Politics & Government

Stories about politics and government actions

The Michigan Supreme Court will decide whether Michigan State University can continue to enforce its rule against harassing its employees as they do their jobs.

Jared Rapp confronted and yelled at a university employee in an MSU parking garage after he found a ticket on his car.

The employee felt threatened and called the campus police.

The employee sat in his car waiting for the police to arrive while Rapp hovered outside the vehicle and snapped pictures with his mobile phone.

Rapp was charged with a misdemeanor and was later convicted of violating a university rule against interfering with MSU employees.

A judge reversed the conviction. He said the rule is so vague it would be hard for a reasonable person to know if they broke the rule.

The rule has been upheld by the state Court of Appeals, though, and the prosecutor hopes the Michigan Supreme Court will do the same.

Native Detroiter Harry Morgan died yesterday. What makes me feel old is that while the rest of the world remembers him fondly for his role in MASH, I think of him as Officer Bill Gannon from Dragnet.

That was the show made famous by the iconic line “Just the facts, ma’am.‘ Which, by the way, nobody ever actually said on the show, any more than Humphrey Bogart said “Play it Again, Sam,” in Casablanca. Those are enduring cultural myths.

There’s another, more dangerous myth out there in Detroit today, a myth apparently shared by the mayor and city council.

A group known as "Michigan Forward" is collecting signatures in an effort to repeal Public Act 4, the state's emergency manager law.

If they collect enough signatures, the question of whether or not to keep the emergency manager law would be put on the November 2012 ballot:

As we reported yesterday,

As of now [Michigan Forward has] over 155,000 signatures. They need 161,304 signatures or more.

If they're able to collect those signatures and the petition is approved, the emergency manager law will be suspended until the 2012 election.

Now there's news that some in state leadership are thinking of retooling Public Act 4 in the face of this challenge.

House Speaker Jase Bolger is quoted in the Detroit Free Press that he is "concerned about the chaos that could ensue if the emergency manager law is suspended and so should every citizen of Michigan."

From the Free Press:

State officials are working on legislation to replace the state’s emergency manager law, which could be suspended early next year as a result of a ballot initiative, Treasurer Andy Dillon said today.

“I think we’ll have a pretty confused situation if the law gets held in suspension,” Dillon said in a telephone interview with the Detroit Free Press.

Dillon said his office has sent a list of improvements he’d like to see to the emergency manager law, Public Act 4, and officials in the Legislature confirmed today they are working with the governor’s office on a possible replacement.

“We will continue to discuss this issue with the governor and our partners in the Senate and take appropriate action if and when necessary,” Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger said in a statement.

It appears a measure to forbid public employers from offering live-in and same-sex partner benefits will soon be on its way to Governor Rick Snyder.

The measure was adopted yesterday by the state Senate.

It would affect state and local governments, as well as school districts, and community colleges, but not public universities.

State Senator Rebekah Warren is a Democrat who voted against the measure. She says the ban would make it harder for Michigan’s public employers to compete for the best workers.

“Our best and most-successful companies have already figured out that by creating diverse workforces and making sure health insurance is provided for their employees, they get the best environment. We’re tying the hands of our local governments and public employers if we don’t give them the same tools,” said Warren.

Republicans say public employers that offer live-in partner benefits violate the intent of the voter-approved amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions.

The Michigan Supreme Court has ordered a lower court to decide whether the Michigan High School Athletic Association discriminated against a former exchange student from South Korea.

The MHSAA said he was only eligible to play one year of high school football and denied him permission to be a member of the Hudson High School varsity team.

The rule is meant to stop schools from recruiting exchange students to build championship teams.

The state Department of Civil Rights sued the high school athletic association for discrimination based on race and national origin.

*Correction - an earlier version of this story stated the Michigan Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. The text and title have been corrected in this version.

user brother o'mara / Flickr

Legislators to challenge Michigan redistricting in court

The Michigan Legislative Black Caucus is expected to announce a lawsuit today challenging some of the new political boundaries drawn up and approved by the state Legislature and Governor.

