MEA's "August Window" ruled illegal by commission
For years, the Michigan Education Association has held that members may only resign from the union in August, a policy commonly known as the August Window. The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation has fought against this policy, arguing that it violates the rights of union members.
Earlier this month, the Michigan Employment Relations Commission upheld the decision of a lower court ruling the August Window illegal. The MEA is expected to appeal this decision when the commission releases the full written explanation next week.
The Detroit Free Press wrote about the decision on Sept. 17:
The ruling could bring an end to a two-year fight by four Saginaw teachers — who had legal help from the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation — who wanted to leave the union. An administrative law judge made the initial ruling last year, but the MEA appealed. The Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) upheld that decision today.…
"The MEA should stop trying to ruin teachers' credit and should stop collections immediately on those who do not want to be part of the MEA," Patrick Wright, director of the Mackinac foundation, said in a news release. "These teachers simply want to decide for themselves which organizations they want to be a part of and which ones they want to support."
Several other media outlets have covered this victory for workers' rights, including The Detroit News, WILX, ABC 12, WDIO, the Mining Gazette and WOOD-TV. Wright also spoke with Frank Beckmann of WJR on Sept. 18; a recording of their discussion is available here.
The future of the UAW members under right-to-work
The UAW contract with Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler expired on Sept. 14, giving employees in Michigan their first opportunity to resign from the union since the passage of right-to-work in 2012.
Mackinac Center Director of Labor Policy F. Vincent Vernuccio and Terry Bowman, an employee of Ford and founder of Union Conservatives, authored an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal Sept. 16, examining reasons why workers might choose to leave the UAW and the future of the union in the coming years:
Other issues have nothing to do with wages or the collective-bargaining process. Instead, they are wounds the UAW inflicted on itself. Union officials, in a move that angered many workers, increased membership dues by 25% in 2014. Workers now pay dues worth 2½ hours of work every month, the first increase of its kind since 1967.…
However, it may not all be doom and gloom for the UAW. Now that it will have to compete for a worker’s loyalty and prove its value to potential members, the union could emerge better equipped to do what it was originally created for — represent the best interests of all workers.
The full op-ed can be read at the Wall Street Journal website.
Many laws now work against well-meaning citizens
Michigan statutes contain an estimated 3,102 crimes. That number far outstrips that of our neighboring states, as well as that recommended by the Model Penal Code, a seminal resource developed by the American Law Institute to help states codify American criminal law. The quantity and complexity of crimes on our books is so great that a reasonable citizen could not hope to understand most of them, let alone be accountable for knowing and complying with all of them. However, Michigan legislators are taking important steps towards ensuring that our criminal law functions in a sensible and predictable manner.
Centuries-old American legal traditions hold that a crime has not occurred unless there is proof of both a wrongful act (actus reus) and a culpable mental state (mens rea). However, 27 percent of Michigan felonies and 59 percent of state misdemeanors contain no mens rea provision. Hundreds of years ago, criminal statutes might have been silent on the subject of criminal intent because it was supposed that every person possessed an inherent understanding of right and wrong by virtue of their humanity. Today, a law with no intent requirement is called a “strict liability offense.” In a highly technical, rapidly evolving, and heavily industrialized society, strict liability offenses make it easy to circumscribe behavior and prosecute noncompliance with myriad rules, regulations and operational standards. This can be good for the public welfare, but it is problematic for the administration of justice in two ways. First, these crimes make it impossible for the average person to understand the law without the help of an expensive legal expert. Second, laws without intent requirements put offenders at the mercy of prosecutorial discretion, resulting in unpredictable judicial outcomes.
There are many instances in which these flaws in our law have worked against well-meaning Michiganders. In one case from 2003, a man named Kenneth Schumacher delivered scrap tires to what he believed to be a legal depository. Unbeknown to him, the facility lacked a license — which was no defense when he was subsequently prosecuted for the strict liability offense of the unlawful disposal of scrap tires. He was convicted, and when his appeal was finally decided four years later, the court upheld his conviction and a sentence of 270 days in jail and a $10,000 fine. This is an example of what can happen when our legislature criminalizes activities without specifying the culpable mental state.
HB 4731 and SB 20 would address these issues by enacting a default mens rea standard, a feature that 14 other states have already incorporated into their laws. While it would still be possible for legislators to write strict liability offenses, they would have to do so explicitly. The default would apply whenever intent requirements are absent, so that citizens would no longer have to assume that they will be held strictly liable for unknowingly breaking the law. This is an important step toward achieving a just, uniform and coherent body of criminal laws that identify crimes and impose criminal liability appropriately.
Discussing Scott Walker's labor reforms
The Washington Examiner recently published an article discussing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's labor credentials and plans for moving forward on labor policy as a presidential candidate. Gov. Walker has a history of sweeping reforms in his home state, which are now prompting discussion on a national level.
Mackinac Center Director of Labor Policy F. Vincent Vernuccio spoke with the Washington Examiner on the topic:
Reforms to labor laws that were thought to be political suicide just a few years ago are now seen as possible, partly because of Walker's own success. That has given the governor the incentive to be bold and do what he had been thinking of doing all along.
