politics

Rick Snyder for Michigan / Facebook Page

Governor Rick Snyder is in for a long night if he plans on answering ALL of the questions submitted for his "online town hall" tonight.

More than 3,500 have been submitted, according to Snyder's staff.

He's a sampling of some of the questions that have been posted recently:

  • Hamtramck is charging Officer $900 a month for healthcare permitted under Act 152. Was this your intent?
  • Will you please make high-speed commuter rail between Ann Arbor and Detroit a priority?
  • You say Michigan has a surplus so why are so many people still losing their jobs? And why is Detroit in debt?
  • Why did college students lose food assistance, including the disabled taking online classes? Inhuman to me.
  • How do you feel about the potential legalization of marijuana? This could create potential jobs.

More on the 6 p.m. online town hall from the Associated Press:

Thousands of Michigan residents have sent in questions for Gov. Rick Snyder as he prepares for his first online town hall.

The Republican governor has scheduled an online discussion on his Facebook page beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel says more than 3,500 questions have been posted on Facebook and Twitter and on the state website. Questions also can be called in during the town hall.

The governor says he wants to discuss the initiatives he talked about in Tuesday's State of the State address. Besides the 45-minute online town hall, he's also participating in a televised town hall Friday afternoon at Detroit Public Television studios in Wixom.

Snyder has held more than 100 town hall meetings since he began running for governor in 2009.

user marcn / Flickr

Tonight, we will hear about the "State of the State" from Governor Snyder, next week it's the "State of the Union" from President Obama.

After he delivers the State of the Union address next Tuesday night (January 24), Mr. Obama will travel  around the country with his message.

One of those stops will include Detroit, Michigan.

From the Associated Press:

The White House says President Barack Obama plans to travel to five states critical to his re-election campaign following next week's State of the Union address.

The president will discuss proposals from Tuesday's address in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Phoenix on Wednesday, and in Las Vegas and Denver on Thursday. On Friday, Obama will make remarks in Detroit.

The five states are expected to be heavily contested by both Obama and his Republican challenger this year.

Obama won the Iowa caucuses in 2008, sending him on a path to the White House. Colorado, Nevada and Arizona are three Western states the president's campaign covets while Michigan is expected to get ample attention from Republicans after the economic recession hurt the state's manufacturing base.

screen grab from YouTube video

Get those "RPA" numbers up!

The Michigan Governor who loves to tout "relentless positive action" as a descriptor for his form of governing has turned to YouTube to give us a preview of his second State of the State address tonight.

In an upbeat tone, Governor Snyder says his speech will be an "honest assessment about how Michigan is doing. And the good part is we're doing well. We are reinventing our state. We're making a major comeback."

In 2012, Snyder says his focus will be about implementing good government, "what you deserve is to have a good government that's implemented well... I'm truly excited and we're going to keep moving forward with relentless positive action."

http://whitmer.senatedems.com/

Michigan State Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing) wrote an op-ed piece that appeared in today's Detroit Free Press. She writes that Senator Rick Jones' (R-Grand Ledge) comparison of a prominent female public relations professional to a "hooker" is one of many incidents of sexism that she's witnessed in Lansing.

DETROIT (AP) - A lawsuit aimed at recouping millions in union dues paid by Michigan child-care providers has fizzled.

A federal judge in Grand Rapids has issued two key rulings, including a recent decision that said there simply are too many conflicts to make it a class-action case. Judge Robert Jonker says there may be child-care providers who had no objection to paying dues. An appeal is planned.

The case centered on the representation of 40,000 home-based workers. The union was created in 2006, although only 15 percent of providers cast ballots. During the Granholm administration, officials deducted dues from subsidies paid to people who watched low-income kids.

Critics said the workers are not public employees and got no benefit from the union. Gov. Rick Snyder's administration stopped the dues last year.

Rick Snyder was the first Republican running for governor to be endorsed by the Michigan League of Conservation Voters (MLCV), a lobbying group that advocates for conservational and environmental laws and protection.

