Politics & Government

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.

History
4:37 pm
Wed June 29, 2011

Redistricting, then and now (audio)

Originally published in the Boston Centinel, 1812.
Wikimedia Commons

The new redistricting maps drawn up by the Republican majorities in the Michigan Legislature are unveiled and Democrats are not happy.

Michigan Radio’s political analyst Jack Lessenberry gives some historical context to the upcoming fight over redistricting.  He spoke to Michigan Radio's Jenn White.  You can here the interview here.

The rules are different than they used to be, but basically all districts should have the same population, for congressional districts, exactly the same, according to Lessenberry. State legislative districts can have up to a 5% variation.

He says this was not the case in the 1960's.

"Before the U. S. Supreme Court decisions in the early 1960's there was no requirement that they have the same population. So you had, in the case of Michigan, both congressional districts and legislative districts that were several times larger than one or the other one, and they each got one representative."

Lessenberry gives us a lesson on gerrymandering and explains the origin of the term. In 1812, Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts presided over the drawing of a district that was shaped as a salamander.

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Politics
4:30 pm
Wed June 29, 2011

Federal appeals court affirms Michigan ruling on Obama health care law

Joe Gratz Flickr

A case which was brought in part by Michigan residents against President Obama's health care legislation received a major defeat today as a federal appeals court ruled its mandate rules as constitutional.

From ABC News:

In a victory for the Obama administration, a federal appeals court has upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. The decision marks the first time an appellate court has weighed in on the issue and also the first time a judge, appointed by a Republican president, has voted to uphold the law.

The case stems from a challenge from the Thomas More Center, a public interest law firm, and four Michigan residents who claimed that the individual mandate -- the portion of the law that requires individuals to buy health insurance by 2014 or pay a tax penalty-- is unconstitutional.

In his opinion Judge Boyce F. Martin Jr. of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals said the law is constitutional under the Commerce Clause because the provision "regulates economic activity" with a "substantial" effect on interstate commerce.

"In addition, " he wrote, "Congress had a rational basis to believe that the provision was essential to its larger economic scheme reforming the interstate markets in heath care and health insurance."

Martin, who was appointed to the bench by President Jimmy Carter, was joined in the decision by Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton, who was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush. Before today every other judge who had voted to uphold the law was nominated by a Democratic president and those who voted against it were nominated by a Republican president.

-Brian Short, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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Politics
2:22 pm
Wed June 29, 2011

Muskegon's Public Safety Director steps down

Muskegon's public safety director, Tony Kleibecker.
City of Muskegon

Tony Kleibecker is leaving his post as Muskegon's public safety director.

From the Muskegon Chronicle:

Muskegon Public Safety Director Tony Kleibecker is returning to his roots at Michigan State University, accepting a university administrative position and leaving the city Aug. 31.

Kleibecker submitted his letter of resignation to Muskegon City Manager Bryon Mazade Wednesday morning, indicating he will end 11 years of service with the city. Kleibecker is leaving Muskegon to become assistant director for administration and communication with the MSU Police Department, he told his staff.

Commentary
11:19 am
Wed June 29, 2011

The Mess in Detroit

What if, back in the early days of the Cold War, the Soviet Union had exploded an atom bomb in Detroit? Let’s say that two-thirds of the people were eliminated.

Even a higher percentage of jobs were lost. Land was left polluted; tens of thousands of buildings dilapidated and vacant, and the school system was essentially ruined. What would we do?

Well, I think the answer is clear. If something like that had happened in the early 1950s, both state and federal authorities would have responded with a massive outpouring of aid. Blighted areas would have been cleaned up, Buildings rebuilt. Detroiters who came through all this would have been battle-scarred but immensely proud.

Well, it’s more than half a century later, and while no nuclear device has gone off, much of Detroit does in fact look like it has gone through a war. Maybe not a nuclear war, but parts of it could easily have been pounded by allied bombers during World War II. 

The population is largely poor, undereducated, jobless and desperate. Yet there is no massive outpouring of aid. Mostly, there’s just a collective shrug of our shoulders. People who live in Grand Rapids don’t want to think about Detroit. Some of them act as if it didn’t even exist. What is even more bizarre is that some people in the Grosse Pointes and Birmingham act the same way.

They know that it is no longer socially permissible to say that Detroit is beyond help because its inhabitants are virtually all black and don’t share the cultural values other Americans have, most notably, the work ethic. They don’t say that, but many think it.

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Politics
10:31 am
Wed June 29, 2011

Detroit Council: There's still time for budget deal

Some council members say Mayor Bing, a former NBA star, is not "playing ball" the way he needs to in budget negotiations with the city council. Councilman Kwame Kenyatta, center, brought a basketball to the press conference.
Sarah Hulett MIchigan Radio

The budget stalemate between Detroit’s mayor and city council continues. But council members say they’re hopeful Mayor Dave Bing will reopen negotiations after pledging to end them.

