Do Renewables Really Make Economic Sense?

Let’s find out by letting them compete in a free market

(Editor’s Note: A modified version of this article was published by the Detroit News as a letter to the editor on May 4, 2017.)

Renewable energy advocates regularly argue that wind and solar are cost competitive, meaning as economical, as other energy options. If it’s true that solar and wind power make financial sense, there shouldn’t be any need to subsidize them. But we do.

It’s easy enough to test this theory. We can see if it makes financial sense to use renewable energy sources by ending their politically based advantages.

These advantages include direct subsidies — like the federal production tax credit handed out to big wind and solar developers each time they install new wind turbines or solar panels. They also include protective mandates, like Michigan’s renewable portfolio standard, which forces renewables into the market ahead of other sources, like nuclear or natural gas.

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Until all of the special favors that help this politically favored industry are removed, all claims that renewables are cost competitive are little more than green marketing and spin.

Green energy advocates often push another popular fiction: That fossil fuels benefit far more from subsidies than renewable energy. That’s false. The most recent numbers from the Energy Information Agency show that renewable energy (not including hydroelectric) provided just over 6 percent of the nation’s energy in 2013. But, from 2010 to 2013, direct federal subsidies to renewables increased from $8.6 billion to $13.2 billion. In comparison, subsidies to fossil fuels — which provided almost 68 percent of the nation’s electricity in 2013 — dropped from $4.0 billion to $3.4 billion over the same period.

Prominent investor Warren Buffet clearly understood what it takes to ensure wind gets built when he bluntly stated that the subsidies and tax credits were “the only reason to build them.” He continued, “They don’t make sense without the tax credit.”

The renewable energy industry also appears to recognize this fact. When its generous handouts are threatened in any way, the entire industry goes into shutdown mode, threatening to lay off thousands of workers and cease building new turbines and solar arrays. This happened in 2012 and again in 2015, when Congress considered letting the production tax credit expire.

This is truly strange behavior for an industry that boasts it is cost competitive with other energy sources.

But there are still other reasons to question whether renewable energy really can compete. Take, for example, the on-again, off-again routine of Saginaw-based solar manufacturer, Suniva. Michiganders recently learned that, after providing it millions of dollars in state and federal grants and subsidies, this ostensibly cost-competitive organization announced “significant” layoffs at its plants in Michigan and Georgia.

In one of its most recent reports, “Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis,” the financial advisory firm Lazard says it costs between $32 and $62 per megawatt hour to install wind power. It puts the cost of large-scale solar power between $46 and $61 per megawatt hour. These numbers are different — and significantly lower — than the ones in the Michigan Public Service Commission’s 2017 annual report on Michigan’s renewable energy mandate. Many of the current wind and solar contracts in Michigan cost between $90 and $100 per megawatt hour — one is even as high as $160.

Again, if the renewable industry is as competitive as its proponents claim, why are Michiganders paying so much more than the standard industry rates Lazard has published?

Of course, none of this discussion even begins to touch on the fact that the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine 24-7. In fact, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory admits that even in prime conditions wind and solar only produce electricity 35 and 20 percent of the time, respectively.

Until we develop affordable and reliable means to store energy on a massive scale — a feat that’s probably decades away — we need something to give us electricity when renewables can’t handle the task. In simple terms, that means we need to have natural gas, nuclear or coal running behind the renewables to catch them when they fail to provide the essential electricity that we have grown to expect and rely upon.

We can still have the policy discussion about whether the environmental benefits of renewable energy makes it worth the additional cost to build it. But, until renewable energy can actually compete in Michigan’s markets — on a fair and level playing field — let’s stop pretending it is cost competitive.


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Let People Rent Out Their Property

New bills would let homeowners use Airbnb, other services

In places around Michigan, local governments prevent people from legally renting out their own property. But some new bills would change that, freeing up private property rights for homeowners.

