Jun 30, 2009

Legislature breaks without addressing public health issue that kills and sickens thousands

LANSING – With the Legislature on a two-week summer break, it seems fitting to look at what did not get done during the marathon session last Thursday that ran to 1 a.m. Friday morning in the Senate.

Although there was a solution out there, 100 Michigan State Troopers will still lose their jobs this week. The House passed a supplemental bill using some restricted funds to save the jobs, but the Senate never took it up. Sen. Valde Garcia, R-Howell, the chair of the MSP Appropriations Sub-Committee, said he had a way to save the jobs.

But my pet peeve and that of thousands of other Michigan residents is the Senate’s failure to take up the workplace smoking ban. The House passed House Bill 4377 in May with bipartisan support, but the Republican controlled Senate refuses to take it up, despite some 70 percent of Michigan residents supporting it.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, does not support a ban, and he has said he will not consider a ban that has exceptions like HB 4377 does. No problem; then take up Senate Bill 114 that has no exceptions so or an amended version of HB 4377 so it can get in a conference committee with time to spare instead of at the last minute like last year.

Here are some important bills they passed that night instead of taking up the workplace smoking ban. HB 4897, a bill to create an exception to a requirement that a hunter wear hunter orange; SB 470, a bill to require a retailer selling beer kegs to attach an ID tag to it; and SB 483, a bill to specify that a person accompanying a licensed hunter on a bear or bobcat hunt does not have to be licensed, as long as he or she does not carry a weapon or own or possess dogs used during the hunt.

Now, these bills are important to someone in Michigan, but nothing personally touches people like deadly secondhand smoke, costs taxpayers more money and has more support than a workplace smoking ban.

Why is the Senate sitting on this important public health issue?

Jun 29, 2009

Report says Michigan’s unemployment insurance system is outdated and discriminatory

Michigan’s unemployment insurance system is outdated and unable to adequately meet the needs of unemployed working families, and it is discriminatory against women and low wage workers, according to a recent report by the Michigan League for Human Services (MLHS).

The MLHS released the report, “Michigan Needs to Modernize its Unemployment Insurance System,” on June 11 as other states were passing legislation to accept funds from the federal government’s Unemployment Insurance Modernization Act (UIMA), part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 that would both stimulate the economy and help unemployed workers simply survive.

The report says only half of Michigan’s 14 percent unemployed are collecting benefits, and the low number is the result of the outdated system operating under rules that were designed for the 1930’s New Deal program.

Senate Republicans left $140 million in federal funds on the table when they voted against American workers and against discharging House Bills 4785 and 4786 from the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee last week. The bills, approved by the House on May 6, would provide unemployment benefits to individuals who are only available for and seeking part-time work and those in an approved job training program who have exhausted their regular benefits. It will pump $140 million in federal funds into Michigan which is suffering with double-digit unemployment.

Among the highlights of the MLHS report are that a minimum wage worker in Michigan must work nearly four times as many hours to gain UI monetary eligibility as a higher-wage worker. The full-time working requirement for UI disproportionately burdens female workers in the state. For every $1 of UI benefits spent by workers and families, there is an estimated $2.15 in economic growth. That makes Senate Republicans decision to stiff Michigan workers even more appalling.

The report also found part-time workers make up one-sixth of the nation’s workforce, but they are restricted from collecting UI in states like Michigan. This requirement disproportionately burdens female workers in the state who represent 68 percent of part-time workers nationwide. The requirement makes child care and parenting responsibilities a mess. Also, workers are often unable to find full-time work simply because no one wants to hire full time workers because it’s cheaper to hire two people who each work 20 hours instead of one and pay that one person benefits.

Michigan Senate Democrats recently launched a website calling for action on this plan that eleven other states have already approved to receive the funding allocated to them. The site encourages visitors to sign a petition and contact Republican Senators to demand support for the legislation.

Jun 26, 2009

Senate Republicans slap Michigan workers in the face and address a problem that does not exist

LANSING – Less than 24 hours after voting against Michigan’s unemployed workers and leaving $140 million in federal funds that would have gone directly to Michigan workers who cannot feed their families on the table, Senate Republicans again voted against Michigan workers on Thursday by addressing a problem that doesn’t exist.

Senate Bills 612-615 were approved along primarily party lines that address fraud in the unemployment benefits system and penalizes the unemployed who received benefits by mistake. Senate Democrats were upset for a number of reasons, and the bills did not receive a single committee hearing. They were introduced in late May and forgotten until passed by the majority on Thursday as the Legislature took two-week summer break.

“This shows that our priorities are clearly out of step with the needs of people who are struggling out there in Michigan,” said Sen. Hansen Clarke, D-Detroit.” While we are cozy in this air-conditioned chamber, there are people who are struggling just to barely make it. This is another example of how this Legislature is totally out of touch with the needs of people.”

Specifically, the bills would allow the recovery of interest on the amount of improperly paid unemployment benefits, double the amount of damages that may be recovered for fraud and create the "Special Fraud Control Fund" and require amounts recovered for fraud violations to be deposited into this Fund.

Senate Democrats said they support going after fraud, but there is no provision for the state making a mistake, or even the worker thinking he is eligible and receives benefits that later turns out he was not eligible for. It also didn’t address employers who fraudulently try to stop a worker from collecting benefits.

“I didn’t see anything in those bills that was aimed at employers who are fraudulently denying workers unemployment insurance,” said Sen. Ray Basham, D-Taylor. “I had a trucking company in my office the other day in their fight with Treasury over taxes that they were charged. In fact, there was an $80,000 dispute in Treasury who is admitting that they are wrong, but they don’t want to give the money back to the trucking company.

“So if the trucking wants to continue to litigate this, they will have to put up one hundred and something thousand dollar bonds to go after $80,000,” he said.

The bills would also put Michigan out of conformity with federal rules and put us at risk of about $70 million in federal sanctions. But Senate Democrats were more incensed that the bills were rushed out without a single committee hearing just 24 hours after refusing to consider House Bills 4785 and 4786 that would provide unemployment benefits to individuals who are only available for and seeking part-time work and those in an approved job training program who have exhausted their regular benefits. That would make Michigan one of only about five other misguided states to say no to those funds.

“When we are at 14.1 percent unemployment here in the state of Michigan, and we leave $140 million sitting on the table in Washington that we could be using to benefit working families and people who have lost their jobs here in Michigan, I think that is a travesty of what we are sent here to do,” said Senate Minority Leader Mike Prusi, D-Ishpeming.

Because Michigan's largest employer, the auto industry, is losing market share in the national recession, it has the highest unemployment rate in the nation. But, only about half of Michigan’s unemployed workers are currently receiving benefits, according to a report by the Michigan League for Human Services, because they have exhausted benefits without finding a job, they are working part-time or they lost a part-tine job. It’s also estimated that for every $1 of unemployment benefits spent by workers and their families, there is an estimated $2.15 in economic growth.

Prusi said he is angry that he has to go home to the UP during the Legislature’s two-week break where unemployment is even higher than the rest of the state and tell them the only thing the Legislature did was penalize them if a mistake is made. Instead of helping 20 percent of the people, they are going after 2 percent of the people.

“You could have brought home that we are extending your unemployment benefits. You could have brought home we are going to help you get retrained for a job because your job has left and is not coming back. But all you are going to do is say we ended fraud in the unemployment system,” he said. “The very bulk of the people and the very number that is shown 2.5 percent of the people are overpaid in their unemployment benefits, and you are going to go after that 2.5 percent and claim you saved $100 million. That is fraudulent in itself.”

