Politics & Government

Stories about politics and government actions

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.

Today, Governor Rick Snyder unveiled his plan for talent development.

The goal is to more closely align workers with available jobs.

In this week's political roundup we take a closer look at the plan with Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority leader and senior policy fellow at Public Section Consultants.

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 brother o'mara / Flickr

Several dozen Catholic parishes in Detroit might close

After a "year-long, parish-based pastoral and strategic planning process," the Archdiocese of Detroit revealed a plan for a smaller footprint in Detroit.

From an Archdiocese of Detroit statement:

  • Within five years, nine parishes are proposed to close.
  • In addition to the above, 60 parishes are proposed to merge down to 21, resulting in 39 fewer parishes.

The Detroit Free Press reports Detroit was one of the first archdioceses to close churches back in 1989. From the Freep:

In the last 10 years alone, about 40 parishes have closed or merged because of the priest shortage and changing demographics in Detroit and its inner-ring suburbs, reducing the number of parishes diocese-wide from 310 to 270.

Detroit unions to offer up their cost-saving ideas

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has been calling for concessions from Detroit's unions along with layoffs to fix the city's budget problems.

Today, unions in the city are expected to go before city council with their ideas.

From the Detroit News:

The city's 48 employee unions thus far have resisted Mayor Dave Bing's call for givebacks to help the city stave off a possible state takeover. Several deadlines imposed by Bing have come and gone...

A coalition of union leaders met Wednesday morning to hammer out ideas for the council to consider. Leaders will present options for cheaper health care and suggest alternatives to Bing's proposed 10 percent wage cut, according to a union leader familiar with the plan.

Governor Snyder heads to Delta College to deliver special message

Governor Rick Snyder says he wants to help workers get the skills employers need in today's job market. Rick Pluta reports Snyder is looking for ways to bring down Michigan’s persistently high unemployment rate. Pluta says the Governor "will deliver his fifth special message of the year today where he is expected to outline a strategy to better match the skills workers have to positions that are available right now."

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.

Gord McKenna / flickr

Low-income households that have trouble paying for utilities could soon get help from the state to keep the heat on through the winter. Republicans in the state House have introduced a proposal to tap into one-time federal funds to help pay for home heating assistance.

Funding for home-heating assistance was hit hard this year. Michigan’s home-heating funds were frozen because of a state Court of Appeals decision. At the same time, the federal government reduced home-heating payments to states.

Tiberius Images / Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder will deliver his fifth special message of the year tomorrow at Delta College near Saginaw, where he is expected to outline a strategy to better match the skills workers have to positions that are available right now.

The governor is looking for ways to bring down Michigan’s persistently high unemployment rate.

More than one in 10 working-age people in Michigan are out of work and actively seeking jobs. Governor Snyder says one big problem is too few people with skills that match positions that are available in fields like welding and software design.

Sara Wurfel is the governor’s press secretary, and she says the governor believes employers will respond if workers pick up new, in-demand skills. 

“(The governor) believes the number one most-important recourse Michigan has is its talent, its people, and the skills and the background that they bring.”

The governor is expected to say the state and educators need to do a better job of identifying employment trends and the skills businesses will be looking for. Snyder’s predecessor, Governor Jennifer Granholm, also made job training a high priority.

Governor Rick Snyder yesterday named Michael Brown emergency manager for the city of Flint.

Brown is very familiar with Flint. He served as Flint’s temporary mayor when former mayor Don Williamson abruptly resigned. 

Michigan Radio's Jennifer White spoke with Mr. Brown about his new appointment.

 

user: detdan / flickr.com

While the Occupy Detroit movement has vacated Grand Circus Park for the winter, they are not slowing down in getting their message out, and as the Huffington Post Detroit reports, they are trying out new avenues to make an impact.

The Huffpost's Kate Abbey-Lambertz writes:

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick gave a speech about “second chances,” to a large crowd of students at Eastern Michigan University last night.  Kilpatrick was invited by a student group.

William Caldwall is a junior at EMU.  He protested outside the event with a sign that read “Actions Speak Louder than Words.”

Caldwell says he believes in second chances, but feels Kilpatrick isn’t making a true effort to redeem himself.  He notes Kilpatrick owes the city of Detroit hundreds of thousands of dollars.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A proposal designed to allow more charter schools or public school academies in Michigan has taken a step forward.

