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Sept. 10 | This Week In Government: Budget Talks Going Well, Higher Ed Potential Area Of Debate; Redistricting Commission Sets Up Wild Oakland Scramble

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. Shirkey: Budget Talks Going Well, Higher Ed Potential Area Of Debate
  2. Redistricting Commission Sets Up Wild Oakland Scramble
  3. Redistricting Nearly Completes Senate Map
  4. Poll: Parents Against Mandatory COVID Vax For Students, Split On Masks
  5. House, Senate Approach To Police Reform Differs

Shirkey: Budget Talks Going Well, Higher Ed Potential Area Of Debate

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said Thursday the budget process took a positive turn in recent weeks, with some of the larger, more complex budgets such as higher education expected to be the ones that prompt the most vigorous debates as the budget deadline approaches.

Mr. Shirkey (R-Clarklake) declined to get into details with reporters following Senate session Thursday but said higher education would be one of the budgets that likely will be toughest to reconcile.

“Higher ed is going to be one of the ones that we’re going to have to wrestle with a little bit,” Mr. Shirkey said. “But … I like the trajectory. I like the engagement of the House, the Senate and the Executive Office. I’m very optimistic that we’re going to be able to start putting language together.”

He added he believes that within two weeks the Legislature should have items before it to vote on.

When pressed further about the source of potential debate over the higher education budget, Mr. Shirkey again declined to get into specifics beyond saying “it starts with philosophy and then, I guess, the dollars.”

It was not clear whether the philosophy issue has anything to do with mask or vaccine mandates at colleges and universities.

Requirements for vaccination are at the university level, and several of the state’s 15 public universities have enacted vaccine requirements prior to the return of students for the fall semester.

Constitutionally, the state’s public universities have autonomy in their operations as well as the governing boards of each institution having general control and direction of expenditures from their various funds.

As to the reason for the improved situation as far as talks between legislative leaders and the administration, Mr. Shirkey said: “It’s called a recess, people recharging over the summer, just kind of cooling down.”

In June, the Legislature passed a K-12 budget containing record funding. The remaining budgets still are all in negotiation ahead of the budget deadline of midnight September 30.

A spokesperson for Mr. Shirkey told reporters the intent is to keep the federal coronavirus relief funding separate from the budget. Separate supplemental funding bills for the federal dollars are expected to be crafted.


Redistricting Commission Sets Up Wild Oakland Scramble

A handful of metro Detroit’s draft state Senate districts took shape on Thursday as the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission attempted to finish building the last few portions of its work-in-progress plan for the chamber.

That said, much of the city of Detroit proper remained undrafted and the commission still needs to reconcile its various Senate plans into a cohesive map pan – a feat the body was slated to complete today but will have to continue in the next few meetings.

Thursday was the first day the commission focused on the region that includes almost half of the population of the state. There’s room to delve in deeper later in the schedule, however, the commission is already on a tight timeline due to census delays. The commission may also be running out of time to construct its state House map (which is halfway complete) and a U.S. House map it has yet to begin.

Several commissioners over the past week have expressed concern that the schedule – which has been changed several times with dizzying frequency – would not afford Detroit the kind of diligence the commission displayed when mapping northern, central and western portions of the state, and so have residents of Detroit.

Some gave public comment to the commission at the top of Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s mapping sessions, and several more conveyed their concerns about the lack of attention paid the Detroit area on Thursday.

“I have been involved in this process from the beginning, participating at different town halls and meetings, and one thing I understand and truly appreciate is the diligence I see in the northern Michigan areas and the time given to the northern Michigan areas,” said Andrea Hunter. “I want to implore you to give that same time, or more, to the metro Detroit area. As taxpaying citizens and people who strongly supported Proposal P (to change the city’s charter), we feel that it is only fair and equitable that we have time to really search and implore you to look at the diversity of our communities, and we need you to understand our communities.”

Ms. Hunter went on to say that the commission’s work would be a 10-year commitment, and whatever they decide would be of great concern to Detroit residents who she said have a history of being treated unfairly.

That frustration set the tone for the commission’s pair of afternoon meetings on Thursday, which saw them draft metro Detroit districts with commentary from their Voting Rights Act attorney and consultant, Bruce Adelson.

Drafted districts included one drawn around the Dearborn area, which was drawn into the Warrendale area of Detroit, one for Downriver communities that picked up a tiny piece of southwest Detroit, a Rochester-Troy area district, another for the Pontiac area and west central Oakland, an Orchard Lake area district stretching east and south to pick up Royal Oak and a Southfield-Ferndale-Oak Park district that picked up a big swath of northwest Detroit as well.

