michigan house of representatives

We are now three days out from Tuesday’s Primary where there was a lot of attention paid to the state’s Republican Senate primary and various U.S. Congressional races. So, we thought it was time to give state lawmakers and their races a little love.

Primarily Speaking

In just about two thirds of these local races the primary pretty much determined who the winner will be in November. Because of the way the lines are drawn, most districts are decidedly Republican or Democratic. So, the primary settles the question three months before the general election.

That leaves just about a third of the races left; races that are really fought between a Republican and a Democrat… where incumbency, the strength of the national and statewide tickets and fights over issues and policy matter.

Can Democrats Win Back the State House?

Control of the state House is in play this year. In 2010, largely on the strength of a surge nationwide for Republicans, the GOP took a commanding majority – 64 to 46 – in the state House.  Out of 110 seats, Democrats need to turn at least 10 of them to win back control. That’s a lot. But we’ve seen dramatic swings in recent House elections. So, Democrats see it as tough, but do-able.

In the Thumb, Democrats lost the Republican primary. That’s because incumbent Republican Kurt Damrow ran into some problems and he had become such a liability that his local Republican Party kicked him out. Former Democratic Representative Terry Brown won’t have as easy a time against Dan Grimshaw.

In Grand Rapids, Democrats won the Republican primary when the badly damaged Roy Schmidt barely won re-nomination over a write-in opponent, but only on the strength of absentee ballots cast before the scandal over how he switched parties and tried to rig his own re-election by recruiting a fake Democrat broke into the news. Political-newcomer Winnie Brinks is the Democrat on the ballot. And, Schmidt’s name is toxic. Candidates typically love high name identification, but not this kind.

The fight over how the Republican majority in the Michigan House of Representatives counts votes has gone to the state Court of Appeals.

Democrats sued Republicans to require recorded votes on a procedural motion that determines when a new law will go into effect.

The motion to make a law effective immediately requires a two-thirds super-majority that Republicans don’t have in the House.

Michael Hodge is the attorney representing Democrats in the lawsuit.

Gov. Rick Snyder
Rick Snyder for Michigan / Facebook.com

Gov. Rick Snyder says he’ll continue to push the Legislature to create a place online to comparison shop for health insurance. The health care exchanges are an element of what’s required under the federal healthcare law that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
    
Republican leaders in the state House say they’re in no hurry and plan to hold hearings before making their next move. The governor says time is growing short to comply with the law, and the state risks losing its share of federal funds to enact its exchange.

Michigan State Capitol Building
Nikopoley / Wikimedia Commons

Several rallies at the state Capitol were timed to coincide with the Legislature’s only session day this month.

The largest was a group of about 150 abortion rights advocates protesting a package of bills before the state Senate.

The bills call for strict regulations on abortion providers.

One of the speakers was Renee Chelian. She works for a group of family planning clinics in metro Detroit. Chelian says protests have slowed down the bills after they cleared the state House last month.

Every so often, I run into someone with a simple solution that they believe would fix all our problems. Sometimes it is a flat tax. Sometimes it is single-payer health insurance.

But whenever someone stops me at the grocery store to explain their simple plan for saving mankind, or at least Michigan, all I can think about is H.L. Mencken’s famous maxim that, “for every complex problem there is a solution that is simple, neat and wrong.”

Former West Michigan lawmaker William Van Regenmorter, whose noteworthy accomplishments included his authorship of the Crime Victim's Rights Act of 1985, has died. He was 73.

Family friend Joseph Crawford says Van Regenmorter, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2003, died Monday at his home in Ottawa County's Georgetown Township.

The Republican served in the House from 1983-90 before being elected to the Senate, where he served from 1991-2002. He became a representative again from 2003-06.

Van Regenmorter served as chairman of the House and Senate judiciary committees for more than 16 years. Under the Crime Victim's Rights Act, victims are required to be notified and consulted during the various steps of the legal process, such as before a prosecutor offers a plea bargain to a defendant.

