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December 2013: Legislative Update

Senate Bill 358: An Update

Your calls and emails continue to remind legislators that Michigan workers are opposed to this dangerous legislation and are watching them.

The House Regulatory Reform Committee has removed the bill from the agenda, but that doesn’t mean it has gone away. SB 358 remains a threat to Michigan’s workforce and we must remain watchful and ready.

To recap, SB 358 introduced by Senator Meekhoff (R) removes the electrician’s license requirement for work in manufacturing and mining operations, putting Michigan workers at risk. It requires only that business employ one master electrician, who is not even required to be at a mining or manufacturing site. Working with electricity can be dangerous and should be done by trained and licensed professionals. Mistakes can mean injury or death to the electrician or even the entire work site. This bill passed the Senate 21-17 and is now in House Regulatory Reform Committee. Contact your State Representative to STOP this reckless legislation. Find your Representative at: www.house.mi.gov/mhrpublic/

Senate Bill 661—Campaign Finance

SB 661, introduced by Senator Meekhoff (R) is a bill giving even more power to the 1%. The bill would double the maximum campaign contributions allowed by state election law. Who worries about exceeding these limits? Only those who can afford to give to the limits already, the wealthy donors. 99.992% of all donors never reach the current contribution limits meaning the bill is clearly written for the 1%.

The bill also ties campaign contribution limits to the Consumer Price
Index to adjust for inflation. It’s ironic and sad that working women
and men earning minimum wage haven’t seen a raise in 5 years, let alone get a cost of living adjustment when the CPI jumps. It is a sign of too having much power when our legislators see it as OK to hold back your wages while they double their campaign war chests.

And there’s more. The bill shields those who pay for third party issue advocacy ads from having to disclose their identities; more “dark money” in our state politics. One thing is clear, they are using the legislative process for their political gain in attempt to secure their political future.

Over and over again you’ve seen Governor Snyder’s failed promise of “greater government transparency.” This bill was rushed through the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee and voted on the Senate floor. It is now in the House Elections and Ethics Committee. If passed, it will land on the Governor’s desk and we will see where he stands on his transparency pledge.

Senate Bills 652—Court of Claims

In yet another power grab, the legislature passed SB 652 in near record time, and again invoked with Immediate Effect without the constitutional 2/3 majority vote in the House. This bill is another example of the misuse of political power by the majority party to protect themselves from legitimate oversight. The bill moves the Court of Claims to the Circuit Court allowing a political party in power to hand- select the judges who hear cases that are filed against the state of Michigan.

This bill also moves all existing cases, some of which are in mid-trial, to the new court system. Why go through such trouble and expense? A closer look at the cases being heard reveals an answer.

  • When the Republicans rammed through Right-to-Work laws while locking citizens out of their Capitol they violated the Open Meetings Act. This is one case that is in the Court of Claims.
  • Other cases involving Detroit’s Emergency Manager and Governor Snyder’s secret NERD fund could also be heard in the Court of Claims. There are more.

Any case where the citizens of Michigan need to challenge their government would have gone to the Court of Claims, but not now. Those important cases will go to the hand-selected judges of the Circuit Court.

By stacking the courts in their favor, Republicans who dominate all three branches of the government would be able to quickly pass controversial laws, obtain a governor’s signature and put them into effect without constitutional concerns receiving a hearing before a judge or jury.

HB 5111 and HB 5112 Standardized Tests Instead of Solutions

The Michigan House of Representatives Education Committee approved two bills on December 4 that would increase the stakes tied to standardized tests. HB 5111 would require all third-grade students to pass a reading test before they were allowed to go on to fourth grade.

HB 5111 would stigmatize students who may be doing very well in other subjects, but fail to meet proficiency on the standardized reading test. HB 5112 would assign schools A-F grades based on student performance on a standardized test. HB 5112 is particularly bad because any school that receives an “F” for two years is taken over by the state reform officer, which is synonymous with placing the school under the state-run Educational Achievement Authority (EAA). Under EAA, teachers and other school employees lose collective bargaining rights, which are an important tool used to negotiate for needed classroom supplies and training. EAA has lost nearly 25% of its students by choice of families pulling out.

The Michigan State AFL-CIO has always supported high standards for schools and holding schools accountable for those standards. However, neither children’s abilities nor school success can be quantified by a single measurement from a standardized test. Attaching such high stakes to standardized testing a problem in its own right, and there still is no decision on what testing program will be selected to replace the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP). Schools should be evaluated, but they should also be recognized as the complex organizations they are requiring multiple points of data to indicate strengths, weaknesses and increases or declines in these measures. A single grade, attached to a punitive state takeover, is simply wrong.

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