MIRS provides comprehensive news and analysis of state government delivered in written reports detailing the activities of the House, Senate, Judicial and Executive branches of Michigan state government.
Michigan News And Capitol Report, Week Ending Fri., January 29, 2016
Gov Finalizes $28M Supplemental For Flint
Both chambers moved HB 5220 through the legislative pipeline in a week without a single no vote. The bill is now Public Act 3 of 2016.
Snyder's original plan for the $28 million -- $22 million of which is General Fund -- changed slightly in the Senate as lawmakers noticed an abundance of donated bottled water making its way to city residents, who still aren't cleared to drink their tap water.
So they shifted funds toward health assessments, hiring school nurses and food banks and nutrition, as the state strives to answer the call to provide comprehensive help for any adults and children who may have been exposed to lead.
And before the supplemental spending bill was officially squared away, Senate Majority Leader Arlan MEEKHOF (R-West Olive) inserted an amendment calling for the Office of the Auditor General to keep tabs on the funds heading to Flint.
According to the Governor's office, there's still money going to free bottled water, faucet filters and testing kits. There's also funding to provide for an infrastructure study using independent experts, treatment to children with high blood lead levels, compensation to the National Guard for their work in Flint and more.
This supplemental appropriation follows an initial $9 million the state sent to Flint back in October 2015, mostly to help the city reconnect to Detroit's water supply.
The Governor has promised some more long-term funding for Flint in his upcoming Fiscal Year 2017 budget proposal, and federal lawmakers are looking into emergency appropriations for the city as well.
Snyder elected to sign the bill after his annual appearance at the Michigan Press Association (MPA) convention in Grand Rapids, continuing the Governor's tradition of breaking news for the gathered journalists.
But the Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) and other Snyder critics instantly hopped on the fact that the Governor signed the bill there rather than Flint.
"Signing this bill at a Michigan Press Association luncheon is further proof that Governor Snyder cares more about trying to get positive media coverage than he does about getting things done and helping the people of Flint," said MDP chair Brandon DILLON. "While Governor Snyder and his Republican pals are all smiles, posing for photos at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids, the people of Flint are 100 miles away, waiting for their governor to actually lead and solve the crisis for which he and his administration are responsible."
Snyder used his address to MPA attendees to talk Flint, again speaking about the state's response in the city and his push to prevent such crises from happening in the future, including better funding water infrastructure statewide.
"This is a hidden problem that we've ignored not just in Flint, not just in Michigan, but nationally, for far too long." Snyder said. "So let's do something about it."
Snyder received some applause from attendees toward the end of his speech when he starting speaking about "the spirit of Michiganders."
"We don't just walk away when something doesn't go right," he said. "We don't just roll over. It's time to stand up and recognize that things could've been done differently. What do you learn from that? How do you make sure that never happens again? And how do you do better and stronger moving forward?"
Black Caucus Says Earley Must Go
The Michigan Legislative Black Caucus (MLBC) voted Friday to ask Gov. Rick SNYDER to terminate Darnell EARLEY, the Detroit Public Schools' (DPS) emergency manager, for "presiding over the biggest public health crisis in the history of Michigan"
Earley was Flint's EM when the city switched its municipal water source to the Flint River, which ended up eating away at the city's lead pipes, causing lead to get into the water. Earley has now "brought that same mismanagement and callous attitude to the Detroit Public Schools," according to Black Caucus First Vice Chair Sheldon NEELEY (D-Flint).
Earley was appointed Flint's EM in October 2013, and served until January 2015. Under Earley's leadership, the city separated from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and joined the Karegnondi Water Authority, switching the water supply to the Flint River on April 25, 2014.
Neeley said this decision resulted in lead poisoning to the city, and what has become known as the "Flint Water Crisis."
Earley was later appointed to be EM for DPS on Jan. 13, 2015. At the time of Earley's appointment, the school system had a budget deficit of almost $170 million and faced rapidly declining enrollment.