City Council President Charles Pugh says there are still nearly two days left before the start of the new fiscal year:

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News Roundup
9:14 am
Wed June 29, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, June 29th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Redistricting Maps One Step Closer to Approval

New Republican-drawn maps for Michigan's congressional and state legislative districts have moved closer to becoming final, reports the Associated Press. “The Republican majority on the Senate Redistricting Committee approved a congressional map Tuesday, sending it to the full Senate for consideration later this week. Meanwhile, the Republican-led Michigan House approved versions of maps that would redraw districts for the state House and Senate. Republicans control the redistricting process with majorities in the Legislature, and Democrats have had little luck altering them since the GOP maps were released June 17. Democrats unveiled their own congressional map Tuesday but were unable to get the Senate committee to adopt it or alter the Republican-drawn map,” the AP explains.

Bing Says No More to Negotiating Budget with City Council

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing says there’s no more reason to negotiate with City Council over the city's next budget. That means he’ll be implementing the Council-approved budget, even though he maintains it will mean devastating cuts. Sarah Cweik reports:

Bing and the Council have been wrestling for months over how much money to cut from next fiscal year’s budget. Council wants to cut $50 million more than Bing. Bing then proposed an amendment to restore $30 million, but Council voted that down Tuesday… Council members insist their budget cuts wouldn’t cause layoffs, and say Bing is using scare tactics to get his way.

The 2012 fiscal year begins July 1st.

Student Test Results Released

Results of the Michigan Merit Exam have been released by the Michigan Department of Education. Jennifer Guerra reports:

All Michigan high school juniors take the test in the spring to see how well-prepared they are for college. The MME tests students in reading, writing, math, science and social studies. Students' math, science and writing scores inched up over last year, but scores in social studies and reading went down. Martin Ackley, a spokesperon for the Department of Education, prefers to look at trends when it comes to test results, not just year-to-year data. He says he is "encouraged" student scores have been trending upward over the past five years, but he says the results "aren't where they need to be overall. We’d like to see them obviously higher than they are now." About 109,000 students took this year’s exam, nearly half of whom tested not proficient in writing and math.

Politics
7:47 am
Wed June 29, 2011

The Week in State Politics

Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan
Ifmuth Flickr

It’s Wednesday… the morning we speak with Michigan Radio’s Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry about what’s going on this week in state politics. Today, we talk Congressional redistricting, the possibility of a bid for the GOP presidential nomination by Representative Thaddeus McCotter, and the latest in Detroit budget negotiations.

State Law
6:31 am
Wed June 29, 2011

Governor says helmetless riders should carry extra coverage

The state Senate has approved a measure that would repeal Michigan’s helmet requirement for motorcycle riders who agree to carry extra insurance coverage. But, the Senate bill was a compromise that pleased almost no one.

The Senate bill would require riders who doff their helmets to carry an extra $100 thousand in personal injury coverage. That was not enough to win the support of insurance companies and highway safety advocates. Opponents of the helmet law - such as Jim Rhodes - say the coverage would too expensive for most people and is almost the same as not repealing the requirement at all.

“It pretty much stops it in its tracks.”

Governor Snyder sent word that he’s not interested in a helmet law repeal that does not require helmetless riders to carry more coverage, but he’s willing to negotiate over the Legislature’s summer break.

But he appears to agree with estimates that suggest without the additional coverage for helmetless riders, the public could be saddled with more than $100 million in medical costs.

Politics
6:55 pm
Tue June 28, 2011

Bing: "Time for talk is over" on Detroit budget

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing says there’s no more reason to negotiate with City Council over the budget. That means he’ll implement the Council-approved budget, even though he maintains it will mean devastating cuts.

Bing and the Council have been wrestling for months over how much money to cut from next fiscal year’s budget. Council wants to cut $50 million more than Bing.

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Politics
5:34 pm
Tue June 28, 2011

Congressman Levin testifies against proposed political maps

The 15 Michigan U.S. House districts as they exist today.

Congressman Sander Levin doesn’t like the proposed redrawn political maps that are based on new census data.

Levin says the maps drawn by Republican state lawmakers are grossly skewed in favor of Republican candidates.

“That so arrogantly places partisan interests ahead of voter interests. And whether the governor, who came to office pledging to put the interests of Michigan citizens ahead of partisan interests, will send a clear message right here and now, that his message is a real one.”

“I don’t think anyone can show a map that has come forth in this state, at least one in recent memory, that so distorts the ability of citizens to have the right to choose, and for the parties to compete with ideas.”

