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A school customer of the utility monopoly Consumers Energy received a take-it-or-leave-it offer this month in response to a dispute over a surprisingly high energy bill accrued after the state issued a pandemic-related order to close its doors. The Morey Education Center, home to Morey FlexTech High School, is supported by the Morey Foundation, a charitable nonprofit in Mt. Pleasant.

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in The Hill on March 6, 2021.

Americans are good at breaking down seemingly insurmountable barriers. We’ve broken down barriers to travel with airplanes, self-driving cars and space exploration. We’ve eliminated barriers to communication with the smartphone and the internet. Where we struggle is with eliminating bureaucratic barriers — which we create ourselves.

Senate Bill 257: Limit epidemic emergency order intrusions into family gatherings and spectating: Passed 20 to 15 in the Senate

To prohibit the state health department from imposing restrictions on members of a family or household observing another member in a sporting event, dining out together at a single table, or otherwise gathering together. Also, to prohibit orders that bar an individual from traveling to another property he or she owns, or ban high school graduation ceremonies, or ban an individual from buying a product in a store.

There was corruption. There was mismanagement. And legislators passed a law to fix it. It got vetoed because political power doesn’t always care whether something is corrupt and mismanaged, so long as the right people want it. But one group set the expectation that things needed to change and won an important reform.

The Michigan Supreme Court is considering whether to take a case brought by the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation on behalf of St. Clair Shores resident Michael Dorr. This case has the chance to clarify questions about zoning and short-term rentals, an issue that has come up again and again in Michigan in recent years.

Propane supply has been high on the to-do list for Gov. Whitmer’s administration over the past few weeks. The state government recently published its MI Propane Security Plan, and the governor’s Upper Peninsula Energy Task Force wrapped up its meetings with a commitment to release its final report by March 31. But no matter how hard Michigan residents scour the propane security plan or the minutes of task force meetings, they won’t find a recognition that concerns about limited propane supplies in Michigan are entirely self-inflicted and very easily avoidable.

An unprecedented volume of education dollars from Washington is flooding into Michigan schools. While most of the money is set aside to prop up the status quo, Lansing lawmakers should push forward bold strategies to help families directly.

Pushed across the finish line by President Biden and Democrats in Congress, the American Rescue Plan Act adds to the national debt while providing the third, and largest, dose of extra federal aid since the onset of the pandemic. The first two bills, both passed in 2020, brought a combined $2.1 billion to Michigan public schools. This amount represents extra dollars above and beyond those provided to preserve schools’ primary formula funding levels, as their total revenues reached record levels last year.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy has been opposed to federal bailouts for many years and has weighed in against them during the presidencies of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and now Joseph Biden. On Monday, we signed on to a coalition letter sent to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen over our concern with state and local bailout dollars and the strings attached to them.

For more than a year now, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has wielded more control over the lives of Michiganders than any other governor in history. She has regulated everything from when we may leave our homes, what we can purchase and from which businesses, where we may do our work, where we may exercise and with whom we may associate. While some of these restrictions have been relaxed, Michigan residents still do not know when the governor plans to give up her unilateral control over the state.

Are regulations good or bad? Or somewhere in between?

It shouldn’t be a hard question. The answer depends on what the government is trying to accomplish by issuing regulations and whether those regulations meet that end. But, in general, regulations should achieve a specific purpose without unnecessarily standing in the way of individuals, businesses and consumers. Officials should consider trade-offs and eliminate harmful and eliminate ineffective government.

House Bill 4386: Expand open records law to governor’s office: Passed 109 to 0 in the House

To repeal the exemption in the state Freedom of Information Act for records held by the governor and lieutenant governor’s offices and staff, subject to a broad range of exceptions. These exceptions include records related to gubernatorial appointments; sanctions on judges; pardons, reprieves and commutations; executive budget preparations; deficit-related spending cuts; the annual state-of-the-state address; records subject to executive privilege; communications with constituents; and information related to security, employee personal information and more.

Earlier today, the Michigan Attorney General’s office announced the arrest of Marlena Pavlos-Hackney, owner of Marlena’s Bistro and Pizzeria in Holland, Mich. Her crime? Operating her restaurant in defiance of the state’s COVID-19 orders.

Last December, during the state’s second COVID-19 wave, the Michigan Department of Health and Humans Services quietly published a new pandemic response plan. The timing is curious, as it gives the impression that state officials are literally making things up as they go. But more concerning is that this latest plan appears to endorse the historically unprecedented, controversial and legally questionable lockdown orders Gov. Gretchen Whitmer imposed on Michigan society in response to the coronavirus.

