Deed Restrictions, Neighborhood Watch Vehicles

January 12, 2018 MichiganVotes weekly roll call report

Senate Bill 702, Prohibit school districts from discriminating against charter schools: Passed 60 to 47 in the House

To expand the definition of “deed restriction” in a 2017 law that prohibits a school district or local government from refusing to sell property to a competing charter or private school. The bill would close a loophole that the Detroit school district has used in refusing to sell a shuttered primary school to a charter.

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Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"


House Bill 4176, Let neighborhood watch car mount flashing yellow lights: Passed 106 to 0 in the House

To let vehicles that participate in neighborhood watch programs have amber flashing lights.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"


SOURCE: MichiganVotes.org, a free, non-partisan website created by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, providing concise, non-partisan, plain-English descriptions of every bill and vote in the Michigan House and Senate. Please visit www.MichiganVotes.org.


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Many Michigan Families Sacrifice for Choice

Documentary shows how Blaine Amendment limits education options

Image courtesy of the Pioneer Institute

The Coston family scrapes together funds to pay the monthly bill to send their children to Calvary Baptist Academy. They love the school's challenging academics and emphasis on faith and character.

"Our family has needed to make some really big sacrifices, because we believe this is important," said Nate, father of three. "And so we're basically going to do whatever it takes."

Residents of Midland, Mich., the Costons are one of several families from around the country featured in the new documentary "Big Sacrifices, Big Dreams." The 30-minute film looks at the anti-Catholic roots of so-called Blaine amendments — common provisions in state constitutions that can prohibit families from using public funds to finance private education options for their children. Produced by the Pioneer Institute, the film is slated to be released for the eighth edition of National School Choice Week (January 21-27).

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As the documentary observes, Blaine Amendments hurt or otherwise limit families in 38 states. But the most recently created and tightest restrictions can be found in Michigan’s constitution. Fueled by an anti-Catholic backlash, a 1970 voter-approved measure amended Article VIII, Section 2 of the state constitution and it now reads: "No payment, credit, tax benefit, exemption or deductions, tuition voucher, subsidy, grant or loan of public monies or property shall be provided, directly or indirectly" to support students whose parents have decided to enroll them in private schools.

A 2016 Mackinac Center survey found there were about 21,000 open seats in Michigan's diverse collection of 600 private and religious schools. Average tuition, especially at the elementary and middle school level, is substantially less than what surrounding public schools spend per pupil.

As of the survey, the state's private schools enrolled a total of 113,000 students, a number in decline from previous years. Some families, not too different from the Costons, have lost the ability to keep up with tuition payments. On top of that, they still have to pay taxes to support the educational choices many other families make.

Meanwhile, the poorest Michigan families rarely can even consider the private school option. A place like Detroit Cristo Rey High School provides a religious, college-prep work-study program exclusively targeted to low-income students. Similar schools are highly unlikely to appear in our state without public funding or tax benefits that support parents who might choose them.

Michigan made a grave error by limiting access to a broad range of education options. Until that error is corrected, some people, like Arlete do Carmo — a Massachusetts parent in the documentary — will be forced into making difficult sacrifices.

Do Carmo explained why she works extra hours cleaning houses to keep her daughter in private school: "I don't have the money, but she has big dreams."


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Michigan’s Most Popular Uber Destination is in the City That Once Banned It

Ann Arbor overregulated ridesharing until state lawmakers freed it

The most popular Uber destination in Michigan in 2017 was the student bar Scorekeepers in Ann Arbor. The app makes it very easy for students to order a car when traveling over a mile from Michigan Stadium on game day.

But if it were up to the city council in Ann Arbor, the service would be banned or regulated to the point of ineffectiveness. The evidence suggests this would mean more students involved in alcohol-related car crashes.

The research is still developing, but the bulk of studies find that ridesharing services significantly reduce drunk driving. Uber data shows that the app is used most at peak drunk driving times, while a report of New York City shows that ridesharing led to a 25 to 35 percent reduction in alcohol-related accidents.