The MLCV has been tracking Governor Snyder’s position on environmental issues through the “How Green is your Governor” scorecard, an online evaluation that rates the administration’s environmental policy decision - green is good, red is bad, and yellow is neutral.

Adrian Clark / Flickr

Under a new law in Michigan, everyone who files a claim for a treatment or a checkup will pay a one percent tax to help fund Medicaid. The tax does not apply to co-pays or deductibles.

The new law got rid of a 6 percent use tax on Medicaid managed care organizations.

Governor Rick Snyder pushed for the one percent tax on health insurance claims to maintain medical coverage for low-income patients.

The tax was unpopular with fellow Republicans, but as the Michigan Public Radio Network Rick Pluta reported, Snyder said "he was committed to not rolling back health coverage for the poor during tough economic times."

He signed the tax into law last September.

Now the law is being challenged in court. From the Associated Press:

The Self-Insurance Institute of America Inc. filed a suit challenging the law Thursday in federal court. The suit says the Michigan assessment is pre-empted by federal law.

The suit seeks to block the assessment related to self-insured group health plans.

The Michigan assessment is scheduled to begin Jan. 1 to help fund Medicaid programs. It would be paid to the state by insurers or HMOs.

It's expected to raise about $400 million a year, helping the state draw roughly $800 million in federal funds for Medicaid.

The AP left a message seeking comment from Governor Snyder's office.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The state Legislature has wrapped up work for the year.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers have different opinions about how successful 2011 was.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) told lawmakers this week that they should be proud of the accomplishments of the Republican-led House and Senate chambers this year.

“Unquestionably, this has been one of the most productive in recent history for the Michigan Legislature,” said Richardville.

He said a quick budget process, changes to the state’s tax structure, and big changes to the education system are among his proudest achievements.

Republicans feel the changes made Michigan more attractive to businesses and set the state’s economy on the right track.

But the work Republicans are proud of is what Democrats say made 2011 a horrible year for Michigan’s middle-class families and vulnerable people.

Democratic lawmakers say cuts to schools and a new tax plan on seniors put the priorities of big business over the wellbeing of people.

State Representative Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield) says she thinks a lot of the new policies actually hurt Michigan’s business climate.

“I’ve always said I don’t know what business would want to come here if we don’t have highly educated workers, and if they can’t put their kids in a quality school, said Brown. “So you’re talking about creating jobs; I think the legislation that has been put forth this past year is discouraging people from coming to Michigan.”

State lawmakers will return to the Capitol in the middle of January, right before Governor Rick Snyder gives his State of the State address for 2012.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan lawmakers have approved a bill that will allow for reducing the number of judgeships in the state. An estimated 45 judgeships on district and circuit courts would be
eliminated through the legislation passed yesterday. The measure now heads to Governor Rick Snyder's desk.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder has signed two bills that will affect some state workers' retiree health care benefits and reduce the future amount the state needs to fund by $5.6 billion.

Workers hired after Jan. 1 won't get state health care coverage when they retire, although they'll get an extra 2 percent match in their 401(k) or 457 retirement plans while working to help them save for future health care costs.

The legislation signed Thursday also refunds the 3 percent contribution toward retiree health care that state workers have been paying for more than a year.

The refunds go out Jan. 19. Workers can choose to receive the money in their paychecks or as a deposit into their retirement accounts. A worker making $50,000 a year should get about $1,500 back.

The debate over establishing and paying for a state-operated health insurance exchange has been pushed into next year.

Action on the exchange stalled as House and Senate Republicans continue to disagree on whether it would amount to an endorsement of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

House Republicans would prefer to wait until after the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the federal law. Governor Rick Snyder says delay could force Michigan into a federal bureaucracy.

A fierce partisan battle among Oakland County politicians played out in front of a state House panel at the state Capitol today.

Democrats tried and failed to block a Republican effort to let the GOP-led Oakland County Commission redraw its own district lines.

