Where Michigan Lawmakers Stand on ‘Right to Try’ Laws

Allowing terminally ill Americans the ability to try experimental medicine

In 2014, the Michigan Legislature overwhelmingly passed new laws that allow terminally ill patients to try medicine that has passed the first phase of the federal approval process but are not yet fully permitted for use. This proposal is commonly known as “right to try.”

Public Acts 345 and 346 of 2014 passed with overwhelming margins: unanimous approval in the House and only two “no” votes in the Senate. The bills established a right to try and prevented state authorities from punishing health care providers who offered patients promising but still experimental treatments. Michigan was not unique: 38 states have passed similar legislation.

That was a worthy effort – individuals, especially those facing the last months or years of their life, should not be limited in their efforts to extend or save their own lives. But because drugs are regulated at the federal level, state-level reforms don’t go very far. The right to try must be acknowledged by Congress for it to have a real effect. Federal legislation was taken up recently and, with support from President Trump, is moving through Congress.

Specifically, the bill would “give terminally ill patients the right to seek drug treatments that remain in clinical trials and have passed phase one of the Food and Drug Administration's approval process, but they have not been fully approved by the FDA.”

Some interest groups are fighting against the bill. The core of their argument is that these drugs are unlikely to be effective, which means they give people a false hope. Critics add that there is already an avenue for individual patients to petition the FDA for a chance to try newly developed drugs. But that’s not enough: As the Goldwater Institute – which developed and articulated the “right to try” idea – notes, too many patients don’t have time to get approval. They should have automatic access to whatever they think will help. No patients will be forced to try and no doctor will be forced to prescribe anything by the law.

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The U.S. House of Representatives passed the right to try act recently, 267-149. Nearly all Republicans voted “yes,” while most Democrats voted “no.” (All but two Republicans were in favor; only 35 Democrats were). Within the Michigan delegation, the split was along party lines.

Republicans voted in favor: Jack Bergman, Bill Huizenga, Justin Amash, John Moolenaar, Fred Upton, Tim Walberg, Mike Bishop, Paul Mitchell and David Trott. Democrats were opposed: Dan Kildee, Sander Levin, Debbie Dingell and Brenda Lawrence.

The bill will now move to the U.S. Senate.

Pure Fiction: State Tourism Cost-Benefit Analysis Ignores Costs

The full cost of the Pure Michigan advertising campaign is ignored

The state government’s “economic development” agency annually has a consultant, at taxpayer expense, produce a report that includes what it dubs a return-on-investment calculation for the state’s tourism advertising effort. The report estimates how much the state gets back in tax dollars compared to what it spends to lure travelers to Michigan.

The release of each report typically coincides with the Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism, the latest edition of which is scheduled to begin this week. Typically, the report is used, in part, to justify state tourism promotion and its related costs — some $35 million in fiscal year 2018. But it’s a report that ignores the taxpayer costs rather than vindicates them. Taxpayer dollars spent on promoting tourism could be better spent elsewhere, such as filling potholes or cutting taxes.

In the past, the state has hired a secretive consultant to calculate its ROI. That company made claims of a huge ROI but refused to precisely demonstrate how it arrived at its conclusion. In 2016, according to this consultant, the state’s $12.9 million in out-of-state advertising spending — sorry, investment — produced $8.33 in new state tax dollars for every dollar spent.

According to an investigation by the state’s Office of the Auditor General, made at the behest of two lawmakers, the numbers on the advertising investment excluded a number of costs. The report did not consider the cost of producing the commercials in the first place ($4.3 million), the “costs to monitor all aspects of production through placement” ($2.3 million), pay-per-click internet advertising ($500,000) and related public relations costs ($581,000). It also did not include up to $6.2 million more in matched advertising dollars, which are awarded to local governments and tourism bureaus. In other words, more than 50 percent of the cost associated with the Pure Michigan advertising campaign was not factored into its returns.

