When Firefighters Aren’t Allowed to Fight Fires

Licensing rules prevent ex-convicts from contributing productively to society

In California and a few other states, some prisoners are trained as firefighters and deployed to help handle emergency situations, such as the recent wildfires in the Golden State. These prisoners learn how to operate the firetrucks and equipment and receive training in EMT services. Firefighting is a dangerous job, and sometimes the prisoners are killed in the line of duty, as was the case of 22-year-old Shawna Lynn Jones.

The Economist reports that Jones, like many of the firefighting prisoners, wanted to learn a skill, improve her life and find a job in public safety when she got out of prison. But California, like most states, restricts people who have a criminal record from getting a firefighter’s license. In other words, California is training people for jobs while they are in prison, using taxpayer dollars, and then preventing them from doing those jobs once they are released.

The state of Michigan doesn’t license firefighters (nor should it), but, similar to California, it does train prisoners for all sorts of jobs they cannot legally perform upon their release. That’s because licensing requirements stand in their way. More than 70 percent of the hundreds of occupations the state licenses have “good moral character” provisions which are used to deny licenses to ex-offenders. Many other rules automatically deny licenses to anyone with a felony record. The affected jobs include police officers, prison workers, teachers, nurses, dentists, and many health care workers.

This is a huge problem. Some workers certainly should be denied a license — such as those whose crime is directly related to the occupation they want to be licensed for. But broad restrictions like those in Michigan’s law do little to protect the public and, in fact, likely lead to higher crime rates and more prisoners.

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As an article in The Economist noted, citing my work:

Such requirements are correlated with a higher rate of reoffending, says Jarrett Skorup at the Mackinac Centre for Public Policy in Michigan. Around 4m Michiganders have a criminal record, which makes it difficult or impossible for them to find work in the 150 professions that ban convicted felons. A recent study by Stephen Slivinski of Arizona State University found that between 1997 and 2007, states with the heaviest burdens of occupational licensing saw an average increase in reoffending within three years of release of over 9%. The states with the lightest burdens saw a decrease of 2.5% over the same period.

Michigan has done some good work reforming its licensing laws, but legislators need to tackle them head-on in a more comprehensive way. To learn more about this issue, visit http://www.mackinac.org/licensing.

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Why We Might Not Want to Require Rescue

Proposal to reverse no-duty-to-rescue law needs a deeper examination

A new bill under consideration in the Michigan Legislature would require people to help rescue others who are in danger. But it is unlikely to have a positive effect and may even do more harm than good.

Michigan House Democratic Leader Sam Singh recently introduced House Bill 5077, which would make it a crime for an individual to decline to rescue someone in danger if doing so wouldn’t also endanger the rescuer.

Current law does not require a bystander to rescue someone in a dangerous situation that the bystander did not create. This doctrine may seem immoral and it has been frequently and widely maligned by legal academics. Nevertheless, the rule has always been a feature of American law, and it is worth considering the potential consequences of changing it.

American civil law imposes a duty of reasonable care on anyone undertaking an activity that could potentially harm someone else, from a commuter driving a car to a doctor performing brain surgery to a landlord renting an apartment. But it does not obligate an individual to rescue an endangered person from a situation that the individual did not create. Helping such a person may be the moral thing to do, but the law does not require it – with good reason, according to law professor Marin Roger Scordato. His article in the Tulane Law Review illustrates the impracticality of imposing a duty to rescue.

Scordato notes that most people immediately act to help others in danger, so criminalizing the failure to rescue would have little impact on what is already a strong social expectation. The goal of legislation like Singh’s bill is to coerce people to render aid who otherwise wouldn’t – the “reluctant rescuers.” Scordato gives several reasons why we don’t necessarily want to coerce reluctant rescuers, two of which are worth discussing here.

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First, the threat of prosecution is unlikely to motivate the person who would refuse to rescue another out of the goodness of his heart. Legislators try to reduce violent crimes by imposing severe consequences for committing them, but it seems that the best deterrent for criminals might be a very high probability of getting caught. Identifying a criminal is hard if not impossible when it comes to proving a failure to rescue. Who would ever know if a driver witnessing an accident failed to dial 911, for instance? Of course, a bystander might be able to identify a reluctant rescuer, raising the odds that the reluctant rescuer would act when others are present. But this merely means that the duty to rescue would, according to Scordato, “produce a greater number of additional rescue efforts in just those circumstances in which additional coerced rescue efforts are least needed.”

