Politics & Government

Politics
4:39 pm
Thu April 21, 2011

Mental health advocates blast prison drug policy

Prison fence. Michigan prisons are trying to save money in prescription drug costs.
Simon Brass Flickr

A coalition of mental health advocates is calling on the state Department of Corrections to alter its policy of moving as many prisoners as possible from brand-name prescriptions to generic drugs.

The Department says the new policy will save taxpayers’ money without endangering prisoners’ health.

The Mental Health/Justice Coalition says the policy is too sweeping when it comes to inmates with mental illnesses. The Coalition includes inmates’ families, psychiatrists, judges, and attorneys.

Peggy Christian is the mother of an inmate:

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Politics
2:07 pm
Thu April 21, 2011

Michigan Senators vote on education cuts today

Today's tweet from the Governor... "Let's focus on doing the right things to get our fiscal house in order and create an environment where jobs can grow."

For a state with $1.5 billion budget deficit and leaders who want to ease taxes on businesses - that means cuts.

The Appropriations Committee has voted on some cuts in education today.

From the Associated Press:

A Michigan Senate committee has voted to cut state aid to school districts by an additional $170 per student for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

The Republican-led Senate Appropriations Committee approved the cut along party lines Thursday. The reduction would be in addition to a $170 per student cut already on the books for the current fiscal year that would be continued into next year. That makes the total reduction $340 per student.

The proposal advances to the Senate floor. The cuts recommended by the Senate panel aren't as deep as the additional $300 per student cut recommended by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, which would make the total cut $470 per student.

Most state departments will be cut next fiscal year as Michigan continues to struggle with budget problems.

The state's new fiscal year starts on October 1st. The State Legislature and Governor Rick Snyder are hoping to finalize the budget by June 1st.

Commentary
12:46 pm
Thu April 21, 2011

Scrooge and the Budget

What if the governor increased the amount of Michigan income tax I had to pay by ten dollars a week?  The truth is, I’d barely miss it, and if I went out to eat a little less often, I wouldn’t miss it at all.

I’m not anything close to rich, but fortunately, I manage to make an income adequate for my family’s needs, and don’t have any children who need to go to camp or college.

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Politics
12:39 pm
Thu April 21, 2011

State Police respond to questions about data extraction devices

A data extraction device made by Cellebrite
from a Cellebrite brochure

For close to three years, the ACLU says it has been asking the Michigan State Police for more information about the use of "data extraction devices" that can be used to get information from personal cell phones.

Using the device is "kind of like copying all the papers in your locked briefcase while your back is turned," according to a report released yesterday by Michigan Radio's Lester Graham.

Graham reports "if [the devices] are being used, it could be construed as illegal search and seizure."

Now, the officals at the Michigan State Police (MSP) have issued a statement saying they only use the date extraction devices (DEDs) in certain circumstances. From the statement:

The MSP only uses the DEDs if a search warrant is obtained or if the person possessing the mobile device gives consent. The department's internal directive is that the DEDs only be used by MSP specialty teams on criminal cases, such as crimes against children.

The DEDs are not being used to extract citizens' personal information during routine traffic stops.

The MSP statement said the ACLU's press release caused "speculation and caused inaccurate information to be reported about data extraction devices (DEDs) owned by the Michigan State Police (MSP)."

They might be referring to an article by CNET titled "Michigan cops stealing drivers' phone data."

The ACLU didn't accuse the Michigan State Police of improperly using the devices. They were pointing out the fact that the devices could be used improperly and wanted more information.

The ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request. The response... send us $544,680 in processing fees and we'll give you the information.

Politics
4:39 pm
Wed April 20, 2011

Secretary of State wants no-reason absentee voting system

Michigan's Secretary of State says absentee voting should be more widely available.
govote.com

Michigan’s Secretary of State is urging lawmakers to support her plan to let voters use absentee ballots without needing an excuse, such as illness or being out of town at election time.