The Republican-led House Education Committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would end some numerical and geographical limits on charter schools. The bill passed by an 11-6, mostly party line vote and advances to the House floor.

The measure narrowly passed the Republican-led Senate in October.

The state has roughly 250 charter schools. Supporters say more should be allowed to boost educational options in public schools.

Marijuana plant.
bobdoran / Flickr

An official from Michigan's Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs said an equipment malfunction led to a backlog in printing around 20,000 cards for medical marijuana patients, according to the Saginaw News.

The newspaper reports the backlog goes back to medical marijuana applications received since last July.

Celeste Clarkson, compliance section manager with the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs spoke at a seminar on medical marijuana enforcement in Saginaw Township.

From the Saginaw News:

The state has continued to print up to 800 cards a day for medical marijuana patients and caregivers, but the volume of applications has approaches 1,500 a day. Once an application has been approved, the state has five days to print a card under state rules.

The state is reviewing how best to catch up on the backlog, she said...

The state has received nearly 200,000 medical marijuana applications through the end of October with 120,597 active patients, according to state figures.

The state has 45,531 active caregiver registry card users. A caregiver must have one card for each patient and may have no more than five patients. A caregiver can provide no more than 12 marijuana plants for each patients.

The state has denied 14,288 applications, she said. Those denied may reapply.

Earlier this year, the legislature passed a new law that cuts people off cash welfare benefits forever after four years.

That’s not necessarily four years in a row. That means you are limited to 48 months of benefits, lifetime, even if you have three little kids, say, and have no other means of support.

There are a few temporary and special hardship special exemptions, but the bottom line is that about 40,000 people, three-quarters of whom are children, have been cut off.

Matthileo / Flickr

It's Wednesday, which means it's the day we talk with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry about what's going on this week in state politics. On tap this morning: Governor Snyder is set to deliver another one of his special messages to the state legislature - this time on workforce development, lawmakers pass an anti-bullying bill for Michigan schools, and the state Department of Human Services sees protests over their so-called, "rocket dockets."

The state Court of Appeals has upheld the parole of a convicted murderer over the objections of the judge who sent him to prison.

Phillip Paquette was convicted of stabbing a man to death at a party in the summer of 1994. Paquette maintains to this day he is innocent and acted in self defense. While in prison, Paquette committed a string of infractions, but the pattern of misconduct ended in 2004.

Paquette became eligible for parole last year, and the Michigan Parole Board granted his request to be released.

The judge that sentenced Paquette objected, citing Paquette’s record of misconduct and insistence that he’s innocent. Paquette took his case all the way to the state Supreme Court, which returned the case to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals noted Paquette went six years without a violation, and has expressed sorrow for the killing.

The appeals court reversed the judge and said Paquette is to be paroled.

Norris Wong / Flickr

One legal expert says only Congress—not the state—can authorize a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor.

Constitutional law professor Robert Sedler was one speaker at a Wayne State University law school panel discussion about the bridge’s future Tuesday.

Sedler says Congress, exercising its authority over international commerce, granted the company that owns the Ambassador Bridge a franchise—and would have to do so again in the case of a new crossing.

user brother o'mara / Flickr

Detroit Mayor Bing says city can avert financial crisis on its own

Layoffs are coming in Detroit after an audit revealed the city could run out of money by April. Mayor Bing says he believes the city can make cuts and avoid a potential takeover from a state-appointed emergency manager.

From the Detroit Free Press:

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing held fast Tuesday to his assertion that his administration can manage the city through its fiscal crisis for the next 18 months with a plan that calls for union concessions and at least 1,000 employee layoffs.

In a wide-ranging interview, the mayor said he received a list of layoff recommendations from his department heads Tuesday and expects to identify workers who will be laid off by Dec. 5. Layoff notices would follow immediately and job eliminations would be effective 90 to 120 days after notices are sent.

Herman Cain speaks at Hillsdale College

After yesterday's revelation that Republican presidential candidate hopeful Herman Cain was "reassessing" his campaign, the candidate did not mention his problems during last night's speech at Hillsdale College. Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reported:

Cain did not talk about the allegations of sexual harassment made by numerous women against him nor the allegation made this week that he’s been involved in a 13 year affair with a Georgia woman.    

The allegations anger supporters like Gary Shilling.  But Shilling says his anger is not directed at Cain.   

"He’s being crucified…by the press," said Shilling after listening to Cain's speech.  