The Rochester-Troy District contains one major surprise in crossing Dequindre Road into Macomb County and Sterling Heights to pick up the western-most portion of the city.

The Oakland configuration would have drastic implications for the county’s five state senators. Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills) and Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) would be in the same district. That would force them to either pair off or one of them to move. Ms. McMorrow could keep the bulk of her current 13th District by moving to Troy or Rochester Hills. Ms. Bayer, by staying put, would keep a good chunk of her current 12th District. Or Ms. Bayer could move to the new district that stretches from Auburn Hills west through Pontiac, Waterford Township, White Lake Township and Milford Township, but that would mean taking on Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake).

As for Mr. Runestad, he would still have a competitive seat, losing burgeoning Democratic turf in Novi and West Bloomfield but picking up solidly Democratic territory in Pontiac and Auburn Hills.

Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) would see a major change in his district, with it becoming a Black majority district containing a significant portion of Detroit. It would pick up some territory now represented by Sen. Betty Jean Alexander (D-Detroit) and Sen. Marshall Bullock (D-Detroit).

The one Oakland senator still undecided is Sen. Ruth Johnson, a Republican who lives in Groveland Township in northern Oakland County. Her hometown has not yet been allocated to a district.

A draft district forged by Commissioner Juanita Curry from Detroit attempted to draw the city and its Delray neighborhood in with some of the Downriver and Dearborn districts before Chair Brittni Kellom – also from Detroit – scrapped her plan, leaving much of the city without a plan for now.

Commissioner Rhonda Lange attempted draw a district around the Plymouth-Canton area that included Superior and Salem townships to the west and Lyon township to the north with that area, which some on social media said was an odd choice.

The major shift, for now, appears to be that the commission will turn to census tracts north of Eight Mile Road to come up with the five majority Black districts necessary to comply with the Voting Rights Act. The existing map instead paired portions of Detroit with parts of Downriver and western Wayne County.

Downriver would be one of the big winners in the new map with one unified district and another reaching northward to include Dearborn and Dearborn Heights. However, a large portion of western Wayne County – Livonia, Northville/Northville Township, Westland, Garden City, and Inkster have yet to be allocated.

Key Oakland pieces also remain unresolved with Novi and Farmington/Farmington Hills still unallocated.

And almost none of Macomb County has been drawn.

The commission plans to meet next on Monday to complete its state Senate map. Of note, the current schedule stated that the commission would complete that work during Thursday’s meetings and would begin mapping for U.S. House districts on Monday.

It is unclear when the commission might begin mapping for congressional districts.


Redistricting Nearly Completes Senate Map

A draft Senate map was nearly complete on Wednesday after the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission Track reconciled various districts in Lansing, the Grand Rapids area, the Ann Arbor area, the Thumb, along Michigan’s southern border and up the Lake Michigan shoreline.

The commission is in the process of drawing draft maps and has at present drawn several different configurations for both chambers of the Legislature. Consolidating those disparate plans into one cohesive draft map is a process called reconciliation, which is what the commission has been attempting to do this week.

A master map created Tuesday essentially meshed two of the commission’s most viable plans for the Senate while redrawing some areas in the process to make them as cohesive as possible. Commissioners using that map have completed the Upper Peninsula, the northern half of the Lower Peninsula and some of its Lake Michigan shoreline region.

On Wednesday, the commission focused on reconciling the lower half of the Lower Peninsula, including some of the state’s larger metro areas, excluding the city of Detroit and its surrounding suburbs – which the commission plans to wrap up tomorrow.

For the Lansing area, the commission went with its original plan of splitting up the cities of Lansing and East Lansing between two districts each, with East Lansing, Meridian Township, a small portion of eastern Lansing and Williamston drawn in with the whole of Clinton and Shiawassee counties. A second district in that area took up the rest of Ingham County and west into all of Eaton County.

This would have major ramifications. Sen. Tom Barrett (R-Charlotte) would either have to run in what would be a Democratic leaning district, presumably against Rep. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing), or move to somewhere in the Clinton-Shiawassee-East Lansing district, which would be a competitive seat, presumably against former Rep. Sam Singh (D-East Lansing). It would give Mr. Singh a much tougher district in the general election than the current 23rd District held by Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. (D-East Lansing).

To the right of that district was another that comprised all of Livingston County including pinches of western Oakland and southern Genesee. That would be a solidly Republican seat and likely held by Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton).

