Category Archives: Legislative Update

House Holds Off on ‘Gag Order’ Fix

Last week, the Michigan House of Representatives scheduled HB 5219 for a floor vote but pulled the bill before the vote could take place. The bill is designed to clarify what local municipalities can say on ballot proposals using taxpayer dollars. HB 5219 currently states that local entities can provide factual and strictly neutral mass communications on the direct impact of local proposals unless it can be reasonably interpreted as attempting to influence an election. Local groups and some lawmakers have said the language is too ambiguous and could lead to expensive lawsuits for local governments.

The bill comes after Public Act 269 was signed by the governor earlier this year. The law prohibits local governments from issuing information to voters by a variety of means, including television and radio, 60 days before an election.

FCC Letter On Way To Auction Participants

According to CommLawBlog, the FCC’s Incentive Auction Task Force has sent ‘First Confidential Status Letters’ (First CSL) to would-be reverse auction applicants advising them of potentially fatal incompleteness flaws in their application.  According to the Task Force’s public notice, the First CSL includes “information on the status of [the addressee’s] application, as well as the status of each station that it selected.” These assessments are based on the FCC staff’s initial review of all applications filed last month.

The letter confirms that an application is complete, including all information about each station that an applicant has put into the auction. However, it may indicate that either the application, or the showing relative to one or more specific stations, is lacking. Deadline for corrections is February 26 at 6 p.m. (EST) to fix whatever problems there might be with the application.

Another Spectrum Reform Bill in the Works

Senator John Thune (R-SD), Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, released a statement that he and ranking committee member Bill Nelson (D-FL) are planning to introduce a spectrum reform bill later this week, titled ‘The Mobile Now Act,’ with the goal of improving wireless access. However, Thune’s House counterpart, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (R-MI), stated that his committee will monitor the upcoming spectrum auction before taking action on any spectrum reform legislation.  MAB is tracking.

FCC: Form 398 Children’s TV Reports Must Be Filed in New LMS System

According to the Broadcast Law Blog, the FCC announced that all Form 398 Quarterly Children’s Television reports must be filed in the new Licensing and Management System (LMS) starting March 31. The FCC is migrating all TV broadcast filings to this new system, and the next Form 398, due by April 10, must be filed in this system.  While LMS has been available for stations to use for these reports since last June, beginning with the reports due in April, no more reports can be filed in the FCC’s old KidVid Filing System. Children’s Television reports need to be maintained in the public file for the entire license term and only removed from the file after the next license renewal is granted.

Snyder’s Budget Focuses on Flint, DPS

Last week Governor Snyder proposed the $54.9 billion 2016-2017 budget titled, “We Are One Michigan.” Snyder identified fixing the Flint water crisis and Detroit Public Schools (DPS) as the top priorities for the spending plan. The $54.9 billion budget includes $10.2 billion in General Funds and $12.5 billion in School Aid Funds.  The largest single share of the budget, almost 45 percent, is centered on health and human services, with another 30 percent focused on all forms of education.

In terms of helping Flint, the budget calls for $195 million to be spent across several agencies. Snyder told lawmakers that the state will operate on the assumption that all Flint children have been exposed to high lead levels, which will mean ongoing observation over the years. In helping Detroit schools, Snyder’s budget reiterates his earlier plan to assist the district in paying off its debt, to create a new district to operate the schools, and to have a commission appoint a manager for public schools within the city.

Other budget proposals include $533.3 million in dedicated funds for transportation revenue. For K-12 schools, a $150 million increase will boost what districts receive per pupil, with the lowest-funded districts receiving $120 more per pupil, bringing them to $7,511; and the highest-funded districts receiving $60 more, bringing them to $8,229.  

Court Issues Injunction Against “Gag Order” Law

State officials have been ordered to not enforce PA 269 (SB 571) in an injunction issued by U. S. District Judge John Corbett O’Meara. PA 269 has been labeled as a ‘gag order’ on local governments with ballot issues before the voters.

