As I term as State Representative officially ends, I want to say thank you for allowing me the privilege & Blessing to serve as your Representative of the 51st District.
Good Luck to. Mike Mueller You will do a great job.
State Rep. Joseph Graves represents the 51st state House District. State Representative Joseph Graves was elected in February 2012 to serve the constituents of the 51st House district.
The 51st district encompasses parts of Genesee County, including Argentine, Atlas, Fenton, Grand Blanc and Mundy townships and the cities of Fenton, Grand Blanc and Linden. Representative Joseph Graves most recently served as Genesee County Commissioner and owns J&D Select, a real estate, property management and engineering consulting business serving Genesee County. A long-time Genesee County resident, Graves worked as an engineer at GM for 32 years and also previously served as Argentine Township trustee and clerk. During his first term, Graves will serve on the House Military and Veteran's Affairs, Judiciary and Health Policy committees and remains committed to job creation and public safety. Graves received a bachelor's degree at Sienna Heights University and an MBA from Baker College. He is a U.S. Army Veteran and lives in Argentine Township with his wife Denise of 30 years. Graves has four children and 12 grandchildren, who live in local communities
As I term as State Representative officially ends, I want to say thank you for allowing me the privilege & Blessing to serve as your Representative of the 51st District.
Good Luck to. Mike Mueller You will do a great job.
After almost seven years my time in Lansing as the State Representative of the 51st District will come to a conclusion on December 31st so I want to say thank you to the residents for allowing me to represent you. As the youngest of 8 children of cotton-pickers from Missouri, I never expected to ever have this amazing opportunity & Blessing.
I want to thank my wife Denise Graves, Dave Ralph, (Mike) Mnm Graves Kelly Slater, Lisa Carney for tolerance, patience, & support.
As The Great Ronald Reagan said, surround yourself with good people & good things will happen. Fortunately I did so. I will start with the late Great Admiral Jonathan Farley. I made it because of you.
R.I.P. Connie Russell who held my hand during the first couple of weeks & made sure I would have staff that would ensure my success. Matt Sowash, we started together & I believe we made a great team, thank you. Benjamin Eikey, you transitioned from D.C. To Lansing & made the people from the district who met you, love you. Ken Morin you transitioned & developed to one of the most coveted Legislative Directors in the building & had fun doing so.
Aaron Porter you worked every position in the office & did so with ease. Your law degree & ability to understand statutes has been invaluable. Scott Kempa you have never backed down from a challenge & have been a true joy to work with. You typically leave me with a smile. Keep doing what you're doing.
My policy adviser Becky Burtka, while I Chaired Commerce & Trade Committee. As Chairman of the Oversight Committee I want to say Thank you to Brandon Lanyon (remember you're still on retainer), Amanda Gill, & Aaron Porter for the great legal & policy advice in committee & the 8 months we spent together restructuring the U.I.A.
Thank you to Speakers Jace Bolger, Kevin Cotter, Tom Leonard for believing in me.
Thank you to all those who have served!
Time for a true Leader who is Right for Michigan
Debbie Stabenow. Stabenow is wrong for us. Vote the faith and family candidate John James on November 6th. John is the ONLY pro-life candidate in the race.
During the annual House of Represenatives 9/11 Ceremony, I had the honor and privilege of reading, from the House floor, the name of US Army Sgt. Michael S. Yachanin, from Fenton who lost his life in defense of our country on October 06, 2017. #neverforget
A great opportunity to have a conversation with and thank our local law enforcement officers!
Michigan Freedom Fund
A representative we can be proud of. Vote Mike Mueller on Tuesday, August 7th.
Loved having students from Patterson Elementary in Holly visit the Capitol today. I enjoyed my discussion with them and answering their questions.
Very proud and honored to be a part of this workgroup that worked long and hard to put together legislation that was signed into law that made good, substantive changes to the state's Unemployment Insurance Agency. A total of 8 bills came out of the hard work of the workgroup. I am proud to be one of the bill sponsors in this bi-partisan bill package.
Today, as always, we say thank you!
I was invited to the Groveland Township Board meeting last night. I was extremely surprised and honored to be presented this plaque at the board meeting. They even had cake!
As a state representative, I get the honor and privilege to attend Eagle Scout ceremonies. Today, I had the honor of attending the Eagle Scout ceremony of Nicholas Patrick Haley. Pictured here is Nicholas, along with his parents. Congrats Nicholas! We are very proud of you and expect that you will do great things in the future.
