Commentary & Community

Michigan Voters Could Mandate Search Warrant for Electronic Data

With so much personal information being kept in electronic form, there are increasing concerns about how private that data is. On Election Day, Michigan voters will decide whether state police must get a warrant to access this electronic information.


If voters approve Proposal 2, it would add "electronic data" and "electronic communications" to the list of items that the state constitution says can only be searched by police if they get a search warrant. Currently, there is uncertainty about how protected electronic data is from police searches.


Both the federal Constitution and the Michigan constitution protect "persons, houses, papers and possessions" from warrantless searches. When written, there were no such things as electronic communications and electronic data. Advocates for this amendment argue that the state constitution needs to be updated to ensure that this constitutional protection is adequate for modern times. Opponents have noted that such protections could make it more difficult for law enforcement to do their jobs. 


Both houses of the Michigan legislature voted to place this amendment on the ballot for voters to decide. The votes in each house were unanimous.


Do you think that police should get a warrant before accessing someone's electronic communications?

Ann Arbor Relaxes Laws on Psychedelic Mushrooms

Ann Arbor police will no longer be making it a priority to enforce state laws against psychedelic drugs.


The city council voted this week to make enforcing these laws the lowest law enforcement priority. This effectively decriminalizes the use and possession of psychedelic mushrooms and similar plants. The vote was unanimous.


City council members said they were swayed by evidence that these plants are effective for medicinal use and that they are also important in some religious observances. They said that they were not condoning anyone breaking the law, but they did not think that police resources should be focused on imposing criminal penalties on those using these drugs.


Supporters of this resolution contend that it will stop police from arresting people who are using the drugs to improve their psychological well being. According to the resolution, these drugs can alleviate a significant number of medical problems. Opponents, however, argue that the hallucinogenic drugs are dangerous, and that the city council's action is promoting illegal activity.


The decriminalization resolution covers ayahuasca, ibogaine, mescaline, peyote, psilocybin mushrooms. Anyone within city limits who plants, cultivates, transports, distributes, or possesses these drugs is unlikely to face any action by city law enforcement officials. The drugs remain illegal under both state and federal law.


Three other cities have decriminalized hallucinogenic drugs: Denver, Oakland, and Santa Cruz.


Do you support decriminalizing the use of psychedelic mushrooms?

Michigan Legislature Suing over Governor’s Lockdown Order

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan’s Democratic governor, has put in place some of the strictest lockdown restrictions in the nation as a response to the coronavirus. She has faced stiff criticism for these actions, and now is looking at a lawsuit from the Republican-controlled legislature.


At the onset of the coronavirus epidemic, Gov. Whitmer imposed a state of emergency that prohibited many actions across the state. These included a ban on private and public gatherings, the sale of “non-essential” items in stores, and a prohibition on travel between residences. Many governors have issued lockdown orders, but Gov. Whitmer’s restrictions went beyond what other governors had done.


From the beginning, state residents criticized the stay-at-home order for being inconsistent and unnecessarily strict. Some sheriffs refused to enforce it, and the governor eventually rolled back some of these restrictions. Last week, however, she extended the state of emergency, leaving many of these bans in place.


Legislators are arguing that state law prohibits the governor from extending a state of emergency beyond 28 days without legislative approval. Legal analysts say state law is murky on this point, but there is language in a 1976 statute that supports legislators’ views.


The governor contends that her actions are necessary to protect the public from the spread of coronavirus. Her critics argue that she is hurting workers and business owners by restrictions that are not necessary to slow the spread of coronavirus.


If this lawsuit is successful, the governor will be forced to work with legislatures on what a future stay-at-home order looks like.


Do you think that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer overstepped her authority by unilaterally re-imposing her lockdown restrictions?

Tuition-Free Community College Debated in Michigan

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer wants state taxpayers to fund community college tuition for the state’s high school graduates. But critics are pushing back, citing the plan’s high cost, among other things.


Gov. Whitmer unveiled the “Michigan Opportunity Scholarship” plan as part of her state budget last month. This scholarship would pay for high school graduates to attend community college full time without paying tuition or fees. It would also provide money for students who attend four-year colleges and universities in the state.