Republicans unveil plan to keep heat on

With dramatic cuts in federal funding for home heating assistance coming, Republican leaders in the state House of Representatives say they want to keep the heat on this winter for low-income residents.

From the Associated Press:

Lawmakers said they want to put $62 million into the state's emergency relief fund to help keep the heat on. The money would come from federal funds that Republicans say could be used for the heating program.

"It's a budgetary and statutory fix that protects families, prioritizes spending and keeps costs down for Michigan's ratepayers," said House Speaker James Bolger of Marshall.

The plan also would formalize the end of a utility charge. An appeals court in July struck down the financing system used by Michigan's Low Income and Energy Efficiency Fund.

(courtesy of the Herman Cain campaign)

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain says America is failing to lead the world: militarily, economically and morally.  But at a speech last night in Hillsdale, Cain did not mention the scandal dogging his campaign.     

The Michigan Senate today passed the House version of an anti-bullying bill.

It’s headed to Governor Rick Snyder for his signature.

The bill as passed did not include the controversial exception in an earlier Senate bill that protected statements that came from moral or religious convictions.

The Michigan Senate received national attention for that bill - some calling it a template for how to get away with bullying. 

Senator Whitmer spoke with Michigan Radio's Jennifer White earlier today about her opposition for the bill approved by the Senate, and about the reaction to the YouTube video of her reacting to the bill.

Here she is telling her colleagues in the Michigan Senate "you may be able to pat yourself on the backs today and say that you did something today, but in actuality you're explicitly outlining how to get away with bullying... This is worse that doing nothing. It's a Republican license to bully."

Michigan Dems introduce ban on for-profit schools

Nov 29, 2011
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Democrats at the state Capitol are calling for an amendment to the Michigan constitution that would outlaw for-profit schools. Four out of five charter schools in Michigan currently operate as for-profit schools.

Democratic state Senator Rebekah Warren said only 17 percent of charter schools out-perform traditional public schools. She said school aid money should not go toward profits for businesses.

Warren said her amendment would not ban charter schools, but it would reform how they operate.

A proposal to require all Michigan school districts to adopt anti-bullying policies is on its way to Governor Rick Snyder for his signature.  

The state Legislature gave final approval to a House Republican anti-bullying proposal following a month of heated debate.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said he is happy with the final product.

“At this point and time, yeah. It went through both chambers, got a fair amount of public scrutiny and feedback, and I’m proud of the work the House Republicans did,” said Richardville.

According to a report from the Flint Journal, the governor has given the nod to Michael Brown, a former acting mayor of Flint, to act as that city's new emergency manager.

From the Journal:

The appointment was announced this afternoon and is effective Thursday, according to Gov. Rick Snyder's office.

As emergency manager, Brown will have wide-ranging authority to make cuts, impose fees or make other changes to overhaul city government after a state review panel found the city in a financial emergency.

Michigan Radio’s Steve Carmody adds more, reporting:

Michael Brown served as Flint’s acting mayor for six months in 2009, between the abrupt resignation of former mayor Don Williamson and the election of his successorDayne Walling.

In naming Brown as Flint’s emergency manager, Governor Snyder praised his “strong track record of serving the Flint-area community” and expressed confidence in Brown’s public, private, and non-profit experience.

In a written statement, Brown said he plans to work “collaboratively” with Flint’s elected officials and community leaders. Flint mayor Dayne Walling issued a statement saying that he looks “forward to working with Mr. Brown to address the community’s priorities and to secure the City’s financial stability."

Flint is facing a multi-million dollar debt. There are now emergency managers calling the shots in Benton Harbor, Pontiac, Ecorse and the Detroit Public Schools.  

The state is also looking into a possible “fiscal” problem in Inkster.

(courtesy of the Herman Cain campaign)

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain will speak to an audience tonight at Hillsdale College.  

But while Cain's speech will focus on his foreign policy positions, questions are being raised about his personal domestic relations.    

A Georgia businesswoman claimed this week that she and Cain have had a 13 year affair.  Cain denies the allegation. His campaign describes the allegation as 'dirty politics' and a 'smear'.   

The allegation follows reports that Cain has allegedly sexually harassed women in the past. Cain denies those allegations as well.  

There are multiple news media reports that Herman Cain is 'reassessing' his campaign. Herman Cain has dropped in Republican presidential polls since the allegations arose earlier this fall.

