Most local special education funding in Michigan favors school districts over disabled students. These kids can’t enjoy the benefit of our Schools of Choice law because most local millage funds used to finance special education are padlocked away by a few local school administrators.

House Bill 4061: Restrict “Integrated Public Alert Warning System” use by governor: Passed 20 to 16 in the Senate

To prohibit officials including the governor from using an official “Integrated Public Alert Warning System” to transmit an announcement of a new law or change in government policy, and instead limit its use to emergencies involving immediate or imminent loss of life or property. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer received criticism for using this system during a 2020 state of emergency to make announcements that did not meet this standard. The system is described as a “secure network connecting all of the public alert and warning systems in the United States into a single system.” In the House six Democrats supported the bill, but the Senate vote was a party line vote.

A growing number of local health departments are forcing children to wear masks in schools. Health officials, such as those in Kent, Ottawa and Oakland counties, as well as in northwest Michigan, justify this action by raising the specter of an increasing number of children being hospitalized with COVID-19. While some children have been hospitalized with this disease, a broader look shows that COVID-19 accounts for just a small fraction of all pediatric hospitalizations in Michigan.

With vaccines having been widely available to adults for months, people concerned about their vulnerability to COVID-19 can protect themselves. This should mean that requiring children to wear masks in schools to protect adults is no longer necessary. In fact, earlier this year, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared, “[Y]ounger children are not major sources of transmission — either to their peers or to adults.” But today’s proponents of mask mandates in schools are now arguing they are needed to keep children themselves safe.

Throughout the pandemic, the public has heard charges and counter charges by Democrats and Republicans that the other team doesn’t use science in its decisions about masking and some other public health mandates. If most politicians cared as much about the science surrounding our economic health, taxpayers could worry less about being fleeced by for-profit, multinational conglomerates. Senate Bill 615 is a case in point.

In 2020, while a pandemic swept across the country and left many struggling to make ends meet, Consumers Energy requested state permission to raise its rates by a total of $224 million. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel intervened in a case that cut the request by 60%, leaving Consumers Energy with a $90.2 million rate increase. Now, the regional monopoly is asking for a rate increase of $225 million, which would make residential rates go up 9%. Nessel has again opposed the company’s request. In a news release, she wrote, “Families should not have to choose between paying exorbitant utility bills or paying for their rent, medicine, food, clothing and for other essential things.” She added that she would “scrutinize this request to determine whether the proposed benefits truly justify the costs to Michigan consumers.”

House Bill 4837: Restrict outside groups’ access to state voter database: Passed 75 to 33 in the House

To restrict access to the state's qualified voter file (QVF) database to the Secretary of State office, other election officials it authorizes, local and county election clerks, and state employees or vendors who do maintenance and security work on the QVF. The bill would remove a provision authorizing access by a “designated voter registration agency.” Twenty Democrats joined all Republicans in voting 'yes' on this and House Bill 4838.

State lawmakers find themselves bound by constitutional rules that require them to balance their budgets each year, allowing them to pledge to spend no more than their revenues. And lawmakers often interpret this rule to mean that they’re going to spend every last dollar of revenue each year, when they don’t have to. I spoke with Vance Ginn of the Texas Public Policy Foundation about his work to encourage lawmakers in Texas to restrict their spending each year by adopting his proposal, which he calls the Conservative Texas Budget.

In 2015, Indiana lawmakers repealed the state’s Common Construction Wage law — more readily known as a prevailing wage. These laws, which are in place in about half the states, mandate that government entities (state, cities, counties, public schools) pay union wages on their construction projects.

The state economy isn’t back to where it was before the pandemic. It’s down 321,600 jobs, a 7.2% loss — the 8th-worst in the country. There are 207,800 fewer people in the labor force. Total economic production hasn’t fully recovered and lags the nation. Despite all of the losses, tax revenues continue to increase, and the state budget continues to grow.

Michigan’s Schools of Choice law allows students to transfer to any public school district that has room for them. But that law doesn’t apply to all special education students; many disabled pupils are restricted in ways their fully abled peers aren’t.