Very proud to have been named the Gongwer News Service's 2017 Newsmaker-the top newsmaker in Michigan government and politics!
Thursday, December 28, 2017
Newsmaker 2017: Graves Spearheads Unemployment Overhaul
As 2017 opened, the problems of the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency festered.
The Legislature had just approved bipartisan legislation designed to prevent a repeat of the scandal in which the agency wrongly determined fraud occurred in 43,928 cases to obtain jobless benefits, or 70 percent of all fraud determinations it made from October 2013 through August 2015 when its computer was entirely or mostly in charge of such rulings. But legislators, employers and claimant advocates felt the agency and the statutes governing it needed deeper changes.
The problems of the agency were widespread and the administration of Governor Rick Snyder, who signed the 2016 legislation with little fanfare, had mostly been defending the agency's operations. But early in 2017, that quickly began to change. The director of the UIA, Sharon Moffett-Massey, was reassigned. The Snyder administration, which had fiercely defended itself in court against lawsuits targeting the agency, agreed to a sweeping settlement in a federal case requiring a series of major actions.
Rep. Joe Graves (R-Linden), a U.S. Army veteran who spent most of his professional life as a General Motors engineering manager, had overseen the 2016 legislation as chair of the House Oversight Committee. The committee receives all reports from the Office of the Auditor General, and the April 2016 audit ripping the agency's automated fraud detection system had cemented Mr. Graves' interest in the agency. For some time, he had been hearing from constituents in his rural and exurban district covering parts of Genesee and northwest Oakland counties about problems they were having with the agency, and the audit served notice to him they were telling the truth and something had to be done.
Previous Newsmakers of the Year
2016: Mark Edwards, Todd Flood, Chris Kelenske, Karen Weaver
2015: April DeBoer, Jayne Rowse, Dana Nessel
2014: Rick Snyder
2013: Mike Shirkey
2012: Diane Hathaway, Thaddeus McCotter, Roy Schmidt
2011: Brian Calley
2010: Rick Snyder
2009: Andy Dillon
Mr. Graves had told Mr. Snyder after he signed the 2016 legislation it was merely the beginning and a much more comprehensive legislative package was needed. What would follow was an extraordinary bipartisan workgroup, convened and led by Mr. Graves, with stakeholders from both sides that would painstakingly assemble an eight-bill package overhauling major aspects of how the agency operates. The legislation would breeze to enactment with almost unheard of ease for a topic so fraught with the potential for traditional business-labor, Democrat-Republican divisions.
𝐈𝐭 𝐢𝐬 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐬𝐞 𝐫𝐞𝐚𝐬𝐨𝐧𝐬 𝐭𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐌𝐫. 𝐆𝐫𝐚𝐯𝐞𝐬 𝐢𝐬 𝐆𝐨𝐧𝐠𝐰𝐞𝐫 𝐍𝐞𝐰𝐬 𝐒𝐞𝐫𝐯𝐢𝐜𝐞'𝐬 𝐜𝐡𝐨𝐢𝐜𝐞 𝐚𝐬 𝐍𝐞𝐰𝐬𝐦𝐚𝐤𝐞𝐫 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟕, 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐭𝐨𝐩 𝐧𝐞𝐰𝐬𝐦𝐚𝐤𝐞𝐫 𝐢𝐧 𝐌𝐢𝐜𝐡𝐢𝐠𝐚𝐧 𝐠𝐨𝐯𝐞𝐫𝐧𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐭 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐩𝐨𝐥𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐜𝐬.
Those on both the employer and claimant side said Mr. Graves' interest in a workgroup, structuring of it to emphasize subject-matter expertise and solutions instead of legislators and politicking and techniques to defuse emotional debates proved instrumental.
Mr. Graves said he the goal of fixing the agency consumed him.
"It wasn't working for our employers," he said in an interview. "It wasn't working for the claimants. We knew the bureaucrats weren't going to fix this."
WORKGROUP OPENS HALTINGLY: In putting together the 17-member workgroup, Mr. Graves wanted to make sure it had balance with both employers and claimants having their voices represented.
Rep. Joe Graves
That sounds obvious and simple, but it also meant putting people accustomed to butting heads in the same room for hours in an attempt to go through the nitty gritty of the Michigan Employment Security Act and Unemployment Insurance Agency operations.
