Local governments seek help to regain big box tax revenue

By CHAO YAN
Capital News Service

LANSING — Local governments continue to fight recent changes in valuing commercial properties that they say have cost them $100 million in lost tax revenue since 2013.

The problem, according to local officials and some lawmakers, is that the state’s Tax Tribunal is using methods to assess “big-box” retailers like Target and Menard’s based on sales of similar, vacant properties, often called “dark stores,” whose true value is not reflected.

That’s a shift from evaluating a store’s tax value based on more complete factors such as the cost of constructing the building and the amount of income it generates. Now, big retailers are appealing assessments and winning big tax breaks across the state.

Rep. David Maturen, R-Vicksburg, and dozens of co-sponsors are again pushing to solve the issue by insisting that the tribunal take more information into account when reviewing assessment appeals for any commercial property. Continue reading

Bill package aimed at bridging gender wage gap

By CAITLIN TAYLOR

Capital News Service

LANSING — When a Michigan woman asked why she didn’t get promoted over her male counterpart, her employer told her she didn’t need the raise, according to Rep. Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, who was told this story by a constituent.

Her less-experienced male colleague had a family to support, the employer said, while the woman employee’s husband made enough money for both of them.

This is a common sentiment among some of the state’s employers, said Mary Pollock, the government relations coordinator for the American Association of University Women of Michigan.

“Still, employers say a married woman doesn’t need to be paid what a married man gets paid,” Pollock said. “But that’s just not true anymore. Both are supporting families, and there are many single-parent households now.” Continue reading

State laying plans to put new criminal justice laws to work

By LAINA STEBBINS

Capital News Service

LANSING — For the 18 criminal justice revamp bills signed by Gov. Rick Snyder last month, the next step is making the changes necessary throughout Michigan’s criminal justice system to spur them into action.

The updates to the state’s criminal justice system as a whole are meant to signal an emphasis on prisoner rehabilitation, as well as reducing recidivism and streamlining the system. This mostly involves incorporating more evidence-driven programs, or initiatives that have proved successful elsewhere.

Most of the bills will take effect on June 28.  Several of the bills will take effect starting Jan. 1, 2018.

Chris Gautz, a communications officer for the Department of Corrections, said the framework is being laid for a number of the new changes – especially those involving more complex issues and systems. Continue reading

Local governments applaud Legislature’s proposed revenue-sharing boost

By LAINA STEBBINS

Capital News Service

LANSING — Proposed increases to Gov. Rick Snyder’s recommended budget for revenue sharing marks a welcome shift for cities, villages, townships and counties, which say they have not seen this part of their funding change for years despite great need for additional money.

Despite numerous cuts elsewhere to Snyder’s budget, Republicans in the House and Senate want the numbers for revenue sharing to local governments to be higher. They have proposed increases in the overall revenue-sharing budget of 5 percent and 1 percent, respectively, which has been met with praise from Michigan associations of local government units.

The revenue sharing program takes a portion of sales tax revenues collected by the Treasury and distributes those funds to local governments. The sales tax currently stands at 6 percent. Continue reading

Bill would keep anti-bullying program alive in Michigan

By LAURA BOHANNON

Capital News Service

LANSING — A senator is pushing to renew a 2013 law that allows students to anonymously send tips regarding bullying and crime in their schools to help improve safety.

Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan,  introduced a bill that would eliminate the “sunset” of the original “OK2SAYlaw, which essentially means it will continue as is.

Laws can have a period before their “sunset,” when it is decided whether that law is effective, and Emmons said this act has proven its effectiveness through the number of kids that are using it.

The Student Safety Act, which created a program called OK2SAY, allows students in any school to anonymously report incidents of crime, bullying, intimidation, incidents of self-harm, suicidal thoughts, or other safety threats. If a student is concerned for a classmate who may be experiencing any of these things, they can send a message in as well. Continue reading

Midwives must be licensed under new law

By CAITLIN TAYLOR

Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan midwife associations were pleased when Gov. Rick Snyder signed new midwife licensing legislation into law at the beginning of the year.

Midwives are trained to assist women in childbirth. They help with delivery as well as provide prenatal and postpartum care. Michigan has 31 certified professional midwives currently registered with the state, according to the North American Registry of Midwives.

To further protect the safety of mothers, some midwifery advocates lobbied for such a licensing law for nearly six years, according to Stacia Proefrock, president of the Michigan Midwives Association and a certified professional midwife at Trillium Midwifery in Ypsilanti. Continue reading

Assisted suicide bill introduced — again

By CHAO YAN

Capital News Service

LANSING — Earlier this month, Rep. Tom Cochran recalls, a Michigan resident approached him during a coffee hour to tell him her family was moving to Oregon.

The woman’s father suffers from cancer, and when the time is right, he wants to be able to choose to die painlessly using lethal drugs with the aid of a doctor, Cochran said.

That’s a right the man will have in Oregon that he doesn’t have in Michigan.

“Her story is tragic,” said Cochran, a Mason Democrat. “It’s a topic we need to have discussion on, and it has been around for a long time.” Continue reading

Bill would allow clergy to refuse to marry couples

By CAITLIN TAYLOR

Capital News Service

LANSING — Some religious leaders are questioning the necessity of a House bill aimed at further protecting their First Amendment rights.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jeffrey Noble, R-Plymouth, would allow ministers, clerics and other religious practitioners to refuse to marry couples who violate the religious beliefs of the clergy. Noble, who is a minister, declined to be interviewed.

Co-sponsor Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville, said he feels that the First Amendment already provides these protections to religious leaders, but some legislators want statutory protections to go beyond religious freedom.

“I feel that religious institutions have come under assault in the past,” Barrett said. “We didn’t want to see a situation take place where people were forced to perform wedding ceremonies that would not meet the qualifications of their religious faith.” Continue reading

Do Michigan lawmakers know enough about the law?

By LAURA BOHANNON

Capital News Service

LANSING — Legislators work every day to make and amend laws, but how many have a background in the field?

Thirteen lawmakers — of 148 in both House and Senate — have worked as lawyers, according to the State Bar of Michigan. That accounts for less than 10 percent of the Legislature. It’s a slight drop from 17 lawyer-legislators in 2013-14, and 22 a decade ago.

Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, is one of the 13 lawyers currently serving, and he said he believes more lawyers should be roaming the Capitol.

“You don’t need a prerequisite to be a lawmaker,” Lucido said. “There is no formal education, there is no formal training. There is no expectation other than to come up to the State House, attend your committees and to vote out bills from committee to the floor.” Continue reading

Care centers may see more regulations for reporting injuries

By LAURA BOHANNON

Capital News Service

LANSING — Day care centers, adult care centers and foster homes would have to meet higher standards for reporting injuries on an online database, under bills introduced in the state House.

Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, who sponsored the bills, said the increased record-keeping will make it easier for people to evaluate centers when choosing one.

Although those institutions already face state reporting requirements, Lucido said his bills would ensure that patterns of more minor incidents would not be overlooked.

Lucido said, “I don’t think a registry or database is so wrong when dealing with loved ones, people we’re trying to protect.” Continue reading