<![CDATA[Michigan House Democrats Site Feed]]> http://www.housedems.com <![CDATA[House Democrats Announce Charter School Transparency Standards]]> http://www.housedems.com/multimedia/videos/house-democrats-announce-charter-school-transparency-standards <p>Today State Representatives Sarah Roberts (D-St. Clair Shores), Ellen Cogen Lipton (D-Huntington Woods), Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), David Nathan (D-Detroit) and Charles Brunner (D-Bay City) announced legislation that would create transparency and accountability standards for charter schools, charter school authorizers and the for-profit educational management organizations that contract to run many charter schools.</p> <![CDATA[House Democrats Announce Charter School Transparency Standards]]> http://www.housedems.com/news/article/house-democrats-announce-charter-school-transparency-standards <p>LANSING -Today State Representatives <strong>Sarah Roberts</strong> (D-St. Clair Shores), <strong>Ellen Cogen Lipton</strong> (D-Huntington Woods), <strong>Jeff Irwin</strong> (D-Ann Arbor), <strong>David Nathan</strong> (D-Detroit) and <strong>Charles Brunner</strong> (D-Bay City) announced legislation that would create transparency and accountability standards for charter schools, charter school authorizers and the for-profit educational management organizations that contract to run many charter schools. The standards are called for in House Bill 5852, which would enact a moratorium on opening any new charter schools until legislation is passed to ensure that they are transparent, accountable and have strong governance standards in order to best educate our students.</p> <p>The charter school transparency and accountability legislation would:</p> <ul> <li><p>Require complete transparency, including financial disclosure by authorizing bodies, charter schools and educational management organizations.</p></li> <li><p>Require charter schools contracting with an educational management organization (EMO) to post on their websites audited financial statements from their EMO.</p></li> <li><p>Require charter schools to post on their websites a detailed accounting of fees, reimbursements and charges collected by their authorizer.</p></li> <li><p>Require EMOs to provide charter schools with a list, description and cost of each fringe benefit included in the compensation package for all employees, officers and board members of the EMO whose compensation exceeds $100,000.</p></li> <li><p>Prohibit authorizers from contracting with a charter school whose contract has been terminated for poor academic performance.</p></li> <li><p>Prohibit authorizers from issuing new charter school contracts if authorizers are not providing proper oversight to their current charter schools. It also gives strong oversight authority to the state superintendent and creates an appeals process to the state Board of Education.</p></li> <li><p>Prohibit school officials from requiring employees to sign non-disclosure agreements and from signing with an EMO who requires or requests non-disclosure agreements.</p></li> </ul> <p>&#8220;For-profit education management organizations receive public tax dollars from the charter schools they contract to operate. They must be held publicly accountable for how they spend our tax dollars, just like every other public school,&#8221; said Rep. Roberts. &#8220;For-profit EMOs have claimed they don&#8217;t need to fully disclose how they spend our money because they are private companies. That is wrong.&#8221;</p> <p>A Detroit Free Press investigative series on charter schools that ran in June outlined some troubling findings, including a lack of financial transparency and accountability, authorizers allowing poor performing charters to stay open and unaddressed conflicts of interest. Michigan spends $1 billion annually on charter schools. A June 22 Free Press story on charter school spending included a list of &#8220;excessive spending and misuse of taxpayer dollars,&#8221;(1) including: a charter school board giving an administrator a severance package worth $520,000 in taxpayer money and the removal of two board members who had challenged their management company over finances.</p> <p>&#8220;All public schools have to post their finances and spending on a website. For-profit education management organizations and those who authorize charters schools must fully disclose how they spend education dollars. Parents and the taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent to educate children,&#8221; said Rep. Lipton. &#8220;This package of bills will create necessary standards for transparency and accountability.&#8221;</p> <p>According to the Free Press series, 38 percent of charter schools that were ranked according to academics by the state fell below the 25<sup>th</sup> percentile. That means that 75 percent of all schools in Michigan performed better academically than these charter schools.