Politics & Government

Politics
2:16 pm
Sat September 10, 2011

Recall effort for Paul Scott approved

A double dose of bad news for Republican state Representative Paul Scott this weekend. Secretary of State Ruth Johnson has formally approved a question to recall him for the November ballot. She says a teacher union-backed effort turned in enough valid petition signatures of registered voters to qualify for the ballot.

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Politics
6:18 pm
Fri September 9, 2011

Court agrees to reconsider affirmative action ruling

Update 6:18 p.m.

Here's a copy of the court order.

5:42 p.m.

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals will reconsider a decision to strike down Michigan's ban on race- and gender-based affirmative action in university admissions.

A panel of the court ruled in July that the affirmative action ban violated equal protection rights in the U.S. Constitution.

The new hearing will take place before more than a dozen judges that make up the entire sixth circuit appeals court based in Cincinnati.

Michigan voters approved the amendment to the state constitution in 2006. The amendment was challenged in federal court by several civil rights groups. Oral arguments and a decision in the case are not expected before next year.

Here's an excerpt from a press release from Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette:

On July 1, 2011, a three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit issued a 2-1 decision that declared Michigan’s constitutional ban on racial preferences in public education unconstitutional on the grounds it allegedly violated the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.   

Schuette appealed the ruling through a formal request for rehearing en banc with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit.  A rehearing en banc involves presenting the case to the full court of the 6th Circuit for review.  This process is reserved when new decisions conflict with previous rulings, and for questions of “exceptional importance” (Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure - 35).

MCRI was approved by a 58% majority of Michigan voters in November, 2006.   The day after the measure was approved, several organizations filed suit to invalidate MCRI.  The measure was previously upheld in December 2006 when a separate three judge panel from the 6th Circuit issued a preliminary ruling that unanimously concluded the measure passed Constitutional muster. 

The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative will remain in force pending a final decision by the court.

5:21 p.m.

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to reconsider a decision to strike down Michigan's ban on race- and gender-based affirmative action in university admissions.

 

Politics
2:46 pm
Fri September 9, 2011

Senate leader does not want "right-to-work" in Michigan

The Republican leader of the state Senate says he has no interest in making Michigan a right-to-work state.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says union workers have already made many concessions to help Michigan’s economic outlook.

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Politics
1:44 pm
Fri September 9, 2011

Judge strikes down Michigan law barring protests at military funerals

Update 1:44 p.m.

A federal judge has struck down the Michigan law that bars protests at funerals.

Detroit U.S. District Judge Thomas Ludington says the law violates free speech rights and is too vague too enforce.

Lewis and Jean Lowden challenged the law after they were stopped and removed from a funeral procession by police.

They had signs critical of President George W. Bush taped to their car windows.

They were on their way to the burial of a family friend who died in Iraq.

Dan Korobkin is the American Civil Liberties Union attorney who represented the Lowdens. He says it is still illegal to disrupt a funeral.

"But what’s not against the law is to express your own views on a public street and risk being arrested or penalized for that just because your views don’t accord with the views of other people – either at the funeral or, even in this case, the police officers who were directing traffic," said Korobkin.

The law was passed largely to stop the Westboro Baptist Church from protesting at the funerals of fallen service members. Members of the church show up outside military funerals with signs that say the deaths were caused by America’s tolerance of homosexuality.

10:55 a.m.

This just came in from MPRN's Rick Pluta:

A federal judge has struck down the state law barring protests at military funerals.

The Michigan law was passed in 2006 to keep members of the Westboro Baptist Church from demonstrating at military funerals. More than 40 states passed similar legislation barring the practice, according to the First Amendment Center.

Last March, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Westboro protesters in the "Snyder v. Phelps" case.

Last month, a similar state law in Missouri was found to be unconstitutional by a federal judge.

We'll have more from Rick Pluta later today.

Politics
1:00 pm
Fri September 9, 2011

Stampfler resigns, new emergency manager appointed for Pontiac

The city of Pontiac is under the control of a new state-appointed emergency manager - Bud Schimmel.
Dave Garvin Flickr

The Associated Press is reporting the Michael Stampfler, Pontiac's emergency manager has resigned. A new manager has been appointed.

From the Associated Press:

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has appointed a new emergency manager for the city of Pontiac, which faces a projected $12.5 million deficit.

