The MC: The Mackinac Center Blog

Wright Discusses Right-to-Work Decision with State Media

Michigan Supreme Court extends right-to-work to state employees

On July 29, the Michigan Supreme Court upheld right-to-work for state employees, ruling that the Michigan Constitution prohibits agency fees for state workers. The Mackinac Center filed an amicus brief in the case, which the court eventually used to come to its decision.

Patrick Wright, vice president for legal affairs at the Mackinac Center, discussed the decision with multiple news outlets in the hours that followed.

"Voluntary unionism is the best idea," said Patrick Wright with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. "That people should not be forced to pay fees in order to have a job, and so we think this was a right decision."

His interpretation of the ruling is that unions have been collecting dues illegally since 1963.

"We're gonna look into the question of whether or not there's a way to retrieve some of these fees that have been illegally collected over decades."

The full segment is available at the WILX 10 website. Wright also discussed the issue for a segment on Michael Cohen's Capital City Recap on 1320 WILS, available here, and with the Michigan Chronicle.

Additionally, the Washington Examiner quoted Wright on the decision:

"This was an attempt by the UAW to take away the rights of certain workers and force union payments from them, going directly against Michigan law," said Patrick Wright, vice president for legal affairs at the Mackinac Center. "The majority correctly noted that state employees unions have illegally been receiving agency fees from state employees for decades."

The full article is available at the Washington Examiner's website.

Policy Analyst Jarrett Skorup took part in a Google Hangout with Congressman Tim Walberg on the issue of civil asset forfeiture. The event was sponsored by Generation Opportunity, a national network that connects young people “promoting economic opportunity and prosperity.”

At the federal level, Walberg has introduced with Sen. Rand Paul and a bipartisan groups of co-sponsors the “Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act.” The proposed bill would require a higher burden of proof before property can be forfeited while also changing the “innocent owner defense” away from the government to the property owner. Skorup has an upcoming policy brief about civil forfeiture laws in Michigan and the need for changes. He has testified and written about some reform bills currently going through the legislature.

New White House Report Highlights Occupational Licensing Problems

Unnecessary regulations reduce employment and raise prices

The White House Council of Economic Advisers has released a new report about occupational licensing. It outlines the growth in licensing over the past few decades and argues that this reduces employment, raises prices and lowers wages overall.

The report recommends that states lower or eliminate this barrier to entry by establishing some “best practices.”

The executive summary states:

There is evidence that licensing requirements raise the price of goods and services, restrict employment opportunities, and make it more difficult for workers to take their skills across state lines. Too often, policymakers do not carefully weigh these costs and benefits when making decisions about whether or how to regulate a profession through licensing. In some cases, alternative forms of occupational regulation, such as State certification, may offer a better balance between consumer protections and flexibility for workers.

...

By one estimate, licensing restrictions cost millions of jobs nationwide and raise consumer expenses by over one hundred billion dollars. The stakes involved are high, and to help our economy grow to its full potential we need to create a 21st century regulatory system — one that protects public health and welfare while promoting economic growth, innovation, competition, and job creation.

The authors recommend that licensing regimes directly and measurable protect "legitimate public health and safety concerns," use more voluntary certification, minimize fees and lowering regulatory hurdles. It also suggests setting up an independent state commission that would conduct cost-benefit analyses of proposed new rules and reduce the number of "unnecessary and overly-restrictive licenses."

In Michigan, fortunately, Gov. Rick Snyder has said he won’t support any new licensing laws that don’t pass similar standards as those listed in this new study. But there are hundreds of mandates currently on the book that burden workers and consumers in Michigan that legislators or an independent commission should look at.

The Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm which has done studies on licensing, has model legislation that would incorporate the suggestions in this study. The bill would eliminate barriers for potential practicioners while still keeping safeguards in place to protect the public when necessary and cost-effective. 

