Politics & Government

News Roundup
8:34 am
Wed March 28, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, March 28th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Snyder to Hold Town hall Meeting

Governor Snyder will be part of a town hall meeting today in Detroit to talk about the city’s finances. “The meeting comes as state and city leaders are trying to finalize a deal to resolve major cash flow problems. A state review team has determined Detroit is in “severe financial stress”. The city’s deficit is nearly $200 million. Snyder says he’s trying to be transparent about the financial situation. He’s expected to go over the facts at the town hall meeting. He’ll also field questions and probably some criticism from the audience,” Lindsey Smith reports.

State Senate to Take Up Helmet Law

The Michigan Senate is expected to vote tomorrow on a measure to repeal the state’s motorcycle helmet law – and send it to Governor Snyder’s desk, Rick Pluta reports. From Pluta:

The measure was stalled because Governor Snyder wants the helmet law to be part of a larger discussion on finding savings in Michigan’s no-fault insurance system. State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said he wants to get the law on the books in time for the new motorcycle riding season. Governor Snyder has not said what he would do if a helmet law repeal reaches his desk. Supporters of the helmet law say it saves lives and prevents expensive-to-treat head injuries.

Case Against Militia Group Dismissed

A judge dismissed key charges yesterday against members of a Michigan militia who were accused of plotting war against the government, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The decision is an embarrassment for the government, which secretly planted an informant and an FBI agent inside the Hutaree militia and claimed members were armed for war in rural southern Michigan. Detroit federal Judge Victoria Roberts made her decision five days after prosecutors rested their case. Her decision affects all seven militia members who've been on trial since Feb. 13. Only weapons charges remain against two of the defendants.

Politics
7:48 am
Wed March 28, 2012

The week in Michigan politics

Ifmuth Flickr

Every Wednesday, Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry takes a look at the week in state politics. On tap for this morning: the latest in Detroit's financial situation and what the arguments in front of the U.S. Supreme Court over the Affordable Care Act could mean for Michigan.

Lansing
7:48 pm
Tue March 27, 2012

Trayvon Martin protest reaches the steps of Michigan's state capitol

 A few hundred people, many wearing hoodie sweatshirts, gathered on the steps of the state capitol in Lansing  Tuesday to demand justice for a teenager shot and killed in Florida last month.

A month ago, 17 year old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed.   The Florida teen’s death has spurred a national debate over what constitutes self-defense and concerns for the safety of young black men.      

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Newsmaker
4:42 pm
Tue March 27, 2012

A conversation with Detroit Council member Saunteel Jenkins

Detroit City Council member Saunteel Jenkins.

At an open meeting of the financial review team in charge of evaluating the city of Detroit’s finances, protesters on Monday afternoon interrupted the meeting chanting, “No take over.”

The financial review team reaffirmed that a financial emergency does exist in the city and that a consent agreement was their preferred approach to fixing the city’s finances.

The city of Detroit and Michigan have yet to come to an agreement on how to stabilize the city’s finances.

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Politics
4:41 pm
Tue March 27, 2012

State Senate set to vote on Michigan motorcycle helmet law.

Ildar Sagdejev wikimedia commons

The Michigan Senate is expected to vote tomorrow on a measure to repeal the state’s motorcycle helmet law – and send it to Governor Rick Snyder’s desk.

The measure was stalled because Governor Snyder wants the helmet law to be part of a larger discussion on finding savings in Michigan’s no-fault insurance system.

State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said he wants to get the law on the books in time for the new motorcycle riding season.

“It doesn’t seem fair that a group of people who just want the freedom to choose whether to have a helmet or not are being held back because a couple other groups aren’t getting along or coming around to a compromise,” Richardville said.

Governor Snyder has not said what he would do if a helmet law repeal reaches his desk.

Supporters of the helmet law say it saves lives and prevents expensive-to-treat head injuries.

Politics
4:27 pm
Tue March 27, 2012

Snyder on Detroit consent agreement: "Not about running an entire community."