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It didn’t matter to the Ann Arbor taxicab board. As two news reports from the Ann Arbor Chronicle in 2014 note, the city sent cease-and-desist letters to Uber and criticized students for being ignorant and using the app. The board wanted to micromanage how the company set fares, urge students to take taxis, and push law enforcement to crack down on Uber and Lyft.

It didn’t work. The ridesharing companies continued to operate and eventually, in 2016, the Michigan Legislature passed laws that prevented local governments from banning or overregulating transportation companies. This included ridesharing businesses as well as taxis and limos.


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Governor Granholm Called to Underfund Pensions 6 Years Before Company Bankruptcy

There is no natural constituency for properly funding pensions

Jennifer Granholm - photo from http://jennifergranholm.com/

There is a lot of pressure to underfund pensions, and the promises that guarantee them, whether moral or constitutional, are only as strong as the money that is set aside to pay for them.

In researching the history of some state business subsidies, I came across some talking points from a 2003 speech by former Gov. Jennifer Granholm at a Delphi plant (now Nexteer) in Saginaw. She made this point:

Because many of our manufacturers provide their employees with defined benefit pension plans, they are required to set aside unrealistically high reserves to meet future obligations. This siphons off company reserves that could better be used to invest in new technologies, new plants, and advanced training for workers.

Within six years, the company would be in bankruptcy, the employee pension plan was terminated and taken over by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. That government agency, for its part, also has an underfunding problem. And because not enough money was set aside for Delphi retirees, pensioners took major cuts to their benefits.

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The governor’s comments— to those who understood their context — criticized federal rules governing pensions and called for weakening their funding requirements. But they did not change federal policy. Perhaps she made them at the request of company executives, and maybe union leadership even acquiesced on the policy. Yet the plight of Delphi retirees indicates that there are few people that mean to keep pensions properly funded.


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How to Help Those with a Criminal Record Find Work

Eliminate unnecessary crimes, right-size punishments and repeal licensing laws

In Michigan alone, about 4 million people have some type of criminal record and 50,000 more people are convicted of a felony every year. Another 10,000 are released from prison each year back into our communities.

A state’s criminal justice system is driven in large part by the laws on its books and how it polices its citizens to enforce those laws. But it’s also important to consider how state policies affect how those people are treated after they pay the penalty for their crimes. Mike Jandernoa is the CEO of Perrigo, a pharmaceutical company in West Michigan. In a recent essay for Fox News, he made a strong case for “Why hiring people with criminal records benefits us all.”

First, opening up opportunities to this population will make our country safer. Right now, almost 60 percent of individuals remain unemployed a year after being released from incarceration. It’s in our collective self-interest for them to get jobs, because steady employment is one of the best ways to ensure that individuals lead productive, crime-free lives. In one study of 6,000 returning citizens, employment cut the rate of those who committed a new crime in half.

Second, employers all across the country are suffering from a dearth of skilled labor. Every year, one major national bank surveys small businesses across this country. This year the survey found incredible optimism: 80 percent of employers said their business is stronger than ever; 40 percent said they plan to make a capital expenditure to grow their companies; and a quarter of those surveyed said they plan to hire more workers.

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While Jandernoa mostly speaks from his experience as a businessman and discusses private sector solutions, the government also has a role.

Reforms to seal or erase records of criminal convictions are also a priority for job creators. These policies seal minor criminal records after a certain crime-free period. Research shows that low-level offenders who have remained crime-free for three to five years are no more likely to commit a crime than anyone else. …

Occupational licensing reform is another issue important to the business community. Today one in four occupations requires a government license – but a criminal history often bars an individual from the licensing process. Ironically, such restrictions make us less safe. One study showed that states with more burdensome licensing laws saw an average 9 percent increase in recidivism, while those with the lowest burdens had a recidivism reduction of 2.5 percent.

It’s great news that private sector employers are leading the way in giving people a second chance. Michigan’s government should do so as well. This means allowing hospitals to hire people even if they have a criminal record and enabling contractors to work in their field.

