Emergency Manager’s Tag Sale Santa Goes to Hollywood

Okay, maybe not exactly Hollywood, but Flint’s second-hand Santa, sold-off in 2013 by the city’s Emergency Manager, is going to Boston to be in a 20th Century Fox production starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert De Niro in a movie titled “Joy“, about “the life of a struggling Long Island single mom who became one of the country’s most successful entrepreneurs.”

Flint Santa

Santa’s cinderella story began back in May of 2013 — in what was the ultimate act of grinchitude, when Flint’s Emergency Manager, Ed Kurtz, sold the city’s Santa and reindeer display for $1330, as part of 400 items being put up for auction. The bidding on old St. Nick started at $5, but a group of concerned citizens pooled their resources and scraped together the winning bid in an effort to preserve the tradition of displaying Santa and his sleigh.

Flint Santa 2Flint resident Melodee Mabbitt organized the effort and has been Santa’s caretaker ever since. St. Nick will earn $500 for his role in the movie. Mabbitt intends to contribute his paycheck to the Flint Democracy Defense League, an organization dedicated to bringing full democracy back to the city. Flint has been under emergency management for over 4 years, and is joined by sixteen other Michigan municipalities and school districts impacted by the law.

Click here for a short video about the Flint Santa.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

 

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Michigan Lawmakers Try Again for a Transvaginal Probe Law

They tried it in 2012, and again in 2013, and now, after taking a year off, they’ve brought it back again. Did they think we’d forget, or not notice?

exam table

Each piece of legislation was carefully crafted to look like a routine and reasonable medical procedure — never mentioning the violation to a women’s body, but simply couching the assault in what looks like an effort to merely ascertain if indeed there is a pregnancy to be terminated.

The latest attempt, HB-4241, would prohibit a healthcare provider from performing a legal abortion without first determining if there is a fetal heartbeat. But, prior to 8 weeks gestation, a heartbeat and image can only be obtained through a transvaginal ultrasound. After 8 to 10 weeks, an abdominal ultrasound is sufficient.

It gets worse — the heart does not start to beat until 6 weeks gestation, meaning an abortion could not be performed prior to a detectable heartbeat. Gestational age starts from the first day after the last menstrual period. Therefore, the earliest detectable heartbeat would occur at 22 to 23 days post-conception. Over-the-counter tests can accurately detect pregnancy weeks before this proposed law would permit an abortion.

While the bill specifies that compliance “does not require the use of an intravaginal diagnostic procedure”, in the very next breath the proposed law says that if the examination does not detect a fetal heartbeat, the healthcare provider must do the following: (Note that the language already acknowledges the pregnancy.)

Advise the pregnant woman of the physician’s recommendation either to immediately perform an additional diagnostic procedure or procedures that may detect a fetal heartbeat or to delay until a later date performing a diagnostic procedure to determine if the fetus is physically developing. 

The previous two bills intending to force a woman to submit to this insult to her mind and body were similarly deceptively written.

There are certainly times when a patient and physician would opt to use the more invasive procedure at their own discretion, particularly when the viability of an intended pregnancy is in question. But, that decision should always remain with the patient, under the advice of her healthcare provider.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

(This morning I had the pleasure of addressing a Northwestern Michigan College journalism class about Democracy Tree. One of the stories I cited covering over the years, was the legislature’s repeated attempts to sneak through a transvaginal probe bill. So, today’s legislation was, er…timely? Yet, an unpleasant coincidence.)

 

 

 

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State-by-State, Lawsuits Over Inadequate School Funding Abound

imagesCA1R9REYLate last year, when the Michigan Supreme Court ruled against more than 450 school districts in a lawsuit over inadequate school funding, champions of public schools took a punch. But, they’re not down — and they have a lot of friends. Relief may be in sight.

The ruling hinged on a technicality. It was not based on a determination that school funding was adequate, but instead, the suit itself was flawed. Adair v. The State of Michigan was filed by taxpayer plaintiff Daniel Adair, along with individuals from 450 districts. The impetus behind it was an unfunded mandate requiring districts to report to the Center for Educational Performance and Information, supplying data on compliance with the federally mandated No Child Left Behind Act of 2002. As with many of these evaluation and performance initiatives, the school typically bears the burden of cost without compensation — taking money out classrooms. The court found that the plaintiff neglected to provide a specific amount of underfunding, sending them back to put a dollar figure on their claim.

A court cop-out? Not necessarily.