From the Associated Press:

A press conference has been scheduled for Thursday at a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People office in Detroit.

The lawsuit's primary emphasis will be state House districts, according to Democratic Rep. Thomas Stallworth III of Detroit.

Democrats are upset that maps approved by the Republican-led Legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder would force incumbent state lawmakers from Detroit to run against each other in 2012.

It was not clear late Wednesday how or if the suit might address districts representing Michigan in the U.S. House.

Proposal to limit abortion coverage moving forward

Laura Weber reports a Senate panel cleared a proposal to restrict access to health care coverage for abortion procedures.

It would require individuals or employers to pay higher premiums to include abortion coverage in their health care plans.

Critics say women do not plan an abortion, so the proposal effectively strips their coverage.

Weber reports "there is no plan in the Senate to approve the abortion insurance proposal before lawmakers begin a winter break next week."

Detroit Police union leaders step down as negotiations heat up

Just as leaders from the city of Detroit are demanding more concessions from city union workers, two leaders from the Detroit Police Officers Association have announced they're retiring.

From the Detroit Free Press:

The Detroit Police Officers Association is planning to replace its leadership after the top two officials stepped down abruptly Tuesday, shocking colleagues as Mayor Dave Bing steps up his demand that police accept 10% wage cuts.

Union President Marty Bandemer and Vice President Cheryl Smith plan to retire officially at the end of the year after ending discussions with the Bing administration over concessions that police officers strongly oppose.

A proposal to limit access to health care coverage for abortion procedures has cleared a state Senate panel. The proposal would require employers or individuals purchasing health care plans to pay higher premiums if they want to include abortion coverage.         

Critics say it’s important for insurance companies to offer abortion coverage because no one plans for unintended pregnancies or unforeseen medical issues.

"Nobody expects to have an unintended pregnancy and I think nobody who has a wanted pregnancy expects that something is going to go wrong," said  Shelli Weisberg of the American Civil Liberties Union, which opposes the measure. "But the problem with this is it’s taken away something that women already have. From a moral standpoint – it’s taken away comprehensive coverage when women most need it.”

There is no plan in the Senate to approve the abortion insurance proposal before lawmakers begin a winter break next week.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney went back to his Michigan roots to choose a campaign theme song.

“Born Free” by Michigan native Kid Rock has been chosen as Romney's official campaign theme. A Romney staffer confirmed the music selection with Michigan Radio this afternoon.

The state Senate is expected to vote this evening on major changes to Michigan’s workers’ compensation laws. The proposal would reduce payments to an injured worker by the amount an insurance company believes the worker could make at another job.    

“Just what that will do to the working people of this state, I shudder to think, because it will cause untold misery on thousands of people’s lives," says Rick Warsh, an attorney who handles workers' compensation cases.

Those who support the measure say it would help prevent fraudulent claims, and would stabilize the workers’ compensation system for businesses.

Michigan's emergency manager law was strengthened this year with Public Act 4 which gave emergency managers more sweeping powers.

PA 4 is now facing a number of court challenges.

The group Michigan Forward is gathering signature to put the law to a voter referendum on the November 2012 ballot. As of now they have over 155,000 signatures. They need 161,304 signatures or more.

If they're able to collect those signatures and the petition is approved, the emergency manager law will be suspended until the 2012 election.

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.

Aflyingpsychofly / Flickr

It's Wednesday - which means it's the day we speak with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry about what's going on in state politics. And, in today's conversation, it's all about the possibility of Detroit coming under a state-appointed emergency manager. We take a look at where things stand in the city's financial review, what a group that wants to repeal the emergency manager law is up to, and we also chat about the letter that Congressman John Conyers' sent to the U.S. Justice Department that is asking Attorney General Eric Holder to look into the constitutionality of the emergency manager law.

So, does Detroit really need an Emergency Manager? Can the city’s elected leaders somehow get the job done? This much we know: The governor has ordered a preliminary review of  the city’s finances. There have been major signs of trouble for years.

Now, the city is running a large budget deficit, and the mayor says that as it now stands, the city will run out of cash by April.

