Politics & Government

Politics
4:58 pm
Wed May 23, 2012

Legislators move to exempt drink pouches from Michigan's bottle deposit law

A state House committee has voted to exempt drink pouches from the state’s 10-cent bottle deposit law. The pouches are made of plastic, aluminum, and paper. They are not biodegradable or recyclable. Harold McGovern is the president of a beverage wholesale company. He said there are environmental benefits to pouches.

"It's a fraction of the up-front emissions from the standpoint of a carbon footprint. More importantly, the emissions on the transportation cycle - whether it’s delivery to our warehouse, whether it’s delivery to stores - also has dramatic incremental savings because of the weight difference between aluminum, glass, and this pouch technology," said McGovern.

If the House bill becomes law, it would preempt a state Treasury determination that the deposit could apply to alcoholic drink pouches. Environmental groups say the state should not encourage packaging that’s not recyclable.

Politics
3:17 pm
Wed May 23, 2012

Granholm on voter ID laws: "un-American" and "treasonous" (Video)

screengrab from the War Room on Current TV

Yesterday, a meeting of the Michigan House Redistricting and Elections Committee was disrupted by protesters angry about proposed changes to the state's election laws.

Chief among protesters' concerns was a measure, now headed to the state House floor, that would strengthen ID requirements for voter registration in Michigan.

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commentary
11:06 am
Wed May 23, 2012

Commentary: Elephants at War

For many years, there was a big difference between the two major parties when it came to their internal affairs. Democrats often didn’t get along behind closed doors and on convention floors.  And they often didn’t mind letting their disagreements show. Nor did their intra-party brawls usually seem to hurt them. That’s because the Democrats were a collection of different interest groups who didn’t necessarily like each other very much.

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Politics
10:39 am
Wed May 23, 2012

New law encourages better Internet access in rural Michigan

Gov. Snyder signed legislation aimed at improving Internet access in Michigan's rural areas.

According to Snyder's office, the new law will allow easier access for telecommunications companies to install Internet infrastructure.

More from Gov. Snyder's office:

Senate Bill 499, sponsored by state Sen. Tom Casperson, will allow easier access for telecommunications companies to install facilities along state-controlled rail-trails – former railway lines converted to walking and bicycling paths. Companies will pay not more than $500 in application fees to the Department of Natural Resources, plus a one-time fee of 5 cents per linear foot used. Revenues will go into the Michigan Trailways Fund or the Natural Resources Trust Fund.

“Keeping costs low will encourage more companies to expand wireless Internet access to Michigan’s rural areas, essential to continuing our economic reinvention,” Snyder said.

The bill now is Public Act 138 of 2012.

Politics
8:44 am
Wed May 23, 2012

The Week in Michigan Politics

The Week in State Politics
Contemplative Imaging Flickr

Every Wednesday morning we check in with Michigan Radio's political analyst Jack Lessenberry to talk about the week's political news in the state. On tap for this morning: The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled that review teams that are deciding whether or not a city or school district is in financial crisis can meet behind closed doors, some Detroit officials say the consent agreement the city has with the state is illegal, and we take a look at a big shake-up in the state Republican party leadership.

News Roundup
8:36 am
Wed May 23, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Detroit Consent Agreement

Officials with Detroit’s law department say they expect to go to court to challenge the city’s consent agreement with the state. Sarah Cwiek reports:

Last week, Detroit’s top lawyer suggested the agreement was illegal because the state owes an outstanding debt to the city.  State officials say that premise is all wrong. Some City Council members oppose a legal challenge, calling it pointless and counterproductive. But council member Kwame Kenyatta took the opposite view. He says if city lawyers are right and the agreement violates the city charter, that’s a serious problem. Detroit Mayor Dave Bing declined to comment on the legal challenge.

Flint Teachers

The Flint school board has voted to lay off 237 teachers as part of an effort to eliminate an estimated $20 million deficit for the coming year, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The board voted Tuesday to lay off 108 elementary and 129 secondary school teachers. Earlier this month, the board voted to close both middle schools, along with Bunche and Summerfield elementary schools. Board documents say the district selected teachers for layoff based on recent evaluations. Statewide teacher tenure legislation last year put an end to seniority-based layoffs. The board must adopt a budget by June 30.

