Politics & Government

Stories about politics and government actions

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Tea Party activists and health care advocates packed a public hearing yesterday at the state Capitol. State lawmakers will decide over whether Michigan should create a website that would allow people to comparison shop for health insurance. Most people who showed up used the event to voice their opinion on the federal Affordable Care Act.

The online health care exchange is required under the new health care law, which is why many Republicans at the state Capitol have been hesitant to approve the website. They say it would be an endorsement of the Affordable Care Act.

Doctor Fadwa Gillanders is a chronic disease management specialist. She opposes national health care. She told lawmakers about a patient with several chronic conditions who called her – in her words – begging for help.   

“I get beggars every day. We’re turning into a nation of beggars, ‘Can you give me? Can you give me?’ Because we don’t know how to take care of ourselves, and we’re hoping insurance will make it better, but it actually makes it worse.”

Those who support national health care say health care is too expensive and too few people receive adequate care. The Republican chair of the House panel says she has no timeline to approve or reject the creation of the health exchange website.

Photo courtesy of Governor Rick Snyder

Governor Rick Snyder will follow his State of the State address with another speech today to the state’s business leaders and immigration policy is expected to play a prominent role in his talk. 

Governor Snyder announced in his State of the State address that he’s forged an alliance with unions and businesses to lobby Congress to relax some immigration laws. Snyder wants to keep educated immigrants in the country. 

Mike Finney is the CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and one of the governor’s top advisors on business issues. He says right now immigration rules force out many potential entrepreneurs after they earn advanced degrees from Michigan colleges and universities.

“It seems only logical that we would at least create opportunities for them to offer up that intellect to help grow businesses here in this country and, of course, in the state of Michigan.”

Finney says the governor also wants to improve efforts to match workers with the skills they need to land a good job.

Rick Snyder for Michigan / Facebook Page

Governor Rick Snyder is in for a long night if he plans on answering ALL of the questions submitted for his "online town hall" tonight.

More than 3,500 have been submitted, according to Snyder's staff.

He's a sampling of some of the questions that have been posted recently:

  • Hamtramck is charging Officer $900 a month for healthcare permitted under Act 152. Was this your intent?
  • Will you please make high-speed commuter rail between Ann Arbor and Detroit a priority?
  • You say Michigan has a surplus so why are so many people still losing their jobs? And why is Detroit in debt?
  • Why did college students lose food assistance, including the disabled taking online classes? Inhuman to me.
  • How do you feel about the potential legalization of marijuana? This could create potential jobs.

More on the 6 p.m. online town hall from the Associated Press:

Thousands of Michigan residents have sent in questions for Gov. Rick Snyder as he prepares for his first online town hall.

The Republican governor has scheduled an online discussion on his Facebook page beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel says more than 3,500 questions have been posted on Facebook and Twitter and on the state website. Questions also can be called in during the town hall.

The governor says he wants to discuss the initiatives he talked about in Tuesday's State of the State address. Besides the 45-minute online town hall, he's also participating in a televised town hall Friday afternoon at Detroit Public Television studios in Wixom.

Snyder has held more than 100 town hall meetings since he began running for governor in 2009.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Nearly 50,000 state workers are getting refunds on the 3 percent they've been paying for a year toward retiree health care costs.

State budget director John Nixon estimates a worker making $50,000 a year will get back about $1,500.

Gov. Rick Snyder signed bills last month agreeing to refund the money after courts ruled the fee unconstitutional. The money was being returned Thursday.

Workers can choose to receive the refunds in their paychecks or as a deposit into their 401(k) or 457 retirement accounts.

A similar 3 percent contribution being paid by teachers toward their retiree health care costs is not being refunded.

State employee unions had contested the fee, saying only the Civil Service Commission could impose it. Unionized and nonunionized workers will receive the refund.

Governor Snyder’s state of the state speech last night didn’t provoke the kind of excitement it did a year ago.

And that’s not necessarily bad. In fact, it demonstrated two things; a grasp of political reality, and responsible common sense. Last year was one of revolutionary change in the way state government does business. The governor proposed a series of breathtaking programs and far-reaching changes.

To the astonishment of the experts, he got pretty much everything he wanted through the legislature, with one exception -- the New International Trade Crossing bridge.

Senator Whitmer's office

Governor Rick Snyder said in his State of the State speech last night that he wants to make sure all kids in Michigan who graduate from high school are ready for college or advanced job training.

Democratic state lawmakers say the policies the governor has supported so far have hurt that goal.