Courtesy of the office of U.S. Senator Carl Levin

Senator Carl Levin says Congress needs to pass an extension of the payroll tax break that’s set to expire at the end of the month.   

Levin says the cut in the taxes collected to pay for Social Security saved the average worker about $1,000 in taxes during the past year.

“If we do not extend this payroll tax reduction," says Levin, "we’re going to find 160 million people with a tax increase on January 1.”   

Republicans are balking at extending the tax break. They want Democrats to agree to budget cuts to make up for the loss of money for the Social Security system.  

Democrats want to pay for the tax cut with a surcharge on the very wealthy.  

A final deal is not expected until next week.

More subpoenas issued in Wayne County probe

The FBI has issued more subpoenas in their investigation into Wayne County government. The FBI's investigation was launched last October following an uproar over a $200,000 severance payment given to former Wayne County development director Turkia Mullin.

The Detroit Free Press reports the latest subpoenas are seeking the following information:

- Records for the county's purchase of the Guardian Building, an Art Deco masterpiece that officials spent tens of millions of dollars renovating before moving in 2009.

- Contract and payment documents involving Destination Marketing Group, a Plymouth-based tourism marketing firm that had a county contract to talk to at-risk teens about mental illness.

 -Contracts and e-mails related to the county's dealings with three vendors of Health Choice, the county's health insurance program for small employers and working people.

Snyder says he was bullied after signing anti-bullying bill

After signing the state's first anti-bullying legislation into law yesterday, Governor Rick Snyder reflected on how he was bullied in school. More from the Muskegon Chronicle:

Gov. Rick Snyder is famously “one tough nerd,” but he said Tuesday that wasn't always the case.

“I was a victim of bullying,” Snyder said just after signing into law a plan requiring schools to develop anti-bullying policies, surrounded by families of children who took their lives after being harassed.

“While I didn't experience it to the same degree as these families, I was bullied because I was a nerd. I was beaten up in elementary school and middle school. I was pushed around in high school and even in college.”

Coolant leak cause of Volt battery fires?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating Chevy Volt battery fires after some of their test vehicles caught fire weeks after crash tests. Now a source says the Volt's coolant system was likely the cause of these delayed fires.

From the Associated Press:

The liquid solution that cools the Chevrolet Volt's batteries is the likely cause of fires that broke out inside the electric car after government crash tests, a person briefed on the matter said...

The coolant did not catch fire, but crystallized and created an electrical short that apparently sparked the fires, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the findings are not final.

Recently, GM's CEO Daniel Akerson said the company would buy back Volts from any owners who think the cars are unsafe.

A Detroit City Council member is pushing his colleagues to cut the council’s budget by 30 percent. The move comes the same day the state initiated a financial review process that could end in the appointment of an emergency manager for the city.

The Detroit City Council’s budget is more than $13 million, and includes perks like city-issued cars and cell phones for council members.

Gary Brown is the Council President Pro Tem. He says like other city employees, he only pays ten percent of his health care costs. Brown’s proposal calls for upping that employee contribution to 30 percent. He says that’s a change the entire city workforce needs to accept.

"And the message, if we don’t show leadership on this issue, is that we’re asking our employees to do something we’re not willing to do," Brown said.

Brown made a similar proposal last month that went nowhere. This time he’s introduced a resolution that will get an up-or-down vote next week.

user dominic's pics / Flickr

At the state Capitol, the debate continues over how to ensure there’s money available to help thousands of low-income families that need help paying their heating bills this winter. The need for a solution is becoming more urgent as temperatures start to dip below freezing, and the Legislature is a week away from starting its winter break.

Senator Mike Nofs chairs the Senate Energy and Technology Committee. He said a solution will be in place before the Legislature begins its holiday break next week.

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.

user csuspect / Flickr

Michigan lawmakers are working  to fine-tune a law intended to protect both freedom of speech and the dignity of military funerals.

The Grand Rapids Press reports:

The bill on Tuesday cleared the Senate's Military and Veterans Affairs Committee by a 3-0 margin, with two Democratic senators absent.

