Politics & Government

Crisis in Libya
11:28 am
Tue March 29, 2011

Senator Levin restates support for U.S. military action in Libya

U.S. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI)
Jeffrey Simms Photography Flickr

Michigan Senator Carl Levin (D), along with Arizona Senator John McCain (R), made opening statements this morning before the Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on Posture of U.S. European Command and U.S. Strategic Command. In his statement, Levin, the Chairman of the Committee, said President Obama was right to use U.S. military force in Libya.

The Senate hearing comes a day after Obama addressed the nation about the role the U.S. was playing in Libya. As the Associated Press reports:

Levin said Obama has taken a thoughtful and deliberate approach to avert a bloodbath in Libya. McCain, Obama's 2008 rival for president, said Obama's decision to intervene was right and necessary.

You can read Senator Levin's full remarks here.

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Commentary
10:55 am
Tue March 29, 2011

What’s Wrong With the Democrats

A lot of people are uneasy about Governor Rick Snyder’s proposal to cut aid to education at all levels in order to balance the budget and give business a huge tax break. Even some of those in favor of cutting business taxes have problems with this.

They reason that no matter what happens, there aren’t going to be any jobs in the future for unskilled, undereducated workers -- and certainly not any good-paying ones. Our young adults are undereducated as it is, and cutting education won’t help.

So yesterday, we were alerted that the Michigan Senate Democrats were going to offer an alternate proposal. I was very interested to see what it would be. And frankly, I was hoping it would be an alternative I could support.

That’s because I am convinced that better education and training, more than anything else, is the key to Michigan’s future.

Well, I couldn’t have been more disappointed in the Democrats -- or in Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, a charismatic and intelligent figure who may be their best hope for the future.

The minority leader called for a state constitutional amendment that would prevent the governor from taking money out of the school aid fund in the future.  In practical terms, this is the equivalent of my calling for an amendment requiring it to be seventy degrees so I don’t freeze when I walk the dog in the morning. 

First of all, this does nothing to address this year’s problems. Even if the legislature thought this was a good idea, they’d have to agree to put it on a statewide ballot so people could vote on it.

That wouldn’t happen until long after this budget has been passed. But the legislature isn’t going to do any such thing. Republicans control both chambers. Democrats are especially weak in the Senate, where Gretchen Whitmer’s party has less than a third of the seats, and by themselves are powerless to do anything.

That’s not the worst part of her proposal, however. When she presented it to the media yesterday, she was asked this sensible question: If her proposal became law, how would Democrats then propose to fill the resulting deficit hole in the general fund?

The Senate minority leader refused to offer an answer -- other than to say the tax code should be “re-examined.”

This is precisely what has been wrong with Michigan government for the past decade, and what got the Democrats tossed out of office last fall. This is also why Governor Snyder’s plan is likely to be enacted. The governor has made a comprehensive proposal for changing the way things are done.

His numbers add up.

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News Roundup
9:14 am
Tue March 29, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Tuesday, March 29th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Laws-a-Plenty

Governor Snyder signed a bill yesterday that extends unemployment benefits by 20 weeks to some 35,000 Michiganders. However, the bill also cuts six-weeks of state unemployment benefits for new filers beginning next year. The measure reduces jobless benefits in the state from 26 weeks to 20 weeks as of 2012. Meanwhile, Governor Snyder is scheduled to sign a bill this afternoon that would repeal Michigan’s item pricing law. Snyder first spoke about repealing the state’s law that requires retailers to put price tags on most individual items in his January State of the State address.

Bernero Lays Out Lansing Budget

Lansing Mayor, and former 2010 Democratic Gubernatorial candidate, Virg Bernero presented his 2012 fiscal year budget last night. Lansing faces a $20 million budget hole next year and Bernero said such a deficit requires a tough and painful response. The Mayor’s budget plan would cut more than 50 Lansing police officers and close three fire stations, Steve Carmody reports.