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The state’s current consultant, Strategic Marketing & Research Insights, doesn’t include these other costs in its ROI calculation either. I have yet to obtain a precise financial breakdown for each spending category through 2017, but will post those numbers after I have them.

To see why the official report is problematic, consider how ignoring the matching costs complicates the ROI calculations. The Michigan Economic Development Corporation, which helps dole out the tourism-promotion dollars, will match most advertising spending made by other groups. The 2017 match cost state taxpayers $4.1 million. This cost was excluded from the ROI calculations. One could accurately argue that the benefits of the partners’ matching dollars were left out of the equation too, but a full accounting should include both. Many of the matching dollars appear to have come from publicly funded convention and visitors bureaus.

This latest report is not the first example of a state-paid consultant leaving costs out of its analysis. The MEDC hired Michigan State University’s Center for Economic Research to examine the state’s film incentive subsidy program, for example. The MSU scholars concluded it was effective. An accompanying university press release called the film program a “big time hit.” Yet the authors of the report omitted all of the costs associated with it.

Scholar John L. Crompton’s 2006 paper in the Journal of Travel Research calls out consultants for their often questionable analyses of the travel and tourism industries and their economic impacts. In the paper titled, “Economic Impact Studies: Instruments for Political Shenanigans?” Crompton writes: “Most economic impact studies are commissioned to legitimize a political position rather than to search for economic truth. Often the result is mischievous procedures that produce large numbers that study sponsors seek to support a predetermined position.” He specifically criticizes consultants for ignoring costs.

The state has appropriated $330 million since 2006 for an advertising campaign that should be paid for by private industry. The current year’s appropriation is $35 million and the governor has proposed another $35 million for fiscal year 2019.

The advertisements run by the program have featured beautiful Michigan scenery set to music and voiced over by actor-comedian Tim Allen. These advertisements are placed in out-of-state media outlets in the hope they will inspire people to visit Michigan.

But the program is not worth it. The Mackinac Center found in its 2016 study that a $1 million increase in state tourism promotion spending results in $20,000 in extra economic activity in the state’s lodging industry. Other tourism-related sectors we looked at fared no better. It needs to be underscored that this is $20,000 in extra activity for the economy, not dollars flowing back to the state treasury. State tourism promotion produces huge losses for taxpayers, especially when you factor in the opportunity costs.

An opportunity cost is the next best alternative forgone — in this case, by not spending the money on advertisements but on something else. Spending an extra $35 million annually filling Michigan potholes and fixing bridges would probably produce a higher ROI than state tourism spending. Alternatively, the money could help finance a promised personal income tax cut. We would argue that taxpayers need a tax cut and drivers need their potholes fixed more than the tourism industry needs another handout.


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Passing Bicycles, Peppier Pepper Spray, High School Internship Credit, More

March 23, 2018 MichiganVotes weekly roll call report

House Bill 5220, Increase allowable pepper spray concentration: Passed 36 to 0 in the Senate

To revise a prohibition on the use of pepper spray with more than a 10 percent oleoresin capsicum concentration in the reasonable defense of one's person or property. The bill would increase the maximum concentration to 18 percent, and allow the formulas to contain an ultraviolet dye. Reportedly, 45 other states allow 18 percent pepper spray concentrations.

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House Bill 5097, Cap fees on internet service right of way projects: Passed 29 to 5 in the Senate

To cap at $300 the fee a county road commission can charge an internet or a cable TV provider for a permit to do work in a right of way, or a total of $1,000 for all permits per project. These amounts would be doubled in large counties (more than 250,000 residents). The bill would also limit the bonding requirements that can be imposed on ISP or cable company right of way projects.


House Bill 5257, Make possession of ransomware a felony: Passed 34 to 0 in the Senate

To make it a crime punishable by up to three years in prison to possess ransomware software with malicious intent. The bill defines ransomware as “a computer or data contaminant, encryption, or lock” that can be placed or introduced without authorization into a computer or network, and that restricts access in a manner that enables the perpetrator “to demand payment of money or other consideration” to remove it.


