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The week in Michigan politics: dredging, immigration and right to work


This week in Michigan politics, Christina Shockley and Jack Lessenberry discuss the issue of dredging in Michigan’s harbors, a package of bills that would make Michigan a more immigrant-friendly state, and how lawmakers have backed off from punishing colleges and municipalities for negotiating contracts before the right to work law went into effect.

How to pay for dredging

Michigan got quite a bit of rain this past week, but not enough to stop the debate on dredging.

Ships have been having a hard time getting into harbors this year because of record low water levels in Lakes Michigan and Huron.

Lessenberry says the rain has helped a little bit, but the lakes are still about two feet below their normal levels.

Governor Snyder called the water levels an emergency earlier this year and said the state needed to come up with money to pay for dredging.

But lawmakers can’t figure out where to get the money to fund dredging projects. One idea was to tap the state's Natural Resources Trust Fund.

But Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says the trust fund is for land purchases and improvements, and it can’t be used for harbor dredging.

Immigration proposals

While the nation is debating the issue of immigration reform, lawmakers in Lansing are moving forward on a package of bills to make Michigan more immigrant-friendly.

Under the legislation, the state would offer in-state college tuition to some undocumented students. It would also create an office to coordinate resources and services for people hoping to become U-S citizens.

But Lessenberry says the bills aren’t likely to move forward because they were introduced by Democrats. He says Democrats don’t have a lot of power in the Legislature.

Even though the governor says he is pro-immigration, Lessenberry says, “[Governor Snyder] would probably prefer it if he had his own legislative agenda . . . but also, he would want it to be a package coming from him, or coming from him and legislative Republicans. But it’s very rare that one party enthusiastically embraces another party’s bills and these days it’s rarer than ever.”

Right to work threats dropped for colleges and municipalities

Legislation was moving forward that would financially punish some local governments, school districts, universities, and community colleges that extended union contracts before the law went into effect.  But State House Republicans have given up on those efforts.

Lessenberry says, “There was some question about whether a punishment for doing something that wasn’t illegal was going to pass constitutional muster.”

But Lessenberry says challenges over right to work are not over.

“[Right to work] has just gone into effect and it will be a very gradual process before people see how this affects the state—whether new jobs come charging in, or whether workers end up getting paid less as opponents of right to work say because contracts have to expire first and be renegotiated. Contracts weren’t invalidated, just the ability for unions to have union shops,” Lessenberry says.

Christina began her career in radio at Michigan Radio while a student at the University of Michigan. She was a producer and researcher for The Todd Mundt Show, and then hosted Weekend Edition.
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