Politics & Government

Stories about politics and government actions

The Michigan Senate passed legislation today establishing a system of veterans' courts.
cedarbenddrive / Flickr

A set of bills passed by the state Senate today, the anniversary of 9/11, lays the groundwork for establishing a system of veterans' courts.

The Michigan Public Radio Network's Jake Neher reports:

Whatever else you think about Governor Rick Snyder, you can’t say he has failed to be bold. He has made or tried to make some stunning changes in the way Michigan works in a little over a year and a half in office. Yesterday, he did it again.

He unveiled a plan to dramatically change the health insurance landscape in Michigan by changing the way Blue Cross/Blue shield does business. He would convert it from its current official status as a charity to a nonprofit mutual company over the next fifteen months.

Official White House portrait

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (AP) - President Barack Obama's re-election campaign says the wife of Vice President Joe Biden will speak at events in three Michigan cities on Saturday.

The campaign says Jill Biden will appear in Battle Creek, Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo. It says details on her appearances will be announced later.

The stops come during a planned tour during which the vice president's wife will appear Friday in Minneapolis and Sunday in Pittsburgh.

cnc photos / flickr

Every Wednesday Morning Edition host Christina Shockley and Michigan Radio's political analyst Jack Lessenberry talk about the latest in Michigan politics. This week they talk about updates to emergency financial managers in Allen Park and Flint, the future of Belle Isle and the proposed overhaul to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Snyder proposes Blue Cross overhaul

"Governor Rick Snyder has proposed an overhaul of the rules covering Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Michigan. It calls for Blue Cross to become a customer-owned not-for-profit insurance company. Blue Cross would have to pay taxes adding up to $100 million a year or more, but it would be better able to shield its rate-setting decisions from competitors. One of the biggest changes under the federal law is insurance companies can no longer reject applicants based on their health history. Right now, Blue Cross is the only insurance company in Michigan that has to accept all applicants, regardless of their age or health history.  For-profit insurance companies say they want the overhaul to make it easier for them to challenge Blue Cross’s market dominance," Rick Pluta reports.

The future of Belle Isle

"Gov. Rick Snyder and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing have called a news conference Wednesday on the future of Belle Isle park, a tattered green gem that has been subject of a city-state power struggle. Proposals for a Michigan takeover of the under-maintained 985-acre park have met fierce opposition from some local officials who call it a state power grab. Michigan promises park improvements under an agreement between Snyder and Bing that staved off a state takeover of Detroit, struggling with a chronic budget deficit. The agreement says Belle Isle will operate "as part of a cooperative relationship with Milliken State Park" along the Detroit River," the AP reports.

Veterans' courts

"On the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, state lawmakers pushed forward a plan to give veterans a better shot to stay out of jail if they commit a non-violent crime. The state Senate unanimously passed two bills establishing a framework for creating veterans courts. They offer judges the option to send veterans to rehabilitation programs instead of jail. There are a number of similar courts in Michigan already. The measures passed unanimously in the House in May. They now go to Governor Snyder’s desk," Jordan Wyant reports.

DETROIT (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing have called a news conference on the future of Belle Isle park, a tattered green gem that has been subject of a city-state power struggle.

Mayoral spokeswoman Naomi Patton says Bing and Snyder will announce a park leasing agreement at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in Bing's downtown office.

Proposals for a Michigan takeover of the under-maintained 985-acre park have met fierce opposition from some local officials who call it a state power grab.

After a review of Allen Park's finances by a state-appointed team, Governor Snyder declared that the city is in a financial emergency. That finding could lead to the appointment of an emergency financial manager to try to get the city on stable financial ground. 

While the Allen Park city council was in favor a state review of the city's finances, the Mayor and the Mayor Pro Tem opposed the request. Mayor William Matakas says he will advise the council to challenge the state's findings.

The city of Detroit held its annual memorial service to commemorate the September 11th terrorist attacks Tuesday.

A mournful bagpipe solo captured the somber spirit at the event in downtown Campus Martius Park. With speeches, music and prayer, it remembered victims of the tragedy, and honored the first responders who saved lives that day.

Robert Foley, special-agent-in-charge of the FBI in Detroit, said the 11th anniversary should “renew our resolve” to prevent future attacks. But he says it’s tricky to figure out just how much success we’ve had.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.
Governor Snyder's office / State of Michigan

Update 5:30 p.m.

Governor Rick Snyder has proposed an overhaul of the rules covering Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Michigan. Blue Cross would have to pay taxes adding up to $100 million a year or more.

But the company could also make changes to its rates a lot more quickly and easily. That would help it compete for business.
    
Andy Hetzel is a vice president at Blue Cross. He says the new federal health care law is changing the insurance marketplace and Michigan needs to keep up.

After weeks of court battles, the Michigan ballot is now final, and in addition to a boatload of candidates, we will be asked to decide six statewide ballot proposals.

One of these is designed to prevent anyone from building a new bridge to Canada, no matter who, what or why, without first holding a statewide vote of the people. That may sound sensible.

But it is anything but. This is the result of a private monopoly spending millions of dollars in order to keep a stranglehold on trade.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Sikkema says renewable energy mandate would drive up energy costs

"The campaigns for and against Proposal 3 on the November ballot are debating the cost of renewable fuels versus coal and gas. Proposal 3 would require 25 percent of the state’s electricity be generated using wind, the sun, or bio-fuels by 2025. Ken Sikkema compared the costs of renewable generation to the costs of using coal or natural gas. He found renewable energy will be more expensive. The campaign FOR Proposal 3 says the ballot question would help stabilize energy costs, because the cost of wind and solar energy is not as volatile as fossil fuels," Rick Pluta reports.