Proponents of this idea contend that it will help increase higher education rates. They say that today’s workforce requires higher education, so it makes sense for taxpayers to provide funding for students to obtain that education. Opponents note that this plan would cost up to $100 million a year. They also contend that this program would benefit middle income and higher-income Michiganders, who can already afford community college tuition. Lower-income students already qualify for Pell Grants, which cover community college tuition.


The fate of this idea now rests with legislators.


Do you think that state governments should pay for students’ community college tuition and fees?

Michigan Governor Seeks to Undo Medicaid Work Requirements

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has only been on the job as Michigan’s governor for a month, but she’s already making a sharp break from her predecessor when it comes to Medicaid policy. Whitmer, a Democrat, is asking legislators to undo work requirements put in place under Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican. She faces an uphill battle to undo these Medicaid rules from the Republican-controlled legislature.


Under current Michigan law, individuals eligible for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, must meet certain work requirements. These include engaging in work or work-related activities for 80 hours a month. Only those in the Medicaid expansion population – able-bodied adults without children who are between 18 and 62 – face this requirement. There are also exceptions for people who are unable to work.


Gov. Whitmer argues that 183,000 people could lose coverage if these rules go into effect in 2020. She is supporting changes that, she says, would still promote work but cut red tape. Legislative leaders, who supported these requirements when they were enacted, are unlikely to take moves that would undo this reform.


Under the Obama Administration, the federal government did not grant states waivers to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients. The Trump Administration has reversed course, however, and is supporting state efforts in this area.


Do you think that able-bodied Medicaid recipients should have to work or enroll in job training in order to receive benefits?

Former Michigan Congressman Calls for End to Senate

John Dingell represented Michigan in the U.S. House of Representatives for 59 years. Now he is calling for an end to the U.S. Senate.


In an op-ed published by the Atlantic, Rep. Dingell writes that the Senate enshrines minority rule:


California has almost 40 million people, while the 20 smallest states have a combined population totaling less than that. Yet because of an 18th-century political deal, those 20 states have 40 senators, while California has just two. These sparsely populated, usually conservative states can block legislation supported by a majority of the American people. That’s just plain crazy.


He proposes abolishing the Senate, or combining it in some way with the House of Representatives. This, he says, will be a way to stop ideas that are supported by a majority of Americans from being killed in the Senate.


Opponents of this idea note that the framers of the Constitution never intended the U.S. to be ruled strictly by a legislative majority. They point out that the Senate was designed specifically to be anti-majoritarian, leading to a check-and-balance on both the House of Representatives and the presidency.


This idea has been floated by other observers, who are frustrated that the Senate membership is comprised of two senators from every state. Population plays no part in determining the number of U.S. senators, something that gives more power to less-populated states in that chamber. The Founding Fathers designed the Senate to be a representative of state interests. Initially senators were chosen by state legislatures, but this was changed by constitutional amendment in the Progressive Era.


Article V of the Constitution states that “no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.” This would seem to preclude any changes made to the current makeup of the Senate without every state agreeing.


Do you support abolishing the U.S. Senate?

Marijuana Scores Some Big Wins on Election Day

The federal government may still label marijuana as a prohibited drug, but state prohibitions continue to fall.


Voters in four states decided on ballot measures concerning marijuana. In three of those states, pro-pot advocates came out victorious.


The biggest win for marijuana backers was in Michigan. Voters in that state approved the recreational use of marijuana. With the passage of this measure, Michiganders who are over 21 can possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and cultivate up to 12 plants for their own consumption. The sale of marijuana is also permitted. Michigan joins 9 other states and the District of Columbia in permitting recreational marijuana use.


Voters in Missouri and Utah approved medical marijuana measures. In Missouri, voters chose from three competing proposals to legalize and tax the medicinal use of marijuana. They approved the one that had the lowest tax rate and that would fund veteran services. In Utah, the governor and legislators had agreed to convene a special session to deal with medical marijuana legislation regardless of what voters decided.