Below Ingham and Eaton counties, another district was drawn to include the whole of Jackson County, the eastern border of Calhoun County, nearly the top diagonal half of Hillsdale County and a good portion of Washtenaw County excluding Ann Arbor, Dexter, Pittsfield Township and Ypsilanti. This district would lean Republican but would not be as overwhelmingly GOP as the current 16th District with Jackson, Branch and Hillsdale counties.

Each of those Ann Arbor-area cities was drawn to into its own tight and Z-shaped district that could see changes when partisan fairness is factored in due to the potential for an overwhelmingly safe seat for the Democratic Party. Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) would presumably have an easy path to a second term there.

Grand Rapids was split, with a larger district comprising most of northern Kent and the top half of its cornerstone city with the top quadrant of Ottawa County drawn into the fold. This seat would lean Republican. A smaller district comprising the lower half of Grand Rapids and southern suburbs would be drawn that would be solidly Democratic. To the left of Kent, another shoreline district was created out of what was left of Allegan and Ottawa counties to the Muskegon County limit.

In the Thumb area, commissioners kept the region intact, including all of Huron, Sanilac and St. Clair counties. Most of Tuscola was included in this district save for its townships along the western border, which joined most of the upper half of Lapeer County.

Genesee, Oakland and Macomb counties were left out of the Thumb-area configuration.

To the south, two districts straddled Michigan’s border with Ohio and Indiana, with a large district comprising two-thirds of Monroe County – excluding its eastern border with Lake Erie starting at Berlin to Erie townships. This district stretched westward to Lenawee, the lower portions of Hillsdale and the eastern half of Branch counties.

In what could be the most jagged district drawn thus far, a second southern border district was drawn to include the rest of Branch, Calhoun, St. Joseph, Cass and the lower halves of Berrien and Van Buren counties. This district also included the lower half of Kalamazoo County, snaking its way along the city of Kalamazoo’s southern border.

A district for the cities of Kalamazoo and Battle Creek has not yet been designed.

A bizarre 20th District covering northern Berrien, northwest Van Buren, most of Allegan and southern Kent counties was drawn but commissioners cautioned they are still working on that seat.

A priority for the commission after it collected public input on potential districts and communities of interest, the commission drew two lower Lake Michigan shoreline districts, one stretching up the rest of Berrien County, most of the area that remained undrafted in Van Buren, nearly all of Allegan and the lower half of Kent County.

METRO DETROITERS WANT MORE TIME SPENT ON THEIR AREA: As the commission forged a more complete Senate map, the Flint/Bay City area and Detroit metro area were left undrafted on Wednesday.

Commissioners had previously decided that they would save Detroit metro as their final line drawing area as to not box themselves in. Still, the decision to consider districts and communities of interest in one of Michigan’s most densely populated areas left some residents upset that they were being brushed aside.

One of those residents, Teresa Mitchell, addressed the commission Wednesday during public comment about their pending work in the area.

“I’ve watched and seen that you’ve taken more time and consideration in northern communities,” Ms. Mitchell said. “I just would ask that you consider giving metro Detroit a little more time so that the process is equitable, and that metro Detroit not be treated unfairly as it has in the past.”

The commission appeared aware of its slow pace and the fact that it had not spent valuable meeting time considering Detroit metro communities. On Tuesday, it voted to change its schedule to speed up its timeline. In that discussion, Commissioner MC Rothhorn shared Detroit residents’ concerns and asked that his colleagues carve out time to give the area a proper look.

SERIAL LITIGANT SUES COMMISSION OVER DEADLINE THAT HAS YET TO PASS: Since its inception, the commission has surmised that it would be eventually sued in either the Court of Claims, federal district court or in a direct appeal to Michigan Supreme Court over its proposed maps.

While the body has yet to propose a map, Robert Davis, a serial litigant from Highland Park, on Tuesday filed a mandamus challenge with the state’s high court to compel the commission to finish its mapmaking before the constitutional September 17 deadline, as well as meet its deadline to have maps adopted by November 1, the Detroit Free Press reported.

The commission will have a tough time meeting either deadline and is expected to blow past them due to delays in the delivery of vital U.S. Census data. Mr. Davis wrote in his complaint that the commission appears to have chosen to deliberately ignore the Constitution’s mandate and that such conduct should not be tolerated.

The filing and lawsuit will likely be thrown out, however, because the high court already considered a reprieve for the commission when the body asked for a deadline extension. Justices then unanimously ruled that they had no interest in granting a deadline extension because those deadlines had not yet come to pass. Mr. Davis’s lawsuit alleging that the commission could blow past its deadlines without actually having done may incur the same reasoning from the court.


