Gov. Snyder Should Make Link Between Jobs and Criminal Justice Reform

Tonight’s State of the State will certainly focus on one — but shouldn’t ignore the other

In his final State of the State address, Gov. Snyder is expected to spend a lot of time talking about jobs: how Michigan lost them, how it regained some of them and what we should do to create more. But there’s one important aspect of this discussion that shouldn’t be overlooked: working adults with criminal records.

This group was cited last month in an op-ed by prominent Michigan businessman Mike Jandernoa, titled “Why hiring people with criminal records benefits all of us.” In it, he describes the challenge of finding skilled labor in Michigan and said ex-cons are much less likely to reoffend of they have a job. Reducing the stigma around employing people with a criminal conviction is an important step forward that bolsters public safety and saves money, he concludes.

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But there are some legislative fixes that should be considered, as well. First, lawmakers should significantly reduce the number of professions that require a state license. This restrictive scheme is an especially powerful barrier for people with a criminal record, who may be automatically excluded from many occupations, even when the nature of their crime is entirely unrelated to the nature of the work they seek. Studies show that states requiring more occupational licenses face higher rates of recidivism.

Second, Michigan should stop suspending driver’s licenses for nonpayment of fines and other nontraffic offenses and stop incarcerating people for their inability to pay bail. These practices do nothing to resolve the underlying issue, while making it nearly impossible for people subjected to them to remain gainfully employed. This is especially true for low-income defendants.

Finally, we should clear the records of law-abiding people with a minor offense that occurred more than a decade ago. This would free people who may otherwise be trapped by the stigma of criminality from lingering effects of one bad decision or minor transgression, so they can access more employment, education and housing opportunities. People of means can pay a lawyer to navigate this process for them, but it is lengthy and expensive. Lawmakers should make expunging these old records automatic and allow people who have demonstrated they have reformed themselves through clean living to get on with their lives and careers.

The governor has made jobs a priority throughout his administration and he’s had considerable success. Even if he doesn’t mention this connection between criminal justice reforms and job opportunities in tonight’s State of the State, policymakers shouldn’t miss these opportunities to make commonsense reforms that will help employers secure new talent and put more people to work.


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School Choice Week Puts Michigan Progress in Perspective

Choice popular with parents, still needs vigorous defense

For the eighth straight year, National School Choice Week shines a light through the midwinter gloom by bringing people together to celebrate the importance of providing students and families with a wide variety of educational options. The stretch of January 21-27, 2018, is slated to feature more than 32,000 National School Choice Week events across the nation, including a Tuesday celebration in the Michigan Capitol rotunda that still has room for those who wish to attend.

While the fight for educational choice rages on, Michigan parents still await a major breakthrough. Choice-friendly Secretary DeVos is nearing a full year as the nation's education chief. Yet the turmoil of D.C. and Lansing politics has left it unsettled whether meaningful federal action might create new opportunities for Michigan families.

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But the positive trends highlighted in last year's School Choice Week reflections continue, as the Mackinac Center plays a leading role in pushing back against attacks on expanded education opportunities. Here are the results in state:

  • Thousands of Michigan families are voting for choice – with their feet. In 2017 we found again that nearly one-fourth of Michigan public school students are exercising some form of choice – by crossing district lines or attending a public charter school. A Mackinac Center survey identified high levels of satisfaction among parents participating in choice programs, and parents listed a wide variety of reasons for making their choice, including academic, safety and other motivations.
  • Attacks on school choice in Michigan aren't new, but DeVos's national emergence has intensified both attacks and the need for defending parents’ right to choose. No anti-choice attack had a higher profile than a New York Times hit piece that the Mackinac Center thoroughly refuted. Closer to home, the Detroit Free Press thought it had finally found some quality research from Stanford University's CREDO that would tarnish Michigan charters' academic performance record, but a closer look found exactly the opposite. The latest allegation is that charter schools increase racial segregation, even though Michigan's current choice options disproportionately benefit African-American students. (Perhaps the best response to the bogus line of attack is this new Choice Media video.)
  • State officials have a chance to learn from missteps going after online learning options that have worked very well for some families. Early in 2017 Gov. Rick Snyder and others were unsuccessful in their misguided attempts to cut cyberschool funding. Not only did this proposal fail the math test, it also ignored the real ways in which online education has been a "lifesaver" for some families and can dramatically turn things around for students with unique needs and challenges.
  • New movies powerfully tell of need for greater choice. While public school choice remains robust in our state, a new Pioneer Institute documentary reminds us how many Michigan families have to sacrifice in order to choose private education options that work for them. The 2017 documentary School, Inc., from the late Andrew Coulson, took viewers on a fun, global journey with penetrating insights into how empowering parents with genuine alternatives can drive needed innovations in education, as other sectors have shown. If you haven't seen Coulson's movie yet, make 2018 the year you do.