North Dakota voters bucked the trend by rejecting that state’s ballot initiative that would have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. That measure garnered the support of only 41% of voters.


Earlier this year, Oklahoma voters approved a medical marijuana initiative.


Do you support legalizing marijuana for recreational use?

Food Stamp Work Requirement Goes into Effect in Michigan


Many Michigan residents who receive food stamps are now facing a new requirement: work or train for work.


This requirement affects those receiving benefits under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Which the state administers. To comply, a food stamp recipient must do one of the following:

  • Work 20 hours-a-week in an unsubsidized job
  • Spend 20 hours-a-week in an approved job training program
  • Volunteer at a nonprofit organization


This requirement does not apply to all food stamp recipients, however. Recipients who have a disability, who are unable to work a 20-hour work week, or who are receiving unemployment benefits are exempt. Recipients who are not exempt but who do not complete the work requirements are only eligible for three months of benefits in a 36-month period.


Federal law ties SNAP eligibility to work or work training, but the government can waive that mandate in areas with high unemployment. That is what happened in 2002. The requirement was re-imposed for some counties in Michigan previously, but now it is being put back in place for the entire state.


Do you think that food stamp recipients should be required to work?

Michigan Milk Facility to Receive Millions in Subsidies


Two milk processing companies are making plans to build a $510 million facility in central Michigan. This would help support the state’s agricultural industry, but it comes at a price – millions of dollars in state subsidies.


Michigan is one of the top milk-producing states in the nation. It lacks adequate processing facilities to handle all of the milk its cows can produce. That is why a company is looking at building a $425 million dairy processing plant north of Lansing, with another company seeking to build an $85 million byproduct processing plant next door.


This would be a large investment in the central Michigan region, but it would not be a completely private investment, however. The state of Michigan is looking at offering these companies $26 million in tax incentives.


Proponents of the subsidies say that the processing center is vital to ensuring that Michigan has a healthy dairy industry. They say that subsidies are necessary to counter the offers coming from other states. Opponents counter that this is a taxpayer giveaway to private corporations. They note that if there is so much dairy supply in Michigan, then there is little need for these companies to receive taxpayer handouts to make this project work.


If approved, this facility would be completed in 2020.


Do you think that Michigan should provide subsidies to milk processing plants or other private businesses?


Legislators Approve New Business Subsidies in Michigan Budget


Ask any politician what his or her top priority is, and you’ll likely get the answer of “jobs.” Michigan legislators are no different. In their quest to create jobs in the state, they passed a budget that contains millions of dollars in tax credits for businesses. Some question whether these subsidy programs are a good way to create jobs, however.


In the state budget passed in late June, legislators included $162 million in businesses subsidies. These are mainly tax credit programs, which provide a refundable tax credit for businesses. These refundable credits are given to a business regardless of a business’s tax liability, which means the state could provide a direct payment to a company that qualifies.


The $162 million approved this year is not the total amount of Michigan business subsidies that are authorized for the coming fiscal year. Thanks to authorizations that occurred in previous years, the state can hand out $644 million to businesses this year.


Supporters of these subsidy programs say that they are necessary to create jobs in Michigan and attract high-paying jobs. They say that some industries just won’t locate in the state without them. Critics counter that most businesses create jobs without subsidies. These subsidies, they say, are merely a handout of taxpayer dollars to a few favored corporations. These critics point out that the money spent on subsidies could be spent on other government services or returned to taxpayers.


Do you support state programs that provide subsidies to businesses?


Michigan Eliminates Prevailing Wage Mandate


Should the state mandate a union wage on government construction projects? Michigan legislators answered “no” to this question in early June. They passed legislation to repeal the state’s prevailing wage requirement. While unions bemoaned this move and promised payback at the ballot box, businesses and some workers applauded the move to allow greater flexibility on construction projects financed by the state government.


For decades in Michigan, government construction projects operated under the requirement that they pay the “prevailing wage” in a region. That is a state-set wage rate that was supposed to equal the wage and benefits paid to the majority of workers in a certain area. Usually, this meant the union wage rate. This allowed unions to have easier access to these projects and made it more difficult for non-union companies to compete for government construction contracts.


