Politics & Government

News Roundup
8:26 am
Mon April 25, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Monday, April 25th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Snyder Plans Education Address

Governor Rick Snyder is expected to outline some of his ideas on school reform in an address to a conference of educators in East Lansing today. Snyder will offer even more details on his ideas for education in the state when he delivers a message to the legislature later this week. A senior advisor to the Governor says Snyder will say everything from better pre-natal care to an improved higher education system have to be part of a plan for fixing schools, Rick Pluta reports.

Big Cuts for Corrections?

Michigan Senate Republicans say the Department of Corrections could save tens of millions of dollars by making sure all prisoners are parole-eligible as soon as they have served their minimum sentences, Laura Weber reports. From Weber:

Republican state Senator John Proos who chairs the Senate panel that oversees the Department of Corrections budget, says that means making sure prisoners have taken their necessary prisoner reentry programs in time for their parole hearings. Proos says additional savings can be found in the department by privatizing food services and mental health services for prisoners.

Study Programs Continue in Japan

The University of Michigan says its study programs in Japan are on track due to a revised U.S. State Department policy, the Associated Press reports. The AP explains, “The agency had previously warned Americans against traveling to Japan following last month's earthquake and the nuclear accident that followed. The school says students must make sure they follow the university's international travel rules.”

Education
6:42 am
Mon April 25, 2011

Governor to address educators, unveil school reform plans

Governor Rick Snyder
Michigan Municipal League

Governor Rick Snyder will address an education conference in East Lansing today. He is expected to call for an across-the-board shakeup in how Michigan prepares students for 21st Century jobs.

Governor Snyder is expected to say Michigan falls short in critical measurements like third grade reading scores, eighth grade math scores, and its number of college graduates. At the same time, his budget plans call for less money for schools and universities.

Bill Rustem is a senior advisor to the governor. He says education reform can save money, but it needs to start before children are born and continue past high school.

“We’ve got to improve in a way that enables that whole system from pre-natal all the way through college to be a better system producing people who are smarter, better, and able to compete in the 21st Century.”

Details of the governor’s school reform plans will wait until later in the week when he sends an education message to the Legislature.

Politics
6:31 am
Mon April 25, 2011

Bay City preparing for budget deficit

Bay City is preparing for a 2011-2012 budget deficit
Ifmuth Flickr

From the Associated Press:

Commissioners in Bay City are bracing for another year in the red heading toward Monday's presentation of the proposed 2011-12 city budget. The Bay City Times reports a deficit similar to the $1.6 million faced this year is expected due to anticipated cuts in state funding.

The budget year begins July 1. Commission President Kathleen Newsham warns that the news is "going to be bad." City Manager Robert Belleman says no municipal layoffs are expected in the proposed budget and that money from a reserve fund will be used to cover a deficit.

Bay City registered $1.4 million in savings last year. Belleman says the city's revenue sharing from the state is down by at least a third.

State Budget
1:01 pm
Sun April 24, 2011

Corrections Department budget may see big cuts

Michigan Senate Republicans say the Department of Corrections could save tens of millions of dollars by making sure all prisoners are parole-eligible as soon as they have served their minimum sentences.  

Republican state Senator John Proos says that means making sure prisoners have taken their necessary prisoner reentry programs in time for their parole hearings. 

 “Are they getting the proper education so they can be eligible for parole at their earliest release date? The longer we keep somebody past earliest release date, the most costly it is to us."

Proos says additional savings can be found in the department by privatizing food services and mental health services for prisoners. Proos chairs the Senate panel that oversees the Department of Corrections budget. The panel approved a spending plan that is well below Governor Rick Snyder’s proposal.

Politics
5:46 pm
Sat April 23, 2011

Republican lawmakers making progress on drafting state budget

Early drafts of Republican budget plans include some measures that Governor Rick Snyder did not call for in his proposal for the coming fiscal year. Among them are new rules on embryonic stem cell research conducted at state universities and publicly funded clinics.  

