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A roundup of recent Michigan newspaper editorials

April 1, 2019

Detroit News. March 27, 2019

Nessel oversteps authority in axing laws

Dana Nessel has wasted no time in her first few months in office throwing out or undermining laws she doesn’t like. But she’s the attorney general, not the Legislature, and she is abusing her authority.

The three distinct branches of government exist for a reason, and as part of the executive branch, Nessel’s job is not to interfere with law-making. She’s supposed to enforce the laws.

Nessel can advise on the legality of legislation in the works, but she’s taken her role and her partisanship much further. Her activism is unprecedented in Michigan.

There are several recent examples that demonstrate Nessel’s disregard for legislative authority.

Last week, Nessel signed a settlement agreement with the ACLU in an adoption case that will likely lead to faith-based placement agencies getting out of this important service.

The ACLU sued the state in 2017 over its 2015 law that protects the religious freedom of adoption agencies if they choose not to place a child with a same-sex couple. Catholic and other faith-based agencies are some of the largest providers that contract with the state in finding homes for children in foster care.

Nessel, who is a lesbian and who has represented gay couples in high-profile cases, openly said she wouldn’t enforce the 2015 law, so this settlement is in line with her beliefs.

“This settlement violates the state law protecting religious adoption agencies,” stated Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket, which intervened in the case on behalf of one of the adoption agencies.

Nessel should have let the lawsuit play out in the courts.

In another case, the attorney general recently issued guidance that Michigan’s sensible new A-F school grading law is in violation of federal education guidelines. In an attempt to skirt the framework, the state Department of Education asked Nessel for advice and counsel in January, and she obliged.

Now department officials have an excuse to further delay implementation.

Finally, Nessel is considering whether the state Civil Rights Commission was correct to expand the definition of groups protected from discrimination. Last year, the commission decided to include sexual orientation and gender identity, even though the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act doesn’t specify LGBTQ individuals.

The commission wants Nessel to review an opinion from former Attorney General Bill Schuette, who last year said the panel overstepped its bounds under the law. Nessel, of course, disagrees.

“There are probably going to be times when I just have a fundamental disagreement on the legal interpretation of a particular law, and I will tell you now, this is one of those times,” Nessel said.

There are valid reasons for expanding the civil rights law, but that must be tackled through the Legislature, which authored the act in the first place.

Republican lawmakers frustrated with Nessel’s actions don’t have much avenue for recourse, other than potentially messing with her budget. Pushback is most likely to come from impacted parties, such as the faith-based adoption agencies, in the courts.

In the meantime, Nessel should stay in her lane.

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The Mining Journal. March 27, 2019

Cambensy, Benson correct in trying to improve trust in government

We like the motivation driving a pair of state officials who hosted a town hall meeting in the Peter White Public Library in Marquette — transparency in government and the improved trust in government that transparency will engender.

State Rep. Sara Cambensy and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson were the officials who hosted the session Wednesday, drawing a good crowd who came with a lot of questions.

On substance, the pair talked a lot about redistricting.

“As your representative will tell you, the way in which your districts are drawn can determine the outcome of a particular election,” Benson said in a Mining Journal story on the matter. “In fact, that’s what’s happened over the years where you had efforts in Lansing of the people to either preserve partisan advantages . or to preserve their own political power. And when I started by talking about how important it is that you are all heard in Lansing, this is one of the examples.”

Cambensy addressed legislation that’s been introduced to extend the Freedom of Information Act to the Legislature and the executive branch.

“We’ve already heard that they have issues with several bills,” Cambensy said in the Journal story. “This is where, like the secretary of state said, we have a lot of relationship building to do. Our majority leader in the Senate has said that he does not like how open our legislative communications are under this bill.”

We have a couple of observations about how people regard their elected government, in general, and what Benson and Cambensy are doing, in particular.

If one can believe polls, trust in government is currently near all-time lows. The partisan backbiting and rivers of bile turn a lot of people completely off. Others are left cynical and still others have turned their backs completely on the process.

We applaud Benson and Cambensy, and anyone else, for that matter, who tries to make positive changes in this appalling situation. It may not fix everything but it is at least a step in the right direction.

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Traverse City Record-Eagle. March 28, 2019

It’s a start

There’s a lot of headline hubbub these days about public information.

We talk of “releasing” information like unleashing a caged, wild thing. The facts being a Kraken that could be used to destroy your enemies — but also crush everything else in an uncontrollable frenzy.

Public information release sparks great debate about the public’s right to know.

What about high-security information? What about privacy? What if the information is misused or misconstrued?

Right now Michiganders are having these conversations on several levels.

Nationally, there’s the report submitted to Attorney General William Barr by Robert Mueller that sets out the chargeable offense-free results of a two-year investigation into the relationship between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia. The report hasn’t been released to the public, though the push for transparency falls across intentions and politics.

Statewide, we consider House’s legislation which would (finally) subject the Legislature and Governor’s office to open records laws — with some pretty big exemptions.

Exemptions include:

Keeping private constituent communication, even if names and addresses are redacted.

Keeping private communication between legislators.

Keeping private appointments, decisions to suspend or fire a public official or grant a pardon or commutation to a prisoner, budget recommendations, messages or recommendations to the Legislature and information on the governor’s residences.

Michigan’s Supreme Court this week will also hear a FOIA lawsuit against former Attorney General Bill Schuette, who is accused of using private email accounts for public business, then not releasing the emails.

Among the arguments “Barring” your right to this information are privacy and security, and the underlying assumption that the information can be used for ill intent.

There’s also the idea that people will speak less, or less openly, if they know their comments could be public.

Information indeed is a powerful, strong thing. It’s a fraught thing. It’s hard to get right. It can break, pulverize. But a cornerstone of our country — and our newspaper business — is that the American people can and should be trusted with it anyway.

You deserve to be reminded of your right to know, and that every aspect of government — from paperclip to backhoe — is bought with your money.

Why would the state get exemptions not granted to our local officials? Local governments are subject to all aspects of FOIA and cannot pick and choose which ones they want to follow. Why would the stakes be different at the state level?

This is not to say that all concerns are unwarranted — we hear them a lot in the newsroom and respect them. It requires a great leap of faith to trust another person with your words and your name. So many things could go wrong. Human navigate these heavy waters with empathy and judgment.

Because information can also elevate, illuminate and inspire us to see things as they are, and bring out our best selves.

These conversations are a start but by no means a finish. Let’s keep talking.

The Issue:

The public’s right to information is in the news lately.

Our View:

We push for openness at all levels.

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