michigan senate

Michigan Senate Republicans

The state Senate Judiciary Committee has approved legislation that would require clinics and doctor’s offices where abortions are performed to be licensed and inspected. Critics of the bill say its real purpose is to put abortion providers out of business.

Rick Jones chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

“The purpose is to make sure that clinics are licensed and safe. Certainly, a state that licenses junkyards, tattoo parlors, and used car lots would want to license abortion clinics,” he said.

user mconnors / MorgueFile.com

State lawmakers are in the process of drafting legislation to make sure people who cannot afford attorneys get adequate legal representation in criminal court. One of the complaints about Michigan’s system is it does not ensure public defenders have the skills and experience they need to properly represent their clients.

State Senator Bruce Caswell served on the governor’s commission on indigent defense. He says the system has to recognize the special needs of defendants who are children or people with mental health issues.

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.

Cedar Bend Drive / Flickr

The Michigan Senate has voted to phase out an industrial tax that’s a big revenue generator for school districts and local governments. Republicans amended their original plan to make sure much

of that money for local services and education would be replaced.

State Senate Majority Richardville says if money from the state falls below a certain level, communities could return to taxing industrial property.   

“It’s kind of a poison pill, as we call it in legislative jargon, where, if we don’t keep our promises than the whole program disappears, so it forces the state government to say we will keep you at the level we say it will,” Richardville says.

Richardville acknowledges there’s no way to guarantee schools and local governments won’t see some reductions. The money for the replacement would come from the sunset of other tax breaks.

Republicans say Michigan’s tax on business and industrial property is unique in the Midwest and drives investment elsewhere.

The Senate rejected efforts by Democrats to link the tax phase-out to job creation targets.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Update 4:15 pm

The Michigan legislature has passed a bill to prohibit public schools from automatically collecting union dues from the paychecks of teachers and other employees.

Republican Representative Joe Haveman says the bill’s intent is to focus schools on educating children.

 “The focus of our school administration has to be on teaching the kids.   Let’s get out of the business of collecting bills for other people," says Haveman.

Critics complain the real intent is to weaken teachers’ unions.

Michigan Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe.
Photo courtesy of Richardville's office

Republican leaders in the state Legislature say they will not be quick to spend any potential surplus money left over from the last budget year. An annual conference to determine how much money the state will have to spend this year is scheduled for Friday. A few hundred million dollars in additional revenue is expected to be available for lawmakers to spend on state-funded programs.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says special interest groups and advocates won’t get far if they ask him for more funding. “It doesn’t matter to me if they ask or not. You know, we’ve all been about financial responsibility from the beginning, and I think the reason you have emergency financial managers, the reason the president of the United States is trying to figure out ways to print new money is because we haven’t been financially responsible in the past," Richardville says.

Richardville says the Legislature was smart last year by adding to the state’s rainy day fund and helping to pay off long-term debts. Some Democratic lawmakers say a priority for surplus revenue should be to fill cuts to K-12 schools and higher education.

Meanwhile, Richardville also says he does not think Michigan should be a right-to-work state. He says he does not think eliminating the requirement that some workers pay union dues would help the business climate in Michigan.

“I believe any economic benefits that are talked about with regard to bringing jobs into Michigan are overstated quite a bit because the jobs that we’re trying to attract in Michigan aren’t the lower-level jobs that right-to-work might address," Richardville says.

Governor Rick Snyder has also said he thinks a debate over right-to-work would be divisive. Supporters of right-to-work legislation say Michigan could lose business and jobs to neighboring states if they adopt similar measures.

Michigan is one of only a handful of states without a specific law making school bullying a crime. The governor wants an anti-bullying law. Various other groups do too.

This is, make no mistake, a serious issue. According to the Senate Fiscal agency, bullying has accounted for at least ten suicides in the last ten years, plus more that were likely unreported.

So yesterday, the state senate passed such a law.

But nobody, absolutely nobody, is celebrating.

Update 5:15 p.m.

All school districts in Michigan may soon be required to adopt anti-bullying policies to help protect students from ridicule, humiliation and physical threats.

An anti-bullying bill approved by the state Senate would not, however, protect students from bullying done by teachers, school employees or parents.

The measure also does not protect students from cyber-bullying on home computers, nor does it list the traits or characteristics that are protected from bullying— such as gender, race or sexual orientation.

user reinistraidas / Flickr

Michigan’s film industry will take center stage before a state Senate panel tomorrow.