A business group had collected enough signatures to place a repeal of Michigan’s prevailing wage law on the November ballot. Legislators had the option of enacting this measure by approving it through a majority vote. Both houses of the legislature did so, with most Republicans voting to repeal the wage requirement and most Democrats voting against it.


Proponents of repealing the prevailing wage mandate say that taxpayers will save money because labor costs on government construction projects will be lower, perhaps by as much as 15%. They also say that this will mean more companies will be able to bid on government construction projects, thus giving more job opportunities to workers who are not in unions.


Organized labor fought against this law’s repeal, arguing that it would lead to lower wages for workers. They contend that it will drive skilled labor out of the state. They also say that this law helped working families.


Do you think that states should mandate a union wage scale on government construction projects?


Michigan Making it More Difficult for Government to Seize Assets


In Michigan, as in many other states, if police think you are involved in a drug crime, they can take your money and your property. They do not have to prove that you are dealing or even using drugs; the mere suspicion of involvement is all that it is required to seize your assets. Legislators are on the verge of ending law enforcement’s power to do this.


Under civil asset forfeiture, police agencies have broad power to seize and keep property from suspected criminals. Even if there is no conviction for a crime, this property can still be legally kept by the state. Individuals who owned that property can fight to get it back, but the legal barriers are high and such a fight is costly and time-consuming.


The Michigan House of Representatives voted to reform this practice in mid-May. Under legislation that passed that chamber, any property valued at $50,000 or less could only be forfeited to the state if there is a criminal conviction, a plea agreement, or if the owner relinquishes the property to the state.


Law enforcement groups testified against this legislation during its consideration. They said that civil asset forfeiture is necessary to combat drug trafficking, depriving dealers of the proceeds of their crime. They also said that the money from forfeiture helps fund law enforcement, so limiting the practice will deprive them of money that they need.


Opponents of civil asset forfeiture point out that if drug dealers are convicted of crimes, then their property can still be seized. They say that there are many instances where law enforcement takes someone’s property, but never charges or convicts that person of a crime. Those who pushed for reform say that the government should not be able to confiscate someone’s property without convicting that person of a crime, and then force the person to go through a lengthy and costly process to get the property back.


This bill will now be considered by the state Senate.


Do you think that the government should be able to take someone’s property if they are only suspected of a crime but never convicted or even charged with one?


Michigan Legislators Tackle Sex Abuse Laws



For years, Larry Nassar abused gymnasts and others while holding a position at Michigan State University (MSU). His recent conviction for these crimes – and the media firestorm that resulted – is reverberating in the state capitol.  Legislators are rushing to introduce a number of bills aimed at fixing problems exposed by the failure of authorities to stop Nassar.


The bills being considered would make a wide variety of changes to state law, including:

  • Mandating that coaches, volunteers, and others in a school system report suspected sexual abuse
  • Allowing prosecutors to introduce more testimony about a suspect’s past sexual crimes
  • Increasing the penalties for those who are mandated to report suspected sexual abuse but fail to do so
  • Making it a misdemeanor for someone in authority to interfere with another person who is trying to report a sex crime
  • Adding sexual abuse to the crimes that can be reported on the state’s anonymous tip line
  • Requiring universities to publicly disclose their costs of dealing with charges brought against the school or any of the school’s employees


In addition, the state House of Representatives passed a resolution calling on MSU President Anna Simon to resign. There has also been talk of legislation that would prohibit universities from using money they receive from the state to settle sex crimes.


It remains to be seen which of these bills makes it through the House and Senate. None have yet received a vote.


Do you think that Michigan needs to strengthen its laws regarding sexual abuse in the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal? Should Michigan State University President Anna Simon resign?



Michigan Key Votes – Automotive Laws


Check out these key votes made by elected officials in Michigan earlier this year, and go to www.votespotter.com to sign up and see how your elected officials voted on these and other issues that impact your daily life.


