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Dateline: Lansing Legislative Report

An update on legislation affection AFL-CIO unions and their families

Straight Party Voting Cleared for November 8 Election

Straight party voting will continue to be an option for Michigan voters at the November 8 general election after a series of legal rulings rejecting appeals by Attorney General Bill Schuette to put the controversial law in effect for this year.

Passed by a partisan vote in the Republican controlled legislature last December and signed by Governor Snyder, the law was challenged last May in federal court.  The court challenge alleged that eliminating the time saving voting option would lead to longer waits in line to vote, particularly in predominantly African American cities, where straight ticket voting is more prevalent.

Demographic studies presented to the court by supporters of straight ticket showed that Michigan citizens in 15 cities voted straight party at rates in excess of 65%, including Highland Park (82%), Inkster (78%), Detroit (75%) and Flint (75%).

On July 21, U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain issued an injunction against implementation of the law and ordered a trial on the merits of the issue.

In his opinion, Drain noted that even the supporters of the ban conceded that removing the straight ticket option didn’t prevent straight ticket voting, it prevented them from doing so with a single vote. “It seems the only purpose behind P.A. 268 is to require voters to spend more time filling more bubbles,” he said.

Schuette appealed to Judge Drain to reverse his ruling, which he declined to do. He next asked the Court of Appeals to reverse the ruling, but they voted unanimously against taking that course. He asked the entire district Court of Appeals to rule “en banc” against Drain, but they turned him down. Finally, Schuette asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the matter, but they voted 6-2 against taking action.

Schuette finally conceded defeat and acknowledged that Michigan would use straight party voting for the November 8 election.

Dark Store Bill in Senate Committee

In 2010, the Michigan Tax Tribunal ruled that the Target store in Novi should be valued as though it were out of business or a “dark store” based on a new property assessment criteria.

This bizarre interpretation of Michigan law allowed big box stores across the state to pay little or no taxes, shortchanging local governments and leading to cutbacks in funds for police, fire and educational services.

Local governments have lost at least $100 million in revenue since 2013 due to this loophole!

And yet these same retailers expect local governments to continue to provide the services vital to a safe, high-quality community. Michigan counties spent $1.5 billion on security-related tasks in 2015 alone. The big box retailers put demands on public services, and yet have decided not to pay their fair share of the local property taxes to fund the services, leaving homeowners and small businesses to pick up the tab.

Rep. Dave Maturen, R-Indian Lake, introduced HB 5578 to help correct this inequity and ensure a fair and reasonable system of valuing property based on its “highest and best use” in the marketplace. The bill was approved overwhelmingly by the Michigan House last spring on a 97-11 vote and is now in the Senate Finance Committee awaiting action.

A Michigan Court of Appeals ruling against a big box retailer in the Upper Peninsula validates the case against the “Dark Stores” property valuation method, and the need for an immediate legislative fix to the problem.  In Menard, Inc. v. City of Escanaba, a three-judge panel said the Michigan Tax Tribunal made an error of law in accepting a dark store-style appeal by Menards and cutting the retailer’s value by more than half from the original assessment.

The decision is a significant victory for local governments and validates the reforms embodied in House Bill 5578.

Please contact your State Senator and urge them to pass HB 5578 in the few remaining days of legislative session this year. If the bill is not passed this year, it will expire and have to be re-introduced again next year.

You can get contact information for your Senator here.

You can watch a comprehensive documentary on this issue here.

Short House Likely in Lame Duck Session

The Michigan House of Representatives may be short-handed for the lame duck session of the legislature that takes place after the November 8thelection.

The 106th district seat will be vacant due to the tragic death of Representative Peter Pettalia, R-Presque Isle, who was hit by a truck while riding his motorcycle.

Several other seats may also become vacant if current term-limited legislators are successful in their attempts to get elected to local offices. At least three are running for township Supervisor seats and, if elected, would take office on November 20, missing most of the lame duck session.  Representative Charles Smiley, D-Grand Blanc, is running for the office of Grand Blanc Township Supervisor. Representative Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth, is running for Plymouth Township Supervisor and Representative Thomas Hooker is running for Byron Township Supervisor.

Two currently vacant seats in the House will be filled in special elections on November 8. Lauren Plawecki is the favorite to fill the seat held by her late mother, Julie Plawecki, for the remainder of 2016. Jewell Jones is the favorite to represent the 11th district for the 2017-18 term.

Patrick Green will likely replace former Representative Derek Miller, who resigned to become Macomb County Treasurer. Green will fill the remainder of Miller’s 2016 term and the 2017-18 term as well.

In the Senate, Ian Conyers is the overwhelming favorite to win the election to fill the vacant Senate seat in the 4th district.

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