The Economic Development Committee is expected to discuss a proposed new funding structure for rewarding film companies that want to shoot in Michigan.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said a generous film tax-incentive program under Governor Jennifer Granholm’s administration was not sustainable, but he said it helped initially attract the movie industry.

“We got a lot of attention by bringing Hollywood here, so to speak, now we’re going to spend a lot less on famous actors and big names and more on providing credit if you’re shooting here in Michigan, [and] if you have a Michigan studio,” said Richardville.

Richardville said film companies want to work in Michigan, but he said many feel the state forced them out when it scaled back its once-generous incentive program.

“You talk to producers, you talk to directors, you talk to movie makers that have been all around the country – they really like Michigan, they’re excited to come back to Michigan. And even the film that we lost recently, I heard a lot from the companies involved that they were very disappointed because those up close wanted to stay in Michigan and film Iron Man 3,” said Richardville.

Governor Snyder approved a less aggressive, $25 million grant program for film projects, but the state Film Office stopped taking applications earlier this month, saying there were no rules for projects to qualify.

The Richardville legislation would put those rules in place.

The state Senate is planning a vote on Wednesday on a new bridge from Detroit to Windsor, the Detroit News reports. From the News:

The Senate Economic Development Committee, which is considering legislation to create a public authority to take bids on the bridge, will hold hearings Tuesday and Wednesday and vote on the two bridge bills at the end of Wednesday's session, according to a schedule released Friday.

Governor Snyder’s administration has been pushing for a new span across the Detroit River since January, when the Governor signaled his support for the new bridge during his first State of the State address.

But, as the Detroit News notes, it’s unclear whether the Legislature will pass the bills, “in fact, it wasn't clear Friday if there were enough votes to get the bills out of committee, which has five Republicans and two Democrats… Republicans have generally opposed the public bridge, while Democrats have supported it.”

The News explains:

Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel "Matty" Moroun is opposed to the project, which he sees as unfair government encroachment on his private business. He has spent millions on TV ads and lobbying against the public bridge.  The Michigan Chamber of Commerce recently joined most other business and labor groups in supporting the project.

Snyder has said the bridge will be publicly owned, but privately financed, built and managed. The legislation says the bridge is to be built at no cost and no risk to taxpayers. Opponents say they are skeptical of that promise.

Canada has offered to front $550 million to pay Michigan's share of the project costs and would recover the money from bridge tolls. The bridge is estimated to cost just less than $1 billion. The total project — including plazas and connecting roadways on both sides of the river — is estimated to cost about $3.6 billion.

Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry has been writing extensively over the years about the bridge controversy:

user cedarbenddrive / Flickr

The state Senate has approved a measure that would end lifetime benefits for incoming state lawmakers.

Fewer than half of current lawmakers would be exempt from the change. But all but two sitting senators would still get their retirements. No incoming lawmakers would be offered the retirement benefits.

The Detroit Free Press reports:

The Senate voted 37-1 on the measure, with Sen. Coleman Young Jr., D-Detroit, voting against the bill.

The House passed a bill that would have ended retiree health benefits for legislators who took office after Jan. 1, 2007. But the Senate version puts that date at Jan. 1, 2013.

The difference means that while some sitting legislators would have been eligible for the benefits under the House plan, many more sitting legislators will be eligible under the Senate plan.

Members of the House and Senate need only serve six years to be 100% vested in the retiree health care benefits. But members who don't have six years in by 2013, which mean members in tbe House who were elected in 2008 and 2010, and two state Senators - Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton and Vince Gregory, D-Southfield - would be ineligible for the benefits. All the rest of the Senators and third termers in the House will get the retiree health benefits.

The measure now goes back to the House for final approval.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The state Senate Education Committee will launch two days of hearings Tuesday focused on school choice and ways to encourage more charter academies. A Senate Republican education package would lift the statewide cap on the number of charter schools academies that can be sponsored by public universities. 

The Senate GOP package would also allow more online charter schools and make it easier for parents or teachers to ask a school district to convert a traditional school to a charter.  

A state Senate panel began hearings yesterday on a package of sweeping education reforms. This is the second round of major changes proposed to Michigan’s education system this year.

The package of bills include measures that would allow more charter schools in the state, allow schools to hire teachers from private companies, and require districts to open empty seats in classrooms to students who live outside of the area.

Representatives from the education community say the proposals are controversial. Senate Education Committee Chairman Phil Pavlov says, he does not think so.

“I’m not sure I’d use the word ‘controversial,’ I mean we having a conversation about choice for parents and students in the state and that shouldn’t be controversial,” Pavlov says.

