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Overcriminalizing the Wolverine State: A Primer and Possible Reforms for Michigan

(Editor’s note: This paper was co-authored with James R. Copland and Isaac Gorodetski and jointly published with the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research).

Click here for a PDF of the study.  

Executive Summary

In recent years, Michigan’s criminal law has put into legal jeopardy a woman innocently helping her neighbor’s children board a school bus; a man who unknowingly deposited spare tires with a facility lacking proper state permits; and a business owner who expanded his parking lot on land that state regulators later deemed a “wetland.”

At present, Michigan’s vast, disorganized criminal law inherently places the Wolverine State’s residents at risk of unintentionally violating a growing array of regulatory crimes that are difficult, if not impossible, to discover and understand. For example:

  • Michigan’s penal code contains 918 sections—eight times the number of the Model Penal Code and significantly more than that of neighboring states Ohio, Illinois, and Wisconsin.
  • Michigan has at least 3,102 crimes—1,209 felonies and 1,893 misdemeanors—and most of these (48 percent of felonies and more than 76 percent of misdemeanors) lie outside the penal code.
  • Michigan has created, on average, 45 crimes annually over the last six years, 44 percent of which were felonies and 73 percent of which fell outside the penal code.
  • More than 26 percent of felonies and more than 59 percent of misdemeanors on the Michigan books do not explicitly require the state to make a showing of intent (mens rea) on the part of the accused.

The size as well as the breadth of Michigan’s criminal law not only places citizens in legal jeopardy but also creates a serious risk that prosecutions will vary markedly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Further, it threatens to divert scarce resources away from the enforcement of serious violent and property crimes.

To address this overcriminalization, Michigan policymakers should consider:

  • Creating a bipartisan legislative task force to conduct hearings and set guiding principles for lawmakers when creating new criminal offenses, with an emphasis on organizing and clarifying criminal laws for state residents.
  • Creating a commission, or charging the Michigan Law Revision Commission, to review the criminal law and consolidate, clarify, and optimize the state’s current criminal statutes.
  • Enacting a default mens rea provision, ensuring that to be convicted of a crime requires a showing of intent, unless the legislature clearly specifies otherwise.

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S2014-05

Michigan School Privatization Survey 2014

The growth of school support service privatization has slowed. The 2014 survey shows that the percentage of school districts that contract out for food, custodial or transportation services increased just 0.4 percentage points, the smallest growth recorded since the survey began. Each service, however, increased and satisfaction with contracting remains high.

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S2012-01

Five Options for Addressing ‘Transition Costs’ When Closing the MPSERS Pension Plan

Michigan Public School Employee Retirement Plans
in Need of Reform

This study considers the supposed ‘transition costs’ that would be effected by a state switch from a defined-benefit to defined-contribution retirement system. In it, the “transition costs” are found to be nonbinding and discretionary. In addition, the study offers the state a series of reforms that would diffuse such costs, as well as consideration for the long-term fiscal improvements that would arise from payment of the pension’s unfunded liabilities. more

Loar v. Michigan Department of Human Services Brief

This booklet contains the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation’s final legal filing in a nationally known case involving the illegal unionization of Michigan’s home-based day care business owners and providers as government employees. Wright argued the case in the Michigan courts on behalf of Sherry Loar, Michelle Berry and Paulette Silverson, who each own home-based day care businesses.

The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation sued to end the DHS' illegal diversion of so-called "union dues" from state subsidy checks received by home-based day care providers who watch children from low-income families. The "dues" were funneled to a government-employee union that purports to represent more than 40,000 of Michigan's home-based day care providers, who are actually private business owners and independent contractors.

The case was ruled moot by the Michigan Supreme Court after the DHS ceased to collect the dues and the DHS director stated that these home-based day care providers are not public employees.

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101 Recommendations

101 Recommendations to Revitalize Michigan

(Editor's note: These recommendations were originally posted in January 2009. They were updated in January 2011, and a Top 10 list was added. You may view PDFs of the previous versions: the Second Edition, with an introduction by Mackinac Center President Joseph G. Lehman, and the First Edition.)

Michigan is blessed with a wealth of the human and natural resources integral to building vibrant commerce and vigorous communities in the 21st century. At the moment, however, counterproductive public policies have made it harder for our industries to compete nationally and internationally and have reduced our state’s attractiveness to investors and entrepreneurs.

In addition, Michigan is not immune to the gradual erosion of equity and basic human freedom that accompanies a steady growth in the power and scope of government. Related to this, our government’s ability to properly perform many critical functions, including education, has been jeopardized by policymakers’ attempts to do too many things. This lack of focus has even led to confusion among policymakers over whether government exists to serve the people or vice versa.

There’s a lot of work to do to reverse this, but there’s good news. Once growth- and freedom-friendly policies are in place, recovery is likely to occur much more quickly than most people imagine.

For policymakers and voters serious about restoring freedom and economic vitality in the Great Lakes State, the Mackinac Center presents the following 101 recommendations.

This report is a compendium of work authored by Mackinac Center policy analysts and compiled by Senior Legislative Analyst Jack McHugh. The brief recommendations inevitably omit some nuance and detail. These are provided more fully in the online articles cited with each recommendation.

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S2014-04

Making Michigan Right-to-Work: Implementation Problems in Public Schools

This paper examines how public school districts responded to Michigan's 2012 “right-to-work” law. It describes the key findings from reviews of more than 500 teacher collective bargaining agreements. It also raises several questions about the legality of some union contracts with regard to this new law.

Approximately 75 percent of districts with contracts subject to the right-to-work law removed language that would require employees to financially support a union as a condition of employment. Both legal and policy questions are raised by the remaining 25 percent of districts, which kept mandatory dues language in one way or another, despite having a contract that took effect or was modified after the law's effective date.

The study describes five issues with these contracts. Twenty-three contracts made no apparent changes and kept mandatory dues language. Eight districts created a separate agreement to require mandatory dues payment. Fifteen contracts were ratified before they would be subject to the right-to-work law, but then didn’t take effect until much later. Five contracts made only the mandatory dues language immediately effective, while delaying the rest of the contract. Finally, at least six districts have modified parts of their contract without making the rest of it compliant with the right-to-work law.

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S2010-06

Michigan School Privatization Survey 2010

Privatization of support services has been a method that Michigan school districts have used for several years to lower costs. More than ever before, Michigan school districts are privatizing the three main support services they offer — food, custodial and transportation. Our annual survey finds that 48.8 percent of Michigan school districts are contracting out for these services. This is an 8 percent increase over 2009.

The largest impetus for contracting is cost savings. The survey found that first-year contracts alone are expected to save districts $16.7 million cumulatively.

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Amicus cover

Howell Education Association v. Howell Board of Education

Just what constitutes a public record? Are documents created by a public official on a public computer system “public records” under Michigan's Freedom of Information Act? In this "friend of the court" brief, Mackinac Senior Legal Analyst Patrick J. Wright argues the answer is “yes” and warns that a failure to readily disclose such documents would seriously undermine FOIA's value.

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S2009-10

Michigan School Privatization Survey 2009

With Michigan’s public school districts facing a decline in per-pupil funding, more districts are contracting out for at least one of the three major school support services — food, custodial and transportation — than ever before. This year’s survey of school districts found that 44.6 percent of all Michigan school districts contract out for at least one of these services, a 5.6 percent increase over 2008. This year, new contracts alone are expected to save $6.9 million.

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