There are three clear ways that good criminal justice policy can result in targeted workforce development wins. By eliminating unnecessary crimes, re-evaluating arbitrary punishments and repealing laws that prevent ex-convicts from finding work, we can ensure that our government is not unfairly punishing employers and job-seeking former offenders. Other states have done this, making government more efficient and the economy more robust — with no cost to public safety. It’s a new year and time for the Legislature to get to work on these issues so that more Michiganders can go to work, too.


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2017 Was Good For Michigan

State economy continues to expand

Michigan businesses and residents continue to produce more and employ more people, and the economic well-being of residents increased in 2017.

The available economic data that has been released so far is optimistic, though much of the information about the state’s 2017 performance won’t be released until later in the year.

The first three quarters of 2017 saw per capita personal incomes increased by 2.4 percent over the previous year. That is higher than the 2.1 percent national average and 12th-highest among the states. And it is a good indicator that Michigan residents are more prosperous.

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The latest report on housing prices says Michigan’s year-to-date home prices increased 12th-most among the states over the year and the most in the region.

Employment continued to increase. The survey of employers pegged average year-over-year growth at 67,100 jobs for the first 11 months of 2017, a 1.6 percent gain. The survey of households pointed a little higher, at 72,300 jobs, but still a 1.6 percent gain.

Michigan’s population increased from mid-year 2016 to 2017, according to estimates. Migration turned positive, with gains in the number of people coming into Michigan from other countries and a smaller loss of people to other states. That lags national growth, but it is an improvement from being the only state to lose population from 2000 to 2010.

That’s important. The value of all of the things produced and services provided in Michigan, adjusted for inflation, has fully recovered from Michigan’s one-state recession. The measure, real gross domestic product, came in at an annualized total of $446 billion in the second quarter of 2017, the most recent figure available. That is above the $431 billion for all of 2005.

And after Michigan suffered by being the state with the most people leaving, there is a roughly even flow of people moving in and moving out, according to data from United Van Lines. Better yet, Michigan was best in the region. The report also noted that the state lost people due to retirement but had more people moving in for work-related reasons than leaving for work-related reasons.

There are some policies that can enhance the state’s economic growth. Lawmakers can afford to reduce the state personal income tax and let residents keep more of their earnings. And the state can improve the state’s occupational licensing regime. But the state’s growth has been strong and in some measures the state has fully recovered from a decade of awful performance.


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Michigan’s Prevailing Wage Law Drives Up Costs

Government should do fair bidding for projects

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in The Detroit News on Nov. 9, 2017.

I recently installed a new roof on my house. Before doing so, I did what any responsible homeowner does — I got bids from different companies and made a decision by balancing quality and costs and using market competition to my advantage.

Now, luckily for me, I learned how to roof from my father, so the best option for me turned out to be doing it myself. Labor costs were minimal, except for some pizza and beer for the friends who helped.

These calculations are what most people make when considering construction projects on their own homes and businesses. But imagine if I had determined from the start that no matter who did the project, I was going to spend a minimum of $12,000 for a new roof because that’s the average price in some areas.

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You’d probably find that to be a bit silly and a real waste of my money. Why would I pay more than I need to for a service just because it’s the going rate that other people pay? But that is exactly what Michigan’s prevailing wage law does. The decades-old law mandates that all government entities pay union prices for construction projects. Michigan’s law is the most stringent in the nation, setting arbitrary — and often absurd — prices for schools, roads, parks, libraries, and other public construction projects. This drives up costs by hundreds of millions of dollars every year, paid for by taxpayers.

In short, these laws mandate specific wages for those working on government projects. It wipes out local control and competitive bidding. Even if local school boards or city councils can find a higher quality at a lower price or more bang for the buck, they aren’t allowed to pay less.

Steve Zurcher is a glazier in the Upper Peninsula who installs windows for commercial firms as well as public schools and universities. When he works on a government project, his bid must include the union-mandated wage of more than $43 per hour. That’s more than twice the cost a glazier typically charges in rural, low-cost Dickinson County. In other words, labor costs for a project can be 100 percent higher if it’s paid for by taxpayers.

