State hits roadblock in Flint Water Crisis case

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that the attorney general could not use a one-judge grand jury to indict Flint defendants. WDET’s Cheyna Roth and The Detroit News’ Beth LeBlanc break down what the ruling means.

This screen shot from video shows former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, during his Zoom hearing in the 67th District Court in Flint, on Jan. 18, 2020. A judge had no authority to issue indictments in the Flint water scandal, the Michigan Supreme Court said Tuesday, June 28, 2022 in an extraordinary decision that wipes out charges against former Gov. Snyder, his health director and seven other people.

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that the Department of Attorney General could not use a one-judge grand jury to indict defendants in the Flint Water Crisis case. The unanimous ruling dealt a setback to Attorney General Dana Nessel because she used a one-judge grand jury to indict nine state and local officials, including former Gov. Rick Snyder.

In this episode:

  • What are next steps in the Flint Water Crisis case
  • Changes in the no-fault auto insurance law
  • Takeaways from the passage of the $76 billion state budget

The attempts to hold people responsible in the water crisis began under former Attorney General Bill Schuette more than six years ago. Beth LeBlanc, reporter for The Detroit News, says charges against some of the officials will not be able to be re-charged due to Michigan’s statute of limitations.

“Some of these [charges] were misdemeanors so they would fall under that six-year statute of limitations,” LeBlanc says. “And some of these individuals, like the emergency managers, or some of the city officials, their involvement in the case ended in 2015. … So by all appearances, it would look like the statute of limitations has been exceeded and that you can’t reissue charges against these people.”

On Friday, Nessel’s office asked a lower court to maintain the validity of the charges instead of granting the nine defendants an outright dismissal. LeBlanc reports, “Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy filed nine motions in Genesee County district and circuit courts Friday seeking preliminary examinations for those charged with felonies and permission to proceed through a formal complaint in the cases of those charged with misdemeanors.”

Related: Justice delayed: Michigan Supreme Court ruling restarts prosecutions related to Flint Water Crisis

Changes in the no-fault insurance law

For 40 years, lawmakers have debated how to address auto premiums in Michigan, which had some of the highest in the nation. In 2019, lawmakers passed a landmark deal to change Michigan’s no-fault auto law. The biggest change was that drivers no longer had to buy unlimited lifetime coverage, which was now broken down into tiers. LeBlanc says lawmakers put in cuts, which took effect on July 1, 2021, in an effort to lower rates. “That basically said for medical providers who are caring for these patients, the insurance companies do not have to pay them more than 55% of what their rate was in January 2019,” LeBlanc explains. “So they had to not only go back to the cost that they charged in 2019, these medical providers also had to slash it by 45%.”

Family members caring for injured individuals were also capped at the number of hours they could be reimbursed by insurance companies, going from no limits on the hours to 56 hours a week. Beyond that, family members had to bring in a medical provider, who had to cut costs by 45%. “Medical providers just basically said, we can’t do this, we can’t go to what 55% of what our rate was in January 2019,” LeBlanc says.

LeBlanc adds, “It’s been a real uphill battle. On the other hand, lawmakers are saying, ‘Give it time this is working, we think it’s working, we think this will balance out.'”

Takeaways from the $76 billion state budget

State lawmakers passed a record-breaking budget last week. There were big increases for education, including about $19.6 billion for public schools. Lawmakers also pumped in about $2.6 billion into pension funds across the state. “A lot of communities are facing the prospect of bankruptcy because their pension funds are so underfunded,” LeBlanc says.

There was also $1 billion in pork-barrel spending, including $100 million for the Detroit Innovation Center, $100 million for the Joe Louis Greenway in Detroit, and $32 million for Mound Road.

“It was a record budget, in part because the state is pretty flush with cash right now,” LeBlanc says. “Through a combination of higher than expected tax revenue and federal COVID relief funds that are still kind of waiting around to be distributed, they were able to allocate $76 billion and then they still have $7 billion on the books, which they say they’ll eventually use for tax relief.”

What that tax relief will look like has been a point of debate between Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Republican-led Legislature. “Both sides want to do something, but there’s disagreements about what exactly that is,” LeBlanc says.

Photo credit: 67th District Court in Flint via AP, file

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  • Dorothy Hernandez
    Dorothy Hernandez is Digital Editor for 101.9 WDET, creating digital editorial content. Her love of radio began when she had a radio show in college when she and her roommate played '80s music in the middle of the night.