Expanded Program Helping Reduce Prison Costs While Protecting Public

Law Enforcement Endorsement PicMichigan spends too much on its prison system, especially when compared to neighboring states.

In an ongoing effort to reduce our costs without jeopardizing public safety, I created the Swift and Sure Sanctions Program based on a Hawaiian program with a record of reducing crime and drug use by probationers and saving taxpayer dollars.

Probationers in Hawaii’s HOPE program were less likely to use drugs, be arrested for a new crime, skip appointments with their supervisory officer or have their probation revoked. The result was they also served or were sentenced to almost half the number of days in prison. I included the program in the Fiscal Year 2012 state budget as a pilot project for areas with combined courts or drug courts.

In the current FY 2013 budget, I expanded it to allow more counties to apply, and in January the governor signed my legislation to make the pilot program permanent.

I am pleased to announce that 11 counties are now participating in the program, up from only four counties in 2011-12. In Southwest Michigan, Cass and Kalamazoo counties have joined Berrien County with Swift and Sure programs.

This progress is great news for taxpayers, because it is estimated that the program could save Michigan taxpayers $25 million every year once expanded statewide.

The Swift and Sure program supervises high-risk probationers and requires frequent, random drug and alcohol testing so that treatment decisions are based on behavior.

It is a system that helps offenders return to productive lives, keeps our communities safe and costs less money – enabling us to focus our resources on other key priorities.

Some Lawmakers Wonder Why It’s Necessary for Michigan to be 1 of Only 4 State with True Full-Time Legislature

By Kathleen Gray

The Detroit Free Press

ChamberEighty-one days.

That was the total number of days Michigan’s full-time Legislature worked in Lansing in 2012. From mid-June through the last week of November, when many members of the House of Representatives were campaigning for re-election, they put in a whopping 10 days of work in the state capital.

They then went on a three-week lame-duck binge, passing 282 bills, including controversial ones dealing with the right-to-work law, taxes, abortion rights and gun control. In 2011, they were in session 100 days, taking the entire months of July and August off, along with two-week breaks in the spring, November and December. This year, the House schedule includes one day of work in each of July and August, a two-week spring break, and two weeks off in both November and December. The Senate schedule for the year is updated only through June, but also includes a two-week spring break.

Nationally, the average full-time employee, who gets three weeks of vacation and the standard six holiday days off, works 239 days each year. A part-time worker, who generally works 20 hours a week, puts in 130 days a year.

“Michigan is one of only 10 states that has some sort of full-time legislative session and we’re really only one of four states that are truly in a full-time session,” said state Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph. “If the other 40 states can do it in a part-time fashion, there’s no reason why we can’t.”

Proos has introduced a bill in the Senate that would let voters decide whether the Legislature should become part-time, working 90 days of the year. State Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, plans to introduce similar legislation in the House, including cutting the $71,685 annual salary by 75%.

“I think we can get our work done in 90 days,” he said. “Our major task is the budget, and we got that done early the past two years.”

Other lawmakers say it’s unfair to judge their time on the job strictly by the days they spend in Lansing. They host coffee hours with constituents back home, attend local meetings, give speeches and prepare for the upcoming legislative debates back at the Capitol.

The trick to getting a part-time Legislature will be getting their legislative colleagues on their side, and that appears to be a long shot. Even Gov. Rick Snyder said last week he doesn’t support changing to a part-time Legislature.

Of the top 10 states in population, four — California, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York — have true, full-time Legislatures. Another three in the top 10 in population have semi-full-time legislatures that generally don’t meet throughout the year.

And places like Texas, the second-largest state in the nation, and smaller counterparts such as Montana, Nevada and North Dakota, meet every other year. Their pay ranges from $82.64 a day in Montana to $7,200 a year in Texas.

Most of the other Midwestern states surrounding Michigan — Wisconsin, Ohio and Illinois — have some form of a full-time Legislature.

Indiana has operated with a part-time Legislature since the 1800s, and only switched from an every-other-year to an annual legislative session in the 1970s. Legislators are paid $22,616 a year, and they get a $152 per diem payment for each day they’re in session.

“It is a challenge to balance the work load, a career and respond to the flexibility necessary for the job,” said Indiana Senate Majority Floor Leader Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek.