In Traverse City, the government doesn’t allow short-term rentals of homes. That means residents can’t use services like Airbnb or HomeAway. Even in business districts, the city requires residents to be licensed and at least 1,000 feet away from other license holders. As The Detroit News reports:

Those rules don’t stop some Traverse City residents from renting their homes on websites such as Airbnb, [Traverse City’s Zoning Administrator David] Weston said. He routinely pens letters to those homeowners who violate city policy, and occasionally sends them $400 tickets for operating against the ordinance.

Previous city leaders contended short-term rentals were commercial uses of residential property and inappropriate for residentially zoned swaths of the city, Weston said.

This is absurd. In cities across the state and nation, tens of millions of people are able to safely and efficiently use home-sharing services. This allows people to earn money while providing travelers with more options and lower prices. Home sharing also allows vacationers to nestle themselves into the heart of the local community, rather than settling for a touristy hotel out near the highway.

There are newly introduced bills in Michigan that would re-establish rights for property owners. House Bill 4503, sponsored by Rep. Jason Sheppard, R-Temperance, and Senate Bill 329, sponsored by Sen. Joe Hune, R-Fowlerville, would “prohibit local governments from using zoning laws to prohibit homeowners from letting out their property for vacation or short-term rentals, which would apply to owners who use services like Airbnb.”

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The hotel industry and local governments aren’t thrilled with home sharing. Other short-term renters, like hotels, don’t like the competition, and local governments called the bills “stunning” and “unhealthy” in a story by MIRS News.

But governments at any and all levels should not be banning homeowners from using their property in certain ways unless there are sufficient and compelling reasons for doing so that have a direct impact on the well-being of the public. Under the proposal, municipalities could still regulate short-term rentals and enforce regulations related to things like noise control or other nuisance issues. These bills simply say that local governments cannot ban people from renting out their property for short periods of time.

Private property rights are a foundational principle of this country. It’s good that someone in Lansing is attempting to protect them from being undermined by local governments.


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Congressional Science Spending Largely Untouched

Federal spending bill lets the air out of protestor’s tires

For several weeks, we have been inundated with media reports about thousands of protesters publicly opposing what they feared was the end of science in the United States, and possibly the world.

The March for Science website described how an “unprecedented coalition” gathered together on April 22 – Earth Day – in over 600 separate marches to “defend the role of science in policy and society.”

The Peoples Climate March, held on May 1, said that “more than 300,000 in Washington, D.C. and across the country” banded together to move away from “a cruel, polluted and divided country, and towards a clean energy economy that works for everyone.”

Much of the motivation driving the two widely covered marches was to respond to Trump administration actions aimed at rolling back environmental regulations and questioning the potential long-term impacts of climate change. At the Washington, D.C. March for Science event, Bill Nye, “the Science Guy,” charged elected officials worldwide with “deliberately ignoring and actively surpassing science.”

Few would question the intensity of the marcher’s feelings. But when the final congressional spending bill was rolled out on May 1, much of the frenzied wailing, brought on by proposed cuts to science- and climate-focused federal agencies, proved to be much ado about nothing.

In fact, despite widespread concerns about a proposed 31 percent budget cut and the removal of approximately 3,200 employees at the Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA will only see a 1 percent budget cut and no staff losses.

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There’s no question that the EPA could endure a much larger budget cut in 2017. As I recently asked a Bridge Magazine reporter, “Honestly, is there any government agency that can’t cut somewhere?” After all, the EPA actually classified a mere 1,069 out of its 16,205 employees as essential during the 2013 federal government shutdown. So asking department officials to struggle through with an $8.06 billion budget in 2017 — compared to the $8.2 billion they received in 2016 — is not imposing a serious hardship.

A few additional examples will show how science avoided any serious funding restrictions in this spending bill.

