Politics & Government

Politics
4:49 pm
Tue July 5, 2011

Michigan teachers union to back recall efforts aimed at some Republicans

A rally held by the Michigan Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, in Lansing last May. The MEA is putting its support behind some recall efforts.
screen grab from YouTube video

The state’s largest teachers union says it will put its organizational muscle and money behind efforts to recall some Republican lawmakers.

The Michigan Education Association’s main complaints are cuts to school funding and new tenure rules.

Tenure rules adopted last week by the Legislature will make it easier for school districts to fire teachers.

Members of the MEA say they’re also angry at efforts to force them to pay more for their benefits. Doug Pratt, MEA spokesman, says the union has tried to work with some lawmakers on spending and education reforms:

"Our members across the state as well as the middle class at large have been under attack for six months now," said Pratt. "And we’ve done what we think we can do through the legislative process to reasonably work with people to come up with solutions that move the state forward. That’s not happening."

The MEA has 157,000 members and a large political action fund.

Ari Adler is the spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger, one of the targets of a recall campaign:

"It’s not a surprise to hear the MEA is going public with its war on those who are fighting for change in Lansing," said Adler. "We have known for some time now that they’ve been working behind the scenes on recalls and it seems as though they wanted to go public before someone outed them."

MEA spokesman Pratt says some individual union members were involved early in recall campaigns. Pratt says the MEA has made a strategic decision to not name the lawmakers who will be union recall targets.

Commentary
11:09 am
Tue July 5, 2011

Medical Marijuana

Three years ago, Michigan voters approved allowing marijuana to be used for medical purposes by a margin of almost two to one.

Social conservatives weren’t happy, and feared that this would lead to the back door legalization of marijuana for everyone. However, the public was overwhelmingly sympathetic to its use for medical reasons. That’s largely because there is considerable evidence that marijuana can relieve suffering from diseases including cancer, glaucoma, and a host of other ailments. Yet there were problems from the start with the medical marijuana law.

For one thing, it wasn’t passed by the legislature, as most laws are, but was placed on the ballot by citizens who collected enough signatures to put it there. Legalizing marijuana for medical patients required setting up a complex new system.

This had never been tried before in Michigan, and it’s evident that the framework needs to be tweaked.  For one thing, there are clearly a handful of unscrupulous doctors all too willing to certify people for medical marijuana use.

The Detroit Free Press reported that only fifty-five doctors have authorized medical marijuana for more than seventy percent of all those now eligible. Whatever your feelings about marijuana, the voters did not intend to effectively legalize its recreational use.

Nor could Michigan legally do that. Technically, any marijuana use is still against federal law, and Washington could, if it chose, move against any of the sixteen states that authorize medical marijuana. They haven’t, and even allowed a medical marijuana statute to be enacted in Washington, D.C.. But if Michigan or any other state were to openly act as if the legalization of medical marijuana meant we could establish a marijuana industry for all, the odds of federal intervention would become much greater.

On the other hand, it is clear that people do want marijuana to be available to those with legitimate medical conditions.

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News Roundup
9:11 am
Tue July 5, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Tuesday, July 5th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Many Still Powerless

Crews are still working to restore electricity to about 11,000 homes and businesses across the state after this weekend’s severe thunderstorms. The Associated Press reports:

DTE Energy Co. says Tuesday morning that those without power included about 10,000 in Wayne County and about 1,000 in St. Clair County. DTE says it hopes to restore electrical service to as many as possible by day's end… The storms on Saturday generated 2-inch-wide hail and winds gusting to 64 mph that knocked down trees and power lines and left 125,000 utility customers in the dark.

Teen Driving

A new bill could change driving restrictions for Michigan;s teens. The measure would allow teen drivers on the road between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. if they were driving to and from school activities, such as sporting events. Currently, teens can only drive between those hours if they are commuting to and from work. The bill would also allow a teen to drive between those hours if a parent or legal guardian was in the car with them.

Insurance Reforms for the Fall?

Will Governor Snyder propose sweeping changes to insurance regulations this fall? That’s a question floating around the state Capitol. Laura Weber reports:

The discussion [over insurance reform] began when Snyder recently said that negotiations over repealing Michigan’s motorcycle helmet law should be part of a larger discussion on insurance reform. But, even Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville is unclear on what other proposals the governor many want… Richardville says he has been discussing a repeal of the helmet law with Governor Snyder since the beginning of the year.

Politics
12:36 pm
Sun July 3, 2011

Foster children could get extra year in system

Youths in Michigan's foster care system would be allowed to stay an extra year under legislation passed by the Senate.
gladtobeout MorgueFile

Michigan’s older foster children can stay in the system until they're 21 -- an extra year under bills passed  by the state Senate.

Part  of the plan is to help them pay for college with about $1.8 million dollars in state funding and about $6 million in federal matching funds.

Vivayk Sankarin is the director of the Detroit Center for Family Advocacy. He says it’s a step in the right direction.

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Election 2012
11:15 pm
Sat July 2, 2011

McCotter kicks off Presidential campaign with a blues jam

Republican Congressman Thaddeus McCotter jams with his blues band after announcing he's running for President.
Vincent Duffy Michigan Radio

Republican Congressman Thaddeus McCotter of Livonia kicked off his presidential campaign at a small town festival in Whitmore Lake tonight. He made the announcement under threatening skies and in front of 600 people attending a festival sponsored by a conservative talk radio station.