The injunction comes a month before the March 8 primary election in which more than 100 local governments have a variety of issues before the voters. The law prohibits local governments from issuing information to voters by a variety of means, including television and radio, 60 days before an election. The injunction, issued from the U.S. District Court in Ann Arbor, states that the controversial legislation creates confusion in terms of communicating with voters and that “public officials deserve clarity on this issue so that they may serve the public in the normal course without fear of arbitrary sanction or prosecution.”

Fire Chiefs Support Linking WEA to FM Smartphones

According to the report in Radio Business Report (RBR), The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) is urging the FCC to explore activated FM chips in cellphones because of radio’s importance during a crisis. The FCC wants to raise the 90-character limit of current Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) messages to 360 characters. The smartphone alerts began in 2012 with the goal of directing consumers to their local radio and television stations for more information.

IAFC President Rhoda Mae Kerr stated that the group supports that expansion, calling the current limit “wholly inefficient.” The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) told the fire chiefs’ lobby that the industry would like to add automatic URL links to WEA messages so users could access over-the-air messages on their smartphones via an FM chip in the device. According to the NAB, FM radio-linked WEA messages would also allow consumers to avoid exhausting their data plans and battery life during emergencies. IAFC also urged the FCC to work with wireless service providers to develop standard approaches for accessing FM tuners in smartphones for WEA messages.

FCC Adopts Online Public File for Radio

At its open meeting on January 28, the FCC adopted rules requiring radio to have an online public file.  The new rule will:

  • Require entities to upload to the online file only public file documents that are not already on file with the FCC or maintained by the Commission in its own database. The Commission will include in the online file documents already on file with the FCC;
  • Exempt existing political file material from the online file requirement and require that political file documents be uploaded only on a going-forward basis, consistent with the approach taken in the TV transition;
  • With respect to radio broadcasters, impose the online file requirement initially only on commercial stations in the top 50 Nielsen Audio markets with five (5) or more full-time employees, while delaying for two (2) years all mandatory online public file requirements for other radio stations;
  • Permit entities that are temporarily exempt from part or all online public file requirements to upload material to the online file voluntarily before the delayed effective date of their online file requirement;
  • Permit entities that have fully transitioned to the online public file to cease maintaining a local public file, as long as they provide online access to back-up political file material via the entity’s own website if the FCC’s online file database becomes temporarily unavailable.

Senate Panel Reinstates Some Tax Credits

The Michigan Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved a four-bill package to reinstate some of the tax credits that were eliminated in 2011 when Governor Snyder’s (R) tax reform was enacted. The bills would:

  • Allow a taxpayer to claim an income tax credit of up to 50 percent of charitable contributions he or she made to public art or an art institution; a public library; a public broadcast station; a college, university, or institution of higher education located in Michigan; and the State Museum (SB 461);
  • Allow an income tax credit for donations of cash and food to a homeless shelter, food bank, or food kitchen and for contributions to a community foundation meeting certain criteria  (SB 462);
  • Allow a tax credit equal to the taxpayer’s qualified adoption expenses in excess of the amount of credit for qualified adoption expenses the taxpayer claimed under state law, or $1,200 per child, whichever was less (SB 463); and
  • Allow a credit in the amount equal to 50 percent of the fair market value of an automobile donated by the taxpayer to a qualified organization that intended to provide it to a qualified recipient (SB 464).

Bill Restricts Advertising for Healthy Michigan Fund

MAB opposed Senate Bill 542, introduced by State Senator Tonya Schuitmaker (R-26), which prohibits the use of state funds to advertise or encourage enrollment in the Healthy Michigan Fund, a Medicaid extension program authorized through the Affordable Care Act. MAB opposes any legislation that restricts advertising and the free flow of information from government to the citizens.

MAB met with Senator Schuitmaker (R-26) to explain our opposition to the legislation prior to the committee hearing. The bill has been referred to the Senate Health Policy committee, chaired by State Senator Mike Shirkey (R-16), and passed the committee on a party-line vote. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) testified against SB 542, stating that many citizens who signed up for the Healthy Michigan Fund are new to the benefits and have never been on government assistance programs before. MDHHS also testified to the success of their agency’s public education campaign in collaboration with the Michigan Association of Broadcasters.

Status: The bill has been referred to the Senate Health Policy Committee.