  • Initial fears about cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative were the focus of Michigan’s news in March. But the $300 million budget for this program was untouched. The president’s request for an immediate $50 million cut to GLRI funding was refused by Congress, which instead dedicated $50 million in spending to “support fishing, boating, hunting and stopping invasive species.” To help put a touch of perspective into this topic, the GLRI is one of those spending areas that people are loathe to consider reducing because water and its management is so important to the state. But the fear of questioning that funding is likely to also lead to a lack of serious oversight. Therefore, when I was seeking input from friends in Michigan’s environmental community on the potential cuts, I did hear grudging admissions that not every dollar in GLRI funding went exclusively to Great Lakes restoration projects. Michigan Capitol Confidential has highlighted a few examples of those projects that did not meet the stated goals of the GLRI. Additionally, when the Obama administration recommended almost $16 million in cuts to the spending program in fiscal year 2013, there was little if any outcry from these protest groups.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will have small cuts to its budget. But of special interest to Michigan residents will be the $35 million in additional emergency funding for Flint.
  • NASA had a $368 million increase, moving it to almost $20 billion in total funding.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also fared well, with only a 1 percent cut to its now-$5.7 billion budget. The NOAA Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research – the office focused on climate studies – will actually see an increase from $462 million to $478 million.
  • The U.S. Geological Survey is targeted to have a $23 million bump. Much of that spending is expected to support earthquake preparedness work.
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will have an $11 million budget increase. A portion of that spending will be directly targeted toward removing plant and wildlife species from the endangered species list.
  • The National Park Service will receive an additional $81 million in 2017. Much of that money is expected to go toward infrastructure upgrades and repairs in the nation’s parks.
  • In contrast to Trump’s proposed $900 million reduction, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science will see $42 million added to its spending.

After all the marching, chanting, and forecasts of doom, Congress was actually quite generous to science and climate research. In fact, this spending bill effectively let all the air out of all the tires on all the buses that were hired to ship worried protesters around the country.

Given the fact that elected officials across the political spectrum rushed out to take bipartisan credit for spending another $1.1 trillion in 2017, the only thing seriously at risk from this year’s omnibus spending bill is the American taxpayer.


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Michigan House Considers Constitutional Amendment to Protect Data

Proposed law would provide urgently required protections to individual rights to privacy and property in Michigan

Early this year, the Michigan House of Representatives began considering a measure that would give voters the opportunity to enact a state constitutional amendment to protect their data from warrantless searches and seizures. As people shift more and more of their personal information to digital devices such as cellphones, it’s critical that this intangible form of property receive the same constitutional privacy protections as our papers, homes and persons.

House Joint Resolution C, a measure introduced in January by Rep. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, would amend Article 1, Section 11 of the Michigan Constitution. It would include "electronic data and communications" in the list of items and places ("persons, houses, papers and possessions") that are protected from warrantless government searches and seizures.

The resolution has 11 bipartisan co-sponsors and has been reviewed by two committees. Both the House Committee on Law and Justice and the House Judiciary Committee have unanimously approved the resolution and recommended that the full House pass it. The measure needs a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and Senate to make it to the ballot of the November 2018 general election, which is the final step before it enters the constitution.

The practical effect of this resolution would be to prevent state law enforcement agencies from collecting certain types of surveillance data without first obtaining a warrant. The data in question can be gathered through drones, facial recognition software, automatic license plate readers and even “smart meters” that measure home energy use.

If the resolution ends up changing the Michigan Constitution, it would likely interrupt a significant portion of federal surveillance, which relies heavily on information drawn from state law enforcement agencies. It could forbid state agencies from assisting warrantless federal surveillance activities. The change would also prevent state prosecutors from using federal surveillance data that had been gathered without a warrant. This means that even if federal courts approve warrantless surveillance by federal agencies such as the NSA, Michigan law enforcement officers and prosecutors would not be able to use data gathered during that surveillance against Michiganders.

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The Legislature should lose no time in passing House Joint Resolution C. The presumption of innocence and the right to privacy are eroded when technologies that citizens use in increasing numbers to improve their lives are left unprotected and even used against them.


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Central Academy Excels on High School Report Card

Ann Arbor charter builds cultural awareness, character

At Central Academy poverty represents an unusually large challenge for an Ann Arbor school, but it in no way constitutes an excuse.

Success at Central Academy, one of Michigan’s longest-standing charter schools, follows an intentional focus on breaking down barriers built by poverty and different cultural mores. This focus reflects the passion and expertise of the school’s long-time leader, Dr. Luay Shalabi, the 2015 Michigan Charter School Administrator of the Year.