From the governor's official website

Governor Rick Snyder said he still hopes to reach a deal with Detroit officials that would avert the naming of an emergency manager to run the city.

The governor said the agreement has to include specific targets for the city to meet, but he said a deal could keep much of the day-to-day operations under control of city officials.

“Part of it is it’s difficult to explain in some context because we’re still working on the agreement, but when it comes out I think you’ll see it’s really about project management assistance and really good oversight to make sure projects get done,” Snyder said. “It’s not about running an entire community.”

But not meeting the terms of a consent agreement would trigger the law that allows the governor to place an emergency manager in control.

The governor also said he is not yet satisfied with the level of savings he’s seen in bargaining with city employee unions.

The Detroit city council is working on a plan to borrow money to help meet its cash crisis. The plan would require the approval of the state.

Politics
4:24 pm
Tue March 27, 2012

Snyder will talk about Detroit finances at a town hall Wednesday

Governor Snyder speaks to a gathering of city managers in Benton Harbor, shortly after he signed expanded powers for emergency managers. Benton Harbor residents protested his appearance outside the meeting.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder will take part in a town hall meeting in Detroit Wednesday morning to discuss the city’s finances. Snyder says he’s trying to be transparent about the situation.

“A lot of it is getting out to talk to people and making sure that we all get the same facts, because Detroit’s in terrible financial distress in some ways. And there needs to be a long term solution because we all want Detroit to succeed,” Snyder said.

He’s expected to go over the facts at the town hall meeting. He’ll also field questions and probably some criticism from the audience.

The meeting comes as state and city leaders are trying to finalize a deal to resolve major cash flow problems. A state review team has determined Detroit is in “severe financial stress”. The city’s deficit is nearly $200 million.

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Trial
3:14 pm
Tue March 27, 2012

Key charges dismissed against Michigan militia members in federal court

Seven on trial: top left, David Stone Sr. of Clayton, MI; Tina Stone of Clayton, MI; Jacob Ward of Huron, OH; David Stone Jr. of Adrian, MI. Bottom left, Michael Meeks of Manchester, MI,; Kristopher Sickles of Sandusky, OH; Thomas Piatek of Whiting, IN.
base photo U.S. Marshals Michigan Radio

Update 3:14 p.m.

A year ago, the seven militia members standing trial were indicted by a federal grand jury "on charges of seditious conspiracy, attempted use of weapons of mass destruction, teaching the use of explosive materials, and possessing a firearm during a crime of violence."

The Detroit Free Press reports all charges were dropped against 5 of the defendants, but weapons charges remain for two of them.

Among those cleared of any wrongdoing is Tina Stone, Stone Sr.’s wife, whose lawyer argued all along that the government had no case.

“We’re just grateful to Judge Roberts for having the courage to do the right thing ... very few judges have that kind of courage,” said attorney Michael Rataj, who is representing Tina Stone.

“There was no case. There was no conspiracy,” Rataj argued, further claiming the case was the result of overzealous federal agents.

In the opening statements of the trial, defense attorney William Swor said to the jury, "You will have to decide whether this is a real conspiracy or David Stone exercising his God-given right to blow off steam and open his mouth."

With the judges decision today, the jury won't have to decide.

2:05 p.m.

The Associated Press is reporting a judge has dismissed key charges against members of a Michigan militia who were accused of plotting attacks against the government.

Seven members of the Hutaree militia have been standing trial in a federal court in Detroit.

From the Associated Press:

The Tuesday decision is an embarrassment for the government, which secretly planted an informant and an FBI agent inside the Hutaree militia and claimed members were armed for war in rural
southern Michigan.

Detroit federal Judge Victoria Roberts made her decision five days after prosecutors rested their case. Her decision affects all seven militia members who've been on trial since Feb. 13. Only weapons charges remain against two of the defendants.

Prosecutors say Hutaree members were anti-government rebels who combined training and strategy sessions to prepare for a violent strike against federal law enforcement. Defense lawyers said offensive talk was wrongly turned into a high-profile criminal case.