Earley has said the decision to switch to the Flint River was a local decision and it was his responsibility to oversee the decision that had been made.
LGBT Rights Constitutional Ballot Drive Suspended
"Unfortunately we are suspending the 2016 petition drive, but this is not the end of Fair Michigan," attorney Dana NESSEL, the lead of the Fair Michigan campaign, told the Off the Record panel Friday morning.
She was hoping to expand the state's constitutional protections against discrimination to include the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) community with a vote of the citizens next November, but it became "a financial issue," Nessel said.
The business community, when she asked for assistance, "was scared-off because of infighting in the gay community." The ACLU and Equality Michigan steadfastly opposed the petition drive, claiming if the citizens said no, it would be difficult to get state lawmakers to say yes.
"There is no legislative solution at all," she concluded, while saying the drive "was not a wasted effort" because the people were "educated" on the issue. Fair Michigan is not going away, she said. She expects a non-profit forming and a potential 2018 campaign being launched.
Members of the LGBT community were concerned the transgender community would be demonized in a "no vote" campaign as creepy individuals using the perceived wrong public bathroom.
"It's a red herring," said Nessel, adding that for every city where this argument killed a similar civil rights issue, there are plenty of examples where this transgendered-bashing tactic failed and the civil rights drive succeeded.
Asked if her group would advance this issue city by city with a gay rights ordinance, she rejected that, calling it "window dressing." The people of Michigan need statewide protection, she said.
One of the most outspoken opponents of the petition drive option was AT&T of Michigan President Jim MURRAY. She reported she never had a conversation with him and she believes he "lost credibility" when he failed to advance this issue during the lame duck session last year after he allegedly suggested he had a chance to pass the expansion law.
For those who believed in the legislative option she asked, "What are you smoking?"
Approached with these comments, Murray responded with, "Our coalition's efforts in lame duck pushed the expansion of civil rights farther than ever before. Personal attacks won't change that.
"If anything, for the leaders who joined me in saying the ballot wasn't the way to go, our credibility is very secure today after watching how this played out. It doesn't make me happy to say, but it is the truth."
Nessel reported the polling data suggested 68 percent of the voters supported this effort. But others contend that once the anti-gay factions went to work the number would drop into the 40s. Nessel predicted a win had the drive been successful.
As for the internal conflict, she said she believed in every civil rights movement some "people are not ready to have this happen."
Equality Michigan Executive Director Stephanie WHITE countered by saying, "I want LGBT rights. Obviously. It's my job. It's my passion."
But after her group and others did a deep dive into the numbers, they didn't see a path to victory this year. She said more public education, a better infrastructure and a lot of money" is needed before the voting public is comfortable changing the Constitution to include protections for the LGBT community.
"Traditionally, it's been very hard to get the majority to vote to approve equal rights for the minority," said White, noting that most significant civil rights advancements take place through legislation or the courts.
"People are good-hearted, but when you see incidents out there and hear about the misinformation that can be spread, it doesn't take long to find out we're not there, yet," she said.
Equality Michigan, the ACLU and other groups are working to get in front of making Michigan residents feel more comfortable about the issue of gender identity, said ACLU Michigan Executive Director Kary MOSS.
Launching a statewide initiative of this magnitude without doing that groundwork well could have "put the transgender community, physically, at risk," she said.
"The time is now for LGBT equality, but this ballot initiative needed a little more prep work before being launched," she said. "But we're optimistic for the future."
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Congressional Panel Wants EPA Documents A con
Hedman announced her resignation two weeks ago as pressure built surrounding an internal memo from EPA Regulation Manager Miguel DEL TORAL on a "number of water quality issues" in Flint that became more widely known.