“Costing-Out” May Pave the Way to Legal Victory

Michigan is among a handful of states that has not yet conducted a “costing-out study” to determine the actual cost of public education. But now, a new law will require the state to crunch the numbers. The organization Access to Quality Education describes the importance of “costing-out”:

Historically, the amount of funding provided to public schools has been based on a politically determined amount of money available for state education aid – without an analysis of educational needs – and on local ability to raise through property taxes. As a result, school revenues are the result of political struggles over how to distribute money among a state’s school districts.

In 37 states, experts in education finance have performed “costing-out studies” at the request of state legislatures or other organizations, in order to determine the amount of school funding needed to provide all students a meaningful educational opportunity.

Rep. Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids) attempted to legislatively remedy the oversight through a proposal last year, but GOP lawmakers smothered it in committee. There was also a 2013 Republican version lurking in committee, loaded-down with some partisan baggage requiring public schools to provide a heaping helping of patriotism as part of the regular curriculum. In the end, the Tea Party rhetoric was redacted during the recent lame duck session, and the bill was ushered through. Even though the original sponsors pulled their support, the legislation passed and was signed into law as Public Act 555.

Within one year of the new law’s enactment, the Department of Technology, Management and Budget must authorize a study to determine the correct amount of per pupil funding. This has broad-reaching implications for both funding adequacy and equity. It also sets the stage for success with future litigation.

The Education War Rages OnCAP

Access to Quality Education has tracked litigation on the national level over the decades, and their database indicates that school district plaintiffs prevail slightly more often than their state defendants. And now, with the renewed GOP assault on public education, school districts across the country are charging forward with matching vigor accusing their legislatures of depriving public school students their due.

study from the Center for American Progress places the blame squarely on Republican political maneuvers aimed at under-cutting judicial authority. The judiciary watchdog organization Gavel Grab reports:

[T]he Center for American Progress finds that “Conservative politicians are lashing out at courts that order equal funding for education,” as the report’s title states, and they are seeking to remove judges, reduce their authority or give the legislative and executive branches “exclusive control” over appointing judges. 

Kansas Dukes it Out

Turn back the clock ten years to 2005 when the Kansas Supreme Court spanked lawmakers ordering them to cough-up an extra $285 million to meet their constitutional obligation to fully fund education. The stakes were high — the court threatened to shut down K-12 education if the legislature didn’t act.

Round two.

Last December, a three-judge panel in Kansas again ruled school funding was inadequate. The argument is headed for the state Supreme Court for the second time.

A New “Testing Ground” Lawsuit

Enter the State of Washington. In 2012, the state’s Supreme Court similarly tasked their legislative branch with fulfilling its constitutional duty to support K-12 schools, ordering full funding to be phased-in by 2018. Lawmakers shirked their obligation, and in September of 2014 the high court found the Legislature in contempt of court.

What happens when an entire branch of government is on the wrong side of the law? The Seattle Times reports:

The court hasn’t said what sanctions it may impose if the Legislature fails to do so, but it has asked the state if it should do what the plaintiffs propose — everything from imposing fines to blocking money for noneducation programs, selling state property and shutting down the schools.

Doin’ it Lone Star Style

In 2011, the Texas Legislature slashed education funding by over $5 billion to balance the state’s budget. Over 600 school districts responded with litigation accusing the state of neglecting their constitutional obligation to provide an “efficient system of free public education.” A district court ruled for the plaintiffs, prompting the former Texas Attorney General, Greg Abbott, to appeal. Late last month, the Texas Supreme Court announced it will entertain the case on under-funded schools. By the way, Abbott was just sworn-in as the new Governor of Texas.

A Connecticut CaseCT Coalition

Five years ago, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled the state was responsible for providing “suitable education opportunities” and remanded the case to a lower court to determine if the state was meeting its obligation. Now, as the case comes to fruition, state-hired attorneys are citing technicalities in an attempt to have certain parties barred from involvement in the broad coalition backing the class-action lawsuit against the state. The Connecticut Mirror reports this month that the heart of the defense relies on breaking-up the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding — a group of mayors, parents, education associations and teachers unions. The state does not wish to argue the case on its merits, but instead is attempting the cowardly way-out — through legal chicanery.

The Keystone State 

Pennsylvania schools suffer from funding inequities which rival Michigan’s. While some privileged districts are lavished with $28,000 in per pupil stipends, their bottom tier districts receive $10,000 (an amount that admittedly would be a princely sum for most Michigan districts). Yet it is the inequities that are alarming. They fall along racial and geographic lines, and are demonstrated through student performance. Communities of color, along with rural districts, are deprived of adequate funding, thereby creating academic inequities among them. The Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools and the NAACP, among others, are plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the governor and the leaders of both the House and Senate in a complaint demanding adherence to the constitutional requirement for “the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education.”