Business groups like the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and Michigan Manufacturers Association brought the perspective of employers who fund the unemployment system and want actual fraud stopped. They also have been frustrated for years with the agency's treatment of employers on various issues and said the agency was slow to respond to imposter claims by scammers manipulating the agency's filing system claim benefits by stealing someone's identity.
Claimant advocates like the Michigan AFL-CIO and Steve Gray, the director of the University of Michigan Law School's Unemployment Insurance Clinic, saw a system rigged against claimants with penalties equal to four times the amount of benefits received on an allegedly fraudulent basis, a statutory prohibition on representation for those accused of fraud and the agency's seemingly reflexive rejection of anyone requesting a hardship waiver from having to pay back benefits to which they were not entitled.
The first meeting resembled a middle school dance. The employer advocates sat on one side of the room, and the claimant advocates sat on the other side, Mr. Graves said.
At the start of the year, with Rep. Kevin Hertel (D-St. Clair Shores) having just started his first term and named as the minority vice chair of the Oversight Committee, he and Mr. Graves discussed what issues they wanted to tackle. The subject of the Unemployment Insurance Agency came up, and Mr. Hertel said Mr. Graves asked him if he wanted to serve on a workgroup.
The group agreed to a suggestion from Mr. Graves, to put together a mission statement with a goal to fix the agency's operations. Other topics, like altering the maximum weekly unemployment benefit - long a goal for Democrats and opposed by employers - were off-limits. Everyone agreed to that scope with all members having veto power over changing it.
Initial meetings were contentious. Delaney McKinley, named the group's scribe, said the employer vs. claimant dynamic was an initial hurdle. Mr. Graves asked each side for its top five priorities. She first used a whiteboard and later a spreadsheet to track the issues raised, where each side stood, where the issue was last left and what needed to come next.
Mr. Hertel said the conversation would sometimes turn "heated, but never disrespectful."
Mr. Gray said when a heated exchange would occur, Mr. Graves would usually intervene, "try to get us back on track. He was a good shepherd."
Ms. McKinley said Mr. Graves would stay positive whenever discussions got tense.
"He would just say, 'We're here to talk about fixing the agency. We're not here to talk about that. Let's keep focused. Where were we?'" she recalled.
Another key person to keeping the workgroup moving was Brandon Lanyon, a top House Republican policy staffer, several said.
Mr. Graves said he made it clear to the group it had to go for a "big bite" because in taking a comprehensive look at the issue, it would be hard to return to it if the group ended up making incremental changes.
The UIA Workgroup
Rep. Joe Graves
Rep. Kevin Hertel
Representing claimant advocates:
Stephanie Glidden, MI AFL-CIO (succeeded Fran Brennan from the MI AFL-CIO)
Steve Gray, U-M Law School UI Clinic
Jean Doss, Capitol Services, Incorporated
Wendy Block, MI Chamber of Commerce
Delaney McKinley, MI Manufacturers Assn.
Neil MacVicar and Rachelle McKinney, MI Health and Hospital Assn.
Representing the UIA:
Bruce Noll, deputy director
Michelle Beebe, director
Brian DeBano, Talent Investment Agency
Aaron Porter, Mr. Graves' office
Leah Maher, Sen. Peter MacGregor's office
Amanda Gill, Rep. Martin Howrylak's office
Brandon Lanyon, House Republicans
Ryan Hocker, House Democrats
Andy Buss, Senate Republicans
Initially, Mr. Graves said, some of those in the group were immovable on certain issues.
THINGS START TO CLICK: Mr. Gray described the first meeting as a brainstorming session. He said he was cautiously optimistic because Mr. Graves had made his organization, Mr. Hertel and AFL-CIO equal partners with employer interests.
"From the very beginning, Representative Graves said, 'There are some problems out there, and I want to address the ones that we think are the worst so this doesn't happen again,'" he said. "You've got the chair of the Oversight Committee saying that so it gives you some confidence something can get done."
Mr. Graves said the resistance each side had to some issues started to change.
"People started talking and they started opening up and you saw some give and take," he said.
One of the tactics all sides said proved important was the introduction of what Mr. Graves called "the parking lot." When the group could not reach consensus on an issue, it was tabled and put there for possible later review. That prevented a single issue from bogging down the group and kept the focus on areas of agreement instead of disagreement.