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In the 1990s members of the area’s Issa family approached Shalabi, seeking a way to serve students of Middle Eastern origin whose needs were not being met in the conventional school system. Shalabi left a job in the Dearborn Public Schools and brought his advanced bilingual education training into the public charter space, where he could help build a unique program and school environment.

Noting that many school systems struggle to empathize with the challenges of poverty and to promote awareness of cultural disparities, Shalabi makes these a focus of professional development. “The student in poverty comes to school with baggage,” he says. “It’s up to the teacher to see what’s on the child’s mind. You just need to give them a listening ear, to move beyond the symptoms so they can reach the student and truly help them learn.”

Those students who start early into the charter program, he says, are best able to bridge the cultural gaps, to achieve a healthy balance of embracing what’s distinctive about their family backgrounds while respecting what’s different about those around them. A popular annual highlight at Central Academy is the schoolwide Multicultural Day where each grade adopts a different country and gives a presentation that includes elaborate art projects and demonstrations.

Cultural awareness is complemented by a strong emphasis on different character traits each month, like responsibility, commitment, cooperation and integrity. Students are required to wear school uniforms.

Thirteen different native languages are spoken among Central Academy students. One practice cited as a key to success is each classroom’s focus on mastering not only specific content but also vital English language objectives. The learning deficit most students must overcome doesn’t usually manifest itself in everyday conversation. They tend to have a much better grasp of social English than the language skills needed to advance in their academic careers.

Many students persist at the school from the elementary grades through to high school graduation. And more than 95 percent of Central Academy graduates go on to college. A number of alumni have earned advanced degrees, becoming lawyers and physicians.

Like Ann Arbor’s three top-flight traditional high schools, Central Academy receives an A on the Mackinac Center’s Context and Performance Report Card, which adjusts multiple years of test scores for student poverty rates. Central Academy’s poverty rate not only is far higher than the nearby conventional schools, but it also does a superior job surpassing expectations. Shalabi’s school finished third statewide among high schools with open admission requirements, behind two other charters.

The high poverty rates controlled for in Mackinac’s report card analysis don’t take into account dozens of refugee and other immigrant students enrolled since 2015. Many come from places like Syria and Yemen, where violent chaos and dislocation have left them years behind in formal schooling. Shalabi believes adequately addressing these students’ unique challenges will require added flexibility in state funding and accountability policies.

Shalabi’s face beams when he shows off the mural students painted, highlighting how much they have absorbed his oft-repeated message: “The choices you make today shape your world tomorrow.”

The for-profit service provider Global Education Excellence grew out of Central Academy to partner with a dozen different charters today, all but one of them operating in Michigan. GEE’s offices adjoin the elementary wing of the school’s Ann Arbor campus. Central Academy is authorized by Central Michigan University.


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Evidence? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Evidence, Imply Tourism Officials

Tourism officials make claims they can’t support

Photo by Ken Lund

National Travel and Tourism Week starts May 7. It’s an ideal time to remind taxpayers, voters and lawmakers that the state of Michigan spends $34 million each year on a program to promote tourism. Unfortunately, the program, called Pure Michigan, is demonstrably ineffective and wasteful. Both the state government and the private trade association for the tourism industry make poorly supported claims on its behalf. A recent statement by tourism lobbyist Deanna Richeson about the Mackinac Center’s research is particularly shameful.

Deanna Richeson of the Michigan Lodging and Tourism Association emailed out a “Grassroots Alert!” last March asking recipients to “Tell Your Legislator to Protect Pure Michigan!” It claimed that “Pure Michigan funding is at risk” and that risk was “[f]ueled by misinformation from a study by a far right think tank that has already been discredited.”

I am the co-author of a recent study on state tourism promotion — the only recent, critical analysis of such I’m aware of in the country — so I was curious about Richeson’s claim that our work had been discredited. Starting on April 18, I used email, fax, the postal service and telephone to reach out to her to ask for supporting evidence of her assertion. I have not received a response.

