- Associated Press - Monday, July 17, 2017

The Detroit News. July 18, 2017

State should let pooches on patios

The Legislature is weighing a bill that would give restaurants the option of letting dog owners bring their pets with them to outdoor dining areas. As the state seeks to reduce unnecessary and burdensome laws, this is a good one to shed.

The Senate passed the bill, sponsored by Sen. Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage, in May. Now the House should follow suit.

The bill would transfer the authority over these decisions to local communities and restaurants, which could still choose to ban dogs in outdoor cafes. But it rightly would lift the state ban. Under current law, only seeing-eye and other service dogs are allowed in restaurants.

The proposed legislation contains basic safeguards for safety and cleanliness.

O’Brien had previously introduced the legislation last session, too, and the Senate had passed it in September but it wasn’t acted on in the House.

“Dogs have become important members of the family,” said O’Brien last year. “With so many pet-friendly amenities like dog parks and hotels that accept dogs, it is reasonable to allow restaurants to decide if dogs are allowed on their outdoor patios.”

Jarrett Skorup, marketing and strategic outreach manager at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, says the bill has merit.

“If a restaurant owner wants to allow dogs in a restaurant, then he should be allowed to, and if people don’t want to eat somewhere with dogs, then they should find somewhere else to eat,” Skorup says. “And I think the market will do a good job sorting out whether it’s a good idea or not.”

Other states allow dogs in restaurants, and there’s no good reason why Michigan doesn’t as there are no real health or safety risks. And the dog owner remains ultimately liable if anything were to happen.

“If there is shown to be harm, then that’s when government should talk about regulating something,” says Skorup. “But in this instance, I don’t see any evidence that this is going to cause harm, and so restaurants should be able to do it if they want to.”

The Michigan Restaurant Association is neutral on the legislation.

Local governments and individual restaurants can competently decide whether dogs should be allowed in their outside dining areas.

Pass the bill. Give people what they want: the option to have a day out on the town with their pooch in tow.


Lansing State Journal. July 20, 2017

Part time legislature is the worst choice

A part-time legislature may cost the state less money. It might mean more time spent at home among constituents for some legislators. And it could mean fewer session days.

These do not make it a good idea. And it’s certainly not the only one.

A petition seeking to amend the state constitution to cut lawmakers’ pay and make them part time is gaining attention, thanks to recent backing from Lt. Gov. Brian Calley.

It has focused the public eye on the Legislative process even more so than a resolution introduced earlier this year to limit legislative session to 90 days out of the year.

Dont’ be fooled: A part-time Legislature is the worst choice.

The Michigan Legislature needs improvement. Lawmakers take too long to address major issues, sometimes struggling for years to achieve only a stop-gap solution (think road funding).

Meanwhile, the Legislature churns out dozens of less important - and less controversial - bills, many of which don’t address the critical problems that Michigan needs fixed to assure a better future for its residents.

Passing lots of bills is not an indication of efficiency, especially when important issues remain unresolved.

But paying legislators less offers no guarantee of fixing this.

Michigan’s lawmakers need more expertise on complex issues and more discipline in their processes. A part-time legislature doesn’t necessarily gain expertise, nor is it automatically more efficient.

Michigan is currently one of 10 states with a full-time legislature. It is also one of four that are “full-time, well-paid, large staff” legislatures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

According to the conference’s 2014 numbers, Michigan ranks fourth in the nation for lawmakers’ salary, coming in below California, Pennsylvania and New York.

Proponents of a part-time legislature - including Calley and House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-Dewitt) - say limiting the Michigan Legislature would save money by cutting pay more than half.

And that it would allow legislators to spend more time in their district hearing from constituents. But part-time lawmakers are more likely to have other jobs, which means they won’t spend as much time studying issues or interacting with constituents.

Saving money and improving efficiency are admirable goals. They are better served by keeping a full-time legislature and limiting session days to a set period each year (many states’ legislatures run January through March, for example).

Data suggest legislatures with a limited time for passing bills require less staff. It’s also likely that they’ll pass fewer bills and focus more on important issues. And they have more time to spend with constituents.

Ending term-limits would allow lawmakers to build their expertise. Knowledge builds the confidence to make decisions about complex, controversial issues rather than pushing them off until “later.”

Creating a more centralized legislative staff with far fewer partisan positions also would save money and contribute to expertise.

All of those are preferable options to a part-time legislature.

The part-time solution comes up in nearly every legislative session and has included several unsuccessful ballot proposals.

