Senate Bill 636, Facilitate "land line" phone service transition to cell phones
To streamline regulations on "landline" telephone service providers to facilitate transitioning customers to a wireless (cell phone or VOIP) system, and allow phone companies to discontinue landline service after 2016. The bill authorizes appeal procedures for individual customers for whom the replacement service does not work well.
Passed 31 to 4 in the Senate. See who voted "yes" and who voted "no."
Senate Bill 509, Authorize new state Senate office building
To authorize the sale of the Farnum Senate office building in Lansing and construction of a new building for Senators’ offices.
Passed 22 to 14 in the Senate. See who voted "yes" and who voted "no."
Senate Bill 679, Establish scrap metal theft legal presumption
To establish a "rebuttable presumption" that a person caught stripping more than $100 or 100 pounds of metal from a building or structure does not have the permission of the owner, and so is committing larceny as defined in a 2008 scrap metal theft law.
Passed 36 to 1 in the Senate. See who voted "yes" and who voted "no."
House Bill 4242, Raise burden of proof to justify new government regulations
To require government agencies to demonstrate that a rule they want to impose is "necessary and suitable to achieve its purpose in proportion to the burdens it places on individuals."
Passed 26 to 11 in the House. See who voted "yes" and who voted "no."
House Bill 5156, Court of claims change "cleanup" bill
To establish that nothing in a new law changing the state’s "court of claims" from the Ingham County circuit court to the state Court of Appeals eliminates a current right to a jury trial for a person filing certain types of claim against the state, or to filing these claims in a person's local circuit, district or probate court.
Passed 110 to 0 in the House. See who voted "yes" and who voted "no."
SOURCE: MichiganVotes.org, a free, non-partisan website created by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, providing concise, non-partisan, plain-English descriptions of every bill and vote in the Michigan House and Senate. Please visit http://www.MichiganVotes.org.
American students near bottom on international test
The United States is spending more and getting less when it comes to education. On a test designed to compare student outcomes by country, children in the U.S. scored poorly.
The test, the Programme for International Student Assessment, is administered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and includes 34 OECD countries, including South Korea, China, France and Germany.
Of the OECD countries reviewed, the U.S. came in 26th in mathematics and 21st in science. The best score for the U.S. was in reading, where we scored about average. These results are unsurprising: The U.S. has lagged behind for years.
Not only did the U.S. post poor scores, but by all measures we should have done better. The U.S. has fewer disadvantaged students and U.S. parents are better educated. More strikingly, the OECD notes that the U.S. is the third wealthiest country when it comes to per-capita GDP and spends more per student. According to the report, only Austria, Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland spend more per student.
One stark example of the comparison between spending on education and outcomes is the comparison between the U.S. and the Slovak Republic. Both countries posted the same mathematics score, but the U.S. spends more than twice as much per student on education.
Some might hasten to blame our low ranking on certain groups (such as students from poverty backgrounds). But our educational shortcomings are widespread — we have fewer top-performing students and more low-performing students. The OECD notes that students in Shanghai, a high-performing area in China, are two years ahead of students in Massechussetts, one of the highest performing states.
Also interesting is the fact that U.S. students' scores depend more on their socioeconomic status than students in other countries, including Finland, Japan and Norway. In other words, U.S. students coming from poverty backgrounds are more likely to post poor scores than their counterparts in those countries.
For those holding out hope, Michigan is no anomaly. To provide a better understanding of how individual school districts stack up against their international counterparts, University of Arkansas researchers benchmarked PISA scores to the statewide annual assessments. This global report card showed that Michigan students would have scored below average on the 2009 PISA. In mathematics, for example, our top-performing school district — Forest Hills — ranked at around the 75th percentile when compared internationally.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan correctly characterized the nation's performance as "educational stagnation." These results should be sobering for those who claim that the current educational system is not in need of reform.
Right-to-work bills pass Legislature
Exactly one year ago today, on Dec. 6, 2012, the Michigan Legislature took the first bold steps to grant freedom to workers who did not want to be forced to financially support a union as a condition of employment, passing bills that would make Michigan the 24th right-to-work state in the country.
That came exactly 17 years to the day after former Mackinac Center President Lawrence W. Reed called for such a step in a Detroit Free Press commentary. That was among the earliest efforts in the Center’s 20-year push to bring worker freedom to Michigan.
Not when it comes to illegal teacher strikes
The Michigan Education Association has been accused of hiding from teachers how to leave the union and threatening their credit ratings if they don’t pay dues.
The union says teachers can only leave in the month of August and that this is in their bylaws.
On Wednesday, the union appeared before a Senate committee investigating the claims. The MEA has repeatedly claimed that all of its members should know about the "August Window" and that they agree when they come on as teachers that they can only drop the union during that month.
As Michigan Capitol Confidential noted: "[Doug] Pratt (a union spokesman) said the 'sanctity of contracts' was of the utmost importance to the MEA and that to be 'fair' the union had to abide by the contracts exactly as they are written."
Pratt's insistence about contracts was also stressed in an article last week in The Detroit News: "The MEA, at our core, believes in the sanctity of contracts," Pratt told Chad Livengood at The Detroit News, adding that that this "goes for contracts between the union and its members, too."
