Category Archives: Legislative Update

Former Michigan Speaker of the House Curtis Hertel Sr. Dies

CurtisHertelSR_300Former Michigan Democratic Speaker of the House Curtis Hertel Sr. passed away Sunday, March 27 at age 63.

Hertel Sr. was first elected to the Michigan House in 1980 and served his Detroit district until 1998.  In 1993 and 1994, he was co-speaker with Republican Paul Hillegonds and sole speaker in 1997 and 1998.

Hertel comes from a family of lawmakers.  Two brothers also served in the State House, Senate or U.S. House.  His son is current state Senator Curtis Hertel Jr. (D-23rd).

Funeral arrangements are pending.  Hertel is survived by his wife, Vicki, four children and five grandchildren.

Senators Criticize Wheeler Over Unwinding Joint Sales Agreements

According to a report by Broadcasting & Cable, senators from both parties sent a letter to the FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler expressing their concern with the FCC’s unwinding of grandfathered Joint Sales Agreements (JSAs) as part of license transfers.

The senators, including Democrats Chuck Schumer (NY) and Barbara Mikulski (MD) and Republican Cory Gardner (CO), said they want the FCC to reverse that policy and want an answer by April 1. According to a copy of a letter to Wheeler, dated March 11, and sent by a dozen senators, they want the FCC to “(1) eliminate any conditions imposed on previously approved license transfers that require the termination of JSAs in existence before March 31, 2014; and (2) respect the statutory grandfather of JSAs when evaluating any assignments and license transfers in the future.”

The FCC said that while the agency was grandfathering JSAs, they would not allow any grandfather status to continue in the event of license transfers.  The senators argue that requiring such JSAs to be unwound violates the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, the bill that included a 10-year extension of the FCC’s grandfathering of stations the FCC concluded, as of March 31, 2014, would otherwise be attributable as ownership interests. They said the FCC was undermining Congress’ clear intent in grandfathering the JSAs.

House Passes IPAWS Modernization Act

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a public warning improvement bill — the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System Modernization Act. The legislation, S. 1180, introduced by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Senator Claire McCaskill, (D-MO), 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 legislation also establishes a training program to instruct federal, state, tribal, and local government officials in system use. It includes the capability to alert those with disabilities and those who have limited English proficiency. NAB Executive Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton said NAB “applauds the House’s bipartisan passage of this legislation strengthening the public’s access to important emergency warnings and alerts. As ‘first informers,’ local radio and television stations understand the crucial need for up-to-the-second information when danger is near.” The bill now goes to the President for his signature.

Tuesday (3/29) is Decision Day for Broadcasters in Spectrum Auction

March 29 is “D-Day,” as in decision day for television broadcasters who have applied to participate in the FCC’s Spectrum Auction.  They must decide whether and how to give up their spectrum.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, has confirmed that the Commission is on track to start the auction on March 29 and should begin the reverse auction bidding in May as planned.  In an story published by Broadcasting and Cable, Wheeler said that “if he had to guess, the auction, both the forward and reverse portions, could be finished by August or September.”

The FCC’s list of applicants in the forward auction shows that its not just wireless companies and venture capitalists that are interested. Companies with cable and broadcast interests are also on the list of potential auction participants. Though a company has registered to participate in the forward auction does not necessarily mean that they will bid, according to a Broadcasting and Cable report.

Senate Committee Unanimously Passes Student Press Rights Bill

Rick Jones
Senator Rick Jones (R-24)

Legislation establishing “protection for freedom of expression for student journalists in public schools and institutions of higher education” unanimously passed the Senate Judiciary Committee with immediate effect. Committee chair and bill sponsor of Senate Bill 848 (The Student Free Press and Civics Readiness Act) Senator Rick Jones (R-24), called the bill a “victory for free speech.”

The bill establishes that student journalists in public schools and universities have a “right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press in school-sponsored media, regardless of whether the media are supported financially by the school or public institution of higher education.” It prohibits a school from exercising prior restraint against the publishing of an article unless the article was libelous or slanderous, an unwarranted invasion of privacy, a violation of state or federal law or an incitement to students that could cause them to commit an unlawful act, violate school policies, or substantially disrupt school operations.

SB 848 follows legislation enacted a year ago in North Dakota and which is now being considered in 28 states, including Michigan.

The MAB Board of Directors voted to support this legislation and promote its passage. The bill now moves to the full Senate chamber for a vote.

Legislation Creates Open Government Commission

capitol3State Representative Martin Howrylak (R-41) introduced HB 5488, legislation to establish an Open Government Commission within the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR).

Howrylak’s bill would establish the Commission to receive and investigate citizen complaints regarding responses to request for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The Commission may refer complaints to the Attorney General or recommend policies to a public body after a complaint is investigated. The Commission would be composed of nine members appointed by the Governor from recommendations by the Senate Majority Leader, Senate Minority Leader, Speaker of the House, House Minority Leader, Michigan Association of Broadcasters, and Michigan Press Association.

HB 5488 is now referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Ethics.

CBS, Disney, Fox, Univision File Comments with FCC to Support Foreign Ownership Rule Changes

According to a report in AllAccess, CBS Corporation, The Walt Disney Company, 21st Century Fox, Inc., and Univision Communications, Inc., have filed comments in a joint letter to the FCC supporting extension of foreign ownership rule relaxation.

In the letter, the parties stated that the proposal to extend the looser foreign ownership limits and review procedures applicable to common carrier and aeronautical licensees to broadcasters as well have been endorsed by the NAB, the MMTC, Fox, Comcast, Nexstar, Media General, and T-Mobile, the latter of which the parties say, “can be said to owe its very existence to the Commission’s previous liberalization of foreign investment in common carrier (and other non-broadcast) licensees.”

Read more here.

FCC Reverse Auction Webinar Available On-Demand

The Federal Communications Commission has released a new on-demand webinar regarding the current spectrum auction.  Owners, general managers and other interested parties may find this of interest as it offers a sneak preview of the software will that will be used to enter their bid preferences.

While stations have attorneys who would likely manage this for participating stations, the webinar may help owners and managers understand the process in order to better communicate with legal counsel in a more effective manner.

The webinar can be found here.

FOIA Requests on the Rise for State Agencies

capitol3According to a report in MIRS, state departments say they are facing an onslaught of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The main state agencies in the spotlight, the Michigan Departments of Environmental Quality (DEQ), as well as Health and Human Services (DHHS), have been slammed with a record number of FOIA requests this year due to the media attention and coverage of the Flint water crisis.

The DEQ reported receiving 6,895 FOIAs during Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. So far in FY 2016, now in its sixth month, the department is up to at least 3,562 requests. The agency is projecting a 20-percent increase from last year, according to a DEQ spokesperson. The DHHS has had to bring on three temporary employees to help address the volume of FOIA requests. There have been at least 163 health-related FOIAs received by the DHHS so far this calendar year, compared to 680 total in 2015.