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House Bill 4049: Transfer power to close schools during epidemic to locals: Passed 20 to 15 in the Senate

To establish that the director of the Department of Health and Human Services does not have the authority to issue epidemic-related emergency orders that close schools for in-person instruction or prohibit school sporting events. The legislature gave this authority to the state health department director in the Public Health Code enacted in 1978; the bill would amend that law by instead giving this authority to local health departments.

As a teen and young adult, I had a guilty pleasure of watching cheesy, B-grade horror movies. I watched them more for the humor value and to pick apart the many plot and production flaws than for their cinematic quality.

One key plot feature of each of those flicks was that screen writers regularly struggled to give the villain an interesting back story. These villains were seemingly always a misunderstood genius, the victim of a long unrequited love or some equally tragic circumstance. A second feature of these villains was that, no matter how many times the good guys fought them off, they’d always manage to spring back onto the scene, ready to wreak havoc or seek revenge.

Jonathan Chait wrote a piece for New York Magazine, titled “Zero COVID Risk is the Wrong Standard,” which identifies a significant flaw in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s approach to handling the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the first time in perhaps a century or longer, Michigan no longer ranks among the top 10 states for unionization. This is the result of a trend that accelerated after workers were finally given a choice in union membership in 2013.

After much of the auto industry was unionized in the 1930s, Michigan became known as the “birthplace of organized labor.” Flint and especially Detroit became important cities for labor interests in the United States, and labor unions established themselves major players in Michigan’s economy and political scene.

Many Michigan public schools have at least partially reopened classrooms in recent weeks to meet Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s March 1 deadline. Yet the state’s private schools have quietly set the standard for how to provide children the educational services they need in the midst of a pandemic, working creatively to remain open for in-person instruction throughout the current year.

Nicholas Bagley’s recent op-ed in the Detroit Free Press criticizing the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision last October about Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s use of emergency powers contains two major flaws and is misleading.

There are several bills in the Michigan Legislature to require state pension administrators to be more careful with the pension systems they oversee and to pay down funding problems as they arise. Legislators ought to approve them, even with their inherent financial tradeoffs. Lawmakers haven’t set aside enough money to pay for the retirement benefits that have been earned by government workers, so lawmakers should want to keep the problem from becoming worse.

Senate Bill 114: Allocate coronavirus epidemic relief dollars: Passed 19 to 15 in the Senate

To appropriate $672.7 million federal dollars and $55 million collected from state taxpayers for various coronavirus response activities including $390.1 million more for vaccine distribution and virus tests, $282.5 million more for rental subsidies, and $55 million state dollars to give a $2.25 hourly raise to certain social welfare direct care workers through September.

Good policies can come from legislation: To get lower taxes, you need lawmakers to approve a bill to lower taxes. But some good policies can come through working in the regulatory process. For example, you can get cheaper, more reliable, less-polluting energy by presenting your case to utility regulators. That’s what Overton Window podcast guest David Stevenson is doing at the Caesar Rodney Institute in Delaware.

In recent weeks, more school districts have come around to provide in-person instruction again. But those that have kept classroom doors closed until now cannot blame shortfalls in federal aid for the delay.

As Bridge Magazine reported last week, a few large school districts, including Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo, have failed to even issue a plan for face-to-face instruction to return. This, even with the known educational and emotional harms of limiting children’s social interactions, the months of evidence that schools aren’t super-spreaders and multiple indicators that show the virus is receding across Michigan. These three districts are among about 15% of those statewide that have offered nothing but remote education since the pandemic started last March.

Michigan spending is already at recent highs without the kind of extra influx of cash that is being considered in Washington.

The governor’s proposed budget would spend $4.3 billion more than last year, a 7.0% increase. This includes $801.5 million more in money from state taxes and fees. State revenue has fully recovered from any losses that happened in the pandemic and is 2.0% above pre-pandemic levels when adjusted for inflation.

