Charter Bill Felled
by Impatient Senate, Plodding House
from Gongwer News
Service, December 14, 2002
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Sick of waiting on a Friday night
for a House that has struggled to find a resolution on the
issue of charter school expansion for four years, the Senate
adjourned for the year-coincidentally minutes before the House
finally passed the legislation-killing the bill barring an
unexpected decision by the Senate to return next week. Furious
House members demanded the Senate come back to the Capitol to
vote on the bill before the end of the calendar year when all
unresolved bills die.
It was an extraordinary conclusion (or maybe not the
conclusion) of the 91st Legislature. House Speaker Rick
Johnson (R-LeRoy), irate at Senate Majority Leader Dan DeGrow
(R-Port Huron), said that if Mr. DeGrow did not bring senators
back next week he hoped Governor John Engler would call a
special session after the Legislature adjourns sine die
December 30. If called, it would be the first special session
in nearly 40 years.
But the end also signified the frustration both houses have
had for the other over the last several years. Senate members
actually were fed up waiting for the House to return a bill on
legislative early retirement, since members had no confidence
the House would enact a charter bill.
It ended a day that began with the Senate repealing the 2004
election on the Detroit school system, a repeal the House
attempted, and failed, to amend, and then followed with both
houses as they tried reaching resolutions on a variety of
issues on the, most likely, final session day of the 91st
Charter school supporters finally cracked the code to getting
a bill through the House by limiting charter expansion to
Detroit and reimbursing the Detroit Public Schools for lost
pupils. It passed the House with the minimum 56 votes needed
for passage, 56-39 moments after a Senate annoyed with waiting
12 hours on a rare Friday session (and really for four years)
for the House to find a solution on charter schools called it
Senators were plenty peeved at the House, which has whiffed
numerous times in the past on charter schools, and felt they
had given them more than enough time to resolve the impasse.
Enraged House members supporting the bill felt betrayed and
all but accused the 27 term-limited senators of skipping town
to get started on their political retirement.
But senators complained that House members "should get a
clock," and were particularly annoyed when a large load of
pizzas showed up in the House about 10 p.m., hinting that
chamber was ready to continue well into the night.
The flap that ended the 2001-02 session put a few of key bills
in limbo, namely legislation extending the state's
participation in a multistate compact that seeks to improve
collection of taxes on remote sales, revising the Joint
Committee on Administrative Rules and consolidating elections.
The House brought them up for votes Friday, but they were
short of passage. And after the Senate bolted, Mr. Johnson
made it clear he had no interest in Senate-sponsored bills.
Mr. Johnson initially called for rejecting the resolution
allowing the Legislature to adjourn, but for constitutional
reasons was forced to allow adjournment until December 30.
Governor John Engler said although he had not spoken with Mr.
DeGrow after the Senate adjourned, he thought both chambers
would return next week, but it appeared unlikely the House
would come back as members said good-bye to each other until
"I think they will, both the House and Senate probably will
come back next week for just a couple hours," Mr. Engler said.
"There are enough important measures are now a vote away from
being completed that it probably makes sense. ... Would you
travel to Lansing for two hours if you could secure a couple
hundred million dollars investment in your state? I think the
answer's pretty obvious."
CHARTER SCHOOLS: The bill (SB 143) would allow three new
charter schools in Detroit per year for five years. They would
have been newly constructed buildings paid for privately by
Belleville resident Rob Thompson (Mr. Engler's reference to
investment in the state). And the Detroit Public Schools would
have received $2.5 million per year for three years to offset
the loss of funding from pupils leaving the schools system for
a charter school.
The bill also would take away the governor's appointee to the
Detroit school board and allow the mayor to appoint all seven
members-removing the governor's veto power over the selection
of the district's CEO. A companion bill (SB 142) that would
have delayed the citywide referendum on returning to an
elected board from 2004 until 2006 fell short of passage and
remains in the House.
Charter schools are public schools that operate outside of the
traditional public school system. Universities, the primary
authorizers of the academies, are limited to sponsoring no
more than 150 such schools, a cap that has been reached.
Seven Democrats joined 49 Republicans to pass the charter
school bill with nine Republicans either voting "no" or not
voting after a dramatic floor speech by Mr. Johnson in which
he berated the Senate and Mr. DeGrow.
"This comes down to four words: term limits and pay raise,"
Mr. Johnson said. "Senate Majority Leader Dan DeGrow started
this legislative term by refusing to take a stand on an
outlandish pay raise-that he orchestrated-and he finished the
term by walking away from Detroit school kids. It's funny that
he couldn't wait around tonight to do the only constitutional
thing required of a lawmaker: vote in session."