The prevailing wage law often benefits larger construction companies at the expense of the little guy because they are better positioned to swallow the mandated higher cost. This can put Michigan’s small businesses at a disadvantage when competing with out-of-state firms near our borders with Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio.

“Wisconsin glazing contractors see prevailing wage as an essential benefit and affords them the means to be able to bid on projects in the U.P.,” said Zurcher, who competes with Badger State firms. “It forces me to elevate my labor costs to their level, which removes a major and key competitive edge we would normally have. Any supposed benefit the community and my employees might gain from the increased hourly pay is just as easily lost to competition from businesses outside our community.”

Gov. Rick Snyder is opposed to changing the law and has reportedly pledged to veto any bill that undoes prevailing wage. But there is a solution — a citizens’ initiative. Taxpayers around the state are sick of paying higher costs for the same service and are signing a petition that would allow legislators to vote to eliminate the law without the governor’s signature.

If the initiative is signed into law, Michigan would finally eliminate an outdated and arbitrary relic. This would mean more money for transportation, schools and other core government services.


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Detroit Ignores State Law, Turns Down Money to Avoid Selling Abandoned School

Detroit Public Schools Community District enforces deed restriction against charter

Photo courtesy of WDIV Detroit
Photo courtesy of WDIV Detroit

The conventional school district in Detroit is, by most measures, the worst performing district in the United States. Students have been fleeing for years, leaving for schools in other districts or charter schools in the city. To prevent that, the district is doing everything it can to stop parents from making this choice.

For years, the Michigan Legislature has tried to prevent conventional school districts from discriminating against other public schools by refusing to sell them older buildings. Twice, lawmakers have passed bills making these types of deed restrictions illegal.

But officials of the Detroit Public Schools Community District apparently don’t care. The district has dozens of abandoned buildings, but doesn’t want to give city students the opportunity to go somewhere else.

An abandoned elementary school, formerly owned by the district, has been up for sale since 2009. But the district refuses to allow the current owner to sell it to Detroit Prep Charter Academy, a highly rated school. Detroit Prep has been operating in the area, with support from the community, and it would like to expand and rehabilitate the building. (Here is a nice video report about the situation from Click on Detroit).

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“I can just envision our kids here,” said Kyle Smitley, the executive director of the academy. “I can envision how bright and joyful it's going to be. ... We think that with some TLC it can be a perfect, joyful place for our students. We love the neighborhood.”

So what’s the problem? A recent Wall Street Journal editorial explains:

The property includes “deed restrictions,” and one is that the buyer must pay a percentage fee to the school district. Detroit Prep has offered to pay the surcharge and more. The school district stands to reap $150,000 from the sale of a property it doesn’t even own. That’s on top of the $750,000 the school is paying for the building, “which is already 20 percent more than the developer’s purchase price,” as Ben DeGrow of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy has noted.

One more wrinkle. The deed stipulates that the Detroit school district must waive use of a property that isn’t residential, but Superintendent Nikolai Vitti has refused. This is a blatant violation of the law.

Questioned directly by lawmakers at a recent special hearing, Vitti said, "We, as a school district, find the act problematic, that it usurps the right of elected school boards to determine the future of their own assets.”

Detroit Prep is offering $750,000 for the building and another $150,000 to the conventional school district. But the recently bankrupt district would rather turn down the money and prevent better educational opportunities for children than make proceeds from a sale.

The district and the charter school are in a legal battle. Lawmakers, unsurprisingly, aren’t happy and are pursuing Senate Bill 702, to further strengthen the law and provide penalties for districts breaking it. So far the bill only has Republican support – but good for the legislators standing up for students.


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You Can Legally Warm Your Car Now

The Legislature should repeal more nonsensical administrative rules in 2018

Michiganders who usually idle their cars to warm them up before driving in the winter will be pleased to know they will no longer be breaking the law by doing so.

Last winter, we reported on the case of Nick Trupiano, who was ticketed $128 for leaving his car idling unattended in his driveway, in violation of the state vehicle code. A judge upheld the ticket and agreed with the ticketing officer that the rule was justified by the public safety threat of leaving running vehicles unattended.