Ambassador Bridge
user Jay8g / Wikimedia Commons

Michigan Republican House lawmakers are trying to keep Governor Snyder from spending any state money to build another bridge across the Detroit River.

The House Appropriations Committee has approved a supplemental budget that would prohibit using any state money unless the Legislature authorizes construction of the bridge.

Snyder has planned a big announcement about the bridge for Friday, but won't confirm any details of the plan.

He did say he’s not impinging on the legislature’s fiscal responsibilities, because no taxpayer money will be spent on the bridge.

"The Canadians are being great partners in putting up the dollars for the Michigan part of this project that would be repaid out of tolls, and so there would be no obligation to Michigan taxpayers,” said Snyder. “How can you do better than that?"

Grandville Republican Representative Dave Agema says his goal in amending the supplemental budget is "to stop spending money" lawmakers didn't authorize.

Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel "Matty" Moroun has fiercely battled the proposal. There’s even a petition drive to amend the state constitution in November that would require voters to approve any new bridge.

SpecialKRB / flickr

The State House recently passed legislation that would allow an increase in the number of Michigan cyber schools.

Cyber schools provide instruction via the internet. There are two currently operating in Michigan.

Michigan Radio's Jennifer White spoke with Republican State Representative Dale Zorn. He voted in favor of the legislation after promising to vote against it.

Michigan House of Representatives

DETROIT (AP) - A coalition of labor and civil rights groups appears to have lost a lawsuit challenging new boundaries for Detroit seats in the Michigan House.

A three-judge panel said a majority was in favor of ending the case, and a written opinion will follow. The judges heard arguments Friday on the state of Michigan's request to dismiss the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims the new map is illegal because it dilutes the political representation of minorities and forces some black incumbents to run against each other in Detroit this year. The boundaries were approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, also a Republican.

John Bursch of the attorney general's office defended the map, noting the 10 House seats in Detroit have a majority black population.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Tuesday’s election did not change the balance of power in the state house. 

Two vacant state house seats were up for grabs.

Voters in Genesee County filled a vacant state house seat on Tuesday.   The seat was made vacant last fall by a union-backed campaign that succeeded in recalling Republican Paul Scott.

Last night, Republican Joe Graves defeated Democrat Steve Losey to serve out the final year of Scott’s unfinished term.     

Graves says his message of jobs lead to the victory.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Election season gets off to an early start this year for the Michigan House.

Voters head to the polls Tuesday in two districts to fill vacancies left by former lawmakers. One seat covers a portion of Genesee County, while the other covers part of Oakland County.

The winners would have to run again to get full, two-year terms later in the year.

Republicans enter the 2012 election season with a 62-46 advantage over Democrats in the House.

Democratic leaders in the state Legislature say making Michigan a "right-to-work" state would give many families a reason to leave the state.

Supporters of Michigan being a right-to-work state say it would help attract businesses, especially if Indiana and other neighboring states also adopt right-to-work policies. And  supporters cite examples of right-to-work states that have flourished because they got rid of compulsory union dues for workers.

Democratic House Minority Leader Rick Hammel said those examples are misleading.   

“You can slant it whatever way you want, but there are other cases that show it’s not true," said Hammel. "If you’re looking for investment in the state, you want to make sure you have a great, healthy education system. We’ve done a horrible job of making sure we have that. You want to make sure you attract young, talented people… you’re pushing people away, but yet you think you can do it by a right-to-work law. That’s not going to happen.”

Hammel said he thinks the policies approved by Republican state lawmakers and Governor Rick Snyder will be unpopular with voters in Legislative elections this year.

Barack Obama official Flickr page

The Democratic leader in the state House thinks Michigan Democrats and President Barack Obama can help each other win votes in the election this fall.

House Minority Leader Rick Hammel said lawmakers are coordinating with the president’s campaign efforts in Michigan. Hammel said Democrats could pick up seats in the House based in part on the popularity of President Obama.