The group met Mondays in a conference room at the Anderson House Office Building, often on Fridays as well and sometimes in the afternoon after House sessions on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, Mr. Graves said. If a member of the group had to leave, then the meeting ceased because he did not want a situation where an issue did not have consensus, he said.
What began to turn the discussion from one of suspicion to trust was once both sides saw they were getting some of their priorities included, Mr. Graves said.
"It was a slow, but deliberate process," he said. "Once we developed trust among each other, we realized we're all good people, we all care about the same thing, we just have different pieces of it."
Indeed, Ms. McKinley said having a focused goal significantly helped. And they shared a common mission.
"In this situation we all were trying to get to the same point of getting the agency to be functional. All of our members were being injured by it," she said. "I think that helped a lot to know it wasn't just a free-for-all."
Mr. Hertel said the meetings never seemed to be long enough given the highly technical nature of the issue.
AGENCY OPEN TO CHANGE: The agency was represented at the workgroup by the acting director, Bruce Noll, and, after her hiring in the spring, Director Michelle Beebe.
Mr. Graves said both took a helpful approach. Neither got defensive even though the room was full of people unhappy with the UIA's performance.
Additionally, neither tried to guide the policy changes, but instead took the approach of assuring what the workgroup proposed would be something the agency's staff could successfully administer, he said.
Ms. Beebe said one of the main reasons she came to Michigan was the efforts of the workgroup.
The workgroup had the right approach, but it was not an easy process because of the level of detail involved and the need to understand the implications of every change, she said.
"There wasn't an ill will or a desire to trip each other up," she said. "My experience with it is every single person in that room, from the employers to the claimants, were all on the same page of making it right and having them involve the agency in those discussions was incredibly helpful from my perspective in us being able to understand the direction that was intended with the legislation and have that feedback on the administrative concerns."
Ms. McKinley said Ms. Beebe and Mr. Noll did not create the problems in the agency, but had to assume the role of "getting their ears chewed on." Both handled it with the "utmost professionalism," she said.
KEEPING POLITICS OUT: If there was an issue tailor-made for Democrats to hammer Republicans, who control all facets of state government, the unemployment agency is it. Every community in the state had at least one person the agency wrongly found to have committed fraud to obtain jobless benefits.
But that did not happen, and that kept the workgroup shielded from external politics. Mr. Hertel said the issue was too important. The workgroup owed it to the claimants who had struggled to navigate the agency to see the process through.
"My focus was on making sure we got something done," he said.
Mr. Hertel was critical to the effort, Ms. McKinley said. He did considerable work with the House Democratic Caucus and while he knew the stories of the claimants, he was sympathetic to the problems employers were having too.
"Kevin was great," she said.
Mr. Gray said the workgroup would not have succeeded without Mr. Graves, but said the same also was true of Mr. Hertel's presence.
Mr. Graves said keeping the Democrats part of the decision-making process kept it from becoming political. He credited House Minority Leader Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) with tamping down political moves in the caucus. And Mr. Hertel understood the need for a balanced package between employer and claimant interests, he said. He credited Mr. Hertel, so soon after joining the House, for putting faith in him.
"He had to come in and think, 'Okay, can I trust this guy?'" Mr. Graves said.
Stocking the workgroup with subject-matter experts instead of legislators was key, Mr. Graves said.
"If we had filled the room with a bunch of legislators, politics would have flown," he said.
A LABORIOUS SLOG: The workgroup had three phases. First, it had to agree on the policies it wanted to pursue. Then the workgroup negotiated legislative language. Then it sent that language to the Legislative Service Bureau and had to negotiate again once the revised language came back from LSB.
No one said they thought the workgroup was ever on the verge of falling apart. Mr. Graves said at times he wondered how much they could get done.
Ms. McKinley, who confessed to not being a natural optimist, said she began to worry as time continued to pass. The end of the year was fast approaching, and she worried the bills would not be introduced before the end of the year.
"We were staring down hunting break," she said of the Legislature's two-week break in mid-November for the start of firearm deer hunting season and Thanksgiving. "My thought was if we don't get these bills dropped, we're just going to run out of time."
Finally, the bills (HB 5165, HB 5166, HB 5167, HB 5168, HB 5169, HB 5170, HB 5171 and HB 5172) were introduced October 24.
Ms. McKinley said one of the lessons she took from the effort was to have LSB present from the beginning.