Poll: Parents Against Mandatory COVID Vax For Students, Split On Masks

While Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for use on children ages 12 and up, with the Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines likely on their way as well, parents overwhelmingly seem reticent to call for a childhood vaccine mandate.

That’s according to new polling data from the K-12 Alliance of Michigan, released Tuesday, which indicated more than 58 percent of parents oppose a vaccine mandate for students even once final approval comes from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that all three vaccines are safe for adolescent and teen use. The K-12 Alliance is a coalition of superintendents in Genesee, Macomb, Oakland, St. Clair and Wayne counties.

The poll was conducted by Glengariff Group, Incorporated.

The same report also found a child’s vaccination status was strongly tied to whether their parent or guardian was inoculated against COVID-19. Among a sample of 600 parents with children currently enrolled in public schools – the polling possessing a margin of error of +/- 4 percent, with a confidence level of 95 percent – it was found that about 58 percent of those individuals were vaccinated.

Among that 58 percent, around 45 percent of their children aged 12-17 were also vaccinated against COVID. It was also found that parents most likely to be vaccinated and also have their child vaccinated identified as Democratic in some way or as an independent, were college educated or had some form of post-secondary education and either lived in urban or suburban settings.

Parent respondents least likely to personally be vaccinated were those who strongly identified with being a Trump Republican, at 31 percent. Similarly, among those same individuals, only 20 percent of their children were reportedly vaccinated. That held the same for individuals living in rural communities, with nearly 39 percent of parents and almost 30 percent of their children vaccinated against COVID-19.

Where there was more divide, however, was on the subject of masking.

By a margin of 49 percent to 45 percent, the report notes that “Michigan public school parents are statistically split on whether students and employees should be required to wear masks in school.” Thirty-nine percent of respondents strongly supported mandating masks while almost 37 percent strongly opposed the idea.

Much like on the topic of vaccination, those most likely to support masking identified as Democratic. About half of those who identified as independent also supported a mask mandate. People that were vaccinated and lived in either an urban or suburban setting were also highly likely to support a mask mandate as well.

A whopping 94 percent of Black respondents also supported a mask mandate while 53 percent of white respondents did not.

Similarly, Republicans as a whole – both those who identified as solely Republican and who identified as a Trump Republican – and those who lived in small towns or in rural settings were in opposition to the idea of a mask mandate.

Vaccinated individuals (65 percent), as well as those who intended to vaccinate (65 percent), also supported the idea of a mandate while those unvaccinated (73 percent) largely did not.

Yet, even if the topic of mask mandates were across the board, a majority of parents indicated they believed the decision should fall to them and not the schools, local government or state government by a margin of 55 percent to 42 percent. Parents in rural communities and small towns were the most vocal on the idea that the decision to mask their child should be left to them.


House, Senate Approach To Police Reform Differs

A bipartisan coalition in the Senate and Republicans in the House are taking a markedly different approach to the topic of police reform, leading some to wonder if common ground can be found on the subject or if current work being done is doomed to go nowhere.

Speaking to Gongwer News Service earlier this week, House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell) said he was appreciative of the work that the Senate had done but expressed hesitation that the bills – as is – would fare well in his chamber.

“I’m hopeful that there’ll be a lot of changes in the package as is, but I’m very, very appreciative of the fact that they’re digging into this and they’re working on this,” he said. “I will take a look at whatever gets sent over, but I will tell you, in the House, we have taken a much different approach … we’re looking at ways to change the narrative and the way that the police are viewed in our state.”

The Senate efforts he refers to is a large package of bills, introduced in May, that seek to expand accountability for law enforcement. Among the changes proposed in that 12-bill package is a ban on the use of chokeholds except in the case where it may save a life, considering the tampering with or shutting off of a police body cameras a form of tampering with evidence and ending the use of no-knock warrants except in certain cases (See Gongwer Michigan Report, May 25, 2021).

Since then, the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee has heard a wealth of testimony on the bills both in support of the effort and against, with the common consensus in these hearings being that while accountability is necessary it should not come at the expense of an officer’s wellbeing.

That package is also bipartisan in nature, with Republicans also offering up some proposed changes, including SB 480 which would require officers to intervene if they witness use of excessive force by another officer, with those who fail to do so being subject to disciplinary action.

When asked what specifically he didn’t support in the Senate package, Mr. Wentworth didn’t say. He did, however, indicate that he felt the bills were perhaps legislating in search of a problem.

“The police in our state do a fantastic job, and the data that we have supports that,” he said. “We don’t have excessive uses of force in our state on a big scale – various very isolated situations – we don’t have officer involved shootings, and we don’t have these situations that require reform.”

