Category Archives: Legislative Update

Schuette: Local Audit Not Subject to OMA

capitol3According to the Attorney General Bill Schuette’s opinion 7288, issued March 4, audits done of local governments to check for minimum assessing requirements are not subject to the state’s Open Meetings Act (OMA). The audits are held under the supervision of the State Tax Commission, and state law requires that all local assessing officials comply with and assist the commission in reviewing efforts to assess and levy property taxes.

The Attorney General, in his decision, stated that the auditor does not fall under the definition of a public body under the OMA, and the information gathered by the auditor does not constitute either a recommendation or a final decision on the local government’s assessing practices. In addition, the Court of Appeals has held that financial review teams, which the auditors could be considered, did not fall under the definition of a public body.

Dems Want FOIA Expansion by ‘Sunshine Week’

Michigan Democratic Party leaders called on the GOP to join them in supporting an expansion to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by the end of Sunshine Week. Sunshine Week promotes open government and freedom of information and lasts from March 13 to March 19.

As Governor Snyder released thousands of pages of emails from the Executive Office dealing with the Flint water crisis, Democrats are saying he should have been required to do so by law. House Minority Leader Tim Greimel (D-29) stated that because the governor is not required to release any of the emails, there is no way to know if he is actually releasing every email related to Flint water management.

Several bills were introduced in the State Legislature that would expand the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to include State Legislature and the Governor’s office – two entities currently exempt from FOIA. House Bill 5216, introduced by State Representative John Bizon (R-62), expands FOIA to the State Legislature.  Senate Bill 716, introduced by State Senator Coleman Young II (D-1), expands FOIA to the State Legislature and the Governor’s office.  Greimel noted that 48 other states subject their legislatures and executive offices to FOIA, and Michigan can do so without risking personal constituent information.

FCC Releases Spectrum Auction User Guide

The FCC posted to the Auction 1001 website the Reverse Auction Initial Commitment User Guide and Online Tutorial. These materials are intended for broadcasters that submitted an FCC Form 177 to participate in the Reverse Auction.

A few important dates include:

  • March 28, 2016 10am EST – March 29, 2016 6pm EST: The Initial Commitment Window – a total of 32 hours – during which broadcasters must file their Initial Commitments. The Initial Commitment may be changed until the close of the window, but if no commitment is made by the close of the window, the station will be excluded from the auction and repacked in its pre-auction band.
  • March 24, 2016 10am EST – March 28, 2016 9:59am EST: The Initial Commitment Preview Period – a four-day period during which all participating stations are encouraged to log into the system, set their PINs, and view the list of stations and Relinquishment Options available to them.

MAB on Capitol Hill

Call on Congress
L to R: Chris Warren, Midwestern Broadcasting Company; Congressman John Moolenaar (R-4th); Pete Iacobelli, Heritage Broadcasting; and Kevin Dunaway, Heritage Broadcasting.

MAB’s Executive Committee and some Board members traveled to Washington D.C. February 22-24 for the 2016 National Association of Broadcasters State Leadership Conference (NAB SLC).

Call on Congress
L to R: Ed Fernandez, E.W. Scripps Television and MAB Board Chairman; Congressman Bishop (R-8th), Peter Tanz, Midwest Communications.

The conference agenda included presentations by NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith on what Washington policies have in store for broadcasters and digital media companies in 2016, the importance of using social media as an advocacy tool, and policy updates presentation from the NAB government relations team.

L to R: Ed Fernandez, Rep. Dave Trott (R-11)
L to R: Ed Fernandez, Congressman Trott (R-11th)

The MAB Executive Committee met with members of Michigan’s Congressional delegation and their telecommunication staff to discuss the need to oversee the FCC as the agency implements incentive spectrum auction procedures set up by Congress. In addition, discussions took place about broadcasters’ opposition to the performance tax and advertising restrictions, preserving the integrity of the free market process in the retransmission negotiations, and reforming media ownership rules to reflect the competitive marketplace.

Google Won’t Participate in the Spectrum Auction

According to a report in FierceWireless, Google said it will not bid for 600 MHz spectrum licenses in the FCC’s upcoming spectrum incentive auction scheduled for March 2016. Google will join Sprint, Charter Communications and other tech heavyweights in sitting out the event.

“Like all those interested in improved connectivity and equitable access, we’ll be following the upcoming spectrum auction closely. That said, we have not filed to participate,” a Google representative told Reuters. Google also did not participate in the FCC’s AWS-3 auction a year ago that brought almost $45 billion in total winning bids.

Security Upgrades Coming for the Capitol Building

The Michigan State Capitol building could see more, and better, cameras and traffic barricades under plans discussed by the Capitol Commission last week. While metal detectors were not part of the discussion, the Commission also considered replacing the building’s back-up generator, including air monitoring, as part of an ongoing review of the physical plant. To support these and other projects, the commission is expected to back budget legislation currently being drafted to fund the improvements.

FCC Submits Fiscal 2017 Budget Request to Congress

The FCC has submitted its budget request for fiscal year 2017 to Congress, asking for $358,286,000 in budget authority from regulatory fee collections, a decrease of 6.7% from FY 2016. The request includes over $44 million earmarked for the Commission’s move or renovation of existing space. The new proposal asks for an installment of $17 million for the same purpose. That is the second portion of a total $44 million ‘ask’ made last year for the move. The FCC anticipates that the General Services Administration will award the contract for the move or space reconfiguration this spring. The agency tells Congress that the new contract will use space more efficiently, reduce the FCC’s footprint, and save up to $119 million over 15 years through reduced rental costs.

Michigan Interscholastic Press Association and Student Press Law Center Coalition Requests MAB Support

The Michigan Interscholastic Press Association and the Student Press Law Center are working together to build a coalition to push for legislation in Michigan to protect student journalists, including student broadcasters, from unwarranted censorship.

The legislation is modeled on legislation that unanimously passed North Dakota’s Republican-controlled legislation earlier this year. In short, the bill would roll back the decision in a 1988 Supreme Court case (Hazelwood) that allows school officials to censor student journalism as long as they can prove a valid educational purpose. It is a vague and troublesome standard that often leads to unwarranted censorship.

The legislation would not protect student expression that: a. Is libelous or slanderous; b. Constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy; c. Violates federal or state law; or d. So incites students as to create a clear and present danger of the commission of an unlawful act, the violation of institution or state board of higher education policies, or the material and substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the institution.

The coalition, led by MIPA, has requested MAB’s support in this effort, and the MAB Board voted unanimously to send a letter of support for this legislation. You can learn more about our group at www.newvoicesmi.com.

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.