But in June, the Legislature easily passed a measure repealing the rule. It amended the Michigan Vehicle Code to allow drivers with remote starters to leave their car running without a key in the ignition on public streets. It also rescinded the administrative rule that prohibited drivers from leaving unattended vehicles running in private driveways.

Cities and townships may pass similar ordinances that would apply to their jurisdiction, but it seems unlikely that many will. Local government officials, unlike administrative bureaucrats, are elected and accountable to their constituents. They’re less likely to pass ordinances that would criminalize something many people do on a regular basis.

When governments establish laws that create crimes or civil violations, it is important that they do so in a transparent legislative process. Legislators did not say Michiganders could not idle their own cars in their own driveways; bureaucrats did. The prohibition was part of an ever-changing body of administrative code that binds Michiganders, even though it was not created by their representatives.

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This is not a small problem – literally or metaphorically. Lawmakers have set forth over 3,100 crimes in statute, but the administrative rules and regulations that also govern our behavior number in the thousands. This means Michiganders could be in for a surprise like Trupiano’s – facing responsibility for violating a rule they did not know existed.

In the new year, lawmakers and government officials should resolve to seriously review the laws and rules that their constituents are expected to know and to follow — and remove ones that don’t directly help protect public safety.


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Facts About Michigan’s Infrastructure You Never Hear

Overall, it is serving us pretty well

In the debate about the condition of Michigan and America’s infrastructure, the doomsayers seem to have the loudest voices. Yes, more investment is needed, and there are some high profile disasters, but the news isn’t all bad — far from it.

Many who claim the sky is falling do so because they have a financial interest in more funding for infrastructure. Taxpayers will never spend enough to satisfy these folks. It’s easier to identify problems than to recognize successes. Exactly zero headlines read: “Water treatment plant working just as it should.”

High profile failures — the Flint water crisis, Macomb sinkhole and others — lead many to believe that these problems are the norm when in reality they are rare. Not infrequently, speculation is substituted for evidence-based conclusions, as in a Wall Street Journal article entitled, “Recent Hurricanes Strain U.S. Towns’ Aging Sewer Systems,” in which the article states: “Hurricanes Harvey and Irma … exposed the failings of aging sewer systems that were unable to cope with the heavy rainfall and flooding.” In fact, these sewers weren’t designed to handle such an apocalyptic storm.

The vast majority of our infrastructure, thousands and thousands of miles of roads, watermains, sewers, powerlines, wireless communications, and more is performing as intended — out of sight and out of mind. On balance, the water we drink and the treated sewage and stormwater we discharge to rivers and streams are cleaner than ever. Water quality data and robust habitats support this. Stormwater ponds and wetlands on many newer developments and business sites reduce storm flows to sewers, so they don’t have to be replaced with larger sewers, and these ponds and wetlands also purify the stormwater and enhance habitats.

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Trenchless Technologies give us the ability to fix underground pipes without digging them up. Minimally invasive infrastructure testing tells us the condition of roads, sewers, etc., with less user inconvenience. Asset management programs, smart systems, computer programs that analyze information such as age, maintenance history, materials, soils and more help communities and companies focus on the highest priorities and most vulnerable infrastructure before it breaks down.

This means our resources can be better targeted and disasters can sometimes be prevented. Better, stronger, more durable materials of construction are being developed for our infrastructure, giving us more options and reducing cost. Increasingly, intelligent transportation systems that monitor traffic maximize roadway capacities by providing drivers real-time information so they can make choices about which routes to take and autonomous vehicles and mobility systems will make transportation even more efficient and safer.

Does this mean we should be complacent? Hardly. There are infrastructure funding shortfalls in some communities, there isn’t enough “what could go wrong?” questioning, strict low-price bidding can leave us with inferior infrastructure, and we have a still-too-common “let it break then fix it” mindset. There’s plenty to do, but the debate should be grounded in evidence, not in hyperbole, scaremongering, or even the claimed “consensus.” Let’s keep things transparent, focus on what really needs to be fixed, and spend money wisely. In the meantime, our infrastructure is serving us pretty well.


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