Senate Bill 839, Revise mining permit amendment process: Passed 23 to 11 in the Senate

To establish streamlined procedures for a mining company getting certain restrictions in its state operating permit revised, subject to many exceptions. This would specifically apply to the process for determining that a permit amendment does not “result in environmental impacts that are materially increased or different” from those specified in the original permit. Among other things this refers to allowing a permittee “to relocate, reconfigure, or modify surface or underground facilities, buildings, or equipment, other than a tailings basin or a stockpile.”


House Bill 5017, Create adult “cyberbullying” crime: Passed 91 to 17 in the House

To create a crime of “cyberbullying” another person, with sanctions ranging from 93 days in jail for a first offense to 10 years if the action causes an individual’s death. The bill defines “cyberbully" as intentionally using an electronic network to intimidate, frighten, harass or cause emotional distress. Similar bills and laws apply to minors and students but this one applies to everyone.


House Bill 5494, Clarify operator liability for drone crimes: 108 to 1 in the House

To define unmanned aerial drones as “an extension of the person” for purposes of assigning responsibility for criminal misuse. Bills have been introduced to essentially add "also illegal if done with a drone" provisions to various criminal offenses, and this bill would make that presumption automatic.


House Bill 4265, Mandate three-foot clearance when passing bicycle: Passed 98 to 10 in the House

To require drivers passing a bicyclist going the same direction to stay at least three feet to the left if practicable. The bill would facilitate this by also letting drivers cross the centerline in a no-passing zone while passing, if it is safe to do so. The same three-foot margin would apply to passing a bicycle on the left where this is not prohibited under current traffic laws.


House Bill 4106, Give high school graduation credits for internship or work: Passed 104 to 4 in the House

To require school districts to give 9th through 12th grade students credit toward state graduation requirements for spending at least four hours per week getting work experience or in an internship. The credit would equal that granted for taking one traditional course. Students would be excused from one class period of instructional time for each day they work or intern. This would not apply to students who are struggling in school as defined in the bill, and would be subject to various specified conditions.


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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Hamtramck Academy Tops Mackinac Report Card

NHA charter school aims high, beats odds, busts myths

The brick structure on Conant Street may not stand out to passersby, but the school that operates inside has earned a major distinction. No elementary or middle school in Michigan is outperforming Hamtramck Academy.

Opened in 2004, the National Heritage Academy charter school near the heart of Detroit finished as the highest-rated school on the Mackinac Center's newest Elementary and Middle School Context and Performance Report Card. The report card's unique "CAP" (Context and Performance) Scores factor three years of performance on M-STEP tests, adjusted to account for the share of students eligible for free lunch subsidies based on their household income. A strong statistical connection exists between student poverty and low academic achievement, because of the disadvantages and challenges typically faced by low-income students.

"Our goal has always been to be one of the best schools in Michigan, so we're excited about this report card and recognition," said Principal Alvin Ward (pictured above, holding the recognition plaque). "It really dispels the myth that students that come from humble beginnings can't be high achievers."

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This edition of the CAP Report Card also ranks schools for long-term performance over eight years of measured data and also ranks them based on improvements made over that time. Hamtramck Academy was one of only two schools to make the top 15 on all three lists. (Maples Elementary in Dearborn was the other.)

Though Hamtramck Academy's student poverty rate is more than twice the state average, last year the school topped the state average in math for all six-grade levels and on every other test in grades six through eight. The charter school similarly beat expectations in the previous two years.

Hamtramck Academy isn't the only NHA school to excel in helping students learn math. A new University of Michigan study found that a year in one of the state's NHA schools translates to significantly higher math scores. Achievement gains in reading are less clear.

The study also explored practices in NHA schools to see what they do differently from their competitors that might explain the positive results. Notably, these include more time spent on math instructions, grouping students by ability in core academic subjects, regular testing to measure student progress and frequent classroom observations to support teachers in their improvement. As charter schools that don't serve as a default option for any students, they place a premium on engaging with parents.