Kalamazoo River Update

Tests suggest household wells near the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill have not been contaminated. “Health officials have spent the past few years testing 150 wells in the spill zone.  Jennifer Gray is a state toxicologist. She says a draft report released this week by the Department of Community Health shows no organic oil-related chemicals have turned up in any of the water wells.  But she says a few wells have tested positive for iron and nickel. Gray says testing will continue for years to come," Steve Carmody reports. A pipeline break in July, 2010, resulted in more than 800,000 gallons of crude oil leaking into the Kalamazoo River.

Newsmaker Interview
5:16 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Does Michigan's 'stand your ground' law promote violence?

Tim Bledsoe is a Democrat representing Michigan’s 1st House District, which includes Grosse Pointe
Rep. Bledsoe's official website

Florida caught lots of attention after the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, a Florida teen. On trial for the killing is George Zimmerman who claims he acted under Florida’s “stand your ground” law.

Michigan is among several states with laws similar to Florida’s. Michigan’s “stand your ground” law was revised in 2006 by bipartisan majorities in the legislature. It was signed into law by Jennifer Granholm, who was the Democratic governor at the time.

Now, more than a dozen Democratic Michigan House members have introduced legislation to repeal the law.

Democratic Representative Tim Bledsoe sponsored House Bill 5644. “I think the Trayvon Martin case really showed us the problem with having a law like “stand your ground," he said.

According to Bledsoe, Michigan has another self-defense law called the Castle Doctrine, which states that a person has the right to defend themselves, their family and their property in their home.

“Our effort to repeal the "stand your ground" law does not in any way affect the Castle Doctrine. But what we are seeing is that, if you are in a public place, and you are in a confrontation, and there is this opportunity for you to retreat, you must take advantage of that opportunity to retreat,” said Bledsoe.

The Democratic representative said although he has not identified any case in Michigan where the "stand your ground" law has been used in self defense, he said "We see this more in terms of acting in a preemptive way to try to avoid situations like the Trayvon Martin case here in Michigan."

Rep. Bledsoe said he and others will continue to seek out public support to pressure legislators to repeal the law.

Politics
4:28 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Detroit lawyers: We'll probably take consent agreement to court

Detroit skyline
user Bernt Rostad creative commons

Officials with Detroit’s law department they’ll most likely challenge the city’s consent agreement with the state.

Last week, Detroit’s corporation counsel issued a letter suggesting the agreement was illegal because the state owes the city money.

State officials say that premise is all wrong, and the opinion has no legal merit.

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Politics
3:53 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Proposed changes to Michigan election laws draw ire from protestors

State Rep. Pete Lund chairs the House Redistricting and Elections Committee
gophouse.com

A House committee meeting in Lansing was interrupted today by a group of about 50 protestors angry over proposed election law changes.

The House Redistricting and Elections Committee planned to vote on a series of changes including one that would require either a photo ID or birth certificate to be presented when registering to vote.  Opponents argue that the new rule would create unfair hurdles for some potential voters.

Protestors yelled slogans including "respect our vote" and some people were escorted outside.

According to the Detroit News, the protest was led by Pastor W.J. Rideout and Rev. Charles Williams Sr., the latter of whom told committee members "you're killing democracy" before leaving the meeting.

Another man, the News says, told committee chairman Rep. Pete Lund that, "The blood of Martin Luther King Junior is on your hands."

Despite the disruption, the committee voted to have the bill move to the House floor. 

-John Klein Wilson,Michigan Radio Newsroom

Politics
1:15 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Court of Appeals rules Michigan's emergency manager process doesn't violate Open Meetings law

Flint Emergency Manager Michael Brown
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled review teams can meet behind closed doors as they decide whether to recommend a state takeover of a city or school district. Opponents of Michigan’s emergency manager law filed the challenge. They say review teams should have to comply with Michigan’s open meetings law.

The ruling essentially upholds the decision to name an emergency manager to run Flint and the state’s consent agreement with Detroit.

Robert Davis filed one of the lawsuits. He says the court made a mistake.

“The financial review teams are able to exercise extraordinary powers, including issuing subpoenas and compelling testimony of local elected officials, and, certainly, since they are discussing financial management of a local unit of government certainly that should be open for every person and every citizen to be privy to,” Davis said.

Davis said he will appeal this ruling to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the Court of Appeals is still deciding whether to allow a referendum challenging the emergency manager law on the November ballot

Commentary
11:18 am
Tue May 22, 2012

Contraception Rules

The Michigan Catholic Conference filed a federal lawsuit yesterday, charging that their freedom of religion has been violated because of a new rule regarding health insurance policies.

