state legislature

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The State Legislature created the Library of Michigan 32 years ago to collect and preserve Michigan publications, conduct research and to support libraries statewide. 

For the past 10 years, Michigan's state librarian has been Nancy Robertson, but now she is retiring. She joined us to speak about the future of libraries in Michigan, and the role of Michigan's state library. 

Listen to the full interview above. 

Aaron Olson

You might be asked to sign a petition next year to cut Michigan legislators’ pay and make their job part-time. The state constitution will have to be amended to accomplish that.

There could be some unintended consequences in doing that.

Bridge card users could soon be unable to get cash out of ATMs inside strip clubs, some liquor stores, and casinos.  That's the idea behind a package of bills the state Senate passed today. 

Bridge cards are mostly associated with food assistance, but they also let families with kids get temporary cash assistance for things like child care and rent. 

So what happens if you live in a rural or urban area where the only ATM is in a liquor store? 

That's what state Sen. Morris Hood (D-Detroit) says he's worried about. 

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When it comes to "performance reviews" for politicians, the Big One is the one they face at the ballot box.

For Governor Rick Snyder and state lawmakers, that performance review comes up in November 2014.

But in the interim, the latest Michigan Public Policy Survey gives us all something to chew on. This one looks at how local officials view the job Governor Snyder and the State Legislature are doing.

The survey is done by the team at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.

Tom Ivacko is with the Ford School's Center for Local, State and Urban Policy. He joined us today to discuss the results.

Listen to the full interview above.

Billions and billions of federal dollars, hundreds of different policies, all rest in the U.S. Farm Bill. With very little bipartisanship in Washington these days, it's not too surprising that it's taken so long for Congress to make a deal on the legislation. But, time is running out. Why can’t the 2013 Farm Bill just get done and what does it means for the Michigan and U.S. economies?

And, we took a temperature-check. Just how do local officials think the state Legislature is doing?

Also, the Dearborn Planning Commission approved changes in rules governing the way residents may use their garages, but some people in the Arab community feel the changes are a direct slap at them.

First on the show, there's been an apology from Detroit's emergency manager for those now-infamous comments made in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. That's where Kevyn Orr described Detroit in these words: "For a long time the city was dumb, lazy, happy and rich."

Orr offered up a mea culpa in an interview with WXYZ-TV.

What effect will those words and the apology have on Orr's ability to work with Detroit leaders and citizens?

Detroit News business columnist Daniel Howes joined us today.

Nancy Nall Derringer / LinkedIn

Governor Snyder’s school reform agenda includes rewarding schools for so called best practices.

Those include providing physical education, offering online instructional programs or blended learning opportunities, or being a school of choice. Districts meeting seven out of eight of those best practices are eligible to receive 52 additional dollars per pupil in the district.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

One of the criticisms frequently aimed at Congress is that "gridlock" where decisions come slowly, if at all, as both sides draw their respective lines in the sand, and there's just not much compromising.

That is not the case with state legislatures across the country where, thanks to one-party control in 37 states, we're seeing action and lots of it.

Stateline is an independent, non-partisan news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts. This week it released its annual review of state legislatures, giving us a look at the major budget and policy developments at all 50 state capitols.

Scott Greenberger, an editor for Stateline, joined us today in the studio.

Listen to the full interview above.

Jane M Sawyer / morgue file

Michigan public schools would get a three-percent overall funding boost under a plan in the state Legislature.

It comes up for final votes next week.

No school would get less money per student than it did last year under a plan approved by a state budget panel.

Lawmakers added language that would guarantee every school gets at least five dollars more per student than last year. Without that provision, some schools could have seen cuts because of reduced payments to cover teacher retirement costs. 

Schools that get the minimum amount of state funding right now could see up to $60 more per student next fiscal year. That total amount is right around $7,000 per student.

The bill now goes to the floors of the state House and Senate.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

How transparent should the process of our government be?

That’s the question behind the use of “work groups” or “task forces” — unofficial, closed-door committees being created in Lansing to help design and craft policy.  Following the revelation of the so-called “skunk works” education work group that was made public by the Detroit News two weeks ago, we wanted to look at how these groups operate in Lansing. Have work groups increased under Governor Rick Snyder? What’s the possible impact on our democratic system of government?