Jun 25, 2009

Senate Republicans vote against Michigan workers

LANSING – Senate Republicans again voted against workers Wednesday, and left $140 million in federal funds that would have gone directly to Michigan workers who cannot feed their families on the table.

Senate Democrats tried to discharge House Bills 4785 and 4786 from the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee to the floor on Wednesday, but it was blocked along party lines. The bills, approved by the House on May 6, would provide unemployment benefits to individuals who are only available for and seeking part-time work and those in an approved job training program who have exhausted their regular benefits. It will pump $140 million in federal funds into Michigan which is suffering with double-digit unemployment, and Michigan cannot afford to give up that money for people who can only find part-time work and people who lost a job and are trying to learn new skills.

Senate Minority Leader Mike Prusi, D-Ishpeming, said Michigan unemployment is the worst it has been since 1983, and in 1983 he was one of those unemployed. He said he had to leave two small children behind in Michigan as an unemployed miner and find work in Colorado. He said he doesn’t want any more Michigan residents and families to have to go through that and leave the state.

“The only thing that helped keep my family together was the fact that I had extended unemployment benefits,” he said “There were 3,500 iron ore miners laid off, and you could not find a job in the Upper Peninsula to save your soul.”

Today’s ore miners are auto workers, and the need to diversify Michigan’s economy is paramount. The economic climate has also produced thousands of workers who are technically part-time because they work less than 40 hours a week, and employers also do not have to supply benefits like sick days and health benefits. If that type of worker lost their job, they would not be eligible for unemployment benefits under the current plan. In fact, part-time workers currently make up one-sixth of the nation’s workforce.

“These bills have sat long enough,” Prusi said. “Thousands of people are going without unemployment benefits because we refuse to act in this chamber, and I think now is the time to act before we break for the summer; before we let these families go without the unemployment benefits that supports them and supports their children.”

Opponents – primarily Republicans and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce - claim that once the stimulus money is gone in four years the employers will have to pay more in taxes to pay for the unemployment benefits. But most states, all with lower unemployment rates, have taken the money.

Jun 24, 2009

Garcia hammered for displaying independence

LANSING – Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, sent a clear message to Sen. Valde Garica, R-Howell, for daring to display some independence, but he will have to wait until next week when Garcia comes back from a two-week stint serving in the Michigan National Guard.

Garcia, the chair of the State Police and Military Affairs Appropriations Sub-Committee, criticized Senate leadership a few weeks ago for not taking up that State Police Budget bill, Senate Bill 253, before he left for a two-week Michigan National Guard obligation, and he also had a plan to save the 100 state trooper jobs. He received a sharp rebuke from Bishop’s mouthpiece for doing so.

He received an even more stinging penalty from Bishop today when he was taken off the Appropriations Committee and replaced with Sen. Jud Gilbert, R-Algonac. It was unclear if this is just a temporary move or permanent, or who will serve as chairs of the sub-committees Garcia chairs.

Garcia is an experienced lawmaker, and he was assigned to the Appropriations Committee back in 2003. He also serves as the chair of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Appropriations Sub-Committee. Sub-committee chairs set the spending budget for that state department.

A pair of Senate Republicans display a rare but brief show of independence

LANSING – Senate Republican’s lock-step discipline faltered a little on Tuesday with the passage of House Bill 4438 that sets the budget for higher education, and two members actually showed a brief flash of independence.

The budget basically guts financial aid for students and eliminates the $4.000 Promise Scholarship. The program promises up to $4,000 to high school graduates for successfully completing two years of postsecondary education.

The Senate Republicans have continued their draconian budget cuts as they prepare for their two-week vacation that begins Thursday; knowing the House will bail them out. The devastating cuts to the higher education budget come at a time when Michigan is trying to diversify its economy and counter the jobs because of the state’s largest employer – the Big 3 – losing market share.

“We must keep our promise of granting Michigan citizens access to an affordable college education,” said Sen. Liz Brater, D-Ann Arbor. “With our traditional manufacturing job base shrinking and our unemployment rate continuing to rise, our kids need a college education now more than ever to qualify for the jobs of the 21st Century. This is an extremely shortsighted decision that sets our students and our state back even further.”

Senate Democrats tried to fight off the deep and damaging cuts, but all the amendments they introduced lost along party lines. But Democrats got some surprising support when fiscally conservative Sen. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, introduced an amendment that cut the $4,000 scholarship to $2,000.

When it looked like it would pass, Majority Floor Leader Alan Cropsey, R-DeWitt, moved the amendment be passed temporarily, and a closed door caucus was immediately called to take Cassis to the woodshed and get her back in line. When the Senate reconvened, Cassis lost her brief flirtation with independence and she dropped the amendment and introduced one that left the now Broken Promise Grant line-item with a $100 placeholder that was approved.

Sen. Buzz Thomas, D-Detroit, then introduced the same amendment as Cassis had to restore half of the money for the Promise Scholarship, but it failed along party lines.

HB 4438 received just enough votes to pass, and it was approved almost along party lines with a vote of 19-17. Sen. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland, the chair of the Senate Education Committee, joined the Democrats in voting no on the budget.

Jun 23, 2009

Clark-Coleman finally gets her assault complaint in the Senate journal

LANSING - The attempt to silence Sen. Irma Clark-Coleman, D-Detroit, on Tuesday on last week’s incident where Sen. Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw, the chair of the Senate Department of Human Services Appropriations Subcommitttee, allegedly assaulted her in a Capitol elevator.

At the end of each Senate session, usually, each Senator is allowed to make a five-minute statement on any subject, but last Thursday Senate Republicans abruptly adjourned without allowing statements. But Clark-Coleman got her chance Tuesday, and she read a letter into the Senate Journal.

Following a hearing on the Department of Community Health (DCH) budget last Wednesday, Clark-Coleman said Kahn "charged at me like a bull,” before he was restrained by Sen. John Pappageorge, R-Troy. Kahn continued his "bellowing" as she left the elevator. Clark-Coleman said she felt "fearful that given the opportunity, this legislator would continue to use physical intimidation to reinforce his policy positions."

Clark-Coleman declined to press police charges, but the Senate is going to conduct an investigation. Secretary of the Senate Carol Viventi, appointed by the Republicans, and newly appointed Assistant Secretary Adam Reames- who was nominated by the Democrats and just approved by the Republicans on Friday- will interview witnesses.

Pappageorge made a statement after Clark-Coleman, and predictably, he wants the Senate to put the incident behind them as soon as possible. Kahn was silent.

“I do want to remind all of us that most of us are going to be working together for another year and a half--another year and a half, and it is not going to be an easy year and a half, “ Pappageorge said. “We need to put this event behind us just as quickly as possible and as soon as the investigation is completed.”