Similar measures were blocked in recent years by Governor Jennifer Granholm and Democrats in the Legislature. New Republican majorities are renewing efforts to enact new restrictions and reporting requirements over the objections of researchers. They say the proposed rules would quash their work.

Governor Rick Snyder supports embryonic stem cell research and the voter-approved amendment that allows it at publicly funded facilities. The governor has not taken a position on the budget language. Sara Wurfel is the governor’s press secretary.   

“We’re going to be looking at everything closely when it comes through. The governor’s been very clear and consistent that he respects the Legislature and the legislative process. It’s still got a long way to go. It’s just one step.”   

And legislative leaders say these early versions of the budget bills do not necessarily reflect what will come from the final round of negotiations. The governor and legislative leaders say they’re on track to wrap up the budget by their self-imposed May 31st deadline.

Politics
11:13 am
Sat April 23, 2011

Pastor briefly jailed, ordered to stay away from mosque for 3 years

Several hundred people attended an interfaith rally in Dearborn Friday.
Rina Miller, Michigan Radio

A controversial Florida pastor who planned to protest outside a Dearborn mosque Friday instead spent the day in court, and briefly went to jail.

Terry Jones last month burned a Quran in Florida, sparking deadly riots in Afghanistan. That prompted a jury to decide that his protest against Islam could lead to violence in Dearborn.

Jones refused to pay a symbolic $1 peace bond, leading to his arrest.

Susan Morgan of Dearborn attended an interfaith rally in a cold, hard rain outside the Henry Ford Centennial Library Friday afternoon, as the trial continued in the courthouse nearby.

“We’d really like our tax money to be spent someplace better, and not wasted on this," Morgan says. "This has been going on for three or four weeks for us here in Dearborn.”

Some participants in the rally said although they disagreed with Joneses’ message, they supported his right to free speech, including Ghada Saleh. She's originally from Lebanon, but has lived in Dearborn for 37 years.

“He has the right to express his opinion about whatever he wants," Saleh says. "But what he stands for is totally wrong. As a Christian person, he should know that burning the Quran is an insult to Jesus.”

Jones has been ordered to stay away from the mosque and adjacent property for three years.

Read more
Politics
5:37 pm
Fri April 22, 2011

Terry Jones plans to hold rally this afternoon, counter-rally planned in Dearborn

The Islamic Center of America, the largest mosque in the United States. Pastor Terry Jones wants to hold a rally near the mosque.
Dane Hillard wikimedia commons

Update 5:37 p.m.

Michigan Radio's Rina Miller is at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn and phoned in the above reports.

On their live blog, the Free Press reports that "several hundred people have gathered outside the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center in Dearborn for a Terry Jones counterrally, listening to speakers who have pleaded for peace and understanding.

Crowd members are carrying signs that say, 'We are Peace,' 'We Are Islam," and 'Hope, not Hurt.'"

Update: 4:32 p.m.

The Detroit Free Press reports that members of assorted police departments have gathered at the site of the planned counter-protest outside of the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center in Dearborn. The Freep reports they have riot gear "on hand visible inside several vans, including helmets and sticks."

From the Freep:

Emergency crews from more than a half-dozen agencies are gathered outside the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center in Dearborn.

They are on guard for a scheduled 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. counter-rally organized by Detroit-area religious leaders in response to a Florida pastor’s desire to hold his own rally outside Dearborn’s Islamic Center of America, one of the nation’s largest mosques.

2:40 p.m.

Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who organized a Quran burning last month, plans to hold his anti-Muslim rally tonight at 5 p.m. at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn regardless of the outcome of this afternoon's trial.

He said during the trial that he knows of 5 people from his church who will be there.

Prosecutors say more than 10,000 people could show up to counter protest his rally and they fear violence could erupt.

They liken Jones' intent to hold an anti-Muslim rally outside one of the largest mosques in the United States  to shouting "fire" in a crowded theater.

A counter-rally has been planned at the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center in Dearborn 3 miles away from the mosque.

It's scheduled to start at 4 p.m.

Michigan Radio's Rina Miller will attend the rallies and file updates for us.

