Around Michigan & State Government

Abdul El-Sayed for Michigan

A Democrat running for governor in Michigan is touting his experience leading the city of Detroit’s health department in the aftermath of the city’s bankruptcy. Dr. Abdul El-Sayed is campaigning in northern Michigan this week.

“We rebuilt a department,” El-Sayed said in an interview with IPR News Radio. “It is now a department that has five different campuses doing great work for the people of Detroit.”

Paul Maritinez/Flickr

State lawmakers return to Lansing this week and to a budget standoff. The House and Senate left Lansing at the end of March without an agreement on how to help an area in metro Detroit where a giant sinkhole opened up last December.

Some Republicans in Michigan are pushing for restrictions to the state’s power to write regulations. State agencies, like the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, write many rules and regulations that don't need legislative approval. 

In the last few years, some Michigan lawmakers have criticized this process. They say that state departments are writing rules that are too strict.

Legislation introduced by one of northern Michigan’s state representatives, Rep. Triston Cole (R-Mancelona), would add a new hurdle for state agencies to clear.    

“This would restrict them from enacting administrative rules that would be stricter than federal rules,” Cole says, “without clear and convincing evidence, and or going through the legislative process.”

Cole spoke with IPR News Radio about the legislation:

 


Max Pixel

Some police officers in northern Michigan wear body cameras; others do not. Two recent incidents in northern Michigan show why cameras can be useful. One incident was in Antrim County. The other in the City of Manistee.

Paul Maritinez/Flickr

A campaign committee controlled by Republican leaders is facing fines and questions over how it lost track of many thousands of dollars during the last election.

How much do you trust state government and its ability to do its job?

Last week was dramatic at the state Capitol. In a late night vote, a dozen GOP House members broke from their Republican colleagues and voted with Democrats against a bill that would have lowered the state income tax to 3.9 percent. 

The legislation failed and never made it to the state Senate. 

Sen. Wayne Schmidt of Traverse City had questions about the income tax bill. 

“It was easy to say, ‘let’s lower taxes,’ Schmidt told IPR News Radio in an interview. “But was it the right amount? Is it what working families wanted?” 

“I’m all about giving tax relief but you’ve got to make sure it’s especially targeted for working families,” Schmidt said. 

 

Schmidt spoke with IPR News Radio about the tax legislation, and about two bills that he has introduced. 

Lawmakers in Lansing might not try to do away with the state income tax after all; but, they are still looking to reduce it.

A new version of the bill would gradually cut the tax from 4 point 25 percent to 3 point 9 percent.

Bill sponsor Representative Lee Chatfield says he is happy with the changes.

Federal Communications Commission

Many people in northern Michigan live without access to broadband internet. Others have high-speed fiber connections. In this special call-in hour, IPR tackles the future of broadband in northern Michigan.

 

In Kalkaksa County, 60 percent of residents lack access to high-speed internet. That’s according to data from the Federal Communications Commission, which increased its standards for speed in 2015. 

More than a third of rural residents in the United States do not have access to broadband service, according to the FCC. 

House Republicans in Lansing have a plan to give you an income tax break — and eventually to end the tax. 

State Rep. Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) introduced a measure last week that would cut the rate from 4.25 percent to 3.9 percent in 2018. The legislation would then reduce the income tax yearly by .1 percent until it was eliminated. 

“I think this is a very fair tax reform that impacts every family,” Chatfield told IPR News Radio. “It provides yet another opportunity for our families to move back here to Michigan, begin working [and] keep more of their hard-earned dollars.”

Chatfield spoke with IPR News Radio about his tax plan:

 

Revenue from the income tax made up about one-third of the state’s total revenue in 2015 – around $9 billion, according to the State Budget Office.

It’s a new year, and the Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners has a couple of new members – and possibly a new direction. The change comes at a time when the county is facing financial problems – including a pension debt of more than $50-million dollars.

In its first meeting last week, the board elected Commissioner Carol Crawford to lead them into the new year.

Aaron Selbig

Donald Trump’s surprise run to the presidency captured most of the attention around last year’s election, but in Emmet County, there was another quiet revolution. Residents there voted out four sitting members of the county Board of Commissioners, and two more incumbents stepped down.

It is now a new year. With the State House and Senate adjourned until Jan. 11, it's time to get our bearings on what’s likely to be bubbling away on Lansing’s front burner this year.

Michigan Radio’s It’s Just Politics team of Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta joined Stateside to discuss.

Sam Corden

Political candidates raised millions of dollars - and spent millions of dollars - in Michigan this election season, but they weren’t the only ones. 

There was also plenty of political spending by independent groups. Those are the groups not connected to any candidate, which can accept unlimited amounts of cash from donors. The top 20 groups in Michigan spent $9.9 million between January 2015 and Election Day, according to a report by the watchdog Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

About half of the money raised by those groups came from a dozen sources, the report says.

“Those 12 sources are driving the independent spending in Michigan, and the main force behind it is the DeVos family,” says Craig Mauger, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

 


This is the final day of lame duck in Lansing.

