Category Archives: Legislative Update

Committee Considers Public Threat Alert Legislation

capitol3Last week, the Michigan House Committee on Communications and Technology, heard testimony on House Bill 5442 – the Public Threat Alert. The bill requires that Michigan State Police (MSP) establish and maintain a public threat alert plan to rapidly disseminate useful information to radio, television, and through wireless emergency alerts (WEA). The bill states that the public threat alert plan shall be activated only in accordance with the policies created by the MSP. HB 5442 contains no mandates for broadcasters, and voting on the bill is is expected next week.

Snyder Announces Staff Changes

Rick-Snyder_300Governor Rick Snyder (R) recently announced several changes in his Executive Office. This includes:

Mike Zimmer, now the director of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, into the post of cabinet director; and Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) Chief Deputy Director Shelly
Edgerton to LARA director.

Elizabeth Clement, currently Snyder’s deputy chief of staff and cabinet secretary, will become chief legal counsel, succeeding Jim Redford, who will serve as the interim director of the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency. Beth Emmitt, who has been Snyder’s director of scheduling since he took office, was promoted to deputy chief of staff.

“Improving the culture of state government to ensure we are continuing to put people first is as important in my office as it is across all departments,” Snyder said in a statement. “The people I’m appointing to these new roles understand that our state faces many challenges right now but that in Michigan we don’t shy away from problems – we tackle them head on to make things better for everyone.”

President Signs IPAWS Legislation

Last week President Obama signed the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) Modernization Act of 2015 into law. The new law integrates multiple communication systems like EAS and wireless alerts, promotes local and regional public and private partnerships, and provides redundant alert mechanisms to reach the largest number of people during an emergency.

The law does the following:

• Instructs FEMA to establish or adopt protocols and standards for IPAWS.
• Establishes a training program for Federal, State and local officials in the use of the CAP-enabled EAS system.
• Conducts a national test not less than once every three years.
• Conducts public education to inform citizens of the functions of the alerting system.
• Establishes an IPAWS subcommittee under the National Advisory Council.

FCC Media Bureau Chief Bill Lake Updates AM Revitalization Progress

According to a posted dated March 30 on FCC Media Bureau Chief Bill Lake’s blog, AM Revitalization proceeding has resulted in over 600 applications to move translators for AM rebroadcasts to date. The blog further states that 80% of the applications have already been granted by the Audio Division. The process will continue through the end of this window in July, as well as the three-month window to follow, which will be open to all AM broadcasters.

Lake adds that there has been a 25% increase in the number of AM stations using energy-saving MDCL technologies since the procedures for doing so were streamlined to require only notification rather than obtaining Commission permission. “This is just one example of the ways in which we at the Commission hope to reduce the burdens on AM broadcasters who want to move their service into the 21st Century, and to remain a vibrant and essential part of America’s communication infrastructure,” Lake wrote.

FCC Wants to Expand Video Description

According to a legal advisory released by Davis, Wright, Tremaine, LLP., the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) looking to amend its video description rules to increase the amount of required video described programming as well as the number of programmers who must offer video description. Presently, ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC-affiliated TV stations in the top 60 broadcast markets, and the top 5 non-broadcast networks – i.e., cable and satellite channels – must provide 50 hours per calendar quarter of prime-time or children’s programming with video description, with the top 5 networks being reassessed every three years. The key points of the NPRM are as follows:

  • The NPRM proposes that the number of hours of video-described programming required for each covered broadcast station or non-broadcast network increases from 50 hours per quarter to 87.5 hours per quarter, a 75% jump, which is the maximum the FCC is statutorily authorized to require by the enabling statute.
  • The NPRM proposes to increase the number of broadcast networks whose affiliates must provide video description from the “big four” of ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, to add the fifth most-popular commercial broadcast network (currently CW, although that could change), and to increase the number cable/satellite networks from the top 5 – currently the Disney Channel, History, TBS, TNT and USA – to the top 10 “most popular” non-broadcast networks.
  • The NPRM proposes a “no backsliding” rule, such that, if a network in the top 5 broadcast or top 10 cable/satellite categories falls out of the top 5 or top 10, respectively, it would, nonetheless, remain subject to the obligation to provide video descriptions.
  • The NPRM proposes to remove the threshold requirement that non-broadcast networks reach 50 percent of pay-tv households to be subject to video description, since those numbers are declining.
  • The NPRM proposes to require distributors to provide publicly available contact information for a person who can address video description issues and concerns within one business day.
  • The NPRM proposes that any request for exemption from the video description rules, as well as all related filings, be filed electronically with the FCC.
  • The NPRM seeks comment on the timelines over which the above proposed changes should roll out, if adopted, with a tentative conclusion that expansion in the number of networks and of hours of video-described programming should commence on July 18, 2018, the effective date of the next triennial recalculation of top networks. The NPRM suggests that its proposed rule to make company contact information public could be accomplished more quickly.