In my letter, I point out that I’ve found no public review of our own study to suggest that it has been discredited. The only criticism leveled at it was a factually incorrect statement made by one of the state’s tourism-related contractors, the head of a company called Longwoods International. Specifically, I wrote:

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Ms. Richeson, we take our scholarship very seriously. If our research has indeed been discredited, as you have alleged, we would like to know how and by whom. That way we can learn from any possible oversight or error on our part or — if in disagreement — offer a thoughtful rejoinder.

I was not surprised to see a state tourism official make a claim and refuse to support it with real evidence. The state’s jobs department, known as the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, does likewise, not only on its jobs programs but also on tourism promotion.

The MEDC has repeatedly hired Longwoods International to estimate the “return on investment” for Pure Michigan. That contractor publishes credulity-straining claims of effectiveness but refuses to explain precisely what evidence supports those claims. The MEDC, meanwhile, is perfectly comfortable with this secretiveness.

In other words, the MEDC and its contractors are saying, “Here are assertions of fact, but we refuse to support it with evidence, so you’ll just have to take our word for it.” Richeson and her organization have repeatedly cited the Longwoods numbers as evidence of Pure Michigan’s effectiveness.

Contrast the Longwoods and MEDC secretiveness with the Mackinac Center’s approach, which is 100 percent transparent, uses publicly available data and otherwise abides by all the standard canons of scholarly research.

We determined, using 39 years of data, that state spending to promote tourism is ineffective. Among other findings, we determined that when the state spends $1 million to promote tourism, hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts share an extra $20,000 in economic activity. That represents a huge negative return on investment, and other industries in the tourism sector we looked at did no better.

Because of the stark contrast between our findings and the MEDC’s contractor, we challenged both David Lorenz, the head of Travel Michigan (an agency within the MEDC) and Richeson to a public debate. We proposed having the debate broadcast on the internet at our expense. The pair declined to debate us. The refusal is all the more frustrating given that each still repeats claims of the secretive Longwoods study and Richeson dismisses our work as “discredited” while refusing to explain such statements, even in private correspondence.

Lawmakers may finally be catching onto the impropriety of the state making claims it cannot back up. On April 28, state Reps. Steven Johnson and Martin Howrylak announced that they had asked the Office of the Auditor General to look into the methodology used by the state’s contractor, or to estimate an impact of the Pure Michigan program itself.

On May 2, Rep. Henry Yanez offered an amendment during budget discussions to eliminate the entire $34 million appropriation scheduled for the Pure Michigan program.

The Pure Michigan program doesn’t work and its key supporters can’t prove it does with real, transparent evidence. Until they can, they should refrain trumpeting the program’s success or dismissing others’ evidence as discredited.


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False Assertions Abound about Green Energy Program

Will DTE support true consumer choice in electricity?

I was pleased to see DTE’s response to my column in which I questioned the value of the MiGreenPower program. Unfortunately, the energy company’s response contained a few errors. So, to help correct the record, I’ll work through a few of the details.

DTE’s first critique employed the unique rebuttal tactic of admitting my argument was correct. It said, “Mr. Hayes first claims that customers already pay for renewable energy in their rates. This is true, of course, but only for the projects used to comply with the Renewable Portfolio Standard.” So, yes, DTE customers do already pay for renewable energy. This wasn’t a terribly effective rebuttal, but it was good for my argument.

The second critique from DTE official David Harwood claims I “fail(ed) to appreciate the program is incremental to 15 percent (renewable portfolio standard) compliance.” In fact, I was quite clear that the program will not help Michigan meet its mandated renewable energy goals and that “if built, MIGreenPower wind farms will simply be funded and built out of the goodness and generosity of Michigander’s hearts.”

The third line of critique asks, “Why would Mr. Hayes oppose a customer’s choice to support new renewable energy projects in Michigan?” Stop the presses! Members of Michigan’s electricity choice market will undoubtedly find it refreshing to see a government-protected monopoly publicly stating its support for increasing customer choice.