Lawmakers to look at legal aid for poor defendants

A hearing will take place this week to set standards for public defenders in Michigan who work with low-income people. "Michigan's public defender system is consistently rated one of the worst in the country. Michigan has no statewide training requirements for public defenders, and many public defenders say they have to take on too many cases to make a living. But they could be created soon. Lawmakers will take the first step this week. They'll hold a hearing Thursday on a bill that would create a new commission to set those standards," Sarah Hulett reports.

Enbridge has paid a $3.7 million fine

"Federal regulators say the Canadian owner of a pipeline that ruptured in 2010 and dumped more than 800,000 gallons of oil into a southwestern Michigan river has paid a $3.7 million fine. Enbridge Inc. owns a pipeline running from Griffith, Ind., to Sarnia, Ontario. The pipeline burst near Marshall, Mich., spewing oil into the Kalamazoo River system. The federal agency says the penalty against Enbridge is the largest it has imposed. It cited Enbridge for 24 violations of hazardous liquid pipeline regulations, including failure to fix corrosion discovered as far back as 2004. It also says Enbridge failed to detect the rupture for 17 hours," the AP reports

If you live in Detroit, I want to wish you good luck trying to wrestle with your election ballot this November.

The rest of us Michigan voters are going to be asked to decide six complex statewide ballot proposals, which is far too many. But Detroiters are going to face a total of ten proposals.

That would be ridiculous, even if this were an enlightened state like Oregon, where everyone is mailed a ballot so they have time to study the races and issues before casting an informed vote.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A public employees’ union says it will offer a counter-proposal if the state goes ahead with plans to privatize prison health care.

Governor Rick Snyder has ruled out privatizing entire prisons. But corrections officials think there may be savings to be had if the state turns to private companies to provide health care services.

Ray Holman is with UAW Local 6000, which represents many of the corrections employees who would be affected. He said the union will offer its own plan to save taxpayers money by reducing the costs of management and outsourcing.

“We believe we can beat any private company. We can do the job better, more effectively, and we want to be given the opportunity to prove it,” said Holman.

Holman said the union believes it can deliver the same services at a lower cost than other bidders. Those services include inmate health clinics, psychiatric services and counseling, psychological evaluations for parole candidates, and record-keeping.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Lower lake levels-- the good and bad news

Rina Miller talks with Michigan Radio's political analyst Jack Lessenberry this week about the ballot proposals that were approved, the results of the special primary in Michigan's 11th congressional district and what happens now, and the medical marijuana debate in the Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming.

DeBoer Rowse Adoption Legal Fund

A lesbian couple from the Detroit suburb of Hazel Park is using an ongoing lawsuit to challenge Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriages.

April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse are jointly raising three special-needs children, who initially came to them through the foster care system, since birth. They’ve already filed suit in federal court, challenging the state code that forbids unmarried couples from adopting.

The Republicans and Democrats have finished their national conventions, but now the party faithful have their state convention to attend.

Both major political parties are hosting state conventions in Michigan this weekend.

Republicans are meeting today and tomorrow in Grand Rapids, while the Democrats will meet in Lansing tomorrow and Sunday.

The conventions will formally nominate candidates for the Michigan Supreme Court, the State Board of Education and the governing boards for the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University.

Despite opposition from Governor Snyder, the Detroit City Council voted to put four proposed charter amendments on the November ballot.

Detroit and Lansing went through a long, contentious process before the two sides reached a consent agreement to keep the city from going broke.

But that agreement has faced resistance from some Council members.

Lead in text: 
In the last month, the consulting firm EMA Inc. recommended that the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department cut 81 percent of its workforce to save money and streamline operations. The Detroit Free Press reports the water board voted today to move forward with its contract with the company.
Politics & Government
Immortal Poet / Flickr

It's official. There will be six questions on the state's November ballot: Five proposed amendments to the Michigan Constitution and one referendum on the state’s emergency manager law. And, we’re looking at some big battles here; we’ll certainly see a whole lot of money pouring into these efforts to change state law. In this week’s It’s Just Politics we take a look at how these ballot questions just might work as vote-drivers.

It’s a GOTV Kind of a Year

This year we have very few undecided voters – that group of anywhere from a third to even less than a quarter of the people that wait until the last minute to make up their minds. A lot of people don’t vote at all – in Michigan, about 40 percent of registered voters don’t actually make it to the polls. That’s referring, however, to the presidential race. In a presidential election year  that’s the biggest driver that gets people out to vote. There’s no doubt though that more people are still undecided about races and questions that are lower on the ballot. So, for many political strategists, the question becomes: what happens if you can somehow persuade some of those people to get out on Election Day?

Can Ballot Questions Get-Out-the-Vote?

Certainly, ballot questions are used to determine policy on issues. But they can also motivate people to get out and vote on issues they care about like same-sex marriage, affirmative action or abortion. This year, in Michigan, we have questions dealing with union rights and taxes. Democrats are pinning some of their electoral hopes on the Protect Our Jobs ballot question. The Protect Our Jobs proposal would guarantee bargaining rights, reverse a bunch of anti-union laws passed by the Legislature and Governor Snyder, and make sure there’s no way lawmakers could pass a right-to-work law in Michigan.

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