(2)</p> <p>&#8220;Twenty years ago, charter school supporters promised that their schools would outperform traditional public schools, and that their innovations would lift up our traditional public schools,&#8221; said Rep. Irwin. &#8220;Unfortunately, many charters aren&#8217;t living up to their promises, and are instead siphoning off classroom dollars for corporate profits and sweetheart real estate deals. That&#8217;s why parents need more tools to make an informed choice and why taxpayers are demanding transparency and accountability for the $1 billion dollars going to charters.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;Parents choose charter school because they want a better educational outcome for their child, and that is why we have to do a better job of holding these schools accountable,&#8221; said Rep. Nathan. &#8220;Holding authorizers of charter schools accountable to see that they are only authorizing the best charter schools will ensure that students, and not profits, are first.&#8221;</p> <p>An EPIC-MRA poll conducted in August found that 88% of respondents support legislation requiring for-profit education management companies to report how all tax dollars are spent under the same guidelines that are currently required for traditional public schools. Another 84 percent agree that Michigan needs laws requiring that all charter schools meet the same standards for accountability, transparency and student performance that traditional public schools must meet.</p> <p>Unfortunately in Michigan some teachers and administrators are afraid or unable to repot problems in the charter schools they work in. Some are even required to sign non-disclosure agreements. This inhibits transparency and accountability in any school.</p> <p>&#8220;Non-disclosure agreements have no place in traditional public schools or in charter schools,&#8221; said Rep. Brunner. &#8220;Employees have a right to speak out if they believe those who run charter schools are doing something wrong. Freedom of speech should not be limited because some may be scared of what could be said.&#8221;</p> <p>(1)&#8221;Michigan Spends $1&#160;B on charter schools but fails to hold them accountable,&#8221; Jennifer Dixon, The Detroit Free Press, June 22, 2014.</p> <p>(2)Ibid.</p> <![CDATA[Dem Bills Would Protect Women After Rape, Incest and Medical Complications]]> http://www.housedems.com/news/article/dem-bills-would-protect-women-after-rape-incest-and-medical-complications <p>LANSING – State Representatives <strong>Marcia Hovey-Wright</strong> (D-Muskegon), <strong>Gretchen Driskell</strong> (D-Saline) and <strong>Sarah Roberts</strong> (D-St. Clair Shores), have introduced legislation that will protect the health of women and make it easier for women who became pregnant after rape or incest to get critical medical services. The bills would amend Michigan’s unfair women’s health care rider law by eliminating the need to buy an extra insurance policy to cover abortion when one is needed to preserve a woman’s health due to a pregnancy complication or to end a pregnancy that resulted from rape or incest. Currently, women in these situations have to purchase the extra insurance rider before a sexual assault or health-threatening pregnancy takes place in order to have health insurance cover the often-costly medical procedures.</p> <p>“There are serious cases when a women’s health is put at risk during complications in a pregnancy, and many of these are not covered under the law,” said Rep. Hovey-Wright, the sponsor of the bill to create an exemption for the health of the mother. “This discriminatory law is just another example of out-of-touch Lansing republicans making decisions for women when they have no idea of how a women’s health can be put at serious risk. My bill adds reasonable, common-sense protections to women across the state and the law should be amended immediately to protect women.”</p> <p>As the law currently stands, the extra women’s health care rider is needed in order to have insurance cover any abortion, unless it threatens a woman’s life. The law’s refusal to make exceptions for a woman’s health, rape or incest made the law so extreme that two Republican governors previously vetoed similar laws. The current law was passed when Republican legislators caved in and passed a veto-proof citizen’s initiative.</p> <p>The companion bill, sponsored by Rep. Driskell, would add an exemption from purchasing the extra rider for women who became pregnant following a rape or incest incident.</p> <p>“Women who have been raped or endured incest have already survived horrible events that most of us can’t even imagine. To tell a woman who became pregnant after those hideous acts that she must continue a pregnancy or pay thousands of dollars for medical care out of her own pocket is cruel and insensitive,” Rep. Driskell said. “We must do the right thing and protect women who are in such a painful and unimaginable situation. These bills bring compassion and justice to women who need it most, and I urge our colleagues to do the right thing and support these bills.