When Ruth Johnson was Oakland County Clerk, she instituted an absentee voting system. Now that she’s Secretary of State, Johnson thinks it will work just as well on a state level.

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Politics
4:35 pm
Wed April 20, 2011

Lawmakers debate penalties for illegal teacher strikes

Noah Smith Flickr

Michigan lawmakers debated today whether teachers should face more stringent penalties if they were to participate in an illegal strike.

The state House Education Committee heard testimony for and against a bill that would revoke teachers' licenses for at least two years if they went on strike.

Republicans claim that the law needs to be strengthened to act as a successful deterrent. Democrats claim the measures punish too severely and and also unfairly, compared to other public employees.

Greg Baracy, superintendent for the Wayne-Westland Community Schools district, testified in favor of the stricter bill; his teachers went on a 4-day strike in 2008.

But David Hecker, president of the American Federation of Teachers - Michigan, says strikes like that are rare. And he says teachers shouldn't lose their careers over a strike:

"This has nothing to do with preventing strikes, because they already really don't happen. This is just another attack on teachers and education employees."

This debate occurs as the possibility of an actual statewide teacher strike looms.

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Commentary
11:53 am
Wed April 20, 2011

Recall the Governor?

There’s one word you can’t use to describe Governor Rick Snyder: Uncontroversial. In less than four months Michigan’s newest governor has created loads of controversy.

The seemingly mild-mannered former business executive has rammed a tough new emergency financial manager law through the legislature. He is pushing a budget that gives businesses a big tax break and makes devastating cuts to education and social programs. Lots of people are hopping mad, and some of them are trying to do something drastic about it. A group called Michigan Citizens United is launching a campaign to remove the governor from office.

They’ve filed paperwork in Washtenaw County seeking official permission to begin a recall drive. In nine days, the county board of commissioners will have a hearing to determine if the language on the petition is clear. If it is, the group can start collecting names. If they get enough signatures, the state’s voters may go the polls November 8th and decide whether to remove the governor. If a majority voted yes, Rick Snyder would be out of a job.

His opponents have a web site. They have a facebook page, and they are gung-ho. But there are two questions we should ask:  Does this recall effort have a chance of succeeding, and -- is it a good idea?  The first question is fairly easy; the answer is a resounding no. It will be all but impossible for this or any grassroots group to get enough signatures to make this happen.

Here’s why. They would need to collect 807,000 valid signatures within ninety days. Practically, as Citizens’ United admit, they really need well over a million, since some are bound to be disqualified.

That would mean they’d have to collect more than ten thousand signatures a day. The only way they could possibly achieve that is by spending a vast amount of money to hire people to collect the signatures, and this group doesn’t have it.

Most petition efforts to get constitutional amendments on the ballot fail, unless they have heavy financial backing, and an amendment only needs about a third as many signatures.

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Politics
11:16 am
Wed April 20, 2011

New Department of Corrections Chief named

Governor Rick Snyder has named Jackson County Sheriff Daniel Heyns as the new director of the Michigan Department of Corrections. He'll start his new duties on June 1st.

From the Governor's Press release:

Heyns earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Michigan in 1973 and a master’s in criminal justice, with a correctional administration focus, from Michigan State University in 1977.  Heyns obtained his State of Michigan Police Officer Certification in 1981, is a graduate of the National FBI Academy and has completed special weapons and tactics training...

Heyns, of Jackson, has served as Jackson County sheriff since 2003.  He is responsible for a $12.5 million budget, a 450-bed jail operation, 911 central dispatch center and multiple specialized units including marine patrol, detective bureau, K-9, narcotics, traffic, firearms, Special Response Team and school liaison.  He previously served as Jackson County undersheriff and was a captain in the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department.

The Associated Press notes that Heyns was a vocal opponent of Governor Granholm's plan to release more nonviolent prisoners eligible for parole.

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News Roundup
9:19 am
Wed April 20, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

Lawsuits challenging emergency manager law start

Detroit's General Retirement System and the Police and Fire Retirement System have filed a lawsuit challenging the new emergency financial manager law.

