Michigan Legislature

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Republican state lawmakers say they are committed to passing an overhaul to public education in the “lame duck” session.

Opponents of the bills have been ramping up pressure to hold off until next year.

The bills include the expansion of a state-run district for struggling schools and a measure seeking to increase school choice.

House Education Committee Chair Lisa Lyons said the legislation can’t wait.

“We need to allow these schools and parents and students all the time, as much as possible, to transition and to plan for the education that they are going to receive next fall,” Lyons said.

A coalition of Michigan public school officials says the legislation would strip local control of schools.

Supporters say too many schools are failing to provide quality education. They say the measures are the best way to turn that around.

Rick Pluta / MPRN

Activists on both sides of the issue are lobbying Lansing lawmakers over a so-called “right-to-work” bill that could be introduced in the lame duck session.

Tea party activists and union supporters crowded into the halls of the Capitol Tuesday as Republican leaders held talks on whether to take up legislation that would end the closed shop and allow workers to opt out of paying union dues.

Governor Rick Snyder says the issue is not on his agenda – but won’t say what he would do if a bill reaches his desk.

user robscomputer / Flickr

Legislation would give private adoption agencies the legal right to turn down prospective parents for any moral or religious reason.  That’s what’s in a pair of bills being considered by lawmakers in Lansing.

The bills would guarantee private adoption agencies working on state contracts would be protected from rules that could compromise their religious or moral convictions.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A new poll shows local government leaders are concerned about proposals to repeal or greatly change Michigan’s personal property tax.

Michigan’s personal property tax focuses on assets like furniture, equipment, computers and other temporary investments.

Businesses have complained for years about the personal property tax.  Critics complain the tax is an obstacle to reinvestment and attracting new investment to Michigan

But the tax generates hundreds of millions of dollars for local governments.

New legislation attempts to reduce the number of sports-related concussions in kids.
YMCA of Western North Carolina / flickr

Governor Rick Snyder has signed legislation to help schools reduce the number and severity of sports-related student concussions.

The bills require coaches to immediately remove a player from a game if they suspect a concussion.

Coaches, players, and parents will also have access to new information and training materials about serious head injuries.

Senator John Proos sponsored one of the bills. He says the state needs to be in position to provide the best and most up-to-date information to schools and parents.

“Every time we answer a question about traumatic brain injury or concussions, we learn that there are ten more questions that come up,” he said.

The bills easily made their way through the state Legislature last month.

Michigan is now one of many states that have passed anti-concussion legislation.

Jocelyn Benson announcing the launch of a ballot campaign to require corporations to disclose their political spending on the steps of the state Capitol in Lansing.
Rick Pluta / MPRN

It seems nearly every leader who takes office, including President Barack Obama and Governor Rick Snyder, promises to make transparent the dealings between lobbyists, special interest groups and our elected officials.

The results of these promises, however, are often underwhelming.

The Center for Public Integrity recently gave Michigan an “F” on its Corruption Risk Report Card.

With this dismal grade comes the question: Why is Michigan lacking in the areas of ethics and transparency?

Governor Snyder is expected to sign legislation attempting to reduce the number of concussions in youth sports.
Reigh LeBlanc / flickr

Governor Rick Snyder said he expects to sign legislation to reduce the number and severity of concussions in youth sports. The Legislature easily passed the two bills last week.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association worked with lawmakers to craft the bills. The MHSAA’s John Johnson says many coaches may not know how to spot signs of concussions.

“It’s much, much more than a kid laying unconscious on the field. That happens only 1-in-10 times when a concussion has been sustained,” he said.

Johnson said the legislation would give coaches, players, and families the information they need to help limit the damage caused by head injuries. It would also require coaches to immediately take a player out of a game if they suspect a concussion.

The lone dissenter in the House, Representative Bob Genetski, said it’s not the state’s job to protect kids from every potentially unsafe situation.

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Eight Michigan mayors are urging the state Legislature to reject a measure that would make it easier for people to buy handguns.