April 1st Deadline for DSO

Musicians with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra say they have been given a Friday deadline to settle a strike with the DSO management, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The players say in a release Monday the orchestra's board has told them that if no contract agreement is reached by Friday the summer performance season "will be lost" and the fall season "would be in serious jeopardy." An orchestra spokeswoman would not comment on whether a deadline has been imposed. Board chair Stanley Frankel says in a statement that the board is "convinced that a settlement is within reach" and that negotiators have been meeting by phone and e-mail.

DSO musicians have been on strike since October of last year.

Election 2012
7:56 am
Tue March 29, 2011

Hoekstra says he'll decide Senate run within 2 weeks

Former GOP Congressman Pete Hoekstra
Republican Conference Flickr

Former West Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra says he will decide within the next two weeks whether to launch a 2012 Senate run, the Grand Rapids Press reports. The U.S. Senate seat is currently held by Democrat Debbie Stabenow. Stabenow has held the seat since 2000. From the Grand Rapid Press:

Hoekstra, who lost a bruising Republican gubernatorial primary in 2010 and left Congress after nine terms, has consistently performed well in polls in hypothetical head-to-head matchups with Stabenow.

The only Republican to declare candidacy for the seat so far is Randy Hekman, a former Kent County judge. He announced his candidacy earlier this month. Heckman is pastor of Crossroads Bible Church in Grand Rapids, CEO of  research consulting firm Hekman Industries. He directed and helped start the Michigan Family Forum; a conservative non-profit group that tries to influence state policy. He served in the Navy, is an attorney and sat on the bench in Kent County probate court for 15 years.

Other possible GOP candidates for the Senate seat include former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land and former Chairman of the Michigan Republican Party Saul Anuzis.

Crisis in Libya
7:04 am
Tue March 29, 2011

President Obama's address: Reactions and analysis

President Obama defended U.S. military action in Libya during an address to the nation last night. The President explained that the U.S. intervened in Libya, “to prevent a slaughter of civilians that would have stained the world's conscience and 'been a betrayal of who we are' as Americans,” the Associated Press reports.

The AP noted that the President, “ruled out targeting Moammar Gadhafi, calling that a mistake that would be as costly as the war in Iraq. Obama announced that NATO would take command over the entire Libya operation on Wednesday, keeping his pledge to get the U.S. out of the lead fast. He offered no estimate on when the conflict might end and no details about its costs.”

Reactions and analysis of the President's address came out quickly:

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State Law
6:27 am
Tue March 29, 2011

Snyder set to sign bill to repeal item pricing law

Governor Rick Snyder (R)
Photo courtesy of the Snyder Administration

Governor Rick Snyder is scheduled to sign a bill today that will repeal the state law that requires price tags on most retail items.

The Governor first proposed the repeal of the law  in his State of the State address in January. The Associated Press reports:

Supporters of repeal say technological improvements make pricing every item unnecessary and note prices must still be clearly posted. Massachusetts is the only state with a law similar to Michigan's. It applies only to food retailers.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union says grocery jobs will be lost when the new law takes effect in September, but some retail groups say workers are likely to be given other tasks.

Snyder is scheduled to sign the bill this afternoon at 2 p.m. in Lansing.

Politics
7:13 pm
Mon March 28, 2011

Lansing mayor proposes eliminating 200 city jobs

Lansing mayor Virg Bernero delivers his budget address during a meeting of the city council
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Lansing mayor Virg Bernero says he's presenting his 2012 fiscal year budget plan with a heavy heart. The city is facing a $20 million budget gap next year. Bernero says this requires a tough and painful response. 

He's proposing eliminating 200 positions. One hundred and thirty of these jobs are currently filled. Bernero's budget fall particularly hard on the city's public safety department. More than 50 Lansing police officers would be laid off and three fire stations will be closed under Bernero's budget. Bernero says he doesn't relish cuts, but with employee costs being the largest part of the city's budget, he has little choice. 

Bernero says the need for deep spending cuts might be lessened if state revenue sharing is not as deep as proposed by Governor Snyder. He says Lansing voters could help as well if they approve a millage increase on the May 3rd ballot.  