New York, New York — A State So Nice, They Sued it Twice (possibly thrice)

In a lawsuit filed in 1993, a group of activists called the Campaign for Fiscal Equity sued the state of New York over inadequate funding of New York City Schools. Thirteen years later, the courts ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and a new formula was implemented. Two years after the ruling, economic hard times again lead to a slash in school funding.

A 2014 report from the Alliance for Quality Education, titled Billions Behind, found the state was withholding funds, with 69 percent of school districts struggling with fewer dollars than available in 2008. Nearly half of the underfunding was directed at NYC schools.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers told the Times Union earlier this month that legal action may be necessary again.

“New York City is owed $2.6 billion. We’re waiting to see if the budget process moves in a better direction. If it doesn’t, then at that point we will sit down and decide what our legal action is.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is holding hostage about $1.1 billion in school aid over demands for tougher tenure rules and implementation of increased use of standardized testing as a means to evaluate teacher effectiveness.

Another parallel case is on its way to the New York Supreme Court. The Association of Small School Districts filed suit back in 2008 calling for funding equity.

Michigan

As the legislature and Gov. Snyder wrangle over the fine print of the state budget, lawmakers are already attempting to tap the state’s School Aid Fund to shore up deficits in the general fund. House bill 4110 will rob over $250 million from schools to patch a $456 million budget shortfall.

Ignoring the constitutional obligation to properly fund public schools, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Al Pscholka (R-Stevensville) brags that he’s proud to “uphold the Constitution” by balancing the budget.

This, from the same lawmaker who brought the Emergency Manager law to Michigan.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

Post Script: Of the seven states profiled above, about half are under Democratic rule — governors and/or lawmakers. Each is unique in its partisan profile. Washington being a very odd case where some Democrats prefer to caucus with Republicans. See full chart here.

 

 

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Saginaw High School May Close — For No Good Reason At All

No Clear Rationale

The Saginaw School District Board of Education is considering shuttering one of two high schools to consolidate them under one roof. Much of the discussion has centered around closing Saginaw High School and merging its orphaned student body with Arthur Hill High School.

Saginaw High

The rationale given is a bit murky though. Both schools are ranked as “Priority” schools, meaning they score academically in the bottom five percent statewide.  The district itself is on the Michigan Department of Education’s short list for fiscal distress, with a current deficit of over $4 million. Their per pupil funding has remained marginally above the lowest in the state, but as the district’s enrollment decreased, so went their revenues. Munetrix rates the district among the highest levels of fiscal distress:

Saginaw City Schl Dist fiscal ratingThe mayor of Saginaw, Dennis Browning, suggests closing both schools and starting afresh with a new identity.  Closure of a school often has a negative impact on its community, eroding their sense of belonging and school pride. Browning said:

“I believe if Saginaw High has to close and no longer will exist, I believe Arthur Hill needs to close also. We should become united, and we should create one high school.”

Closure May Cost More Than Its Worth

Saginaw Schools have experienced a 25 percent decline in enrollment since 2007. The Citizens Research Council of Michigan draws a bright line between enrollment decline and fiscal peril.

Moderate to significant enrollment decline is a clear sign of existing, or rapidly developing, fiscal stress. School officials and the state must heed this signal. It should be used as an early warning to districts and the state that a district is in trouble, prompting them to take action and provide additional assistance (i.e., technical, managerial, financial) to mitigate the effects of financial problems, including the potential disruption of student learning.

In his recent state of the state speech, Gov. Snyder addressed the need for early identification of potential problem areas. Although he offered no specifics — just acknowledging the problem, is a start. However, this administration has a history of invoking punitive measures instead of getting ahead of the problem. With a consistent 10 percent of the state’s schools treading fiscal water, withholding revenue sharing from districts that don’t embrace “best practices”, such as privatization and consolidation, is not a viable policy solution.

Education funding should not be used as a cudgel. When Buena Vista and Inkster school districts, neighbors to Saginaw, were legislatively dissolved over declining enrollment and fiscal troubles, the former Chair of the House Committee on Education, Rep. Lisa Posthumus-Lyons, referred to their teachers as swine, as if they were somehow responsible for the Great Recession. That’s not just poor statesmanship, it’s irresponsible governance. The law they invoked which permits the dissolution of school districts is deeply flawed, and does not anticipate the actual costs, which in the case of Buena Vista and Inkster, exceeded their combined deficits.

