Politics & Government

Politics
2:53 pm
Fri July 1, 2011

Could large, consumer-grade fireworks land in Michigan?

Michiganders have to cross state lines to find fireworks like "America's Best" (warning: shoots flaming balls).
user m-gem Flickr

Large fireworks might be sold in Michigan before Independence Day next year.

That’s if  Democratic state Representative Harold Haugh has his way.

Haugh has been working on legislation for a couple years that would allow the sale of large, consumer-grade fireworks that are already sold in surrounding states.

Consumer-grade fireworks are more powerful than the low-grade fireworks currently available in Michigan, but are less explosive than large pyrotechnic displays.

Haugh says selling large fireworks in the state would fit Governor Rick Snyder’s call to make Michigan more friendly to small businesses.

He says the potential increased revenue comes from both stores and roadside tents.

"The speculation was there could be as many as 200 buildings statewide go up that are going to sell consumer-grade fireworks," said Haugh. "Now with the tent issue, it could be as many as another 400 tents that sell consumer-grade fireworks."

Haugh says the additional sales of fireworks could bring in as much as $12 million to the state, and he says the decision to sell large fireworks would be up to local governments.

"I mean they own it. It’s not the people of the state of Michigan. It’s not the people up here," said Haugh. "It's the local community that will own the issue of selling consumer-grade fireworks."

Opponents say the larger fireworks are not safe and are too noisy. But Haugh says he thinks his proposal is gaining support in the Legislature.

He hopes to get the measure approved before the end of the year.

Politics
2:29 pm
Fri July 1, 2011

Thaddeus McCotter to announce candidacy Saturday

The Associated Press is reporting that Michigan Rep. Thaddeus McCotter will announce his candidacy in the Republican presidential primary on Saturday.

From the article:

The congressman from the Detroit suburb of Livonia confirmed Friday on WJR-AM he'll make a formal announcement about his candidacy on Saturday.

The 45-year-old McCotter is a lawyer and served as a state senator, Wayne County commissioner and Schoolcraft Community College trustee before entering the U.S. House in 2003.

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Commentary
10:13 am
Fri July 1, 2011

Lansing Takes a Breather

Happy new fiscal year, everyone. Everyone, that is, except for employees of the State of Michigan, whose fiscal year begins October first. The state used to have a normal fiscal year, but switched in the seventies as part of budget-balancing maneuver.

Anyway, even though their budget year isn’t over, our allegedly full-time lawmakers are honoring the conventional year by knocking off for the summer, pretty much. They are scheduled to be in session for only two days in the next two months.

Nice work if you can get it.

To be sure, whether you liked it or not, the lawmakers did accomplish a lot in the last six months. Repealing the Michigan Business Tax. Inaugurating a pensions tax. Balancing the budget earlier than anyone except Bill Milliken can remember.

They finished the session yesterday by dramatically changing the way public school teacher tenure works in Michigan.

Not that our lawmakers didn’t do some silly stuff too. You’ll be pleased to know that our lawmakers made it possible for five-year- olds to hunt bear. That’s right. They repealed that pesky socialist law that said you had to be at least ten years old to shoot living creatures with a gun Now, kids of any age will be able to blast away, provided they are accompanied by an adult who has a hunting license.

One more reason to stay out of the woods.

Turning serious, I was struck by something about the teacher tenure battle. The legislation will make it easier to fire bad teachers, all agree. It was bitterly opposed by the teachers‘ unions, who always seem to oppose any kind of education reform.

Interestingly, however, even the unions admitted at the last moment that it was too hard to fire really bad teachers, and that changes needed to be made. They decided to back a less drastic bill introduced in the senate that would have streamlined the process. But it was too late. The problem was that a year ago, the unions would have opposed any changes whatsoever. By not being willing to address the issue earlier, in a sense, they did it to themselves.

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News Roundup
9:19 am
Fri July 1, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, July 1, 2011
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Reports: McCotter Ready to Enter 2012 Presidential Race

There are reports out this morning, quoting many unnamed sources, that Republican Congressman Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan is planning on jumping into the 2012 presidential race.  From the Associated Press:

A person familiar with the plans of Michigan Congressman Thaddeus McCotter says the Republican will make a "major announcement" Saturday about whether he will run for president in 2012. A person in contact with the Livonia congressman told The Associated Press yesterday that McCotter will address whether he'll seek the Republican presidential nomination.