Repressive Ride-sharing Regulations Beaten Back in the Big Apple

Similar regulations proposed in Michigan

Until last week New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and city regulators were poised to severely limit New Yorkers’ access to ride-sharing services like Uber. Spurred on by lucrative taxi-cartel oligarchs, the regulations would have restricted the number of new Uber drivers to just one percent of the current fleet.

Fortunately, public outcry pressured Mayor de Blasio to abandon the scheme, so for now Uber can continue to meet growing consumer demand in the nation’s largest metropolis.

Michigan cities have their own taxi cartels that are also insulated from competition by protectionist rationing schemes. We also have our own local and state politicians willing help the incumbent cartel owners keep their lucrative oligopolies. As in New York, those owners are lobbying for state and local restrictions that would limit Uber here, or shut it out altogether.

But as in Gotham, upstart ride-sharing companies are already operating in several Michigan cities, providing jobs for drivers and lower fares for passengers. Enthusiastic grass-roots supporters have so far beaten back most efforts to restrict this innovative taxi alternative. But without a state law preempting local regulations the future of ride-sharing in Michigan remains up in the air.

The good news is, by a 71 to 39 bipartisan vote, the Michigan House recently passed legislation to do just that: prohibit local protectionists from shutting down ride sharing services (see who voted "yes" and who voted "no"). The bills would also establish a statewide ride-sharing regulatory regime requiring driver background checks, vehicle inspections, specific company disclosures, minimum insurance levels and more. Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Saginaw Township) is leading this charge.

The news from the other side of the state Capitol is less encouraging. Like “progressive” Mayor de Blasio in New York, Republican Senators Rick Jones of Grand Ledge and Dale Zorn of Ida have proposed legislation that could severely restrict ride-sharing. It would impose additional fees and requirements on ride-sharing companies and drivers and explicitly allow local governments to pile on their own regulations. This could easily put the brakes on ride-sharing in Michigan and substantially limit its potential growth.

Ride-sharing technologies are disrupting the car-for-hire industry with their convenience, lower fares and flexible, work-on-your-own-terms opportunities for drivers. If the Senate proposal passes, the public outcry in Michigan might not be as loud as it was in the Big Apple, but legislators should still heed the message: Consumers like ride-sharing and want more of it.

Washington Examiner Quotes Vernuccio on Proposed Labor Reform

Employee Rights Act would increase worker freedom

Bills recently introduced in the U.S. Congress would greatly increase the rights of unionized workers nationally. Known as the Employee Rights Act, the proposed legislation would amend the National Labor Relations Act, ensuring that workers have more opportunities to voice support for or opposition to the union, as well as providing more protections for workers who do not want to contribute to their union's political activity.

The Washington Examiner quoted Mackinac Center Labor Policy Director F. Vincent Vernuccio in an article on the bills:

These would be sweeping protections, said Vincent Vernuccio, a labor lawyer with the conservative Michigan-based Mackinac Center. He compared it to the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, the last major reform of the National Labor Relations Act, the main federal labor law.

"The Employee Right Act is the modern version of Taft-Hartley, a great advancement in rooting out union corruption and protecting worker's rights," Vernuccio said.

The full article is available at the Washington Examiner.

The Fight Over Energy Mandates

Detroit News cites Mackinac Center while covering debate

The Detroit News analyzes the current debate over renewable energy mandates in Michigan. A 2008 energy law eliminated most electricity choice and required 10 percent of the state’s energy to come from renewable sources – which in practical terms means windmills. Since the law went into effect, Michigan energy prices have steadily increased and are the highest in the Midwest.

The legislature is debating changes to the law. A plan in the state House would totally eliminate electricity competition while maintaining the 10 percent mandate. A plan in the state Senate would maintain some electricity choice while eliminating the renewable energy mandates.

The News reports:

[R]enewable critics such as the free-market-oriented Mackinac Center for Public Policy argue mandates are effectively subsidies for wind and solar power. If renewable energy costs are decreasing, their producers don’t require state quotas to compete, they say.