It is not known if Cain will address the latest allegation against him or the future of his presidential aspirations at tonight's event on the Hillsdale College campus.

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.

State Senator Glenn Anderson of Westland likes to think of himself as a workhorse, not a show horse. In other words, as a guy more interested in getting it done than getting press attention.

That’s a little difficult to do these days in the Michigan Senate, where Democrats have less than a third of the seats and can’t accomplish anything, at least not on their own.

user brother o'mara / Flickr

More for-profit schools coming to Michigan?

The Republican-led legislature is planning to resume its push to allow more charter schools in the state. The Associated Press reports the discussions will start in the House Education Committee this week:

The education committee has scheduled hearings for Tuesday and Wednesday on the legislation that would end some numerical and geographical limits on charter schools. It narrowly passed the Republican-led Senate in October.

The state has roughly 250 charter schools. Supporters say more should be allowed to boost educational options in public schools.

Democrats say it appears to be an effort to help charter schools that are sometimes run by for-profit companies at the expense of other schools.

Democratic Sen. Rebekah Warren of Ann Arbor on Tuesday plans to propose a constitutional amendment to ban for-profit schools. It's unlikely that proposal would advance in the Republican-led Legislature.

Remembering Frederik Meijer

The man who started "Meijer Thrifty Acres" with his father in 1962 died last Friday at the age of 91 after suffering a stroke. Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith reported on today's public visitation:

Meijer spokesman Frank Guglielmi says they’re expecting at least 10,000 people to travel to Grand Rapids Tuesday for the public visitation.

“The Meijer family wanted to give the community an opportunity to pay their respects to Fred because he meant so much to so many people, not just in Grand Rapids but really in the state of Michigan,” Guglielmi said.

The public visitation will take place at the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids from from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. There will be a private funeral tomorrow at a Grand Rapids church.

Wet weather, rain turning to snow

The rain is falling, and the National Weather Service says snow is on the way.

Counties in the south and southeast part of the state have a mix of winter storm watches, flood watches, and flood warnings.

Rain will fall until late afternoon. That could turn to snow later with accumulations of around an inch.  Later tonight the winds will pick up and snow accumulations could be around 2 to 6 inches for much of the south and southeast part of the state.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder could veto his first bill this week. He faces a Friday morning deadline to sign or a reject measure sent to him by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The bill would make it difficult for state agencies to enact rules that are stricter than federal standards without first getting permission from the Legislature.

Sara Wurfel is the governor’s press secretary.

A Michigan Department of Human Services office in Detroit was the scene of protests, confusion, and anger this morning.  This was the day people losing welfare cash assistance had a chance to challenge that decision, but the hearings were delayed.

People losing cash-assistance were told to be at the Department of Humans Services office at 8 o’clock this morning and to be prepared to spend the day waiting for their teleconferenced hearing to be conducted.  Three hours later, the hearings had not started.

Earlier this month, Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards ruled that the privately held Ambassador Bridge company was guilty of contempt of court. This was not surprising.

Nearly two years ago, the judge found that the company and its owner, Matty Moroun, had violated its agreement with the state of Michigan concerning what is known as the Gateway project. This was a joint, two-hundred and thirty million dollar venture between the bridge company and the state to connect the bridge directly to I-75 and I-96 through a series of new roads and ramps.

Both parties agreed on where the roads were to be built. But Moroun violated the agreement. He built a money-generating duty-free shop and put fuel pumps where one of the new roads was to have gone. The Michigan Department of Transportation sued, and in February 2010, the judge issued a ruling.

He ordered the bridge company to tear down the pumps and the duty-free shop, and build the road as agreed. But nothing happened. Eleven months ago, the judge briefly jailed Dan Stamper, president of the bridge company for non-compliance.

He let him out when Stamper promised to get it done. But again, nothing happened. Finally, on November 2, the judge ruled the company guilty of civil contempt.

He set a hearing for Thursday to decide whether to have a court-appointed receiver take control of the project.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

 The Lansing City Council will talk about the benefits of meeting less often tonight.  

The city charter requires the council to meet 50 times a year.  City Clerk Chris Swope says, with that schedule, the council is wasting money.   

“It’s not just a matter of that cost but…we should be more efficient. People shouldn’t have to watch 50 times a year to keep an eye on what the city council is doing," says Swope.   

Swope proposes reducing the current city council meeting schedule from 50 required meetings to 26 meetings each year.  

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