Senate works to finalize budget ahead of schedule for sixth consecutive year

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LANSING, Mich. — The state Senate on Wednesday made another step toward once again completing the budget ahead of schedule. The Committee on Appropriations spent the month of April finalizing and approving each of the subcommittee budgets for the Fiscal Year 2016-2017 and on Wednesday, the Senate gave them each final approval.

“I’ve always believed in using taxpayer dollars wisely,” Knollenberg said. “We have a great budget process and my colleagues and I have worked very diligently over the past few months to pass a balanced, fiscally responsible budget ahead of schedule for the sixth year in a row.”

Within the budget is Senate Bill 793, the entire 2016-2017 budget for the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. This includes a $3 million appropriation to the First Responder Presumed Coverage Fund, an account administered by LARA that is responsible for the care of the state’s firefighters.

“The Legislature is doing a great deal to help Michigan’s firefighters,” said Sen. Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy. “This fund has been in place for some time now. However, we were never able to utilize it because the Legislature never appropriated any money into it. With the recent passage of SB 802 and now SB 793, the fund currently has a total of $4 million to help our first responders.”

SB 793 also touts several other improvements to increase efficiency in the state’s regulatory department. Among the improvements was an unchanged fee structure for professions that must maintain licensure through the state.

“Maintaining the current fee structure as we prepare for the next fiscal year gives Michigan’s professionals a financial break as they maintain their credentials,” Knollenberg said. “This allows Michigan’s professionals to either receive or maintain their licensure at no additional cost to what they are currently paying.”

Additional changes were aimed at increasing the efficiency and transparency of the department and safety of workers.

Under SB 793, doctors would be required to check the Michigan Automated Prescription System, or MAPS, before prescribing medications to new patients. MAPS is used to identify and prevent collusive efforts between patients, pharmacies and doctors to illegally obtain a prescription drug.

Under this measure, LARA would also be tasked with hiring staff and establishing protocol to inspect the state’s sawmills. The department would then be required to report their findings to the Legislature for future action.

Improvements in efficiency include addressing an ever-growing issue of unreasonably delayed permits from the Michigan Liquor Control Commission (LCC). SB 793 included a requirement that would mandate the LCC to invest the appropriated funds in software upgrades to reduce turnaround time and improve efficiency for Michigan businesses.

The Senate also included a mandate requiring LARA to track and document what the department spends on travel reimbursements and what the purposes of trips are.

There have been some recent issues regarding the capacity in which state workers were using state-owned vehicles — along with expenses that were being claimed. This line-item would require the department to track any travel that utilizes taxpayer dollars. The Senate also modified an existing out-of-state travel reporting requirement for the department that would prohibit out-of-state travel except in certain pre-approved circumstances.

“We must ensure that our tax dollars are used effectively and efficiently to support the most important functions of state government,” said Knollenberg. “After a decade-long economic slump, we have taken the necessary steps to revitalize Michigan with a sound budget process that has continued to improve our job climate and provide the foundation for future growth.”

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