Lawmakers Finish Work For the Summer

State lawmakers worked into the evening yesterday, finishing up their work before a two month summer break begins. Lawmakers worked on teacher tenure rules, the House passed another version of a bill that would require many public employees to pay more of their health insurance costs, and the House also approved a measure to regulate hunting ranches as an alternative to new regulations that would outlaw wild boar.

For Sale: Borders

Borders has agreed to sell itself to private investment firm Najafi Cos. for $215 million, according to the Associated Press. “Najafi, which owns the Book-of-the-Month Club, will also assume $220 million in debt. The agreement is tentative and what is known as a ‘stalking horse’ bid for a company under bankruptcy protection. The bid will open an auction for the bookseller and its assets, so a higher bid is possible. A bankruptcy court hearing on the deal is set for July 21,” the Associated Press reports.

Politics
7:47 am
Fri July 1, 2011

Governor Snyder marks six months in office

Governor Rick Snyder (R) on inauguration day, January 1st, 2011. The Governor has been in office, now, for six months.
Corvair Owner Flickr
  • An error occurred ingesting this audio file to NPR

Governor Snyder has been in office now for six months. He spoke with Michigan Radio this morning about his achievements and what he considers are his failures.

Election 2012
7:06 am
Fri July 1, 2011

Reports: McCotter ready to launch presidential campaign

Reports say Republican Congressman Thaddeus McCotter (far right) will announce a presidential bid later today.
Republican Conference Flickr

Reports are swirling this morning that Republican Congressman Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan will make a bid for the GOP nomination for president.

From the Detroit Free Press:

Livonia congressman and rock 'n' roll guitarist Thaddeus McCotter is taking his act to a bigger stage today: He's filing paperwork to run for the presidency.

The 45-year-old McCotter, now in his fifth term representing northwestern Wayne and southeastern Oakland counties in Congress, will talk up his bid for the Republican nomination Saturday night at Freedom Fest at Whitmore Lake after appearing today on Sean Hannity's radio show.

"He's in it to win it," said a senior campaign adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement hadn't been made public.

From the Detroit News:

Rep. Thaddeus McCotter will officially kick off his bid for the White House on Saturday, three people briefed on the matter said late Thursday…

McCotter plans to file paperwork today with the Federal Election Commission, and his website, www.mccottter2012.com, is planned to be up and running today.

He has secured office space in western Wayne County for his campaign and has hired a former speaker of the Iowa House, Chris Rants, as a campaign adviser and is working to hire advisers in New Hampshire.

He becomes the third conservative member of the U.S. House to throw his hat into the 2012 GOP ring: Reps. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Ron Paul of Texas also are running.

A McCotter run is making headlines across the U.S. this morning:

Michigan Supreme Court
6:43 am
Fri July 1, 2011

GOP majority reverses court on union donations

Joe Gratz Flickr

In a blow to unions’ political fundraising, the Republican-led state Supreme Court has ruled automatic deductions from the paychecks of public employees for political donations is illegal. The GOP majority reversed a decision made by the court last December, when Democrats controlled the court.

The Michigan Education Association’s political action committee is fueled by contributions from teachers and school employees who agree to have their donations deducted automatically by the school district from their paychecks.

The Republican justices ruled that’s a violation of Michigan’s campaign finance law because public resources are used to support a political activity. They said it’s not enough for the union to reimburse school districts for the costs of administering the check-off system.

Democrats say the school districts did not spend any money on politics, and complained it appears the only reason the court reconsidered the decision is because the partisan majority changed as a result of last year’s elections.

State Legislature
6:39 am
Fri July 1, 2011

Lawmakers wrap up work before summer break

State Capitol, Lansing, Michigan
Matthileo Flickr

State lawmakers wrapped up their work late last night before they take a two-month summer break. As Michigan Public Radio’s Laura Weber reports, one of the issues that pushed debates into the night was big changes to teacher tenure rules:

The tenure bills would make it easier for school districts to get rid of teachers in underperforming classrooms. But many Democrats say teachers should not be held responsible for the shortcomings of school districts and for deep cuts to education funding.

Democratic state Senator Coleman Young says the proposed changes to teacher tenure won’t help students.

“Paris Hilton has a better chance of winning an Oscar than this bill does of doing anything positive or for reforming the public education system.”