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Politics
10:27 am
Fri September 9, 2011

Reaction to President Obama's Speech, A Tiny Step Forward

Well, the week is over, and it’s time for a little quiz. First of all, who said last night: “It’s time to stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy.“

Not surprisingly, that was President Obama, in his nationally televised speech on jobs. Okay, now, who said this a few minutes later: “We are in a crisis, and cannot afford to waste time on unproductive political posturing and partisan fighting.

“It’s time to make the tough decisions needed to reinvent the United States.” This time, that wasn‘t the president, but our own Republican governor, Rick Snyder. His response to the president’s speech sounded much more cooperative than confrontational.

And that attitude might just contain a tiny sliver of hope. Now, I know that Rick Snyder is not Speaker of the House John Boehner.

Nor does every Michigan Republican think the same.

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Politics
10:18 am
Fri September 9, 2011

Governor Snyder reacts to President Obama's jobs speech

President Barack Obama addresses a joint session of Congress calling on the members to pass "The American Jobs Act."
White House

Last night, President Obama addressed a joint session of Congress calling on the members to pass a bill he plans to submit called the "American Jobs Act."

Governor Rick Snyder offered his thoughts on the speech:

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News Roundup
9:02 am
Fri September 9, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

Shakeup in the state's labor movement

The head of the Michigan AFL-CIO announced that he will step down. Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney announced yesterday that he will not seek another term. Gaffney said new leadership is needed. MPRN's Rick Pluta reported that "Gaffney’s pending departure had been widely rumored as labor leaders fret about how to deal with the growing pile of anti-union measures under consideration at the state Capitol – including right to work bills." Pluta reports that Gaffney's replacement will likely be Karla Swift, who could be formally chosen at a labor convention next month.

Grand Rapids airport seeks permission to discharge de-icing fluid into river

Officials at the Gerald R. Ford International airport want to build a pipeline that will allow them to dump de-icing fluid into a nearby river. The Grand Rapids Press reports the pipeline will cost around $15 million:

The nearly mile-long pipeline to the Thornapple River would be used to dispose of an estimated 90,000 to 100,000 gallons a year of de-icing fluid. A proposal was submitted Sept. 1 to the state Department of Environmental Quality.

Most Detroit Schools are opening after power outages

Some schools in the Detroit district missed opening week because of power outages around the city. Detroit Public Schools now says most schools will reopen.

More from the Associated Press:

The Detroit Public Schools plans to hold classes as scheduled at most schools following power outages that caused early dismissals across the district.

The district said Friday morning that all but four schools had power. One of the schools will relocate classes for the day and three will be closed.

Recent storms and weather-related issues were blamed for outages that forced the early school closures Thursday and left other public buildings without lights for several hours. Problems with Detroit's aging electrical grid also contributed to the outages.

Most power was restored by Thursday evening.

Military
7:39 am
Fri September 9, 2011

300 Michigan guard members prepare for Afghanistan

About 300 members of the Michigan Air National Guard are expected to report to active duty this month for deployment to Afghanistan.

Selfridge Air National Guard Base announced today that the group of its 127th Wing Airmen will include pilots, crew, maintenance technicians and support personnel. They're expected to serve 4- to 6-month tours in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

They will be part of a unit flying the A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft. The unit had been scheduled for deployment in spring 2012, but the timetable was moved up.

So far this year, more than 200 military members from the base in Harrison Township, about 20 miles northeast of Detroit, have been deployed.

Crime
5:13 pm
Thu September 8, 2011

Guard accused of smuggling drugs, tobacco into prison

A guard at the state prison in Newberry is being held in the Mackinaw City jail awaiting felony charges of trying to smuggle contraband to inmates. John Cordell is with the Michigan Department of Corrections.

"It appears from the investigation that he was trying to introduce contraband – both heroin and contraband tobacco, which is illegal inside facilities – inside the correctional facility."

Cordell says the man faces at least three felony charges. He says the scheme was detected from monitoring phone traffic into the prison and information from a cell phone that was seized from a prisoner.

The guard was stopped and arrested in downtown Mackinaw City. Cordell says the contraband was in the corrections officer’s car.

The guard has also been suspended without pay from his job at the prison in the eastern Upper Peninsula.