Station News
1:56 pm
Tue March 27, 2012

Talking emergency managers and having some ale in Flint

A good crowd a the Issues & Ale event at Blackstone’s Pub & Grill in downtown Flint.
Steve Chrypinski Michigan Radio

A full house turned out to hear Michigan Radio’s political analyst Jack Lessenberry lead a discussion on the state’s emergency manager law last night.

The event was part of the station’s Issues & Ale series, and was held at Blackstone’s Pub & Grill in downtown Flint.

Panelists included:

  • Fred Leeb, former Emergency Financial Manager for the city of Pontiac,
  • Dr. Eric Scorsone, Co-Director of the State & Local Government Program at Michigan State University,
  • and Brandon A. Jessup, Chairman and CEO of Michigan Forward

The panelists fielded questions from both Lessenberry and the audience on a variety of subjects related to Public Act 4, including the impact of state revenue sharing cuts, the constitutionality of state appointed emergency managers, and alternatives for cities in financial crisis.

We also surveyed the audience to get their opinion on the Emergency Manager law.

Of those responding,

  • 47% opposed the law, 23% were in favor, and 30% were undecided.
  • Of those opposed to the law, 36% felt it was unconstitutional, 26% objected because it gives emergency managers too much power, 18% opposed because emergency managers can modify/terminate contracts, and 13% because it strips local elected officials of their authority.

The event took place only hours after the Michigan Court of Appeals put a stay on a lower court ruling and reinstated Michael Brown as Flint’s emergency manager.  

Issues and Ale is an event series co-sponsored by Michigan Radio and the Center for Michigan designed to engage people in conversations about important issues facing Michigan... in an informal atmosphere.

Commentary
11:22 am
Tue March 27, 2012

Commentary: Public reaction to Detroit's fiscal crisis

Unless you’ve been at the bottom of a salt mine for the last month or so, you know that Detroit is facing the mother of all financial crises. The city is about to run out of cash and options.

Within nine days, the governor either has to reach something called a consent agreement with the city’s elected leaders, or name an all-powerful emergency manager to run Detroit.

Nobody really understands how the consent agreement model would work, or frankly, even if it would work, but essentially, it would mean an emergency manager by committee.

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Politics
7:03 am
Tue March 27, 2012

Shenanigans in Oakland County: One of the best political shows in Michigan

Matthileo Capitol Flickr

Update 3/27/2012:

"The Michigan Supreme Court - in a decision that breaks along party-lines -  has upheld a state law that will let Republicans on the Oakland County Commission redraw their district lines. The Supreme Court says the law complies with the state constitution, regardless of whether it was designed to give one party a political advantage. The Supreme Court's three Democrats dissented from the decision," Rick Pluta reports.

Original Post 3/23/2012:

This week, Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network, and I decided to take a look at the political shenanigans playing out in Oakland County.

The Back-story

“There is a fight between Oakland County politicians – Democrats versus Republicans. It’s about the murky, dirty, filthy process of drawing new district lines for politicians to run in. In Oakland County, [the redrawing] is done by a bi-partisan panel. In this case, it’s a panel that has more Democrats than Republicans and the Democrats drew a map that the Republicans didn’t like,” Pluta explains.

So, some Republican lawmakers from Oakland County decided to have the state legislature change the redrawing rules. They devised a measure to allow the County Commission, which is controlled by Republicans, to redraw the lines. The measure was then passed by the state’s Republican-controlled House and Senate and signed into law by Governor Rick Snyder.

Democrats cried foul. They challenged the new law and, last month, Ingham County Circuit Judge William Collette overturned it. Collette ruled the law violated the Michigan Constitution and that the governor and the Legislature illegally interfered in a local political question.

The question over the legality of the law made its way to the state’s highest court this week. On Wednesday, the Michigan Supreme Court heard arguments from both sides.

Politically-motivated maps

Republicans all along contended that the reason for the new law was to save taxpayers money. Democrats, and many pundits, said it was pure politics: that the GOP changed the rules so that Republican dominance on the County Board wouldn’t be challenged. But, this kind of claim is always hard to prove. Hard to prove… unless you have emails.