To read more about the House plan, click here. To read more about the Senate plan, click here.

Excess of Laws Entangle Law-respecting People

A lack of knowledge traps ordinary citizens

In Chicago, the city calls cameras that track speed for the purpose of issuing tickets "automated safety cameras."

Nobody wants to feel like a criminal. In fact, most people want to respect the law, but the bigger government gets, the more laws it writes, and the harder it becomes to not break the law. The Wall Street Journal reports that 1 in 3 Americans is in the FBI’s criminal database, which makes it likely that someone you know could be defined as a criminal. You may not feel they are a threat, but the government does. Perhaps your government even considers you to be a criminal.

In Michigan, a lot of things will get you into trouble with the law, such as expanding a parking lot into an area the state deems a wetland or drinking alcohol and being under the age of 21. People in Michigan have been prosecuted for such offenses.

If you are arrested, judges can make it difficult to plead “not guilty.” For example, a district judge in Ottawa County insisted on random drug tests and banned out-of-state travel for college students charged with possessing alcohol while under 21. Hundreds of these students have decided it would be easier to pay the $200 fine and plead guilty, not realizing they would now have a criminal record, something they may have to divulge on a school, loan or job application.

Once a person has a criminal record, expunging it is not easy. It requires a separate court action and even that is no guarantee the public won’t learn of the arrest. County and other jails post mug shots on the Internet, before the detained person is even charged with a crime. Private companies copy these photos and post them on websites until the individual pays a fee to remove them.

Most of us drive, and when it comes to the traffic code, there is no shortage of laws that can trip up motorists. Many states have installed cameras at traffic lights and on highways, ready to nab drivers for violations, including a rolling right turn at a red light. Michigan has banned the use of cameras for traffic-law enforcement but the Michigan secretary of state will add points to your license if a camera in a state where they are legal charges you with a violation. (How would the secretary of state in Michigan know about your speeding ticket in Florida? States talk with each other, of course.)

Speed limit enforcement and traffic cameras have been little more than a money grab for government and have questionable impact on traffic safety. For example, the safest speed limit, according to traffic engineers, is the speed not exceeded by 85 percent of cars driving under normal traffic conditions. Many speed limits, however, are far lower than that, making it easier for police to pull someone over at any time. Enforcement becomes selective.

Police may want to search a car without a warrant. A surprising number of drivers agree to this, feeling they have nothing to hide. But if more people understood civil asset forfeiture laws, fewer would surrender their rights. If police find cash on you or in your vehicle and suspect it has anything to do with illegal drugs, they can seize it until you prove in court you earned it legitimately. That’s right — police can seize your cash and force you to beg for it back, based only on a slight suspicion that you might be involved in some wrongdoing. And you have to prove a negative (“I didn’t do anything wrong.”)

Civil asset forfeiture laws allow government to seize not just cash, but any property. This can happen before you’re ever charged with a crime, or even if you’re not charged. Police can freeze bank accounts if they like, and put the burden on citizens to get it back.

Most people give up when confronted with police power, even if it has been used in a questionable manner. Police suspected Tom Williams was running a marijuana dispensary. He was never charged with a crime, but police raided his rural home in the dead of winter and took pretty much everything of value. Police told him if he wanted his property back, he had to come up with $5,000 and take his case to court. He never got his belongings back, nor did he get the chance to defend himself in court, because early this summer, he died.

Few people would describe Williams as a threat to public safety. He was interested in ways to alleviate his pain, and he lived in a state, Michigan, where voters had approved medical marijuana. Because Michigan’s broad civil asset forfeiture laws operate with little oversight, his last days were spent fighting government. Unless the public keeps better tabs on those it entrusts with the power of government, more people could end up like Williams, entangled with the law.