And on the basis of logic alone, I have to say, what they are claiming makes absolutely no sense to me. This is not an issue that only involves Michigan. Forty-three Roman Catholic dioceses, social service agencies, schools and even the University of Notre Dame filed similar lawsuits across the nation. Their issue is simply this.

The Obama administration's Department of Health and Human Services has a rule requiring all employers that provide health insurance to have that coverage cover contraceptives.

The Roman Catholic Church opposes any use of contraception, and says being required to cover this violates their religious freedom.

This is not, by the way, part of the Affordable Care Act, the constitutionality of which is due to be decided by the United States Supreme Court next month, This is entirely a different case.

The Michigan Catholic Conference and other Catholic groups across the nation say that requiring them to insure contraceptive coverage violates their rights under both the First Amendment and under a bill called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

They want the federal courts to make the Obama Administration drop this requirement.

But here's why their argument seems illogical. The government is not requiring that anybody approve of or use contraception. That would be a tremendous violation of religious freedom. What the government is saying is that if someone does choose to do so, insurance plans have to cover it.

That makes logical and legal sense, given that nearly half a century ago, in a case called Griswold vs. Connecticut, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a state could not outlaw the use of contraceptives. Incidentally, every survey I have ever seen shows that the majority of American Catholics do in fact use contraception, even though it is against their church's teaching.

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Politics
10:56 am
Tue May 22, 2012

Detroit Works Project gets long-term planning input--but is anybody listening?

Houses in Detroit's Woodbridge neighborhood
Andrew Jameson Wikimedia commons

A project that aims to radically re-shape Detroit’s geography and better align resources with its declining population is starting to wrap up.

After a rocky launch in 2010, city officials split the Detroit Works Project into short-term and long-term planning teams.

The long-term plan organizers have been holding community meetings for months. They’re trying to develop a comprehensive blueprint for the city’s future.

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Politics
3:02 pm
Mon May 21, 2012

Michigan Catholics sue Obama administration over birth control mandate

St. Mary Cathederal in Lansing
stmarylansing.org

The Michigan Catholic Conference has filed a lawsuit in federal court to block an Obama administration rule that requires employer health plans to offer contraception coverage. The Catholic church opposes birth control.

The Catholic Conference offers health coverage to about 10,000 employees and their dependents at Catholic parishes, schools and charities across the state.

Paul Long is the president of the Michigan Catholic Conference.

“Inasmuch we provide this benefit, this mandate would be very restrictive upon us," Long said. "We felt that we needed to act in a way that was in keeping with who we are and being able to continue to provide the plan that we’ve always provided.”

The lawsuit says the contraception requirement violates the church’s religious freedom. It was filed at a federal court in Ohio. Franciscan University of Steubenville-Ohio is also part of the lawsuit.

Commentary
10:00 am
Mon May 21, 2012

Commentary: Taking a Salary

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder have something in common. Both had successful business careers before politics. When both were first elected, they promised not to take a salary, since both their jurisdictions, city and state, had severe budget problems. Then, both changed their minds.

Last year Mayor Bing announced that he was now accepting his salary, which is about $158,000 a year. He had been donating all of it to the police department.

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News Roundup
8:24 am
Mon May 21, 2012

In this morning's Michigan news headlines...

Morning News Roundup, Monday, May 21st, 2012
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Teacher Benefits

A state House committee will go to work this morning on legislation that would make some big changes to teachers’ retirement benefits. Rick Pluta reports:

The state manages the school employees’ pension fund. Governor Rick Snyder says the system is under-funded. He wants the Legislature to enact a plan to make sure it doesn't require a taxpayer bailout years down the road. Teachers’ unions say the governor is overstating the liabilities on the system. They say Republicans are using the numbers to force more costs onto school employees. One of the proposed changes would end retiree health care insurance for new hires.

Double Taxation?

Republican State Senator David Robertson wants to end what he calls a form of double taxation on new car sales. Michigan Radio’s Tracy Samilton reports:

Currently in Michigan, when you apply the trade-in value of your old car to the purchase price of a new car, you pay sales tax on the entire price of the new car.  Sen. David Robertson says that's not fair. He says most states only tax people on the difference between the value of the trade-in and the new car. Changing the tax means the state would lose $250 million in tax revenue a year, so he's proposing to phase in the tax change over six years.