Busted: GOP emails released

This week, emails between Republican Oakland County officials and GOP lawmakers were released after the Oakland County Democratic Party filed a Freedom of Information Act. The emails appear to show, “officials in the offices of Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson’s office and state Representatives – primarily Rep. Eileen Kowall – basically plotting and trying to find a rationale to kick this redistricting process back over to the County Commission where Republicans would control it,” Pluta explains.

‘It’s gonna be ugly’

In one email, Rep. Kowall wrote, “I guess it would also help to have (a) legitimate explanation as to why we waited until now, after redistricting plans have been submitted, to take these bills up.” She also wrote, “The quicker things move the better, ’cause it’s gonna be ugly.”

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Politics
9:48 pm
Mon March 26, 2012

Detroit review team affirms financial emergency, but still no clear path forward

The state review team investigating Detroit’s finances met for what was supposed to be the last time Monday.

They reaffirmed that Detroit is in “severe financial stress” during a raucous meeting that veered into chaos at times.

Protesters, angry at what many call an unconstitutional hostile takeover of the city, mostly shouted over team members as they tried to deliberate.

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Politics
8:41 pm
Mon March 26, 2012

Michigan Supreme Court upholds Oakland Co. redistricting

The Michigan Supreme Court - in a decision that breaks along party-lines -  has upheld a state law that will let Republicans on the Oakland County Commission redraw their district lines. The Supreme Court says the law complies with the state constitution, regardless of whether it was designed to give one party a political advantage. The Supreme Court's three Democrats dissented from the decision.

Last week, Zoe Clark and I took a look at the political shenanigans behind the Oakland County controversy. You can find that story here.

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Politics
5:26 pm
Mon March 26, 2012

Crowd interrupts state financial review meeting in Detroit

JSFauxtaugraphy Flickr

Update 5:26 p.m.

The state review team looking into Detroit’s finances held what was supposed to be its last meeting today.

The meeting was chaotic.

State Treasurer Andy Dillon and other review team members were often drowned out by shouting and singing protesters in the audience.

In the end, the review reaffirmed that a "severe financial emergency" does exist in Detroit.

But there's no consent agreement between the state and city leaders yet.

Dillon said Governor Snyder is still talking with city leaders.

"If a consent agreement can be adopted, that's an alternative for the Governor, and that's what he prefers to see," said Dillon.

Dillon says if the two sides can't reach an agreement, the Governor can appoint an emergency manager for Detroit.

But by law, he'll need to act within the next ten days.

5:00 p.m.

The state financial review team meeting in Detroit today has adjourned. They did so without making recommendations to Gov. Snyder for how to resolve Detroit's financial crisis.

The meeting was open to the public and was interrupted by loud outbursts from the crowd. The Detroit Free Press estimated the crowd at around 100 people.

4:35 p.m.

A state-appointed financial review team met in Detroit today and was expected to deliver its recommendation to Gov. Snyder regarding the potential appointment of a emergency manager for the city.

Protesters attending the meeting interrupted State Treasurer Andy Dillon during his presentation shouting "No takeover." At one point, the crowd began to sing "We Shall Overcome."

More from the Detroit Free Press:

State treasurer Andy Dillon couldn’t finish his report about Detroit’s finances because the crowd was standing and shouting. Audience members were warned that they will be removed if they continue interrupting proceedings.

At one point Dillon called the audience rude, prompting more protest and causing security to move in on the meeting. The review board attempted to continue with its discussion. Police officers were present at the meeting.

Later, a skirmish between a security guard and a protester interrupted the meeting, but financial review team members tried to keep the meeting going.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek was at the meeting and will have more for us later.

Flint
4:32 pm
Mon March 26, 2012

Flint emergency manager back in charge

Flint emergency manager Michael Brown is back in charge, temporarily, after today's court order
State of Michigan

Flint’s emergency manager is back in charge of the city.  At least, temporarily. 

The Michigan Court of Appeals today put on hold a lower court ruling that left questions about who was in charge in Flint.

