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Politics & Government

Political roundup: Legislators stripping control from local government

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Both houses of the Michigan legislature are considering a bill to wrest control of private dwelling rentals, like Airbnb, from local governments.

This week, Representative Jason Sheppard, from southeast Michigan, and Senator Joe Hune, from Livingston County, both Republicans, introduced identical bills that propose barring local governments from restricting short-term rentals of private dwellings, such as Airbnb accommodations.

Meanwhile, Republicans in the state legislature and the mayor of Detroit agree on a position: the need to eliminate Michigan’s system of driver responsibility fees, and amnesty for drivers who still owe them.

Ken Sikkema, senior policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants and the former Republican majority leader in the state Senate, along with Vicki Barnett, the former mayor of Farmington Hills and a former Democratic legislator, joined Stateside to discuss the week’s political news.

The Airbnb bill marks a departure from the traditional Republican tradition of maintaining local government control.

“Republicans, and actually I think a lot of legislators, sort of take the position that we want local control except when we don’t want local control,” said Sikkema. “It’s clearly inconsistent, but it’s not the first time they’ve been inconsistent.”

Barnett expressed more concern for the substance of the bill. “Local governments are trying to protect the integrity of their community, their residential areas, from intrusion of commerce,” she said. “And Airbnbs are clearly an intrusion of commerce into residential areas that I think is perfectly reasonable for local governments to regulate.”

Both Barnett and Sikkema agree that the state driver responsibility fees are unnecessary. The fees (fines and penalties for breaking driving laws, ranging from failing to register properly to driving while intoxicated) were enacted in 2003 to raise state revenues when the state legislature refused to cut spending and raise taxes to balance the budget, said Sikkema. But he said they are “onerous, they’re obnoxious, and they’re actually counter-productive because people can’t afford them.”

Barnett agreed, and added the fees have been like a “debtor’s prison for hard-working individuals who don’t have the money to pay for them.” Without a good public transit system, many workers have to continue to rely on driving to get to work, and under the fee system, costs would mount for individual drivers or they felt deterred from seeking employment.

Listen above for the full conversation.

(Subscribe to the Stateside podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or with this RSS link)

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