This National School Choice Week our state has reason to celebrate progress gained in the popularity and success of choice. But much work remains to be done to provide families access to the full range of education options.

Public education is about educating the public, by whatever means of learning helps an individual student reach that goal. The National School Choice Week celebration is a perfect time for Michigan leaders to embrace that vision and the call Secretary DeVos urged at the Acton Institute's October gala in Grand Rapids: “Instead of dividing the public when it comes to education, the focus should be on the ends, not the means. Adults should stop fighting over students, and start fighting for students.”


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Veto Override, Higher Income Tax Exemptions, Charter Schools and ISD Money, more

January 19, 2018 MichiganVotes weekly roll call report

Senate Bill 748, Increase Michigan income tax personal exemption: Passed 37 to 0 in the Senate

To increase the $4,000 personal exemption that is currently allowed under the Michigan state income tax. The bill would immediately increase it to $4,500, and then gradually to $4,700 by 2020, which with inflation adjustments is projected to be worth around $5,000 by then. Taxpayers can claim a personal exemption for themselves, their spouse and each dependent, and these are subtracted from the amount of income that is subject to income tax.

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Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"


Senate Bill 94, Override Governor's veto of "no sales tax on the difference": Passed 37 to 0 in the Senate

To override Gov. Rick Snyder's veto of a bill that accelerates the 24-year phase-in of a 2013 law that exempted from sales tax the value of a trade-in when buying a new vehicle, RV or boat.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"


Senate Bill 94, Override Governor's veto of "no sales tax on the difference": Passed 85 to 23 in the House

The House vote on the veto override described above.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"


Senate Bill 409, Facilitate private home Great Lakes harbor leases: Passed 59 to 48 in the House

To authorize 50 year "bottomland" leases for owners of single-family homes on Great Lakes shorelines who want to create a private, non-commercial, recreational harbor formed by a breakwater. Owners would have to pay 1 percent of their home's state equalized property value in an up-front lump sum payment every 25 years. The money would go into a segregated account that pays for parts of the Department of Environmental Quality's operations.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"


House Bill 4430, Ban state and local agencies collecting “metadata” for Feds: Passed 107 to 1 in the House

To prohibit state agencies, local governments and their employees from assisting or providing material support to a federal agency in collecting electronic data or metadata concerning any person, except with a warrant (or under a legally recognized exception to a warrant) or with an individual's informed consent.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"


Senate Bill 574, Let charter schools get some ISD enhancement millage money: passed 55 to 52 in the House

To require revenue extracted by future regional enhancement property taxes that are levied by Intermediate School Districts and distributed to conventional public school districts to also be shared with public charter schools within the ISD's territory.

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 www.MichiganVotes.org.


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As Medicaid Costs Skyrocket, States Have a New Opportunity to Innovate

New guidance on work requirements indicates potential for reforms

States have seen Medicaid costs skyrocket over the last decade as the program has expanded to cover many more individuals than originally intended. But new guidance from the federal government gives states the flexibility to innovate in administering the program amid budget-busting health care obligations.

The newfound flexibility comes from the Center for Medicaid Services, which last week issued long-awaited changes to federal guidance for the Medicaid program, which includes giving states the authority to institute work requirements for able-bodied beneficiaries. While the true impact will be more limited than many opponents and supporters of the change assert, it nevertheless gives state lawmakers an opportunity to work toward establishing greater flexibility in their Medicaid programs.

Take Michigan, for example. State lawmakers have renewed conversations about Michigan’s rising Medicaid expansion costs, which will likely trigger the need for reauthorization by the Legislature this year.