In the House, the tone and approach to policing and police reform is drastically different, as Mr. Wentworth suggested.

Just prior to the announcement of the Senate’s package, House Republicans introduced their own initiative for funding the recruitment and retention of police, as well as optional de-escalation training. The message there was that policing, as a profession, had been beaten down in recent years and these bills would help to support officers.

Some in the House did introduce their own package in June which were very similar to the Senate package, though notably did not have the teeth that the Senate package did, limiting things like no-knock warrants rather than banning them outright (See Gongwer Michigan Report, June 8, 2021).

That same month, Mr. Wentworth also unveiled that he and Rep. Karen Whitsett (D-Detroit) had a plan to invest $15 million in funding, which would support community policing in Detroit and elsewhere by funding the Detroit Police Athletic League’s new Community Connection Initiative.

Whether Senate the bills will move out of the House – provided they get there, first – remains to be seen.

Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), one of the leading voices on the issue in her chamber, said the bills are still a work in progress.

While she said she hasn’t personally talked to Mr. Wentworth about the House’s and Senate’s differing approach to police reform, Ms. Chang said the bills have already gone through several committee hearings and the senators working on them have had “lots and lots of meetings to hear from different stakeholders.”

“We have done a quite a lot of work to get these bills to a better place,” she said, speaking with Gongwer on Friday. “I hope that over the coming months, we would be able to move this issue forward in a way that recognizes the importance of police accountability and also addresses some of the concerns people have had.”

Much like how a doctor would have their license to practice removed if they made an ethically unacceptable medical choice, Ms. Chang said that same level of accountability is needed.

Ms. Chang said it was her goal to “advance as far as we can” the issue of police reform in Michigan, and now that the Legislature is back in session, she was confident “we can find a way to work on this and bring some common-sense changes forward.”

She did, however, disagree with Mr. Wentworth’s characterization of Michigan’s policing situation. She pointed to the incident of a Flint family, just this past April, which saw its home raided by the Department of State Police, which has since acknowledged it should not have raided the home. There is a dispute as to whether police announced their presence prior to the raid.

Ms. Chang also brought up the story of Detroit Police Officer Stephen Kue, who despite having 85 complaints lodged against him for harassment and racism, was promoted rather than fired.

There was also the more infamous incident regarding a no-knock warrant executed on a Detroit home in 2010 which resulted in 7-year-old Aiyana Jones being shot and killed, despite the suspect police were looking for living the apartment above the Jones family. The incident led to two mistrials, with charges against the officer eventually being dismissed in 2015.

“This issue is really important,” Ms. Chang said. “I agree that there are a lot of great officers and I respect the work they do but at the same time, we have to uphold the standards of the profession to make it clear that we are providing accountability for the few – even if it’s only a few – who could damage the profession and lead to some serious consequences, whether that’s someone getting hurt or getting killed.”

Sen. Roger Victory (R-Georgetown Township) said that the package of bills in his chamber is strong and that it is possible to find a balance between the bills under his purview and the bills in the House that emphasize the need to invest, recruit, retain and train police officers.

What would be key in that process, he said, would be investment in the profession along with bringing a proactive narrative to the discussion regarding law enforcement.

“We have a very robust package of bills, a number of bills,” Mr. Victory, who chairs the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, said. “We’ve taken a lot of different issues forward … and that, with testimony – gleaning what we’ve learned – that we can fit back into the narrative of how we can invest into our law enforcement, and then that investment falls under the umbrella of how we recruit, train and retain the best and the brightest.”

As to if there was anything he could see in the Senate package that he’d be willing to compromise on, Mr. Victory couldn’t say, noting only that he’d need more information from the House’s perspective as to what its leadership took umbrage within the Senate’s package.

He did, however – when asked if he had any fears that the Senate bills could be sent to the House to languish until the end of session – say that there was a lot going on in the Legislature currently which could slow the progress of his chamber’s package. That didn’t mean, though, that the package was dead or that the House wouldn’t be taking it up at a later point in time.

And despite his apparent hesitancy to broadly accept the Senate bills, Mr. Wentworth did say that he was “hoping we can actually get something done this term” on the topic.

“There are things that you would feel should get the fast track, and yet, it’s put on the side before you know it. Then there are other items that don’t seem to have the roadmap to go through, and yet, suddenly, that’s on the express lane,” Mr. Victory said. “We’re dealing with multiple issues, budgets, which is taking up the bandwidth of a number of subcommittee chairs. That’s been consuming a lot of time … So, while that is going on, in the meantime, we’re also going to be talking about policy and policy as it relates to the police improvement bills.”