The district map was already adopted earlier this year by a bipartisan apportionment commission, and it was upheld by the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Democrats called the action to redraw the map a brazen effort by Republicans to undo a county commission map they don’t like.

Oakland County Commissioner David Woodward is a Democrat opposed to the bill.

“That this is being brought up, introduced after the rendered decisions, speaks of partisan overreach, specifically, Republican Party overreach - an attempt in this body to undo a process that has already run its course,” said Woodward.

The Oakland apportionment commission has a Democratic majority, while the Oakland County Commission is led by Republicans.

The bill would also reduce the number of county commissioners.

Republicans say the bill is designed to save taxpayers money.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

When a city or a school district in Michigan runs out of money, the state can appoint an emergency manager to take over the responsibilities of locally elected officials. An emergency manger’s powers are broad—made even more so this year – and are designed to help EMs balance the books and return governance to locally elected officials as quickly as possible.

Today, there are four cities and one school district under the control of an emergency manager:

  • Benton Harbor
  • Ecorse
  • Flint
  • Pontiac
  • Detroit Public Schools

This is the second time around for Flint, which had an “emergency financial manager” from 2002-2006. The cities of Detroit and Inkster and Benton Harbor Public Schools could soon be added to this list.

Update 4:20 p.m.

The Governor's Office sent this press release after Governor Snyder signed the anti-bullying bill:

Michigan will become the 48th state to require schools to develop and enforce policies to protect students from harassment, intimidation and physical violence under anti-bullying legislation signed by Gov. Rick Snyder today.

The governor called on lawmakers to pass the legislation as part of the education reform plan he proposed in April, saying students need to feel safe in the classroom so they can focus on learning.

“This legislation sends a clear message that bullying is wrong in all its forms and will not be tolerated,” Snyder said. “No child should feel intimidated or afraid to come to school.”

The governor said having a clear policy in place will give teachers and administrators the tools they need to deal with bullies, but he added that parents can help by ensuring their own children do not engage in or encourage others to bully.

House Bill 4163, sponsored by state Rep. Phil Potvin, is known as “Matt’s Safe School Law” in honor of Matt Epling, a Michigan teen who ended his life in 2002 after enduring severe bullying.  The legislation gives schools six months to develop clear anti-bullying policies so they will be in place by the start of the 2012-2013 school year.  The bill is now Public Act 241 of 2011.

A detailed description of the bill’s requirements may be found online at www.legislature.mi.gov.

3:50 p.m.

Governor Rick Snyder has signed the law that requires schools to adopt anti-bullying policies. Family members of children who committed suicide looked on as the governor signed the measure. Until today, Michigan was one of three states that did not have an anti-bullying law.

This was the week in which Flint finally got an emergency manager, and the week when it began to seem inevitable that Detroit would get one. It was a week when it seemed apparent that the legislature is about to open the state up to unlimited charter schools.

The auto industry seems to be doing better, even as the weather turns worse, and the governor unveiled a major message on talent that was aimed at preparing us for the jobs of the future.

Some years ago, a former computer executive wrote a business plan for Ann Arbor Spark, which calls itself a business accelerator. Most of those involved felt what he came up with was decent, with one big exception.

"We actually created a vice president of talent, and boy, did I get a lot of criticism,” the executive told me last summer. “People said how dumb I was for putting it in there.”

Getting rid of Michigan's "driver responsibility" fee

Dec 1, 2011
Josh Angehr / Flickr

An unpopular state fee that penalizes drivers with multiple moving violations could soon be eliminated. A proposal approved by the state Senate today would eliminate part of the so-called “driver responsibility” fee.

The annual fee is assessed for drivers with seven or more points on their licenses. The bill would end the fees for minor traffic violations, such as driving with an expired license.

Senator Bruce Caswell sponsored the bill. He said he’d like to see the fee eliminated completely, but the state cannot afford to cut the program entirely right now.