The original law came in response to members of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, which has staged controversial protests at military funerals. Church members assert that military deaths are God’s punishment for tolerance of gays.

Michigan’s law keeps such protesters at least 500 feet from a funeral ceremony, but lawmakers have said other people could have been affected – such as a person parked near a funeral home with an an anti-war bumper sticker on their car, or someone mowing their lawn near a cemetery.

The new version of the bill which cleared the House would make it clear that the actions must be intended to intimidate, threaten, or harass people attending a funeral, service, viewing, procession, or burial.

The Grand Rapids Press reports that the law is in accordance with a U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the Westboro members' rights to conduct their controversial protests.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Gov. Rick Snyder's administration has placed the city of Flint under an Emergency Manager. Meanwhile, financial reviews are underway for the cities of Inkster and Detroit.

On December 1, Democratic Congressman John Conyers sent a letter to the Justice Department, requesting an immediate review of Michigan’s emergency manager law, arguing that the law is unconstitutional.

Congressman Conyers spoke with Michigan Radio's Jennifer White.

DETROIT (AP) - The FBI says the strange name of a southern Michigan militia was made up and has no meaning.

Eight people accused of belonging to Hutaree (hoo-TAR'-ee) face trial in February. A defense lawyer wants to know the names of informants who infiltrated the group. A 2008 FBI report that requested an investigation was filed in court this week as part of the request.

The report says Hutaree was a name created as a joke by a son of leader David Stone. The government claims members were scheming to kill a police officer, then attack the funeral. One pleaded guilty Monday to a weapons charge.

The report first detailed by the Detroit Free Press quotes Stone as saying the government creates disasters so the public will thank it for restoring order.

user derekskey / Flickr

First the police department, and now the fire department.

The city of Pontiac, like many cities across the U.S., is facing a future with less money.

The state-appointed emergency manager in Pontiac, Lou Schimmel, wants to close the city's fire department.

From WXYZ News:

Closing the fire department, Schimmel says, is one part of the solution and will save the city $3 million. Schimmel says pay and benefit cuts will come with the deal. "If we do everything the same, we'll be out of business and nobody's going to get paid," Schimmel says. "They'll all lose their jobs." Schimmel has given firefighters until Friday to ratify the deal.

The Detroit Free Press quotes Kenneth Estell, a trustee with Pontiac Firefighters Union Local 376 who says the union will fight the changes "to the end":

“We love our jobs. We love our citizens. There’s a lot of tradition in this department. And we’re saving the citizens money. And when it comes to the safety of the citizens, we provide a good service.”

Estell says they've offered alternatives to the proposed cuts.

Pontiac's emergency manager says their proposals don't come close to the $3 million in cuts needed. From the Detroit Free Press:

“It’s the only option -- we save $3 million,” Schimmel said, adding the changes would take effect in January. “There is no way in the world we can save $3 million by keeping our own fire department. They didn’t even come close to a million dollars, let alone $3 million. And we are running out of cash.”

Pontiac firefighters have until Dec 9 to approve of a plan that would "offer early retirement to 18 firefighters, bonuses to others and the opportunity to be hired by Waterford Township."

As a state-appointed emergency manager, Schimmel has the authority to dissolve existing union contracts.

Facebook photo

Troy Mayor Janice Daniels faced a packed and angry house at a City Council meeting Monday night.

Residents and non-residents alike lined up to blast Daniels, who’s come under fire for an anti-gay slur she made on Facebook. A Troy blog unearthed the remark from earlier this year.

It read: “I think I am going to throw away my I love New York carrying bag now that queers can get married there.”

Every winter, people in Michigan die because they can’t afford to pay their heating bills, and the utilities shut their power off.

Sometimes, they just freeze to death. Most of the time, however, they die in house fires caused by desperate attempts to get some sort of heat, such as using a portable stove.

An entire family died a few years ago when the father attempted to use fire to thaw out frozen pipes so they could get some water. Instead, he burned the house down.

user brother o'mara / Flickr

Financial review begins today for Detroit

State auditors will start to comb over Detroit's financial books today.