Hamtramck Academy routinely receives more applicants than there is space available. According to school leaders, it is especially attractive to families where English isn't the primary language. "That's one thing that brings parents to our school is knowing that their students are going to get that extra education to catch up that gap," said Korryn Wilkins, the school's third-to-fifth grade dean. Ethnic diversity is evident in the student body, with immigrant families widely represented.

As in other NHA schools, Hamtramck Academy employs the dean model to oversee and help develop the teachers in the different grade levels of the K-8 campus. "The whole idea behind [the dean model] is to have a growth mindset and to help coach our teachers to be the best they can be, and instill that growth mindset in them, which they then take to the students, and instill that growth mindset into them," Wilkins said.

"Staff is held to a high standard, and they in turn hold students to a high standard. We are all just working to the goal of having kids be career and college-ready," added K-2 dean Monique Cash. Robust data informs the school's commitment to intervene with students individually or in small groups to help them overcome identified gaps in their learning.

The connections between students and teachers give life to the culture of high expectations that permeates the school. Principal Ward said that there is a great deal of stability among the staff, including no turnover between the 2017 and 2018 school years.

While Hamtramck Academy excelled on the recent Mackinac Center report card, the network of charter schools also rated highly as a whole. Forty of 46 NHA schools beat the odds of poverty with CAP Scores each topping 100.

But even at the top, there is no sense of having reached the summit of success. Principal Ward said Hamtramck Academy needs to strive to become more visible and accessible in the community, and that earning the top school status in Michigan isn't enough.

"I would love to be the best school in the country," he said.


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When the Goal of Spending Money is to Spend Money

Transit should instead be about getting people places

Image via Wikipedia

After a previous regional transit tax was rejected by voters, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans developed a new one that he’d like to submit for approval. Unfortunately, his pitch contains little about how the tax will get people to where they want to go.

Getting people where they want to go is what transit should be about, right? But to judge by this proposal, it’s about keeping up with the Joneses, regardless of what the Joneses get out of it. It points at average spending amounts in other regions to show that southeast Michigan is behind the curve. That’s only the case, however, if those other regions are better at getting people where they want to go.

When it comes to showing that the proposed spending will be valuable, the pitch from county officials such as Evans is weak. They say that if they spend money on transit, they will get more money from state and federal taxpayers. Plus, they add, spending on buses and bus drivers means that bus drivers and bus manufacturers will have more money to spend, which in turn will generate four times as much economic output.

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This attempt to focus attention on alleged spinoff benefits is a regular tactic among spending interests. People care less about the costs of a proposal if you can persuade them it will pay for itself or generate further economic outputs. Indeed, I’ve collected a number of examples that have been used in policy debates.

Spending item Multiplier
Tourism advertising in Arkansas 144 spending multiplier
Rapid Transit in Cleveland 114 spending multiplier
Arts grants 51 spending multiplier
Pure Michigan 44 spending multiplier
State Venture Capital Funding 21 spending multiplier
University Corridor spending 17 spending multiplier
Early childhood education 16 spending multiplier
Michigan Business Development Program 8.72 spending multiplier
Arts spending 7 spending multiplier
Film Credits 6 spending multiplier
Transit spending 4 spending multiplier
Soo Locks 2 – 4 spending multiplier
Great Lakes Restoration Initiative spending 2 spending multiplier
Earned Income Tax Credit 1.67 spending multiplier

A variation of two orders of magnitude for some trivial programs shows that these figures are not to be trusted. Some advocates do a careful job in mapping out their estimates, while others seem to make crazy assumptions about the effects of spending.

Even if these findings were all legitimate, the point of a multiplier analysis is to show that spending on one thing, all things being equal, has a bigger economic effect than spending on another. So if the economic effects were what mattered — as their pitch implies — officials in southeast Michigan ought to be making the case for county arts spending rather than transit. Or giving more money to Wayne State University and the University of Michigan, which are also in their region and have higher reported multipliers. Or anything else higher on the list.