"Taking on labor reform, especially in the Midwest, was thought to be a third-rail issue — touch it and die. Walker proved that the unions' bark was worse than their bite," said Vincent Vernuccio, a lawyer with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a conservative nonprofit in Michigan that focuses on labor issues. "Walker is seeing what is politically feasible and is taking it to the next level."
The full article is available at the Washington Examiner's website.
Fact-checking right-to-work claims
Opponents of right-to-work policies often point to flawed research to make claims of decreased wages and employment in states with forced unionization.
In a Sept. 15 Editor's Note in The Detroit News, Ingrid Jacques pointed to a critique of some of those claims, backing up national findings with research from the Mackinac Center:
Michigan became a right-to-work state in 2012, and since then the state’s unemployment rate has dropped.
The Mackinac Center attributes that reduction to the fact companies are now considering the state for new sites, where they likely would have overlooked Michigan in the past. As the overall economy improves, so should wages.
The full Editor's Note is available at The Detroit News.
The U.S. ranks 16th in economic freedom
The “Economic Freedom of the World Index” published by the Fraser Institute of Canada measures the degree to which the world’s 157 nations and territories permit voluntary, peaceful economic exchanges between their own citizens and with people in other countries. The most recent index has just been released, and based on data from 2013, it ranks the United States 16th in economic freedom.
Given this country’s history and traditions, America should be far and away No. 1; that fact that it does not hold the top slot is yet more evidence of how governance has gone off track in this country in recent years.
The index is based on five major categories of data: the size of the government; the strength of the legal system, including property rights; the soundness of the local currency; the freedom to trade with other nations; and economic regulations. Within these categories are more than 40 variables, such as “government consumption as a share of total consumption” (in the “size of government” category) and “inflation: most current year” (in the “sound money” category). Each variable gets a score. All the scores within a category are converted into an average score for the category, and the categories are averaged together to give a country’s overall score. The highest possible score is 10.
The overall score for the U.S. is 7.73, down 0.9 points since 2000. This decline may seem small, but the index’s authors observe that it is three times the average decline among the top-20 nations that comprise the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the largest and most diversified economies in the world. More important for real people, our decline is reflected in the real-world consequence of slower economic growth, which means less opportunity for all Americans.
America’s declining economic liberty goes against a worldwide trend of growing freedom. In 1980 the average freedom index score for nations appearing in the index was 5.31. As of 2013 the world average stands at 6.86. According to the authors, the U.S. was ranked first among OECD nations from 1970 through 2000 (and in about third place if Hong Kong and Singapore were added to that list).
Since then our decline has been precipitous. It also portends a slower economic growth rate than Americans have been accustomed to, as much as half of the three percent annual growth we once enjoyed.
Some of the 15 nations that outperformed the U.S. in the current index may surprise you. They include, ranked from highest to lowest: Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, Mauritius, Jordan, Ireland, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Georgia, Chile, Qatar and Taiwan.
Good for them, but honestly: Georgia, Jordan, UAE and Qatar? How low the mighty have fallen to be surpassed by such recently benighted polities.
For example, just 25 years ago Georgia was the “Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic,” its people chained by the dead hand of communist central planning, coercion and corruption. On a more hopeful note, if even Georgia can throw off its chains, then surely the U.S. can unwind the damage done by 15-plus years of bad federal policies.
This is a vital task, because economic freedom correlates with so many of the things people value, not the least of which is material well-being. Per capita personal income for countries in the bottom 25 percent of the index averages less than $7,000, while average annual incomes in the highest quartile all exceed $38,600. Those who imagine this to be just coincidence might consider investing their retirement nest eggs in Venezuela, Republic of Congo or Libya, the three least-free nations economically.
The Fraser Institute also publishes economic freedom indexes for the states and provinces of Canada, Mexico and the U.S., with the 2015 edition coming out later this year. In last year’s index, using data through 2012, Michigan was a mediocre 37th among the 50 states, up from a dismal 45th place in 2009. It will be interesting to see how the Great Lake State fares in rankings assembled after its right-to-work law went into effect in 2013.
Empirical evidence shows that economic liberty and human well-being are highly correlated. If the world’s policymakers were to govern on this basis, world poverty would be reduced and the untold human tragedies associated with subsistence-level existence would be that much fewer.
Joining organizations across the spectrum
The Mackinac Center has partnered with many likely and less-likely organizations in its history, from the ACLU, to the Sierra Club, to other free market think tanks.
On Sunday, Sept. 13, the Midland Daily News published an article describing some of these efforts, specifically the relationship with the ACLU — an association that has recently brought attention to overcriminalization and civil asset forfeiture reform.
Mackinac Center Executive Vice President Michael Reitz was quoted for the article:
“Casual observers of the public policy process may assume that all policy debates occur along sharply divided partisan lines,” Michael Reitz, executive vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said. “That isn’t the case. When the Mackinac Center decides to study an issue, we always assess who else is engaged. This often allows us to forge partnerships with organizations that hold fundamentally different views on the role of government or specific policy issues.”
