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July 9 | This Week in Government: Whitmer, Signing K-12 Supplemental, Hoping for Full Budget Action; ELCRA Initiative Short of Signatures

Each week, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Government Relations team, in partnership with Gongwer, will provide members with a collection of timely updates from both local and state governments. Stay in the know on the latest legislation, policy priorities, and more.

  1. Whitmer, Signing K-12 Supplemental, Hoping for Full Budget Action
  2. Bureau of Elections: ELCRA Initiative Short of Signatures
  3. AG Probing Election Falsehood Pushers; Reviewing MIGOP Grot Contract
  4. Stabenow Touts Federal Child Tax Credit Expansion As Historic
  5. Justices Question Governor’s Role in Detroit Charter Case

Whitmer, Signing K-12 Supplemental, Hoping for Full Budget Action

A bill with $4.4 billion in aid to the state’s K-12 schools from the federal government was signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

HB 4421, now Public Act 47 and taking effect Wednesday, contains $3.35 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act and $840.1 million from the CARES Act II, the latter of which had not been appropriated in an earlier supplemental.

Funding heavily favors schools with larger numbers of impoverished students under the Title I formula.

Gov. Whitmer signed the bill in Macomb County. Most of her remarks focused on K-12 funding overall. The Governor said she expects to sign the full-year 2021-22 fiscal year K-12 school budget sometime next week. It was formally presented to the governor on Tuesday.

“We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make the type of investment in our schools that will put Michigan students and educators first as they head into the next school year,” Gov. Whitmer said. “Our actions today prove that Republicans and Democrats in Lansing can work together to enact budgets that are laser-focused on helping Michigan take full advantage of the unprecedented opportunity we have right now to make transformative investments in our schools that will have positive impacts for generations.”

The Governor said that education is the backbone of the state’s economy.

“When you invest in education, you invest in the future of our state’s economy,” she said.

Yet to be resolved, however, is the rest of the state’s 2021-22 fiscal year budget for departments, agencies, community colleges, and public universities. Gov. Whitmer said she is still hopeful that can be completed in the coming weeks.

“I’ll just say that time is of the essence,” she said.


Bureau of Elections: ELCRA Initiative Short of Signatures

A petition effort seeking to have LGBT Michiganders covered under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act should not be certified due to an insufficient number of signatures gathered, a report from Bureau of Elections said Thursday.

Sampling done by the bureau found that, out of 502 signatures sampled, only 337 gathered by the group Fair and Equal Michigan were valid. The number of valid signatures in the sample was well below the threshold for recommended certification, which required at least 398 valid signatures.

“Based on the result of the random sample, it is estimated that the petition contains 298,943 valid signatures (at a confidence level of 100 percent), 41,104 signatures fewer than the minimum number required by Article II, Section 9 of the Michigan Constitution,” the bureau’s staff report says. “The random sample result also indicates that the petition sponsor is 33 sampled signatures short of the minimum number required to draw a second sample.”

Of the 165 invalid signatures in the sample, 97 were deemed invalid due to the signer’s registration status, 39 were invalid due to signer address errors, 19 were because of miscellaneous errors such as nonmatching signatures, and the remaining 10 were found to be invalid due to signer date errors.

The group submitted 86,608 sheets containing 468,830 signatures on Oct. 13, 2020. Of that number, 19,697 sheets containing 23,520 signatures were also deemed wholly invalid due to errors, the bulk of which came from electronic signatures gathered through DocuSign during the pandemic.

Fair and Equal Michigan spokesperson Josh Hovey said in a statement the group planned to “fight for every valid signature.” He said the bureau threw out thousands of signatures that were valid, and the group would make sure no voter was disenfranchised.

“The Department of State has failed to issue rules as mandated by the Legislature since 2005 to establish standards for determining the validity of petition signatures,” he said. “For this reason, any determination made by the department staff is inconsistent with the requirements of Michigan’s election law.”