Instead of being used to compare which kind of spending has a bigger bang for the buck, the analyses are merely used to justify taking money from residents. And that’s an inappropriate application.

Officials who wish to sell a transit plan to voters would be better off showing them what transit can do for them. That’s why the actual transportation outcomes matter here. The benefits of such a plan should be improved commuting times, increased access for people who can’t drive or some other way in which people would be better off.

What residents get is a list of more routes and services. What they could use instead are some figures on how those routes may help make their lives better. Having buses go every 15 minutes doesn’t help anyone if the buses are empty. Express commuter buses are only a good use of money if they improve the commutes of the people in the region, and if buying them means shutting down lanes of congested roads, people may end up being worse off.

So while the benefits of the latest Wayne County transit plan are uncertain, its costs are real. It calls for a 1.5-mill tax that would be expected to raise $5.4 billion. Residents should be skeptical not only of dubious claims that the spending is worth it, but also of a plan that lacks even a discussion of how transportation is will be improved.


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Democratic Attorney General Candidates Favor Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

Bipartisan support for protecting property rights and due process

Pat Miles and Dana Nessel

In 2016, the latest year for which we have data, at least 700 innocent people lost their property through civil asset forfeiture. According to documents received through open records requests, the typical asset lost —a car or cash — was worth about $500.

These takings can be challenged in court. But 80 percent of people who had property forfeited made no such challenge, meaning their assets defaulted to the government. That makes sense: Would you file a claim in civil court and hire an attorney just for a chance of getting back your $500? Probably not, and that’s why these people may not have been admitting guilt, but perhaps just acting rationally.

This illustrates why it’s so important that the Michigan Legislature reform civil asset forfeiture and require a criminal conviction before property is transferred to the government. The House Judiciary Committee is considering this now.

The issue has garnered bipartisan support, and the attorney general candidates on the Democratic side were asked about their position by Michigan Radio.

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Dana Nessel is an attorney from Detroit who previously worked in the Wayne County prosecutor’s office, which processes a lot of forfeitures every year. Here’s an excerpt from the Michigan Radio article:

“I truly, honestly believe this to be a violation of due process," says Nessel. "What I see all the time is this: people who have never been convicted of a crime, people who have never even been charged with a crime and, you know, the police get a search warrant, they bust down somebody’s door and they take everything. They take all of their cash. They take all of their automobiles. If they have any money in a bank account, they freeze and seize that. (People) have to hire an attorney to basically prove those assets did not come about, did not come into their possession as a result of criminal distribution of narcotics."

She says if elected Attorney General, her office will not use civil asset forfeiture. But, if someone is found guilty in court…

“I don’t mind criminal asset forfeiture. When you have proven someone is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, I think it’s absolutely fair game to go after property that was the result of the narcotics distribution or manufacturing,” Nessel explained.

Her opponent in the race is Pat Miles, previously the U.S. attorney in Michigan’s western district. He initially said civil asset forfeiture has seen some abuses but that it’s an important tool for law enforcement. By the end of the interview with Michigan Radio, however, he clarified his position. Here’s an excerpt:

Pat Miles: "There are instances where asset forfeiture is very appropriate, where people are using the proceeds from criminal conduct in terms of, and they should be, that’s what asset forfeiture is about. And so there are instances where it’s appropriate to use asset forfeiture."

Lester Graham: "Before or after conviction?"

PM: “Before conviction. There are instances where it’s appropriate.”

LG: "Can you give me an idea where that would be the case, where due process wouldn’t matter?"

PM: “Well, due process should always matter, and, so, but there is the instance where assets are forfeited from proceeds of large scale drug trafficking, from proceeds of embezzlement and other types of cases like that.”

We went on to talk about other issues and at the end of the interview, like I often do, I asked if he had anything to add.