As a non-punitive remedy for the declining enrollment/fiscal jeopardy relationship, the CRC proposes that the state consider adopting a blended student count formula, averaging the current year with the previous, thus allowing a little breathing room for districts experiencing rapid decline. Another salient suggestion calls for a sea change in the thinking behind education funding:

Most importantly, a fundamental disconnect exists between the state’s per-pupil foundation grant and the nature of school cost pressures (i.e., heavy fixed costs in short run). Policymakers should consider modifying the per-pupil foundation grant so that the marginal revenue that a district losses or receives because of a change in student enrollment is equal to the change in marginal costs, either up or down. This would require breaking up the grant to reflect the relevant fixed and variable costs in education.

Public Policy Based on the Mythology of Consolidation

Myths about consolidation abound among both political parties. Eric Scorsone, Professor of Economics at Michigan State University, is the foremost expert on municipal fiscal policy. In a 2010 study, he examined the efficacy of consolidation of public bodies. His conclusions should be a splash of icy cold water on the faces of the cheerleaders for consolidation and merger. The data simply does not support the wisdom of the practice based on economic rationale, and additionally found that contrary to what many believe, Michigan is already one of the most efficiently run states at the local level.

The Wall Street Journal examined the consolidation movement in Michigan under Gov. Snyder, finding among the problems with merging local bodies of government and their services, a strong voter-backlash and no tangible evidence they produce the kind of savings that make it worthwhile.

A meta-analysis from the Indiana Policy Research Foundation similarly warned against attempting to solve public sector fiscal woes through consolidation and merger. Their conclusions were not supportive of the practice — although they didn’t full-scale condemn it — they simply did not find compelling reasons to embark upon that course of action without identifying a valid basis for it.  Anticipated savings and perceived improvement of service were not generally borne-out in reality. The few times consolidation seemed to work were actually a result of better management practices, which were unrelated to the consolidation itself.

Parents Stand Their Ground

The parents at Saginaw Schools are not taking this lying down. They held an informational meeting on Monday, Feb. 16th, in anticipation of the school board’s Wednesday vote to possibly close Saginaw High School. The group is considering seeking an injunction and following through with litigation to block the closure.

Closure, or not, the debt trend will remain the same if the state continues to neglect its responsibility to properly fund public schools.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

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Michigan’s Competing Bills on Same-Sex Adoption

jeff irwinEarlier this month Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) introduced legislation to allow second-parent adoptions. House Bill-4133 would make it possible for unmarried partners of biological parents and sole legal guardians to share legal custody through adoption.

This would permit same-sex and unmarried couples to provide the benefits of two parents to their children, including health insurance. It is clearly in the best interest of children, which is the guiding principle for custodial decisions. Yet, Republican lawmakers have their own legislation intended to make adoption more difficult.

This is the third time Irwin has proposed this legislation — as the lawmaker explains:

“HB 4133 would allow judges to grant adoption to two individuals who are not married if that adoption is in the best interests of the child.

Currently, when children are adopted into homes headed by two adults who cannot marry, the child can only be adopted by one parent. That robs these children of the rights to health care, visitation, child support, inheritance and other benefits of having two parents who are financially and emotionally responsible for them.

With so many children waiting to find a permanent family, it is both discriminatory and financially foolish for Michigan to prevent these loving parents from stepping up and taking responsibility to love and care for them. Frankly, it’s embarrassing for the state I love.

Republican lawmakers will have none of this. Today they introduced a package of bills designed to aggravate the process for same-sex couples seeking full parental rights. House Bills 4188, 4189 and 4190 would allow a child-placing agency to decline certain adoptions based on religious or moral convictions. The bills amend Public Act 116 of 1973, the Social Welfare Act and the Probate Code to reflect the following language:

To the fullest extent permitted by the state and Federal law, a child placing agency shall not be required to provide any services if those services conflict with, or provide any services under circumstances that conflict with, the child placing agency’s sincerely held religious beliefs…

The declining agency would then be required to refer the adoption applicants to another provider.

Michigan’s not alone in its GOP campaign against LGBT civil rights.

Alabama:

All over the media this week is Alabama’s unconstitutional attempt to ignore the Supremacy Clause, thumbing their nose at the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to entertain a stay on lower courts’ finding same-sex marriage bans illegal.

Iowa: 

Sensing the inevitability of same-sex marriage, the Hawkeye state is attempting to legislate-away their judiciary’s ability to rule on the subject. Yep, they are trying to make it illegal for the Iowa Supreme Court to even consider placing it on the docket. A similar attempt to usurp judicial powers was made back in 2013. Gavel to Gavel reports:

The efforts are an ongoing reaction to a 2009 Iowa Supreme Court decision that unanimously struck down a state statute that banned same sex marriage. As a result of what became known as the Varnum decision, 3 justices of that court lost retention elections in 2010 and an effort was made to impeach the other justices.