Chad Livengood from the Detroit News and Michigan Radio’s political analyst Jack Lessenberry discuss the growing awareness of Lansing’s work groups, and how voters can know who or what is influencing these committees.

Listen to the full interview above.

Blue Cross Blue Shield would undergo major changes under proposed legislation.
Wikipedia

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A state House committee has approved bills to overhaul Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, leaving out anti-abortion provisions that torpedoed an earlier effort to change the status of the state's largest insurer.

Bills headed to the House don't include language to prevent insurers and businesses from providing elective abortion coverage in employee health plans.

Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed a similar bill less than two months ago over last-minute abortion provisions.

Some lawmakers discussed restoring abortion restrictions.

The proposed overhaul seeks to modernize but not sell Blue Cross, which is governed by a separate law from other insurers and waits longer for its rate changes to be reviewed.

Before Thursday's 11-0 vote, senior advocates testified about concerns that costs will rise because of the legislation. Three Democrats abstained from voting.

Michigan Municipal League / flickr

Michigan’s legislature would only serve part-time under a measure in the state Senate.

Starting in 2015, lawmakers would only meet in regular session up to 90 days a year. They could have special sessions to address emergencies.

Republican state Senator John Proos is sponsoring the legislation. He said it would force state lawmakers to work more efficiently.

“Ultimately it saves taxpayers money and decreases the overall size of government. I think that those are good, laudable efforts as we try to reform state government,” Proos said.

The new legislative session kicked off yesterday in Lansing.

Republican lawmakers were greeted by protesters angry about right to work legislation and other controversial moves made during the lame duck session. 

House Speaker Jase Bolger was reelected as leader of the house though there were two dissenting votes from Democrats in what would historically have been a unanimous vote.  

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 talk the new session.

New legislation in Michigan seeks to protect student athletes from concussions.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan's legislators have moved to protect student athletes from concussions. The AP has more:

The Senate on Tuesday passed measures requiring the Michigan Department of Community Health to develop educational materials and training for athletes, parents and coaches on concussion-related injuries and treatments.

The materials would identify the nature and risk of concussions and criteria for removing athletes from activity when they're suspected of having a concussion.

Matthileo / Flickr

Taxes, as we all know too well, are a powerful political issue. And the issue has come up yet again at the state Capitol. A cut in the state income tax has become part of the negotiations as Gov. Rick Snyder and the Legislature's top Republican leaders wrap up their budget negotiations. Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network, and I sit down to talk politics every Friday and today, in It's Just Politics, it is all the politics of taxes.

Rick Pluta: The governor and the Legislature have set this deadline of June 1 for wrapping up the next state budget.

Zoe Clark: And that's important, because - even though the state's fiscal year begins October 1 - schools, community colleges, cities, townships, and counties all have budget years that begin July 1. They all have budgets that are tied into state spending.

RP: Right. Now, in the final days of discussions, Republicans have put an income tax cut on the table. State House Republicans will roll out the legislation next week.

ZC: So, that begs the question: why are they doing it now?

RP: Well, for a year and a half, Democrats in Lansing have hammered Republicans because all the tax and budget reforms have focused on reducing costs for businesses: eliminating the Michigan Business Tax on 95,000 businesses and the proposal to eliminate the tax on industrial equipment.

ZC: At the same time, a dozen tax credits and exemptions claimed by homeowners, parents, seniors on pensions, and  poor families earning incomes were ended.

RP: And Democrats have been pounding Republicans with that incessantly and with an eye toward the November elections - when, we should note, all 110 seats in the state House of Representatives are up for election.

ZC: So now, courtesy of Republicans, a proposal for income tax relief.

RP: The main bills in the tax rollback package will be sponsored by state Representatives Holly Hughes and Ed McBroom, Republicans representing districts that are considered marginally - 51, 52 percent - Democratic.

ZC: And Democrats most certainly want those seats back.

RP: Exactly, and this shows Republicans intend to put a fight in these seats by giving their incumbents these bills. One accelerates a reduction in the income tax rate; the other increases the personal exemption. But the bottom line is Republicans want the message to be: Republicans equal tax cuts. Democrats, however, have already revealed their counterattack.