The coalition of mayors sent a letter this week to Senate and House leadership and to Governor Rick Snyder. It says a package of bills making its way through the Legislature would add to the difficulties of police trying to protect communities.

The group includes the mayors of Detroit, Flint, Ann Arbor, and Dearborn.   

The legislation would no longer require a person to license a handgun before buying or carrying it. It would also get rid of a registry keeping track of the criminal backgrounds of handgun owners.

Critics of the proposal say there should be background checks on people who buy firearms at gun shows, over the internet, or from private individuals. They say these account for nearly half of all guns purchased in the state.    

The House passed the bills in June. It’s not clear whether the Senate will take it up this year.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The time-honored tradition of students reciting the Pledge of Allegiance soon could be enshrined into Michigan law - along with a requirement that every public school classroom have a U.S. flag.

The Michigan Legislature has approved the measures with little resistance, and the flag legislation is heading to Gov. Rick Snyder's desk.

Emergency managers once had significant power in the school districts and cities they were appointed in. They could break union contracts and strip elected leaders of their power. But that changed once the Supreme Court ruled the voter referendum challenging the law could go on the November ballot. The emergency manager law was suspended, so they no longer have their broad powers. MLive reports that it appears the Michigan legislature will wait until November to decided what to do next.

Barbara Byrum / Facebook

The Michigan Court of Appeals has sided with House Republicans in the dispute over the "immediate effect" rule in that chamber.

"Immediate effect" allows bills to become effective right after the Governor signs them. The Michigan Constitution requires that bills go into effect 90 days after the end of a legislative session unless two-thirds of the legislature supports the bill.

Democrats in the House say Republican leaders have not been allowing these immediate effect votes to go forward. They took the issue to court last March.

Today's ruling is another blow to their effort to stop the practice.

From the Detroit Free Press:

In an opinion released today, a three-member panel of the appeals court sent the lawsuit back to Ingham County Circuit Court with instructions that it be dismissed.

The court said taking a voice vote is in compliance with the House rules, which the courts do not oversee.

We asked political analysts Susan Demas and Ken Sikkema about the hullabaloo last April. Here's what they had to say:

According to Sikkema, more than 90% of bills passed in the last 25 or 30 years got immediate effect. “I was elected in 1986, and the first 6 years I was in the House I was in the minority…the same thing occurred to me that House Democrats are complaining about today.”

So, could there be backlash for Republicans? “That’s certainly what House Democrats are aiming for here,” Demas says. “This is part of their ongoing, Republican corruption theme, and their assertion that they [Republicans] are not doing a good job.

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

Update 3:18 p.m.

MPRN’s Rick Pluta reports that reactions to Gov. Snyder's vetoes today were divided across party lines:

Republicans – including Secretary of State Ruth Johnson – said the bills were reasonable ways to ensure only people who are supposed to vote cast ballots. She says the veto will not stop her from including a box on voter registration forms affirming their U.S. citizenship.

The governor did sign 11 other bills in the package. But GOP leaders in the Legislature expressed disappointment in their Republican governor’s decision to veto some of their work.

House Speaker Jase Bolger quickly issued a statement expressing his disappointment in the vetoes.    

Democrats, on the other hand, praised the decision as “courageous.”

House Democratic Leader Rick Hammell said the vetoes were “brave,” and Michigan AFL CIO President Karla Swift praised the governor for standing up to “extremists” in his party.

The governor said in a veto letter that “voting rights are precious and we need to work especially hard to make it possible for people to vote.” 

2:07 p.m.

The Michigan Election Coalition publicly thanked Gov. Rick Snyder for vetoing three election bills today. The group is a collection of organizations with the common aim of ending what it calls "voter suppression legislation" in Lansing.