So Long Film Subsidies

Other 'economic development' programs should be next

The state will no longer offer new film productions taxpayer money to shoot movies in Michigan. This is an incredible development considering that film incentives passed with only one dissenting vote just seven years ago. Now that policymakers have acknowledged some limits on profligacy in the name of economic development, there are other programs that ought to be reviewed as well.

A few contenders immediately come to mind.

The 21st Century Jobs Fund programs have constantly changed strategies since its creation in 2005. The programs have made early-stage company grants, battery plant subsidies, matching fund grants, incubator assistance, mezzanine financing and others. The state’s current programs include developing an “entrepreneurship eco-system.”

Results have never met expectations — former Governor Jennifer Granholm mentioned that we’d “be blown away” — and these programs continue to drain state cash.

While those Pure Michigan commercials might instill some sense of state pride among our residents, they represent the state purchasing an entire advertisement campaign for a single industry. The beneficiaries get free marketing, but taxpayers stuck with the bills get no returns.

The Michigan Community Revitalization Program offers grants to real estate development. These projects already involve private money and legislators should be skeptical that giving tax money to develop residential and retail space is an effective way to grow the economy.

The state is no longer offering Michigan Economic Growth Authority credits, but the deals that were made will continue to cost state taxpayers billions. Legislators ought to investigate ways to roll back those liabilities, like revisiting whether these credits should remain refundable. The refundability of these credits when the credits are worth more than the company’s tax liability makes these credits a subsidy from other taxpayers.

At its core, the economy is about people working together to meet their wants and needs. The state government sometimes intervenes by taking money from some and giving it to others under the guise that it knows best how to generate greater economic effects. Policymakers acknowledged that this was ineffective for the film industry and should apply that same thought to other areas where the state decides whose money should go where.

July 24 MichiganVotes Weekly Roll Call Report

Proposals to repeal right-to-work, expand licensure mandates, more

The House and Senate are out for several weeks. Therefore, this report contains several recently introduced bills of interest.


Senate Bill 197: Pro-rate Michigan's electoral college presidential votes

Introduced by Sen. Dave Hildenbrand (R), to end the current winner-take-all system of allocating Michigan’s presidential electors, and instead pro-rate the state’s electoral college votes on the basis of the state’s popular vote totals. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


Senate Bill 199: Expand "bottle bill"

Introduced by Sen. Rebekah Warren (D), to expand the state “bottle bill” deposit requirement to include water and all nonalcoholic carbonated or noncarbonated drinks sold in an airtight metal, glass, or plastic container that holds one gallon or less, except for milk and unflavored rice or soy milk, with some additional exceptions. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


Senate Bill 212: Impose licensure on genetic counselors

Introduced by Sen. Judy Emmons (R), to impose licensure, fees, certification through a nationally recognized certifying agency, and more on “genetic counselors” as they are defined in the bill. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


Senate Bill 243: Prohibit working seven days a week for same employer

Introduced by Sen. Hoon-Yung Hopgood (D), to mandate that employers must give employees “at least 24 consecutive hours of rest in every calendar week,” with some exceptions. The bill would also impose a related record-keeping mandate on employers. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


Senate Bill 262: Repeal Right to Work law

Introduced by Sen. Hoon-Yung Hopgood (D), to repeal the state’s right to work law for government employees. Specifically, the bill would allow a public school or government agency to enter an agreement with a union under which employees would be required to pay “agency fees” to the union as a condition of employment, at a level equal to full union dues. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


Senate Bill 289 and House Bill 4587: Authorize sanctions for bad faith patent infringement claim

Introduced by Sen. Margaret O'Brien (R) and Rep. Mike Callton (R), respectively, to authorize damages for the target of a patent infringement claim that is made in bad faith. Damages of up to $50,000 or triple the actual loss would be authorized, plus legal costs. If the target demonstrates a “reasonable likelihood” that the claim is made in bad faith then the court could order the claim seeker to post a bond equal to the target’s likely legal expenses. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