This is Clark-Coleman’s letter:

Dear Senator from the 12th District:
I submit this letter as a formal complaint against the State Senator from the 32nd District who I believe is a menace to the State Legislature. He perpetrated petulant and violent behavior towards me following a Senate Appropriations Committee meeting yesterday afternoon in the Capitol Building. I ask that you sanction him for conduct unbecoming of an elected official. I am fearful that given the opportunity, this legislator would continue to use physical intimidation to reinforce his policy position.
He accosted me inside the main elevator. He came at me as if he was going to strike me after I expressed my great displeasure with the committee's approval of the Senate substitute for House Bill No. 4436, which literally decimates Wayne County's and Detroit's ability to provide mental and medical treatment for poor and uninsured residents. This 40-percent cut is even more devastating because the money will not be returned to the General Fund to reduce our state's budget deficit, but it will be redistributed to other counties and towns. I maintain my strong opposition to this legislation and will continue to represent the interests of my district even in the face of physical compulsion at the hand of a Senate colleague.
The Senator from Saginaw charged at me while we were both confined in a 6-foot by 6-foot elevator. His hysterical behavior startled citizens who, like me, were simply trying to leave the Capitol Building. Everyone looked on in horror until the good Senator from the 13th District blocked his advance to my side of the elevator car. As the doors opened on the Ground Floor, the Senator from Troy took me by the elbow and escorted me out of harm's way. Despite my exit, the legislator from the 32nd District continued his verbal assault. His bellowing startled the Kentwood Senator and the State Budget Director, who were conversing at the visitor's desk. Both gentlemen looked up in utter amazement.
Never in my 12 years as a legislator, 7 years as a member of the Detroit Board of Education and 30 years as a Wayne County employee have I been attacked for my policy positions. I commend Troy's best for his quick action to shield me from my aggressor, who had lost control of his temper and his ability to reason. This incident has severely shaken me and caused me to question the true motivation of some colleagues when it comes to shaping public law. I naively believed the days of employing physical intimidation in the political process were a part of America's dark past. I now know that at least one member of the Michigan Legislature prefers this old-fashioned bully tactic over intelligent debate.
My 90-minute commute home did little to squash this apprehension that hovered over me like a stormy rain cloud. My husband, Reverend D. Coleman, Sr., could do little to console me as I replayed the horrible events of the afternoon. I asked myself, "Is this what has become of the State Senate?" After some contemplation, my response was an emphatic "no." I believe the Michigan State Senate is greater than one individual. Our honorable call to serve the people of Michigan far outweighs dishonorable actions by those who devalue decency and order while embracing indecency and chaos. As leader of the Republican Caucus, I respectfully request that you take corrective measures against the Senator from the 32nd District, and I look forward to your immediate response.
Now I've had to endure over the weekend character assassination and questioning whether I am telling the truth. There have been many attempts by the Republican staff to discredit me. Even under all of that duress, I will still go to go forward. If I'm not satisfied with that, I will take further action, and I will reopen the case that was closed.

Jun 18, 2009

Senate Republicans now using physical intimidation against opponents

LANSING -- We already know Senate Republicans will verbally attack even one of their own when they step out of line like they did last week with Sen. Valde Garcia, R-Howell, but they are even worse on Democrats, resorting to physical violence.

Subscription only Gongwer is reporting that Sen. Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw, the chair of the Senate Department of Human Services Appropriations Subcommitttee, attacked Sen. Irma Clark-Coleman, D-Detroit, in a Capitol elevator on Wednesday following a hearing on the Department of Community Health (DCH) budget, and Sen. John Pappageorge, R-Troy, had to restrain Kahn.

The attack took place in front of several witnesses, and Clark-Coleman filed both a police report and a formal complaint with Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester.

The Senate Republicans made some draconian cuts to the DCH budget, including killing the Healthy Michigan Fund, cutting the Medicaid reimbursement rate and cuts to community mental health.

Clark-Coleman said Kahn "charged at me like a bull,” before he was restrained, according to Gongwer, and he continued his "bellowing" as she left the elevator. Clark-Coleman said she felt "fearful that given the opportunity, this legislator would continue to use physical intimidation to reinforce his policy positions."

Jun 17, 2009

Senate takes up beer keg bill but continues to ignore popular smoking ban bill

LANSING - No one is buying the lame excuse that Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop is using to delay taking up the popular workplace smoking ban that he wants to concentrate on the budget, and that tale was further exposed by action on the Senate floor on Wednesday.

The Senate Committee of the Whole took up Senate Bill 470 for a third reading and passed it favorably. It was introduced by rightwing Sen. Alan Sanborn, R-Richmond. The bill would require a retailer selling beer kegs to attach an ID tag to it to create a paper trail to address underage drinking. Now, tags and beer kegs are important to someone, but I wonder how many people sent letters, emails and made phone calls to lawmakers urging passage of this? I wonder how many rallies have been held in Lansing to urge lawmakers to pass this?

Lawmaker’s offices have been overwhelmed with letters, emails and calls urging them to pass the workplace smoking ban. Bishop does not support the ban, so he is trying every thing he can to stall something that has overwhelming support.

Underage drinking is a problem, but it is no where near as pressing as the dangerous effects of secondhand smoke.

It seems ironic that Sanborn voted against the smoking ban last session because he apparently things business should make their own decision and does not like government interference and regulation, but the argument against his bill is that “the bill would impose an undue regulatory burden on retailers. The small business community needs less government intervention, not more, in order to thrive. Stores already are short-staffed and would have to bear the cost of compliance,” according to the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency.

For even more irony, Sanborn was part of the Conference Committee tasked to work out a compromise between the Senate passed version and the House passed version of the smoking ban last December, but he refused to negotiate in good faith and the bill died.

It will cost nothing to implement the workplace smoking ban, and it will not hurt a bar or restatement’s business. The same thing can’t be said for Sanborn’s bill.

The bill would increase the costs to the Liquor Control Commission. The LCC “would be required to provide retailers with identification tags for beer kegs and signs describing keg policies. The LCC also would be required to develop receipts to document keg sales.” The cost of the keg tags is estimated at $10,000, and it would also cost to administer the program.

When the Senate takes up SB 470 on Thursday they can also take up SB 114 and House Bill 4377.

Whitmer calls out the Senate Majority Leader for attack on fellow Senator

LANSING – Sen. Valde Garcia, R-Howell, learned the hard way the response if a Senate Republican steps out of line and displays any independence.

Garcia felt the wraith of Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop and his staff last week when Garcia, the chair of the Appropriations sub-committee that sets the spending plan for the Michigan State Police (MSP) budget, criticized Senate leadership for not taking up that budget last week before he leaves for a two-week Michigan National Guard obligation. Traditionally, the chair of the sub-committee guides that budget through the process and fights off amendments to the budget.

The Senate Republicans have been exercising a slash and burn budget process, pushing through the budgets for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1with draconian cuts knowing the House Democrats will again have to be the ones to act responsibly like they did in 2007. That will allow Senate Republicans to claim to their shrinking base that they tried to pass a budget with just cuts as they try to hang on to their slim majority in the 2010 election.

Just on Tuesday the Senate passed along party lines the General Government budget that cut $20.55 million from the 21st Century Jobs – created to create jobs – and a 12 percent cut from local revenue sharing. That will surely lead to massive layoffs of police officers and other local government employees and cuts in essential services.

But the Senate is supposed to be a place of civilized debate, much like the U.S. Senate where the upper chamber was formed with the idea of genteel debate. The attack on Garcia was not something often seen, and it was left to a Democrat to defend the institution and a fellow Senator from attack. Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, called out Bishop on his breach of etiquette on the Senate floor Tuesday during statements.

“Just last week, there was a personal attack leveled against my fellow Ingham County colleague who left in frustration because the Senate leadership couldn’t close the deal on ensuring that troopers were not laid off.,” she said. “While I have been the target of the majority spokesperson’s venom, I never thought I would see it aimed at one of your fellow Republicans, nor would I imagine that it would be me who would rise to rebuke that comment. But I do so rise now.”

Whitmer pointed out that Bishop mouthpiece Matt Marsden is speaking for him when he attacks a fellow Senator and their military service.

