rentals.

"Local government needs to have the opportunity to set standards that benefit their community," said Michael Zehnder, a fourth-generation family member who serves as the general manager of the Bavarian Inn lodge in Frankenmuth and a short-term rental owner.

However, groups such as Lansing-based Michigan Realtors are asking people to support the two bills, noting that they "protect the rights of property owners" and "stop local government overreach … (that) are short-sighted and negatively impact local economies." Michigan Realtors says it supports "reasonable regulation of short-term rentals outside of zoning."

The Michigan House and Senate recently held hearings on the bills, and Ferndale Mayor Melanie Piana spoke against them. Piana, a former Michigan Municipal League board of trustees president, said Ferndale has put long hours into creating its own short-term rental ordinance and she doesn’t want these bills to change that.

"We took a path that was middle of the road," Piana said. "Our residents felt there was a benefit to having short-term rentals in our community, but we needed better tools in place for our city to manage the problematic ones."

Its new ordinance passed in March following a January incident where there was a shooting requiring police intervention at a Ferndale short-term rental. No one was hurt, Piana said, but cities including Ferndale sought ordinances to ensure "best practices" are in place when incidents such as this occur.

The city of Detroit has had a ban since November 2017 on short-term rentals in properties that are zoned R1 and R2. Generally, however, officials and short-term rental owners agree the ban hasn’t been enforced. Detroit neighborhoods with single-family homes are generally zoned as R1 districts and R2 districts can contain single-family or two-family dwellings.

Detroit City Council member Janeé Ayers in 2019 suggested an updated short-term rental ordinance would include a variety of requirements, including an annual registration fee, require short-term rentals to be more than 1,000 feet from one another, be the owner’s principal residence and not rented for more than 90 cumulative days per year. There has been no new discussion of this ordinance change since some initial hearings in 2019.

Nathan Jaganath Andren has watched Detroit and other cities debate how to handle short-term rentals for more than a decade — and he understands how issues around the rapid-fire growth of Airbnb has fueled this discussion. Andren was the first Airbnb host in Detroit in 2009. His Airbnb listing, a single-family home called Detroit Loves You Guest Home on the Airbnb website, is his full-time occupation.

He said that he and other Airbnb owners have been burned when cities unexpectedly change their ordinances, some even banning Airbnb outright. He said short-term rentals, when done right, boost home values, create more stable communities and benefit Realtors, homeowners and renters.

"It’s hard to make decisions about what to do in this business and what cities to support," Andren said, noting that he is watching these two bills as well as what Detroit is planning closely. "Clarity is better. Uncertainty hurts investment."


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