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House Bill 4158, Require conviction for property forfeiture to police: Passed 83 to 26 in the House

When it comes to creating jobs, lawmakers find themselves in a dilemma. They can improve the business climate for everyone, which encourages growth but makes it hard to claim credit for creating jobs. Or they can give tax money to select firms, which lets them take credit for a new business groundbreaking, regardless of whether the costs of the subsidies are worth it.

It’s no surprise that taking a stance on a contentious issue will bring on cutting critiques. Emails pointing out a perceived error on a public stance are to be expected. Some contention may also arise when readers see a Mackinac Center blog post that sides with the Michigan Public Service Commission. It’s unusual, but it does happen because the Mackinac Center strives to be pro-free markets as opposed to pro-business. So, when a business veers from free markets into seeking special favors and protections, we will find ourselves on the opposite side — even if it means agreeing with a government agency.

Senate Bill 863, K-12 School Aid budget: Passed 27 to 9 in the Senate

The Senate version of the K-12 school aid budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct 1, 2018. This bill would appropriate a total of $14.732 billion, compared to $14.580 billion approved last year. Of this, $1.724 billion is federal money. The House budget version proposes spending $14.823 billion. School districts with lower revenue would get a $230 increase in per-pupil aid, and higher spending ones would get an extra $115.

The growth of the administrative state grows apace, prompting countermeasures that protect the citizenry from arbitrary enforcement of rules and regulations promulgated by unelected government officials.

This may sound like a 2010 Tea Party pamphlet, but it's actually a sentiment I heard many times between 2006 and 2010. During those years, I traversed the state with my old boss Russ Harding, then the director of a Mackinac Center property rights initiative, meeting with groups and concerned individuals on the issue of governmental overreach and abuse.

A city in Michigan is denying an alcohol license to a restaurant, apparently because government officials don’t like the style of service and type of food offered there.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Royal Oak city officials voted to deny an alcohol license to a Taco Bell Cantina “after police expressed opposition.”

It’s a good thing when people who are concerned about their ecological footprint spend their own money to install solar panels on their homes. It’s a bad thing when politicians attempt to exempt these decisions from normal tax policy.

The property tax is the largest tax in the state, raising $14 billion. Tax collections are distributed to the state and to local governments, schools and other taxing authorities. But there is a bill in the Michigan Legislature that would exempt small-scale solar panels on residential property from property taxes. Some advocates are calling for even more tax preferences for solar panels.

The Legislature is considering a bill to change the way local governments pay for storm sewers. Some local government officials want the bill so that they will avoid legal challenges to the way they assess sewer costs to property owners. The law’s drafters, on the other hand, seem less intent at avoiding litigation than they are at avoiding the popular votes required to approve new taxes.

A glimpse through recent headlines may make you wonder whether a rash of teacher walkouts will reach the Great Lakes State. If the walkouts were driven by poor student achievement, Michigan would have one of the strongest cases to join the fray. But other forces are at work, and for the most part, our state doesn't fit the profile.

Senate Bill 601, Authorize school safety spending: Passed 35 to 0 in the Senate

To appropriate $18.6 million for various purposes related to school and student safety. This includes $15 million in school safety grants, $3 million for a school "panic button app" emergency notification system, and $650,000 for a student safety hotline.

In 2014 Michigan Capitol Confidential published an article titled “Solar Subsidy Part Two: Will the promises come to fruition this time?” The story involved a company that was awarded a grant of up to $2.5 million through the Michigan Business Development Program, and the answer turned out to be a resounding “no.” But this wasn’t the only case of an exercise in corporate welfare that failed; research shows that this program likely destroys, rather than creates, net new jobs. It should be closed before it does any more damage.

An April 18, 2018 ruling by the Michigan Public Service Commission – the state government body that oversees Michigan’s electricity and telecommunications services – is adding to tensions in the debate over rates for net metering. Deciding how much money people with solar panels on their home or business will receive for the electricity they generate and sell to a utility — a practice known as “net metering” — touches on several lightning rod issues. Among those issues are electricity rates, competition in electricity markets, subsidies for renewable energy and the notion that renewable energy could make a difference in climate change in some substantive way. Add to all that the reality that, whatever it rules, the MPSC has the authority to substantially affect the trajectory of residential solar industry in Michigan – growth, flatline or contraction.