The language mirrors similar bills introduced in the U.S. Congress to prohibit federal courts including the U.S. Supreme Court from hearing same-sex marriage bans (HR 724 of 2007, HR 1269 of 2009 & HR 875 of 2011) however the federal version prohibited any federal court from hearing such a challenge; the Iowa bill merely limits the appellate jurisdiction of the state’s supreme court.

When the U.S. Supreme Court hears the case this Spring, Justices Anthony Scalia and Clarence Thomas are likely the only two that will attempt to uphold laws that ban same-sex marriage. While it’s premature to declare this victory for LGBT rights a done deal, it’s clear that state officials’ futile attempts to block civil liberties will be viewed as being on the wrong side of history.

It’s such a shame they are putting children in jeopardy and wasting our taxpayer dollars on these fights.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

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Alabama Congressman Mean-Tweets FLOTUS Over School Lunch Program

FLOTUS Winning the Food Fight 

(read below the fold for an interesting post script on censorship of this article)

Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-Alabama) co-chaired the 2015 National Prayer Breakfast late last week. An event that has since inflamed the delicate sensibilities of righteous Christians who apparently snoozed their way through World History 101, leaving them completely ignorant of the not so pleasant details of the Crusades and Inquisition. (Must have been the junk food in their school lunch.)

Flotus Potus 1

Speaking at the event, Aderholt explained that, as a devote Christian, he and his fellow House colleagues gather weekly to celebrate their faith in a completely non-partisan manner. His words:

“We come together once a week, not promoting a party. We’re not promoting a particular issue or particular agenda. I’m a Republican from Alabama, Juan is a Democrat from California, but we come together that one hour during the week, to promote Jesus.”

So, why then did the self-described Jesus-loving congressman mean-tweet the First Lady, along with her significant other, over their appearance at the National Prayer Breakfast?

No, not over the President’s mention of Christianity’s bloody history.

It was in response to this sarcastic tweet from the CEO of right-wing Yellowhammer News, conservative Cliff Sims:

Aderholt :Sims 1

The First Couple maintained an appropriately reverent aspect about their demeanor during the entirety of the somber event. Yet, the Jesus-loving, non-partisan, Christian lawmaker from Alabama took a break from being a Jesus-loving, non-partisan, Christian to mock them with this tweet:

aderholt:sims 2With the cat-like reflexes of a politician up for re-election, it took Aderholt a mere 39 seconds to delete the indiscrete tweet, apparently realizing he wasn’t being a Jesus-loving, non-partisan kind of guy after all. Alas, nothing really gets lost in the vast series of tubes the GOP knows as the internet.

Okay, so we get the hashtags DHS and DontShutDownOurSecurity — the lawmaker clearly meant them as a taunt over the Republican scheme to hold hostage homeland security funding as payback for the President’s executive order on immigration. Very mature of them. But, what’s up with the jab at #SchoolLunch?

Rep. Aderholt does not care for the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, and its “Smart Snacks in School” provision, which gave the USDA broad authority over school lunch programs. He believes this is just another costly regulatory burden intended to strip school districts of local control. Citing a decrease in student participation in the program, he’s calling for a return to the days of offering some of the less expensive, and less healthful, highly processed junk food items on the menu.

Judging from his press release on the topic, he should consider spending a little more time back in school himself:

“Less kids are buying school lunches and that undermines the intention to increase healthy eating in schools.”

The USDA has been willing to tweak the program offering some flexibility in their compliance guidelines and implementation timetables, but that’s not enough for Aderholt, who wants to extend waivers to districts with budget constraints causing difficulties in affording the more nutritious meals, i.e. poorer under-funded schools located in communities that are frequently found in food deserts. A 2010 Gallup study found that poverty was the primary factor in adulthood obesity, with a lack of healthful food choices being a contributing factor.

Michelle Obama, a passionate champion of nutrition and exercise programs, has made it clear she won’t back down in the ongoing struggle with GOP lawmakers. She wants to break the obesity/diabetes cycle that’s become a national crisis of proportions much more costly than providing decent school lunches in the first place.

Sorry boys, FLOTUS will win this food fight — she’s got laser beam eyes.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

CENSORSHIP NOTE:

This post was banned from Badass Teachers Association.