PM: “Well, we can go back to the asset forfeiture question if you want. I might have a better soundbite for you.”

LG: (laughs) "Okay. That’s fine with me. What do you want us to know about asset forfeiture?"

PM: “Well, I would say that on asset forfeiture, that we should make sure that there’s due process before people’s assets are taken and that in all cases that law enforcement is not allowed to unilaterally seize assets rather than freeze assets.”

LG: "That’s a little different from what you were saying before."

PM: “It is.”

LG: "This is your position?"

PM: “That’s my position.”

In an interview with Gongwer, Miles said he supported legislation that would require a conviction.

Politicians across the board should agree on this: No innocent person should lose property without the government first having proved wrongdoing occured. The Michigan Legislature has an opportunity to enhance Michiganders’ property rights and due process protections. To learn more about this issue and track the legislation, visit www.mackinac.org/forfeiture.


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Dearborn Schools Rise to the Top

District has remarkable showing on new CAP report card

Photo provided by Dearborn Public Schools.

While most Michigan school districts are losing students and struggling with academic achievement, Dearborn Public Schools is bucking the trend. Serving 20,000 students, the state's third-largest district is operating more than its share of top-flight schools.

On the Mackinac Center's latest Elementary and Middle School Context and Performance Report Card, which rated the performance of 2,261 Michigan public schools, Dearborn towered above all other conventional districts and many charter schools. In fact, five of the top 10 "CAP" scores for all schools, and seven of the top eight scores for conventional district schools, are from Dearborn Public Schools. Fully half of the 30 Dearborn district schools rated in the top 4 percent of all schools statewide.

"The CAP Report Card shows that our strategic plan is working and exemplifies the hard work by our staff, parents, Board of Education and our students," Superintendent Glenn Maleyko said.

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Along with the three-year look at M-STEP results, the latest edition of the CAP Report Card rates schools for long-term performance over eight years of measured data and highlights improvements made over that time.

The report card factors multiple years of M-STEP test scores for third through eighth graders and adjusts the results based on the share of student test-takers who qualify for free lunches. There is a strong statistical connection between student poverty and low academic achievement, because of the disadvantages and challenges typically faced by low-income students.

About 70 percent of Dearborn Public Schools students are eligible for free lunch benefits. The rates are even higher in schools like Iris Becker Elementary (pictured), number two overall and highest in long-term performance, and Maples Elementary, number three overall and one of the 10 most improved schools in Michigan. Students in these schools outperform their more affluent peers statewide even without adjusting scores based on poverty rates.

Interestingly, the share of Dearborn students who come from homes where English is not the first language is 48 percent, nearly eight times greater than the state average. A predominantly Arab-American population contributes to more than 60 different spoken dialects identified in the community.

The student language characteristic does not factor into the CAP Report Card model, but it does represent a different challenge students must overcome as they get up to speed in tested subjects. Helping these students expand their English language vocabulary and reading proficiency is a key focus for the district.

Dearborn leaders attribute some of their success to the regular practice of "Specific School Classroom Visits", both announced and unannounced. These visits incorporate clear, quick and thorough feedback to teachers based on a model of consistent expectations and strategies throughout the district. The process highlights a purposeful attempt to move the culture from compliance to continuous improvement.

The unusual organization of the district also appears to facilitate the sharing of best practices and resources in a more efficient manner. Rather than divide administrative oversight between elementary and secondary schools, the district is organized vertically by an area's feeder system, which includes all the assigned neighborhood schools in a given area that feed into one comprehensive public high school. Dearborn leaders say this approach has fostered greater cooperation that leads to a more coherent focus.

"We are very fortunate in Dearborn to have a community that values and places a high importance on education. They are very supportive of our efforts," said Maleyko. "However, the real difference maker is the dedicated and hard-working staff that partners with parents and the community to ensure our students grow and achieve at high levels..