“I would hope you do not condone or encourage such behavior,” Whitmer said. “It is one thing to play politics and feign irritation with members of the other side of the aisle; people expect that sort of thing to some extent in this place. But you do a huge disservice to this institution when you vest your staff people with the credibility of your office and they wage personal attacks against a sitting member of this body; a member who is not only trying to save the State Police trooper ranks, but is off at Army War College this week serving our country in the National Guard.”

Sen. Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw, was so angry that his leader was being called out that he tried to censor Whitmer, and he raised an objection and tried to get her remarks stricken from the official Senate Journal. But the President pro tempore - Sen. Richardville, R-Monroe - ruled that no rules or procedures were violated, so printing the statement in the Journal was in order.

Jun 16, 2009

Public pressure forces Board of Commissioners to do the right thing and support the troops

It’s amazing what a little public pressure and embarrassment can do, and the pressure of Livingston County veterans made the County Board of Commissioners do the right thing and approve a tax levy for one-twentieth of a mill to provide money for a fund for the relief of honorably discharged indigent members of the military and their families.

The measure was approved unanimously Monday night, despite the all-Republican board initially balking at doing the right thing and even trying to pass the buck to voters. Pressure from the daily newspaper and citizens moved the board to act. The Livingston County Veterans Committee had been seeking only half of what the law allowed the county to levy.

According to the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus, the tax will amount to about $7.50 a year for the owner of a $300,000 home – considerably less than the price of an average home in Livingston County that goes for around $200,000, and it should raise more than $400,000 for the fund annually.

However, the veterans will most likely not see an increase in funding, and long-time Commissioner Jack LaBelle said the millage will almost certainly mean the Veterans Affairs department will see its general fund allocation reduced, according to the paper.

That means the county’s general fund will actually see a tax increase. I’m also a little confused because the article says “Veterans Affairs officials would like to use some of the money to convert some of the office's part-time positions to full-time roles.”

I’m certainly not a lawyer, but my reading of the statute says the levy is supposed to create and supply money to a fund to be used for the emergency relief of indigent veterans in need. The statute says it is to be used “…for the purpose of creating a fund for the relief of honorably discharged indigent members.”

The definition of indigent is based on income, and according to the article, 65 percent of the county’s more than 13,000 veterans fall into that category.

My understanding of the state law allowing the levy, is that it is to used for a dedicated fund for grants to veterans and their families in need; not for office furniture or the funding of positions and not to reduce the county’s duty and obligations to fund the county's Veterans Affairs office so they can use the money for the general fund. Now, it may be that the law allows for things that directly benefit veterans like counselors, but it doesn’t seem like that from the law.

Jun 15, 2009

Editorial tells the county GOP to care less about billboards and more about veterans

Writing headlines is a lost art, and the copy editor at the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus responsible for the headline of Sunday’s editorial deserves an award for this one, “Quit making veterans beg for small tax.”

The excellent editorial takes the all-Republican Livingston County Board of Commissioners to task for their refusal to levy a required millage to provide money for a fund for the relief of honorably discharged indigent members of the military and their families. The 1899 law mandates that each county levy one-tenth of a mill for the fund, and the Livingston County Veterans Committee, consisting of five members appointed by the Board of Commissioners to oversee operations of the Veterans Affairs Department, is only asking for half of that. It would cost the average homeowner in the county less than $7 a year.

The Board of Commissioners’ Human Resources Committee decided it needed further study, and they kicked it down the road. Apparently, support the troops is just a campaign slogan for the Republicans, and the Livingston County Republicans care more about their billboards claming the county has the lowest tax rate in the state than veterans.

American Legion Post 141 in Howell sent out a mass email asking the more than 13,000 veterans living in the county to attend tonight’s meeting of the board’s Finance Committee. The email said, “Veterans Office traffic is up. Contacts with the Veterans Office rose over 40 percent between 2003 and 2008, and are up an additional 15 percent in the first three months of this year. The combination of increasing veterans, the bad economy and an aging veterans population is creating a lot of pressure for helping veterans.”

The newspaper’s editorial said it pretty clearly, “the Livingston County Board of Commissioners should do the right thing and levy a small tax that will guarantee a fund to provide support services for indigent military veterans and their families. To do otherwise — or to pass the buck by holding an unnecessary election on the matter — is not only a slap in the face to those we relied on to protect our freedoms, but also disregards a clearly stated law.”

The editorial also picked up on the county GOP’s decision to worry more about appearances than doing the right thing, “but the county board has been balking. In so doing, it gives credence to critics who believe the all-Republican board is more interested in protecting its low-tax status — trumpeted by the county Republican Party before last fall’s elections — than in providing services for veterans.”

The Finance Committee meeting is set for 7:30 p.m. Monday in the commissioners chambers at the courthouse annex, 304 E. Grand River in downtown Howell next to the Historic Livingston County Courthouse. The meeting is open to the public.

Jun 14, 2009

Blood drive Monday

Don’t forget the Livingston County Democratic Party and the Blue Tiger Democrat’s blood drive on Monday June 15 at party headquarters, 10321 Grand River Ave. Suite 600 in Brighton, in the Fonda Place office building, just east of Grand River and Old US 23.

The blood drive is set for noon to 6 p.m. The blood drive is open to anyone. To give blood, according to the Red Cross, you must be in good general health and be at least 17 years old. You must weigh at least 110 pounds, and not have donated whole blood in the last 8 weeks (56 days) or double red cells in the last 16 weeks (112 days). "Healthy" means that you feel well and can perform normal activities. If you have a chronic condition such as diabetes or high blood pressure, "healthy" also means that you are being treated and the condition is under control.

For more information call Pam Green at (734) 347-0335 or pgreen1210@sbcglobal.net.

Jun 12, 2009

Garcia’s military commitment mocked by Majority Leader for disagreeing with him

LANSING – It’s not often that a Senate Republican strays from what the Senate Majority Leader tells them to say or do and actually exercises some independence, but Sen. Valde Garcia, R-Howell, does on occasion. He did so on Thursday and received a stinging public rebuke from the Majority Leader.

The Senate passed some budget bills for the 2010 budget year that begins Oct 1. Those budget bills included the Veterans Affairs, Transportation and Agriculture. Sessions are usually no more than an hour, but Thursday’s session ran for almost seven hours.

Garcia, chair of the Appropriations sub-committee that sets the spending plan for the Michigan State Police (MSP) budget, criticized Senate leadership for not taking up that budget, Senate Bill 253, saying Senate leadership's decision to hold his subcommittee's version of next year's MSP spending plan “was a mistake." Garcia has the worst attendance record in the Senate, but he says he misses so many days because of his military obligations with the Michigan National Guard where he serves as a commissioned officer.

Garcia made a statement on the Senate floor as session wrapped up, saying there was some "confusion" within the chamber about passing the bill and saving 104 state trooper jobs in the current year budget. He was upset the bill would not be moved that because he would be gone for the next two weeks because he leaves to attend the Army War College in Carlisle, Penn.

That step out of line drew a sharp rebuke from Majority Leader Mike Bishop’s mouthpiece Matt Marsden, who said, "If anyone in the caucus is confused on the status of the State Police budget, it's the senator from Howell," he said. "So allow me to clarify the Senate's position. The Legislature will all be at work in Lansing next week doing what the citizens elected us to do. Fear not, the senators in attendance are perfectly capable of resolving the MSP budget while Senator Garcia tends to whatever it is that requires his attention on this occasion.”