The NPRM sets an opening comment deadline of 30 days after the NPRM appears in the Federal Register, and a reply comment deadline of 30 days after that.

MDHHS Faces Major Restructuring

capitol3The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is making a major realignment in its divisions dealing with public health. The department will create a new bureau of epidemiology and population health as it comes under severe criticism for how it handled a deadly outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease in Genesee County. Advocates for public health called the move a positive step for helping to improve communication and giving public health a stronger voice. The changes will take effect April 18. The new bureau will also contain the divisions of Family and Community Health, Communicable Diseases, Lifecourse Epidemiology and Genomics, Environmental Health and Zoonotic Disease and Special Projects.

FOIA Legislative Package – House Bills 5469-5478

capitol3A 10-bill legislative package was introduced in the State Legislature that would open up legislative communications to the public. Eight of the bills (HBs 5469 – 5476) create the Legislative Open Records Act (LORA), which mirrors the FOIA, but is applicable only to the State Legislature. The final two bills (HBs 5477 – 5478) expand FOIA to the Governor’s office. The entire proposal would go into effect on January 1, 2017 and would not be retroactive.

Under LORA, constituent communications are exempt from requests, meaning that if a local superintendent, or other official who is not a registered lobbyist, communicated with a lawmaker, that communication would not be subject to a public request. Other exemptions include:

  • Personnel records that are personal in nature, such as human resources files;
  • Records relating to an ongoing internal or legislative investigation or litigation;
  • Advisory communications within the public body or between public bodies;
  • Trade, commercial, or financial records provided confidentially to assist in public policy;
  • Communications regarding bill drafting, sergeant-at-arms security issues, and auditor general records; and
  • Records exclusively maintained by legislative caucuses.

Status: The bills have been referred to the House Oversight and Ethics committee. A hearing is expected to take place at the end of April.

House Bill Requires User-Friendly Websites for State Agencies

Last week, the House Oversight Committee voted in support of House Bill 4814 – legislation that would make it easier to understand and contact state government agencies. Called the Open Electronic Access to Government Act, and sponsored by State Representative Jim Runestad (R-44), the bill would require all state departments to work with the Department of Technology, Management and Budget (DTMB) to standardize the presentation of the state department’s websites, maintain updated information, and make available contact information for each department and major office.

The bill …slated that the website updates will not take effect until January 1, 2018. DTMB requested the two-year delay in order for the website overhaul to coincide with DTMB’s efforts to comply with the Federal Americans With Disabilities Act requirements for screen reader-accessible websites.

Incentive Auction Begins

March 29 marked the official start of the incentive auction. However, the official start was a bit anti-climactic since no actual bidding begins until May.

Broadcasters had until 6 p.m. on March 29 to tell the FCC whether they’re willing to go off-the-air entirely, channel share, or move to a different frequency. The FCC cannot release information on how many broadcasters will be participating in the auction, but will use their commitments to create a spectrum clearing target, or the amount of frequencies the agency aims to auction off. That target, expected to be released in several weeks, will provide some insight into the level of interest among TV stations.

NAB Urges TV Band Repack by Region

According to a report in TVNewsCheck, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) says that the most logical way to conduct the post-auction repacking of the TV band is on a regional basis with the most populated regions going first. The NAB believes such approach would minimize disruption of service to broadcasters and viewers and get the spectrum in the hands of the wireless buyers “as quickly as possible.”