He wants the Michigan Senate to reject the maps approved by the state House last week.

Republican lawmakers say the G-O-P redistricting plan is fair and takes population shifts into consideration.

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Politics
5:13 pm
Tue June 28, 2011

Republicans say tougher medical marijuana regulations needed

K Connors Morguefile

Republicans in Michigan say there need to be more regulations surrounding the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act.

They say dispensaries, growers and many doctors are taking the law too far.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette stood next to a map of the greater Lansing area, with 84 pushpins marking locations of medical marijuana dispensaries. He says new proposed regulations would shut down most if not all of those locations.

“No more marijuana farms. No more collective grow ops. It violates that law – making that very clear.”

 Schuette says most caregivers and dispensaries undermine the needs of terminally ill patients who need marijuana treatment by pushing the limits of the law. Legislation proposed by lawmakers in the House and Senate would further regulate who could grow medicinal pot, where it could be grown, and how it could be distributed.  

They say they have not worked with the medical marijuana community to help craft the proposals yet, but they hope to get that input over the summer.

Politics
4:32 pm
Tue June 28, 2011

Budget Workshop (audio)

http://peters.house.gov/

Michigan Democratic Congressman Gary Peters is partnering with the non-partisan Concord Coalition to present a town hall forum tonight.

Peters and the Coalition will lay out some facts and details of the federal government’s revenue and expenses, and then people will break into groups to talk about how to balance the budget. Michigan Radio's Jennifer White sat down with Peters to get more on the forum.

Democratic and Republican leaders are locked in an ongoing struggle over the federal budget.

Congressman Peters says:

"We’ve got a standoff in Washington. People aren’t working together. There are a lot of special interests involved pulling and tugging there."

The goal of the forum is to introduce some non-partisan, common-sense problem solving in to the mix, according to Peters.

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Redistricting
11:49 am
Tue June 28, 2011

Democrats have a redistricting map of their own

Michigan Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan
Thetoad Flickr

Update 11:41 a.m.:

Democratic Congressman Sander Levin will testify at a state Senate hearing in Lansing this afternoon about the proposed redistricting maps. The Congressman is set to testify at 2:30 p.m..

Original post 6:59 a.m.:

Michigan Democrats have drawn a new congressional map that would pit Republican Congressman Thaddeus McCotter of Livonia against Democratic Congressman Gary Peters of Oakland County's Bloomfield Township, according to the Associated Press. A copy of the map was obtained by the AP from the Michigan Democratic Party.

Michigan is losing one of its 15 congressional seats due to a loss of population in the past 10 years. From the AP:

Republicans control the redistricting process with majorities in the state House and Senate. State Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer says the map shows how Detroit's two black-majority districts can be extended into Detroit's northern suburbs while remaining compact. Democrats say they'll introduce their map as a substitute to the Republican plan during a Senate hearing Tuesday. The GOP map pits Peters against fellow Democratic incumbent Sander Levin.

Representatives Peters and Levin issued a joint-statement after the GOP map was released:

“Voters in Michigan have never before faced such a shamelessly partisan redrawing of congressional boundaries. Instead of drawing fair lines that follow community and county borders in a logical way, the Republican legislature has drafted a map so skewed that it exploits every trick in the book to gerrymander districts in ways that benefit Republican incumbents. The Legislature and Gov. Snyder should reject this gerrymandered map and draw congressional boundaries in a way that puts Michigan voters’ interests squarely ahead of flagrant partisan advantage."

Commentary
10:46 am
Tue June 28, 2011

China Daze

In many ways, the Toledo area just south of the border is more like Michigan than Ohio. It features an aging industrial city based on the automotive economy and suffering from its decline.

Beyond that are leafy suburbs, and then smaller towns, farms, and a significant agricultural sector. Yet there is one way in which Toledo is very different from us. The mayor and the chamber of commerce have been actively and aggressively courting China.

And their efforts are paying off. Earlier this year, the Chinese investment firm Dashing Pacific Group Ltd. bought a restaurant complex for more than $2 million dollars. Then this month, they paid the cash-strapped city even more to buy sixty-nine acres of land in what is known as the Marina District, along the Maumee River.

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Politics
10:30 am
Tue June 28, 2011

Michigan Attorney General releases opinion on medical marijuana

Eggrole Flickr

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has issued a formal opinion that says medical marijuana growers cannot have more than 12 plants. The opinion could put out of business growing cooperatives that raise pot for multiple patients. The opinion carries the force of law unless overturned by a court. State lawmakers have also rolled out bills that would put more regulations around the voter-approved law to allow marijuana for patients with terminal or chronic conditions.

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