A QUICK MARCH TO PASSAGE: The bills hit on the major problems in the agency.
They reduced the penalty for fraud from four times the amount of benefits received to an amount equal to the benefits received. They allowed those accused of fraud to have representation for the first time. They sought to force the agency to start approving hardship waivers by making the eligibility criteria clearer and leaving no room for subjectivity. They created a process for the agency to address complaints of imposter claims. They addressed the agency's pursuit of claims employers failed to respond to agency inquiries, a process employers said was rife with problems and unfairness. They ended the agency's ability to assess interest on improperly paid benefits resulting from an agency error. And they dealt with issues of what happens with the agency sends determinations to the wrong claimant address, a frequent problem with a transient population.
The hardest item, both sides agreed, was reducing the fraud penalty. Some on the claimant side felt the new penalty of an amount equal to the benefits received was still too harsh, Mr. Gray said. Employers wanted it to remain more than a slap on the wrist, and there was a reason the four times level was initially enacted, he said.
Everyone in the workgroup signed off on the plan, and everyone agreed to oppose any substantive amendments as the legislation moved through the House and Senate. Staff from Sen. Peter MacGregor's (R-Rockford) office and the Senate were part of the workgroup, so there was optimism about buy-in from the Senate, Mr. Graves said. Mr. Graves said he also enlisted the two senators whose districts overlapped with his, Sen. Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth) and Sen. Dave Robertson (R-Grand Blanc), to help.
The bills started out at the House Oversight Committee. There were a couple of bumps. Rep. John Chirkun (D-Roseville), a committee member, grilled Ms. McKinley and Wendy Block of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, who were testifying in support of the bills. Eventually, Mr. Graves had to shut him down and speak to him after the meeting. Then Rep. Steve Johnson (R-Wayland) questioned the legislation keeping a 400 percent penalty for imposter claims but moving to a 100 percent penalty for fraud.
"I thought, okay, here we go," Ms. McKinley said of the problems she thought were coming.
But two weeks after that first hearing, the bills unanimously passed the House. Ms. McKinley said she never thought the bills would unanimously pass.
"I could really see it coming together when I saw unanimous votes in the House," she said. "That was shocking to me."
A month later, the bills unanimously passed the Senate. That the bills would unanimously clear the Legislature surprised Mr. Graves. He said he expected a battle, but credited the outcome to the group doing its homework, the support of leadership and good communication the whole way through.
When the first bill unanimously passed the Senate, Mr. Noll texted congratulations to Mr. Graves, who said he was elated.
"I jumped up and ran over there," he said. "Senator MacGregor and I hugged, and said, 'We did it.'"
Ms. McKinley said she and fellow lobbyists Jean Doss of the Capitol Services, Incorporated, lobbying firm and Stephanie Glidden, the Michigan AFL-CIO lobbyist, were in the lobby outside the Senate, and there were hugs all around after the Senate passed the bills.
"That's not usually an alliance you see that often," Ms. McKinley said.
Mr. Hertel, a son of the late House Speaker Curtis Hertel Sr., said he knew from his father how the Legislature can work, and this legislation proved truly bipartisan.
"What I shared with Joe after the bills passed the Senate ... is some of this bipartisanship is really not how the Legislature works today," he said. "It really points to what we can accomplish if we all work together."
Mr. Gray said he doesn't have much experience in the legislative process, but the method of assembling this legislation seemed much different than how the Legislature usually handles big issues.
"Very even-handed, very up-front, out in the open," he said.
Now that Mr. Snyder has signed the legislation, the group plans a celebratory dinner. Those on all sides say they hope to keep the momentum from this effort going into 2018 when legislation is expected to set up a victims compensation fund for those the agency wrongly found to have committed fraud.
Mr. Graves said Mr. Noll has quipped to him he has been going through withdrawal in the wake of the legislation's enactment.
Between the workgroup's meetings and the independent research members undertook, Mr. Graves has said the total work involved came to 900 hours. It took a team effort and a "very dedicated group of people" to pull it off, he said.
Mr. Hertel said Mr. Graves was "the leader of it all."
"He brought the group together. He made sure we kept focused," he said. "Through the process, I think me and Joe developed a great relationship that I hope we can use on issues this upcoming year. ... For my first year in the Legislature, it was an amazing experience."
S-985 Anderson House Office Building
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