From the Associated Press:

The City of Detroit's two pension boards have filed a lawsuit seeking to block the state's new emergency financial manager law, calling it unconstitutional.

The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press report the lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Detroit and names Gov. Rick Snyder and Treasurer Andy Dillon. The lawsuit claims that emergency financial managers could remove pension board members for no reason.

Snyder's office says the governor believes in the constitutionality of the law, otherwise he wouldn't have signed it.

Benton Harbor's Emergency Financial Manager, Joe Harris, was the first EFM to use broad new powers granted to him by the state.

Cleaning the lead out of Detroit homes

The federal government and private foundations will help fund a project to help get rid of environmental hazards in Detroit homes. From the Detroit Free Press:

The federal government will kick in $1 million to help make 100 homes in a targeted area of Detroit lead-free and safe from other hazards -- such as mold and radon -- and to train workers in environmental remediation techniques.

Deputy Secretary Ron Sims of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will present the funds to Mayor Dave Bing today.

The Freep reports that a study showed "60% of children in public schools in the city who scored below grade level on standardized state tests had lead poisoning."

Foundations, nonprofit partners, and state agencies are also expected to invest in the project.

Snyder to announce new leader for the Michigan Department of Corrections

Governor Rick Snyder is expected to make the announcement this morning. From the Detroit News:

Snyder selected Jackson County Sheriff Dan Heyns to run the department, which takes the largest share of general fund dollars in the state's budget, according to two people familiar with the decision.

Snyder will make the announcement publically later this morning at a news conference in the governor's press auditorium, across from the Capitol in Lansing.

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Politics
5:40 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

Michigan Attorney General's office collects over $100 million in child support

Michigan Attorney General's office

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says that office’s Child Support Division has passed an important marker: It has now collected more than $100 million in child support for delinquent parents.

The division launched in 2003. Since then, it’s used Michigan’s tough child support laws to enforce court-ordered payments.

Michiganis the only state that makes failure to pay child support a four-year felony.

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Politics
5:03 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

Johnson delivers first-ever "State of the Secretary of State" speech

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson.
rick4mi.com

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson delivered what she says was the first-ever "State of the Secretary of State" speech in Lansing.

It's a speech Johnson says she plans to deliver the speech every year she is in office, "because I think there’s so much information and so many good things that are happening and I want people to know where we’re at, and where we’re going," said Johnson, "so you can judge – are we doing a good job or not?"

In the speech, Johnson said she is cutting costs in the Department of State.

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Politics
4:25 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

First legal challenges to emergency manager law

Robert Bobb, Detroit Public Schools emergency financial manager, says the new emergency manager law has already helped him in his role.
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

The controversial emergency financial manager law gives broad powers to state-appointed officials who are brought in to help struggling cities and school districts.

It was signed into law last month by Governor Rick Snyder, now, as MPRN's Rick Pluta reports, two Detroit pension fund boards have filed a lawsuit challenging the state's emergency financial manager law. They say the law "illegally threatens contracts and collective bargaining agreements."

Under the law, emergency managers can strip power from locally elected officials and dissolve union contracts.

Pluta spoke with the emergency manager in charge of the Detroit Public Schools, Robert Bobb. He says these legal challenges won't help: 

"Because the legislation as it is is to kind of help escalate the resolution of problems and issues in localities and in school districts and any type of prolonged litigation does not really help advance what needs to be advanced to right the ship," says Bobb.

The Detroit News reports that the lawsuit was filed by Detroit's General Retirement System and the Police and Fire Retirement System:

The law "represents an imminent threat to the constitutional rights of plaintiffs and other members of the Detroit Retirement Systems," the funds' lawyer Ronald A. King wrote in the lawsuit.

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Politics
2:59 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

President Obama's invite to a townhall meeting hosted by Facebook

President Obama inviting people to join his town hall meeting hosted by Facebook
screen grab of YouTube video

In an attempt to reach people who are hanging out online, President Obama is holding an "online town hall" meeting at the headquarters of Facebook in Palo Alto, California. There he'll discuss his ideas for bringing down the deficit, and take questions posted on the White House Facebook page.