The governor says he thinks a handful of education proposals that stalled last year would strengthen the state’s education system. He says he would like to see those measures approved this year; including more online learning, and better funding for early childhood education.

Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer says she was not impressed. “He spent 48 minutes talking about last year. We know what happened last year; they picked corporations over kids every time. What we need is a bold vision," Whitmer says.

Whitmer says it was a mistake last year to cut school and university funding. She wishes the governor would have acknowledged a Democratic proposal to ensure all kids who graduate from high school in Michigan receive tuition grants from the state.

thetoad / flickr

Governor Rick Snyder used his 2012 State of the State speech last night to strike an optimistic tone about Michigan’s future, and to refocus attention on what he says is unfinished business from last year.

In his second State of the State address, Governor Snyder got to start off with some good news – Michigan’s unemployment rate fell in the final month of 2011 to the lowest it’s been in over three years.

“Unemployment in the last 12 months has dropped from 11.1 percent to 9.3percent," the Governor said to applause.

And Snyder says that’s evidence his strategy of “relentless positive action” – he used his trademark phrase twice in the speech – is working.

Now a fair amount of that drop is because so many people have quit looking for jobs that they’ve dropped out of the workforce. Adding those people, as well as those who are working part-time but wishing for full-time jobs puts Michigan’s rate of unemployment and under-employment closer to 19 percent.

But, despite lingering challenges, the governor says things are moving in the right direction: Michigan’s finances are looking up, and he says 2012 should be a time to build on the successes of 2011.

“We are on that path. We’re getting it right. We are getting it done.”

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A community organization in Holland has accepted an award from the city after unsuccessfully lobbying for an anti-discrimination law there.

 

From the Associated Press:

An upbeat Gov. Rick Snyder says Michigan now is adding jobs and living within its means and is poised for an even better year ahead if lawmakers approve new projects boosting the economy such as a bridge linking Detroit and Canada.

Snyder made the comments during his second State of the State address Wednesday at the Capitol.

wikimedia commons

A new report says three Michigan companies spent more on lobbying than they did in corporate income taxes between 2008 and 2010.

Those companies include Michigan’s two biggest utilities, DTE and Consumers Energy. It also includes Ann Arbor-based freight hauler Con-way.

troymi.gov

According to the Detroit Free Press, the Troy City Council has effectively reversed course from their decision last month to block construction of a transit center using federal dollars.

The Freep reports that during a meeting Tuesday night, council members voted 4-3 in favor of approving a plan with a slightly reduced cost---the new project will use roughly $6.3 million from a federal transportation grant as opposed to $8.5 million in the earlier proposal.

From the Free Press:

UM GEO

Update 4:26 p.m.

Jennifer Dibbern, the former University of Michigan graduate student, spoke at a press conference this afternoon on U of M's north campus.

Dibbern worked as a graduate student research assistant while pursuing her doctoral degree in Materials Science and Engineering at the U of M.  She was also involved in the effort to form a union for research assistants.

Dibbern claims her advisor pulled Dibbern’s funding and kicked her out of the program because of her union activities:

"I think my story is one clear reason why we as research assistants need a union," says Dibbern. "I would really hope that me being able to come forward and talk with you all prevents this from happening to any other person, any other research assistant at this university."

There is an ongoing dispute over whether graduate student research assistants (GSRAs) have the right to organize. The U of M Board of Regents last May recognized RAs as public employees who have the right to vote to decide for themselves whether they want to form a union. That's in contrast to a 1981 decision by the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC). GEO, the graduate employees union, is seeking to get that MERC ruling overturned. Trial hearing dates are set for Feb. 1-3, 2012.

Dibbern says she came to U of M because of its reputation as an excellent research institution, and she had hopes she'd get her doctorate degree. But she says because of the decision of her advisor, professor Rachel Goldman, she's no longer able to do that.

"My career path in the field that I’ve chosen and all the work that I’ve put into it has been lost; my career’s been ruined."

Rick Fitzgerald, a public relations official with the University of Michigan, was also at the press conference. He says Dibbern's case is "an academic matter" and by law can’t be discussed publicly. He says Dibbern’s claim that she was terminated is not true.

Dibbern claims she received positive feedback on her academic performance up until a few weeks before she was terminated.

Professor Rachel Goldman could not be reached for comment.

9:56 a.m.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - A University of Michigan graduate student claims she lost her job after supporting efforts to unionize graduate student research assistants.

The Detroit Free Press reports Wednesday that Jennifer Dibbern lost her research funding and was kicked out of her academic program. She tells the newspaper she wants to highlight a need to protect research assistants.

School spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said in a statement that "we believe certain of the union's factual claims are unfounded." He said the issue is an academic matter that the school is prohibited from discussing publicly.

Dibbern's work was in the College of Engineering.

The Michigan Employment Relations Commission in August affirmed a 1981 decision that bars research assistants from banding together. There's an ongoing dispute about whether that should be
overturned.

user marcn / Flickr

Tonight, we will hear about the "State of the State" from Governor Snyder, next week it's the "State of the Union" from President Obama.

After he delivers the State of the Union address next Tuesday night (January 24), Mr. Obama will travel  around the country with his message.

One of those stops will include Detroit, Michigan.

From the Associated Press:

The White House says President Barack Obama plans to travel to five states critical to his re-election campaign following next week's State of the Union address.

The president will discuss proposals from Tuesday's address in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Phoenix on Wednesday, and in Las Vegas and Denver on Thursday. On Friday, Obama will make remarks in Detroit.

The five states are expected to be heavily contested by both Obama and his Republican challenger this year.

Obama won the Iowa caucuses in 2008, sending him on a path to the White House. Colorado, Nevada and Arizona are three Western states the president's campaign covets while Michigan is expected to get ample attention from Republicans after the economic recession hurt the state's manufacturing base.

screen grab from YouTube video

Get those "RPA" numbers up!

The Michigan Governor who loves to tout "relentless positive action" as a descriptor for his form of governing has turned to YouTube to give us a preview of his second State of the State address tonight.

In an upbeat tone, Governor Snyder says his speech will be an "honest assessment about how Michigan is doing. And the good part is we're doing well. We are reinventing our state. We're making a major comeback."

In 2012, Snyder says his focus will be about implementing good government, "what you deserve is to have a good government that's implemented well... I'm truly excited and we're going to keep moving forward with relentless positive action."

Governor Rick Snyder has no interest in attempting to make Michigan a "right-to-work" state, which means one where it is illegal for employers to sign labor contracts requiring their workers to pay union dues. But some Republicans in the legislature disagree, and may try to get a right-to-work bill passed this year.

There’s also the possibility of trying to put something on the November ballot, a constitutional amendment, perhaps, that would outlaw the union shop in this state. It’s unclear whether there is really going to be any serious effort to make that happen.

In this morning's news...

Jan 18, 2012
Brother O'Mara / Flickr

SOS Tonight

Governor Snyder delivers his second State of the State address tonight and, as the Associated Press reports, “there’ been no shortage of proposals from groups about what needs attention. A coalition of workers' rights groups asks for less help for business, more money for schools and more weeks of unemployment benefits.” State House and Senate members, Lt. Governor Brian Calley as well as State Supreme Court justices will be in attendance. Michigan Radio will have special coverage of the address, as well as the Democratic response, beginning at 7 p.m.

Unions Unhappy with New Legislation

A package of Republican bills in the state Legislature would boost penalties for public workers who go on strike, Rick Pluta reports. “The legislation would also let employers sue striking workers who get in the way of their businesses, and make it more complicated for unions to get dues deducted from employee paychecks. The state House Oversight, Reform, and Ethics Committee opened hearings on the package yesterday. Union leaders say it’s been years since there’s been any kind of public employee strike in Michigan, and they say the measures are really just meant to harass unions. Hearings on the bills are expected to continue next week,” Pluta reports.

Flint Emergency Manager

The city of Flint now has a plan to fix its ‘financial crisis,’ Steve Carmody reports. But, the plan has several major hurdles to overcome:

Emergency Manager Mike Brown’s 10 page plan outlines Flint’s deteriorating financial condition: An $11 million budget deficit this year, long term declines in population, an eroding tax base.  The plan also charts a course out of the ‘financial crisis’ the governor declared last year. It calls for restructuring collective bargaining agreements with city unions and merging or eliminating some city departments. Emergency Manager Mike Brown calls the plan, “a work in progress”. He says implementing it will be a “most difficult challenge.”

gop.house.com

Governor Snyder is preparing to deliver his second State of the State address tonight. Snyder will deliver the address from the House floor at the Capitol building in Lansing and preparations for the evening are already underway, the Grand Rapids Press reports:

Crews already are working to reconfigure the House floor, which is the largest room in the Capitol and normally serves as the workplace for 110 state representatives and some staff members.

For the speech, representatives are allowed to bring a guest – typically a relative or community leader – and are joined by the members of the state Senate, the Supreme Court and department heads. Once you add 100 members of the media, the crowd comes to about 600. It fills the chamber’s floor, gallery and two adjoining rooms, said Ari Adler, spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall. “It’s not for the claustrophobic,” he said.