Finding candidates who can juggle a career and the three- to four-month legislative calendar can be difficult, said Hershman, who owns a consulting business with his wife. But there are benefits as well.

“The strict nature of the deadlines lead to compromises and easier resolution of problems,” he said. “And it forces us to prioritize: Things that are very pressing always rise to the top.”

Iowa also operates with a part-time Legislature, working up to 110 days a year and paying the lawmakers $25,000 a year, plus a $132 per day stipend during session.

If an emergency arises in the part-time Legislature states, the governor can call the House and Senate back into session. But that’s a rare occurrence, said Chief Clerk of the Iowa Legislature Carmine Boal. Since 1964, the Legislature has been called back to work 14 times.

“It’s not a given by any means, and is avoided at all costs,” she said. “It costs the taxpayers money.”

And it costs the legislators, too. When they’re called back to Des Moines for emergency session, they’re not paid a per diem and must pick up their own expenses for food and lodging.

Michigan legislators’ status as full-timers has not gone unchallenged. Bills have been introduced on an almost annual basis. And ballot proposals have been tried, but failed.

Henry Woloson, a Clarkston attorney and financial adviser, was part of a group that tried unsuccessfully in 2008 to get enough petition signatures to get the issue on the ballot.

“This is an issue that will never be taken up by the Legislature,” he said. “They have no incentive to do it.”

But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. It will save money, though that’s not necessarily the main concern, Woloson said. Even if legislative pay was cut in half and the roughly 700 Senate and House staffers pared back, the $116-million 2013 legislative budget represents a fraction of the state’s overall $7.5-billion general-fund budget.

“This is more about good government; making it more efficient, accountable and transparent,” he said. “There is no reason why we can’t have members working part-time in Lansing and then return to their communities to interface with the people.”

But that time in the community — speaking with groups, meeting with constituents and local elected officials and learning about upcoming bills — makes what looks like a part-time job a full-time endeavor, said Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe.

“The governor likes to talk about the state as being a customer service window, and representatives and senators end up being that window for customer service,” he said. “We’re the closest to the constituents of this state, and that’s important to consider, too.”

House Minority Leader Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, said it would be difficult to find people who would be able to take that time away from their careers for three months or so in the Legislature.

“I don’t think that we want to end up in a situation where the only people who are able to serve are multimillionaires,” he said. “But we’re always open to talk about shrinking government and making it more efficient.”

Snyder said last week that he doesn’t think it’s the right time for a part-time Legislature.

Speaking to the Brighton Chamber of Commerce, he said: “I’m asking them to do enough work where we need them there full-time. For the next two to three years, as we continue on a path of reinvention, we just need to work really hard.”

Lansing political consultant Craig Ruff said he worries that while legislators are back in their district for extended periods of time that the governor, staff and lobbyists can act without much oversight.

“I worry about that shift in power,” he said. “And the other thing is that constituent services have to go on whether a legislator is sitting at a desk in the Capitol or at home.”

Even backers of a part-time Legislature realize their quest is a long shot.

“This is the third time I’ve introduced this, and I’ve never gotten much traction,” McMillin said.

In fact, the bill has never even gotten a hearing in committee.

Proos acknowledged that his bill is far from a slam dunk.

“I know there is a difference of opinion on this and some of my colleagues will have plenty to say about it,” he said. “But this is a reform that makes good common sense. We’re having to find savings and solutions to problems on a daily basis.”

Make School Curriculum About Career Perparation

Proos_Average JoesThe goal of Michigan’s tough high school graduation requirements was to ensure all graduates were ready for college, enabling them to compete for jobs in the new global economy.

But education is not a one-size-fits-all business. Each child is different, and I have introduced reform to give students more choices and allow them to prepare for rewarding careers.

Senate Bill 66 would allow students to count additional career and technical education courses toward meeting the state’s high school graduation requirements.

I support a rigorous education that prepares children for success in college and beyond, but college may not be for everyone. My reform is about ensuring our schools are about getting students ready for a career, not just ready for college.

We have achieved much to bring more jobs to our state, but many manufacturers are finding it difficult to find young workers with the required technical skills.