Overall, Dearborn receives and spends a little more per student than the average Michigan local district. Funding dipped during the tightest years of the recession, but has since moved up to a little more than $12,000 per student. By comparison nearby Detroit Public Schools Community District operates at about $15,000 per pupil, but with significantly worse results.

Indicators show that Dearborn's success doesn't end at eighth grade. In addition to the latest distinguished performance, two of the district's four high schools finished among the top 20 in the state on a similar report card for high schools. The publicly reported four-year graduation rate climbed from 76 percent in 2011 to 95 percent in 2017.

By numerous key measures, most Dearborn schools are clearly outperforming the pack in Michigan. But room for improvement remains, as the state overall has lost ground to every other state on the best measures of math and reading achievement.

If Michigan is going to turn around its lackluster academic results, the examples of higher-performing public school systems like Dearborn's could help lead the way.


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Bipartisanship on Criminal Justice Reform Continues to Grow

Common ground needed to overcome current shortcomings of justice system

In a recent op-ed in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, Doug DeVos, former chair of the West Michigan Policy Forum, outlines why “criminal justice reform is the right thing to do, for all of us.” Citing Michigan’s high corrections spending and relatively high crime rate, DeVos calls for change.

Specifically, he wants the Legislature to repudiate the outdated “tough on crime” mentality, which, he writes, has had the unintended effect of being “tough on taxpayers.” He adds that Michiganders have a responsibility to end policies that needlessly devastate individuals, families and communities and make it difficult for former offenders to assimilate back into society.

This is the new-school conservative point of view on criminal justice and a significant shift toward a bipartisan agreement on these issues. DeVos is calling for measures that traditionally have been favored by liberal groups and politicians, such as the release of medically frail prisoners and the automatic parole of prisoners who have served their minimum sentence.

Despite agreeing on these policy solutions, new-school conservatives and liberals still approach criminal justice reforms from different perspectives. While the Left tends to focus on “social justice” and ending “mass incarceration,” thought leaders on the Right are generally more concerned about efficient corrections spending and the negative consequences for public safety stemming from some “tough on crime” policies. Nevertheless, reformers across the spectrum have found some common ground.

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For example, the concept of “smart on crime” is something everyone can agree on: It’s needlessly harsh and financially inefficient to over-incarcerate offenders. Both sides should support getting former offenders into productive employment, because work is good for both public safety and social justice. And there’s wide support for addressing factors like mental illness, recidivism and poverty, which are the root causes explaining why many people are imprisoned. Prison should be reserved for the real threats to safety and society, not a place where we put people we don’t know how to help.

With another state election cycle fast approaching, it’s reassuring to remember that we have at least one issue where there’s bipartisan support for commonsense reforms.


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A Look At The State Budget for Business Subsidies

Old ideas get new taxpayer cash

Gov. Rick Snyder moved from being a skeptic of business subsidies to a supporter over time. His latest budget shows his legacy on the issue.

His recommended budget for the state’s business subsidy programs is down slightly. It calls for $161.8 million in state taxpayer-paid subsidy programs, down from $170.9 million this year. There is an additional $28.9 million for administration, a small increase from this year.

The state will continue handing out favors in its Michigan Business Development Program and Community Revitalization Program. Their money comes from general taxpayer dollars, either directly from taxation or from the tobacco settlement money that could also have been spent elsewhere in the budget.

These programs were replacements of programs that operated during the Granholm and Engler administrations. The older programs operated as tax credit programs, meaning there was no budgetary cap on them. The newer programs, by contrast, received direct budgetary approval, so at least legislators knew how much money they were going to spend on them. The old tax credits assign costs that are paid by future taxpayers, kicking the costs of today’s ribbon-cuttings onto tomorrow’s residents. The deals made as far back as the 1990s are still taxpayer obligations and the people who were awarded them are expecting to collect $717.6 million in this year alone. By contrast, the MBDP and MCRP keep lawmakers from obligating future generations.