In an MEC press release, Sue Smith, President of the League of Women Voters of Michigan said,

“On the eve of Independence Day, this is a huge victory for our American democracy. We want to thank Gov. Snyder for doing the right thing by vetoing this unfair and unjust legislation. While today’s action is a step in the right direction, the League of Women Voters will continue to educate voters about their rights to make sure every eligible voter can make their voice heard at the ballot box this November."

In the press release another MEC member, Melanie McElroy, Executive Director of Common Cause Michigan, said,

“Gov. Snyder’s veto pen should send a strong message to Lansing politicians that it’s time to halt these voter suppression efforts once and for all. Our elected leaders need to stop the partisan games, and start working together to expand access to voting in Michigan.”

The AP reports that Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger says he's "deeply disappointed" his party's governor vetoed "very reasonable" changes to election laws.

More from Michigan Public Radio Network's Rick Pluta to come.

12:35 p.m.

Gov. Snyder has vetoed three bills in a Republican-sponsored package.

The vetoed bills would have required people to affirm their U.S. citizenship and show a photo ID before they can get a ballot, and require people to get training before they can register voters. In both cases, the governor says, the measures would have created too much confusion about who can vote or register people to vote.

The governor signed 11 other measures including ones that would require ballot petitions to be submitted in advance for the Secretary of State to post online, and forbid the use of campaign funds to cover legal expenses unrelated to campaigning.

user tobym / Flickr

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A federal appeals court won't upset a decision that keeps limits on campaign contributions for Michigan House and Senate races.

The court says a federal judge in Grand Rapids made the right call when she refused to issue an injunction. Republican political strategist Greg McNeilly says the limits hurt his free-speech rights. He's challenging the $500 cap for state House candidates and $1,000 maximum donation to state Senate candidates.

The appeals court said Tuesday that Michigan's restrictions still don't seem to stop challengers from running competitive campaigns.

In 2010, Judge Janet Neff refused to issue an injunction two months before the general election. She says the law has been in place for decades.

Governor Rick Snyder has signed a reduction in the state income tax.

Last year, Gov. Snyder and the Legislature delayed a reduction in the income tax rate to January 1 of 2013. This measure moves it up a little. Now, the rate will drop -- slightly -- to 4.25 percent on October first. There will also be an increase in the personal exemption.

Democrats say the tax relief offered is a pittance – about 50 cents a week – compared to the dozen tax breaks for working poor households, homeowners, and seniors on pensions that were eliminated last year as part of a Republican-led tax overhaul. That did not stop most from voting for the rollback.  

Republican leaders say the economy – and, therefore, revenue – has improved enough for the state to afford a tax cut. It also happens to coincide with an election year. The two Republican sponsors of the tax rollback come from competitive districts.

Flickr user Timothy J

The Michigan Legislature has approved bills that would give biological fathers some rights to their children, even if the mothers were married to other men at the time of birth.

Michigan law now presumes that a woman's husband is the father of her children, making him responsible for their support and denying parental rights to the biological father.

(Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Retired lawmakers would pay the same 20 percent of their health care premiums that other public retirees are being asked to pay under legislation passed by the Michigan House.

A set of bills aiming to more strictly regulate abortion providers in Michigan is on the way to the state House floor after clearing committee by a wide margin. 

Update 5:19 p.m. -From Michigan Radio's Rick Pluta:

The measures are backed by the Catholic Church and by the anti-abortion group Right to Life. Ed Rivet of Right to Life says critics are mis-representing their motives. He says the purpose is to ensure women have safe facilities 

“Every time we’ve  done this either women are going to die, or they’re going to be denied access to abortion and neither of those is true," Rivet said. "Those threats are always veiled, empty threats that never come true. The fact that 28 out of 32 abortion clinics in Michigan are not inspected or licensed is a fact.”

3:55 p.m.

The Detroit News reports that House Bills 5711-13 would make abortion providers follow new guidelines when handling the remains of aborted fetuses and require facilities where abortions are performed to seek the same licensing as surgery facilities, even if they only administer oral abortion medications. The bills would also make it a criminal act to coerce a woman into having an abortion. 