A total of 1,014 non-electronic sheets were rejected containing 4,837 signatures, most of these were due to a defective circulator certificate, which resulted in 630 sheets, containing 4,040 signatures, be deemed invalid. Jurisdiction errors caused another 244 sheets, containing 501 signatures, to be rejected while 134 sheets, containing 260 signatures, were rejected due to signer errors made by every signer on the sheet.

Another six sheets containing 36 signatures were rejected for miscellaneous reasons, such as being torn. Approximately 18,683 electronic signatures were deemed invalid by the bureau.

Fair and Equal Michigan’s attempt to see LGBT Michiganders awarded protections under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act had been mired in struggle from the outset. Despite a wealth of support from Democratic lawmakers, large corporations, and small business owners, the coronavirus pandemic hobbled signature gathering efforts for many petition initiatives including Fair and Equal’s.

The group was able to catch a break in June 2020 when a ruling from Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens granted an additional 69 days for the campaign to gather signatures, a number equal to the amount of days Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive action required residents to stay home and not gather in large groups during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, even then, it was still a struggle for the group to stay afloat. During that same time, Fair and Equal Michigan said their campaign needed nearly $1 million to have the funds necessary to continue circulation efforts. The group even turned to gathering signatures online, though that was later determined by the Department of State to not be a valid method of signature gathering.

The petition is scheduled to come before the Board of State Canvassers at its July 13 meeting for a vote. Generally, canvassers follow the recommendation of the bureau.


AG Probing Election Falsehood Pushers; Reviewing MIGOP Grot Contract

The Department of Attorney General will be investigating individuals who knowingly spread misleading and false information about the 2020 election results for publicity or their own benefit, an agency spokesperson said Thursday.

That same spokesperson also noted the department will review payments made in 2018 to have a secretary of state candidate withdraw from the party primary. The issue was resolved with the Department of State by way of a conciliatory agreement with the Michigan Republican Party last Friday.

The move to investigate misinformation purveyors comes just over two weeks following the release of a Senate Oversight Committee report which concluded there was no evidence of fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

Within the report, committee chair Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan), included the recommendation for the department to investigate individuals who knowingly continued to push misinformation for profit.

“After reviewing the report in full, the department has accepted Sen. McBroom and the committee’s request to investigate. (The Department of State Police) is also assisting in the matter,” Lynsey Mukomel, department spokesperson, said in a statement.

Mukomel declined to comment further, citing the ongoing investigation.

The 2020 elections report spent pages reviewing and subsequently rejecting numerous claims related to voter fraud in Michigan following the election.

A key area of focus in the report was on the events that occurred in Antrim County, where human error in handling a software update produced incorrect unofficial vote totals. The mistake was due to a new flash drive being uploaded. Since all tabulator flashcards were not updated, the election night program would not load properly. Work began the morning after the election to correct this error.

Despite the quick efforts to correct the mistake, supporters of former President Donald Trump latched on to it as evidence of voter fraud. This theory put forward has never been proven and the corrected results in Antrim County were found following a hand recount to be accurate.

It was not immediately clear who might be investigated. However, the report referred to claims made in testimony by former Sen. Patrick Colbeck regarding the integrity of election equipment as well as those made by attorney Matthew DePerno, retained by an Antrim County resident for a lawsuit against the county.

The report found both of their claims to be demonstrably false. Dominion Voting Systems earlier this year went so far as to send a letter demanding Colbeck cease and desist continuing to spread the claims he has made against the company’s equipment.

McBroom declined following the release of the report to specify who he was referring to in terms of a Department of Attorney General investigation and said the report spoke for itself.

On Thursday, McBroom said the recommendation was made to the department because the committee had taken the matter as far as it could.

“It’s not our committee’s duty or responsibility,” McBroom said of conducting its own criminal investigation.

McBroom said when he spoke to the department following the release of the report, he said he was able to provide the source material from which the committee came to its conclusions outlined in the report. Where the department goes from there during its investigation is its choice, he said.

SOS PAYMENT REVIEW: The Department of Attorney General is also looking at the issue of allegations that Weiser paid off Stan Grot in 2018 to withdraw from the party’s secretary of state primary race.

