Battle Creek Enquirer. July 1.
Keep local gun boards in Michigan
It's never been difficult to own firearms in Michigan, but you might think otherwise watching the majority of state lawmakers. They're on a mission, and while finding a fix for our roads may be a bridge too far, the Legislature's proven itself adroit at pursuing the gun lobby's agenda.
Indeed, the Legislature went into its summer recess having passed eight bills with the blessing, if not directive, of the National Rifle Association, two of them already signed into law.
The first repealed Michigan's ban on short-barreled rifles and shotguns, bringing Michigan into line with the majority of states that allow residents to own short-barreled weapons so long as they meet federal requirements, which include a background check and a $200 tax.
More recently, Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation to keep the names of gun owners out of the public record — a formality, really, since the state Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that the disclosure of gun registry records are "a clearly unwarranted invasion of an individual's privacy."
Think what you will about either of these bills, it seems odd that in the midst of a national epidemic of firearm violence and gun-related deaths that the lawmakers would be spending any time at all on loosening firearm restrictions.
We can't think of a single public interest served by blocking access to records of who owns guns and who has the licenses and permits to carry them, but at least seven other states passed similar legislation after a New York newspaper published the names and addresses of handgun owners in two suburban counties north of New York City. Our Legislature is far from alone in doing the NRA's bidding.
There is one way, however, that Michigan does stand out: It's the only state in the union that gives county-level gun boards discretion in reviewing applications for concealed weapons permits.
That distinction is under threat. The Senate on June 10 passed a bill that would do away with the boards, shifting the responsibility from local law enforcement to county clerks and state police.
The bill would reduce fees associated with conceal-carry permit applications from $105 to $90 per application, but it would shift costs to the state police. The Senate Fiscal Agency, a nonpartisan budget-scoring arm of the legislature, reported that state police would need to move 58 full-time officers from patrol to application review at an annual cost of $8.4 million, or $143,843 per employee.
Sen. Mike Green, R-Mayville, the bill's sponsor, finds the current Michigan process too burdensome.
"Michigan residents currently pay one of the highest CPL fees in the nation, yet they must deal with inconsistent requirements from county to county and experience some of the longest delays in receiving a license," Green told M-Live. "We are the only state in the nation that still uses gun boards to issue CPLs. It is obsolete and needs to change."
We're unconvinced. We've not seen evidence of application backlogs. Governing magazine, citing a Michigan State Police annual report, writes that "between July 2011 to June 2012, the state recorded 82,347 applications for concealed pistol licenses. Of those, about 96 percent were issued."
The Michigan State Police testified against the bill in a March committee hearing, citing concerns about moving officers away from patrols. The Michigan Sheriffs' Association also opposes the legislation.
We do, too. We hope the House rejects the bill and if it comes to it, the governor is ready with a veto.
Local gun boards are in a far better position to vet applications, and, ultimately, be accountable to communities in which they serve.
Getting a concealed weapons permit is easy enough in Michigan. We need not make it any easier.
The Mining Journal (Marquette). July 2.
Cautious optimism needed for state budget
The new $53.2 billion state budget allows for a spending increase of 6 percent this year. This scenario came about mostly due to Michigan's new expansion of Medicaid eligibility to more low-income adults and expected higher tax collections in an economy that's seeing an uptick.
That's good news. Spending more is often good, depending how responsibly the money is used. The $3.1 billion funding increase includes an overall 7 percent increase in revenue sharing to local governments.
Marquette City Manager Bill Vajda told The Mining Journal's Mary Wardell that because of proposed tax restructuring within the state budget, the local effects are more complex.
He said the Economic Vitality Incentive Program was eliminated as the basis for qualifying for revenue sharing. There also are proposals to eliminate and restructure personal property tax.
Until the restructuring of personal property tax in August is decided via referendum, Vajda said it's too early to determine the full impact.
This comes not too long after a very cold and expensive winter that have placed financial burdens on affected local governments and taxpayers, those in Marquette County included.
To complicate matters, legislation that would have more than doubled state gasoline and diesel taxes — thereby improving road funding — stalled recently.
It's unknown if legislators will want to even discuss hiking taxes, often an unpopular subject, after the November election.
Ask anyone in municipal fiscal management in Marquette County how their governments will manage if federal and state money for road maintenance doesn't materialize. If the polar vortex makes another appearance next winter, which in the Upper Peninsula could be a few months from now, that could be devastating.
