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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.

Can criminal defendants be required to pay a portion of the costs of prosecuting them? That’s a question the Michigan Supreme Court may soon answer if it takes up the case of one defendant who says that imposing those costs on him amounts to levying an impermissible tax.

The 2018 federal budget includes a block of money that goes to groups that do things in the Great Lakes. The Trump administration wanted to lower that funding. But 185 groups banded together to oppose any spending reductions.

Activists and businesses that profit from wind and other renewable energy sources often claim that these produce additional jobs, and that this is a benefit. For example, the president and CEO of Consumers Energy recently said in a newspaper op-ed, “Building and operating more wind farms and solar power plants will create jobs.”

Does Arkansas’ tourism campaign provide more return on investment than Pure Michigan? That’s one implication of a study that looked at the returns of the Arkansas campaign, Arkansas: The Natural State. It said that the campaign returns $144 for every dollar spent. A taxpayer-funded study of the Pure Michigan national marketing push, meanwhile, says that Michigan’s advertising campaign returns $119 in tourism spending for each dollar spent.

The Legislature is on spring break with no sessions scheduled until April 10. Rather than votes this report contains some noteworthy legislative proposals to amend the constitution. To become law these require a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate and approval by voters.

The new tariffs on imported steel imposed by the Trump administration have been roundly criticized by economists and major steel-consuming industries. The announcements last week that Nucor will build a new plant in Florida, and U.S. Steel will bring its Granite City, Illinois, plant back on line are good news for those 500 steelworkers, but may pale against the number of employees laid off by the industries that use this now more expensive steel. With these tariffs a done deal, the administration has significant leverage to move onto another item on the steel industry’s public policy wish list: the building of a second Poe Lock, part of the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie that connect Lake Superior to the lower Great Lakes.

The evidence is clear that the academic achievement produced by Michigan public school students, on average, lags the nation. The publicity surrounding this fact heightens the temptation to start a hollow drumbeat of misguided and simplistic prescriptions.

In 2014, the Michigan Legislature overwhelmingly passed new laws that allow terminally ill patients to try medicine that has passed the first phase of the federal approval process but are not yet fully permitted for use. This proposal is commonly known as “right to try.”

The state government’s “economic development” agency annually has a consultant, at taxpayer expense, produce a report that includes what it dubs a return-on-investment calculation for the state’s tourism advertising effort. The report estimates how much the state gets back in tax dollars compared to what it spends to lure travelers to Michigan.

House Bill 5220, Increase allowable pepper spray concentration: Passed 36 to 0 in the Senate

The brick structure on Conant Street may not stand out to passersby, but the school that operates inside has earned a major distinction. No elementary or middle school in Michigan is outperforming Hamtramck Academy.

Opened in 2004, the National Heritage Academy charter school near the heart of Detroit finished as the highest-rated school on the Mackinac Center's newest Elementary and Middle School Context and Performance Report Card. The report card's unique "CAP" (Context and Performance) Scores factor three years of performance on M-STEP tests, adjusted to account for the share of students eligible for free lunch subsidies based on their household income. A strong statistical connection exists between student poverty and low academic achievement, because of the disadvantages and challenges typically faced by low-income students.

After a previous regional transit tax was rejected by voters, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans developed a new one that he’d like to submit for approval. Unfortunately, his pitch contains little about how the tax will get people to where they want to go.

In 2016, the latest year for which we have data, at least 700 innocent people lost their property through civil asset forfeiture. According to documents received through open records requests, the typical asset lost —a car or cash — was worth about $500.

While most Michigan school districts are losing students and struggling with academic achievement, Dearborn Public Schools is bucking the trend. Serving 20,000 students, the state's third-largest district is operating more than its share of top-flight schools.

In a recent op-ed in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, Doug DeVos, former chair of the West Michigan Policy Forum, outlines why “criminal justice reform is the right thing to do, for all of us.” Citing Michigan’s high corrections spending and relatively high crime rate, DeVos calls for change.

Gov. Rick Snyder moved from being a skeptic of business subsidies to a supporter over time. His latest budget shows his legacy on the issue.

His recommended budget for the state’s business subsidy programs is down slightly. It calls for $161.8 million in state taxpayer-paid subsidy programs, down from $170.9 million this year. There is an additional $28.9 million for administration, a small increase from this year.

Senate Bill 872, Extend statute of limitations on criminal sexual conduct suits: Passed 28 to 7 in the Senate