The representatives’ desks don’t move easily, tethered electronically for voting and communications, so workers are expected to spend much of the day removing other furniture and bringing in chairs to accommodate guests and dignitaries.

And, what should we expect to hear from the Governor? Rick Pluta reported from Lansing earlier this week that the Governor says he will use this year's address to report back to the Legislature and the citizens of Michigan on the state’s progress over the past year. "The governor promises the speech will be a frank assessment of where his goal of ‘reinventing Michigan’ stands. The governor says people can expect fewer new initiatives for the Legislature to tackle this year in his second State of the State address. He says more of the focus will be on how he intends to manage the executive branch of state government," Pluta explains.

Michigan Radio will have live, special coverage of the address, including analysis of the speech and a Democratic response, beginning tonight at 7 p.m.

The Detroit Economic Club hosts a public forum with Metro Detroit’s so-called “Big Four” at the Detroit Auto Show each year.

And Tuesday’s session with the Detroit Mayor and Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb County executives proved a bit livelier than usual.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Updated 5:09p.m.

A package of Republican bills in the state Legislature would boost penalties for public workers who go on strike. The legislation would also let employers sue striking workers who get in the way of their businesses, and make it more complicated for unions to get dues deducted from employee paychecks.

The state House Oversight, Reform, and Ethics Committee opened hearings on the package today. 

“It’s just to give clarity," said Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Auburn Hills), who chairs the committee. "Strikes that are illegal are really illegal. We’ve seen people try to get to the gray areas and we’re trying to reduce the gray and make it as black and white as we can.”

Union leaders say it’s been years since there’s been any kind of public employee strike in Michigan, and they say the measures are really just meant to harass unions.

“It’s not enough to draw and quarter somebody; You also have to waterboard them and, besides that, shoot them through the heart," said Mary Ellen Gurwitz, an attorney with the Michigan AFL-CIO. 

Hearings on the bills are expected to continue next week.

The group “Michigan Forward,” says a campaign to repeal the state’s emergency manager law is on track to get on the November ballot.

That’s even though the group decided to wait another six to seven weeks before submitting its petition signatures.

Initially, Michigan Forward had planned to turn in signatures on the same day as the Governor's 2012 State of the State address.

CEO Brandon Jessup says he hopes to have 250,000 signatures in favor of a repeal measure, far more than required by law.   He says people have collected about 180,000 signatures so far.

"We’re on the buses, we’re at at the bus stops, that’s just one component of the campaign that’s picking up now," says Jessup.  "We have a very strong church component, we’ve visited, I believe, 75 churches over the last two Sundays, just here in Detroit by itself."

Jessup says the emergency manager law takes away people’s constitutional right to elect their leaders.

Governor Rick Snyder says the law encourages the state to help cities and schools without resorting to the appointment of an emergency manager.   But he says sometimes an emergency manager is necessary for cities facing insolvency.

Michigan AFL-CIO website.

Governor Rick Snyder presents his second state of the state speech Wednesday night.

While the governor has expressed reluctance to pursue a right to work agenda, which would get rid of compulsory union dues, others in Republican leadership still express a desire to pursue that agenda.

Michigan AFL-CIO president, Karla Swift spoke with Michigan Radio's Jennifer White in advance of Gov. Snyder's State of the State address.

Swift said the AFL-CIO should be in Lansing "at the table with all of the stake holders in planning the future for Michigan."

Facebook

With the U.S. House of Representatives starting off a new session today and Senators coming back to work next week, both parties will be eager to make headway on their respective legislative agendas.

For congressional leaders, part of this means making sure their party members fall in line when it's time to vote and don't stray across the aisle.

Governor Rick Snyder
Rick Snyder for Michigan / Facebook Page

Governor Rick Snyder plans to hold an "online town hall" with Michigan residents a day after giving his second State of the State address.

The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday.

It will be streamed live on Facebook on the governor’s Rick for Michigan page.

Residents can submit questions in advance at the state website.

They can also post questions on the governor’s Facebook wall or send a message on Twitter to the governor at @onetoughnerd using the hash tag, #AskGovSnyder.

Questions also can be submitted through Facebook and Twitter once the town hall meeting has started.

Snyder will deliver his State of the State address to lawmakers, top administration officials and others at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Capitol.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce hopes the legislature will pass several pro-business laws before election year politics starts throwing obstacles in the way this year.   

Rich Studley is the president of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. He said there’s probably only a small window before this year’s elections start affecting the ability of the legislature and the governor to get any work done.   