Mayors Say ‘No’ to Occupy Groups

Two Michigan mayors who supported Occupy Wall Street protestors in their cities last year say they won't allow encampments on city property this year. “Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero says Michigan's capital city won't let protestors stay in a downtown park past closing time.  Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje agrees. ‘We wouldn't tolerate tents in our parks or people sleeping overnight.  It was a special circumstance, it was a one-time thing,’ Hieftje explains. With warm weather in full swing, Wall Street protestors are expected to make a return,” the Michigan Radio Newsroom reports.

Politics
6:13 am
Mon May 21, 2012

Governor Snyder pushes for teacher pension reforms

A state House committee goes to work this morning on a plan that would force teachers and other school employees to pay more for their retirement benefits.

Governor Rick Snyder and Republican leaders say the plan is necessary to ensure the long-term solvency of the retirement system.

There are a lot of details to work out, but the bottom line for public school employees is, one way or the other, they will pay more for retirement benefits and retirement health care. Governor Snyder says, overall, he supports the plan. “Cause it’s striking the right balance about taxpayer long-term liabilities and employees who have benefits," Snyder says.

Retired teacher Thom Housman asks, "What’s going to happen next year? What more can they take from teachers next year?" Housman says Republican leaders at the state Capitol have targeted teachers time and time again to address budget troubles regardless of promises that have been made to school employees.

Politics
5:18 pm
Sat May 19, 2012

Anuzis, Hughes out: Shakeup at GOP state convention

There was a shakeup in the leadership of the state Republican Party at a convention today in Detroit. GOP delegates voted to replace the state’s two representatives on the Republican National Committee. Both new committee members promised to push for a more conservative direction.

“I think the convention wants to move to the right, they want constitutional conservatives, moral conservatives, and fiscal conservatives in office,” said State Rep. Dave Agema (R-Grandville), one of the winners. 

Agema is ranked as the state House’s most-conservative lawmaker. He unseated veteran Republican activist and former state party chairman Saul Anuzis.

Former Secretary of State Terri Lynn beat state Representative Holly Hughes for the other Republican National Committee spot. Land says the convention was looking for new faces.

 “You know, I’m a term limits fan, and eight years is good and that’s what a lot of others have served in the past and I think people just wanted to see a change,” Land said.

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Politics
12:30 pm
Sat May 19, 2012

Ron Paul supporters unhappy with results of Michigan Republican Party Convention

Republican presidential canidate Ron Paul

The Michigan Republican Party holds its convention in Detroit today.

The state GOP is choosing delegates to the party’s national convention in Tampa-Florida this summer.

Supporters of Ron Paul say they were denied delegates they deserved.

Paul failed to win a single committed delegate in Michigan’s February 28th presidential primary. But Paul supporters hoped to lay claim to a large share of the state’s officially uncommitted delegates. They got six out of 30 voting delegates headed to Tampa. But Paul supporter John Ettinger of Linden in Genesee County says they deserved more.

"It was a completely rigged numbers game no matter what," says Ettinger.

Matt Frendeway is the Michigan Republican Party spokesman. He says Paul supporters simply failed to win enough delegates to the state convention to get what they want.

“That’s what campaigns are about," says Frendeway.

Frendeway says the party followed long-established rules for allocating national convention delegates. Most of Michigan’s delegates went to Mitt Romney, who won the state’s GOP primary.

It's Just Politics
8:00 pm
Fri May 18, 2012

Who's in and who's out in Michigan's August primary

Immortal Poet Flickr

Every week, Rick Pluta and I take an inside look at state politics in It's Just Politics. This week we focused on the defection of Representative Roy Schmidt. But, there's SO much more going on in politics this week: Wednesday was the filing deadline for local and state races across the state and, so, Pluta and I thought it was only right to do a little round-up of who's in and who's out...

Politics
4:50 pm
Fri May 18, 2012

Child abusers could face longer prison terms

The Michigan House has unanimously passed two bills that require tougher penalties for child abusers.

The bills are named after Dominick Calhoun. In 2010, the four-year-old boy was beaten to death by his mother's boyfriend. Brandon Hayes was convicted of first-degree murder and got a life sentence.

The boy's mother says her son was tortured for four days before he died. She claims she was beaten while trying to defend him, but she was convicted of second-degree murder.

Dominick's older brother witnessed the beatings.

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