ZC: And the counterattack is really what their message has been all along. Since last year, GOP hegemony in Lansing has meant tax cuts to businesses while seniors, homeowners, and working poor families all lost tax breaks that they've counted on, as well as reductions for schools, universities, and local governments.

RP:  Right, so Democrats say this so-called "tax relief:" 50 cents a week, nine dollars a person per year  is pretty meager compared to the costs that everyone has had to pick up in the name of improving the business climate.

Politics can be messy. Politics can be confusing. But, that certainly doesn't mean politics can't be a total thrilling joy-ride. Every Friday afternoon Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta  sit down for a fast-paced spin around Michigan politics.

ZC: It’s Just Politics. I’m Zoe Clark.

RP:And, I’m Rick Pluta.

ZC: We start this week with a tale of intrigue, deception,  and – dare I say it? Betrayal.

RP: Yes, Zoe. A defection. This has not happened in Lansing since the 1990s. Democrats thought they had a reasonably safe seat in the 76th state House District in Grand Rapids... Competitive but marginally Democratic with a strong incumbent in Representative Roy Schmidt.

ZC: But then….A tergiversation,  a flip.

Cedar Bend Drive / Flickr

The Michigan Senate has voted to phase out an industrial tax that’s a big revenue generator for school districts and local governments. Republicans amended their original plan to make sure much

of that money for local services and education would be replaced.

State Senate Majority Richardville says if money from the state falls below a certain level, communities could return to taxing industrial property.   

“It’s kind of a poison pill, as we call it in legislative jargon, where, if we don’t keep our promises than the whole program disappears, so it forces the state government to say we will keep you at the level we say it will,” Richardville says.

Richardville acknowledges there’s no way to guarantee schools and local governments won’t see some reductions. The money for the replacement would come from the sunset of other tax breaks.

Republicans say Michigan’s tax on business and industrial property is unique in the Midwest and drives investment elsewhere.

The Senate rejected efforts by Democrats to link the tax phase-out to job creation targets.

State Senator Rick Jones of Grand Ledge might want to watch his back for the next few weeks, or maybe, decades. Yesterday, he threatened to violate a time-honored legislative custom.

Lawmakers at all levels are traditionally known for telling the people “do what we say, not what we do.”

Cedar Bend Drive / Flickr

Michigan lawmakers are headed back to the state Capitol after a two-week spring break, with the state budget remaining their top priority.

Legislative sessions resume Tuesday. Lawmakers say they hope to wrap up a spending plan for the fiscal year that starts in October within the next two months.

There are some differences between developing budget plans from Republican lawmakers who hold the majority in the state Legislature and Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's initial budget proposal.

Some Republicans want to spend less than Snyder proposed on the state prison system and some other state departments. They say they worry that state revenues won't come in as high as state economists projected earlier this year.

The House and Senate appropriations committees have meetings scheduled for this week.

Allieosmar / Flickr

Democrats in Lansing plan to use this week’s tax-filing deadline to re-open the debate about last year’s tax overhaul at the state Capitol.

Democrats think the tax issue will help them in elections this year. Seniors born after 1946 have their pensions taxed for the first time. Deductions and tax breaks for many charitable donations will be gone when state taxpayers file next year. At the same time, taxes were lowered for many businesses.

Democrats intend to remind voters of that as they try to win an additional nine seats in November to take control of the state House. They say more than a dozen swing districts will be the target of fierce campaigning on the issue of taxes.

Republicans says there are elements of the tax overhaul that were unpopular, but necessary to streamline and simplify tax filing and to make Michigan a more business-friendly state.

State Integrity Investigation

In the opening of his State Integrity Investigation piece, reporter Chris Andrews shows us why Michigan gets the failing grade:

The campaign finance system here has more holes than I-94 after a spring thaw. Big spenders and special interests can easily shovel millions of dollars into election activities — secretly if they choose... And the financial disclosure system for state elected officials?

Well actually, there isn’t one.

Welcome to Michigan, the “Trust Us” State when it comes to transparency. Reform efforts are frequently launched, sometimes debated, always shelved.