The Michigan Republican Party revealed last week it has entered into a conciliation agreement with the Department of State regarding a complaint from former Michigan Republican Party Chair Laura Cox that Weiser, while party chair from 2017-19, signed an agreement to pay Grot $230,000 for contractual work upon leaving the race.

“We are currently reviewing the matter and have no details to provide at this time,” Mukomel said in a statement.


Stabenow Touts Federal Child Tax Credit Expansion As Historic

Providing monthly payments to families under the federally expanded child tax credit is a historic change to help lift a large swath of low-income Michigan families out of poverty, Democratic members of Michigan’s congressional delegation said Thursday.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing), who has been touting the expanded child tax credit in stops across the state this week, joined with U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) in Lansing Thursday with local officials to promote the program.

The child tax credit expansion is set to take effect July 15 and last for one year. Supporters said it could benefit an estimated 1.9 million Michigan children under age 18 as well as an estimated 39 million families nationally. Payments for the expanded child tax credit were provided for under the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan coronavirus relief plan passed by Congress.

Under the expanded tax credit, qualified families will receive up to $300 per month per child under age 6 and up to $250 per month for each child ages 6 through 17. The tax credit was previously capped at $2,000 to families that had income tax obligations and only after filing with the Internal Revenue Service.

Families making less than $150,000 per year will be able to receive the payments monthly. The IRS is to determine eligibility based on 2019 and 2020 tax year data. Families can also update their status via an online portal.

Stabenow said the tax cut in the American Rescue Plan is far different than the last tax cut in 2017, which she said went almost entirely to wealthier individuals and businesses.

“This is the opposite of that. This is a tax cut that goes to those who are working on trying to pull things together, make ends meet, low-income, middle-income families, and it’s done in a way that allows folks to be able to plan and pay the bills on a monthly basis,” Stabenow said. “It’s a different set of values, it’s a different set of priorities. We need to do more of that.”

Stabenow said there are conversations being started on extended the tax credit for up to another five years, with the hope of eventually making it permanent.

Many families, Slotkin said, were hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic on multiple levels. She said many lost jobs or saw reduced hours and had to deal with children doing their schoolwork remotely from home while grappling with increasing expenses.

The pandemic has hit women particularly hard, Slotkin added, making it difficult for many to get back into the workforce due to a lack of affordable child care or of even finding child care. The expanded child tax credit can help with this, she said.

“It’s going to give people more money in their pocket in order to help them with expenses like child care,” Slotkin said. “It can help them obviously with all kinds of things, from our normal monthly bills of gas and food, but that child care piece I think is particularly important.”

Anita Cobb, a child tax credit recipient, called the expanded child tax credit a godsend. She said the monthly funding would be able to “take some of the guesswork” out of her budgeting for the upcoming months, for which she is grateful.

“This money is going to be fill in the gaps for some and will be the first chance for others to get more focused on the next life phases for the people in our family,” Cobb said.

Republicans have expressed concerns over potential fraud and over it being an expansion of welfare programs.

When asked about the concerns of Republicans, Stabenow told reporters that Republicans have been more than willing to carve out numerous tax cuts and loopholes for wealthier individuals, including millionaires and billionaires who do not pay any taxes.

“This is for the rest of Michigan families, people who are working hard every single day and don’t benefit from all of the other tax credits that are put in the tax code for wealthy people,” Stabenow said.

She added she does believe the tax credit expansion would be sustainable long-term if enacted.


Justices Question Governor’s Role in Detroit Charter Case

Questions about the Governor’s role as a gatekeeper for city charter revisions to appear before voters were mulled by justices of the Michigan Supreme Court during oral arguments Wednesday regarding Detroit city charter revisions that were blocked from reaching the ballot.

The high court heard arguments in Sheffield, et al v. Detroit City Clerk, et al (MSC Docket No.163084) – consolidated with Lewis, et al v. Detroit City Clerk, et al (MSC Docket No. 163085) – following a 2-1 Court of Appeals decision that affirmed a lower court’s order to remove the provisions from the August ballot.