Those cheers came from teachers’ union members and supporters filling the Senate gallery. But the bills did pass the Senate, moved to the House for final approval, and are now on their way to Governor Rick Snyder for his signature.

Lawmakers target public worker health costs

The Republican-led state House passed another version of a bill that would require many public  employees to pay more of their own health insurance costs, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

A bill approved by a 56-52, mostly party-line vote Thursday would cap the dollar amount a public employer can pay toward health insurance for a public employee. An example would be $15,000 a year for family coverage.

Local governments and school boards could vote to change that requirement so that public employees must cover at least 20 percent of their health coverage costs.

It's possible the proposal will be a compromise between versions previously passed by the House and Senate. It was not immediately clear if Senate leaders would be on board with the House plan.

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Politics
8:58 pm
Thu June 30, 2011

Immigration enforcement subject of Detroit forum

U.S. Representative John Conyers, second from right, rallies community members ahead of an immigration forum.
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

Activists and families packed a school lunchroom in southwest Detroit to vent their frustrations with immigration and border enforcement in that part of the city.

U.S. Representatives John Conyers and Hansen Clarke convened the forum in the wake of complaints about immigration enforcement near schools.

That’s prohibited by Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy. And Conyers says the head of ICE, John Morton, has expressed his commitment to making sure it’s enforced:

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Politics
4:41 pm
Thu June 30, 2011

Governor Snyder: Optimism or disconnect (audio)

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder
http://www.michigan.gov/snyder

Governor Rick Snyder has been in office for six months. And according to him, things are getting back on track. But is there disconnect between the Governor’s optimism and how his policies are being received by Michiganders.

Michigan Radio's Jenn White talks with Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and senior policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants.

Demas says generally pessimism does not fare well for politicians, and she points to former Governor Jennifer Granholm's optimism about the state of Michigan, no matter how bad things got.  But Demas says it's all about what we want Michigan to be now.

"If we want Michigan to be a state that has lower business taxes and leaner budgets, and forces public employees to make very tough choices, then you're going to be happy with the direction that Governor Snyder is putting the state in.  But if this is not what we want Michigan to be then I think the positive talk is going to be seen as very out of touch. And it's going to be up to voters to decide where they really want things to be."

Sikkema adds that if the economy goes south and unemployment goes up then the debate about competing visions for Michigan could be a challenge for Republicans.  Sikkema says:

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Politics
12:52 pm
Thu June 30, 2011

Detroit City Council approves budget, Bing says layoffs "a reality"

The Detroit City Council has approved a budget deal that promises to avert drastic cuts to police and fire, recreation and bus service.

The council voted to restore $25 million of the $50 million it cut from Mayor Dave Bing’s budget.

Bing says the vote is good news. But he says tough things are still in the city’s future.

Layoffs will be a reality, there’s no way around that, and with those layoffs there’s obviously going to be some service problems. So we’ve got to get better at servicing the citizens that are here, as well as the businesses that are here.

Two council members voted against the deal. They say they’re not convinced the mayor’s revenue projections will hold. And they say if they don’t, the budget will have to be revisited.

The new fiscal year starts tomorrow.

Politics
12:08 pm
Thu June 30, 2011

Forum to discuss harassment and racial profiling by immigration officials

Jose Luis (left) says he sought refuge inside Hope of Detroit Academy after he dropped his kids off because immigration agents were waiting outside the school.
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

The Associated Press reports that Congressmen Hansen Clarke and John Conyers will hold a public forum in Detroit today on allegations of harassment and racial profiling by Customs Enforcement agents.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett reported on some of the complaints last month, with some saying immigration officials in unmarked SUVs were monitoring people near a school.

From Hulett's report:

The Detroit office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement is under fire for what critics are calling aggressive and overzealous tactics.

ICE officials say they are concerned enough that they're reviewing a recent incident involving immigration agents.

But the union that represents agents is complaining that ICE isn't standing behind its officers.

The Detroit Free Press reported on a small rally organized earlier this month (June 11) by the Alliance for Immigrants Rights & Reform Michigan.

From the Free Press:

About 40 people rallied in southwest Detroit on Saturday to protest what they say is a rise in racial profiling and harassment by agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The rally at Clark Park was organized by the Alliance for Immigrants Rights & Reform Michigan. Some participants flashed signs to drivers at the intersection of Vernor and Scotten that said: "Stop Racial Profiling," "Stop the Abuse" and other pleas.