Moreover, there is always the risk that a rescue effort may do more harm than good. A law creating a duty to rescue would aggravate this risk by requiring even ill-equipped or untrained individuals to involve themselves in medically complicated or flustering scenarios. The presence of a reluctant rescuer doing the bare minimum to avoid legal liability may discourage other, more altruistic or skilled rescuers from helping. The sense of duty and an inclination to rescue may be diminished when another effort is already underway. The result may then be that the victim is worse off than if the reluctant rescuer had passed on by, leaving the altruistic one to help. A coerced rescue effort might even harm or kill the rescuer, too. So although Singh’s proposal is well-intentioned, it may merely increase the quantity — not the quality — of rescue efforts, to the potential detriment of many.

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Tipping the Scales on Solar

Mackinac Center signs open letter on trade restrictions

Suniva, a solar cell manufacturing company received millions of dollars in federal, state and local grants and tax credits is now asking the Trump administration for steep tariffs on imported solar cells.

Michigan, among other states, granted extensive subsidies and tax breaks to the firm. How much it actually collected from state taxpayers is not known because state administrators do not disclose that information.

The import tariffs the company is now requesting are opposed by a U.S. trade association that represents solar energy system installers, solar farm developers and related interests.

The Mackinac Center for Public has joined the National Taxpayer Union in sending an open letter to the Trump administration requesting that it deny the request for protective tariffs.

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DeVos: Fight for Students, Not Over Them

Secretary of Education makes powerful case for parental choice

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos returned home recently to deliver the keynote address at the Acton Institute’s 27th anniversary dinner gala.

DeVos made clear to the large Grand Rapids audience what motivates her education policy views, a vision that is more popular among the nation’s moms and dads than it is among the officials and bureaucrats who run the system. “I came into office with this core belief: It is the inalienable right and responsibility of parents to choose the learning environment that best meets their child’s individual needs,” she said.

The education secretary sharply criticized the orthodoxy that entitles government officials to use parents’ tax dollars to decide where and what and how their children learn, even though parents are accustomed to making choices in nearly all other aspects of their children’s lives.

According to DeVos, those who direct the prevailing K-12 system are “trapped in an outdated education model,” beholden to the “wrong and manipulative” theories of Horace Mann and John Dewey. Instead, she prescribed following the principles espoused by leading 20th century conservative intellectual Russell Kirk.

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“A central body of bureaucrats, he rightly pointed out, cannot and should not do for people what they can do for themselves,” she declared. “Children are not widgets to be engineered. They are persons, each born with an innate creativity that should be unleashed to explore and enhance the world.”

The secretary of education further sought to wrest away rhetoric commonly used to attack her and others who prominently support advancing choice. “A school that prepares its students to lead successful lives is a benefit to all of us,” she said. “The definition of public education therefore should be this: to educate the public.”

While touting the positive value of parental choice policies, Secretary DeVos reasserted that attempts to mandate such policies from the federal government would be counterproductive. She instead offered a refreshing take on how the U.S. Department of Education could play a key supporting role in advancing educational freedom.

“We can amplify the voices of those families who only want better for their kids. We can assist states who are working to further empower parents, and we can urge those who haven’t to start.”

DeVos used her speech to introduce a video recording of Denisha Merriweather, whose own Florida Scholarship Tax Credit Program success story has made possible her new opportunity to work at the Department of Education to help advance this mission.

Michigan is one of 24 remaining states that have not adopted a private school choice program, though a large number of families choose charters and other public school options. The secretary praised the work of local schools of all stripes — district, charter, private and parochial — but acknowledged that too many kids in Grand Rapids neighborhoods do not receive a quality education.

“They are why our work is never done,” DeVos said. “There is no finish line. There is no ‘good enough’ when it comes to our children. We must challenge all schools to do better, because even the best school in America needs to continue to improve.”

DeVos called on the audience to join her as “fearless” agents of systemic educational change.

“Instead of dividing the public when it comes to education, the focus should be on the ends, not the means,” she said. “Adults should stop fighting over students, and start fighting for students.”

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October 27, 2017 MichiganVotes weekly roll call report

House Bill 4805, Ban imposing “educational development plan” on home school students: Passed 101 to 5 in the House

To prohibit officials from requiring the parents of a homeschooled student who is enrolled in a public school part time and taking some public school classes (including "virtual" or online classes) to file an “educational development plan” with a public school district. These plans often but not necessarily apply to public school students who are falling behind.

