Other opinions

State senate leader out of touch with public transparency desires

Members of the Michigan House of Representatives served it up to their counterparts in the state Senate earlier this month. It should have been a slam dunk, or a home run, or whatever other sports analogy you want to use.

Instead, Senate leaders chose to call off the celebratory parade that was to be held in their honor.

We’re talking about a bill package that would have removed blanket exemptions afforded to state legislators and the governor’s office under Michigan’s more than 40-year-old Freedom of Information Act. Frankly, it’s a policy that never should have been adopted with such protections for the state’s top elected officials. But those corrections were ready to be made.

The plan was to move the bills through both chambers of the Legislature and onto the governor’s desk during “Sunshine Week,” which is a national celebration of the public’s right to access information from its government that takes place in mid-March.

The House did its job, but Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, who controls what bills are voted on in his chamber, never moved the open records package forward.

Asked about the proposal at a Michigan Press Association event earlier this year, Meekhof said journalists “are the only people who care about this.”

We disagree and believe there is clear evidence to the contrary. Robin Luce Herrmann, a media law expert who is general counsel to the Michigan Press Association, recently came to Petoskey and spoke to a packed room at North Central Michigan College’s luncheon lecture series. Herrmann’s discussion was focused on the state’s open meetings and public records laws, which are central to the democratic process.

With local officials and community leaders filling the seats, it was clear to all in attendance that residents of northwest Michigan are engaged and want transparency from their elected leaders.

Meekhof’s brazen statement during the press association’s event earlier this year shows the state senator is out of touch with the people he serves. And isn’t that just the problem? Legislators exist in a Lansing bubble that, frankly, the public does not care about. People want honesty, they want access and they want openness from their representatives. An expansion of the state’s Freedom of Information Act to include legislative offices and the governor moves us in that direction.

We urge you to contact Meekhof and let him know where you stand. He can be reached by email: senameekhof@senate.michigan.gov; phone: (517) 373-6920 or standard mail: P.O. Box 30036, Lansing, MI 48909-7356.

— The Petoskey News-Review

State lock-your-car tax is

silly, should be dropped

Michigan motorists might be surprised to learn that Lansing has been working to keep down their auto insurance premiums. Using an essentially secret tax on their auto insurance policies, state officials claim they are saving the average motorist about $77 in higher premiums.

Michigan consistently places first or second among states with the most expensive auto insurance. Depending on how you look at it, Michigan may also require the best coverage. But it’s hard to imagine that premiums could be even higher.

The hidden tax is a $1 per policy levy that pays for the Automobile Theft Protection Authority. The authority was created in the mid-1980s to deal with Michigan’s auto theft rate, which was the highest in the nation. It has a board of directors, an annual convention and a budget of about $6 million a year.

It hands out most of that $6 million to local law enforcement agencies, prosecutors’ offices and nonprofit groups. Together, they and ATPA work to prevent auto theft. Before we point out that you give ATPA $1 a year so that it and its grant recipients can tell you to lock you car doors and take the keys, we should point out that maybe it is working.

Auto thefts in Michigan have fallen about 60 percent since the mid-1980s. But auto theft rates nationwide have also fallen by similar amounts — and crime in general is down everywhere as well. And the Bureau of Justice Statistics says that Michigan still has one of the highest auto theft rates in the nation. Those 50,000 cars stolen in Michigan last year suggest that paying a dollar a year for lock-your-car advice may not be enough.

Nationally, the National Insurance Crime Bureau, an insurance-industry trade group, attributes the drop in auto thefts to improvements in automotive and security technology and to improved law enforcement training. It doesn’t mention ATPA.

ATPA ought to be eliminated. Instead, lawmakers want to expand it by applying the secret tax to insurance policies written for commercial vehicles as well. They probably have not figured out a way to tax uninsured motorists.

Lock your car, enable the alarm and take the keys so thieves can’t take your vehicle. Lansing will take your money.

— The Times Herald (Port Huron)