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Michigan Legislative Update

Week of August 11, 2016

By Judy Augenstein

Michigan has requested a stay of ruling against the straight ticket repeal.  The Department of Attorney General asked the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this week for an emergency stay within a week of a lower court ruling striking down Michigan's new law ending the option for voters to choose a political party's slate of candidates with a single mark on the ballot.  The state asked the appeals court to stay U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain's ruling through the November election.  In its motion, the state says Mr. Drain's proposed schedule, coupled with the deadline at the end of the month for printing ballots, necessitates emergency action.

Democrats are tagging the Republican's lst Congressional nominee as an out of stater who did lobbying like duties for a for profit education outfit with a dubious history.  It turns out that Republicans could use a similar attack on the Democratic candidate.  The difference is Democrat Lon Johnson was actually registered to lobby in Washington D.C. and Republican Jack Bergman never did register as a lobbyist.  While Bergman's Watersmeet residency has come into question, the Republican has actually been registered to vote in the lst Congressional District longer than Democrat Johnson.  Bergman said he registered in 1998, Johnson registered in the district in 2011. 

Congressional records indicate that Johnson registered to lobby for the Michigan League for Human Services from 2001-2008.  Bergman insists he had nothing to do with Education Management Corporation's recruitment practices.  He says he was hired to make sure veterans returning to school were making a smooth transition to civilian life.  This campaign continues to be controversial and dicey.  Political pundits contend the winner of this race is a 50 - 50 guess.

An audit this week notes that the DNR lacks control over Commercial Forest Lands.  The DNR is charged with qualifying parcels under the CFA program, but it does not have all the legal or personnel resources needed to conduct that oversight, Auditor General Doug Ringler said in a recent report.  The performance audit of the CFA and the Forest Development Fund for the period October 1, 2012, through June 30, 2015, also found the department as not ensuring it had certifications from all landowners involved in the program.

Auditors found three of 32 parcels for which the department did not have a certification on file that the parcel qualified.  One of those, auditors found, was too small to qualify, but because the larger parcel from which it was divided had been certified, the new owner had continued to pay the $1.25 per acre tax allowed under the program.  Auditors did note the DNR does not have sufficient resources to monitor activity on commercial forest lands to be sure they all comply.  The department also does not have the authority needed to collect all property transfers.  A 2013 statutory change moved the mandate to notify the departments from the property owner to the county and DNR officials said counties are not uniformly complying with that requirement. The audit also noted the department does not have the authority to mandate that property owners provide copies of their forest management plan or their deed to show the parcels qualify.  Law only requires that they provide the forest management plan certification.

This week Jim Maeder and I had a 2 hour conservation with Michelle Lange, legislative liaison to Governor Snyder and Kirstie Sieloff, Lt. Governor's policy staff regarding the latest draft of HB 5506.  Legislation to create a level playing field between Amish and English sawmills.  It is clear they have done their research strictly through LARA.  They contend that the Amish organize within the law, but agree that they structure their businesses differently than the English do.They believe that LARA investigates both Amish and English mills fairly.

They were familiar with the Local Emphasis Program, developed in 2013 and that since that time 10 Amish mills have been inspected and 8 were cited for violations.  We shared with them that out of 360 mills registered with the DNR that 117 are Amish. Staff had no comment on the over inspection of some of our mills or that 30% of Michigan mills are Amish or what will happen if most all mills end up being purchased by the Amish.

The most important thing we learned this week is that both the Governor and Lt. Governor would take a "no position" on the new bill language instead of "oppose", which is progress.  I shared this information with sponsor Rep. Goike and his chief of staff and asked them to request a hearing on the bill.  I shared the new position by LARA and the Governor with staff to Rep. Graves, Chair, House Commerce Committee where the bill resides and requested they set a hearing on the bill.

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