The State Integrity Investigation is a project of the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity, and Public Radio International.

The project aims to "expose practices that undermine trust in state capitols -- and spotlight the states that are doing things right."

You can see how all the states stack up here.

Clearly, Michigan is not going to make the highlight reel.

Overall, after looking at 330 specific measures of "state integrity," Michigan ranked 43rd among the 50 states.

And while Lansing has not been rocked by scandals seen in some other state capitols around the country, Andrews writes there are "glaring holes," when it comes to transparency in money spent to lobby lawmakers, and in the money spent to elect or defeat candidates in Michigan.

Michigan Supreme Court elections, a seat money can buy

How money can influence the perceived integrity, or the real integrity of an office was highlighted in a recent piece by Michigan Radio's Lester Graham.

In his Michigan Watch report, Money Talks: Campaign money and Supreme Court justice candidates, Graham illustrated how once a candidate wins a seat on the Michigan Supreme Court "no one really knows if a case is being decided strictly on the merits, or because of someone’s hidden political donation and its influence."

Graham spoke with former Michigan Supreme Court justice Betty Weaver about this:

“It isn’t just the appearance of impropriety, this money does have influence. Common sense tells you it does. I’ve been there,” said Weaver.

LG: Do you think you’ve seen on the court influence because of a large donor at one time or another?  

“Yes, I do think that the ability to control who gets appointed and who gets elected has an effect on the decisions of the court, so you can pretty well guess how it’s going to go,” said Weaver.

In his State Integrity Investigation piece on Michigan, Chris Andrews notes that Gov. Snyder proposed an ethics package when he was running for governor in 2010. Snyder called for banning gifts from lobbyists, "cooling-off periods," and regulating issue advertising.

But while Snyder achieved many of his campaign goals after taking office in 2011, these reforms were put on the back burner.

Rich Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, told Andrews that lawmakers in Michigan are unlikely to change anything unless the public demands it.

Matthileo / Flickr

This week Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network, and I took a look at the hullabaloo over vote counting at the state Capital.

A political fight between Republicans and Democrats at the state Capitol has landed in court. Democrats in the state House say Republicans in the majority are violating the Michigan Constitution. The lawsuit says the House GOP majority refuses to hold recorded votes on a procedure that requires super-majorities to pass. It allows bills to become effective upon being signed by the governor.

Otherwise, bills cannot become law until 90 days after the end of a legislative session. The minority party often uses that to slow down controversial measures.

“We feel the constitution’s been violated over the past year plus and we have not been allowed to have immediate effect votes," says House Democratic Leader Rick Hammell.

A judge has ordered Republicans to show up in court on Monday to explain why they won’t hold recorded votes on the procedure. Democrats will ask the judge to order record roll call votes.

Republican leaders say they have complied with the constitution.

The state House has approved measures that would make it a crime to threaten or coerce a woman to have an abortion.

The measures would cover threats of physical violence, but also withdrawing housing or financial support if a woman does not end a pregnancy. 

Republican state Rep. Bruce Rendon spoke in favor of the measures.

“When a woman or a young girl is threatened of losing a lifeline, whether it’s shelter, financial support, or even a brief period of calm between incidents of emotional or physical abuse, let’s be clear, that is extortion,” Rendon said.

Critics of the measure say it should offer similar protections to women who are threatened or assaulted if they want to end a pregnancy.

The package now goes to the state Senate.

Ifmuth / Flickr

Measures on the state Senate calendar this week would require health insurance plans to cover autism treatments for children. Supporters of the autism mandate say early treatments can ensure children transition into healthy adults, and ultimately save money on health care costs.

There are an estimated 15,000 children in Michigan diagnosed with autism. But some mental health advocates say there are many more children with other brain disorders – such as severe depression or bi-polar disorder – who would similarly benefit from coverage.

Psychologist Judith Kovach says autism coverage is a good start – but singling out one condition isn’t fair to other families affected by mental illness.

“What do we say to those parents – your children don’t matter?”

Kovach appeared on Michigan Public TV this past weekend. The autism mandate is backed by Gov. Rick Snyder and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who has a daughter with autism. They do not support expanding the requirement to cover all brain disorders.

