The MC: The Mackinac Center Blog

October 3, 2014, MichiganVotes Weekly Report

Drugged driving, automatic police pay hikes, "right to try"

House Bill 5785, Expand permissible criminal court cost levies: Passed 37 to 0 in the Senate

To expand the costs that can be imposed on an individual convicted in a criminal case. The bill would authorize imposing assessments covering a share of court employee salaries and benefits, of “goods and services” used in operating the court, and of court building “operation and maintenance" costs. In addition, it would establish that a court has no duty to provide a “calculation of the costs involved in a particular case.” The bill reverses a state Supreme Court case that limited charges to those specifically allowed in a particular statute; its provisions would expire in 36 months, presumably to allow the legislature to rationalize these impositions for all courts across the state.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Senate Bill 1074, Eliminate debt cap on business job training subsidy program: Passed 37 to 1 in the Senate

To eliminate the $50 million debt cap in a 2008 law that authorized state job training subsidies for particular employers, provided through community colleges. The bill would also eliminate a 2018 sunset on these subsidies, which according to the Senate Fiscal Agency have added up to $10.7 million since the law was passed.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 5097, Exempt public safety employees from ban on certain automatic pay hikes: Passed 25 to 12 in the Senate

To exempt law enforcement and fire department employees from a 2011 law that banned automatic seniority-based pay hikes for individual government employees (“step increases”) when a union contract has expired and no new one signed.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 4624, Allow multi-department firefighter employment: Passed 21 to 17 in the Senate

To prohibit a fire department from prohibiting its firefighters from also working as a volunteer, part-time or paid on-call firefighter with another department, if this does not conflict with the original employment. Also, to make this issue a prohibited subject of collective bargaining between a fire department and a government employee union.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 5385, Expand drunk driving provisions to include illegal drugs: Passed 35 to 0 in the Senate

To expand the law that requires a person stopped for drunk driving to take a breathalyzer or field sobriety test so that it instead refers to "a preliminary roadside analysis," expanding this law to suspected driving while drugged cases. The bill would not explicitly authorize the use of a roadside saliva test for marijuana, which has been challenged as inaccurate. This is part of a package extending the same or similar procedures to both drunk and drugged driving cases.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 5606, Expand "protectionist" auto dealer provision: Passed 38 to 0 in the Senate

To prohibit vehicle makers from preventing a dealer from tacking on extra fees that are permitted by a law that empowers the state to enforce exclusive new car dealer “territories” and regulate the terms of commercial relationships between dealers and manufacturers.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Senate Bill 991, Let terminal patients try non-FDA approved treatments: Passed 109 to 0 in the House

To establish that a person diagnosed with a terminal illness has a “right to try” experimental drugs or therapies not approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration, subject to various conditions specified in the bill. The bill would prohibit state officials from interfering, and ban licensing boards from sanctioning health care providers who participate, subject to specified conditions. Drug makers who comply with the specified conditions would be immune from liability if the patient is harmed. The bill responds to criticism that FDA “safe and effective” standards are not appropriate in these cases.

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.

Michigan Education Digest

DPS legal problems, millage for closed district

The latest issue of Michigan Education Digest is now available online. Topics include overspending crises, student count day and the emergency manager law.

Members of the political class here and elsewhere have a reputation for always taking care of their own. Chasers of public office may wax eloquent about their selfless “public service,” but the truth is that no one checks their self-interest at the doors of the Capitol.

Elected officials maximize their own interests in a number of ways: pay, prestige, perquisites and more. Under term limits, perhaps the highest priority of the political careerists who populate the Legislature is paving the way for their next elected or appointed job when they are termed-out of their current one. Toward this end, they are often willing to demonstrate loyalty to the system by glorifying it along with their current and former colleagues.

For example, House Bill 5843 would create a “Legislative Funeral Act” to require the state of Michigan (that is, taxpayers) give a state flag to the survivor of current or former state legislators who die.

Michigan state lawmakers are already some of the best paid in America and can easily buy their own flag. That’s not the real point of the bill, however. Rather, it is to puff up the importance of the statewide political elite to which they currently belong, in pursuit of remaining a member even after they are termed-out of their current slot.

The bad news with this bill is that it actually has 61 sponsors. The good news is that while it is modeled on a similar measure introduced in 2009, unlike that proposal this one does not require that taxpayers pay for a State Police escort for the funeral processions of current and former legislators. Both bills featured a large number of co-sponsors from both parties. (One of the earlier bill’s freshman co-sponsors publicly apologized for his rookie error in political judgment.)

The “Legislative Funeral Act” measures are hardly the only bills introduced by Lansing politicians to immortalize their own. Former state lawmakers Dominic Jacobetti and Harry Gast have stretches of roads named after them. Former Sen. Glen Steil Sr. (father of former Rep. Glen Steil Jr.) has a law named for him, and the name of a former higher education appropriations chairman, the late Rep. Morris Hood Jr., decorates an education-related program.

In 2012, state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer offered an amendment to Senate Bill 534 which would rename the proposed law the “John J. Gleason gift of life plate” after the very politician who introduced the law in the first place. The amendment and law were both adopted.