Here's the invite from the President released this morning:

Carla Marinucci on the Politics Blog of the San Francisco Chronicle writes:

...only a few lucky invitees and reporters will actually be allowed inside the headquarters of Facebook to see the town hall...White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer told reporters last week in a conference call that Obama isn't necessarily aiming for the youth demographic with his event. "It is an attempt to reach people who may not get their news through traditional news sources like newspapers and the network news,'' he said. "And we want to go to where people...congregate online and communicate with them there. And Facebook is certainly one of the premiere places to do that."

Commentary
2:01 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

GOP Losing Streak

For many years, Michigan has had a strong two-party tradition. During the nineteen-eighties and early nineties, Michigan voters came closer than any other state to mirroring the national presidential results. But we don’t just go with the winners.

We’ve also had one of the oldest and strongest traditions of ticket-splitting in the nation. Back in 1964, Democrat Lyndon Johnson carried the state by more than a million votes, something never seen before or since. But seven hundred thousand of those voters crossed over to give Republican George Romney a landslide as well.

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Politics
1:53 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

Flint Mayor reacts to news reports on Flint crime

Flint Mayor Dayne Walling (right) and police Chief Alvern Lock.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

Flint Mayor Dayne Walling took issue with two reports on crime in Flint and police layoffs: an article published in the New York Times; and a WJBK Fox 2 news report.

Both were by reporter Charles LeDuff.

Here are some excerpts from Walling's letter posted on votewalling.com:

...I am deeply disturbed by yet another cheap shot at the City of Flint.

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Politics
10:58 pm
Mon April 18, 2011

Community rallies to protest immigration enforcement

United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement

A standing-room-only crowd packed a union hall in Dearborn tonight for a rally to protest what they call harassment by immigration officials. Hundreds of people poured into UAW Local 600 to hear activists and politicians discuss allegations of wrongdoing by Immigration and Customs Enforcement – or ICE – agents.

Complaints include warrantless searches, racial profiling and enforcement actions near schools and churches.

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Politics
5:58 pm
Mon April 18, 2011

Detroit, Wayne County officials protest State Police "about-face" on crime lab

Kym Worthy

Detroit and Wayne County officials say they feel like Michigan State Police have “stabbed them in the back."

That’s because State Police have backed off a plan to put a full-service crime lab in a former casino the city plans to turn into its new police headquarters.

But the state later decided that wasn’t the best use of money. They say Detroit Police need more help handling and submitting evidence.

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Politics
4:13 pm
Mon April 18, 2011

Officials receive training on new emergency financial manager law

More than 300 local officials and prospective emergency managers are in Lansing today and tomorrow to be trained in the state's new fiscal crisis law.

The law gives sweeping authority to emergency managers named to run school districts and local governments that can no longer pay their bills.

Terry Stanton of the Michigan Department of Treasury says the goal is for the state to intervene earlier to avoid the drastic step of a state takeover.

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Politics
4:05 pm
Mon April 18, 2011

Critics take step toward recalling Gov. Snyder

A group opposed to Governor Rick Snyder submitted language today for a recall petition.  It’s the beginning of what may be a long process. 

The group, Michigan Citizens United, is behind the recall campaign.    Gerald Rozner is the group’s spokesman.  He says Gov. Snyder deserves to be recalled for signing legislation that gives state appointed financial managers broad powers to void city union contracts and plans to increase taxes on pensioners. 

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Commentary
12:49 pm
Mon April 18, 2011

Rolling the Dice

We in the media have been paying a lot of attention to Governor Snyder’s attempts to push his program through the legislature. Mostly, we‘ve been preoccupied with the mechanics.

Last week, we talked about his compromise on the pension tax. Soon, we‘ll be discussing what seems likely to be the governor’s  success at cutting spending for the schools. Occasionally, we remember to mention the reason for all this painful budget slashing.

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