But Bernero says he has to propose a budget now with the "cards" the city's been dealt. Bernero says the city has already made all the easy cuts.    

Changing Gears
5:43 pm
Mon March 28, 2011

Zoning out: Cities rewrite codes to transform their look

Part of Streetsboro, Ohio's current zoning map - separate colors for separate uses. The city is working on doing away with these blocks of color, and trying to mix more uses - a method called "form-based" code.
Steetsboro, Ohio

Zoning is the DNA of a community: it controls how you live, shop, and work.

After nearly a century of many cities separating those uses, now, they’re going back to the future: trying to recreate an old way of life.

Streetsboro, Ohio is one such place.

Drive down its main commercial district and it has nearly every chain store you can imagine: A Walmart and a Target, a Lowes and a Home Depot.

Some call it sprawl. Streetsboro calls it economic development.

This six-lane strip of big box shopping centers has served this city well since its explosive growth started in the 1960s. It just doesn’t look like a traditional town.

The town center is an intersection with a grassy knoll on one side. But Jeff Pritchard is in charge of planning there now and he’s aiming for a future Streetsboro that would look very different.

These big box stores could eventually be replaced by attractive housing and shops. The way towns and cities used to be.

 “A place where they can walk to a corner store, maybe live above a store, says Anthony Flint of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. “And, those kinds of things, that’s illegal in America today in so many of our communities."

Illegal because of zoning.  In many cities and towns, zoning codes don’t allow living and working in the same place. And, when zoning spread across the country in the 1920s and 30s, that was considered a good thing.

 “ You didn’t want to have a slaughter house next to a residential apartment,” Flint says.

But those issues aren’t as big a deal anymore.

As the Great Lakes region reinvents itself, there’s a growing feeling among planners and thinkers that much of the public wants to spend less time in their cars.

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Infrastructure
3:01 pm
Mon March 28, 2011

Update: Michigan Department of Transportation director responds to bad bridge rankings

Michigan's Mackinac Bridge
Julie Falk Flickr

Update:

Michigan ranks 13th worst in the nation for bridge condition according to a new report released on national bridge conditions. The report says 1,400 bridges in Michigan are in critical condition and are deteriorating in some way.

Kirk Steudle is the director of the Michigan Department of Transportation. He says most bridges in Michigan are about 40 years old, and bridges are built to last 50 years.

“We take a slightly different approach with that 50 years, and say that with the right kind of maintenance and preventative maintenance, we can extend that life indefinitely.”

“Well, indefinitely to a point where there’s really nothing more financially responsible to do other than replace the bridge.”

“Our first and foremost responsibility is to make sure that the infrastructure that people are driving on, the bridges they’re driving on, are safe.”

“And if there is a condition that warrants it as immediately unsafe, the bridge will be closed immediately.”

“The bridges that are out there, that people are driving on right now, including all of us, are safe. If the bridge is open, the bridge is safe.”

“It’s been inspected by our bridge engineers, and we take that very seriously and if there’s something that needs to be taken out of service, it will be taken out of service immediately and fixed and adjusted.”

Representatives from Transportation for America, who released the study, say federal support is needed to fix a backlog of bridge issues. They say it will cost about 226 dollars per driver to make sure bridges remain safe and drivable.

Steudle and representatives from Transportation for America say they understand that there is a focus right now on less government spending. But, they say, safety needs to be a priority over budget cuts.

-Laura Weber

1:01 p.m.:

How many bridges do you cross in a day?

However many you cross, it is possible that some of those bridges might be part of the 13% of state bridges that are "structurally deficient."

In a survey of national statistics, the Associated Press found that Michigan came in with the 13th worst bridge statistics.

From the Detroit Free Press:

More than 13% of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient, a number that will only rise as thousands of spans statewide approach their expected 50-year life expectancy, transportation leaders said today.

With about 1,400 bridges ranked structurally deficient, Michigan ranks 13th worst in the nation in the number of bridges in poor condition, according to a report released this morning by Transportation for America, a national transportation advocacy group. The national average is 11.5%.