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Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Senate Bill 372, Repeal law mandating beer keg “tag”: Passed 106 to 0 in the House

To repeal a law passed in 2010 that requires retailers to attach an identification tag signed by the buyer to kegs of beer when they are sold, and not return the keg deposit unless the tag is still on the keg, subject to a $50 fine for the retailer, and a $500 fine and 93 days in jail for a non-retailer possessing a keg without the tag.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 4973, Exempt cybersecurity systems from open records law: Passed 101 to 5 in the House

To exempt public records related to government or private cybersecurity systems from disclosure under the state Freedom of Information Act. The bill would also exempt from disclosure information that would identify a person who may become a victim of a cybersecurity incident.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 4751, Invalidate pre-nuptial agreements for specified reasons: Passed 63 to 43 in the House

To invalidate a prenuptial agreement if a party’s consent was the result of fraud, duress, a mistake or not being given adequate financial disclosures, or if a court deems that circumstances not reasonably foreseeable before getting married (including getting rich after marriage) have made enforcement “unconscionable.” A recent Court of Appeals ruling appears to have given judges more latitude to invalidate these agreements, and the bill would limit that to the factors it specifies.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

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 www.MichiganVotes.org.

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Only One Auto Insurance Reform Plan Worth Pursuing

HB 5013 will reduce premiums, competing reform bills may increase them

Two competing proposals have been introduced in the Michigan House that would reform auto insurance in this state. The first is a hefty bill that would substantially change current laws, leading to more choices and lower premiums for drivers. The second is a package of 11 bills that also contains some cost-savings components but, on the whole, may actually make auto insurance even more expensive.

House Bill 5013, sponsored by Rep. Lana Theis, R-Brighton, has a clear and consistent goal: Reduce the costs of insurance for Michigan drivers. It lets drivers choose a lower level of coverage and receive a discount on their premium. It limits what medical providers can charge insurers for certain services. And it provides Michigan’s senior citizens the option to opt out of purchasing expensive medical coverage if they already have coverage through a health insurer, such as Medicare.

The 11-bill package (House Bills 5101-5111) does limit what medical providers can charge for services, but sets higher rates and exempts some services. Implementing any type of fee schedule should reduce premiums for drivers because the status quo essentially allows medical providers to charge as high a price as they think they can get away with. But aside from this proposed fee schedule, the 11-bill package provides hardly any other meaningful cost-savings reforms, and, in fact, would likely lead to an increase in auto-related litigation and a corresponding increase in auto insurance premiums.

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The reason these reforms would increase costs is that six of the bills are aimed at making it easier for people to qualify for auto insurance benefits and for attorneys to win lawsuits against insurance companies. For instance, HB 5106 proposes allowing people to claim benefits from a policy that is fraudulent, so long as the person receiving the benefits was not directly responsible for the fraud.

An illustration might help explain this. Imagine that I obtain an auto insurance policy that covers my wife and me but I commit fraud by lying on the application or claim forms for the policy. HB 5106 would enable my wife to still receive benefits under this fraudulent policy, as long as she was not complicit in the fraud. This effectively reduces the penalty for committing fraud and creates stronger incentives for people to try it.

A main focus of a couple of bills in this package is to lower the “causation standard,” a legal term referring to the connection that needs to be established between an auto accident and an injury before someone can be awarded benefits in a lawsuit. Lowering this standard will make it easier for attorneys to win lawsuits against auto insurance companies and force insurers to pay out more in benefits. Insurance companies would need to price the costs of this increased risk of being sued into their premiums, meaning Michigan drivers would pay more.

Another bill in the package makes it even easier to sue insurance companies by requiring insurers to live up to vague and ambiguous standards that, to our knowledge, do not apply anywhere else in Michigan law.

Although both proposed reforms under consideration in the House have cost-control elements, only HB 5013 creates real savings for drivers. The competing 11-bill package, may, in the end, actually work to increase the cost of auto insurance in Michigan. That would be a remarkable feat, given that Michigan drivers already pay some of the highest premiums in the entire country.

To learn more about auto insurance reform in Michigan, please visit: http://www.mackinac.org/insurance.

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Unions Admit Forcing People to Pay Dues is Political

U.S. Supreme Court considers right-to-work for all

Mark Janus of Janus v. AFSCME

The U.S. Supreme Court recently announced that it will hear the case of Janus v. AFSCME. The decision will determine whether millions of government workers around the nation can be forced to pay money to unions or whether they will be able to stop, essentially guaranteeing right-to-work for all public sector workers in the country.

This is a big deal. Currently, unions are able to force people to pay dues and in turn spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year on political activities. This forced funding is an unconstitutional infringement, since the government is requiring people to pay for political speech they don’t want to pay for — violating the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Unions say, at least in court, that this money is actually about people paying their “fair share” because they are collectively bargaining on behalf of all workers.