House Bill 5013, Adopt auto insurance reforms and price controls: Failed 45 to 63 in the House on November 2

To allow vehicle owners to purchase auto insurance policies with personal injury protection (PIP) coverage below the currently mandated unlimited coverage; cap the amount that hospitals, doctors and long-term care providers could charge to treat people injured in crashes; and more. Among other things, the bill would require insurance companies to lower rates if these provisions lowered the cost of treating crash victims, which reportedly are much higher in Michigan than any other state.


 House Bill 5040, “Bad driver tax” repeal and amnesty: Passed 103 to 5 in the House on November 2

To repeal the “driver responsibility fees” that are assessed for various violations, effective Sept. 30, 2018. The bill would also clear any outstanding liability an individual may have to pay these fees. These very expensive fees were originally adopted in 2003 to increase state revenue collections. The Senate has passed a repeal that only clears liabilities older than six years.


Senate Bill 609, Repeal “driver responsibility fees” and give partial amnesty: Passed 37 to 0 in the Senate on October 19

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.


House Bill 4215, Repeal rule banning car running in driveway: Passed 30 to 6 in the Senate on June 13 and 77 to 30 in the House on May 2

To repeal a ban on leaving an unattended vehicle running other than on a public street or highway. This would allow warming up the car in the driveway in winter.


Senate Bill 163, Authorize “Choose Life” license plate: Passed 65 to 43 in the House on May 25

To require the Secretary of State to develop a “Choose Life” license plate, with the profits from its sale spent on "life-affirming programs and projects."


Michigan House Bill 4559


Check out this key bill voted on by elected officials in Michigan, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!


Michigan House Bill 4559, Permit Beer and Wine Cartel Members to Hold Tastings for Staff: Passed 37 to 0 in the state Senate on June 22, 2017.


To permit the handful of members in the state-protected beer and wine wholesale and distribution cartel to hold educational product sampling sessions for employees.


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Michigan House Bill 4213


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House Bill 4213, Require Court Order to Breathalyze Minor Who Says No: Passed 37 to 0 in the state Senate on June 22, 2017. 


To establish that a police officer must get a court order to get a breath test for alcohol from a minor who objects. This is not related to drunk driving or vehicles, but to enforcement of a state law that bans minors from being in possession of alcohol. Recent court cases have suggested that doing this without a court order is unconstitutional.


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Michigan House Bill 4427


Check out this key bill voted on by elected officials in Michigan, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!


House Bill 4427, Regulate Access to Police Body Camera Images: Passed 37 to 0 in the state Senate on June 22, 2017.


To establish that police body camera recordings taken in a private place are exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. Individuals whose image is captured, owners of property seized or damaged in a crime and some others could still request a copy of the recordings subject to privacy exemptions. Police body camera recordings would have to be kept for at least 30 days, or longer if there is an related investigation.


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Michigan Senate Bill 242


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Senate Bill 242, Authorize Giving State Revenue to Chinese Company and Some Others: Passed 71 to 35 in the state House on July 12, 2017.

To authorize giving up to $200 million of state revenue to certain business owners, in particular a Chinese company said to be involved in iPhone manufacture. Earlier this year the Legislature also authorized up to $1.8 billion in state payments benefiting Detroit developer Dan Gilbert and possibly some others.


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Michigan Senate Bill 245


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Senate Bill 245, Repeal Switchblade Ban: Passed 106 to 1 in the state House on June 20th, 2017


To repeal the state law against owning, selling or possessing a switchblade knife, “the blade or blades of which can be opened by the flick of a button.” Reportedly the ban is outdated and unevenly enforced.


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Michigan Senate Bill 401


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Senate Bill 401, Overhaul school employee retirement system: Passed 21 to 17 in the state Senate on June 15, 2017


To replace the current school pension system with one that requires more cost-sharing by new employees, and contains provisions intended to limit state management practices responsible for the $29.1 billion of unfunded liabilities in the status quo system. New employees could choose instead to receive substantial employer contributions to 401(k) accounts. If the overhauled defined benefit component is not properly funded then enrollees would have to pay half the cost of correcting this, and if underfunding exceeds specified levels this option would be closed to new hires.


Comment below to share what you think of Michigan Senate Bill 401!


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