The proverbial midnight oil was burned as lawmakers worked all through the night, took a quick break, and then headed back to their chambers for more work.

Michigan Radio's Lansing Bureau Chief Rick Pluta joined Stateside today live from the Capitol.

This week marks the final few days of the 2015-2016 session of the state Legislature. Soon it will be “curtains down” on lame duck.

As Zach Gorchow of Gongwer News Service puts it, it’s time to see which bills are dead, which are “extremely sleepy” and which are alive in these final days of lame duck.

DTE Energy

The future of energy regulation in Michigan is uncertain.

For months, state lawmakers have debated the state’s energy rules, but for months they’ve failed to pass legislation. Republican leaders want to do the first major overhaul to energy law since 2008. 

David Cassleman

State Republicans want to reform the retirement system for public school teachers by eliminating pensions.

Since 2012, new teachers have received a hybrid retirement plan that blends a traditional pension with a 401(k). But legislation being debated during the lame-duck session would close the traditional pension system for future new hires and would offer them a 401(k)-style plan only. 

Republican lawmakers say the goal is to create a more reliable retirement system. The old pension system has unfunded liabilities totaling $26.7 billion, according to the Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency. 

 


A state elections board officially declared Republican Donald Trump the winner of the presidential election in Michigan. That starts the clock on a request for a statewide recount that has been called for by Green Party candidate Jill Stein. The campaign has until 2 o’clock Wednesday afternoon to file the request.

Tomas Sienicki

The number of women who smoke while pregnant is way up in Michigan. A new report from the Michigan League for Public Policy says the rate increased by 18 percent between 2008 and 2014.

Smoking while pregnant can lead to a number of bad health outcomes for infants, including early birth.

The report also says that the number of preterm births increased by 20 percent in Michigan during the same time period. 

Cheyna Roth, a reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, says advocates are asking for more resources to attack the issue:

 


Paul Maritinez/Flickr

The state legislature is scheduled to meet briefly next week, right in the heart of election season. But don't expect much to get done until after the election. 

There are plenty of key legislative issues unresolved in Lansing, including energy reform. That could be one of the main questions tackled by lawmakers when they come back to Lansing in the lame-duck session following the November 8 election.

“I’m trying to get in all of my sleep now,” says Michigan Public Radio reporter Cheyna Roth, “because once they do come back … I have a feeling we’re going to see a lot of activity on quite a few things.”

Cheyna Roth spoke with IPR News Radio about what to expect in the coming months:

 


Rick Pluta

There are now two desks on the floor of the state House draped with black ribbon and bedecked with flowers.

Lawmakers returned to the state Capitol Tuesday to the news that state Representative Peter Pettalia (R-Presque Isle) was killed Monday evening in a motorcycle crash. The desk of state Representative Julie Plawecki (D-Dearborn Heights) also remains vacant after she died this summer from a heart attack.

The northern Michigan lawmaker who sponsored the bill to repeal Michigan’s mandatory helmet law has died in a motorcycle crash. It’s not known if state Rep. Peter Pettalia (R-Presque Isle) was wearing a helmet when he died.

Authorities are releasing few details. Pettalia was riding on  M-33 in Montmorency County. The Michigan State Police and the Montmorency County Sheriff say they will release more information in the morning. 

Pettalia's district included much of the northeast part of the Lower Peninsula, including Alpena. He chaired the state House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He was serving his third and final state House term, and briefly considered a run for Congress earlier this year. Pettalia was 61 years old.

A fatal car crash in August of 2015 near Buckley has resulted in lawsuits against the State of Michigan. Family members of the victims, Anthony and Deanna Erving, say the stretch of M-37 with two 90-degree curves was not safe, and highway officials ignored the problem.

The Ervings died when a car crossed the centerline and struck their motorcycle.

George Thompson is representing the son of Anthony Erving in one of the lawsuits against the Michigan Department of Transportation. He says the Ervings were not the first people killed on that stretch of road.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Off roaders have used state forest roads in the Upper Peninsula as trails for years. Now they might have the same opportunity to use those types of roads below the Mackinac Bridge.

House Bill 5275 would permit Off Road Vehicles (ORVs) to use any state forest road across the state, unless it has been closed. Most of these roads are already open to motorized traffic from vehicles with license plates, but not to machines like all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) or side-by-side vehicles. The legislation, which was introduced by state Rep. Triston Cole (R-Mancelona), is currently sitting in the state Senate.

“Right now we have limited use and sporadic accessibility for our ORVs and side-by-side machines,” Triston Cole says. “And this is the next step in increasing tourism and improving our economy here in northern Lower Michigan.”

Cole says many off roaders in the Lower Peninsula are heading north to the Upper Peninsula to use its more numerous ORV trails. He wants to keep them below the Mackinac Bridge.
 

But some are concerned about potential environmental impacts if the roads are opened up to ORVs with aggressive tire treads. 

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