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Week in Review: State income tax bill fails and school closure decision drags on

Feb 25, 2017

A Republican-backed bill to rollback Michigan's income tax died on the floor of the state House early Thursday morning. This Week in Review, Weekend Edition host Rebecca Kruth and senior news analyst Jack Lessenberry talk about fallout from the bill's failure, including a leadership change in Lansing.

We're also talking about the Trump administration's withdrawal of Obama-era guidance on transgender students' rights in schools, the state's delay on announcing which low-performing schools will be closed in the fall, and a new "fake news" course at the University of Michigan.

Death of an income tax bill

After a marathon session that stretched into the early morning hours, a Republican-backed bill to cut Michigan's income tax died in the state House this week.

Despite several amendments, Republicans couldn't drum up enough votes to get the legislation passed. A dozen Republicans actually voted against it, including financial services committee chair Jason Sheppard. 

Following the vote, House speaker Tom Leonard decided to relieve Sheppard of his chairmanship, a move that Lessenberry says was "vindictive and petty."

"It leaves [Leonard] with a lot of egg on his face, and it makes him look quite weak. Especially since this was sort of a symbolic vote, because the state Senate and the governor made it clear they weren't going to go for this," Lessenberry said.

Transgender student guidelines

This week the Trump administration rescinded Obama-era guidance that urged public schools to protect transgender students. This means states will have more flexibility when it comes to interpreting Title IX laws. 

The move comes several months after the Michigan Board of Education voted to approve a set of voluntary guidelines designed to protect LGBT students.  

Lessenberry says withdrawing the federal guidelines sends a signal to Michigan schools.

"If there was any protection for transgender students, there's going to be a lot less of it now," he said.

School closing delay

Parents of children who attend one of 38 schools in Michigan at risk of closure will have to wait until May to find out whether they need to find a new school.

Gov. Rick Snyder acknowledges that families need time to make plans, but he says the state needs more time to figure out the best course of action. Snyder has asked his School Reform Office to work with the state Board of Education to come up with alternatives to closing schools.

Lessenberry says the whole situation is an "unholy mess."

"This has happened two years in a row now. What it indicates is that any threat by the state to close schools has no teeth whatsoever," he said.

U of M news course

A new class at the University of Michigan will teach students how to look at the news through a more critical lens. Starting this fall, students will be able to take a course called "Fake News, Lies, and Propaganda: How to sort fact from fiction.

Lessenberry says instead of offering a voluntary course, we need to teach everyone better critical thinking skills.

"If you're trained in journalism or have any kind of a graduate degree you would know that the New York Times and NPR websites are generally trustworthy, and that Joe's Basement Blog has to be looked at a little more dubiously. But a lot of people don't know that," Lessenberry said.