The average age of Michigan’s bridges is 41 years. The group said nationwide, it would cost $70 billion to upgrade deficient bridges. About 185,000 U.S. bridges are 50 or older, and that number could double by the year 2030.

This news comes on the heels of another big announcement about the long-awaited new Detroit-Windsor bridge, now known as the New International Trade Crossing (NITC).

From an MLive article from last Tuesday:

Governor Rick Snyder is expected, in the next two weeks, to submit a new bill to the Michigan legislature authorizing construction of the new Detroit-Windsor bridge, now called the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) in Lansing.

One of the most significant changes between Snyder’s NITC proposal and the DRIC bill that died in the state Senate last year is the removal of MDOT from the process.  A special authority established to govern the bridge replaces the state agency in the legislation. According to Crain’s Detroit’s Bill Shea, shifting control away from MDOT is seen as an effort to win support among GOP lawmakers.

The removal of MDOT from the equation is one of the significant changes between the NITC proposal and Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) bill that stalled in the Michigan Senate in 2010.

Of course, what we really need is some kind of Michigan Acronym Awareness Association (MAAA).

-Brian Short, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Legal Issues
1:25 pm
Mon March 28, 2011

ACLU says Rochester High School is denying students First Amendment rights

Rochester High School, Rochester, Michigan
(GOOGLE Earth, Street View)

The American Civil Liberties Union is accusing Rochester High School administrators of denying students their First Amendment rights. The ACLU claims the web filtering software on the school’s computers censors Gay and Lesbian websites.   

Jay Kaplan is with the ACLU of Michigan. He says it's an important legal issue.  

“Students do not lose their First Amendment rights when they enter the schoolhouse door.   Schools need to take a closer look at this sort of thing.”

Kaplan says if the school district does not change its web filtering software, the ACLU might take Rochester Community Schools to court. 

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Education Funding
1:24 pm
Mon March 28, 2011

Senate Democrats want K-12 funding constitutionally protected

Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D)
Photo courtesy of www.senate.mi.gov/whitmer

Democrats in the Michigan Senate want a constitutional amendment passed next year that would protect K-12 schools funding. The amendment would not allow community colleges and universities to tap money from the state's school aid fund.

At a news conference today, the Associated Press reports that Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D) said, “K-12 schools wouldn't need to absorb the $470-per-student cut Gov. Rick Snyder is proposing for 2011-12 if he wasn't trying to give nearly $1 billion from the $12 billion school aid fund to community colleges and universities.”

Dawson Bell of the Detroit Free Press explains:

To appear on the ballot, the proposal would need two-thirds majorities in both the state House and Senate. Whitmer and her Democratic colleagues believe a majority of Republicans, who control both chambers, would support the proposal.

Commentary
11:01 am
Mon March 28, 2011

Why Business Leaders Support the Budget

The changes Governor Rick Snyder wants to make with his proposed budget are hugely controversial. But everyone agrees on this: They are designed to bring new business to Michigan.

The governor believes there is no other way to revitalize our state’s economy. But what does business really think of the governor’s budget? People in business aren’t monolithic. General Motors doesn’t have a lot in common with the mom-and-pop restaurant in my neighborhood with five employees.

So last week, I talked to two business leaders who each represent a broad cross-section of somewhat dissimilar interests. Doug Rothwell is president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan, a group of seventy-six of the state’s largest employers.  Rob Fowler has the same title with the Small Business Association of Michigan, sometimes known as SBAM.

SBAM has more than ten thousand members, many of whom have fewer than a hundred employees. Fowler and Rothwell don’t always see eye to eye -- but they do on the governor’s budget.

They support it, right down the line. “I think the governor’s tax plan is the right thing to do, even though some of our members are going to pay more,” said Rothwell, who ran Detroit Renaissance before it evolved into Business Leaders two years ago.

Rob Fowler, who has also had small business leadership positions in Indiana and Ohio, put it this way: “You have to understand the moment in time we are in.”

“Sure, there are things in the governor’s plan I am sure, standing by themselves, our members would not support.”