Last week, Ingham County circuit court judge Rosemarie Aquilina ruled that the state financial review team that recommended the appointment of an emergency manager in Flint had violated Michigan’s open meetings law.  The judge decided that the appointment and all the decisions emergency manager Michael Brown had made since December were invalidate.

The governor’s office appealed the judge’s order, describing it as "devastating."

The Court of Appeals has agreed to hear the case.   The court put a stay on the lower court ruling and reinstated Michael Brown as Flint’s emergency manager.

In her order last week,  Judge Aquilina had directed Flint's mayor and city council to resume their roles.   One of the first things Michael Brown did as emergency manager was to limit the power of Flint's elected leaders. 

Flint Mayor Dayne Walling issued a statement after today's ruling of the Court of Appeals:

"As the legal challenges to PA4 move through the courts system, the Flint community needs to work together to address our long-standing challenges with finances, public safety and economic development. While the courts are flip-flopping on the critical issue of the Open Meetings requirement, I will work every day to make our community a better place for families and businesses."

The timing of the Court of Appeals decision today could be critical.   Flint, like other Michigan cities, is drafting its budget for next year.

Flint faces a budget deficit that could be as high as $20 million.

Politics
3:30 pm
Mon March 26, 2012

Detroit and state officials close to a deal?

Update 3:30 p.m.

Governor Snyder says he’s still talking with Detroit officials about an agreement to keep the city financially afloat.

A state review team has already declared a “severe financial emergency” in Detroit. That means they’ll recommend some kind of state intervention to keep the city from going broke. 

The Governor says talks continue over what a “financial stability agreement” will look like.

But he says that agreement needs to contain language that could turn it into a consent agreement if the city fails to live up to its promises.

“So to take this financial stability agreement and enhance it, so that it could also qualify as a consent agreement. So it would meet the requirements for Public Act 4. But it would really be this financial stability agreement going forward about how we could work the city as partners.”

Public Act 4 is the state’s emergency manager law. Under a consent agreement, the mayor or other city officials could get broad powers similar to those of an emergency manager.

2:50 p.m.

Gov. Snyder spoke with members of the media today about a plan to avoid a financial crisis in Detroit.

Sndyer and other state officials are in Detroit today working toward a solution. Snyder said negotiations with city leaders are "fairly far along," and they are a "couple of paragraphs away" from an agreement.

Snyder and State Treasurer Andy Dillon are hoping city leaders will sign off on a consent agreement designed to avoid a looming financial crisis in Detroit.

City leaders rejected an initial proposal by the state and have been working on a plan of their own.

From the Detroit News:

Snyder told reporters Monday in Detroit that both sides are close to reaching a "financial stability agreement," which is what the deal will be called until it can be considered a consent agreement under the law. The governor reiterated he does not want to run Detroit.

City leaders argued that the initial consent agreement proposed by the Governor amounted to a state takeover. The Detroit Free Press reports the city's counterproposal retains powers for local elected leaders.

Officials have been mum on specifics of the counterproposal, but one draft -- not necessarily the final version -- showed the city asking the state to approve a $137-million financial package for immediate relief and change legislation so that the city can raise its income and corporate taxes.

The city's plan, called a financial stability agreement, also would return budget authority to the mayor and the council, and essentially leave a seven-member financial advisory board with the power to make only recommendations.

In about ten minutes, the state's financial review team is expected to make its recommendation to Gov. Snyder on whether or not a state-appointed emergency manager is needed for Detroit.

And as all this goes on, the Detroit News reports on a legal appeal to the State Supreme Court aimed at stopping the state's financial review team.

Andrew Patterson, lawyer for activist Robert Davis, said he expects to hear "shortly" from the court on whether the panel will consider the motion.

If the Supreme Court agrees, it will consider whether the state Court of Appeals acted appropriately Friday by lifting an Ingham County Circuit Court injunction. The injunction prohibited a consent agreement until Judge William Collette can hold a contempt hearing Thursday to determine if Treasurer Andy Dillon and other members of the review team violated the Open Meetings Act.