I’ll give Garcia the benefit of the doubt on this one because I know him personally. I do not agree with him on much, but I know he has an admirable respect for the military. I can’t say the same thing for Marsden and Bishop.

The 104 state troopers will be laid off July 1, as per the Governor’s May 5 Executive Order approved by the House and Senate Appropriations Committee. According to subscription only MIRS, as it stands now, the MSP budget would need to be moved when Garcia isn't in session or after he returns. However after June 25, the Senate isn't scheduled to return from summer recess until July 14 at the earliest.

The good news is that the House Appropriations Committee moved a supplemental spending bill on Wednesday that saves the trooper’s jobs. The committee used the money from the state’s commercial mobile radio service supplier’s fund, but the money in that fund will be replaced from federal funds earmarked for that.

Jun 11, 2009

Metro Times nails the Ambassador Bridge Company

Somebody should tell the actors posing as investigative journalists like WXYZ’s Steve Wilson and the “problem solvers” over at Fox 2 Detroit that if they want to see some real investigative journalism they should check out Curt Guyette’s piece on the Detroit International Bridge Company in the Metro Times.

It is the best piece I have seen on Grosse Pointe billionaire and Republican benefactor Matty Moroun and the Bridge Company’s heavy handed tactics and their arrogance. They are building a second bridge span right next to the current Ambassador Bridge, and they do not have one single permit; not from the City of Detroit, the state of Michigan, the federal government or the Canadian government.

The good news is that the U.S. Coast Guard has asked the company to show why constructing the ramp before receiving the government's permission isn't a violation of the law. Guyette does an excellent job of outlining the questionable and illegal tactics they are pulling, including the Bridge Company dragging their feet on the $170 million Gateway Project.

The company is taking Riverside Park and 23rd street because it claims an old act of Congress designated it an instrument of the federal government because it controlled traffic on an international crossing. Even if that were true, the federal government can’t just slap a sign on something and say it’s theirs.

Senate Republicans stage illegal political stunt in campaign for 19th District Senate seat.

Rep. Martin Griffin, D-Jackson, established his campaign web site as his run for the vacant seat in the 19th State Senate District gets underway.

The seat was vacated last November with the election of former Sen. Mark Schauer, D-Battle Creek, to the U.S. House. Gov. Granholm set primary election for Aug. 4, and the General Election is Nov. 3. Griffin officially kicked off the campaign on May 30 with events in the two counties in the 19th District, most of Jackson County and all of Calhoun County.

The Senate Republicans are desperate to win this seat back and maintain their slim four-seat lead. The Senate Republicans have been the biggest obstacle to getting meaningful legislation passed, and retention of this seat will be the first step in Democrats taking back the Senate in 2010 for the first time since 1983.

Republicans have become so desperate that they are pulling some questionable stunts. On Wednesday they staged a Senate Committee hearing to showcase the leading GOP candidate, former Rep. Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek; just one of three GOP candidates for the seat.

According to subscription only MIRS, Nofs was featured in a Senate Majority Caucus press release, and he testified at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Wednesday on two bills to help Duncan Aviation retain jobs, even though Nofs had nothing to do with the bills. This is a clear case of using state resources for a political campaign.

Senate Bill 624, sponsored by Sen. Jason Allen, R- Traverse City, and House Bill 4930, sponsored by Rep. Rep. Kate Segal, D-Battle Creek, would provide tax breaks to help Duncan Aviation of Battle Creek save 100 jobs.

Nofs is no longer in the Legislature, and he did not have anything to do with the bills. It’s clear why he testified instead of the bill’s sponsor, and the reason is pure politics. Senate Republicans are politicizing jobs, and politicizing the Legislative process for campaign purposes and pure political gain.

Griffin grew up in Jackson and graduated from the University of Michigan. He has experience in both the public and private sector, working as a Realtor for many years. Griffin was elected Jackson's mayor in 1995 and for the twelve years he served the city his focus was on bringing in new investment by cleaning up and redeveloping downtown areas, streamlining the permitting process to cut red tape, and balancing the city budget without raising taxes.

He was elected in 2006 to the House from the 64th District Griffin is also very involved with a number of local organizations, including the Economic Development Corporation of Jackson, the Downtown Kiwanis Club, the Ella Sharp Park Board, Cascade Capital Humane Society, Jackson County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, Police and Fire Pension Boards and the National Association of Realtors.

Jun 10, 2009

Land contradicts GOP Senate and supports voting measures

LANSING – Apparently, Secretary of State Terri Land is at odds with Senate Majority Mike Bishop and the Senate GOP caucus on election issues.

Land testified before the House Committee on Ethics and Elections on Wednesday and she supports measures the House Democrats have passed, but the Senate refuses to move.

The House approving no reason absentee voting with bipartisan support last month, but the Senate has refused to take up the bill the last two sessions. Committee member Kim Meltzer, R-Clinton Township, has been the leading GOP mouthpiece for opposing the common sense measure that will increase voter turnout, and she tried to get Land to buy into the GOP’s flimsily excuse that it increases voter fraud. Land refuse to bite, and she said there has been no prosecution of voter fraud during her almost eight year tenure. She also said reforms she supports, like an electronic poll book, will make voter verification easier.

Land referred to Chris Thomas, the Director of Elections for many years, who said there has been no cases of voter fraud in regard to A/B that he is aware of.

“Where we generally see fraud is when people get their ballots, and campaigners show up their porch, and voters feel they are being strong-armed,” he said.

Land said, in contrast to her GOP colleagues, she supports early voting and allowing 16-year-olds to pre-register to vote; something Meltzer objected to. Land said it’s much better than registering them to vote when age 18 by outside groups. Land said it would not be an issue with local clerks, and they would not see them on their voter file until age 18.

“I think it’s the best way to do it,” Land said. “They are already there with their birth certificate when they get their driver’s license.”

Committee Chair Rep. Kathy Angerer, D-Dundee, asked Land for her help in getting some movement on the bills she supports.

“We are having a terrible time moving these items with your colleagues in the Senate,” she said. “Would you be wiling to help in the Senate?”

Land said she would.

“It took 20 years to get election consolidation,” she said. “I sure hope it does not take another 20 years.”

Jun 9, 2009

Michiganders rejecting false tea party rhetoric and the GOP

For all of the Republican’s false tea parties, socialist bull and anti-government rhetoric, it is having zero effect, and Michigan residents are displaying an increase in public trust of government at all levels over the past year.

The annual State of the State Survey, conducted by the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University, showed high approval ratings for President Barack Obama. The survey has been conduced fur times a years since 1994, and the last survey was conduced from January to March 25 and surveyed 1,000 Michigan adults.

In fact, 70.7 percent rated President Obama as “Excellent” or” Good.” This is the highest since 2002. That is in sharp contrast to last year’s survey when only 13.7 percent rated former President Bush as “Excellent” or “Good in the fall of 2008,” an all-time low.

Clearly, Obama’s popularity and leadership have inspired confidence in government, but it has also helped Gov. Jennifer’s Granholm’s rating. The survey also showed a slight boost in her public approval rating, despite the Republicans trying to blame her for the Bush recession and every ill the country has suffered because of Bush’s disastrous policies.

Her ratings are obviously low, and Obama’s leadership showed that for the first time in the history of the survey, more people trusted the federal government than they did state government. Generally, people most trust the government that is closest to them because government is their friends, neighbors and relatives.

