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PA. still hasn't gotten booze sales right

Even with recent reforms, Pennsylvania still has complicated laws governing the sale of alcohol. These laws include mandating that all liquor sales take place at state-run stores to limiting the number of bottles of wine you can buy at grocery stores. Is this the proper role of state government? Or should Pennsylvania legislators reduce restrictions and allow private businesses to sell alcohol?

Robert Doar: Paul Ryan's anti-poverty ideas an excellent start

House Speaker Paul Ryan has outlined ways that he would like to reform U.S. anti-poverty efforts. His focus is on re-orienting poverty programs to encourage and support work. Do you think these types of proposals are the way to reduce poverty? Or is there a better way to help low-income Americans?


Future of state pension fund could be at risk, group says

In North Carolina, there are questions about whether the state treasurer relied too much on risky investments for the state’s pension fund. With the private sector increasingly using retirement funds such as 401(k)s, some in the legislature are re-examining whether the state should continue offering pensions. How do you think the state government should fund employees’ retirement?


Bathroom Wars Come to Michigan

The conflict actually arrived in March, when Democrats on a state Board of Education (an entity that has limited authority) proposed “guidance” that would require public schools to let students “use the restroom in accordance with their gender identity.”

See Memorandum from State of Michigan Department of Education here.

This week a bill was introduced in the state Senate that was described by as follows:

2016 Senate Bill 993: Ban boys in public school girl’s restroom and vice versa

Introduced by Sen. Tom Casperson (R) on May 25, 2016, to prohibit public schools from allowing boys to use the girl’s restroom or girls to use the boy’s rest room, plus locker rooms, showers, etc. when students of the opposite sex are present. However, if a student asserts having a gender is different from their biological sex, and a parent or legal guardian consents in writing, the school would have provided an accommodation that does not violate the prohibition described above. This could include a single-occupancy or unisex restroom or the “controlled use” of faculty facilities.      

City Council voices support for gun control measures

The city of Charlottesville is weighing in on the debate over federal gun control laws. Is it useful for local politicians to pass symbolic resolutions on national issues? Or should city council members focus on city issues, leaving national issues up to members of Congress?

Flint Water Crisis Triggers Constitutional Amendment Proposal

Flint Water Crisis Triggers Constitutional Amendment Proposal

House Speaker wants to make it easier to fire incompetent government employees

The investigation into how the City of Flint’s drinking water became contaminated almost immediately became highly politicized and partisan, but this much seems clear: The crisis involved government failures at the local, state and federal levels. The failure was aggravated by overlapping layers of opaque and possibly contradictory regulations promulgated by multiple agencies, which all conspired to dilute responsibility and accountability.

Nevertheless, the actions – or perhaps inaction - of two long-time civil service employees at the Michigan Department of Environmental quality, have drawn criticism from all quarters, and criminal charges.

In Michigan and most states, government employees are subject to civil service protections originally created during the Progressive era in the early 20th century in an effort to reduce corruption and political patronage that was most visible in big city “machine” politics but was rife throughout government. One unfortunate downside is that the laws make it difficult or even impossible in some cases to fire “civil servants” for anything but the most egregious kinds of malfeasance.

In Michigan, these protections are built into the state constitution in the form of a Civil Service Commission that in the matter of state employees can even trump the action of the legislature in some areas.

This is the context for a new proposal to amend the state constitution introduced Thursday by the Speaker of the Michigan House, Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant), as House Joint Resolution MM. The measure would give state department heads the power to fire civil servants for “conduct that directly and negatively impacts the department's ability to accomplish its statutory duties in a fair, timely,

equitable, and transparent manner.” Employees would retain the right to appeal to the Civil Service Commission, and get their jobs back if it judged the firing “arbitrary and capricious.”

Given the politicization of the Flint water debacle the fate of the measure is uncertain. It would require a two-third supermajority vote in both the House and Senate to be placed on the ballot, and then the approval of voters. Cotter is widely regarded as an effective and able Speaker, however, so it would be premature to count the proposal out yet.

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