Their Facebook page admin, Terry Kalb, expressed concern that it was too partisan for their tender sensibilities — even though, in keeping with the spirit of the “badass” group’s mission, the entirety of the article expressed an obvious disdain for partisan behavior, along with the gross economic inequality present in our nations’s public schools, negatively impacting our education policy. Apparently, pointing-out Republican culpability was not to Kalb’s liking (we would hate to think it had anything to do with her religious views):

BATS

Democracy Tree’s response:

BATS 2

Upon suggesting the admin re-review the BAT’s mission statement, she responded with the explanation that…

“sorry you feel that way, if the piece was about Mrs. Obama’s school lunches, and not partisan slam, would be ok. Too many DEMs are responsible for destroying our schools too”

Badass Teacher’s Association lists a number of sources they profess to be representative of their short history of activism. Among them is one which Democracy Tree greatly admires, and has known the privilege of being being cited on occasionally — Diane Ravitch’s blog.

Known for her no-holds-barred forthright speech on the subject of politics and education policy — Ravitch’s blog has entertained these recent headlines, politics be damned, (yet, hopefully redacted from the delicate readers at BATS):

BATS Sample Ravitch blog

BATS Ravitch 2BATS Ravitch 3Apparently Kalb feels that the adult members of the page she admins can’t handle the truth, or the slightest bit of controversy. Poor dears! Her experience speaks for itself, she’s been filtering their news feed for ages…

“I have been admin for 20 months- we know which ones will drag us down and which move us forward.”

Wow. Twenty months, I have foodstuffs in my fridge older than that.

 

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Michigan Lawmakers Move to Make Abortion Illegal After 18 Weeks

coathanger 2Different legislature, same old crap.

Michigan lawmakers have proposed two bills placing certain limits on women’s reproductive rights that in unison would make it impossible to obtain an abortion in the state after 18 weeks gestation.

The first, HB-4145 would prohibit hospitals from providing legal abortions if they receive state funding in the form of grants or contracts. The second bill, HB-4146 stipulates that all abortions for a gestation that is 19 weeks or more must be performed in a facility with a neonatal unit — a hospital.

Among various state funds, the Michigan Department of Community Health just awarded a grant of $300,000 to be distributed among 30 birthing hospitals in Michigan. The purpose of the grant is unrelated to abortion services:

These funds will help connect families to evidence-based home visiting programs including the Maternal Infant Health Program (MIHP) and to the Children’s Special Health Care Services (CSHCS).

These bills are not tie-barred — that would have been too obvious. They were sponsored by ten male lawmakers, with one female, Cindy Gamrat (R-80), who ran on a pledge to eliminate all abortion services in the state.

There is no provision for saving the life or health of the mother.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

updated 3:40 pm 2-5-15

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Boy Scout Ban on LGBT Leaders On Its Way Out

February 8 – 14 is the official 2015 Boy Scout Week in Michigan, celebrating an organization with a long history of discrimination against the LGBT community. Until very recently, Boy Scouts of America prohibited gay membership. The 103 year-old ban was lifted on Jan. 1st of this year.

However, gay leaders are still not allowed.

Scoutmaster

California Takes the Lead

Last week, the California Supreme Court issued a ground-breaking ruling prohibiting members of the state’s judiciary from Boy Scout membership because the group continues to discriminate against gay and lesbian leadership. California is one of 23 states whose judicial code of conduct prohibits judges from belonging to any organization that discriminates based on race, gender and sexual orientation. Starting Jan. 16, 2016 judges affiliated with the Boy Scouts will be in violation of the code of ethics and subject to disciplinary action, including removal from office.

Michigan — Behind the Times

Michigan’s Judicial Code of Conduct does not protect individuals based on sexual orientation. It is unlikely the code will be updated to reflect modern views of civil liberties unless there’s movement on the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act. The code currently reads:

A judge should not allow activity as a member of an organization to cast doubt on the judge’s ability to perform the function of the office in a manner consistent with the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct, the laws of this state, and the Michigan and United States Constitutions. A judge should be particularly cautious with regard to membership activities that discriminate, or appear to discriminate, on the basis of race, gender, or other protected personal characteristic. Nothing in this paragraph should be interpreted to diminish a judge’s right to the free exercise of religion.

Michigan lawmakers must take action before the judiciary would feel compelled to do so. Sen. Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor) has introduced legislation to amend Elliot-Larsen during each session she has served over the past nine years.

Municipalities Step-Up

Warren remains hopeful because so many local units of government in Michigan have passed ordinances to protect LGBT civil rights. As of last year, 35 municipalities have stepped-up with local laws. With 75 percent of the state’s population in favor of amending the law, it’s only a matter of time. Speaking to a group of local and national LGBT organizations last week, Warren described the momentum:

“It’s often said that the states become the incubators for the federal government. And here we find that sometimes the localities, or municipal governments, become the incubators for the state, and they can push policy up to us.”