But bargaining is, in fact, about politics. Even unions admit that. Consider the case against Janus from Eric A. Gordon, a writer and union supporter:

When right to work was imposed in Wisconsin a few years back, only one-tenth of the then unionized public employees in the state stayed on as dues-paying members. The other ninety percent, now “free” of the burden of paying dues and ignoring the invaluable union protection they were giving up, deserted the movement. … Without those resources, the union movement was unable to mount a winning campaign for the Democratic candidate for president in Wisconsin.

When the SEIU bankrolled a ballot proposal to continue the “dues skim” from home caregivers in Michigan, the president of the union said at the Democratic National Convention that it needed the forced dues “because unions are effective, we make sure Democrats get (into office) and we're going to make sure Obama gets in.”

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Unions often sell themselves to prospective members by admitting that everything they do is political in nature. The Montana Education Association, for example, states on its website: “It’s a fact of life: every decision that affects public services is a political decision.” The Virginia Education Association tells teachers, “For better — and sometimes for worse — politics affect nearly every facet of public education.” And consider the Michigan Education Association: “Every education decision is a political decision.”

Private associations are a good thing; forced political speech is not. Just as no business should be required to pay money to the local chamber of Commerce, neither should public employees be forced to pay money to a union. The Supreme Court has a chance to ensure that for good.

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How to Solve Government Employee Retiree Health Insurance Costs

Freeze salary schedules until health insurance is fully funded

Some local government officials have gotten their governments into a mess and cannot get out without help. They’ve promised retiree medical insurance to unionized employees and did not set aside money to pay for it. This pushed the costs of yesterday to today, stretching finances thin. The state government can help deal with this fiscal issue.

Retiree medical insurance tends to be something less than a promise: Employees have no legal right to it and government officials can rescind benefits at their discretion. But when these benefits are etched out in collective bargaining agreements, they may become contractual rights.

Government managers can use these benefits to get services now but defer the costs to future taxpayers. To combat this, governments could set aside money today to pay for the benefits promised tomorrow. This ensures that promises are paid when services are delivered. It prevents the benefits from becoming debts of future taxpayers.

Few governments have done so. Indeed, prefunding retiree medical insurance benefits at local governments across the state would cost at least $9 billion. Only a portion of this is contractually mandated, but that is determined on a government-by-government basis.

Many of the state’s governments no longer offer these benefits to new employees. That is a good thing and will prevent this situation from spiraling further out of control, but does not deal with their current costs.

The state can help manage the remaining legacy costs by making them a priority.

Where employees have contractual rights to retiree medical insurance benefits, the state can establish that any additional revenue being spent on unionized workers goes to paying down retiree insurance costs. To do this, the Legislature can mandate that unionized salary schedules remain frozen until retiree insurance is fully funded.

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This is fair. Taxpayers would be handing out the same levels of compensation for services, just divvied up differently among benefits. It would be up to the unions to decide which areas of compensation provide the best return to their members.

And so far, retiree medical insurance has been a low priority. If employees themselves cared about the benefits, they would have insisted that it be funded.

There are some examples of governments in Michigan that have set aside enough to pay for these benefits, but more often than not they have been deferred to future taxpayers.

Government managers and unions got themselves into this mess and taxpayers are now having to pay for it. Putting retiree health insurance savings before wage hikes means that managers and unions would have to work on this problem together without harming the public.

Local officials may not have paid enough attention to this problem in the past. These fiscal problems are self-inflicted. There is no state mandate to offer these benefits, nor to kick their costs to future taxpayers. Nor did local official have to agree with unions to provide them. Such benefits are rare in the private sector. One way to get both local government managers and their union counterparts to take the costs seriously is to mandate that underfunded medical benefits gets first priority for additional funds.

This may cause union officials to come back to the negotiating table. Salary and benefits are both forms of compensation and this may force unions to prioritize. If an extra dollar is more valuable in the form of wage increases, then they can negotiate down their retiree medical insurance benefits. Or they can help local governments find ways to get up to full funding so that their wages may increase again.

Both would be wins for taxpayers that should never have been losers. And lawmakers should side with them in this debate and pass a law mandating first priority be given to funding retiree medical insurance for unionized local government employees.

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Education Officials Avoid Obvious Solutions

Reforms needed before taking teacher shortage claims seriously

A recent column by an intermediate school district official resurrects the specter of a Michigan teacher shortage crisis. While evidence for a widespread shortage is itself in short supply, local and state education officials have the tools to address local challenges.

It’s hard to keep up with the education crisis of the moment. One week, a public school administrator tells us schools can’t get rid of enough teachers to cope with declining student enrollment. The next week, Kalamazoo Regional Educational Services Agency Superintendent David Campbell contends that there aren’t enough qualified teachers to be found – at least in some districts and subject areas. Each competing claim either is used or can be used to make the case for larger school funding increases.