Great lakes salmon have been a staple of Michigan sport and recreational fishing for over 50 years. Originally introduced by the state’s Department of Natural Resources to curb the problem of an exploding alewife population, salmon have lived comfortably in the Great Lakes ever since the early 1970s. But that level of comfort now appears to be in a state of flux, and decreasing salmon stocks could mean the state needs other options.

Looking ahead to another fall of pandemic-related disruptions, Michigan has entrusted local education officials with the responsibility to decide COVID-19 policies and how to spend the bulk of federal COVID-19 relief funds. While school districts have yet to spend most of these large sums, many parents are left unsupported and searching for suitable learning options.

Editor's Note: This article was first published in The Hill on July 24, 2021.

Americans have had a shared frustration for decades with the lack of transparency and ever-increasing costs in health care. Count me among them.

In April, my wife and I welcomed our first child into the world. It was a wonderful experience. Remarkably, our son was over 2 months old before we received all the final charges from his and my wife’s hospital stays. Budgeting for those expenses was nearly impossible.

The House and Senate remain on summer break, so rather than votes this report contains a selection of K-12 education related bills introduced in the current Legislature. None of these bills have received a vote at this time.

Senate Bill 56: Eliminate student outcomes in annual school teacher effectiveness assessments

Lobbyists get a bad rap. They are often portrayed as the people who win self-serving legislation through trickery, campaign contributions and maybe even an off-the-books bribe. But most lobbying is simply engagement with lawmakers about policy concerns. I spoke with Alexa Kramer for the Overton Window podcast about how member-directed lobbying works.

Michigan’s business subsidy programs are ineffective at creating jobs, unfair to the businesses that don’t get them and expensive to the state budget. They are also unreliable: Few companies are applying for subsidies when the state is losing jobs, and that’s a problem for programs ostensibly designed to create jobs.

Tax evasion and avoidance may be as old as taxation. A Sumerian proverb dating back at least 3,900 years said: “You can have a lord, you can have a king, but the man to fear is the tax collector.” That was no joke. Citizens in ancient civilizations endured the modern-day equivalent of tax audits, and tax cheats of the old world were punished harshly, sometimes with brutal beatings, or worse.

Did you know that one of Michigan’s largest monopoly electric utilities is currently seeking the state government’s approval to radically change how it provides electricity to its customers? The company’s plans will have an impact on your daily life and your use of electricity for years to come.

Wildfires throughout the West are making headlines again this summer. While much attention is paid to whether climate change is making wildfires more frequent or intense, Jonathan Wood of the Property and Environment Research Center argues that dangerous fires can be mitigated with better forest management policies. I talked with him about it for the Overton Window podcast.

What do cocktail recipes, pirate crews and deposed princes have in common? They all make great book subjects.

For over three decades, the Mackinac Center has welcomed a multitude of interns. They enjoy the opportunity to work directly with staff on the Center’s projects, participating in research, writing and graphic design. Many former interns now work as policy researchers, attorneys and professors. A few have published books, weighing in on everything from energy policy to the workings of anarchy.

The hopes of many Michigan parents for a normal return to school took a blow this week from the nation’s public health officials. The latest announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could escalate local tensions and the need for more education options, even though some districts have taken a different policy stance from the CDC.

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in The Detroit News on July 15, 2021.

On June 3, I testified before the House Oversight Committee and explained that Michigan has been undercounting COVID-19 deaths in long-term care facilities. This was revealed after our client, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charlie LeDuff, sued the state for failing to fulfill a public record request.

Legislative Initiative Petition 1: Repeal one of two state emergency powers laws: Repealed 60 to 48 in the House on July 21, 2021

To approve an “initiated law” that would repeal one of the two Michigan statutes that authorize a governor to assume extraordinary powers during an emergency, including statewide “lockdowns” like those ordered under the 2020 coronavirus epidemic.

Last week, Gov. Whitmer wielded her veto pen to keep parents of struggling readers from getting ahold of federal relief funds to decide how to help their children. Her formal veto letter offered no explanation why she struck down $155 million for Michigan families to receive reading scholarships.