State Treasurer Andy Dillon announced the state review last Friday. He said the "preliminary financial review" does not necessarily mean the state will appoint an emergency manager for the city. A state-appointed emergency manager could strip power from Detroit city council and the mayor. The EM could also void union contracts under state law.

The pressure is on for city leaders to get concessions from labor unions:

From the Detroit Free Press:

With time running out and hopes pinned on deep concessions from labor unions, Detroit City Council President Pro Tem Gary Brown said the city soon must enter into a consent agreement, a pact between the state and city that would authorize the council and Mayor Dave Bing to make sweeping budget cuts and eventually impose a contract on labor unions.

Governor Snyder will sign anti-bullying legislation today

The anti-bullying bill that passed the legislature gives school districts six months to develop anti-bullying policies. From the Grand Rapids Press:

“The Governor is pleased that both chambers and aisles came together and are sending him a strong and comprehensive anti-bullying bill that's the right thing for Michigan's students, schools and communities,” spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said last week after the Senate voted 34-2 to approve a measure that originated in the House.

“He believes it's more than time for Michigan to provide a safe environment for all students and to join all the other states with laws on the books. And that bullying at any time, under any circumstances, is wrong-- period.”

Pontiac firefighters protest planned closings

Firefighters from Pontiac are expected to picket today to protest cuts to their department. From the Detroit Free Press:

Pontiac firefighters are picketing outside Waterford Township’s town hall and fire department today in opposition to a proposal to shutter the Pontiac Fire Department and contract services with Waterford Township.

A portion of Pontiac’s 57 firefighters are expected to walk a picket line through 7 p.m. today, said firefighter and paramedic Kenneth Estell, trustee with Pontiac Firefighters Union Local 376.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Across Michigan and the rest of the country today, Occupy Wall Street groups plan to symbolically ‘occupy’ homes on the brink of foreclosure. Meanwhile, Occupy activists in Flint are launching a campaign they say will have lasting influence on their city.    

Occupy Flint members are organizing a campaign to put a question on the ballot next year that would start the charter revision process. Flint is under the oversight of an emergency manager. A state review panel decided the city’s multi-million dollar deficit created a ‘financial emergency’.   

Michael Burton is with the Occupy Flint group. He said residents must correct the city’s systemic problems, so Flint will be ready for life ‘after’ the emergency manager’s job is done. 

"That is just the small changes we hope…to affect in order to start making positive changes…and get the city of Flint back up to speed," said Burton.   

Burton said Occupy Flint does not have any specific changes it plans to recommend to the city charter. The group only hopes to get the conversation started.

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A recent report from the Citizens Research Council of Michigan highlights a sometimes overlooked part of Detroit’s current fiscal crisis: the city’s debt and legacy costs.

According to the report, Detroit has about $14 billion in liabilities (though about $5.2 billion of that is for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, and thus shared with its suburban customers).

user sfgamchick / Flickr

A board that’s advising Governor Rick Snyder on the state’s liquor laws is close to making recommendations on how Michigan’s alcohol rules should be altered.

Meanwhile, advocates that want to keep Michigan’s current regulations say they’re concerned about the potential changes. Among them is the possibility that the state will boost the number of liquor licenses it issues.

Harriett Dean is with the Clinton Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition.

“The worry is that they will allow for increased density of liquor licenses in a community, they’ll remove the 500 feet from a church or from a school current existing law, and that will increase exposure to young people to alcohol, as well as for adults too,” said Dean.

But Andy Deloney, who chairs the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, says the advisory board does not choose which recommendations become laws.

“That’s up to the governor to decide, that’s not up to this committee to decide,” Deloney said. “The governor wanted these committees to be created and to do this work, and it’s up to him to decide when and how and which recommendations he wants to go along with.”

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder last week appointed an emergency manager to the City of Flint.

Michael Brown got to work immediately, firing seven city staffers - four of whom were mayoral appointees. He also cut pay for the Mayor and City Council.

Here to talk about how city officials and citizens are reacting to the fast action is Bill Ballenger, Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics.

 

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