Reitz noted that policy change is most effectively developed when lawmakers consider a wide range of perspectives.
The full article is available at the Midland Daily News website.
Bills abandoned by the two former legislators
Following a tawdry marital infidelity and cover-up scandal that has dominated state Capitol headlines since early August, freshman state Rep. Cindy Gamrat (R-Plainwell) was expelled from the House of Representatives on Sept. 11, 2015. Rep. Todd Courser (R-Lapeer) stayed “one step ahead of the sheriff” by resigning moments before a House vote that would have expelled him too (roll call vote here, text of expulsion resolution here).
When a legislator is expelled, the bills he or she introduced in that session can still be taken up and passed by the legislature. For reputational and human-nature reasons this is unlikely, however. Specifically, other politicians are hesitant to associate their names with a disgraced former member by championing one of his or her bills, and committee chairs are unlikely to take up and advance the bills for the same reason.
Therefore, legislation introduced by Courser and Gamrat have become orphan bills, or perhaps zombie bills — not dead but not likely to show any signs of life, either. This may be the most substantive outcome of the forced departure of the two legislators.
Below are the newly orphaned measures, listed with their MichiganVotes.org taglines. Click on a bill to see its concise MichiganVotes description. You can also review Courser's and Gamrat’s complete voting record here and here, respectively.
12 Bills Introduced by Rep. Todd Courser (R)
- House Joint Resolution Z: Ban Obamacare exchange
- House Bills 4731, 4732 and 4733: Repeal marriage license requirement, and marriages performed by government officials
- House Bill 4380: Eliminate straight-ticket ballot option
- House Bills 4339 and 4340: Repeal pistol purchase permit requirement
- House Bills 4317 and 4318: Increase gas tax, exempt fuel from sales tax
- House Bill 4252: Repeal archaic laws
- House Bill 4194: Repeal state corporate welfare programs
- House Bill 4174: Repeal ban on direct consumer sales by brewers and winemakers
21 Bills Introduced by Rep. Cindy Gamrat (R)
- House Joint Resolution CC: Reduce federal share of state spending
- House Bills 4851 and 4852: Ban abortion after 20 weeks
- House Bill 4856: Require human fetus images be shown in high school biology classes
- House Bill 4858: Ban forcing clerics to perform homosexual marriages
- House Bills 4772 to 4778: Scale back firearm purchase and carry restrictions
- House Bills 4728 and 4729: Repeal health care facility rationing (certificate of need)
- House Bill 4730: Revoke corporate subsidies and tax breaks
- House Joint Resolution T: Ban income tax on individuals or businesses
- House Bill 4619: Ban state contracts with firms that collect bulk metadata on residents
- House Bill 4309: Respect health care payer and provider exercise of conscience
- House Bill 4310: Prorate Michigan's electoral college presidential votes
- House Joint Resolution J: Establish five-year sunset on administrative rules
- House Bill 4279: Define fetus as an “individual” in statute
Sex! Scandal! Expulsion! And substantive issues too
Now with one click you can approve or disapprove of key votes by your legislators using the VoteSpotter smart phone app. Visit Votespotter.com and download VoteSpotter today!
House Resolution 141, Expel Reps. Gamrat and Courser: Passed 91 to 11 in the House
To expel freshmen Representatives Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat from the House for using government personnel and resources to cover up an extramarital affair, and for other irregularities in the operation of their offices. Courser resigned moments before the vote, so the final version only expels Gamrat.
Senate Bill 356, Authorize property tax to cover dissolved school district's debt: Passed 31 to 7 in the Senate
To allow the school districts that absorbed portions of the Buena Vista school district in Saginaw County, which was dissolved in 2012 after becoming fiscally unviable, to levy non-homestead property taxes in the dissolved district's territory to pay off debt the failed district incurred to cover operational expenses. Reportedly the alternative would be for a court to impose a "judgment levy" property tax on residents.
Senate Bill 384, Authorize establishment of welfare agency police force: Passed 27 to 11 in the Senate
To give the Department of Human Services (the state welfare agency) the authority to appoint agents with the same powers as peace (police) officers and limited arrest powers, for the purpose of investigating welfare fraud.
SOURCE: MichiganVotes.org, a free, non-partisan website created by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, providing concise, non-partisan, plain-English descriptions of every bill and vote in the Michigan House and Senate. Please visit http://www.MichiganVotes.org.
Michigan autoworkers can soon leave their union
On Sept. 14, the United Auto Workers contracts with Ford, Fiat Chrysler, and General Motors will expire for the first time since right-to-work legislation took effect in Michigan, allowing autoworkers to opt out of union membership for the first time.
F. Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center, discussed the expiration with The Detroit News in an article published Sept. 8:
Some organizations have been working to assist autoworkers who want to opt out. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank in Michigan, recently launched a website, www.uawoptout.com, that includes an opt-out form and information for UAW members considering it.
“We just want people to be aware of their options,” said F. Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy for the Mackinac Center.
The full article is available at The Detroit News website.