The attempts to glorify a current or recent legislator don’t always fly, such as one state senator’s amendment to name a property-rights infringing business and restaurant smoking ban after a current colleague, Sen. Ray Basham, which failed by voice vote. Nor does it matter that most Michigan residents will never recognize the former politician names attached to roads, buildings, programs, laws, etc. As mentioned, these measures are about serving a state and local political system to which these political careerists are desperate to remain attached, and have little to do with the general public.

The dignity of that system — such as it is — may need some institutional guardrails against the self-serving excesses of its members. At the very least a politician should have to be dead before former colleagues start naming things after him or her. Preferably for a good long time, like say 50 years. Only with the fullness of time can the people and elected officials acquire some needed perspective on the real value of a particular politician’s contributions. 

Center Adds Two New Scholars to Board

One from Hillsdale, one from MSU

The Mackinac Center welcomes two new academics with strong Michigan ties to its Board of Scholars. Members of this board write for the Center, review its publications, and provide other consultation and guidance. The two new scholars are Michael J. Clark of Hillsdale College and Ross B. Emmett of Michigan State University's James Madison College.

Dr. Clark received his Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University in 2011. He is currently an assistant professor in economics, and due to his high teaching evaluations, the current Wallace and Marion Reemelin chair in free market economics at Hillsdale.

Dr. Emmett is a professor of political economy and theory and constitutional democracy. A historian of economic thought, his work is concerned with the constitutional political economy of a free society and the enhancement of the bourgeois virtues that support it. He is currently writing a biography of the University of Chicago economist Frank H. Knight.

Teacher 'Effectiveness' Ratings Gutted

Legislators turn their backs on students

Last spring, the Michigan House passed a bill to gut a 2011 reform establishing a rigorous, empirical teacher rating system based on how students in an educator’s classroom actually perform on state tests. Related 2011 reforms raised the stakes by basing teacher “tenure” and other school employment decisions on these ratings.

Specifically, the House-passed 2014 legislation reduced actual student results on state tests to just 20 percent of a teacher’s rating, with the remainder based on local measurements whose “rigor may vary” according to the MichiganVotes.org description. The Senate went even further, essentially repealing the standards and punting to a system to be determined later. The House concurred with this approach and the repeal was signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder last June. 

The change represents a policy victory for politically powerful teacher unions who want to insulate their members from real accountability. The likely impact was explained in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed by former New York state Superintendent of Schools Marc F. Bernstein describing the perverse outcomes of that state’s failed teacher rating system, the key feature of which is remarkably similar to the system approved by the Michigan House earlier this year. He writes:

“According to the New York State Education Department, state law requires that 60% of a teacher's rating be based on classroom observations and other measures agreed upon at the local level through collective bargaining with the union. Another 20% is based on student performance on grades 4-8 statewide math and reading tests or ‘locally determined student learning objectives.’ The remaining 20% is again based on ‘locally determined’ objective measures as bargained between school management and teachers unions.”

Mr. Bernstein also explains why “local” measures of teacher quality are almost guaranteed to be highly compromised:

“School culture strongly frowns upon administrators rating teachers as less than satisfactory. Most elementary schools have fewer than three- or four-dozen teachers; they constitute a family with members supporting one another regardless of deficiencies. Fellow teachers are well aware when colleagues have personal issues that might diminish their effectiveness, and they expect administrators to compensate by being generous in their evaluations...Moreover, how can administrators explain to parents that their children have teachers rated ineffective but who remain in the classroom?”

And the former New York state schools chief reports that he wasn’t surprised by the perverse outcome this generated:

“New York recently released evaluations that rank 95% of the state's teachers as "highly effective" or "effective," 4% as "developing," and only 1% as "ineffective" for the 2012-13 school year. Never mind that more than half of the state's students in grades 4-8 weren't proficient in reading and math, according to statewide test scores.”

Disappointingly, many of the Michigan House and Senate members who voted this year to gut rigorous teacher rating standards are the same people who enacted them in 2011.

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You can see exactly how each legislator voted in the links below.

2014 Senate Bill 817 - Repeal teacher rating criteria
Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No" in the Senate
Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No" in the House

2014 House Bill 5223 - Substitute "local" measures of student gains for state tests
Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No" in the House (The Senate did not take up this bill.) 

2011 House Bill 4627 - 2011 teacher rating system real reform
Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No" in the House
Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No" in the Senate

(VoteSpotter, the Mackinac Center’s new app, lets you track votes like these and give instant feedback to your legislators about how they voted.)

Bureaucracy in Iambic Pentameter?

Bill introduced for "official" state poem

Mackinac Center scholars have long lamented the long-reach of government in matters great and small. Now comes another intrusion in the latter category, and this one rhymes: Legislation proposing an “Official State Poem” of Michigan.

From a description of the bill on MichiganVotes.org:

Introduced on September 17, 2014, a bill to establish that henceforth, as a matter of law, the poem “Hand of Michigan” by Millie Miller, and no other poem, shall be the official poem of the state of Michigan. Michigan does not currently have a state poem; a previous bill proposed "Land of the Wolverine" by E. J. McGuire.