Pavlov also took the lead on the debate over teacher tenure reform earlier this year. Pavlov says Governor Snyder supports some of the reforms. Pavlov says he does not have a timeline to get this round of education reforms through the Legislature.

Representatives from the education community say they are concerned these proposals are based on politics and not research of successful education reforms.

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.

Here's some additional material on the welfare limit bill passed by the Michigan Senate today from Rick Pluta.

UPDATE:

The Michigan Senate split along party lines to approve a four-year lifetime limit on welfare benefits.

 The House is expected to concur with the Senate version, and Governor Rick Snyder will almost certainly sign it because the budget relies on more than 60 million dollars in savings from the benefits cap.

It also means 12,600 families will lose benefits come October first.

This just in from Michigan Public Radio Network's Laura Weber:

The state Senate has approved a tax on health insurance claims. The measure is necessary to ensure Michigan continues to receive about $800 million from the federal government for Medicaid. The federal government is expected to rule later this year on whether the state's system for funding Medicaid is legal.

The Senate had put the issue up for a test-vote yesterday but it didn't pass. As Rick Pluta noted in a story before the second vote took place:

Governor Rick Snyder has been pressuring the Legislature to adopt a one percent tax on all health insurance claims. That would put Michigan in compliance with federal rules. Otherwise, Michigan could lose 10 percent of its funding for the entire Medicaid program. The claims tax would generate $400 million, and qualify the state for twice that much in federal funds.

Chuck Caveman Coker / Creative Commons

Republican state Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said a few months ago that he did not want to deal with any major social issues – including medical marijuana regulations – until the budget was complete.

With the budget debate behind them, lawmakers are once again looking at the Medical Marijuana Act.

The Michigan Supreme Court is preparing to decide where and how marijuana plants can be grown, and the state Senate is looking at a bill that would regulate where patients could smoke marijuana.

Bills have come up for debate that would affect everything from where a person could smoke medical marijuana, to where it could be distributed and who could distribute it.

One would prevent convicted felons from becoming medical marijuana caregivers, or distributors, and the other would make it a crime to distribute medical marijuana near a church or school.

Meanwhile, medical marijuana supporters have shown up at every legislative hearing on bills that would add regulations to the law since it was approved by voters a few years ago.

They say any additional regulations would make it harder for people who need treatment to get access to medical marijuana.

A Bridge Too Far

Jun 16, 2011

Once upon a time, two businessmen wanted to build a bridge across the Detroit River, using their own money to do it. 

The politicians were skeptical. It won’t make money, some said. They’ll sell bonds to finance construction, and people will lose their shirts. Detroit’s mayor had a different objection. He said that if the bridge was successful, the owners would get rich off the public. Funny, but I thought that’s how private enterprise was supposed to work. Eventually, a city-wide referendum was held, and people overwhelmingly voted for the bridge.

The Republican-led state Senate has started approving parts of the budget.

That includes a bill that cuts funding for public universities by 15 percent.

Universities could face bigger cuts if they don’t hold tuition increases at or below 7.1 percent.

Democratic state Senator Morris Hood says tuitions are already too high.

"Our profound disinvestment has led to tuition increase after tuition increase, making a degree even harder to attain," said Hood. "We’re passing this problem onto our already struggling constituents. Budgets are about priorities, and I think we are sending a clear message; the wrong message."

Republican leaders in the Legislature expect to wrap up work on the budget quickly and easily in comparison with recent years.

The budget bills will volley between the Senate and House over the next week as lawmakers try to wrap up work on the budget by next Tuesday.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says he does not anticipate any big battles between the Republican-controlled chambers. But he says there may be a few hang-ups over schools funding.

"The K-12 budget is one of the more complicated budgets and made some adjustments during targets," said Richardville. "That one being also being one of the biggest budgets has the highest propensity to have some problems with it. But I think those problems will be mostly technical. I don’t anticipate any problems with getting the budgets passed."

Democrats are upset that additional funds for K-through-12 schools will not go directly to reduce cuts to per-pupil funding. Additional projected tax revenue will instead go toward districts that approve cost-saving measures, and make retirement payments.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Update 5:21 p.m.

Republicans eked out a legislative victory today as Governor Rick Snyder's tax overhaul package cleared the state Senate.

It fell to Snyder’s lieutenant governor to cast the tie-breaking vote.

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley delivered a short speech before he cast the vote to break the deadlock on the tax reform package he had a hand in designing.

Calley predicted some lawmakers will pay a price for supporting the administration's tax reforms.

"Because real change comes with real consequence," said Calley. "Real change will come with drama."