In 2007, the LSJ Editorial Board said, “The urge to cut is powerful. But part-time pay is a bad idea for full-time work. And, yes, done properly, the job of legislator is full time.”

We stand by that message, and urge lawmakers and others advocating more efficient government to consider a different approach. End term limits. Centralize staff. Reduce the time period for session days to make lawmakers more efficient.

When asked about the petition, Calley has said, “I am taking it directly to the boss - ‘We the people, of Michigan.’”

Well the people have spoken, multiple times throughout the years: A part-time legislature is not the answer for Michigan.


Midland Daily News. July 19, 2017

Grants invest in our future

Our view: Grants invest in our future

Recreational projects in Midland and Gladwin counties became a step closer to reality when Gov. Rick Snyder recently signed into law a $47 million allocation to the Natural Resources Trust Fund.

State Sen. Jim Stamas said he supported Senate Bill 76 for land acquisition and recreational development projects. Municipalities must provide 25 percent in matching funds, hold public hearings and have a five-year recreation plan in place to be considered for the state funding.

Michigan has well-recognized need to rebuild its roads and bridges. But ongoing recreational projects such as the two being considered for local counties continue to make the state a magnet for tourists who want to enjoy our waterways and trails.

In Midland, the plan is to develop 325 feet of waterfront in Emerson Park.

The project highlight is to repurpose an abandoned water intake pump house, built in 1938, into a two-story river overlook area. Signage would explain its original purpose as it related to the city’s drinking water supply and the importance of river water quality.

Also included in the project: accessible fishing dock, boardwalk, parking area, floating dock for boater access, gathering plaza, and removal of invasive exotic plant species and reestablishing native species.

The city will get $295,000 in a trust fund grant to take on the $405,000 project. The $110,000 in matching funds comes from the Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network ($35,000), the Midland Area Community Foundation ($40,000), the Friends of the Pere Marquette Rail Trail ($5,000), and from the city of Midland ($30,000).

Future phases could push the project’s total cost to $670,000. Karen Murphy, Midland’s director of public services, previously said the hope was to start work this summer, and that the city would look into other funding sources to add picnic and seating areas, replace an old blue railing along the riverfront and build two pathways to connect the site to the Pere Marquette Rail Trail.

“Once completed, this project will enhance people’s enjoyment of the Pere Marquette Rail Trail and enable the park to serve as a welcoming rest stop along the 30-mile long trail,” Stamas said in a statement.

In Gladwin County, a $50,000 grant helps a $163,000 improvement to the trailhead along the Gladwin-Beaverton Trail in Beaverton. The plan is to improve the boat launch on Ross Lake, provide easier access for boaters and canoers, and pave parking spaces.

“This project will offer a tremendous opportunity for outdoor enthusiasts to spend time biking or hiking with their families on the trail or enjoying a day out on the water,” Stamas said.

These are projects with widespread local support that continue to make our communities attractive. This state money is an investment in Michigan’s future.


The Mining Journal (Marquette). July 20, 2017

Snyder’s state task force on public retiree costs on right course

Although the real work hasn’t started, we like the direction a statewide task force is taking in helping chart a viable course on public retiree costs.

The task force, seated by Gov. Rick Snyder, released a 41-page report earlier this week, noting that immediate action is needed. The document, however, contained few specific recommendations on how to bring Michigan’s burgeoning unfunded liabilities under control.

At a minimum, however, it noted local units of government should meet minimum requirements to pre-fund retiree health care costs for new hires, The Detroit Free Press reported. Michigan municipalities and counties have a combined $10 billion in unfunded health retiree health care liabilities, $7.4 billion in unfunded pension commitments and $4 billion in bonded debt, the newspaper noted.

Marquette County’s unfunded liability is about $16 million, $6 million of which is directly attributable to the former retire/rehire program, where dozens of county workers were allowed to “retire” and collect their pension from the MERS system while continuing their employment with Marquette County.

School districts across the state, including those in Marquette County, are also badly under water, in terms of retiree pension liabilities.

“Since every local government is unique and already utilizes a variety of retirement plans, there is no one size fits all solution to retirement reform and this task force report underscores that,” Chris DeRose, CEO of the Municipal Employees’ Retirement System of Michigan, said in prepared remarks. “The report rightly recognizes that many Michigan communities are already taking proactive, innovative steps to achieve full funding of their retirement plans so they can keep their promises to those who have served our communities.”

Where this task force goes from here is unclear. The way forward will be politically toxic. That said, though, we applaud Snyder for trying to do something with a nettlesome problem that his predecessors failed to address. We wish the task force the best of luck.___

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