Apparently, Michigan’s other problems all have been solved, because how else could our generously compensated full-time lawmakers have time to impose their Solomon-like wisdom on such profound questions?

As MichiganVotes notes, however, our political solons may lack consensus over which poem should represent us, as happened in selecting the official Scottish Tartan of Michigan, Talk like a Pirate resolution and other items.

The verse currently under consideration reads as follows:

God knitted a mitten of wood, rock and lime,

Made a foundation to last through all time.

He planted his palm with Hemlock and Pine,

Then blessed it with rain and sunshine.

In all the world there’s no other land

That God himself patterned from his own hand!

Michigan.

Lovely words, but on what grounds do politicians claim expertise as the great deciders of what constitutes a worthy poem? Instead, Michigan’s people might consider reclaiming their identity as independent and individualistic souls by spurning poetic mandates imposed by term-limited political careerists with strong incentives to seek attention-getting fluff.

 

September 26, 2014, MichiganVotes Weekly Report

Pensions, hunting drones, automatic pay hikes & more

Senate Bill 730, Mandate restaurant manager food allergy training: Passed 31 to 7 in the Senate

To mandate that restaurants must post a window sticker or notice on the menu that customers have an obligation to inform the server about any food allergies. The bill would also mandate that restaurants employ at least one manager who has received training or viewed an approved video on food allergies (in addition to current requirements for one manager to have a food safety certification).

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 5405, Heroin overdose treatment immunity: Passed 38 to 0 in the Senate

To grant immunity from criminal prosecution or administrative sanction to a medical professional or pharmacist who prescribes, dispenses, possesses, or administers an “opioid antagonist” (such as Naloxone) to someone the person believes in good faith to be suffering a heroin or opioid related overdose. Senate Bill 857 grants lawsuit immunity to a layperson who does this, and also passed unanimously.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Senate Bill 1011, Facilitate mentally ill prisoner staying on Medicaid: Passed 38 to 0 in the Senate

To require the state to suspend but not terminate Medicaid eligibility for an individual with a “serious emotional disturbance” or mental illness if the person is in jail, prison, a state mental health inpatient program or a “youth correctional center.” This would permit the individual to start getting Medicaid benefits again immediately after release.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Senate Bill 998, Establish rape evidence regulations and procedures; Passed 38 to 0 in the Senate

To create a government commission to establish regulations, procedures and timetables with deadlines that law enforcement agencies and health care providers must follow when collecting and using sexual assault kit evidence.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Senate Bill 926, Ban using a drone to interfere with hunters: Passed 38 to 0 in the Senate

To prohibit using an aerial drone to interfere with or harass a person who is hunting. This would expand an existing law that bans interfering with or harassing hunters. Senate Bill 927 bans using drones to hunt, and also passed unanimously.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 5669, Revise private school teacher “professional development” detail: Passed 109 to 0 in the House

To permit a “state-approved nonpublic school” to provide teacher “professional development” for nonpublic school teachers, and credit this toward the issuance or renewal of a teaching certificate or a subject area “endorsement,” to the same extent as when this is provided for teachers in public schools.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Senate Bill 922, Authorize more local “pension obligation bonds”: Passed 107 to 1 in the House

To extend for one year the sunset on 2012 law that allowed local governments to borrow money to cover unfunded employee pension liabilities, but only if they have closed their traditional “defined benefit” pension system to new employees.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 5097, Exempt public safety employees from ban on certain automatic pay hikes: Passed 97 to 12 in the House

To exempt law enforcement and fire department employees from a 2011 law that banned automatic seniority-based pay hikes for individual government employees (“step increases”) when a union contract has expired and no new one signed.

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.

Nathan Lehman, who worked as a labor policy intern at the Center this summer, and F. Vincent Vernuccio, labor policy director, write in a Detroit News op-ed today that a recent UAW dues hike was unnecessary and members could exercise their freedoms under right-to-work because of the union’s political agenda.

Michigan Education Digest

School choice, DPS debt, teacher pensions

The latest version of Michigan Education Digest is now available. Items include anti-school choice legislation, teacher pensions and school district consolidation.

MEA Can't Keep Story Straight on Union Bullying

VP apparently didn't read president's press release

WILX-TV10 in Lansing is reporting on proposed legislation that would prevent unions from bullying members who choose to opt out. Michigan Capitol Confidential reported that the Operating Engineers Local 324 printed in its newsletter the names of 19 former members who left under Michigan’s right-to-work law, calling them “freeloaders.” Now, more than 500 members have opted out of the union.

Nancy Strachan, vice president of the Michigan Education Association, told WILX that her union “stays away from” calling former members freeloaders, saying it is “a term that’s probably been picked up from others within the education community …”

Strachan apparently forgot to tell her boss, MEA President Steve Cook, who used the term no fewer than eight times in this official Michigan Education Association press release.

Mackinac Center spokesman Ted O’Neil told WILX: “Now that employees are not forced to financially support a union as a condition of employment, unions will have to realize that they need to convince members of their value, rather than attacking and bullying those who simply choose to exercise their rights under Michigan law.”

Reason.com has weighed in on the matter.