Seven Republicans joined Democrats to vote against the package, largely because the measure will end the tax exemption on pension income for anyone born after 1946.

Democrats say it will shift the burden of paying for government services to families and the elderly.

State Senator Steve Bieda was one of the Democrats who voted against the measure.

"It’s shifting the tax to those who are least able to pay in our society," said Bieda. "We are talking about the elderly, people who are living on pensions are going to see a huge increase. I think it’s unjust, unwise, and it’s certainly very unfair."

Bieda tried to delay the vote until next week when the state adopts new revenue numbers. It’s expected there will be a windfall of more revenue than was anticipated at the beginning of the year.

The package eliminates the Michigan Business Tax in favor of a corporate profits tax.

It also eliminates a host of tax breaks, including the income tax exemption for people on pensions.

Overall, the package rolls back taxes on businesses by nearly $2 billion. Most of the businesses that would benefit are small and medium-sized corporations.

Republicans say the result will also be a tax code that is simpler and easier to follow.

State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says there are some hard choices in the package, but they combine to make Michigan more business-friendly.

"So we put the good, the bad, the ugly altogether in one package and said, we believe the greater good is worthy of some of the not-so-good or ugly, so to speak."

The Senate bill restores the earned income tax credit for working poor families, but at a reduced rate.

The House is expected to quickly concur with the Senate action and send the measure to Governor Snyder for his signature.

3:55 p.m.

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley has cast the tie-breaking vote to win Senate approval of Governor Rick Snyder's tax overhaul plan.

The package scraps the Michigan Business Tax in favor of a corporate profits tax.

It will be a net tax cut on many small and mid-sized businesses.

It also eliminates a host of tax breaks, including the income tax exemption for pensions.

Republicans say the result will be a tax code that is simpler and easier to follow and more business-friendly.

user cedarbenddrive / Flickr

Michigan could see some sweeping changes to its tax structure after today's vote.

Michigan's former Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop sent out this Tweet:

"Here we go ... Senate in caucus now, but will soon emerge to vote on Gov's tax proposal. If it passes, I expect it will be by a vote or 2."

From the Associated Press:

The Republican-led Michigan Senate is preparing for what likely will be a close vote on a proposal that would significantly shake up the state's tax structure.

The vote planned Thursday is on a proposal that would cut overall business taxes by about $1 billion in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 and $1.7 billion the following year. The key would be replacing the Michigan Business Tax with a 6 percent corporate income tax while eliminating many types of tax credits and exemptions.

Some exemptions on retiree income would end, which has drawn opposition from some Republican lawmakers. Some Republicans also will oppose the measure because it would delay scheduled rollbacks in Michigan's personal income tax rate, which is 4.35 percent.

A committee reported the bill to the Senate floor Thursday.

A Michigan Senate committee isn't yet ready to make a decision on a broad plan that would significantly change business and income tax structures in the state.

The Senate Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing Committee adjourned Wednesday without a vote on the legislation.

It's still possible the proposal will be voted on in the Republican-led Senate as early as Thursday.

The plan backed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder would cut overall business taxes about $1 billion in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 and $1.7 billion the following year. The key would be replacing the
Michigan Business Tax with a 6 percent corporate income tax while eliminating many types of tax credits and exemptions.

Some exemptions on retiree income would end, which has drawn opposition from some Republican lawmakers.

Cedar Bend Drive / Flickr

A state Senate panel is scheduled to hold a hearing later today on Governor Rick Snyder’s tax reform proposal. The Associated press reports:

The Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing Committee is scheduled to take testimony Tuesday on legislation that would cut overall business taxes and lead to taxes on certain types of retirement income.

The Republican-led House passed the main bill in the package by a 56-53 vote last month. The legislation will face a tough challenge in the GOP-led Senate because some Republicans already have come out against it.

Some Republicans are opposed to taxing retiree income and to measures that would delay lowering the state's personal income tax rate.

Democrats generally oppose the plan.

Cedar Bend Drive / Flickr

Leaders in the Republican state Senate say they still have to wrangle more votes to get a sweeping tax-reform package passed.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says he will meet with Governor Rick Snyder and House Speaker Jase Bolger to update them on where the tax overhaul stands in the Senate.

"We want to be in sync. We're worked together as a team so far, and we want to continue to do that."

Even though Richardville has been able to work well with Snyder and Bolger on the tax reform package, it appears he is still meeting resistance to the deal from his fellow Senate Republicans. A handful of Republican senators have said they will not vote for the deal that includes a tax on future pensioners. Richardville says he will not make changes to the proposal as it was agreed upon and passed by the House. But he hopes to have enough votes to pass it through the Senate next week.