</p> <p>“The new restrictions on women’s health care are so extreme that they make no exceptions for the health of a woman, or a woman who needs to end a pregnancy that resulted from rape or incest,” said Rep. Roberts, who authored the bill to repeal the discriminatory women’s health rider law. “It was wrong to make a woman put her own health at risk to satisfy an extreme special interest, and it was wrong to punish a woman when she is at her must vulnerable, following a brutal attack. While repealing the unfair restrictions on women’s health care remains our goal, these bills at least make the existing law a little more humane.”</p> <![CDATA[House Dems Introduce Accountability and Transparency Package]]> http://www.housedems.com/news/article/house-dems-introduce-accountability-and-transparency-package <p>The Michigan House Democrats introduced a package of bills today aimed at enforcing accountability and transparency in the state contract process. The legislation was introduced following several reports of fraud and abuse by Aramark, a private company under contract with the state to provide food services in Michigan prisons.</p> <p>“My colleagues and I have been working hard to come up with legislation that will end the practice of giving state contracts to the lowest bidder, regardless of performance,” said House Appropriations Committee member Rep. Fred Durhal (D-Detroit). “I am proud that we were able to introduce these bills on the floor today, and I look forward to getting them passed.”</p> <p>Aramark took over food services less than a year ago, but in that time has already amassed a catalog of safety violations, food shortages, record fines and even murder for hire&#160;? because of its shoddy business practices. Aramark’s dismal performance in Michigan was preceded by similar negative results in Florida, Kentucky and Ohio, with Florida finally terminating its contract with Aramark.</p> <p>“This is not the first time House Democrats have introduced legislation to fix the broken policies enacted by the Republican majority governing state contracts,” said Rep. Pam Faris (D-Clio), member of the House Appropriations Committee. “Action is long overdue by the Legislature to ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely.”</p> <p>There are seven bills in the legislative package. The package includes:</p> <p>• HB 5889 (Faris) – Requires state agencies to submit a detailed cost-benefit analysis to the House and Senate Appropriations committees before seeking approval from the Civil Service Commission for privatization that replaces state employees.</p> <p>• HB 5890 (Rep. Marcia Hovey-Wright, D-Muskegon) – Requires a state agency to submit a detailed economic impact study to the House and Senate Appropriations committees before seeking approval from the Civil Service Commission for privatization. The impact study would look at estimated effects on the local community where the privatization would occur.</p> <p>• HB 5891 (Rep. John Kivela, D-Marquette) – Requires state contracts to include metrics and parameters that vendors must meet, and allows the state to cancel contracts if the vendor fails to do so.</p> <p>• HB 5892 (Rep. Andrew J. Kandrevas, D-Southgate) – States that if a state agency enters into a contract that exceeds $500,000 in any year, the contract shall require that the vendor provide records related to the performance of the governmental function to the appropriate state agency.</p> <p>• House Bill 5893 (Durhal) – Adds “the number of full-time jobs and part-time jobs and the wage rate for those jobs that will be maintained or created with the expenditure of state funds” to a list of current requirements state agencies must provide to the Department of Technology, Management and Budget (DTMB).</p> <p>• HB 5894 (Rep. Woodrow Stanley, D-Flint) – Provides that state contracts will not be awarded automatic renewal.</p> <p>• HB 5895 (Rep. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing) – Forbids a vendor from participating in the bid process, or from being awarded a contract, unless it is in compliance with all local, state and federal laws and regulations.</p> <p>“Michigan taxpayers should be able to trust us with their hard-earned dollars,” said Kandrevas, a member of the House Appropriations Committee. “It is our duty as legislators to ensure there are solid policies in place when it comes to awarding state-funded contracts.”</p> <p>Appropriations Committee member Singh added, “All of the bills in this package were carefully thought out, and they will all contribute to the wise spending of taxpayer dollars. As they make their way through the legislative process, I will be working hard alongside my colleagues to see that the bills are passed and signed into law.”