JSFauxtaugraphy / Flickr

A lawmaker from the Upper Peninsula says every region in the state could benefit from a strong and vibrant Detroit.

Republican state Senator Tom Casperson has become an unlikely advocate for a regional transit system in southeast Michigan that would connect Wayne, Macomb, Oakland and Washtenaw counties.

Casperson’s district in the U.P. would not benefit directly from the transit system. But the U.P. could benefit long term from newfound political ties to Detroit.

Republican state Representative Bob Genetski
Photo courtesy of Rep. Genetski's office

Michigan State University has cut portions of a videotape and police report on the arrest of a state lawmaker who is a key decision-maker on higher education spending. State Representative Bob Genetski was stopped last month on the MSU campus and arrested for drunk driving.

The news service M-Live requested the police report and video after the full versions were used in a public hearing. MSU at first refused, but later provided versions that redacted Genetski’s responses to field sobriety tests such as reciting the alphabet, counting, and standing on one leg.

Michael MacLaren is the executive director of the Michigan Press Association. He says MSU’s action undermines the public’s trust in open government.

“It’s very troubling. And I worry about the pattern of behavior that would ensue from this. It just doesn’t smell right.”

An MSU spokesman says the redacted portions would have needlessly invaded Genetski’s privacy and that every freedom of information request to MSU is reviewed by a lawyer. Genetski chairs the House higher education budget subcommittee.

You can find the incident report (with portions cut out) here.

A state House panel is expected to begin hearings at the state Capitol today on a series of bills that would add regulations to the state’s medical marijuana law.

The bills before the state House panel would add regulations to how medical marijuana ID photos are taken and how the IDs are distributed. They would also add requirements for transportation of medical marijuana in a car. Several state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said the medical marijuana law is too vague and needs some clarification.

But supporters of the law say it was approved overwhelmingly by voters in 2008, and lawmakers should not tamper with it. Similar public hearings to the one scheduled this week have attracted hundreds of medical marijuana supporters – many of them in wheelchairs and suffering from chronic disease or pain.

Cedar Bend Drive / Flickr

Legislation introduced in the Michigan House would generally prohibit doctors from performing abortions after a woman's 20th week of pregnancy.

The legislation introduced last week by Republican Rep. Eileen Kowall of Oakland County's White Lake Township is similar to laws approved in a handful of other states in the past few years. Supporters say the proposals are based on the premise that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, a claim that opponents dispute.

Opponents also say the proposals are a departure from Roe v. Wade, which lets states limit abortions in cases where there's a viable chance the fetus could survive outside of the womb. That's generally considered to be 22 and 24 weeks.

The Michigan proposal would provide exceptions for when the mother's life is at risk.

Cedar Bend Drive / Flickr

A legislative subcommittee has scheduled a hearing for later this month on Michigan State University’s new policy that this year’s freshmen carry health insurance. Students that don’t have coverage will be enrolled in a university plan.

State Representative Bob Genetski chairs the House higher education budget subcommittee. He says the Michigan State rule sounds a little too close for his comfort to the federal health care law, and its mandate that everyone has to have insurance.  

“If MSU is mandating that students buy health insurance, it’s definitely something to look into. It sounds like the early onset of Obamacare and I don’t know that that’s their right to put it in.”

Genetski says the policy should wait until there’s a Supreme Court ruling on the federal health insurance mandate.

In published reports, MSU officials say mandatory coverage makes sense because it encourages students to get health care when they need it. They say a sickness can quickly sweep across campus when students forego a visit to the doctor.

Community college students may soon be able to get a bachelor’s degree without transferring to a four-year college or university. A bill before a state Senate panel would allow community colleges to offer the degrees in a few fields.

The measure would allow community colleges to offer baccalaureate degrees in culinary arts, maritime studies, concrete technology, energy production, and nursing. State Representative John Walsh says the state needs more highly trained nurses. “We do at present have a shortage, and it’s only going to increase according to every study, including ones conducted by our own government.”

Those who oppose the measure say it would create unnecessary competition between community colleges and universities, especially in the field of nursing. But supporters of the bill say many people are not within a reasonable driving distance of a university, and community colleges could offer people in rural areas more opportunities to pursue four-year degrees.

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