Overall, Campbell’s claim has a stronger basis in reality, but still misses the mark. Among the seven bullet points he used to build his case is the offhand observation that roughly “half of new teachers leave the profession in their first five years.” The best available evidence, though, finds only one in six teachers quit before five years are out. In fact, the “quit rate” for public education employees overall is lower than most industries.

While the number of prospective teachers in state-approved preparation programs has decreased in recent years, the Michigan Department of Education has identified more than 100,000 certified teachers of employment age who are not working in a public school classroom. Some are holding down nonteaching jobs; others teach at private schools. But many are working in other professions or are currently unemployed.

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In 2016 the department asked 360 teachers why they chose not to renew their certification. One in three cited relocation, health or family issues, or personal education plans. More said they couldn’t find a teaching job than those who complained about pay and working conditions.

Campbell does correctly identify two kinds of shortages. The first is in certain subject areas, such as science and special education. The second is geographical, affecting certain rural and urban districts that have a harder time attracting teachers. Neither of these challenges is particularly new, though some districts may be facing a challenge for the first time.

Campbell prescribes following the tenets set forth by the Gov. Rick Snyder’s 21st Century Education Commission. While the commission calls for a more rigorous system of teacher preparation, it does not mention one helpful tool neglected by nearly all local districts. That is, rather than treat all teaching job descriptions the same, districts should offer more pay to teachers who can staff hard-to-fill positions. Doing so would change the incentives for young people considering career paths. It would also send a signal to teacher training programs that they’re not preparing enough qualified candidates in certain fields.

The commission also omitted recommending more alternative certification programs, which would remove bureaucratic hurdles for some potential new instructors. The program Teachers of Tomorrow, approved by the department in August, could help fill in gaps in the state’s supply of qualified teachers. The state could also actively request proposals from other alternate providers with positive track records.

State and local education officials may need to enact more drastic and creative changes to help address specific, lingering shortages. But until these policies are pursued, it will remain hard to take seriously any complaints about a “crisis.”

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Senate Bill 609, Repeal 'driver responsibility fees' and give partial amnesty: Passed 37 to 0 in the Senate

To repeal the driver responsibility fees (“bad driver tax”) that are assessed for various traffic violations, effective Sept. 30, 2018. Individuals who lost their driver's license for nonpayment of these fees could get it back (on payment of a $125 fee). Fees that have been owed for more than six years would be forgiven, but not more recent ones. These very expensive fees were originally adopted in 2003 to increase state revenues.

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Note: House Bill 5040 would end the fees and give amnesty for all amounts owed, not just amounts in arrears for six years. The Snyder administration indicated the Governor would veto this due to the state revenue loss, and this bill's partial amnesty is seen as a negotiating position on that. More than 300,000 people owe more than $600 million for these fees, much of which is uncollectible, and thousands have lost their driver's license for nonpayment.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Senate Bill 574, Let charter schools get some ISD enhancement millage money: Passed 23 to 14 in the Senate

To require revenue extracted by future regional enhancement property taxes that are levied by Intermediate School Districts and distributed to conventional public school districts to also be shared with public charter schools within the ISD district.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 4457, Authorize new energy debt scheme for colleges and universities: Passed 38 to 0 in the Senate

To include state colleges and universities in the kind of debt scheme authorized by a 2016 law for school districts, which lets them contract with vendors for energy efficiency projects, and pay for these with money the projects are supposed to save (or from regular tax revenue if savings don’t appear).

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Senate Bill 492, Impose oral chemotherapy insurance mandate: Passed 36 to 1 in the Senate

To impose a new coverage mandate that would require insurance companies to include coverage for orally administered chemotherapy in all their health insurance policies that provide for cancer chemotherapy treatments, without requiring any dollar limit, deductible or co-pay for these that does not apply to other treatments.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

House Bill 4940, Revise dry bean commission marketing program details: Passed 107 to 0 in the House

To revise commission membership details in a law that imposes assessments on growers of “dry, edible beans, except soybeans.” The money this collects from growers is used to pay commission expenses including staff payroll, and for marketing or information campaigns.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

Senate Bill 98, Authorize more “promise zone” tax increment financing authorities: Passed 89 to 18 in the House

To expand from 10 to 15 the number of “promise zone” tax increment financing authorities (TIFA) located in low income and “low educational attainment” areas. These entities were authorized by a 2008 law to “capture" a portion of the state school property tax collected in the area, and use the money to partially subsidize college tuition for local students.

Who Voted "Yes" and Who Voted "No"

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 www.MichiganVotes.org.

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