The request comes as the U.S. Committee on Oversight and Government Reform announced Friday that Del Toral would be among the five officials asked to testify in front of the committee. Hedman's final day with the EPA is Monday. The hearing, chaired by U.S. Rep. Jason CHAFFETZ, is scheduled to take place 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Hedman is not on the list, but Joel BEAUVAIS, the EPA's acting deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Water, is on the list. The other three called to testify are Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Director Keith CREAGH, Virginia Tech professor Marc EDWARDS and former Flint Emergency Manager Darnell EARLEY.
However, based on Chaffetz's letter to EPA Director Gina McCARTHY Friday, his immediate focus is on why the EPA didn't do anything about information it had about lead being in the city's municipal water supply.
Chaffetz wrote that Hedman advised Flint's mayor that "it would be premature to draw any conclusions" about lead in Flint's water supply.
"As the situation grew worse, Hedman repeatedly refused to take much-needed action and instead made excuses that showed a clear lack of concern for the citizens of Flint, and a failure to grasp the seriousness of the problem," he wrote.
Hedman failed to promptly and properly respond to the Flint water crisis and her sudden departure "raises serious questions about EPA's response to the Flint crisis," Chaffetz wrote.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Brenda LAWRENCE (D-Southfield) and the Democrats' ranking member on the committee, U.S. Rep. Elijah CUMMINGS (D-Maryland), are asking Gov. Rick SNYDER for their own batch of documents.
The tone is similar to that taken by Chaffetz with the EPA but with Snyder's DEQ, in that state-appointed officials provided reassurances to the public about the safety of Flint's drinking water through 2014 and 2015.
"It appears that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, at the direction of Dan WYANT, failed to promptly and properly respond to the Flint water crisis, and that he resigned for that reason," they wrote to Snyder. "His sudden departure, however, raises serious questions about the state's response to the Flint crisis."
They're asking for all documents coming in and out of the offices of the city's former emergency managers, the current and former state treasurers, Wyant and the former director of the Flint Department of Works, Howard CROFT that are related to the water issue.
They also want all Snyder emails on the issue dating back to 2013. The Governor publicly released his emails on the Flint water issue from 2014 and 2015.
"We need a bipartisan and complete investigation based on a search for the truth -- no matter who is responsible," Cummings said. "We must prioritize morality above politics to understand how this crisis happened and how to prevent it in the future. To do that, we must hear from everyone involved, including Governor Snyder, and we must request documents from everyone involved, including the state."
Despite Lawrence's request, Snyder was not asked to testify. The Congressional Black Caucus sent a letter on Thursday asking Chaffetz to reconsider his decision. Democrats are calling on U.S. Rep. Tim WALBERG (R-Tipton), who also sits on the committee, to get involved.
"The people of Flint deserve the truth, and every person in this state wants to know why nearly 100,000 of their fellow citizens were left in the dark about the poison flowing into their homes on a daily basis. Congressman Walberg has the ability to call on Governor Snyder to provide those answers, and we demand that he do so, or explain to the people of Michigan why he won't," said Michigan Democratic Party Chair Brandon DILLON.
Snyder spokesperson Laura BIEHL said the Governor remains focused on helping the people of Flint and will cooperate with all investigations but has not been asked to testify before Congress.
Michigan Union Membership Grows In 2015
"This is good news for all working people in Michigan," said Ron BIEBER, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO. "Despite the unrelenting attacks from Lansing politicians, working people understand the value of collective bargaining."
The percent of the state's unionized workforce rose from 14.5 percent in 2014 to 15.2 percent in 2015 according to the report. Nationally, the union membership rate held steady at 11.1 percent from 2014 to 2015.
The state was not the only Great Lakes state to see an increase in union membership in 2015. The only other increase came in Illinois, which moved from 15.1 percent unionized in 2014 to 15.2 percent in 2014.
The state of Ohio saw the percent of unionized workers decline from 12.4 percent to 12.3 percent. Indiana declined from 10.7 percent to 10 percent; Illinois was up from 15.1 percent in 2014 to 15.2 percent in 2015. The percent of unionized workers in Wisconsin fell to 8.3 percent in 2015 from 11.7 percent in 2014.
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