But the most positive sign for Michigan is that more than 40 percent of those polled identified themselves as Democrats while fewer than 20 percent identified themselves as Republicans.

The gloomy economy in Michigan was a major issue in the survey, and almost 70 percent said they were worse off now than they were a year ago. However, almost half believe they will be better of in a year from now.

The Institute for Public Policy and Social Research (IPPSR) is a nonpartisan public policy network at MSU dedicated to connecting legislators, scholars and practitioners through survey, evaluation and applied research, policy forums and political leadership briefings.

Jun 8, 2009

Leader of anti-gay hate group resurfaces in Howell Schools

HOWELL - Just when you thought her 15 minutes of “fame” were up she pops up again.

I am talking about Vicki Fyke, the leader of the anti-gay hate group known as the LOVE PAC - (Livingston Organization for Values in Education). Apparently, after doing what she could to embarrass and drive former Howell Public Schools Superintendent Chuck Breiner out of the district after 13 years here, nine as superintendent, he left in March 2008 with a very generous severance package.

Last June the district hired Ted Gardella as Superintendent.He has made some heavy-handed personal moves, and the board has shared in some questionable decisions. The one that I am most aware of is the decision to turn over operation of the Howell Area Aquatic Center (HAAC) to the Howell Recreation Authority last month with no plan in place.

They fired the director who has been there for more than 16 years, even before the pool opened, and the assistant manager and administrative assistant, who have been there for the past nine years. The approved it without even approval from the Rec. authority board or any kind of plan.

I know about this story because I haven swimming there since 2000, and I have worked there as a lifeguard since 2003 and I am currently a Red Cross Water Safety Instructor (WSI). The school board will discuss a plan for the pool tonight, and to my knowledge no one from the recreation authority has even so much as visited the pool or talked to anyone there, yet they have an alleged plan. No one had seen this plan before the school board dumped both a school and community asset.

But the big story is Gardella’s evaluation will be discussed by the board in closed session tonight, and Fyke, according to the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus, is claiming Gardella’s termination is “imminent” and will come at tonight’s meeting. It also reported that “Fyke wrote a mass e-mail to board members and was sent to the Daily Press & Argus. In that note, Fyke says she knows that there is a 4-3 vote coming most likely at Monday’s meeting to terminate Gardella. However, she doesn’t say how she knows that information. She did not return a message seeking comment Friday.”

If that is correct, there is a clear violation of the Open Meetings Act because they can not debate unless they are in open session.

First, who cares what Fyke has to say? I don’t even think “LOVE” is still around anymore. They went underground after their misguided attempt to ban books at the school failed.

The “LOVE” member on the school board, Wendy Day, is too busy organizing misnamed and misguided tea parties and blogging her anti-public school rhetoric on the official unofficial GOP blog to pass info to her leader.

It’s a little disturbing that a public school board member says she is “not a big fan of public education.” Then why are you making decision for a public school? The majority of Americans have a public school education, and it was that education system that helped America build one of the highest standard of living in the world.

ACS rally at the Capitol could pressure a smoking ban vote in the Senate

The much needed and popular workplace smoking ban that passed the House last month may see some action in the Senate this week, based on events in the Capitol in Lansing this week.

That event is the American Cancer Society’s annual Celebration at the State Capitol set for Tuesday. The stated mission of the annual celebration is to “encourage state legislators to make cancer a number one priority,” and smoking and secondhand smoke, the leading causes of cancer, are always major targets.

The more than 600 volunteers will spend the entire day at the Capitol, and the day includes a morning rally, groups of constitutes visiting their Representative and Senator, a Relay For Life event on the lawn of the State Capitol and a closing ceremony. Although registration for the event is already closed because of so many people signing up, you can still come out and show your support.

There is little but politics stopping this bill from going forward. The deadly and harmful effects of secondhand smoke is undisputed, and the evidence from the 38 other states and numerous foreign countries with a ban and new studies that demonstrate a ban will not hurt a bar or restaurant’s business debunks the final argument for implementing a ban.

But the push to get the bill a vote in the Senate over the objections of Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, has been won by the overwhelming support of those voters who support a ban, and they have been relentless in their advocacy.

It’s events like Tuesday’s ACS rally that really demonstrates to lawmakers the support this smoking ban has, and Tuesday’s event may again tip the scales toward a vote in the Senate.

Jun 5, 2009

Save a life and give blood this summer

Save a life this summer and take a few minutes to give some blood, and the Livingston County Democratic Party and the Blue Tiger Democrats just happen to be sponsoring a blood drive on June 15.

The blood drive is set for noon to 6 p.m. June 15 at party headquarters, 10321 Grand River Ave. Suite 600 in Brighton, in the Fonda Place office building, just east of Grand River and Old US 23. Blood shortages are typical in the summer months. Approximately 20 percent of the blood donated comes from high schools and colleges, and when school is out, donating blood often takes a back seat to other summer activities.

The blood drive is open to anyone, and we are looking for American blood; not Republican or Democratic blood. To give blood, according to the Red Cross, you must be in good general health and be at least 17 years old. You must weigh at least 110 pounds, and not have donated whole blood in the last 8 weeks (56 days) or double red cells in the last 16 weeks (112 days). "Healthy" means that you feel well and can perform normal activities. If you have a chronic condition such as diabetes or high blood pressure, "healthy" also means that you are being treated and the condition is under control.

The party is also looking for volunteers to help with the blood drive to help with set up, the sign up donors or serve refreshments. If you want to volunteer call Pam Green at (734) 347-0335 or pgreen1210@sbcglobal.net.

The Blue Tiger Democrats were founded in 2005 by Bill Samuels, a longtime activist in Democratic and progressive causes, with the goal of getting the Democratic Party in touch with its original values and getting volunteers involved in civic programs and civic engagement.

Help save a beloved and historic gem

Tom Stanton, author of the book “The Final Season: Fathers, Sons, and One Last Season in a Classic American Ballpark,” said it best when he wrote “Old buildings bring life to stories. They put a foundation to memories.”

Those memories may soon be torn down after a near secret decision earlier this week by the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC) to demolish what’s left of beautiful and historic Tiger Stadium in the next couple weeks, dashing the hopes, dreams and hard work of the all-volunteer Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy and baseball fans all over the world. Apparently, the meeting where the decision took place occurred with little notice, and no one from the Conservancy was there to speak for the historic stadium that holds millions of cherished memories for generations of Michiganders and former Michiganders.

The Conservancy had hopes to preserve what’s left of the historic stadium at the most famous location in sports at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull, just a dugout-to-dugout section, into a $27 million redevelopment project. The remaining stadium would be converted to commercial space and a community center. The playing field would be renovated for youth and high school baseball and community events. Renovated Tiger Stadium will include museum quality exhibits, a banquet hall and retail. Fans will be able to explore the clubhouses, dugouts and the broadcast booth. The most exciting feature that will bring visitors from all over the world to the Stadium and Detroit will be the Harwell Museum.

Beloved and Hall of Fame former Tiger’s broadcaster Ernie Harwell has an extensive and priceless baseball memorabilia collection that is second only to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown he wants to display at the Stadium.

If the DEGC is successful in demolishing the stadium, the Conservancy will lose seven years of hard work and the $22 million they have secured thus far in federal earmarks, grants, and tax credits and the city will lose the jobs the project would create. But far more importantly, baseball fans will lose one of the city’s – and the nation’s – historic gems, creating yet another vacant, blighted space in Detroit.