Politics
1:57 pm
Fri April 22, 2011

Terry Jones in court, arguing for right to protest

Terry Jones (back to camera) and Wayne Sapp (on the stand) are arguing in court that they have a right to hold their anti-Muslim rally in front of a mosque in Dearborn.
screen grab from a Fox 2 News Detroit live broadcast

Update 1:57

Judge Mark Somers gave the jury instructions on how to evaluate the prosecutor's case against Terry Jones. The trial will decide whether Jones is allowed to hold an anti-Muslim rally outside the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn.

The jurors are to evaluate whether Jones is likely to breach the peace or not.

The jury's decision must be unanimous.

Update 11:52 a.m.

The trial is on recess. The parties and the jury are to return at 1 p.m.

Read more
Commentary
1:14 pm
Fri April 22, 2011

Fighting for a Future

Here’s something you may not have thought about: Who are the Michigan Democratic party’s future leaders? The Republican landslide last fall eliminated a generation of politicians.

Today, the Democrats don’t have a single statewide officeholder, other than some judges and school and university board members.  Five of the six Democratic congressmen are elderly.

Read more
Politics
1:00 pm
Fri April 22, 2011

A look at who wins, who loses under Snyder's budget proposal

Michigan State Representatives Pscholka (left) speaks with Rep. Mark Ouimet (center) and Gov. Rick Snyder.
Michigan House Republicans

(This story originally aired on Marketplace)

Across the country, states are weighing competing funding priorities as they work to close gaping budget deficits.

In Michigan, Republican Governor Rick Snyder isn’t just trying to erase $1.4 billion in red ink. He also wants to fundamentally remake the state’s tax code. Snyder says it’ll help reverse years of economic decline.

Re-writing the tax code

Read more
Politics
12:51 pm
Fri April 22, 2011

Clergy urge community to avoid confrontation with Florida pastor

Imam Sayed Hassan Al-Qazwini leads the Islamic Center of America, where Pastor Terry Jones wants to stage his protest. Al-Qazwini says Jones is looking for publicity.
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

Muslim and Christian clergy say people should not confront the controversial Florida pastor who plans to protest jihad and Sharia law in front of a Dearborn mosque today.

Imam Sayed Hassan Al-Qazwini leads the Islamic Center of America, where Pastor Terry Jones wants to stage his protest. He says Jones is looking for publicity, and that’s his right:

"But when he calls himself a religious leader, a pastor, then he should hold himself to a higher standard, and that is our problem with him."

Reverend Charles Williams Junior says there will be no conflict in Dearborn if the protest goes forward tonight. And he says he hopes the reaction is the same elsewhere:

"We want to call on our brothers and sisters across the world: please do not respond to this ignorant fellow. Please do not respond."

Violent protests erupted in Afghanistan after Jones burned a copy of the Qur’an at his Florida church.

Jones is representing himself at a trial to decide whether he should be required to pay a hefty security bond to stage his protest. Jones says he’ll hold his rally as planned, whatever the jury decides. 

Politics
10:29 am
Fri April 22, 2011

A look at the week in state politics

Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan
Matthileo Flickr

Michigan Radio's All Things Considered host Jennifer White takes a look at state politics with Susan Demas, Political Analyst for Michigan Information Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, former Republican state Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants. On tap: Benton Harbor's Emergency Financial Manger uses his new powers and the state Senate looks to cut state aid for K-12 schools and higher education.

Politics
4:55 pm
Thu April 21, 2011

Pastor asks for jury trial to allow anti-Islam rally

Florida pastor Terry Jones wants to hold an anti-Islam rally in front of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn.
linktv.org

A Wayne County judge is impaneling a six-person jury to hear the county's case against a controversial Florida pastor.

Terry Jones wants to conduct an anti-Islamic rally Friday  in front of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn. County officials want to stop him.

The county is asking a judge to place restrictions on Jones, including having him  pay for police protection  for his rally, and to move the rally to a different part of Dearborn.

Read more
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:

Read more
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.

Read more
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.

Read more
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.

Read more
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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