“Quite frankly, the fact that he helped resurrect the automotive industry, and Mitt Romney said ‘The heck with it – die on the vine,’ that would have lost millions of jobs in the state," Hammel said.  "Not just automotive jobs, but jobs that are related to the industry, and the president stepped up and did the right thing, and so did Debbie Stabenow. So we’ll see enough energy on the Democratic side statewide, as well as nationally.”

Representatives of the state Republican Party say state Democrats are out of touch with voters and have no message of their own if they are embracing the president this far out from the election.

Hammel said a lack of popularity for Governor Rick Snyder and his GOP counterparts in the Legislature will also help Democrats win in November.

thetoad / Flickr

A scuffle between lawmakers interrupted a session of the state House of Representatives yesterday evening. Michigan Public Radio's Rick Pluta was at the Capitol and reports:

Representative Harvey Santana lunged at fellow Detroit Democrat David Nathan during a heated discussion at Nathan’s desk. State Representative Roy Schmidt got between the two and was knocked about. A staffer was also accidentally pushed to the floor as House security rushed to break up the altercation. Santana was escorted out of the room by the House sergeant at arms, but was later allowed to return to his seat to vote.

"No physical contact was exchanged in the incident that occurred at about 8:45 p.m. as the chamber was winding down after passing a flurry of bills before to the Legislature's holiday break, " the Detroit News reports.

State Representative Schmidt, "had his teeth clenched around a lollipop stick that remained lodged in his mouth through the several seconds of the fracas," Pluta reports. Wood-TV has this statement from Schmidt's spokesman:

"News reports of a 'fist fight' on the House or Floor tonight are greatly over stated. (sic)

Two Democrat Representatives had a difference of opinion that got a little heated. Representative Roy Schmidt, wanting to avert any escalation of the problem, stepped in between the two gentlemen and stopped the argument.

No punches we (sic) ever thrown. The House Sergeants responded immediately and had one of the Reps step outside to cool off while Representative Schmidt returned to his seat."

It's still unclear just what, exactly, the fight was about. Pluta reports that shortly after the scuffle, everyone BUT the lawmakers was ordered off the House floor and House members were confined to their seats under Rule 32.2 of the House of Representatives. Rule 32.2 reads:

The members shall keep their seats until the Majority Floor Leader announces that no further voting will occur or the Presiding Officer announces that the House is adjourned.

This, reportedly, led to discussions in the Capitol lobby that lawmakers were in an "adult time out."

The House finished its work for the year last night.

Cedar Bend / Flickr

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to hear a challenge to the federal Affordable Care Act has Republicans in Lansing divided on whether to adopt a state mandate in the law. It requires states to create health coverage exchanges for people and business owners to comparison shop online for insurance. It’s become a point of controversy between the governor and the state’s legislative Republicans.

Republican Governor Rick Snyder says the health care exchanges are a good idea that will benefit businesses and consumers regardless of how the Supreme Court rules. The governor says he’s also afraid Michigan would be thrown into a federally designed system if the Legislature does not act quickly. 

“Before the end of the year would be best in terms of being prepared.”

But Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger says he’s in no hurry and would rather wait for the Supreme Court to decide one way or the other.  

“I don’t expect the House to act until or unless we have to act.”

Bolger says he, like many Republicans, believes the federal law is unconstitutional and is likely to be struck down by the nation’s highest court. A decision is not expected before next summer.

Ifmuth / Flickr

A proposal to drastically alter the state’s auto no-fault insurance law could come up for a vote as soon as this week in the state House. The House proposal includes a $50,000 appropriation that protects the measure from a voter-led ballot initiative to overturn the law via a referendum.

Democratic state Senator Bert Johnson says using referendum-proof language to shield controversial measures from being overturned by voters is a dangerous political game.

“We think that that limits voter protection as well. People should always be able to come and petition their government for what they believed the right thing is. And that’s the foundation of democracy in America, that’s what we’re built on," Johnson says.