Thom Linn, President of Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy, said there is strong, widespread support for the project, from stadium neighbors in Detroit’s historic Corktown to the entire metro region and beyond. The public outcry over the DEGC’s action has even reached the national news: On Wednesday night on his MSNBC show, Keith Olbermann expressed his outrage about it. Why the city’s leadership made this bad and shortsighted decision is unclear.

Could you imagine the outcry if anyone tried to demolish the beautiful Capitol Building in Lansing, the Fox Theatre or the historic Livingston County Courthouse? Then why are we giving up something with so many pleasant memories so easily?

It’s not too late, and if you love Tiger Stadium like I do then contact the city’s leaders, the state’s leaders and the media and tell them not to destroy memories, history and jobs.

Here is a list of contacts:

-Detroit Mayor David Bing, 313- 224-3400 (9am-5pm)
Fax: 313-224-4433
-all Detroit City Council members

-Kenneth Cockrel, Jr. 313-224-4505 Kenneth.Cockrel@http://www.facebook.com/l/;detroitmi.gov

-Monica Conyers 313-224-4530 ConyersM@http://www.facebook.com/l/;cncl.ci.detroit.mi.us

-Sheila Cockrel 313-224-1337 S-Cockrel_mb@http://www.facebook.com/l/;ckrl.ci.detroit.mi.us

-Barbara Rose Collins 313-224-1299 Collins_MB@http://www.facebook.com/l/;cncl.ci.detroit.mi.us

-Brenda Jones 313-224-1245 bjones_mb@http://www.facebook.com/l/;cncl.ci.detroit.mi.us

-Kwame Kenyatta 313-224-1198 K-Kenyatta_MB@http://www.facebook.com/l/;cncl.ci.detroit.mi.us

-Martha Reeves 313-224-4510 m-reeves_MB@http://www.facebook.com/l/;cncl.ci.detroit.mi.us

-Alberta Tinsley Talabi 313-224-1645 A_Talabi_mb@http://www.facebook.com/l/;atwpo.ci.detroit.mi.us

-JoAnn Watson 313-224-4535 WatsonJ@http://www.facebook.com/l/;cncl.ci.detroit.mi.us

-Governor Jennifer Granholm (517) 373-3400

-news media of your choice; for starters:
Detroit Free Press –
-City Desk 313-222-6600

-Jim Wilhelm, City Desk Editor 313-222-6521 jwilhelm@http://www.facebook.com/l/;freepress.com

Detroit News
-Front desk 313-222-2300
-Nolan Finley, Editorial Page Editor 313-222-2064
-Walter Middlebrook, Assistant Managing Editor/Metro (313) 222-2429

Jun 4, 2009

An oldie but a goodie: Obama is a Muslim

I love the Republicans strategy for talking back the White House, and I hope it continues.

We know they want President Obama and the nation to fail, so when the president foolishly reaches across to the GOP they bite the hand of partisanship and vote no on every important measure he is attempting to implement in an effort to try and fix the near Bush depression. They vote no in the vain hope it fails.

But they have gone back to the election campaign strategy of fear and prejudice of trying to paint the President as a dreaded, Muslim. They are completely twisting his quote from a recent interview with Laurence Haïm, the U.S. correspondent for French television station Canal Plus.

The President is on a trip to the Middle East trying to repair some of the damage and anti-U.S. feeling a U.S. invasion of a Muslim country for no reason caused.

Faux News has been pushing the lie that "Obama Says U.S. Is a 'Muslim Country,’” and now rightwing blogs have picked up on the lie.

The President said, “…if you actually took the number of Muslims Americans, we'd be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world. And so there's got to be a better dialogue and a better understanding between the two peoples.”

That statement is true.

Then, rightwing Faux and rightwing bloggers took the President’s remarks from Obama's April 6 press conference in Turkey, during which he made factual comments about religion in America, and paraphrased to claim he said the U.S. is not a Christian nation. That is true, but that’s not really what he said.

“I think that where -- where there's the most promise of building stronger U.S.-Turkish relations is in the recognition that Turkey and the United States can build a model partnership in which a predominantly Christian nation and a predominantly Muslim nation, a Western nation and a nation that straddles two continents -- that we can create a modern international community that is respectful.”

“As I mentioned, we have a very large Christian population, we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation; we consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.”

That is true. In the Bill of Rights, Amendment I says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

That means we are not a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation.

Jun 2, 2009

Senate Republicans’ action in Senate session demonstrate lies and hypocrisy

LANSING - If you looked up the word hypocrisy in the dictionary you might find the Republican Party’s platform and a photo of Alan Cropsey.

Senate Democrats attempted to discharge the package of bills previously approved by he House that would end immunity for drug companies that was defeated along party lines on Tuesday, and Cropsey had the nerve to accuse Democrats of playing politics; apparently because General Motors had just declared abruptly. Senate Republicans have been using the excuse of the budget crisis for their failure to act on any meaningful legislation, yet the session on Tuesday lasted just an hour.

The bills would end immunity for drug companies if their drugs kill or maim the people who take them, and it would repel the current ban enacted in 1996 by then Gov. John Engler designed to shield huge pharmaceutical companies from any responsibility.

Democrats tried to discharge it from the Committee on Government Operations and Reform, chaired by Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop on April 30. That committee never meets and it’s where bills are sent to die, but Republicans postponed it until June 2. They did so again today. Michigan is the only state in the nation that shields big drug companies that make and sell harmful products from giving legal recourse to victims and their families.

“Michigan’s one-in-the-nation drug industry immunity law treats Michigan victims like second-class citizens, a status that’s further reinforced every time the Senate Republicans delay even discussing this issue,” said Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing. “While Mike Bishop and his colleagues cowardly hide behind the argument that this issue is not germane to the budget and economic issues before us, they take up legislation to address double-crested cormorants or create more specialty license plates.”

Sen. Tupac Hunter, D-Detroit, noted that Bishop finally referred House Bill 4377, the workplace smoking ban that was approved with bipartisan support last month, to a committee, but it was the committee where bills go to die.

“I’m praying and I’m hoping that our Majority Leader had this bill referred to his committee because he wants to stand up and take leadership on this issue,” Hunter said. “I am hoping that he referred it to his committee because he intends on holding hearings; he intends on hearing from the Michigan citizens and their families who are affected by all of the awful diseases that have resulted in death because of smoking.”

But Bishop said he has no intention of moving it, despite overwhelming support for the ban from the public.

Cropsey then pulls out his standard budget excuse for only bringing up legislation addressing specialty license plates and double-crested cormorants, and he then has the guts to accuse Democrats of playing politics.

“Once again today, I hate to say it, but the other side of the aisle has been trying to play partisan politics in a very serious situation in which they seem to totally ignore the fact that General Motors has declared bankruptcy,” he said.

At the height of hypocrisy, he then blames the lack of a smoking ban on the House Democrats, and then he outright lies when he says the House failed to take up the version the Senate passed last year that had no exceptions to a ban.

“I would also like to remark that certain people have tried to say that the Senate needs to be working on a smoking ban,” he said. “The Senate did work on a smoking ban and passed through a complete smoking ban last year. It was the House of Representatives that failed to take that up.”

That is a lie. In September of last year the House took up the version the Senate passed, and it got the majority of votes; but it was not the majority of those serving. The Senate only took up one version.

Cropsey was assigned to the conference committee last December that is supposed to work out a compromise between the two versions, but he refused to compromise and admitted it.

