politics

Politics
11:00 am
Fri December 16, 2011

Number of judges in Michigan to be cut

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.

Politics
4:31 pm
Thu December 15, 2011

Michigan governor signs bills affecting state workers

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.

Politics
1:26 pm
Tue December 13, 2011

Setting up a Michigan health care exchange, legislators delay debate

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.

Politics
3:38 pm
Wed December 7, 2011

Michigan Republicans: Ignore the apportionment commission, draw your own boundaries

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.

Politics
4:53 pm
Tue December 6, 2011

7 things to know about Michigan's emergency manager law

Joe Harris, the emergency manager in Benton Harbor, says the only authority local officials have after an EM is appointed by the state, "is the authority that's provided to them or is given to them by the emergency manager."
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.

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Politics
4:20 pm
Tue December 6, 2011

Michigan Governor Snyder signs anti-bullying legislation

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.

Commentary
8:30 am
Sat December 3, 2011

A Dramatic week in Michigan politics and government

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.

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Commentary
9:18 am
Fri December 2, 2011

Talent in the workforce

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.”

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Politics
5:25 pm
Thu December 1, 2011

Getting rid of Michigan's "driver responsibility" fee

A sunset for Michigan's "driver responsibility fee"?
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.

Commentary
9:10 am
Thu December 1, 2011

Playing politics with charter schools

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.

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Politics
7:16 am
Thu December 1, 2011

Stun gun legislation working its way through Michigan legislature

Under legislation being considered in the Michigan legislature, individuals licensed to carry handguns could also carry a stun gun.
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.

Politics
11:52 am
Tue November 29, 2011

Michigan legislature passes anti-bullying bill

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.

Politics
5:50 pm
Fri November 25, 2011

Michigan's charitable tax credit expires Dec. 31

Michigan's charitable tax credit allows taxpayers to essentially double their contributions to certain nonprofits
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.

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Politics
5:31 pm
Wed November 23, 2011

Court upholds convictions of prominent Detroit political consultant

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.

Politics
4:06 pm
Tue November 22, 2011

Michigan lawmakers planning changes to Workers Comp, hearings continue

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.

Politics
5:08 pm
Thu November 17, 2011

Ann Arbor students petition Michigan legislature for strong anti-bullying bill

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.

Politics
1:11 pm
Tue November 15, 2011

Flint, Michigan gets ready for a state takevoer

Elected leaders in Flint will lose their power once a state-appointed emergency manager takes over.
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.

Politics
5:03 pm
Thu November 10, 2011

Michigan State Senate adopts health care exchanges

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.

Election 2011
11:54 pm
Tue November 8, 2011

Dayne Walling wins Flint mayoral race in shadow of EM announcement

The person elected as mayor of Flint might not have any power if an emergency manager is appointed.
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.

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Politics
11:51 am
Mon November 7, 2011

Michigan's charitible giving tax credit expires at the end of the year

The Michigan charitable giving tax credit expires at the end of this year.
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.

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