But both men said it was vitally important to pass the plan as a whole, that if lawmakers started picking off pieces, it would fall apart.

I talked to each man separately, and discovered that what both liked most about the plan was that it offers a coherent, comprehensive strategy for Michigan’s long-term economic recovery. Rothwell noted that this was not a budget of quick fixes and one-time solutions, but one with vision.

Critics have said that the governor is just betting an hunch, gambling that slashing taxes will bring new business into the state.

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City Budgets
8:41 am
Mon March 28, 2011

Bernero to deliver Lansing budget plan today

Lansing Mayor Virg Benero will deliver his 2012 budget today
Photo courtesy of VoteVirg.com

Lansing Mayor, and former Michigan gubernatorial candidate, Virg Bernero delivers his city's 2012 budget to the Lansing City Council tonight. It's being reported this morning that Bernero will propose a budget that contains $20 million in cuts.

The Lansing State Journal reports:

In the run-up to Monday's formal budget presentation, Bernero's staffers have sent signals about the magnitude of possible cuts. Among the most notable: the potential closure of three fire stations and elimination of 60 positions in the Fire Department.

As the Lansing State Journal explains, Lansing, like many other cities and townships across the state, is, "caught between competing budget pressures. First is the drop off in revenue from local property taxes and from promised aid from the state government. City budgeters also have to cope with rising costs, particularly on pensions and on health care for workers and retirees alike."

Crisis in Libya
7:45 am
Mon March 28, 2011

President Obama to address the nation tonight

President Obama will speak to the nation tonight about the crisis in Libya
The U.S. Army Flickr

President Barack Obama will address the nation tonight about the military role the U.S. is playing in Libya. It's been just a little over a week since the President ordered U.S. forces to protect Libyan rebels from Moammar Gadhafi's regime.

The President will speak from the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. at 7:30 p.m. You can hear live coverage of the address on Michigan Radio beginning at 7 p.m.

Here's a roundup of what various media organizations are saying about the upcoming address:

State Budget
7:10 am
Mon March 28, 2011

State official to discuss Snyder budget, answer questions

Mitch Bean, Director of the state's House Fiscal Agency, will outline parts of Governor Snyder's budget this evening
Michigan Municipal League Flickr

Mitch Bean, the Director of the state’s nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency will outline parts of Governor Rick Snyder’s budget proposal later today.

Bean will talk about the Governor’s budget proposal and answer questions this evening at Muskegon Community College.

The state faces an estimated $1.4 billion budget deficit for the fiscal year that begins October 1st.

State Legislature
6:38 am
Mon March 28, 2011

Lt. Gov says tax plan debate will continue through break

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley says negotations over the state budget will continue in Lansing even though lawmakers are on a two-week break
Ifmuth Flickr

State lawmakers have begun their two-week spring break, but many of them say they will still be in Lansing working on budget issues. That includes negotiating with Governor Rick Snyder on tax reforms.

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley says he expects lawmakers to meet Governor Snyder’s May 31st deadline to complete work on the budget.

“Any time that we waste right now adds time on the back end, and we really owe all the constituencies who depend on state an answer before we get to the same type of timeframe that we’ve dealt with in the past. So, it’s not really fair to put these things off until fall or even late summer.”

Snyder has proposed a tax on pensions, a new corporate income tax to replace the Michigan Business Tax, and scaling back tax credits.

Calley told lawmakers that if they don’t like Snyder’s plan, they need to put something else on the table that will help end the budget deficit.

Republicans in the Senate are expected to unveil a plan that includes an expanded corporate income tax, and to hold off on taxing pensions.

Politics
8:06 pm
Sat March 26, 2011

Secretary of State wants changes to political party rules

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson
michigan.gov

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson has proposed changes to the laws governing how new political parties form in the state.
 
Johnson wants to prevent a repeat of last year’s confusion over an “imposter” tea party group that allegedly sought to siphon votes from Republicans in the 2010 elections.
 