If the proposed changes to the no-fault insurance law are approved as currently written, it would be the fourth time this year the Republican-led Legislature passed referendum-proof bills that were not part of the state budget.

Matthileo / Flickr

The state House passed legislation yesterday that would eliminate retiree health care benefits for future and some current state lawmakers. The state Senate passed the measure earlier this week. The Associated Press reports:

The retiree benefit will be eliminated for lawmakers who have not served at least six years in the Legislature before Jan. 1, 2013.

Most current state senators would remain eligible for the benefit once they retire and reach age 55. Most current members of the Michigan House would be ineligible for coverage because they don't have enough years of service.

Lawmakers have debated the issue for years but didn't agree on a final version of the plan until this week.

The legislation now goes to Governor Snyder for his signature.

Michigan Municipal League / Flickr

Lawmakers and staff members of the Michigan House will be required to pay more for their health insurance benefits come October 1st. The change was ordered by House Speaker Jase Bolger.

Bolger made the decision to require all state House employees to pay as much as 20 percent of their health insurance benefits alongside an 18 percent reduction to the money lawmakers have allotted for their office expenses. “And that’s not pleasant for anyone, and we empathize with them,” says Ari Adler, Speaker Bolger’s spokesman. Adler continues, “but we also empathize with the taxpayers who are facing many similar situations in their own households, and we all have to share in the sacrifice.”

The changes ordered by Bolger’s office comes amidst a debate between the House and Senate over how much teachers and local government employees should be required to pay for their health benefits.

Adler says House lawmakers need to lead by example if they plan to cut benefits for other public workers. The House Democratic caucus supports the new policy, but many Democrats oppose passing a law to force public employees to pay more for their benefits.

Cedar Bend Drive / Flickr

The state House will be in session today but, as the Associated Press reports, no roll call votes are expected and lawmakers' attendance won't be recorded. The AP notes, "the relatively inactive summer continues for the Michigan Legislature." There are no formal meetings planned, but, a House appropriations subcommittee will hold a hearing. The AP reports:

The next scheduled House session is set for Aug. 24. Sessions of the House and Senate will be relatively infrequent in July and August. Lawmakers already have approved the state budget plan for the fiscal year starting in October. Lawmakers spend some of the summer working in their home districts.

The session comes as lawmakers are in the middle of a two-month legislative break.

Matthileo / Flickr

A joint legislative panel is set to negotiate how much some public employees should be required to pay into their health insurance benefits.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says the payment structure for health benefits for public employees should have been overhauled several years ago.

But he says lawmakers should still work with public employee unions to find the savings.

“We want to try and be as flexible as we can and allow as much local input as we can, but the time to act is way past right now, this should have been dealt with 10 years ago or more.”

Ray Holman is with UAW Local 6,000. Holman represents state employees who won’t be affected by the proposed changes to public employee benefits.

He says that public employees have already made many concessions over the past few years.

“That’s been done at the bargaining table, and that’s been a proven place to find those savings.”

But, Holman says, if collective bargaining is compromised in the measure before the House and Senate conference committee, all public employees will be on alert and at risk of paying more for their health benefits.

Xandert / Morgue File

On Thursday, members of the Michigan State House Committee will discuss two bills that could change how cities and townships publicize legal notices such as public hearings and foreclosures. 

Current laws require all legal notices to be published in local newspapers. But these bills would allow local governments to post the information on their own websites or an online newspaper. Other options include broadcasting the notices on a radio or television station.

Representative Douglas Geiss is the sponsor of one of the bills. He says it’s time for a 21st century update:

Kate Ebli
kateebli.com

Former State Representative Kate Ebli died yesterday after a recurrence with breast cancer.

The Democrat served 56th District of Michigan (Monroe County) for two terms. She lost her bid for a third term in the November elections to Republican Dale Zorn.

The Monroe Democratic Party released a statement:

"We are extremely saddened with the news that State Representative Kate Ebli has lost her courageously fought battle with cancer. It is a sad day for Kate's family and also for everyone that knew her."

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