Ohio Boy Scout Council Takes Action

A local Boy Scout Council in Ohio acted on their own to lift the leadership ban in defiance of the national organization’s policy. The Simon Kenton Boys Scout Council serves about 20,000 members in 17-counties across the Buckeye State. It is unclear what action, if any, their parent organization will take in response to their move. As expected, there was some backlash from religious leaders, and a withdrawal of support for the regional organization, but they are standing firm with their decision — the intention being to spark a larger conversation. Jen Koma, spokesperson for the Simon Kenton Council spoke with The Columbus Dispatch:

“It’s a sensitive topic, and we’ve tried to be sensitive,” Koma said, adding that the council is still bound by national policies that ban gay adults from being Scout leaders.

The group wants to work with other councils “through proper channels” to ultimately bring about change to the national-membership policy, she said.

The arc of the moral universe is bending — Michigan has some catching-up to do.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

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As Romney Cashes-Out, Contenders Fight Over His War Chest

So, Romney’s dog gets a break from the campaign trail in 2016, but after the aborted presidential bid, there’s still much to be settled. It’s all about the money.

R-Money

The question now is who gets the keys to the Romney money machine and its chief operator, Spencer J. Zwick, now that the GOP hopeful has concluded that three times are not so much the charm. Speculation abounds, as Jeb Bush and Chris Christie come a courtin’ for the cash.

Romney himself may not have much say on where all that establishment money flows, and his endorsement could carry little weight. However, his pre-candidacy concession speech of sorts, hinted he wants to see fresh blood — a clear dis on Jeb Bush.

Zwick was the genius behind Romney’s record-breaking 2012 fundraising campaign. Between the candidate committee, the RNC, Restore Our Future super PAC, along with various other sources — Team Romney hauled-in just under $1 billion. The bulk of the fundraising and spending occurred in the five month period between June and November, after Romney secured the nomination.

The big GOP presidential game players of 2012 were casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife whose combined contributions placed a $30 million wager on Romney. Bob Perry, a Houston homebuilder who financed the 2004 swift boat campaign, ponied-up $10 million. The CEO of Oracle, Larry Ellison, kicked-in $3 million, and no GOP presidential bid would be complete without a little Koch cash — brother William gave $2.8 million through his oil and gas company, Oxbow Carbon LLC.

Last week, the Brothers Koch announced plans to lavish 2016 GOP contenders at all levels with just under $1 billion through their super PAC, Americans for Prosperity — a fact democratic strategists plan to exploit, painting the billionaire brothers as evil incarnate. Rep. Ben Ray Luján (NM), chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said this of the announcement:

“I think the Koch brothers dumping a billion dollars on the elections is definitely something the American people are interested in learning about.”

The Koch money will be joined by increased spending across the board as billionaires exercise their expanded First Amendment freedom to spend unlimited sums in the wake of the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon ruling lifting the cap on aggregate dollars spent by an individual during an election cycle.

The five month fundraising window has been blown wide open. It starts now folks.

Mike Huckabee, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker all schmoozed Romney in 140 characters or less in the wake of his announcement. Note how Walker owns it.

huckabee tweet

Bush twwet

Walker tweet

A recent Des Moines Register-Bloomberg poll shows Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker, leading the pack of 15 potential contenders. The poll was conducted prior to Romney’s dropping-out, so there’s clearly an x-factor to consider with his 13 points now up for grabs. Walker, reviled by midwestern Democrats even more than neighboring Michigan governor Rick Snyder, and considered more divisive by every measure, has survived two elections and a recall in recent years, in spite of his union-busting record.

His appeal? If there’s one thing the entire spectrum of the Republican Party agrees on, it’s their affinity for gross hubris, and Walker’s got that in spades. Typically, the arrogance level stands in opposition to the relative intelligence of a GOP darling, but Walker embodies the cunning skill of a deadly predator.

In alphabetical order, here’s the line-up.

Des Moines Register:Bloomberg poll

Party outlier, Rand Paul, coming in right behind Walker, isn’t trying to charm Romney in the least. A couple of weeks ago, Paul tweeted-out some snark in the general Romney/Bush direction.Rand Paul corrected tweet 3

He’s sure not gettin’ any of that pretty-pretty establishment money.