Editor's Note: This article first appeared on March 15 as part of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation’s Restoring Accountability essay series on government transparency to commemorate Sunshine Week. The essay series highlights how different organizations are approaching the need for more government transparency. You can view the complete series here.

Michigan lawmakers have $5.7 billion more to spend now that Congress approved its latest spending plans. But the federal government restricted the money from being used for some of the state’s highest priorities, and lawmakers will be challenged to find ways to spend the extra money. While some legislators may be tempted to make one-time payments to favored groups, they should rather use it to put the state government in a better financial position over the long term.

Taxpayers deserve to know how their money is being spent, and politicians must, in turn, demand accountability from the organizations they fund with those dollars. One organization that receives taxpayer money, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, is noteworthy for refusing to come clean with the people. Just as bad, its habit of obfuscation and stonewalling lets politicians escape scrutiny when they make claims about the programs they fund. This Sunshine Week, it’s time to examine the state’s jobs agencies, and lawmakers should recognize that they are too secretive. Their work should be opened up to greater scrutiny.

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in The Hill on February 27, 2021. 

States should reevaluate their laws that grant governors emergency powers. As a result of COVID-19, nearly every state has been under a declared emergency for nearly a year. These laws may have served states well in the early days of the pandemic, enabling governors to take immediate action to protect public safety. But they should not be used for such a prolonged period, because they tip the balance of power towards the executive branch and undermine legal protections of our constitutional rights.

While the last year of teaching and learning has looked different in many ways, Michigan’s school finance trends have mostly continued on the same upward path. Online schools that continued to educate during the pandemic fared worse than schools that shut down, then struggled with the transition to remote instruction. Intermediate school districts were among the biggest budgetary winners.

Editor's Note: On the afternoon of March 16, the MEDC responded in part to our request. 

Last week, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy mailed a postcard to reporters and others calling attention to Sunshine Week and the secrecy of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. The MEDC administers the state’s corporate and industrial welfare apparatus, including Travel Michigan, which oversees the state-subsidized Pure Michigan tourism marketing and branding campaigns.

Senate Resolution 26: Authorize Senate lawsuit against governor for unlawful expenditures: Passed 20 to 14 in the Senate

To authorize the Senate Majority Leader to commence legal action on behalf of the Senate, challenging any action by the governor to spend money that has not been authorized in appropriation bills passed by the House and Senate. This relates to vetoes of provisions in House Bills 4047 and 4048 that would prohibit spending part of the state’s federal stimulus and coronavirus relief money unless two provision of two other bills are also signed into law (Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 4049). Those bills would transfer the authority of the state health department to close schools in an emergency to county health departments, and require legislative consent after 28 days to a governor's authority to maintain a state of emergency and issue executive orders. Under this resolution, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey would be authorized to sue the governor if the administration spends money without the legislative authorization required by the Michigan Constitution of 1963.

“Whenever you mention it, you just kind of laugh, right?”

The initial reaction people have to goat milk was enough for Brett Kittredge to get public attention for the importance of freedom in commerce. Kittredge, then-director of communications for the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, had learned that lawmakers in his state were thinking of banning the sale of goat milk, which was already severely restricted.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in The Hill on February 13, 2021. 

With federal lawmakers considering a $15-per-hour nationwide minimum wage, we’ve got a new minimum wage debate. Except, it’s not new. It’s been the same debate for the past hundred years.

Politicians in Washington are on the cusp of adopting another colossal spending bill, borrowing $1.9 trillion from our children and grandchildren. Congress is likely to send the legislation to President Joe Biden tomorrow. It is particularly galling that it is being sold as a COVID-19 relief bill when so much of it is completely unrelated to the needs of responding to a pandemic. So far, the bill is very partisan: Not a single Republican in either chamber voted for it.

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in The Hill on February 20, 2021. 

Rolling blackouts have hit millions of Texans and people across the Great Plains, including Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. Severe winter weather has placed a strain on electricity supplies and caused multiple deaths. That sad situation is completely unnecessary, but it likely will increase in the coming days.

Editor's Note: This piece first appeared in The Hill on February 6, 2021.

It comes as no surprise that the Biden administration has taken ambitious early action to expand the federal government’s jurisdiction over access to health care. After all, President Biden was vice president and an influential advisor in the Obama administration, when the Affordable Care Act (ACA) enlarged the federal government’s role in determining health care access and costs, and greatly constricted options for patients.