From the News:

In written testimony, the head of Planned Parenthood Mid and South Michigan said the bills place "burdensome requirements" on women's health care clinics that only dispense oral abortion medication to upgrade their facilities to handle surgical abortions they do not perform.

"Women rightfully don't turn to politicians for advice about mammograms, prenatal care or cancer treatments," said Lori Lamerand, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Mid and South Michigan. "Politicians should not be involved in a woman's personal medical decisions about her pregnancy."

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

(Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

State lawmakers have passed a budget plan for most of state government for next year.

The House and Senate passed an Omnibus spending bill that covers all of state government, except education.   The state House passed the bill on a 61 to 49 vote.   The bill passed the state Senate on a 20 to 16 vote.

(Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan House plans to begin consideration of measures moving up an income tax cut from January to October and increasing how much income someone can earn before taxes kick in.

screengrab from the War Room on Current TV

Yesterday, a meeting of the Michigan House Redistricting and Elections Committee was disrupted by protesters angry about proposed changes to the state's election laws.

Chief among protesters' concerns was a measure, now headed to the state House floor, that would strengthen ID requirements for voter registration in Michigan.

gophouse.com

A House committee meeting in Lansing was interrupted today by a group of about 50 protestors angry over proposed election law changes.

The House Redistricting and Elections Committee planned to vote on a series of changes including one that would require either a photo ID or birth certificate to be presented when registering to vote.  Opponents argue that the new rule would create unfair hurdles for some potential voters.

Protestors yelled slogans including "respect our vote" and some people were escorted outside.

According to the Detroit News, the protest was led by Pastor W.J. Rideout and Rev. Charles Williams Sr., the latter of whom told committee members "you're killing democracy" before leaving the meeting.

Another man, the News says, told committee chairman Rep. Pete Lund that, "The blood of Martin Luther King Junior is on your hands."

Despite the disruption, the committee voted to have the bill move to the House floor. 

-John Klein Wilson,Michigan Radio Newsroom

Flickr user/jemasmith

The Roman Catholic church says a newly formed prayer caucus in the Michigan Legislature that specifically endorses Judeo-Christian tradition should open itself to officials of "any faith." About 30 lawmakers and Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Calley sang "God Bless America" and prayed at Wednesday's launch.

The caucus says in its founding statement that it's "a bipartisan body of believers of Scriptural Truth, adhering to established Judeo-Christian principles."

The statement has drawn criticism from the Council on American-Islamic Relations based on what the group's state director Dawud Walid says is its "exclusionary language."

 The Michigan Catholic Conference has weighed in as well, saying it hopes that "elected officials of any faith are made to feel welcome." Caucus co-founder Rep. Ken Kurtz says anyone may join.

user Biodun / themedicalhealthplus.com

Elected state officials in Michigan can be more secretive about money than federal officials. At the state level, the disclosure laws on money and politics make it easier to hide conflicts of interest and influence on politicians.

When Governor Rick Snyder delivered his State of the State address last January, he tucked into it a quick mention about making state government more open.

Andrew Jameson / Wikimedia commons

A plan to roll back taxes...that some criticize, but others rely on...is expected to clear a major hurdle this week. A legislative committee is expected to wrap up hearings on the plan, and send it to the floor of the state Senate.

Maufacturers say there would be more hiring and investment in factories if not for Michigan’s unique tax on industrial equipment. The Senate plan would phase out the tax – starting next year -- by 2022.

But the Republican proposal would not replace all the revenue lost to local governments that rely on the tax as a source of funding for services. Communities with a big industrial presence would be hit the hardest.

They say with no guarantee that all the revenue will be replaced, they could be forced to cut services more than they have already, or increase other taxes to make up the difference.

user RyAwesome / fotopedia

The state Senate has amended a budget bill to add a new exception to Michigan’s workplace smoking ban.

The Senate version of the human services budget would prohibit spending money to enforce the smoking ban against an annual charity cigar dinner in Traverse City and other events like it.