The Clarke and Conyers meeting is scheduled for today at the Hope of Detroit Academy.

State Legislature
11:18 am
Thu June 30, 2011

Tax on health insurance claims approved

This just in from Michigan Public Radio Network's Laura Weber:

The state Senate has approved a tax on health insurance claims. The measure is necessary to ensure Michigan continues to receive about $800 million from the federal government for Medicaid. The federal government is expected to rule later this year on whether the state's system for funding Medicaid is legal.

The Senate had put the issue up for a test-vote yesterday but it didn't pass. As Rick Pluta noted in a story before the second vote took place:

Governor Rick Snyder has been pressuring the Legislature to adopt a one percent tax on all health insurance claims. That would put Michigan in compliance with federal rules. Otherwise, Michigan could lose 10 percent of its funding for the entire Medicaid program. The claims tax would generate $400 million, and qualify the state for twice that much in federal funds.

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Commentary
10:56 am
Thu June 30, 2011

Selling the Bridge

Our lawmakers are preparing to wind up business for the summer, and Governor Rick Snyder has racked up an astonishing record of legislative success. True, his party has heavy majorities in both houses, and there was a broad consensus that Michigan needed change. But he got lawmakers to agree very quickly to major reforms that faced entrenched opposition.

Taxing pensions, for one thing. True, he had to compromise, finally agreeing to exempt most of those already receiving them. But that he got Republicans to agree to a tax increase at all was something like getting a vegan to eat a hamburger.

The changes in the Emergency Financial Manager law and in the rules covering binding arbitration for government employees will have profound effects in years to come.

In six months, this governor has accomplished more than his predecessor did in four years. But he has so far failed at one thing, something that would have seemed an easy sell.

The proposal to build a new bridge across the Detroit River,  the New International Trade Crossing. The facts indicate this should be a no-brainer. The Ambassador Bridge is old. Canada wants and needs a new bridge so much it will cover all Michigan‘s costs.

Not only that. The federal government will allow Michigan to use the $550 million Canada is offering us as matching money to get two billion dollars in badly needed federal highway funds.

Yet the governor had to postpone a vote on the bridge because he’s been unable to win over most in his own party. To understand their thinking, I talked yesterday with one of the rising stars in the Michigan Republican Party, Senator Tonya Schuitmaker.

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Politics
10:40 am
Thu June 30, 2011

Detroit City Council to vote on budget deal today

The Spirit of Detroit sculpture outside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center.
user farlane Flickr

The Detroit City Council is set to vote this hour on a budget deal that splits the difference between Mayor Dave Bing’s proposal and the council’s steeper cuts.

After breaking off negotiations with the city council earlier this week, Mayor Bing presented a compromise budget today. And it appears the votes are there to pass it.

The two sides have been at odds over how much money to cut from next year’s budget. The city council has been more hawkish – approving $50 million in cuts on top of what Bing proposed.

The newest plan would restore half that. Officials with the Bing administration say that should be enough to avert police and fire layoffs, parks closures, and bus service cuts.

News Roundup
9:04 am
Thu June 30, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Thursday, June 30th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Redistricting Maps Head to Governor

The Republican-led state Senate approved new redistricting maps yesterday. They now head to Governor Snyder’s desk for his signature. But, it appears, that’s not the end of the story. There are reports this morning that the maps will likely be challenged in court. Democrats are unhappy with the maps. As the Detroit News explains, “Democrats claimed throughout the review process that wildly irregular districts — especially in Metro Detroit — were engineered to protect Republican incumbents.” Due to a loss of population in the past ten years, Michigan will go from having 15 U.S. Representatives to 14.

Benton Harbor EM: City Budget Will Break Even this Year

Benton Harbor’s Emergency Manager Joe Harris told residents at a town hall meeting yesterday evening that the city will be able to break even this budget year. In fact, Harris says, the city could run a $400,000 surplus for this fiscal year. Lindsey Smith reports that many of the residents appeared to be relived at the news but some remained skeptical. Harris plans to release his complete budget online by the end of the week.