On this note we can all certainly agree: Expanding customer choice is a worthy policy goal. I expect, therefore, that DTE will now join me in pushing for the repeal of Public Act 286’s onerous restrictions on customer choice in electricity providers and demand the deregulation of Michigan’s electricity markets.

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In its final critique, Harwood suggests that seeking out less expensive methods of meeting renewable energy targets is in some way a “false analysis” because it doesn’t “incentivize the building of new renewable energy projects.” He further argues that these reduced costs “are merely financial transactions that take credit for excess renewable energy already generated, sometimes many years earlier and most often not from a Michigan-based project.”

First, I am very glad to see a senior DTE executive publicly exposing the accounting gimmicks that typify renewable energy targets. A much more direct method of meeting Michigan’s energy needs would be to remove protective mandates, like the renewable portfolio standard, and to stop the massive subsidies going to politically favored energy sources. Let’s open up the market and let energy sources and energy providers compete on a level playing field.

Second, mercantilism as an economic theory has been largely abandoned, though DTE seems oddly in favor of it. Attacking the idea that customers can search for more affordable renewable options than those produced solely in Michigan is exclusionary and protectionist. That is also quite a different, and contradictory, argument to the “customer choice” option company officials praised in earlier paragraphs. Arguing that customer choice should be limited to DTE-approved (and operated), Michigan-based options entails a unique redefinition of the word “choice.”

Hopefully this helps clarify some of the issues discussed in DTE’s response to my initial article. Again, I do hope that Michigan can soon welcome DTE as a supporter of actual customer choice in electricity markets.


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May 5, 2017 MichiganVotes weekly roll call report

First budget votes this week

The House and Senate passed separate versions of an "omnibus" state budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Following weeks of committee hearings and votes this is the first big milestone in an annual budget process that will probably conclude late next month.


Senate Bill 111, Transfer state revenue to big developers: Passed 85 to 22 in the House

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To authorize giving ongoing cash subsidies to particular developers and business owners selected by state and local political appointees. Developers would get cash payments for up to 20 years based on the income tax paid by their employees and tenants. Fiscal agency projections suggest the process could transfer up to $1.8 billion state tax dollars to the developers.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"


Senate Bill 202, Exempt no-cash social media games from gambling ban: Passed 103 to 4 in the House

To establish that the state’s laws against gambling do not apply to a “social media internet game” that rewards players with either a free play or an extended period of playing time as a result of chance or uncertain event. The bill excludes “fantasy sports” games from its provisions.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"


Senate Bill 129, Regulate small copper mines different than big ones: Passed 74 to 35 in the House

To establish a separate regulatory regime over small native copper mining operations (meaning ones that generate less than 75,000 tons of waste rock a year to extract copper “in its elemental form”). Local governments would be preempted from imposing additional regulations and restrictions.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"


House Bill 4215, Repeal rule banning car running in driveway: Passed 77 to 30 in the House

To repeal a ban on leaving an unattended vehicle running other than on a public street or highway. This would allow warming up the car in the driveway in winter.

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.


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Legally Innocent, Yet Behind Bars

Michigan’s cash bail system means pre-trial justice may not be so just

Photo by www.weisspaarz.com

Michigan’s Criminal Justice Policy Commission recently heard from representatives of Oakland and Kent counties about Michigan’s system of pretrial detention. At the request of the Legislature, the commission has the task of examining Michigan’s criminal justice system to identify ways to save money and improve its effectiveness.

Two people who testified about the state’s current system urged a look at state laws on bonds. Barbara Hankey, of Oakland County Community Corrections, and Timothy Bouwhuis, of Kent County Court Services, talked about reducing or eliminating the practice of paying money, or bail, to secure the release of a criminal defendant being detained awaiting trial.

Hankey and Bouwhuis noted that six in 10 inmates in American jails have not been convicted of a crime and are legally innocent. In other words, most people in jail are not convicts, but rather people awaiting trial. And most of those pretrial inmates are there because they cannot afford to pay bail.

In 2016, the ACLU of Michigan filed a lawsuit against a judge who had been jailing poor defendants for failing to pay fines, fees and minor tickets. Although Michigan judges are supposed to take a defendant’s ability to pay into account when imposing fines and issuing sentences, there are no clear rules to ensure this happens consistently.