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But lawmakers have been inconsistent on whether business subsidies should be budgeted. The governor also championed last year — and the Legislature approved — two off-budget programs that will ring up another $1.2 billion in refundable tax credits. So the state will continue to create obligations that must be paid for down the road.

The recipients in the older program are kept secret. It is considered to be confidential taxpayer information. Recipients of the new budgeted programs, however, can be disclosed and that’s a good thing for transparency’s sake. But lawmakers ought to clarify that residents can be told about where their tax money is going for the older programs as well.

So the state now operates smaller programs that are more transparent than the older ones. That’s an improvement, but transparent programs can still be ineffective. A recent report looked at the MBDP and found spending on it hurt the economy more than it helped.

The state is spending money on selected businesses in other ways, too.

Pure Michigan has been around for a long time, even though the old campaign has gotten stale. But regardless, the governor wants another $35 million for it this year, also from that fungible tobacco settlement money. It’s a waste of cash, as tourism businesses should pay for their own advertising.

The state will also continue to manage some of the 21st Century Jobs Fund programs, though it will likely still fail to meet transparency requirements of law and good governance. Both the 21st Century Jobs Fund programs and Pure Michigan began in previous administrations.

To their credit, lawmakers got rid of a handful of narrowly targeted business subsidy programs over the past eight years. After spending a half-billion taxpayer dollars on the film industry, the state no longer forks over cash for film productions. The state also no longer has programs for subsidizing battery plants, or solar panels, or “anchor companies.” But these interests may still be able to get money from taxpayers under the new MBDP.

Getting rid of a few programs was a step in the right direction. Limiting what remains was a further step. But it seems that those steps were as far as our lawmakers wanted to go. So they’re going to discuss again another year of delivering around $170 million to select interests.


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March 16, 2018 MichiganVotes weekly roll call report

Senate Bill 872, Extend statute of limitations on criminal sexual conduct suits: Passed 28 to 7 in the Senate

To extend to 10 years the statute of limitations on filing a civil lawsuit related to criminal sexual conduct offenses, or if the victim was a minor, until the individual turns 48 years of age, with some narrow exceptions. This would apply retroactively to offenses committed after 1996, and would not require that any criminal prosecution or other legal action was ever brought as a result of an alleged offense. Alleged victims would have to file suits within one year after the bill becomes law.

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Senate Bill 425, Authorize electronic voter registration: Passed 35 to 1 in the Senate

To require the Secretary of State to develop a system for online voter registration on its website. An individual would have to have a valid driver license or state identification card to use the proposed system.


Senate Bill 637, Cap allowable fees for 'small cell wireless' systems: Passed 33 to 3 in the Senate

To establish a comprehensive regulatory regime for small cell wireless systems that use routers on power line poles and other existing infrastructure to provide cell phone and internet access without needing expensive towers. The bill would cap the amount that state and local governments could charge for zoning, permits and other fees.


House Bill 5456, Ban asbestos lawsuit “double dipping”: Passed 35 to 1 in the Senate

To require plaintiffs who seek damages for alleged asbestos-related conditions to disclose whether they have already filed suits against trusts or claims pools created in previous asbestos bankruptcy cases. Reportedly some plaintiff attorneys have filed multiple suits seeking duplicate damages. The bill would also authorize reopening and readjusting cases and damage awards in such cases.


House Bill 5180, Potentially permit air bows for hunting during firearms season: Passed 59 to 47 in the House

To potentially permit the use of pneumatic air bows to hunt game during any open season in which a firearm may be used, and also potentially permit disabled hunters to use air bows during bow season. Specifically, the bill allows but does not require state officials to authorize this. These devices are like crossbows but use compressed air to drive an arrow.


House Bill 5646, Check voter lists against Social Security death lists: Passed 101 to 5 in the House

To require the Secretary of State to check the statewide qualified voter file against the U.S. Social Security Administration's death master file on a monthly basis. Also, to enroll the state in multistate voter registration verification programs, to the extent these do not require a new law to be passed or pushed.


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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