Politics
4:46 pm
Thu September 8, 2011

The politics behind the pension tax

State Capitol building.
user: mattileo / flickr

The Michigan Supreme Court will decide whether a new pension tax law is legal. The revenue from that tax is, “an essential part of keeping Michigan’s budget balanced," according to Governor Snyder. Every week we explore what's happening in state politics. Today we talk with Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and senior policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants and Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service.

 

Politics
4:38 pm
Thu September 8, 2011

Senator pushes for licensing of in-home health agencies

A state lawmaker has called for licensing of in-home health care workers to help combat fraud. He says recent fraudulent billings from some agencies cost the Medicare program $28 million.

State Senator Mark Jansen (R-Grand Rapids) says some fraudulent in-home agencies came to Michigan because other states require the groups to be licensed, and Michigan does not.

"Some of those folks have been chased out of their states because they've been caught or they know people are paying attention, and they're coming to states that don't have licensure."

Jansen says fraudulent in-home care agencies prey on the most vulnerable people in Michigan.

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September 11th
4:22 pm
Thu September 8, 2011

Looking at the post 9/11 landscape

The Arab American National Museum in Dearborn
www.accesscommunity.org

A Senior Attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union says “fear and fear-mongering” have defined the post-September 11th legal landscape.

Zachary Katznelson participated in a discussion panel on that subject at Wayne State University. He’s a Senior Attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project.

Katznelson says the 9-11 attacks spurred the creation of a vast and secretive security apparatus that infringes on civil liberties.

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Politics
2:14 pm
Thu September 8, 2011

US Rep. Peters, D-Mich., to run in new district

U.S. Representative Gary Peters (D-Oakland) at the Waterford Memorial Day Parade.
Congressman Gary Peters

DETROIT (AP) - U.S. Rep. Gary Peters says he's seeking election in the newly drawn 14th District.

The Democrat from Oakland County's Bloomfield Township serves the 9th District. He made the announcement on Thursday. Peters says the new district "bridges diverse communities," and he remains "committed to ... bringing our communities together."

The districts were redrawn by the state Legislature and signed into law in August by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.

The 14th District is held by veteran Democratic Rep. John Conyers. It stretches from Detroit to Pontiac and dips below Eight Mile Road. The thoroughfare has come to symbolize the boundary between Detroit and its suburbs, black from white.

The redrawing puts Peters and U.S. Rep. Sander Levin in the same district. Levin has said he will run in the 9th District.

Politics
10:27 am
Thu September 8, 2011

The Michigan Supreme Court and the Pension Tax

The Michigan Supreme Court will soon issue an opinion on whether the new law taxing pensions is constitutional.

If they say it is, it’s full speed ahead for the governor’s plan. If they decided that taxing pensions is not constitutional, it’ll knock a huge hole in the budget. That means the state will have to get more revenue -- which means raising taxes.

That, or roll back the business tax cuts or slash aid to education and other programs more severely than ever.

And while I don’t pretend to know exactly what would happen, I can tell you this, after talking to the governor last week. He isn’t about to roll back the tax cuts, and he doesn’t want to raise taxes.

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News Roundup
7:57 am
Thu September 8, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Thursday, September 8th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Medical Marijuana Rally

More than a thousand supporters of Michigan’s medical marijuana law rallied at the state Capitol yesterday. They protested against Republican proposals to limit the law. In 2008, Michigan voters approved medical marijuana use by a wide margin but, just last month, a Michigan Appeals Court ruled that medical marijuana dispensaries could not sell the drug. The Michigan Supreme Court will likely have the last word on the legality of the law.

Another Round of Education Reforms

A state Senate panel has begun hearings on a new package of sweeping education reforms. “The package of bills include measures that would allow more charter schools in the state, allow schools to hire teachers from private companies, and require districts to open empty seats in classrooms to students who live outside of the area”, Laura Weber reports. Earlier this year, the state legislature and Governor Snyder approved measures that reformed Michigan’s teacher tenure laws.

MI SupCo Takes Up Pension Tax

The Michigan Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday for and against Michigan’s new tax on pensions. Governor Snyder proposed the pension tax to increase revenue for the state. Rick Pluta reports:

Public employees argued the pension tax violates the state’s constitution because it effectively reduces compensation that was agreed to by the state. Lieutenant Governor Brain Calley was in the audience to watch the arguments. He says the new state budget will come up short if the tax on pensions in not upheld… Calley says the court should rule quickly to ensure budget stability.