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While Congress originally established Medicaid to provide a safety net of health care services to the most vulnerable, it now accounts for more than one-third of Michigan’s state budget. Though Michigan’s Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act was originally projected to add 450,000 to 475,000 able-bodied adults to the Medicaid rolls, that number has now ballooned to over 600,000. As of 2015, Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services reported that Medicaid pays for nearly 45 percent of births in the state, rising to over 60 percent in some counties. The Foundation for Government Accountability’s Jonathan Ingram recently noted that between 2000 and 2016, Michigan’s Medicaid enrollment skyrocketed by 71 percent. This liability inevitably puts pressure on other state spending priorities, such as education and transportation.

Yet, Michigan lawmakers can now seek relief from some burdensome federal requirements through the Social Security law’s section 1115 waiver application process. According to the new guidance letter issued from the federal Medicaid agency to state Medicaid directors, states may now develop work and community engagement requirements for able-bodied adult populations. That group of people includes those who are not elderly, do not have minor children, are not pregnant and are not in the program based on a disability.

According to a note in the newly released guidance:

States will have the flexibility to identify activities, other than employment, which promote health and wellness, and which will meet the states’ requirements for continued Medicaid eligibility. These activities include, but are not limited to, community service, caregiving, education, job training, and substance use disorder treatment.

While state lawmakers should consider this newly permitted option, they also shouldn’t be deterred by inflated fears of its impact on those who can’t find work. Given the many activities that qualify as work and community engagement, the majority of those who are not currently working full- or part-time already engage in a qualifying activity or would not be required to do so.

So far, at least 10 states have filed for 1115 waiver authority to impose work and community engagement participation as a requirement for continued Medicaid eligibility. Just days ago, the federal government approved Kentucky’s waiver proposal, which includes work requirements. The move makes Kentucky the first state in the nation to receive such permission, and others will likely follow. Despite the limited impact, the new guidance is important because it is the first time in almost a decade that an administration is openly encouraging states to innovate and reform.

The flexibility to pursue work and community engagement activities for the able-bodied adult Medicaid population is, we hope, not the end to reform. Other steps should allow — and encourage — state policymakers in Michigan to re-imagine Medicaid to reflect and meet their own state’s needs in 2018.


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Deed Restrictions, Neighborhood Watch Vehicles

January 12, 2018 MichiganVotes weekly roll call report

Senate Bill 702, Prohibit school districts from discriminating against charter schools: Passed 60 to 47 in the House

To expand the definition of “deed restriction” in a 2017 law that prohibits a school district or local government from refusing to sell property to a competing charter or private school. The bill would close a loophole that the Detroit school district has used in refusing to sell a shuttered primary school to a charter.

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Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"


House Bill 4176, Let neighborhood watch car mount flashing yellow lights: Passed 106 to 0 in the House

To let vehicles that participate in neighborhood watch programs have amber flashing lights.

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 www.MichiganVotes.org.


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Many Michigan Families Sacrifice for Choice

Documentary shows how Blaine Amendment limits education options

Image courtesy of the Pioneer Institute

The Coston family scrapes together funds to pay the monthly bill to send their children to Calvary Baptist Academy. They love the school's challenging academics and emphasis on faith and character.

"Our family has needed to make some really big sacrifices, because we believe this is important," said Nate, father of three. "And so we're basically going to do whatever it takes."

Residents of Midland, Mich., the Costons are one of several families from around the country featured in the new documentary "Big Sacrifices, Big Dreams." The 30-minute film looks at the anti-Catholic roots of so-called Blaine amendments — common provisions in state constitutions that can prohibit families from using public funds to finance private education options for their children. Produced by the Pioneer Institute, the film is slated to be released for the eighth edition of National School Choice Week (January 21-27).

As the documentary observes, Blaine Amendments hurt or otherwise limit families in 38 states. But the most recently created and tightest restrictions can be found in Michigan’s constitution. Fueled by an anti-Catholic backlash, a 1970 voter-approved measure amended Article VIII, Section 2 of the state constitution and it now reads: "No payment, credit, tax benefit, exemption or deductions, tuition voucher, subsidy, grant or loan of public monies or property shall be provided, directly or indirectly" to support students whose parents have decided to enroll them in private schools.