"We believe that between now and the May filing deadline …between now and the end of May and the start of June…there are five months that the legislature and the governor can still work on key issues," said Studley.    

The chamber is pushing for the elimination of Michigan’s ‘personal property tax’ and would like to streamline environmental and other regulations.    

The state’s largest business industry group is also encouraging the governor to move ahead with plans to build a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor, even  if he has to do it without the legislature’s approval.  

One major issue not on the state Chamber of Commerce’s agenda is ‘Right to Work’. Chamber officials say their members have not reached a consensus on the issue.  More than 20 states prohibit agreements between employers and unions that require workers to join the union or pay union dues.

In this morning's news...

Jan 17, 2012

March to Snyder’s Home

Some 800-1,000 people protested outside of Governor Snyder’s neighborhood yesterday evening in Ann Arbor. They were demonstrating against the state’s controversial emergency manager law. “The rally started  on the eastern edge of Ann Arbor, and about a mile-and-a-half from Governor Snyder’s house. Protesters marched, chanted and sang, hoisted signs and lit candles. They wound in a long line through the tree-lined neighborhood of gently rolling hills spotted with the occasional large house. They were greeted outside of Snyder’s gated community by the governor’s chief of staff, Dennis Muchmore. Muchmore told the protestors that the governor wants to work with people living in financially strained communities, but that the cities must also be protected from insolvency,” Laura Weber reports.

Fuel Economy Standards

A hearing is scheduled in Detroit today to discuss President Obama’s plan to nearly double fuel economy standards for vehicles in the U.S., the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

Tuesday's hearing… is one of three being held this month in cities around the country by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Officials with the United Auto Workers union and the National Wildlife Federation plan to be in Detroit for the hearing. The administration in November formally proposed what major automakers and the White House agreed to in July. Under the plan, cars and trucks by 2025 must average 54.5 miles per gallon. Vehicles on the road last year, by contrast, averaged 27 miles per gallon.

Attendance Up at Detroit Auto Show

More people are attending the North American International Auto Show this year. Attendance is up about 10 percent. “195,000 people attended the show on Saturday and Sunday, the first two days the show was open to the public. That compares to about 180,000 people the first two days of the show last year. The North American International Auto Show ends Saturday,” Tracy Samilton reports.

msmail / Flickr

The Michigan Senate Transportation Committee is scheduled to review a bill today that would create a specialty license plate to raise money for the Right to Life of Michigan Fund.

According to Right to Life of Michigan, drivers would be able to purchase the specialty plates to support the pro-life cause.

Lawmakers have previously tried to bring up similar legislation, but it has failed. According to mlive.com:

About half the U.S. has "Right to Life" specialty plates, but their roll-out has been contentious. Groups in several states have mounted legal challenges on First Amendment grounds, some successfully, some not. The Supreme Court has let stand state rulings barring production of the plates.

Most recently, in November, a North Carolina judge blocked production of the plates until a legal battle was resolved. The American Civil Liberties Union argued production of the plates constituted "viewpoint discrimination" because there was no corresponding pro-choice alternative.

Michigan State Senator Patrick Colbeck introduced the legislation, also known as Senate Bill No. 600.

A Grand Rapids suburb has adopted zoning changes (on page 31) that will limit where the state and federal government can house people on parole. The changes will limit the number of parolees who can live in 1 place to 2 people.

Most parolees go home when they’re released from jail. Those who don’t have a safe place to reintegrate into society are housed through reentry programs. People are usually on parole for two years or less. Usually state parolees are housed in the county where they were sentenced.

Police Chief James Carmody says he supports efforts to house and rehabilitate parolees from Wyoming. But he’s concerned too many are being concentrated in a couple of motels in his city. At a meeting last month Carmody said the concentration of dozens of parolees in a couple of motels was “beyond (his) department’s ability to control.” 

Facilities for housing parolees in the future would only be allowed in an industrial area. The two inns would be grandfathered in. The zoning change includes a wide-ranging exemption for family members.

 “As long as they stay out of trouble and they don’t offend, that’s great,” Carmody said. “The problem is the residual effect on my organization is we’ve got to constantly monitor these individuals and keep track of them. So that’s a huge undertaking.”

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Hundreds of people descended on Detroit’s Martin Luther King, Junior high school Monday morning for a march honoring the civil rights leader.

It was just one of many events honoring Dr. King that took place around Metro Detroit.

Hundreds of people came out for the third annual Detroit Public Schools-sponsored march, many of them students. But some adults, like Alicia Gassiamo, came to honor a figure whose sacrifices they say made a real difference in their lives.

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