</p> <![CDATA[House Dems Say Aramark Employee Murder for Hire Plot Should be the Final Straw]]> http://www.housedems.com/news/article/house-dems-say-aramark-employee-murder-for-hire-plot-should-be-the-final-straw <p>LANSING - House Democratic Leader <strong>Tim Greimel</strong> (D-Auburn Hills) and Reps. <strong>Brandon Dillon</strong> (D-Grand Rapids) and <strong>Sam Singh</strong> (D-East Lansing) said today that the latest revelation of an Aramark employee trying to contract with one prisoner to kill another prisoner should be the final straw that cancels the Department of Corrections contract with Aramark.</p> <p>&#8220;I feel like a broken record or an extra in `Groundhog Day,&#8217;&#8221; said Greimel. &#8220;What other issues need to come to light before Republicans realize the safety of our state is at risk. I would hope that my Republican House colleagues would agree with me that enough is enough and immediately cancel the contract.&#8221;</p> <p>The latest Aramark employee problem was revealed today in a Detroit Free Press article about a Michigan State Police investigation of an Aramark employee at the Kinross Correctional Facility in the Upper Peninsula asking a prisoner to arrange a hit on another prisoner in a different facility. A prisoner came forward in July saying that the food service worker approached him about arranging the hit. The Aramark worker was banned from the facility but not arrested, and an investigation was started. Now a warrant request has been submitted to the Chippewa County Prosecutor&#8217;s Office.</p> <p>&#8220;The problems with Aramark have gotten progressively worse, and now we have a murder for hire plot. If this is the kind of person Aramark hires then not even our prison guards are safe in these facilities,&#8221; said Dillon. &#8220;They are endangering employees and this is costing the state extra money. Is Aramark going to pay for the state police investigation? I&#8217;d be surprised if the state is realizing any of the savings that were supposed to come with this Aramark contract, but savings are irrelevant when you are putting your law-abiding employees in danger. Our guards and other law-abiding workers deserve better. As Leader Greimel said: enough is enough.&#8221;</p> <p>Rep. <strong>Collene Lamonte</strong> (D-Montague) yesterday introduced a resolution that would formally cancel the Aramark contract. In addition, House Democrats are preparing legislation that would address the problems created when the administration privatized prison food services. Some of the bills included would demand accountability and transparency in state contracts and would:</p> <ul> <li><p>Require that a state agency must submit a detailed cost-benefit analysis to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.</p></li> <li><p>Require vendors participating in the bid process to be in compliance with all local, state and federal laws and regulations.</p></li> </ul> <p>In addition, House Democrats will propose that:</p> <ul> <li><p>The Auditor General audit the Department of Correction&#8217;s food service program for anticipated financial savings and performance.</p></li> <li><p>The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Corrections hold an immediate hearing on the Aramark contract.</p></li> </ul> <p>&#8220;We were told that privatizing prisoner food services and giving the contract to Aramark was a good idea because it would save money, but it turns out that it&#8217;s just one more case of `you get what you pay for,&#8221; Lamonte said. &#8220;Aramark&#8217;s employees have committed one violation after another including employees having sexual relationships with inmates; smuggling heroin, cocaine and marijuana into the prison for inmates; and systemic food shortages that are putting our corrections officers at risk. Florida has already terminated their contract with Aramark and Michigan should follow suit immediately before any more moral, health or financial damage occurs.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;Republicans can no longer argue that these are isolated incidents and that these problems can be worked out,&#8221; said Singh. &#8220;We are dangerously close, as Director Heyns said in his email earlier this year about that $98,000 fine back in March, to losing `a joint.&#8217; We&#8217;ve gone from bad food, to sex and drugs to murder for hire. I shudder to think of what would have to happen next to get the administration to cancel this contract.&#8221;</p> <![CDATA[Dems Intro Bills to Make Women’s Health Care More Accessible]]> http://www.housedems.com/multimedia/videos/dems-intro-bills-to-make-women-s-health-care-more-accessible <p>State Senator Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor) and state Representatives Pam Faris (D-Clio) and Sarah Roberts (D-St. Clair Shores) are introducing legislation to mandate that all health insurance companies that offer group and individual health care coverage must provide the option to purchase abortion service coverage. In December 2013, House and Senate Republicans passed a law banning health insurance companies in Michigan from covering abortion services unless a separate health insurance rider is purchased. Currently, only seven of the 42 health insurers in the state offer such a policy, and those that do only offer it as an add-on to an employer-provided plan and not for individual plans.