Senate Bill 224 and House Bill 4351 Impose lobbying moratorium on former lawmakers

Introduced by Sen. David Knezek (D) and Rep. Gretchen Driskell (D), respectively, to impose a two-year moratorium on lobbying by a former member of the Michigan House or Senate, or a former governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and Secretary of State. A one-year moratorium would apply to former state department heads. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


House Bill 4394: Let local school districts hire qualified teachers without state certification

Introduced by Rep. Gary Glenn (R), to permit local school districts to hire a teacher who has not gone through the official state teacher certification process but who is considered “appropriate and in the best interest” of the students due to “a combination of education and experience.” Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


House Bill 4402: Create government task force to reduce government red tape

Introduced by Rep. Andy Schor (D), to appoint a task force of representatives from various interests and governmental institutions to review state reporting requirements for public, private and charter schools, and recommend which could be eliminated or streamlined. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


House Bill 4411: Make domestic violence victims civil rights law "protected class"

Introduced by Rep. Sam Singh (D), to add domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking victimhood to the characteristics that define membership in a protected class against whom it is a crime to discriminate in matters of housing under the Michigan civil rights law. This would make it a civil rights violation to deny housing to a person who happens to be a victim of these crimes. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.


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.

Labor Reform Not a Death Knell for Legislators After All

Timeline shows reformer success in later elections

Labor Reform in the States

"There will be blood. There will be repercussions." Such is the common threat made against those who dare take on the union juggernaut.

Michigan’s State Rep. Shenelle Jackson (D-Detroit) made the threat clear in 2012 during the passage of that state’s law on worker freedom. "What you're doing today will only serve to empower [Democrats]. We will win back this chamber, possibly take the Senate back and certainly win the governorship.”

Unfortunately for Rep. Jackson and her allies, the exact opposite happened. Not a single state representative or senator who voted for right-to-work lost in the general election and the Republican governor, Rick Snyder won re-election.

Since Michigan has the ballot initiative, unions could have gone straight to the voters with a canvassing campaign to put a repeal on the ballot. They did not. And right-to-work was such a nonissue in the 2014 election that during the one debate that happened, neither candidate brought it up, and the only time it was mentioned, it was as a sub-part of another issue.

A new interactive timeline from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Labor Reform in the States,” shows that Michigan’s experience is common to the states that have recently passed reforms. 

The timeline examines labor reforms from 2011 to 2014 as well as the subsequent elections in Midwestern states long considered union strongholds.

Despite massive protests and threats from unions and the politicians they support, brave elected officials that backed reforms almost universally won re-election.

The election after Indiana passed right-to-work, Republicans picked up nine seats in the Senate and did not lose any in the House. Gov. Mitch Daniels, who signed the worker-freedom law into effect, did not return to office; being term-limited, he could not be on the ballot. Another Republican, Mike Pence, replaced him.

Wisconsin saw perhaps the largest protests against government union reforms when, in 2011, Gov. Scott Walker signed Act 10, which strongly curtailed government union privileges. State and national union attempts to undo the reforms and unseat Walker failed miserably.

From 2012-2014, Walker won both a recall and general election. Republicans keep majorities in both the Wisconsin State Assembly and the Wisconsin Senate. In several smaller elections that were considered referendums on Act 10, voters refused to send politicians to Madison to undo it.

In Ohio, the same voters who repealed Gov. John Kasich’s Senate Bill 5, another bill that would have curtailed government union privileges, re-elected him, and kept Republican majorities in both the House and Senate.

Reformers winning cannot be dismissed as Republicans getting lucky in a few wave elections.  For at the same time voters were siding with reformers and electing Republicans to state offices, they were also sending Democrats to Washington and supporting President Obama.

The lesson from the victories of elected officials who took on big labor over the last few years is clear: Voters will side with those that support pro-worker and pro-taxpayer policies.

 (Editor’s note: A version of this article appeared on the Illinois Policy Institute Blog.)