We like generally what Snyder has done since getting elected. But he and the legislature must keep infrastructure funding at the top of the list if local governments want to remain financially solvent.
Detroit Free Press. June 30.
Hobby Lobby is another dubious victory for corporate personhood
There is nothing particularly conservative about Monday's (July 2) Supreme Court ruling excusing closely held corporations from a federal mandate to provide female employees with insurance coverage for certain forms of contraception.
Flying under the false colors of religious liberty, the five Catholics in the majority insisted they were acting to protect the constitutional rights of two closely held corporations owned and operated by Christian families.
But their ruling's practical import was to expand the majority's already inflated notion of corporate personhood, effectively extending employers' dominion over the personal lives and health care choices of female employees.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke for wary employees everywhere when she warned, in a dissent joined in whole or in part by three other justices, that the majority's deference to the corporation's junk-science views "invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faiths."
Ginsburg speculated that the majority had "entered a minefield" by inviting judges to second-guess other treatment conventions, asking not unreasonably whether the exemption enshrined in the Hobby Lobby case would "extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah's Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus), and vaccinations (Christian Scientists, among others)?"
The ruling was a victory for proprietors of the Hobby Lobby craft store chain and Conestoga Wood Specialties. Both companies are controlled by families who say they endeavor to run their businesses on religious principles and argued that the Affordable Care Act's requirement that they provide contraceptive coverage to employees was a violation of their religious belief that certain forms of contraception are tantamount to abortion.
But what about the companies' employees and their covered dependents who don't happen to share the owners' scientifically dubious views? Monday's majority ruling subordinates their right of access to the contraceptive coverage that millions of other similarly situated workers enjoy to the religious whims of their employers.
The majority's casual rejoinder that there are other ways of providing the mandated contraception coverage ignores the burden that the majority's deference to the religious objections of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood places on employees and taxpayers.
Justice Samuel Alito dismissed the government's assertion that Monday's ruling would encourage publicly held corporations to evade other public health and safety regulations on religious grounds, speculating that "numerous practical restraints would likely prevent that from occurring."
But like Justice Ginsburg, we take little comfort in such bland assurances, which may prove as naive as Justice Anthony Kennedy's confidence that government-mandated disclosure of campaign expenditures would temper the impact of unrestricted corporate political spending. (Today, four years after conservative justices opened the floodgates to such spending in their Citizens United case, its corrupting influence is manifest.)
Now, in yet another ruling that belittles the general public's stake in a crucial public health issue, the court's conservatives have again expanded the prerogatives of corporate employers at the expense of ordinary workers. The latter can only hope — or perhaps pray — that the collateral damages arising from that expansion remain limited.
Grand Haven Tribune. June 30.
New state law keeps moms out of jail
You wouldn't take your sandwich into a restaurant's restroom to have your lunch, would you?
So why should a public restroom be a place for a young mother to feed her baby?
Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation into Michigan law June 24 that aims to prevent discrimination against breast-feeding mothers.
"Breast-feeding is a natural act with many proven benefits," Snyder said at the signing of several related bills. "By supporting new mothers, we help ensure good infant health, reduce infant mortality rates and prevent obesity."
Senate Bill 674, sponsored by state Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, establishes the Breast-feeding Antidiscrimination Act. The act ensures that women have the right to breast-feed in a public place. The bill will help ensure breast-feeding mothers do not face discrimination, and are allowed full and equal enjoyment of a public accommodation or service while breast-feeding.
In addition, House Bills 5591 and 5592 — which were sponsored by state Rep. Amanda Price, R-Park Township — specify that a mother breast-feeding in a public place is not guilty of indecent exposure or obscene conduct.
Price's legislation aligns Michigan with the laws of 27 other states.
Snyder, Warren, Price and the rest of the state Legislature should be applauded.
Mother's milk has been proven to be far and away the best nourishment for infants, and young mothers should not be ashamed to be partaking in the natural act, as long as they do so discreetly and tastefully. We're certain that's the case with the vast majority of breast-feeding mothers, who now have state law on their side to allow them to feed their babies in public without fear of being shunned, told to leave or to use the restroom — or worse yet, arrested.
So, the next time you see a mother discreetly breast-feeding their baby in a public place, leave them alone. Don't stare. Just let them go on about their business and you go on about yours.