“It’s a budget process and we’re losing money, and we have to figure the amount we take away each year based upon what the budget can afford,” Caswell said. “And monies are tight so we eliminated as much of it as we could and the constraints of what we feel the monies are that we’ll have available.”

State Senator Burt Johnson said other states have already gotten rid of similar fees. He said he hopes to see the fees eliminated completely by the end of next year.

“Most of us here including the governor agree that the driver’s responsibility fee and the entire code was ill-conceived and it was wrong to put a tax, put that kind of fundraising burden on tax payers,” said Johnson. “And it really amounts to debtor’s prison so I think everybody wants to see the entire code stricken.”

The measure has been sent to Governor Rick Snyder for his signature.

It seems pretty clear that Republicans are intent on ramming through legislation that will result in a vast expansion of Michigan charter schools. Up to now, there has been a limit on how many could be authorized. Charter schools had to be sanctioned by universities, and no university could charter more than 150 of them.

Yesterday, the House Education Committee approved a bill  removing that cap. New committee chair Tom McMillan pretty much gaveled down any attempt by minority Democrats to amend the bill, with one minor exception.

user jennuine captures / Flickr

Stun guns might become another allowable concealed weapon in Michigan.

The Michigan Senate passed a measure that lifts a ban on stun guns last October. A similar measure is working its way through the Michigan House. From USA Today:

A measure working its way through the Michigan Legislature would make the state the nation's 45th to allow residents to carry stun guns as a means of self-defense. Wisconsin became the 44th on Nov. 1.

Stun guns, which shoot prongs carrying an electrical charge to temporarily incapacitate the person they strike, have been blamed in lawsuits for some deaths, but proponents insist they are far less dangerous than handguns.

Update 11:52 a.m.

Equality Michigan, an advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues, released a statement in response to the passage of the anti-bullying bill:

We’re thrilled that we were able to eliminate the destructive ‘license to bully’ that the Senate first approved in October. National outrage provoked by the last-minute substitution to allow bullying based on religious beliefs is a clear indicator that our Senate majority is out of touch with the voters.

That being said, we’re disappointed by the weak version of the bill passed today. Directed by the biases of a few, our Senate missed another opportunity to do right by our kids. Today’s bill will do little to stem the tide of bullying because it doesn’t enumerate commonly targeted characteristics. Case studies have found that school employees are unlikely to recognize and report incidents when bias bullying is not placed deliberately on their radar. Both Oregon and Washington passed weak bills like this one and had to go back and revise them years later when data showed the initial bills had failed. This kind of delay is not an acceptable response to Michigan's bullying crisis.

11:19 a.m.

An anti-bullying bill has cleared the Michigan legislature after the Senate passed the House sponsored bill this morning.

The bill, HB 4163, steers clear of controversial language included in an earlier Senate version of the bill (SB 137). That bill protected statements based on moral or religious beliefs.

From SB 137:

This section does not prohibit a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil's parent or guardian.

The bill as passed by the Legislature would require all school districts to adopt anti-bullying policies.

Some Democrats say the bill does not go far enough to protect kids from cyber bullying or to protect gay and lesbian students.

The anti-bullying legislation now goes to the desk of Governor Rick Snyder.

user Penywise / morguefile

Nonprofits across Michigan are doing their annual end-of-year holiday push for financial donations. This will be the last time donors will be able to take advantage of a charitable tax credit.

The state Court of Appeals has upheld the firearms and assault convictions of a prominent Detroit political consultant accused of attacking his girlfriend – a former state lawmaker.

Ex-state Representative Mary Waters returned home to the apartment she shared with Sam Riddle and found him in bed with another woman.

The couple fought.

She left andcalled 9-1-1 after he pointed shotgun at her.

Waters later tried to recant her accusation, but the prosecutor went ahead with the trial and Riddle was convicted.

Riddle challenged the convictions on several grounds – including Waters’ statement that she never actually feared being hurt.

The appeals court said that’s not relevant –what matters is whether a rational person might reasonably have feared the situation.