The Michigan Senate passed the bill that around 1,000 union members loudly asked them not to pass.

From the Detroit News:

Legislation that would allow emergency financial managers to throw out union contracts and overrule elected officials in financially distressed municipalities and school districts was approved in the Senate today.

The measure passed 26-12 along party lines in the Republican-controlled chamber. Similar bills passed in the House in late February. The chambers must now agree on a final version to send to Gov. Rick Snyder for his signature. More than 1,000 union members demonstrated opposition to the bills Tuesday, chanting loudly outside the chamber doors as senators worked through details of the legislation.

mea.org

Teachers, police, firefighters and other public employees plan to march on the state Capitol tomorrow.

They oppose a measure in the Senate that expands the authority of emergency managers named to run troubled local governments and  school districts.

Unions say the measures strike at their bargaining rights.

Union leaders hope for a big enough turnout to persuade Senate Republicans to delay a vote.

Unions are particularly opposed to a part of the legislation that would allow emergency managers to vacate bargained contracts.

Mark Gaffney, president of the AFL-CIO of Michigan, says that’s unfair when the state is also looking to cut money for schools and local governments:

“You’re saying to a city that it’s easy to get a dictator and you’re taking money away from that city that puts you at the point where you might need him or her.”

Republicans say the measures offer local governments early help to avert a financial takeover, but once it happens, emergency managers need crisis tools to set things right.

Scott Kincaid, a member of Flint City Council, favors keeping the law and the authority it grants emergency managers.

"These bills give them unlimited authority to do certain things that, currently, we were able to solve our problems without doing those things. The system works right now, and I’ve experienced it. And it worked very well. We had financial problems in our community and we turned them around in 18 months."

Flint was placed under an emergency manager in 2002. The city recently asked the state for the authority to sell bonds to cover a $17 million budget shortfall and meet its payroll.

The state Senate is expected to vote on the emergency management bills as soon as tomorrow.

Roberto Occhialini / Flickr

Republicans in the Michigan Senate have begun the process of reversing the policy of extending benefits to the unmarried live-in partners of state workers – including those in same-sex relationships.

A vote on the Senate floor is expected next week.

A Senate budget subcommittee voted along party lines to reject the new benefits policy. Now, Republicans must muster super-majorities in the Senate and the House to reverse the decision by the independent Civil Service Commission to allow unmarried partner benefits.

The Granholm administration spent years negotiating the agreement with employee unions in an effort to ensure coverage for people in same-sex relationships.

But Governor Rick Snyder says that would cost too much money as the state faces a budget crisis.  

Senator Mark Jansen chairs a budget subcommittee. He says adding new benefits to cover unmarried partners could force additional costs onto other state employees who are already being asked to pay more for their health care.

Jansen says the Civil Service Commission made the wrong decision as the state faces a budget crisis.

“I do respect it, but we’re broke, and so now it literally is adding eight million dollars at least to my bottom line. I can’t afford to add anything anymore. So it’s time to take a breath and say, let’s help those that we have right now.”

Ray Holman is with U-A-W Local Six Thousand, which represents thousands of state workers. He says the Legislature should not renege on a deal that took years to negotiate.

“This was negotiated back in 2004 and the appropriate place to deal with this stuff is the bargaining table, and to respect the agreements that have been made. So this should be handled by the Civil Service Commission and we obviously deal with the office of the State Employer on these matters.”

If the Senate and the House don’t reverse the policy, it will take effect October first.

Photo courtesy of www.senate.mi.gov/whitmer

Democratic state Senator Gretchen Whitmer will be Michigan's next Senate Minority Leader. Whitmer's fellow Democratic Senators elected her to the position yesterday. She'll be the first woman to hold the job. She became a state Senator in 2006.  Before that, she was as a member of the Michigan House of Representatives from 2000 to 2006.

Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell at a podium
Kalamazoo Public Library

Democratic Party leaders in Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties have chosen their candidate to replace Robert Jones - Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell.

Robert Jones was running for the Michigan Senate in the 20th district when he died over the weekend. He was battling esophageal cancer.

In Michigan, votes for a deceased candidate do not count, so party leaders had to put forward a new candidate.

Photo from Jones campaign website

Michigan House Representative and current Democratic candidate for State Senate Robert Jones died this past weekend. He was 66 and being treated for esophogeal cancer, but officials at Kalamzoo's Democratic Party Headquarters say his death still came as a surprise.

Jones' death has raised several questions about the race for the State Senate seat in Michigan's 20th district (representing parts of Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties).

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