</p> <![CDATA[Dems Intro Bills to Make Women’s Health Care More Accessible]]> http://www.housedems.com/news/article/dems-intro-bills-to-make-women-s-health-care-more-accessible <p>LANSING – State Senator <strong>Rebekah Warren</strong> (D-Ann Arbor) and state Representatives <strong>Pam Faris</strong> (D-Clio) and <strong>Sarah Roberts</strong> (D-St. Clair Shores) are introducing legislation to mandate that all health insurance companies that offer group and individual health care coverage must provide the option to purchase abortion service coverage. In December 2013, House and Senate Republicans passed a law banning health insurance companies in Michigan from covering abortion services unless a separate health insurance rider is purchased. Currently, only seven of the 42 health insurers in the state offer such a policy, and those that do only offer it as an add-on to an employer-provided plan and not for individual plans.</p> <p>“This sexist and discriminatory law requires women to buy an extra insurance policy just to have comprehensive reproductive health care coverage, but does not require this separate policy to actually be sold,” Warren said. “As a result, the majority of women in Michigan cannot get full coverage. That’s why we’re introducing legislation to require any company that offers health insurance to make this extra rider available.”</p> <p>Women in Michigan who buy insurance individually or on the health care exchange can’t buy this coverage, nor can women whose employers offer health insurance through any of the 35 health insurance companies in Michigan who don’t offer the rider.</p> <p>“It is wrong to force women and employers to purchase extra insurance just so women can have comprehensive reproductive healthcare coverage. It is even worse when those policies aren’t even available for purchase,” Faris said. “Without these riders, women who need medical help during a miscarriage, a complication or who need an abortion to save her health have to bear the cost themselves, which can cost thousands of dollars, and they will have to pay out-of-pocket.”</p> <p>The new law requires women to buy or ask their employer to purchase the extra rider in case she may need insurance to pay for an “abortion.” However, medical billers often use the term “abortion” to apply to miscarriages as well as elective and inevitable abortions, meaning that women who need medical intervention will have to absorb that cost themselves. The law also makes no exceptions for a woman who needs necessary medical care because a fetus is malformed, has a genetic abnormality, her own health is at risk or because she became pregnant following a rape.</p> <p>Beyond its harmful effect on women, the unjust law also threatens our state’s economy. Michigan struggles to maintain its highly educated young people once they finish college. Many professionals may seek employment in other states that have women-friendly policies. Law Students for Reproductive Justice will soon open up lines of communication with Michigan employers to urge them to make this policy available to their employees.</p> <p>“As young professionals considering where we would like to begin our legal careers, we want to make sure employers and insurance companies know that we are paying attention to whether or not this coverage is available,” said Meredith Osborne, a member of Law Students for Reproductive Justice. “For both men and women, having access to the abortion rider is vital for the health of our families. Keeping current law students in the state of Michigan means providing this essential option.”</p> <p>Rep. Roberts said the bills introduced this week are just a stopping point along the way to fully repealing the women’s health care rider law. “Make no mistake – our goal is to completely overturn this harmful and discriminatory law, so that women can make their own best health care choices without interference from those who believe women shouldn’t make their own health care decisions,” Roberts said. “But until we achieve that, the very least we can do is make sure this coverage is as accessible as possible.”</p> <p><img src="http://mihousedemsblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/abortion-rider-mandate-pc-9-24-141-e1411576773114.jpg?w=600" alt="" title="" /></p> <![CDATA[House Democrats Announce Legislation Calling for Charter School Moratorium]]> http://www.housedems.com/multimedia/videos/house-democrats-announce-legislation-calling-for-charter-school-moratorium <p>At a press conference at the state Capitol today, state Representatives Sarah Roberts (D-St. Clair Shores) and Ellen Cogen Lipton (D-Huntington Woods), announced legislation to enact a moratorium on opening any more charter schools until legislation is passed to ensure that they are transparent, accountable and have strong governance standards. Reps. Roberts and Cogen Lipton were joined by Dr. Casandra Ulbrich, vice president of the State Board of Education.</p>