Riddle is currently in a federal prison serving a simultaneous sentence on bribery and extortion convictions.

Waters has tried to retract her guilty plea to corruption charges.

Chris Waits / Flickr

More than one hundred workers, union representatives and business lobbyists showed up at the state Capitol today to testify on proposed changes to Michigan’s workers compensation law.

The proposed changes before a state Senate panel would reduce an injured worker’s benefits based on the amount an insurance company believes the worker could be earning at another job.

Chris Luty, with the Michigan State Police Troopers Association, told lawmakers finding a job, especially while injured, is not as easy as some insurance companies would claim.

“What’s available out there – what’s really available out there – and what’s theoretically available out there are often two very different things,” said Luty.

Luty told lawmakers about a state trooper named Drew Spencer, who was hit by a car while on the job. Spencer’s injuries were severe and left him dependent on workers compensation benefits.

“Drew Spencer, like most people within the Department of State Police, has a lot of experience before he came in. He has an education. And when you apply the virtual wage language as I understand it, Drew Spencer would get nothing under this bill, as I understand it,” said Luty.

The proposed changes also includes extending the length of time an injured worker must see a doctor assigned to them by insurance companies rather than their own doctor.

Carl Alden, with the Michigan Association of Chiropractors, says letting injured workers visit their own doctors makes sure workers get the best medical care so they can get back to work more quickly.

“The success of Michigan’s current system shows that making a change is not in the best interest of employers, workers, Michigan, and ultimately the insurers,” said Alden.

Business groups say the proposed changes would help reduce fraudulent claims from workers and provide stability for businesses.

The Senate panel is expected to continue hearings on the workers comp issue when the Legislature returns from a two-week break next week.

A petition calling on state lawmakers to approve a strong anti-bullying bill has received more than 50,000 signatures.

The petition was started by an 11th grader and an 8th grader in Ann Arbor, on the website change.org.

Mark Anthony Dingbaum, with change.org, said the two students – Katy and Carson – want the bill to list characteristics that should be protected from bullying.

He said the students who started the petition have first-hand experience with bullying.

“They identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, across the board,” said Dingbaum. “And I know that they’ve spoken out on this issue before, and I know that they were very interested in having their voice injected into the conversation this time.”

Dingbaum said the current proposal leaves gay students out of the conversation and unprotected.

“In the process I think these students voices are getting lost, and I think what’s been really inspiring for me in hearing Katy and Carson’s story is that those groups, those enumerated groups, those enumerated protections in the bill are essential because they are the groups that are most likely to be bullied in school,” said Dingbaum.

The petition also calls on lawmakers to require schools to report bullying incidents to the state.

Democratic leaders in the state Senate say the anti-bullying measure approved by the state House last week is not perfect, but it’s a good start. They say they hope to approve that bill in a couple weeks, and will continue to push for listing and reporting requirements in the future.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The city of Flint is getting ready for a state takeover. The city's re-elected mayor, Dayne Walling and Flint City Council may have no power once a state-appointed emergency manager is in place.

From the Flint Journal:

Today is the deadline for Flint Mayor Dayne Walling to request a hearing on the state's recommendation that an emergency manager take over the city's finances.

And all signs point to an impending state takeover.

Walling said today that he will not request a hearing, and city council members say they're bracing for a takeover.

The Journal reports that the Flint City Council voted against appealing an impending appointment of an emergency manager takeover to the Ingham County Circuit Court.

Mayor Walling told reporters after he was sworn in that he plans on sticking around.

From Steve Carmody's report:

Walling insists Flint city government can move forward with his agenda, despite the looming reality that the governor will soon choose an emergency manager to take over running city government. 

“If this emergency manager is here for a few months…if they are here for a year or two…I look forward to serving my full four year term that I was sworn into today," Walling told reporters after the ceremony.

Walling will be interviewed by Michigan Radio's Jennifer White today. We'll post that interview later.

The state Senate has adopted a bill to create a statewide health coverage exchange where people and businesses could comparison shop for insurance.