“Today I am announcing my candidacy for the nomination of my Republican party, to serve as your President of the United States,” McCotter told the crowd after taking the stage and briefly outlining his beliefs.

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Politics
3:17 pm
Sat July 2, 2011

New MI sex offender registry law takes effect

Many teenagers convicted of having consensual sex with minors no longer will be listed on Michigan's sex offender registry. A new law took effect Friday. It exempts youthful offenders who have consensual sex with partners between the ages of 13 and 16. That’s provided the offender was not more than four years older than the victim.

The new law also requires that the most dangerous sex offenders be added to the registry for life. They must still report to the police four times a year.

Politics
5:35 pm
Fri July 1, 2011

Thaddeus McCotter to kick off presidential campaign (audio)

Republican Congressman Thaddeus McCotter wants to run for President in 2012.

New candidates continue to join the ranks of those running for the Republican nomination for President in 2012.

The latest addition is Michigan Congressman Thaddeus McCotter. He filed paperwork to enter the race but some people are asking…who is Thaddeus McCotter?

Listen to this interview with Michigan Radio's Jennifer White and Bill Ballenger, Editor of Inside Michigan Politics.

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Politics
3:32 pm
Fri July 1, 2011

Right-to-work campaign gets under way

The logo for the Michigan Freedom to Work coalition
Michigan Freedom to Work

A coalition that includes some current and former union members wants Michigan to become a so-called “right-to-work” state.

Right-to-work laws prohibit union membership or dues as a condition of employment.

Jack Hoogendyk is a former state lawmaker and a member of Michigan Freedom to Work. He says Michigan would attract more businesses if it weren’t saddled with the reputation as a union stronghold:

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Politics
3:30 pm
Fri July 1, 2011

Coalition calls for community benefits in bridge project

Gov. Rick Snyder supports a publicly owned bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor
Snyder administration

A coalition of labor and business groups wants to guarantee certain benefits for the community near a planned bridge between Detroit and Windsor.

They’re called community benefits agreements, and they’re intended to make sure the neighborhoods that host major construction projects see things like jobs and parks – and not just pollution and traffic.

State Representative Rashida Tlaib’s district includes the site of a proposed new publicly owned bridge. She’s introduced legislation that would require the project to include a community benefits agreement:

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Politics
3:29 pm
Fri July 1, 2011

A McCotter candidacy: Your thoughts

Michigan Representative Thaddeus McCotter

As diverse as the media's response has been to the potential candidacy of Michigan Congressman Thaddeus McCotter, your responses on Twitter and Facebook were even more varied.

Many didn't know McCotter very well or found him to be an unappetizing candidate, and wrote responses like, "Who?" or "yawn." or "Is this a joke?"

Mary Himmelspach Bennett said, "He's an out of touch knucklehead and he's also very hard to look at!"

A number of you thought that this might be a setup maneuver, and that McCotter might not be famous enough yet to secure the nomination for 2012 but that his chances in the future might be better if he ran this time.

Weston Lindberg said: "Seems like he's probably setting himself up for 2016. McCotter doesn't yet have the name recognition to win."

Some people mentioned why they liked McCotter, either for specific policy stances, speeches, or the fact that he represented their district.

Karen Richards said, "gave the best speech in support of the auto loans, even gave a shout out to Dingell."

Josh Amato said, "It's kinda cool having my rep. run. He's a nice enough guy who knows what he's talking about, even if I don't agree with him on a lot of issues. I don't think he'll get very far at all, though."

McCotter is expected to announce his candidacy in the Republican presidential primary this Saturday.

-Brian Short, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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Affirmative Action
3:00 pm
Fri July 1, 2011

Court strikes down Michigan's ban on using race or gender in college admissions

A 2006 BAMN rally in Lansing against Proposal 2. The proposal was passed by Michigan voters that November.
BAMN

Update 3:00 p.m.

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights released a statement supporting the opinion of the US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. The court struck down the Michigan constitutional ban using race or gender in university admissions decisions.

From their statement:

We believe the question of who comprises a student body is best made at the academic rather than the political level. A university’s primary responsibility is the academic interests of those students who are admitted and preparing those students for the future. This decision removes the handcuffs that prevented Michigan’s public universities from making decisions based upon those factors they believed to be in the best interests of the entire student body and the institutions as a whole.

The Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, an advocacy group that worked to preserve affirmative action in Michigan, also praised today's court ruling.

From their statement:

The Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion today applauded the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decision striking down Michigan's anti-affirmative action constitutional amendment, with CEO and President Thomas Costello calling the decision "a clear win for access, opportunity and equity for all."

The court noted that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, known as the "equal protection" clause, is more than just words. "It is also an assurance that the majority may not manipulate the channels of change in a manner that places unique burdens on issues of importance to racial minorities."

2:30 p.m.

Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody interviewed Jennifer Gratz, the director of state initiatives for the American Civil Rights Coalition.

In 2006, Gratz was the executive director of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative which became known as "Proposal 2" once it was put on the ballot. Proposal 2 passed and it amended the Michigan Constitution by banning the practice of using race or gender in college admissions.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the ban unconstitutional today.

Gratz was also a lead plaintiff in a case against the University of Michigan's affirmative action policy in admissions - a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court in 2003 (Gratz v. Bollinger).

Here's the interview:

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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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