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State Briefs

BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS • May 25, 2019 at 8:00 AM

Michigan Legislature approves bill to cut high auto premiums

LANSING (AP) — Michigan's Legislature on Friday passed a landmark bill that would cut the country's highest auto insurance premiums by letting drivers forego a one-of-a-kind requirement to buy unlimited medical coverage for crash injuries.

The votes followed the announcement of an agreement between Republican legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. She said the legislation would guarantee rate reductions for every motorist and offer choice among personal injury protection, or PIP, levels. PIP, on average, makes up half of car premiums.

The measure — approved 94-15 by the House and 34-4 by the Senate — also would prohibit the use of several non-driving factors in setting rates and scale back reimbursements for health providers that treat accident victims. Unlike several other no-fault insurance states, Michigan does not have a fee schedule for care covered by auto insurers. They pay much more for the same services than is paid by employer plans or government insurance such as Medicare or Medicaid.

A driver choosing to stick with unlimited coverage would see a 10 percent PIP reduction. Someone who fully opted out would get a 100 percent cut, if they have health insurance, and potentially also avoid paying much of a $220 annual per-vehicle fee that reimburses car insurers when severely injured motorists' expenses exceed a certain amount.

The rollback in PIP rates would start in July 2020 and last for eight years.

“The residents of Ottawa County have been burdened by Michigan’s extreme auto insurance rates for years and years and have demanded action,” said state Sen. Roger Victory, R-Hudsonville. “I am thrilled we passed a bill that will provide relief to our hardworking families and residents of all ages.”

High court halts electoral map redrawing in Michigan, Ohio

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Friday put on hold court orders in Michigan and Ohio to redraw electoral maps that federal judges found were too partisan.

The high court action comes as it is weighing cases from Maryland and North Carolina that raise similar issues and could affect redistricting everywhere.

The brief orders from the justices do not telegraph the outcome of the redistricting cases that are expected to be decided by the end of June. They more likely reflect that whatever the court decides probably will affect rulings that struck down legislative and congressional districts in Michigan and congressional districts in Ohio.

Ohio lawmakers faced a June 14 deadline to draw new congressional districts, or have the courts do it for them. The deadline in Michigan was Aug. 1.

Judges in both states ordered new maps for the 2020 elections after they found Republicans who controlled the redistricting process in 2011 unconstitutionally created districts that essentially guaranteed continued Republican dominance for the 10 years the political maps would be used.

State and congressional districts are redrawn following the once-a-decade census to account for population shifts.

Whitmer administration proposes to close Benton Harbor High

BENTON HARBOR (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration is proposing to close Benton Harbor High School in fall 2020 and send students elsewhere in the corner of southwestern Michigan.

"Sitting back and doing nothing is not an option,” State Treasurer Rachael Eubanks said.

In a statement Friday, the state said the Benton Harbor district has more than $16 million in debt and students aren't performing well. Only 3 percent of third-graders could read at grade level in 2018, and no high school juniors were considered ready for college in the past five years.

Eubanks said the state's plan means K-8 students "can get the skills they need," while high school students can get on a path to success at area schools or Lake Michigan College.

The state said the school district will be shut down or turned into a charter school system if the Benton Harbor school board doesn't approve the plan.

Michigan orders closure of Battle Creek funeral home

BATTLE CREEK (AP) — The state has ordered a Battle Creek funeral home to close after more than 80 years in business following allegations of irregularities in prepaid contracts.

The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs is suspending the licenses of the Royal Funeral Home and its owner, Richard Royal, starting Tuesday, the Battle Creek Enquirer reported.

A state audit found several violations of the Prepaid Funeral and Cemetery Sales Act and the Occupational Code. The state alleges that the funeral home failed to deposit about $269,200 from 92 prepaid funeral contracts with an authorized escrow agent.

State officials also accuse the business of failing to maintain copies of prepaid funeral contracts and of committing fraud, deceit or dishonesty in the practice of mortuary science.

Richard Royal declined to comment because the state investigation is ongoing.

State officials have given Royal 60 days to assign existing prepaid contracts to someone registered under the Prepaid Act or to cancel the contracts and refund the money.

South Dakota bishop to lead Saginaw diocese in Michigan

SAGINAW (AP) — A Catholic bishop in South Dakota has been selected as the new bishop of the Diocese of Saginaw in Michigan.

The diocese announced Friday that Bishop Robert D. Gruss, 63, will serve as its seventh bishop. His installation in Saginaw is scheduled for July 26.

Gruss has served as bishop in Rapid City, South Dakota, since 2011. He was born in Texarkana, Arkansas, and became a priest in 1994. His appointment in Michigan was approved by Pope Francis.

Saginaw's Bishop Joseph Cistone died last year. Bishop Walter Hurley was appointed apostolic administrator, serving as caretaker until a new bishop was selected. The Saginaw diocese includes Arenac, Bay, Clare, Gladwin, Gratiot, Huron, Isabella, Midland, Sanilac, Saginaw and Tuscola counties.

Man gets up to 20 years for bank robbery that netted $106

HOWELL (AP) — A Michigan man has been sentenced to up to 20 years in prison for a bank robbery that netted $106.

Robert Joseph Markus of Brighton was given his punishment Thursday in a Livingston County courtroom after earlier pleading guilty to bank robbery and armed robbery in a deal with prosecutors. Chief Judge Miriam Cavanaugh ordered him to serve a minimum of 6.75 years and repay the money.

Markus was charged after authorities said he robbed a TCF Bank branch in January in Genoa Township. Police said Markus was wearing a ski mask and implied that he had a weapon, but didn't show one during the robbery.

Markus faced possible life in prison because of previous convictions, including larceny and breaking and entering.

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