Republicans were divided on the question, and whether a vote for it was an endorsement of the federal health reforms. 

Some Republicans argued they should take a principled stand against the federal law by refusing to enact any portion of it.

Others, such as Senator Bruce Caswell, argued the state should not risk being forced into a federal bureaucracy.

Without action, the state would be forced into a federal exchange system.

“I do not support putting this state in the position of having the federal government come in and basically take over regulation of health care,” said Caswell.

Caswell says Michigan can always shut down the exchange if the federal law is repealed or struck down.

Democrats, such as Senator Rebekah Warren, used the debate to defend the federal law.

“The solution that we have in front of us today guarantees that constituents in every one of our districts will have access to more affordable healthcare, so I urge my colleagues to please support this bipartisan compromise that’s in front of us now,” said Warren.

The measure now goes to the state House.

Republican Governor Rick Snyder says the statewide coverage exchange is a good idea with or without the federal mandate. He has asked the Legislature to send the bill to his desk before the end of the year.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Update 11:54 p.m.

Flint mayor Dayne Walling claims victory.

Walling easily won re-election over challenger Darryl Buchanan.

But Walling's victory is tempered by the Governor deciding that the city of Flint is facing a financial emergency.

Governor Snyder will likely name an emergency manager to run the city.   Mayor Walling says he looks forward to working with whoever is appointed.

John Morgan / Flickr

(*Editor's note - Michigan Radio, as a licensee of the University of Michigan, benefits from this tax credit)

The Michigan charitable giving tax credit expires at the end of the year, and charities are expecting the amount people donate to charities to drop as a result.

The charitable giving credit was ended as part of Governor Snyder's effort to pay for a business tax cut of more than $1.5 billion.

The credit allows Michigan taxpayers to essentially double their contribution when they give to community foundations, homeless shelters, food banks and public institutions (such as Michigan universities, museums, public libraries, and public broadcasting stations).

For a single filer, half their contribution can come off their Michigan tax bill up to a $200 contribution. Joint filers can take half of a $400 contribution.

Brian Conner of the Detroit News wrote a piece on the expected effects of the credit's expiration.

Conner writes that charities in Michigan don't quite know how much of their donations are tied to the credit, but the expect to take some kind of a hit.

Michigan state workers may soon be required to contribute four percent of their salaries into their retirement benefit plans, or choose to convert their retirement benefits to a 401-K plan.

That’s according to a bill approved by the state House.

Democratic state Representative Brandon Dillon said the proposal puts the health and wellness of future retirees at risk.

"We should be looking at ways to expand access to health care, whether in the public or private sector, and the reality is this bill is going to make people’s health care and the ability to get treatment essentially based on the stock market, which we know in the past 10 years has been pretty tough, and I just don’t think that’s the right direction to go," said Dillon.

State employees currently contribute three percent of their salaries to their retirement benefits plans.

Republicans say the current retirement plan is not financially sustainable with too many retirement obligations going into the future.

A new film-incentives program would give money to film and video game companies under a proposal approved by the state Senate.

Republicans have been looking for a new way to attract film companies to Michigan.

A tax-credit program created by Governor Jennifer Granholm was largely unpopular with the GOP.

Republican state Senator Mike Kowall says he a grant-based system for funding the film industry could still attract big-name productions to Michigan.  

He says the amount of money the state appropriates for the film industry may become a contentious issue down the road. But he says it’s important to get a system in place now that will keep the film industry interested in Michigan.

 “When you go down into these studios and you see not only how many people are there but the caliber and they’re from Michigan – they’re Michigan kids, they’re people that maybe moved to California and had the opportunity to move back and they grabbed it, said Kowall.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville has said he would like to see as much as $100 million budgeted for the film incentives program.

If the Legislature approves the new incentive program, lawmakers will still have to decide how much money to budget for the film industry. The state Senate is expected to vote on the film-incentive program proposal tomorrow.

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