Republican state Senator Howard Walker sponsored the budget amendment.

"It has to do with non-profits that have been in business for over 10 years for their charity which will help some of the needy folks in the community,” Walker said.

Specifically, the amendment would allow the Father Fred Foundation cigar dinner to go forward without running the risk of a citation.

Organizers have been trying to find away around the smoking ban since 2010.

Right now, the only exceptions to the smoking ban are the casinos in Detroit and on tribal land.

Anti-smoking groups oppose the exception.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Teachers turned out by the hundreds in Lansing to oppose legislation that would force them to pay more for their pensions and retirement health care, or have their benefits reduced.

Some of them protested outside a state Senate committee hearing today on the legislation.

One of them was Pinckney teacher Sam Ziegler. He says the measure would break a promise to his profession.

"I knew I wasn't going to be a millionaire teaching," Ziegler said. "But it was something that was worthwhile that benefited others and myself, and I was told that I'd have a pension to go to and now it’s just slowly eroding and I see the danger that it will keep eroding away."

But some Republicans like state Senator Patrick Colbeck says the public school employee pension fund has liabilities so big the system could go insolvent if nothing is done. 

"Somebody’s got to pay for that eventually, later and right now that’s being pushed off because – if we’re talking about dealing with unfunded liabilities – being pushed off to the same kids that we're working hard to educate right now," said Colbeck.

Teachers say state government has increased the stress on the system with budget cuts that reduce districts capacity to pay into it, and forced layoffs that mean fewer people paying into the system.

For the last fifteen months, Republicans have controlled everything in sight in Lansing -- the House, the Senate, the governor’s office and the Supreme Court.

They have the majorities to pass essentially anything they want, and even if something is constitutionally controversial, they are secure in the knowledge that it’s almost certain that the disgracefully partisan Michigan Supreme Court will rule in their favor.

LGBT flag
antiochla.edu / Antioch University

At the state Capitol, a Democratic lawmaker has called for expending Michigan’s civil rights law to protect people who are gay, lesbian or transgender from many types of discrimination.

State Senator Rebekah Warren says expanding the civil rights law would send a message that Michigan is trying to attract creative workers and entrepreneurs.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Update:

The state Senate could vote this week on the first major amendment to the Michigan medical marijuana law since it was adopted by voters in 2008. A measure approved Tuesday by a Senate committee would remove the eye disease glaucoma from the list of conditions that would qualify a patient for a medical marijuana card.

Doctor David Newman is the president of the Michigan State Medical Society. He says glaucoma never should have been part of the proposal.

“The medical marijuana act was approved by public referendum but the language presented to the voters presented unclear information and, in this case, was contrary to the medical evidence on glaucoma,” Newman said. 

Newman says marijuana, at the most, can only offer very short-term relief from the symptoms of glaucoma. He says the bigger problem for doctors is that patients use it instead of proven medical strategies for controlling the condition and preventing blindness.

But some glaucoma patients like Barbara Knox showed up at a state Senate committee meeting to oppose the bill. Knox says she uses marijuana along with her prescribed medication.

“If you had my eyes, would you not do everything you could to prevent blindness?” Knox asked. “The thought of going blind just terrifies me. Please, please help me save my right to use an alternate medicine to aid in the treatment of my glaucoma.”

Knox says her doctor would prefer she not use marijuana.

Amending the voter-approved medical marijuana would require super-majorities in the House and the Senate.

3:52

A state Senate committee has voted to strip glaucoma from the list of conditions that qualify a patient for a medical marijuana card. The state Senate could vote on the amendment to the voter-approved medical marijuana law later this week.

More details to come soon.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan lawmakers might soon take some initial votes on bills related to abortion law in the state.

Legislation awaiting a vote in the Republican-led House would require a doctor or an assistant to do some screening before an abortion to make sure a pregnant woman isn't being forced or coerced to have the abortion against her will. Other bills would provide penalties for coercing a woman to have an abortion against her will.

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