Michigan’s bail law authorizes judges to release criminal defendants who are being detained pending their trial in exchange for a sum of money determined by the judge. The court holds the money until the defendant has made all the required court appearances, and then returns it. The defendant who misses an appearance forfeits the bail and could be charged with the crime of failure to appear.

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But this system means that taxpayers often spend a lot of money detaining people who are charged with minor crimes and can’t afford to post bail. These defendants may not be flight risks, but are nevertheless cut off from their jobs and families pending their trial because for them, even a relatively small bail amount may be prohibitively expensive. Meanwhile, people who are accused of committing dangerous crimes may be able to afford to pay bail and are then released into the community.

The conservative criminal justice reform group Right on Crime has proposed several solutions to the problem. One was also brought up by Hankey at the commission hearing: Take advantage of actuarial methods to determine each defendant’s risk of absconding or being re-arrested. Asking questions such as whether the defendant has had prior arrests or convictions, prior failures to appear, and prior violent convictions has been shown to accurately determine that person’s needs and flight risk.

It is a key role of government to oversee a criminal justice system that ensures punishment for bad behavior. But a good criminal justice system does so in a fair and efficient way. No innocent person should be punished, and the state should carefully study the evidence on whether Michigan’s current cash bail system can be improved.


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Michigan Congressmen Introduce Bipartisan Licensing Bill

Sen. Peters, Rep. Walberg working together to remove needless barriers to employment

Occupational licensing laws are a growing and significant barrier to gainful employment, affecting more than one out of every five workers in Michigan. A bipartisan group of U.S. representatives and senators is proposing a reform that would take a look at these regulations.

The research on this issue strongly suggests that licensing rules are largely arbitrary and do more harm than good, costing jobs and raising prices without adding real protection for consumers. But once an industry is licensed — everyone from painters to milk testers to barbers to real estate agents is licensed these days — it becomes nearly impossible to roll back the rules. That’s because a licensing requirement creates a protected interest group that lobbies hard to keep the rules in place to protect its industry from additional competition.

A new bipartisan, bicameral bill in Congress would work toward taking a more rational look at licensing rules across the nation. In a press release, Rep. Tim Walberg of Michigan’s 7th District says the bill would “give state governments tools to help initiate reforms to ensure bureaucratic requirements are not creating unnecessary barriers for those seeking to enter the workforce.” It hopes to achieve this by freeing up some money the federal government sends to states for career and technical education. Under the bill, governors could use that money to pay for the “identification, consolidation, or elimination of licenses or certifications which pose an unnecessary barrier to entry for aspiring workers and provide limited consumer protection.”

Walberg, a Republican co-sponsor of the bill in the U.S. House, added, “The web of occupational licensing requirements are some of the most burdensome obstacles for aspiring workers and entrepreneurs. Too often,” he continued, “the scope and complexity of these regulations go beyond their intended purpose and place unnecessary barriers on individuals trying to use their skills to earn a paycheck or grow a small business. This bipartisan, bicameral bill gives states additional tools to implement reforms that reduce excessive licensing requirements and boost opportunities for job creation.”

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Democratic Sen. Gary Peters, also of Michigan, is a co-sponsor of a companion bill in the U.S. Senate. He said, “Too many Americans are unable to obtain jobs because of the excessive hurdles to gain a required license. This bipartisan legislation will give states the flexibility to streamline the licensing process and reduce the barriers to good-paying jobs that enable workers to provide for their families, send their kids to school and save for retirement.”

Licensing has a large and mostly negative effect in Michigan. A report from Morris Kleiner of the University of Minnesota finds that Michigan’s licensing regulations cost the state as many as 125,000 jobs and increase prices by an estimated $2,700 per family.

Michigan has already made some progress in rolling back needless regulations, but the state needs to do more. Even if Congress fails to pass this bill and give states an extra incentive to reform occupational licensing laws, policymakers in Michigan government should continue their work to remove or reduce the barriers to gainful employment.


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