If the pension tax is ruled unconstitutional, the state budget will be short $340 million dollars for the fiscal year that begins October 1st.

Politics
2:06 pm
Wed September 7, 2011

Medical marijuana supporters rally in Lansing

Medical marijuana supporters rally in Lansing this afternoon.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

Several thousand medical marijuana patients and their supporters rallied at the state Capitol today. 

The state Court of Appeals recently ruled that medical marijuana dispensaries are illegal under Michigan law.

Patient advocate Joe Cain says the courts and state officials are working to undermine the state constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana.

"They don't care about you," said Cain. "They don't care or they would have had a plan, because you don’t take sick people’s medicine away."

Cain says the state Court of Appeals decision was politically motivated.

"The objective was to deny people safe access to their medicine. This was not a judicial decision. This was a political decision," said Cain.

The Michigan Supreme Court will soon consider several medical marijuana cases. The court's decision in those cases is expected to go a long way to determining the scope of Michigan's medical marijuana law.

State Legislature
12:48 pm
Wed September 7, 2011

State House votes to restrict food assistance use

Inside the state Capitol building, Lansing, MI
Cedar Bend Drive Flickr

Welfare recipients could not use their state-issued debit cards to draw cash from casino ATMs or buy lottery tickets, alcohol and tobacco under legislation moving through the state Legislature.

The Michigan House passed bills Wednesday that would restrict the use of Michigan Bridge Cards, used like debit cards for state food assistance and cash programs. The major bills passed 108-0 and advance to the Senate.

Monthly food assistance in Michigan is based on income, how many people are in their household and other criteria. Funds are made available on a debit card swiped through electronic reader when buying groceries.

Other bills in the package would require the state to deactivate a Bridge card when a recipient is in jail.

Politics
12:00 pm
Wed September 7, 2011

Mid-Michigan Red Cross workers on strike

A Mid-Michigan Red Cross worker on the picket line.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

Workers at the American Red Cross Mid-Michigan chapter are on the picket line, after a strike deadline passed without a deal.

Red Cross spokeswoman Monica Stoneking says the strike will drastically reduce blood collection efforts in 65 Michigan counties:

"In the Great Lakes region alone, we need to collect about 700 units of blood every day to meet the hospital needs and the needs of the patients we serve, and not being able to collect those blood products really puts our blood supply in jeopardy," said Stoneking.

Stoneking hopes negotiations will resolve the standoff soon.

"We're preparing for at least ten days," said Stoneking. "We're calling on other regions that aren’t affected by the union to increase our blood collection so that our national blood supply is healthy."

The strike affects about 280 nurses and staff who handle blood. They’ve been working without a contract since 2008.

Union officials say the two sides are far apart on many issues.

Talks are scheduled to resume September 17.

Politics
11:38 am
Wed September 7, 2011

Reaction to stronger limits on Michigan welfare benefits

Yesterday, Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation that places tighter limits on cash assistance benefits to the poor.

It puts a four-year lifetime cap on cash assistance payments from the state. The four years don't have to be consecutive, they can be tallied up over time, and the clock on the four-year cap started on October 1, 2007.

It's estimated that 12,600 cases will be taken off the cash assistance as of October 1, 2011.

Peter Luke of MLive points out that in 2006, then-governor Jennifer Granholm also signed legislation limiting cash benefits to four years, "but DHS caseworkers had leeway to authorize exemptions."

This measure is more strict, and Governor Snyder said his administration is "returning cash assistance to its original intent as a transitional program to help families while they work toward self-sufficiency."

From MLive:

DHS Director Maura Corrigan said the agency is partnering with non-profit groups to provide recipients with a “soft landing” during the transition... The measure is estimated save the 2012 state budget about $65 million.

The new law also allows families on the rolls to earn more money on the job while still receiving benefits. In the past, families that earned more than $814 a month could no longer qualify for cash assistance. The new limit on earned income is $1,164.

"Michigan continues to face financial challenges, and the fiscal reality is that we cannot afford to provide lifetime cash assistance to recipients who are able to work," Corrigan said.

In a statement, the head of the Michigan League for Human Services, Gilda Jacobs, says these cash benefits support children in need:

The Department of Human Services has estimated that 29,700 children will be cut from cash assistance in October. Though the department says it will assist the families for a few months, it’s questionable whether new jobs will be available for adults in these families by the end of the year.

It will be a hard, hard winter for many of these families.

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