In an attempt to overturn those rulings, the Detroit Charter Revision Commission requested relief from the Supreme Court, noting in at least one argument that the Home Rule City Act does not explicitly say that a Governor needs to give approval before charter revisions are placed before voters.

Aaron Phelps, attorney for the commission, said that Article VII Section 22 of the Michigan Constitution provides that under general laws electors of each city and village shall have the power and authority to frame, adopt and amend a charter as they saw fit.

The city of Detroit voted in 2018 to do just that, Phelps added, by electing nine commissioners who would undertake the task to present residents with a proposed charter revision. An up or down vote in August would be the third and final step in that process initiated years prior if the revisions were allowed to appear on the ballot.

At issue in the case is the fact that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer stated that she did not support the proposed changes based on a legal opinion from Attorney General Dana Nessel. Plaintiffs contend, as established by previous precedent, that a charter revision cannot be placed on the ballot absent support of the Governor.

But Phelps said the Home Rule Cities Act further establishes that local people and local governments determine if and when a charter revision should take place, not the Legislature nor the Executive branch.

“Nothing in the act requires the governor signature, the for the revision may be submitted before an election,” he said. “This is a critical fact and a statute that was, frankly, not addressed by the lower courts.”

Whereas charter amendments must be submitted to the governor, per the Michigan Constitution, revisions are treated separately in statute and are not required to be sent to the governor before reaching the ballot, Phelps argued.

Meanwhile, attorneys for plaintiffs (Rev. Horace Sheffield III and Rodrick Harbin in Sheffield; Allen Lewis and Ingrid White in Lewis), argued that the revisions were flawed from the get-go, as the commission missed its filing deadline, produced two different draft versions of the revisions on its website and another published on Twitter, and allegedly admitted in court filings that it believed it had the right to change the revisions up until election day.

Lewis attorney Jason Hanselman further explained it was clear that the governor’s approval was necessary here as it is outlined in the plain language of the Home Rule City Act.

“The second two sentences in Section 22 (of HRCA) will be completely nugatory if the governor’s approval isn’t mandatory because all proposed revisions would just proceed directly to the ballot, with or without the governor’s approval,” Hanselman said. “The statute is designed to protect voters from precisely the type of proposal that’s full of illegal and misleading provisions that the governor and attorney general rejected. The Charter Commission is now arguing Section 22 is silent regarding what happens if the Governor doesn’t approve it, but that’s not true. Section 22 says exactly what will happen if the governor doesn’t approve a charter revision, and that’s to return it for the city to fix the problems. It’s not ambiguous, it’s simple.”

In questioning, Justice David Viviano surmised that cities – including the city of Detroit – followed nearly 100 years of historical process regarding charter revisions even in its most recent attempt, which is to submit to the governor for approval.

Viviano added that it appeared that Phelps’s interpretation of the process and the legal theory at the basis of his argument was inconsistent with the way his client proceeded in first seeking the governor’s approval or at the very least her stance on the matter.

In response, Phelps said that the 1963 Michigan Constitution adopted Section 34, which had the foresight to postulate if there was an issue of interpretation of the document or applicable law, the interpretation was to be liberally construed in favor of the city.

With that, Phelps asked for the previous rulings to be overturned.

Justice Richard Bernstein questioned why the default procedure guiding a charter revision wasn’t “that the people have the right to vote,” taking issue with Hanselman’s assertion the governor-approval model in statute empowered and protected voters.

“It protects people by not letting them determine or decide their own destiny?” Bernstein said. “If I’m not happy with what the DCRC did, I can vote accordingly, right? … Your argument was, while there’s all these misleading issues and these types of things, but if I live in Detroit, I can surmise that for myself, right, and then vote accordingly?”

To that, Hanselman reiterated the alleged deficiencies with the proposed revisions as reasons to keep them off the ballot, again as a measure to protect the populace from voting on changes that could be misleading.