Johnson says she expects legislation to be introduced in a few weeks that would require new parties to file a campaign finance statement, and give public notice for political conventions:

"We need to make sure the people and the political parties we see on the ballot really are who they say they are. And efforts to deceive voters, they really do rob every legitimate voter, and put our liberties and our freedoms at risk."

Last year a group calling itself the Tea Party said it planned to nominate candidates at a convention. Two former officials with the Oakland County Democratic Party are accused of putting candidates forward with forged documents.

State Law
3:43 pm
Fri March 25, 2011

"Romeo & Juliet" bill headed for governor's signature; flashers, peeping Toms also to be removed from sex offender registry

People on Michigan's sex offender registry because they had consensual teenage sex can apply to have their name removed.

The so-called “Romeo and Juliet” bill is on its way to Governor Snyder’s desk for his signature. 

The measure will remove people who are on Michigan’s Sex Offender Registry because they had consensual sex with another teenager.

They’re currently kept on the list for 25 years.

State Sen. Rick Jones sponsored the bill. He says it puts Michigan in compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Act.

"This law will require that you petition the judge, the judge will review the case, and only in cases where it was completely consensual -- boyfriend/girlfriend-type behavior -- will the individual be allowed to be removed from the list," Jones says.

The law also takes most peeping toms and exhibitionists – or flashers – off the list. Instead, they’ll be on a separate list monitored by the Michigan State Police for 15 years.

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Politics
3:20 pm
Fri March 25, 2011

No-confidence vote will send Canadians back to the polls

Jeff Smith Flickr

A no-confidence vote in the Canadian parliament today means Canadian citizens can look forward to another election, their fourth in seven years.

From the BBC:

The vote, engineered by the opposition Liberal Party and backed by two other opposition parties, triggers an election expected in early May.

The move stemmed from a ruling on Monday that the minority government was in contempt of parliament.

But the Conservatives are thought likely to keep power in a May election.

With the House of Commons adjourned, Mr Harper on Saturday will ask Governor General David Johnston to dissolve parliament.

Following that, an election will be held after a minimum 36 days of campaigning. Canadian analysts expect it will be called for the first week in May.

Mr Harper's Conservative Party holds 145 seats in the dissolving parliament, shy of a majority of the 308 seats.

Recent polling suggests the Conservative Party holds a lead at the start of the campaign, with the Liberal Party in second, the New Democratic (NDP) Party third and the Bloc Quebecois, which campaigns only in Quebec, fourth.

The Conservative Party is likely to emerge from the May election in power, with some polls indicating it could even gain seats.

After the vote, Mr Harper said he suspected the forthcoming election, the country's fourth in seven years, would "disappoint" most Canadians.

Analysts say Canadian voters have shown little desire for an election, although Mr Harper's minority government had set a record for its tenure.

Canada is a historically important trading partner with Michigan.

According to the Government of Canada, about "237,100 jobs in the Great Lakes State depend on the Canada–Michigan trade relationship, which is valued at $43.3 billion."

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Politics
3:06 pm
Fri March 25, 2011

Protestors bring giant inhalers to Congressman Fred Upton

Kevin Karlinski, student from Western Michigan University, outside Congressman Upton's district office to deliver oversized asthma inhaler. Behind him, more community members drop off inhalers in Congressman Upton's office.
Nicole Lowen Environment Michigan

Several protestors rallied outside Congressman Fred Upton’s offices in Kalamazoo Friday.

Nicole Lowen is the with Environment Michigan, a state-wide advocacy group that tries to protect clean air, water and open spaces.

“We had gigantic, oversized asthma inhalers that we dropped off at his office just to represent the thousands of his constituents that are likely to suffer more frequent and severe health problems if he’s successful in stripping away these critical clean air protections.”

She says they were protesting a bill (H.R. 910) Upton introduced that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. 

Upton chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee in the U.S. House. The republican from St. Joseph says allowing the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions will drive up energy costs, destroy jobs and make America less competitive globally.

“Such regulatory authority can only come from elected legislators, not unelected bureaucrats.  We must not allow this administration to regulate what they have been unable to legislate,” Upton said in a press release issued Friday.

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