The American Lung Association recently called for doubling Maine’s cigarette tax, currently at $2 a pack. The association’s 2021 report on the state of tobacco control in America is a detailed one. It says nothing, however, about how higher taxes on cigarettes leads to more smuggling, which may undermine the very goals the ALA wants to achieve. Lawmakers in Augusta should not heed this call for higher taxes.

Michigan lawmakers went from supporting film incentives by a combined vote of 145-1 to ending them in a bipartisan vote just seven years later. The reason why is pretty simple: Michigan approved $500 million in subsidies and had little to show for it.

Editor's Note: More complete information on the Texas electricity grid is coming out, and the failures and rolling blackouts seem to stem from three major issues. First, there was poor planning and slow responses on the part of ERCOT, the operator of Texas’ electricity grid. Second, decisions were made against winterizing essential generation equipment, despite similar cold-related outages in 2011. Third, extreme and unusual cold weather impacted multiple generation sources: wind, solar, nuclear, coal and natural gas.

Editor's Note: This article was first published in The Hill on January 30, 2021. 

Just a decade ago, a mandatory $15-per-hour minimum wage seemed like a pipe dream — even liberal economists and The New York Times warned of negative effects. But a few large cities started enforcing it, and then it became part of the Democratic Party platform. It now stands a real chance of becoming federal law.

The regulation of Michigan’s commercial fisheries has become contentious and often combative, as cultural, financial and environmental pressures all compete for the attention of elected officials and state regulators.

Commercial fishers in Michigan are struggling to adapt to a mix of changing regulatory requirements and a declining whitefish catch. Native and commercial fishers report that growing lake trout populations are consuming whitefish as a prey species. Researchers also point out that whitefish populations have decreased in response to the rapid rise in populations of quagga and zebra mussels.

The legislature met this week but held no votes on bills of general interest. Rather than votes, this Roll Call Report describes some newly introduced bills of interest.

Senate Bill 13: Give tax break to certain business owners and developers

Some people believe that government policies in this country are determined exclusively by the rich and powerful. But another group can also have outsized influence: the persuasive. And one person who successfully convinced voters to prevent his state from adopting an income tax described how that came about, and more, on this edition of the Overton Window podcast.

Michigan’s K-12 students are not the only ones who appear to have not learned enough during the pandemic. The governor, ignoring the important role cyber schools have filled with regular classrooms shut down, has repeated her earlier budget missteps by singling out these schools for fiscal harm.

Editor's Note: The original Spanish version of this piece can be found here

Research shows strong correlations between economic freedom and prosperity — among other positive outcomes. This means that where we live can have an impact on the economic and other opportunities we enjoy for ourselves, our family and our community.

Editor's Note: This article was first published in The Hill on January 23, 2021. 

One of the first tests the Biden administration will face is whether it will protect independent workers or give in to special interests.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer again tweaked her epidemic orders that restrict individual behavior, now permitting contact sports. But the governor continues to maintain strict limits on social gatherings. A look back at these restrictions over time makes the current ones hard to justify. It appears as if the governor now believes that social gatherings are one of the most dangerous activities when it comes to spreading COVID-19.

The Indiana General Assembly is contemplating a $1 per pack cigarette tax hike, with a bill introduced last week in its House Committee on Public Health. If adopted as law, the bill would raise the state’s tax rate to $1.995, nearly equaling Michigan’s current tax rate of $2 per pack. This has important implications, given the degree to which cigarette tax differentials among states drive illicit behavior, such as smuggling.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is responsible for managing the state’s natural resources and for balancing the interests of businesses, residents and visitors to the Great Lakes. The DNR’s recent decision to overhaul fishing regulations and delay the licenses for commercial fishers, however, appears to have tipped the scales against one interest without sufficient reason.

An op-ed last month in The Detroit News, headlined “National Popular Vote Upholds American Ideal,” argues against the Electoral College. It’s written by Saul Anuzis, a lobbyist hired by the organization pushing the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. It makes more than a few dubious claims.