Politics
1:27 pm
Mon March 26, 2012

Pontiac EM says no to Silverdome tax break

user Alex simple wikimedia commons

Lou Schimmel, Pontiac's state-appointed Emergency Manager, has denied a tax-break request from the owners of the Pontiac Silverdome.

The former home of the Detroit Lions is owned by Triple Investment Group who were seeking a special break to make improvements to the stadium, but as the Associated Press reports, the work they were planning wasn't what Schimmel had in mind:

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Commentary
11:24 am
Mon March 26, 2012

Commentary: Detroit on the Brink

Former Governor Bill Milliken turns ninety today, and just about everyone is publishing some kind of tribute to the longest-serving governor in Michigan history. Milliken himself is not likely to say much today, but that’s not because he isn’t still mentally keen. He called me a couple weeks ago to complain.

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Politics
10:05 am
Mon March 26, 2012

Decision day looms for the city of Detroit

State and city leaders have been working to avoid an emergency manager appointment in Detroit, but so far, no deal has been reached.
user jodelli Flickr

Today is deadline day, according to Gov. Rick Snyder. He wants the state financial review team to tell him whether they recommend an emergency manager for the city of Detroit.

After the financial review team makes its recommendation, Snyder has ten days to make his decision on whether or not to appoint an emergency manager, something he's repeatedly said he does not want to do.

He'd rather reach a consent agreement with the city, but so far, city leaders and state officials have not reached a deal.

State Treasurer Andy Dillon and city leaders have been working over the weekend to come up with an agreement. They've been meeting despite Detroit Mayor Bing's hospitalization for a perforated intestine.

The Detroit Free Press reports Kirk Lewis, Bing's chief of staff, "has been made deputy mayor and will act as mayor until Bing is able to resume his normal activities."

The mayor is in regular contact with Lewis, who is talking with Dillon and his officials, so Bing's hospital stay is not expected to prohibit an agreement from being reached, she said.

The Free Press reports Gov. Snyder will be in Detroit today to meet with council members and other officials.

Snyder is expected to talk to the media at 1:30 p.m. today about Detroit's financial crisis. We'll have an update for you then.

Much has happened on this story in the last few weeks. For a look back, you can check out all the stories we've produced here. And you can check out a quick list of recent events published this morning by MLive's Jonathan Oosting.

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News Roundup
8:44 am
Mon March 26, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Monday, March 26th, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Healthcare Overhaul

Michigan is one of 26 states challenging the federal Affordable Care Act in arguments that begin today before the U-S Supreme Court. Meanwhile, “there is a fight in the Michigan Legislature over moving ahead with the internet exchanges required by the law to help people find affordable insurance. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, says the state should wait for a ruling. Governor Rick Snyder says exactly the opposite. He says the state can’t afford to wait – that a delay could cost federal dollars and doom Michigan’s ability to adopt its own system if the federal healthcare law is upheld,” Rick Pluta reports.

Lansing Budget

Lansing mayor Virg Bernero will tell the city council tonight how he plans to cut nearly $5 million to balance his city’s budget. Steve Carmody reports:

Last fall, the mayor’s office was predicting the city might be facing up to a $15 million shortfall. Mayor Bernero says voter approval of a special public safety millage, lower health care costs and more state revenue sharing money than expected has improved Lansing’s revenue picture. However, Bernero says painful cuts are still needed to balance the city’s budget. Bernero says without additional concessions from the city’s unions Lansing will have to institute employee furlough days and possibly layoffs of some non-public safety employees.

MI SUPCO

The Michigan Supreme Court says a lawsuit challenging health insurance for the domestic partners of state employees won't be placed on a fast track, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The court on Friday declined to take the case away from the Michigan appeals court. The lone dissenter was Justice Stephen Markman, who says it's an important matter that deserves "expedited consideration" from the Supreme Court. Attorney General Bill Schuette is challenging the Civil Service Commission's decision to extend benefits to domestic partners or other unrelated adults living with some state employees. Lawmakers tried to overturn it but didn't have enough votes last year.

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