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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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).
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.
Last week, MAB Government Relations Manager Elena Palombo testified in the Senate Transportation Committee in opposition to Senate Bill 432 – legislation that prohibits drones from operating within 1,000 feet of Mackinac Bridge. The MAB asked the committee to consider amendatory language to the bill, which will allow FCC-licensed TV and radio stations, and their sub-contractors, to use drones for news-gathering purposes to the extent allowed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The MAB also requested that SB 432 sponsor and committee chair, Senator Tom Casperson (R-38), include the association and individual media outlets in the Drone Task Force, set up by Senator Casperson. MAB will keep you updated on this legislation as issues develop.
MAB is working on a separate, stand-alone bill that would potentially exempt all commercial drone operators from legislation restricting the use of drones.
Several bills introduced last week 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. The goals of the bill are to add more transparency to the Legislature and the Governor’s office. House Bill 5216, introduced by State Representative John Bizon (R-62), would expand FOIA to State Legislature. The bill has been referred to the Michigan House Government Operations committee. Senate Bill 716, introduced by State Senator Coleman Young II (D-1), expands FOIA to the State Legislature and the Governor’s office. SB 716 was referred to the Michigan Senate Committee on Government Operations. Michigan is one of three states that exempts their governor and legislature from the state freedom of information law. MAB is tracking.
State Senator Dale Zorn (R-17) submitted legislation to repeal a recently enacted prohibition on schools and local governments from providing factual information on ballot questions during the 60 days prior to the vote. Dubbed “a gag order” by schools, local governments, and media groups who lobbied Governor Snyder to veto a bill primarily dealing with campaign finance changes (SB 571, now PA 269), Zorn issued a statement saying that his bill would repeal the section of the law that has been so controversial.
When Snyder signed the bill, he called on the Legislature to swiftly pass a trailer bill, making clear the law does not infringe upon the expression of personal views by a public official or the use of resources or facilities in the ordinary course of business. MAB is tracking.