The big winner? Romney’s dog.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

 

 

 

 

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Michigan Lawmakers Squeal over Wolf Hunt Ruling

3 pigs 2Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) is crying wolf again. He, and two fellow lawmakers are howling mad over last month’s federal court ruling in favor of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), returning the gray wolf to the endangered species list in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The court cited the intent of the Endangered Species Act:

“This law reflects the commitment by the United States to act as a responsible steward of the Earth’s wildlife, even when such stewardship is inconvenient or difficult for the localities where an endangered or threatened species resides.”

This week, Casperson introduced a resolution to the Michigan Senate (SR-7) calling for:

“[L]egislative action by the U.S. Congress and an appeal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in an effort to remove the Western Great Lakes gray wolf population from the endangered and threatened species list.”

Among the arguments found in the resolution is that the ESA prevents farmers from protecting their livestock. Kristi Lloyd of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected explains that “farmers themselves can’t kill wolves, but DNR, Wildlife Services can”  if the wolf is a threat to humans. Livestock depredation had been a key rationale behind the Michigan wolf hunt, however support for that line of reasoning dwindled when it was discovered that the farmer who reported nearly two-thirds of the 158 livestock losses was leaving cattle carcasses in the field, essentially baiting wolves to enter his property, and collecting handsomely in damages from the state.

Nutty Claims that Pets Will Soon Become Illegal in Michigan

A few weeks ago, Casperson, along with Rep. John Kivela (D-Marquette), Rep. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) were interviewed on the topic.

3 pigs

When asked about the ruling, McBroom responded with “Outrageous. I think it’s outrageous and it continues to show the very selfish drive of some groups, especially the Humane Society of the United States.” He’s upset because “groups from out-of-state decide they know better how the wildlife in the U.P. should look.”

Kivela asserted the HSUS “is a special interest group, whose motivation is not protecting the wolf. It’s motivation is to cease all hunting, all fishing, and eventually domestic pets.” McBroom piped-in support with “It’s their stated goals”, and continued with a rant accusing the organization of not working to actually help animals, but instead spending all their money on salaries, lobbyists and lawyers.

Combing through the HSUS website produced no such “stated goal” or anything close to it. Additionally, the organization received recognition from Worth Magazine as one of “The 10 Most Fiscally Responsible Charities.” As for keeping pets — Fido and Fluffy are just fine with the HSUS, they simply don’t want “dangerous wild animals” to be kept as pets. No tigers or bears folks, but squealing pigs — still okay.

Some More Disingenuous Whining

The leading group in favor of wolf hunting, the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, complain they are being out-gunned in the courtroom. MUCC Policy Manager, Amy Trotter, posted a blog this week carping about the legions of lawyers on the side of HSUS and the Center for Biological Diversity. In a twist of intellectual dishonesty she additionally noted that the latter group had a deceptive name. Seriously, this from the “conservation” group?

Trotter’s blog described a recent banquet with the Lansing Chapter of The Safari Club International where the keynote speaker was Anna Seidman, chief SCI litigator, who spun a bleak David and Goliath tale. Trotter described the “otherside” thusly:

“[T]he Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has about 13 lawyers on staff and the Center for Biological Diversity (another anti-hunting, litigation heavy group with an almost innocent sounding name) has about 28 legal beagles, not to mention smaller anti-hunting, animal rights groups with 3-4 paid lawyers each. But they also have among their ranks more than 1,000 pro bono attorneys that they work with to try to circumvent sound wildlife management and sue the pants off of our state and federal agencies at every turn.”

Wowser, over 1,000 lawyers, and all pro bono? Please, kindly show your math ladies. A list of any kind would be great, doesn’t even have to alphabetized.

Trotter concluded with this insight:

“I’m just glad to have Anna, SCI, USSA, RMEF, MUCC, UPSA, MTAPC, MHDF, UPBHA, MBHA, MBH, DU, NWTF, MSSFA, Michigan B.A.S.S., and every hunter, angler, and trapper out there on my side.”

Hey wait, some of MUCC’s supporters appear to be “groups from out-of-state.” Does Rep. McBroom know about this? He’s gonna be soooo pissed-off. Also, listed among MUCC’s “conservation partners” are Enbridge and Nestle Water — two corporations not known as particularly stellar environmental stewards in the Great Lakes State.

For an actual list of those who support protecting Michigan’s wolf population click here. You won’t find 1000 lawyers (try three), but there do seem to be plenty of veterinarians, animal shelters, local humane society chapters, individuals and businesses.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

On Jan. 28, 2015, SR-7 was voted favorably out of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, chaired by Sen. Casperson.

Correction made at 12:30, Jan. 29, 2015 to indicate that the DNR may only kill a wolf that is a threat to humans.

 

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