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A 2016 Mackinac Center survey found there were about 21,000 open seats in Michigan's diverse collection of 600 private and religious schools. Average tuition, especially at the elementary and middle school level, is substantially less than what surrounding public schools spend per pupil.

As of the survey, the state's private schools enrolled a total of 113,000 students, a number in decline from previous years. Some families, not too different from the Costons, have lost the ability to keep up with tuition payments. On top of that, they still have to pay taxes to support the educational choices many other families make.

Meanwhile, the poorest Michigan families rarely can even consider the private school option. A place like Detroit Cristo Rey High School provides a religious, college-prep work-study program exclusively targeted to low-income students. Similar schools are highly unlikely to appear in our state without public funding or tax benefits that support parents who might choose them.

Michigan made a grave error by limiting access to a broad range of education options. Until that error is corrected, some people, like Arlete do Carmo — a Massachusetts parent in the documentary — will be forced into making difficult sacrifices.

Do Carmo explained why she works extra hours cleaning houses to keep her daughter in private school: "I don't have the money, but she has big dreams."


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Michigan’s Most Popular Uber Destination is in the City That Once Banned It

Ann Arbor overregulated ridesharing until state lawmakers freed it

The most popular Uber destination in Michigan in 2017 was the student bar Scorekeepers in Ann Arbor. The app makes it very easy for students to order a car when traveling over a mile from Michigan Stadium on game day.

But if it were up to the city council in Ann Arbor, the service would be banned or regulated to the point of ineffectiveness. The evidence suggests this would mean more students involved in alcohol-related car crashes.

The research is still developing, but the bulk of studies find that ridesharing services significantly reduce drunk driving. Uber data shows that the app is used most at peak drunk driving times, while a report of New York City shows that ridesharing led to a 25 to 35 percent reduction in alcohol-related accidents.

It didn’t matter to the Ann Arbor taxicab board. As two news reports from the Ann Arbor Chronicle in 2014 note, the city sent cease-and-desist letters to Uber and criticized students for being ignorant and using the app. The board wanted to micromanage how the company set fares, urge students to take taxis, and push law enforcement to crack down on Uber and Lyft.

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It didn’t work. The ridesharing companies continued to operate and eventually, in 2016, the Michigan Legislature passed laws that prevented local governments from banning or overregulating transportation companies. This included ridesharing businesses as well as taxis and limos.


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Governor Granholm Called to Underfund Pensions 6 Years Before Company Bankruptcy

There is no natural constituency for properly funding pensions

Jennifer Granholm. Photo from Jennifergranholm.com.

There is a lot of pressure to underfund pensions, and the promises that guarantee them, whether moral or constitutional, are only as strong as the money that is set aside to pay for them.

In researching the history of some state business subsidies, I came across some talking points from a 2003 speech by former Gov. Jennifer Granholm at a Delphi plant (now Nexteer) in Saginaw. She made this point:

Because many of our manufacturers provide their employees with defined benefit pension plans, they are required to set aside unrealistically high reserves to meet future obligations. This siphons off company reserves that could better be used to invest in new technologies, new plants, and advanced training for workers.

Within six years, the company would be in bankruptcy, the employee pension plan was terminated and taken over by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. That government agency, for its part, also has an underfunding problem. And because not enough money was set aside for Delphi retirees, pensioners took major cuts to their benefits.

The governor’s comments— to those who understood their context — criticized federal rules governing pensions and called for weakening their funding requirements. But they did not change federal policy. Perhaps she made them at the request of company executives, and maybe union leadership even acquiesced on the policy. Yet the plight of Delphi retirees indicates that there are few people that mean to keep pensions properly funded.


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How to Help Those with a Criminal Record Find Work

Eliminate unnecessary crimes, right-size punishments and repeal licensing laws

In Michigan alone, about 4 million people have some type of criminal record and 50,000 more people are convicted of a felony every year. Another 10,000 are released from prison each year back into our communities.