New Rules for Juries

Beginning this fall, people serving on Michigan juries will be allowed to play a more active role in the pursuit of justice, Steve Carmod reports. From Carmody:

The Michigan Supreme Court announced yesterday that it is revising the rules for people serving as jurors. Until now, jurors were generally expected to sit back, watch the proceedings and wait until both sides had wrapped up their arguments before being able to even discuss the case with other members of the jury. But beginning September 1st, jurors will be allowed to take notes, discuss the case and even ask questions. Many other states, including Arizona and Massachusetts, have implemented similar new rules for serving on a jury.  The Michigan Supreme Court has been studying possible changes to juror rules since 2005.

Redistricting
7:34 am
Thu June 30, 2011

State lawmakers finish work on redistricting... Now what?

Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan
Matthileo Flickr

The Republican-led state Senate approved a Congressional redistricting map yesterday… that means it now goes to Governor Snyder for his signature. The bill passed 25-13, mostly along party lines. But, that might not be the end of the story. Reports this morning seem to indicate that the maps could be challenged in court.

From the Detroit News:

The state Legislature on Wednesday sent new political district maps to the governor for signing, but the final configuration of congressional and state legislative boundaries could still end up being decided in court… Democrats claimed throughout the review process that wildly irregular districts — especially in Metro Detroit — were engineered to protect Republican incumbents.

Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer refused to comment on whether the party would file a lawsuit charging one or more of the maps don't meet the requirements of state and federal laws to protect voter rights.

"We'll be consulting with the congressional delegation about our next steps," he said. "That's all I can say right now.”

The article continues:

Court challenges are nearly a given, according to Ari Adler, spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall.

"We wouldn't be surprised (by a court challenge) because that tends to be what happens — whichever party is in charge, the other disagrees with the maps," Adler said. "That's why when we looked at our maps we addressed them so they would pass muster with the federal government and with any court."

Common Cause of Michigan will consider filing a court challenge, Executive Director Christina Kuo said late Wednesday.

And, the Detroit Free Press notes, "...legal challenges to the new districts, which dropped from 15 to 14 because of population losses in the state, are likely from any number of sources including the Michigan Democratic Party, Congressional Black Caucus and Michigan Legislative Black Caucus."

State Legislature
6:29 am
Thu June 30, 2011

Senate fails to approve Medicaid funding measure

Inside the Capitol Building, Lansing, MIchigan
Cedar Bend Drive Flickr

The federal government is expected to rule soon that Michigan’s system for funding Medicaid is illegal. That would put more than a billion dollars in federal funds and the state’s balanced budget at risk unless the Legislature adopts another plan to come up with that money.

Governor Rick Snyder has been pressuring the Legislature to adopt a one percent tax on all health insurance claims. That would put Michigan in compliance with federal rules. Otherwise, Michigan could lose 10 percent of its funding for the entire Medicaid program.

The claims tax would generate $400 million, and qualify the state for twice that much in federal funds.

The governor says the state’s balanced budget for the coming fiscal year is at stake, as well his promise not to cut Medicaid services for the poor as Michigan is just beginning to emerge from a long recession.

“I think it’s a good thing to do to ensure we balance our budget and we have good Medicaid in our state.”

But support among lawmakers for a new tax has been elusive. The measure failed when state Senate leaders put it up for a test vote.

Politics
12:01 am
Thu June 30, 2011

Benton Harbor Emergency Manager says city has “turned the corner”

Benton Harbor's Emergency Manager Joe Harris (left) speaks with residents one-on-one following the public hearing on his budget Wednesday night.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Benton Harbor’s Emergency Manager says the city will be able to break even this budget year. Last year the city ran more than a million dollar deficit.

Emergency Manger Joe Harris says this year the city could run a $400,000 surplus.

“We’ve turned the corner. You don’t have to keep cutting if you have positive cash flow. Now we just need to expend or invest our money wisely.”

Most of those attending seemed relieved at the news. But following years of mismanagement, many residents remain skeptical.

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Politics
5:04 pm
Wed June 29, 2011

Legislature approved changes to binding arbitration

State Capitol Building, Lansing, MI

Arbitrators would be required to give top consideration to the ability of local governments to pay public workers during contract disputes with police and fire fighters unions.

That’s under adjustments to binding arbitration laws approved by the Legislature and sent to Governor Rick Snyder.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville: 

“I think the ability to pay piece is probably the most significant. Whereas it’s been in statute all along, this just strengthens it, puts it up front, and actually further defines it.”

The Legislature Senate is debating several other hot button issues before lawmakers take a two-month summer break.

They include proposed changes to teacher tenure rules, and redrawing the state’s political maps.

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