Politics & Government

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.

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.

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