A state’s criminal justice system is driven in large part by the laws on its books and how it polices its citizens to enforce those laws. But it’s also important to consider how state policies affect how those people are treated after they pay the penalty for their crimes. Mike Jandernoa is the CEO of Perrigo, a pharmaceutical company in West Michigan. In a recent essay for Fox News, he made a strong case for “Why hiring people with criminal records benefits us all.”

First, opening up opportunities to this population will make our country safer. Right now, almost 60 percent of individuals remain unemployed a year after being released from incarceration. It’s in our collective self-interest for them to get jobs, because steady employment is one of the best ways to ensure that individuals lead productive, crime-free lives. In one study of 6,000 returning citizens, employment cut the rate of those who committed a new crime in half.

Second, employers all across the country are suffering from a dearth of skilled labor. Every year, one major national bank surveys small businesses across this country. This year the survey found incredible optimism: 80 percent of employers said their business is stronger than ever; 40 percent said they plan to make a capital expenditure to grow their companies; and a quarter of those surveyed said they plan to hire more workers.

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While Jandernoa mostly speaks from his experience as a businessman and discusses private sector solutions, the government also has a role.

Reforms to seal or erase records of criminal convictions are also a priority for job creators. These policies seal minor criminal records after a certain crime-free period. Research shows that low-level offenders who have remained crime-free for three to five years are no more likely to commit a crime than anyone else. …

Occupational licensing reform is another issue important to the business community. Today one in four occupations requires a government license – but a criminal history often bars an individual from the licensing process. Ironically, such restrictions make us less safe. One study showed that states with more burdensome licensing laws saw an average 9 percent increase in recidivism, while those with the lowest burdens had a recidivism reduction of 2.5 percent.

It’s great news that private sector employers are leading the way in giving people a second chance. Michigan’s government should do so as well. This means allowing hospitals to hire people even if they have a criminal record and enabling contractors to work in their field.

There are three clear ways that good criminal justice policy can result in targeted workforce development wins. By eliminating unnecessary crimes, re-evaluating arbitrary punishments and repealing laws that prevent ex-convicts from finding work, we can ensure that our government is not unfairly punishing employers and job-seeking former offenders. Other states have done this, making government more efficient and the economy more robust — with no cost to public safety. It’s a new year and time for the Legislature to get to work on these issues so that more Michiganders can go to work, too.


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2017 Was Good For Michigan

State economy continues to expand

Michigan businesses and residents continue to produce more and employ more people, and the economic well-being of residents increased in 2017.

The available economic data that has been released so far is optimistic, though much of the information about the state’s 2017 performance won’t be released until later in the year.

The first three quarters of 2017 saw per capita personal incomes increased by 2.4 percent over the previous year. That is higher than the 2.1 percent national average and 12th-highest among the states. And it is a good indicator that Michigan residents are more prosperous.

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The latest report on housing prices says Michigan’s year-to-date home prices increased 12th-most among the states over the year and the most in the region.

Employment continued to increase. The survey of employers pegged average year-over-year growth at 67,100 jobs for the first 11 months of 2017, a 1.6 percent gain. The survey of households pointed a little higher, at 72,300 jobs, but still a 1.6 percent gain.

Michigan’s population increased from mid-year 2016 to 2017, according to estimates. Migration turned positive, with gains in the number of people coming into Michigan from other countries and a smaller loss of people to other states. That lags national growth, but it is an improvement from being the only state to lose population from 2000 to 2010.

That’s important. The value of all of the things produced and services provided in Michigan, adjusted for inflation, has fully recovered from Michigan’s one-state recession. The measure, real gross domestic product, came in at an annualized total of $446 billion in the second quarter of 2017, the most recent figure available. That is above the $431 billion for all of 2005.

And after Michigan suffered by being the state with the most people leaving, there is a roughly even flow of people moving in and moving out, according to data from United Van Lines. Better yet, Michigan was best in the region. The report also noted that the state lost people due to retirement but had more people moving in for work-related reasons than leaving for work-related reasons.

There are some policies that can enhance the state’s economic growth. Lawmakers can afford to reduce the state personal income tax and let residents keep more of their earnings. And the state can improve the state’s occupational licensing regime. But the state’s growth has been strong and in some measures the state has fully recovered from a decade of awful performance.


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