Jun 1, 2009

O'Reilly shamefully spins out of control to avoid responsibility for hate he whipped up

The spin from the rightwing terrorist groups and rightwing commentators on the murder of Kansas Dr. George Tiller is mind-boggling.

Tiller was shot to death on Sunday as he served as an usher during Evangelical Lutheran Church in America services. Tiller was a long-time target for the anti-abortion extremists because he dared perform a legal procedure on women who chose to have an abortion in a safe manner. The Women's Health Care Services, where he served as the medical director, was one of only three nationwide clinics which would provide abortion after the 21st week of pregnancy. Make that two.

One of the people who most created the atmosphere that led to the murder, Rightwing demagogue Bill O'Reilly, shamefully spun the story and refused to take responsibility. His was one of the worst examples of whipping up hate against Dr. Tiller. He was discussed in at least 28 episodes before his death. For four years he called him a baby killer, said he had blood on his hands and would “kill a baby the day before it was born.”

There was serious spin going on in the “no spin zone.”

He used the occasion to attack liberals, and he made a point of pointing out the alleged shooter’s ties to the anti-government Militia while ignoring his ties to the rightwing domestic terrorist group “Operation Rescue.” He said “Fox-haters” are using the murder of Dr. Tiller to attack him. Can this guy’s ego get any larger? He brought on two people to agree with him; Kris Kobach and Brian Russell.

He calls Kobach a law professor and mentions he is running for Kansas Secretary of State. He fails, of course, to mention that he is a right-winger and the chair of the Kansas Republican Party for two years. Russell is a “psychologist and attorney” who has appeared on O'Reilly’s show in the past to talk about Dr. Tiller. Obviously, we know his position.

So much for fair and balanced, and he doesn’t want anyone on who has a different viewpoint.

Jed Lewison, at Daily Kos, put together a devastating video of O'Reilly’s personal mission against Dr. Tiller.

The alleged shooter joins a long list of anti-abortion terrorists.

Randall Terry, the founder of the domestic terrorist group “Operation Rescue,” tried to distance himself from the hateful and dangerous atmosphere he created, but he just reinforced it, celebrating the death of Dr. Tiller.

“The point that must be emphasized over, and over, and over again: pro-life leaders and the pro-life movement are not responsible for George Tiller's death. George Tiller was a mass-murder and, horrifically, he reaped what he sowed.”

These terrorists are no better than Al-Qaeda. Make no mistake; this is to intimidate doctors from performing a legal procedure.

All GOP county board balks at $7.50 a year to support the troops

It seems like a no-brainer: who wouldn’t mind spend $7.50 a year to help military veterans and their families out of a financial hardship? The answer is, apparently, the all-Republican Livingston County Board of Commissioners.

The Livingston County Veterans Committee, consisting of five members appointed by the Board of Commissioners to oversee operations of the Veterans Affairs Department, wants the board to authorize a levy, required by law anyway, to fund the depleted Veterans Relief fund. Public Act 214 provides that a county shall levy one-tenth of a mill to fund Veterans Relief.

Livingston County has not been levying the required millage like the surrounding counties of Shiawassee, Washtenaw, Oakland, and Ingham do. The veterans committee took their request to the board’s Human Resources Committee last week, and the committee said they want to study it further. The committee was asking for half of the levy they can ask for.

The Livingston County Daily Press & Argus has an editorial advocating for the levy. According to the paper, “the one-twentieth of a mill would cost the owner of a home with a market value of $300,000 about $7.50 a year. It's peanuts to the taxpayer, but it would raise $400,000 a year for the veteran’s office.”

The last time I checked, the average market value of a home in Livingston County is just over $200,000. This is a small sacrifice to make for those who defend the country.

I’m a little tired of right-wingers calling people who didn’t support the Iraq fiasco traitors, and co-opting the slogan “Support the Troops.” For most right-wingers, it’s just a campaign slogan, and they refuse to put their money where their mouth is.

The concluding line of the editorial is great, saying “The ball is in the commissioners' court. They need to step up to ensure that veterans' needs are met. Otherwise, the Memorial Day ceremonies are, to them, more sham than substance.”

However, they also say “the all-Republican board likes to boast of its low tax rate. It need not compromise that stand. If it imposes a tax levy for the veterans, it need only reduce its county tax by the same amount. That way, the veterans are served and the county's tax rate is unchanged.”

I don’t think that is incorrect.

The statute says the “…purpose of creating a fund for the relief of honorably discharged indigent members of the army, navy, air force, marine corps, coast guard, and women's auxiliaries of all wars or military expeditions in which the United States of America has been, is, or may hereafter be, a participant.”

It also says, “Funds raised in accordance with the provisions of this section may be expended for the relief of indigent wives and children of active duty soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, coast guardsmen, nurses, and members of the women's auxiliaries during the continuance of present hostilities and prior to their discharge.”

What that is saying to me - and I am not a lawyer - is that the millage should be used to establish a fund to provide money to help indigent vets and their families. Funding of the Livingston County Veterans Affairs Office is separate from the fund.

Rightwing extremists display hypocrisy in murder of doctor

The senseless murder of Kansas Dr. George Tiller on Sunday illustrated the height of hypocrisy of the right and the so-called “pro-life” crowd.

Tiller was shot to death as he served as an usher during Evangelical Lutheran Church in America services in front of his family. Tiller was a long-time target for the anti-abortion extremists because he dared perform a legal procedure on women who chose to have an abortion in a safe manner. The Women's Health Care Services, where he served as the medical director, was one of only three nationwide which would provide abortion after the 21st week of pregnancy.

What’s really amazing is the messages of sympathy coming from the extremists. The domestic terrorist group “Operation Rescue” issued a statement, saying: “We are shocked at this morning’s disturbing news that Mr. Tiller was gunned down. Operation Rescue has worked for years through peaceful, legal means, and through the proper channels to see him brought to justice. We denounce vigilantism and the cowardly act that took place this morning. We pray for Mr. Tiller’s family that they will find comfort and healing that can only be found in Jesus Christ.”

The alleged murder of Dr. Tiller, Scott Roeder, has ties to “Operation Rescue.”

With the way the right whips up hatred against people it disagrees with, no one can be surprised at this murder. We saw it by the Bushies calling people who disagree with the war they lied the country into a traitor, the hatred of President Obama and now this.

A quick check of the headlines of rightwing blogs in Michigan tells the story.

“Breaking: Abortionist George "Baby Killer" Tiller Shot Dead In Kansas”
“Dr. Tiller the baby killer has been Murdered”

So much for being “shocked at the disturbing news.”

Prior to this attack, Dr. Tiller was shot in both arms outside of the Wichita clinic on August 19, 1993 by Shelley Shannon, described as a “Christian,” pro-life activist, who received an 11-year prison sentence for the crime.

With the hatred the right whipped up, it was just a matter of time before this heroic doctor was murdered. This is a former Navy doctor whose specialty was dermatology. He was pressured to take over his father's family practice, who performed abortions. After hearing about a woman that had died from an illegal abortion, Tiller stayed in Wichita to continue his father's practice.

Rightwing demagogue Bill O'Reilly was one of the worst examples of whipping up hate against Dr. Tiller. He was discussed in at least 28 episodes before his death. On the show he was sometimes described as "Tiller the Baby Killer" and O'Reilly warned of Tiller's "judgment day.” November 3, 2006, Bill O'Reilly featured an exclusive segment on his show, The O'Reilly Factor, saying that he has an "inside source" with official clinic documentation indicating that George Tiller performed late-term abortions to alleviate "temporary depression" in the pregnant woman.