Thursday, November 6, 2014

News Hits: Lame-Duck Forecast: What to expect in the Legislature over the next six weeks

Posted By on Thu, Nov 6, 2014 at 8:00 AM

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In December of 2012, the Michigan Legislature shot for the stars. During that mostly acrimonious lame-duck session, the period after the November general election, but before the new year, when new lawmakers take office. In other words, it’s typically a time for lawmakers who have nothing to lose — because they lost their election bid.

Only two years ago, state legislators passed controversial right-to-work legislation, a revamped emergency manager bill, legislation establishing a regional transit authority for southeast Michigan, a bill that allowed hundreds of millions of public tax dollars to be captured for a new Detroit Red Wings arena in downtown, and the repeal of the state’s personal property tax.
This time of the year is a big deal for state policy.

Considering the 2014 election has come to a close, News Hits saw fit to address some of the pieces of legislation that our elected officials may take into consideration in the coming weeks.

ROAD FUNDING: For two years now, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has called for the Legislature to pass bills that would increase state spending on roads by $1.2 billion. That hasn’t happened. Our pols have intensely bickered over how exactly to increase funds and, because of their due diligence, we still don’t have a proposal on the table.

That could change, though! Earlier this year, Republicans threw their weight behind a proposal that would only raise $500 million, mostly because it didn’t raise any new taxes. Now, with some likely exiting state office for good, they may be more inclined to pass a set of bills that raises taxes on motorists, truck drivers, the whole shebang.

And perhaps now may be the best time: If the Legislature doesn’t act soon, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, arguably the most powerful lobby group in the state, has indicated it might circumvent Lansing and head straight to voters to spark a fire on the issue.

“The Michigan Chamber of Commerce hopes lawmakers will do their job and pass a comprehensive transportation funding plan in the lame duck session,” the chamber wrote in a news release last month. “However, after almost 10 years of legislative debate, hope is not a very good strategy. We need less talk and more action.”

The chamber says it’s not looking to bypass the Legislature entirely; if nothing happens by year's end, it says it would pursue a petition drive that would ask voters to tax themselves to fix our roads, which would then head to Lansing for approval.

ELLIOTT-LARSEN AMENDMENT: LGBT supporters were heartened earlier this year when a consortium of businesses finally came out in support of expanding Michigan’s civil rights law, the Elliott-Larsen Act, to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Essentially, when the law was passed in 1976, it banned discrimination against individuals for employment based on religion, race, color, national origin; later, it included age, sex, height, weight, familial status, and marital status.

State Sen. Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor), who introduced the legislation in the Senate, said in a statement earlier this year that updating the legislation was a way to protect citizens and families from being fired from a job, or being denied housing “because of [who] they are or who they love.”

“In addition to this being a matter of basic fairness and equality that enjoys widespread public support, it is also an economic imperative and an important step in making our state a vital and vibrant location as we recruit the top talent and business from around the globe,” Warren said.

MICHIGAN ELECTORAL COLLEGE: One thing that has been the favorite of Republican-led Legislatures in recent years has been to change how their respective states apportion Electoral College votes.

In a nutshell, the way things work now, Michigan’s Electoral College votes are given entirely to the winning candidate. Under the possible change that top Republicans have indicated they might support, votes would be apportioned by congressional district, with a bonus number of votes for whichever candidate scoops the most districts in that race.

The repercussions are obvious: As it has been widely reported, under that sort of system, Mitt Romney would have won more electoral votes in Michigan, even though he garnered fewer votes than winner President Barack Obama.

DETROIT PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Call this one our wildcard pick: Most know that Detroit’s public school system has been an utter mess for years. And, with the district’s third emergency manager set to be voted out in the coming months, talks have heated up about a new proposal being floated that would place DPS under the control of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. And, while this would seem to be one of the least-likely proposals to sail through during lame-duck, we should never cast doubt on the powers of this session.

As The Detroit News reported back in August, the nonprofit Excellent Schools Detroit put forth the proposal to have Duggan’s office — and, it bears mentioning, any future mayor — to run Detroit’s schools, charters and all.

“If the mayor, or a chosen appointee, could coordinate services like transportation and enrollment across all schools, that would go a long way to giving families true access to the schools they want,” the News reported. “Right now, many parents face barriers in getting their child to the best school. This proposal goes beyond those services, however, and would offer the mayor’s office the ability to open and close schools and decide which charter school operators could open new schools in the city.”

Duggan said earlier this year that he had no intention of being “emergency manager” of Detroit Public Schools. Whether he’d support this decision remains to be seen.

As Dan Varner, chief executive officer of Excellent Schools Detroit, put it to Crain’s Detroit Business earlier this year, “The mayor has got to want it.” Varner added plenty remain leery about the proposal for a specific reason.

He told Crain’s: “Some are asking: ‘What if there’s a bad mayor?’”

Indeed, that warrants a healthy discussion. Hopefully Lansing has one if it chooses to take this kind of bold legislation into consideration. 


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