But the union is quite selective about the sanctity of contracts when it comes to getting its own way.
Consider: It is illegal for public sector workers to go on strike in Michigan, and nearly every teachers contract in the state has a provision between the union and the school board that a strike will not be called. But this has been repeatedly ignored.
While the most famous violation of this in recent years was the American Federation of Teachers repeatedly going on strike to protest contract offers and charter public schools, the MEA has done the same when convenient.
In December 2012, at least 26,000 students missed school because their teachers decided to skip school to protest the state's right-to-work law. Warren Consolidated Schools, the Taylor School District (which is an AFT district) and Fitzgerald Public Schools all were closed.
In 2011, 40 percent of West Bloomfield teachers at the high school went on strike (or, held a "sickout") to protest contract negotiations. Over the previous 11 years, the average teachers' compensation package had increased from $47,346 to $129,637 — a 173 percent jump — and the district wanted the employees to pay some of the costs of their health care.
Also in 2011, former MEA President Iris Salters said the union was considering a work stoppage in the wake of legislative actions. She said the work stoppage would "increase the pressure on our legislators." It was unanimously approved by the union's board.
To this day, the MEA has a manual on its website explaining how workers should strike. The 28-page document compares civil disobedience to Mahatma Gandhi and discusses how to use children as props to gain public support. The document says: "MEA Legal Services also supports and defends members who engage in a strike." When asked about the document Wednesday, Pratt told the Senate committee that he did not "recall that one in particular."
It is not surprising that the union will use "sanctity of contract" when that is the only possible argument that could justify its dubious practice of preventing members from exercising worker freedom, yet ignore it when it does not benefit them.
But nobody should be fooled that the MEA is standing on principle against the teachers trying to get out of paying them money to keep a job.
Teacher quality, student poverty data ignored
Audrey Spalding, director of education policy, is co-author of a commentary about the need for a statewide system for measuring student growth that recently ran in Bridge Magazine, a publication from The Center for Michigan.
The other authors include Amber Arellano, executive director of Education Trust-Midwest; Teresa Weatherall Neal, Grand Rapids Public School superintendent; Michael Rice, Kalamazoo Public Schools superintendent; Ray Telman, executive director of the Middle Cities Education Association; Jon Felske, Muskegon Public Schools superintendent; and Harrison Blackmond, state director of Democrats for Education Reform.
LaFaive, Vernuccio in Washington Free Beacon
Fiscal Policy Director Michael LaFaive and Labor Policy Director F. Vincent Vernuccio were both cited in a Washington Free Beacon story about the latest developments in Detroit’s bankruptcy proceedings.
Federal Judge Steven Rhodes ruled Tuesday that the city’s bankruptcy can proceed and that pensions could be cut as a way to reduce a $20 billion overspending crisis.
“The judge is sending a message that it’s a myth that defined benefit plans provide guaranteed income with no risk and that nothing can be done to affect them,” Vernuccio said. “This is going to send shockwaves throughout cities teetering on the brink.”
LaFaive said deep cuts to pensioners could be avoided if the city were to embrace privatization.
“Competitive contracting is a superior tactic than deep cuts,” he said.
Why are these illegal?
Michigan has the strongest restrictions on branded barware in the nation and the Legislature is considering whether it should turn those administrative rules into law.
When politicians are voting on a bill that would forbid bars and restaurants from receiving products with brand logos on them, it is easy to understand the cynicism of politics. How many people in the state really care whether pint glasses and napkins have promotional items printed on them?
Legislators in Lansing are considering a slew of bills (notably: House Bills 4709, 4710, 4711, 4046 and 4257 and Senate Bills 505, 650 and 651) that would relax some of the laws on breweries, mostly allowing for more flexibility. Since alcohol control rules do not positively affect public health or safety, Michigan should consider curtailing or eliminating the Liquor Control Commission, ending the distributor monopoly and reforming most rules. The current proposals are far from achieving those things, but at least most are a step in the right direction.
But one bill is causing a hang up. Senate Bill 505 would "codify in law an administrative prohibition on alcohol manufacturers, sellers, and distributors of alcohol giving bars and restaurants items that promoted brands and prices of their products, including things like glasses with brand logos, etc."
The bill is tie-barred to several others — meaning all or none become law — and is said to be the hold up in the state House of Representatives.
Some craft brewers like this Prohibition-era law because it would restrict their competition. But government should not be picking and choosing winners and losers in the marketplace especially on something that has virtually no impact on most Michigan taxpayers and alcohol consumers.
And be thankful
Thursday is Thanksgiving, which is also affectionately called “Turkey Day.”
This year Thanksgiving marks the 150th anniversary of its settled place on the American calendar. On Oct. 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation establishing the fourth Thursday in November as a national day of thanksgiving. He issued the proclamation on Oct. 3 for a reason.
Exactly 74 years earlier, on Oct. 3, 1789, President George Washington had proclaimed a day of thanksgiving. Lincoln's 1863 proclamation nationalized the date. Prior to his doing so, states celebrated their day of thanksgiving on various dates of their choosing.
