Mich. AG suing Civil Service Commission over health benfits

Jessica M. Karmasek May 12, 2011, 9:28am


LANSING, Mich. (Legal Newsline) - Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced last week that his office has filed a lawsuit against the state's Civil Service Commission.

Schuette is challenging the constitutionality of its decision to grant state health benefits to unrelated adults and their dependants who live with some state employees. He says the move will cost state taxpayers millions of dollars at a time when the state faces a massive budget deficit.

The commission adopted the policy over the objection of Gov. Rick Snyder, who asked that the commission reject the policy in light of current budgetary challenges.

"Governor Snyder is right. This unconstitutional use of authority is costing the taxpayers millions at a time when they can least afford it," Schuette said in a statement Friday.

According to the policy, a state employee's co-resident is eligible for state health care benefits if the sate employee does not have a spouse, the co-resident is at least 18 years of age, the co-resident is not a member of the employee's family, and the co-resident shares the same residence as the state employee for at least 12 months and is not a tenant, boarder, renter or employee.

According to Schuette's office, the health benefits extension granted by the commission on Jan. 26 is estimated to cost taxpayers at least $8 million in the first year alone.

The complaint filed on Friday by Schuette in Ingham County Circuit Court calls for a permanent injunction against the implementation of the policy because the commission's decision violates the Michigan Constitution in two ways:

- It exceeds the Constitutional authority granted to the commission. The Michigan Constitution grants authority for the commission to establish compensation rates for state employees. It does not empower the commission to compensate or otherwise provide benefits to non-family members or non-employees, Schuette argues.

- It violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Michigan Constitution. By arbitrarily granting state health plan eligibility exclusively to "non-family" adults and their dependents, the commission has violated the equal protection rights of actual family members and their dependents not eligible under the plan. If an unmarried state employee lives with a sibling or a cousin, for example, that relative is not eligible for health benefits, yet such benefits are available to any non-family member, the attorney general explained.

Schuette's lawsuit has the support of Michigan's legislative leadership, including Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville and Speaker of the House Jase Bolger.

"In the face of a $1.8 billion budget deficit, the ruling of the Civil Service Commission comes at a time when Michigan can least afford to increase costs," Richardville, R-Monroe, said in a statement.

"Recently, I joined with my colleagues in the Senate to vote to reject this ruling by the CSC. I fully support the Attorney General in his efforts to pursue this matter."

The commission will have 21 days to file a formal response with the court. The policy is scheduled to go into effect on Oct. 1.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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