In fact, the Senate had finished passing the remaining House
bills in its possession hours before the chamber adjourned,
and was quite literally spending long times at ease waiting on
Senate measures to trickle back from the House. By the time
the chamber had adjourned, enough individual senators had left
the Senate could no longer give immediate effect to any bills.
Mr. DeGrow and his aides could not be reached for comment
after the House session that ended after midnight Saturday.
Mr. Engler, while praising Mr. Johnson, also lauded Mr. DeGrow
as a "fantastic" lawmaker and defended the Senate's action.
"Dan's always been a guy who's interested in policy," he said.
"The Senate worked hard. The Senate got all its work done
early. In fact they were so efficient that was the problem.
They were having to wait. A chamber of 38 is a little faster
than a chamber of 110, especially when the 38 have a lot more
experience than the 110."
Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who with House Minority Leader
Buzz Thomas (D-Detroit) developed the compromise, said he
expects the Senate to return.
"We have unfinished business here," he said. "I know there's
some men and women here who want to finish the job, and
hopefully they'll come in Tuesday."
Rep. Keith Stallworth (D-Detroit), one of the Democrats voting
"yes" on the bill, accused members of his caucus of putting
personal gains ahead of a plan with which they philosophically
agreed. Other Democrats voting "yes": Ken Daniels of Detroit,
Belda Garza of Detroit, LaMar Lemmons of Detroit, Bill
McConico of Detroit, Joseph Rivet of Bay City and Mickey
Switalski of Roseville.
Hanging in limbo is the extension of the mayoral takeover of
the school district. Mr. Engler said he fears political bosses
in Detroit will seize control of the school board if the city
returns the elected system.
"The old school board's so discredited that there should be no
interest in going back anytime soon to that process," he said.
Mr. Engler remained optimistic. Asked if he was disappointed
about the result, he said, "Talk to me then when it's over,
and we'll see if we're disappointed."
DETROIT SCHOOLS: The Senate's action Friday morning to repeal
the election revisited one of the most controversial issues to
hit the Legislature in recent years: the takeover of the
Detroit public schools in 1999. At that time, the takeover
legislation included a provision that in 2004 the voters could
restore the elected school board.
In an interview last week, Senate Majority Leader Dan DeGrow
(R-Port Huron) said he would support a repeal but doubted it
would be accepted because of its charged nature. However,
through the week rumblings continued that an effort would be
made to repeal the election date, with that tied to a Detroit
Area Regional Transportation Authority bill, although no
confirmation to those rumors could be made.
In fact the repealer amendment, which could be tied to any
bill, was tied to a DARTA bill, HB 5468, which makes changes
to the state's bus transportation authority to refer to DARTA.
Mr. Kilpatrick called the repeal "total oppression." He
acknowledged that he wanted authority to appoint all the board
members-one now is appointed by the governor-and wanted a
delay in the election, but called a complete repeal
And Senate Democrats said the provision would deny Detroit
residents democratic participation in their schools.
In fact, Sen. Alma Smith (D-Salem Township) angrily said it
was ironic that in the main DARTA bill-HB 5467, whose
conference report was approved by the Senate on a 20-13 vote-a
community could put on the ballot for its voters to drop out
of a transportation authority but Detroit voters would now be
barred from voting on their school board.
And Senate Minority Leader John Cherry (D-Clio) said, "At some
point we have to trust democracy." If the school district is
making improvements, then the voters will recognize that and
will maintain the current system, he said.
Sen. Joe Young Jr. (D-Detroit) said, in fact, the new district
was not working because it had not corrected the problems the
old district had developed.
But Sen. Joanne Emmons (R-Big Rapids) said the focus of the
lawmakers should be on Detroit's children. "I still haven't
heard one word from the other side that the other system was
better. This is not about who's in power. It's about who can
help the kids."
Once over in the House, though, members tried to change the
election date to 2006, which would be in keeping with Mr.
Kilpatrick's belief. But the votes were not there for the
measure, and the board was cleared without recording a vote.
Chris De Witt, spokesperson for Governor-elect Jennifer
Granholm, said she opposed any plan to eliminate the 2004 vote
on the Detroit School Board. "If you talk to anyone in the
city of Detroit, they have made it very clear that the
citizens of Detroit should have a right to vote for their
school board," he said. "She feels very strongly that the
franchise should be returned to the city of Detroit."