Coincidentally, Lincoln's proclamation also came precisely three months after the Union Army's victory at Gettysburg; something for which he was profoundly thankful. Perhaps a more important fact is that he made the proclamation in the middle of the Civil War. At such a time — a time of bloodshed, great risks and fervor — it would likely have seemed petty, perhaps even unpatriotic, to oppose the president regarding such a matter.
Imagine if such a proclamation were made today. Some groups would stamp and holler that the federal government was usurping the role of the state governments. Other groups would claim the president was treading on the constitutional prohibition against the establishment of religion.
“How dare he suggest that there is someone or something we should be thanking,” they'd complain.
Today such a proclamation would likely be tied up in the courts for years.
Most Thanksgiving articles center on one of three topics. There is the fond memory type, about family gatherings. This is the “over the river and through the woods” theme. Such a theme seems inappropriate for a political column. Let's face it, in politics nobody ever gets out of the woods.
Then there is the “time to be thankful” theme. We'll touch on that briefly later.
Last, but not least in terms of volume, there are the articles that focus on Thanksgiving food. These feature recipes and ideas for seasonal munchies, etc. This year there are especially good reasons to choose this theme. In particular the focus should be on the traditional Thanksgiving fare: turkey.
First, we'll submit a precautionary warning. Readers should at no point think of Obamacare while reading this section of the column. Got it? Don't you dare think of Obamacare.
Let's start with the basics. What is a turkey?
Here's the first definition: “a large, gallinaceous bird of the family Meleagrididae, especially Meleagris gallopavo, of America, that typically has green, reddish-brown, and yellowish-brown plumage of a metallic luster and that is domesticated in most parts of the world.”
On Thursday, try asking your sister-in-law to pass the Meleagris gallopavo and see what happens. If she calmly replies, “white meat or dark?” you have a somewhat unusual family.
However, the large gallinaceous bird of America, the meat of which is traditionally the main course at Thanksgiving dinner, is not the only definition of a “turkey.” The principle slang definition of the word means: “a flop, a failure, a poor and unsuccessful theatrical production.”
Don't you dare think of Obamacare.
Another slang phrase is “cold turkey.” No, this doesn't refer to a cold Meleagris gallopavo sandwich with mayonnaise. “Cold turkey” is the technique of quitting something by abruptly stopping.
The term could be applied to the use of drugs, such as tobacco or alcohol. It might also be applied to people who finally stop trying futilely to access an unresponsive website.
Don't you dare think of Obamacare.
Finally, we have the phrase “talk turkey,” which means to talk frankly. So here it goes: This Thanksgiving we should be thankful that, in spite of lunacy in high places, we still have much more to lose than others ever had to begin with.
(Editor’s Note: Jack Spencer is Capitol Affairs Specialist for Michigan Capitol Confidential. He is a veteran Lansing-based journalist. His columns do not represent viewpoints of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy or Michigan Capitol Confidential.)
More than 100 bids, but house torn down
Two months after news coverage spurred a bidding war on Eminem's childhood home, a Michigan government agency demolished it.
More than 120 bids were made on the former home of the Michigan native and entertainer. One fan wanted to turn it into a museum, according to an article on MLive.
Unfortunately, the Michigan Land Bank failed to sell the property and failed to protect it. On Nov. 7, the home Eminem lived in during his teenage years was damaged in a fire.
Even after that, people still wanted to buy the property. But the land bank halted bidding, saying that, "the condition of the property post-fire presents a safety hazard that the Land Bank is responsible for removing."
The notion that would-be buyers might be willing to restore the property apparently wasn't a consideration.
The land bank's failure to sell Eminem's former home is a failure of marketing. The agency acquired the property in late 2012, but didn't publicize its significance. MLive reported that the 120 or so bids the land bank received after news coverage was a volume so high that the land bank's website crashed.
It shouldn't have been a surprise that fans would be interested. The property is featured on the covers of both Eminem's, "The Marshall Mathers LP2," released this year, and "The Marshall Mathers LP," released in 2000.
Unfortunately, a close look at the Michigan Land Bank would likely reveal that this is par for the course. Some of the properties the land bank has featured as success stories are now vacant — just a few years later.
One such example, is 15743 Burgess (photo below). The property was featured prominently in one of Michigan Land Bank's biennial reports to the governor as a success story, and was new construction.
Now, the property sits vacant.
The botched handling of Eminem's former home, as well as 15743 Burgess and recent occurences at other land banks suggest it's time to take a close look at reforming Michigan land banks.
These entities have received hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money, and have little to show for it.
Labor policy expert comments on publicity stunt
Anticipated Black Friday protests of Walmart later this week most likely involve few actual employees and plenty of people involved with union front groups, according to the Mackinac Center’s labor policy director.
“Their success comes from the media covering it, regardless of how many workers walk out,” F. Vincent Vernuccio told The Washington Free Beacon. “And there won’t be many workers on Black Friday, just like last year.”
The protests are being planned by a group called OUR Walmart, which is known as a worker center.
“It’s an effective strategy because if it’s OUR Walmart or other organizations making accusations that tarnish the company’s brand, the union’s fingerprints aren’t on it, so people are more likely to believe them.”