Senate Bill 897, Require able-bodied Medicaid recipients to work: Passed 26 to 11 in the Senate

The state of Utah became the first in the nation to pass a “free-range kids” law. Looking to push back against norms and policies that are overprotective of children to the extreme, the state passed a law that explicitly permits parents to let their kids play at the park, walk to school and participate in other unsupervised activities.

It’s competition that makes products better and less expensive, creating value in the meantime. And a recent judicial ruling has held that Michigan liquor stores aren’t exempt from it.

For 40 years, the state’s Liquor Control Commission has imposed a “half-mile rule” that required liquor stores to be at least that far from each other. Last year, the commission evaluated the rule and found it did nothing to promote health and safety and was simply there to limit competition. Members of the commission voted to get rid of it.

Occupational licenses are pitched as a necessity to protect the health and safety of citizens. But they rarely perform their function, and the state has no requirement that policymakers evaluate new and existing licenses. That’s why education, testing and fee mandates for different professions are so arbitrary.

The House Corrections Appropriations Subcommittee calls for the 11th prison closure in 12 years.

The House Corrections Appropriations Subcommittee passed a budget for the next fiscal year, and it calls for another Michigan prison to close. The West Shoreline Correctional Facility in Muskegon Heights was shuttered in recent weeks, and the Pugsley Correctional Facility in the Upper Peninsula was shut down in late 2016. The subcommittee’s budget proposal calls for the Michigan Department of Corrections to close another facility. It does not specify which facility that should be, but it expects the move will save the state more than $16 million annually. The Corrections Department reports that it has closed or consolidated 26 facilities since 2005 at a savings of nearly $400 million. Michigan’s prison population is down to approximately 40,000 from its all-time high of more than 51,000 in 2007, a change that reflects a bipartisan reform effort in corrections and criminal justice.

Senate Bill 741, Ban local dog regulations based on breed: Passed 22 to 13 in the Senate

Cigarette taxes are a popular way for governments to raise revenue and attempt to thwart the purported sin of smoking. The excise or “sin” taxes imposed on packs of cigarettes by different states create tax — and thus price — differentials between jurisdictions.

School districts and unions have complained vigorously in recent years of a teacher shortage. The claim is overblown, but it still makes sense for the state to remove needless restrictions on talented people who want to teach in public schools.

In 2014 the Michigan Department of Education identified rural Akron-Fairgrove Elementary in the state's Thumb region as a struggling "Focus School." With outside help and community support, the school quickly turned around. Within two years, Akron-Fairgrove shed the "Focus School" designation and was being lauded by the state for beating the odds, but it wasn't resting on its laurels.

The Legislature is on spring break with no sessions scheduled until April 10. Rather than votes this report contains some interesting or noteworthy bill introductions.

Senate Bill 663: Mandate emotional support animal certification
Introduced by Sen. Peter MacGregor (R), to expand a law that authorizes criminal penalties for falsely claiming to have a disability that makes a person eligible to have a certified service animal, so that it also applies to a bona fide “emotional support animal." The bill would establish procedures and requirements for getting an emotional support animal certification, which among other things would require a health care professional who has been treating the individual for at least six months to attest to the validity of the need. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.

Gov. Rick Snyder, with legislative approval, cut funding for higher education in his first budget. But state support has crept upward ever since and now is higher than when Gov. Snyder took office in 2011. It is a pity that there is not much to show for this extra spending.

A member of the Ann Arbor school board member recently opposed a proposal to allow more students who don’t live in the district attend its schools under the state’s Schools of Choice law. Ann Arbor schools are highly rated, and the students who would be allowed to enroll tend to come from lesser-ranked districts.

Detroit Prep is a top-rated and economically and racially diverse charter school in the city. Its growth means it needs to move out from a church basement and into a new location. Nearby is a former Detroit Public Schools building, sitting empty for years.