In his recent State of the State address, Gov. Rick Snyder called for increased skilled trades training to help meet these workforce needs.

I agree with the governor that we must train students for all careers. We need to prepare the next generation of teachers, doctors and engineers.

However, we also need to train workers for careers in technical and manufacturing positions – jobs that already exist and are available in Southwest Michigan.

Flexibility in Michigan’s high school curriculum will give all our students a chance to succeed by letting them sit down with their parents and teachers and choose the educational path that best uses their talents, meets their goals and prepares them for a valuable and fulfilling career.

Sen. Proos Sponsors High School Tech Bill

Proos_Average JoesThe Herald Palladium

State Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, has sponsored legislation to allow options for students to count additional career and technical education, or CTE, courses toward meeting the state’s high school graduation requirements.

Senate Bill 66 would revise the state’s high school graduation requirements to allow seven credits to be filled either through the current route or through CTE courses, which would include work-based learning by a student such as an internship or apprenticeship.

In a news release, Proos noted he introduced his bill as Gov. Rick Snyder in his State of the State address called for increased skilled trades training to help meet the work force needs of manufacturers.

“I support a rigorous education that prepares our children for success in college and beyond, but we must also acknowledge that college may not be for everyone,” Proos said. “This is about ensuring our schools are about getting students ready for a career, not just ready for college.

“Education is not a one-size-fits-all business. Each child is different, and I am introducing this reform to give our students more choices and flexibility and allow them to prepare for the jobs that exist in our state.”

SB 66 was turned in on Wednesday and will be formally introduced in the Michigan Senate and referred to a committee this Wednesday, the next session day.

Cautiously Optimistic About ‘Surplus’ Projection

State fiscal leproos commercialaders and economists recently met for the annual January revenue estimating conference and forecasted that Michigan’s economy will continue to improve, resulting in a projected budget surplus of $177 million for the new fiscal year.

I am pleased to see the revenue estimates came back better than expected and that the state’s economy continues to recover. They show that there is light at the end of the tunnel for hardworking Michigan taxpayers and that our efforts to revitalize our economy are working.

Job creation in Southwest Michigan is particularly good. Between January 2011 and November of last year, the unemployment rates in Berrien and Cass counties fell by more than four points each, and Van Buren County saw an unemployment rate reduction of more than six points. The average unemployment for the state is 7.9%.

Statewide, Michigan added jobs in 2011 for the first time in more than a decade and increased jobs in 2012.

More encouraging, it is projected that Michigan will add more jobs this year and next year. We are on the right path, but much work remains to be done for sustained job creation.

The conference’s economic and tax revenue projections are used to draft budget proposals for Fiscal Year 2014, which begins Oct. 1. But it is important to remember that these are only projections.

There are many national and worldwide uncertainties that could impact our economy and state budget.

The surplus is great news, but it is hardly a winning lottery ticket. Now is not the time for a spending spree.

I believe we must be cautious and responsible with spending. That is why I will work to pass a budget that continues to save for a rainy day, improve government efficiency, pay off debt and invest in top priorities like education and public safety.

Proos Says Snyder Deserves Credit for Michigan’s Comeback

By Mike Arney

WSJM – Radio

Concussion Bill SigningFor the first half hour of Governor Snyder’s third State of the State address, he looked back on the progress the state has made over his time in office before launching into his 2013 goals. State Senator John Proos says Snyder can take a lot of credit for where the state is compared to what the Republican governor inherited.

Proos said in terms of Snyder’s top priority of coming up with more money for roads, there needs to be a bi-partisan solution. The governor has reportedly been shopping his plan to legislative Democrats to get their backing in the event he doesn’t have enough Republican votes to increase the amount of money we pay to register our vehicles, among other ideas. Proos says along with repairing the roads, US 31 needs to be finished, as southwest Michigan has waited long enough.

Priorities for 2013

Listen and LearnWe accomplished much in the past two years to re-energize Michigan, but more remains to be done.

My priorities for 2013 remain helping to create more Southwest Michigan jobs, increasing the public accountability in state government and improving education.

I remain focused on limiting the scope of government in our lives.

That means cutting unnecessary red-tape and costs; enhancing government efficiency; and eliminating fraud, waste and abuse of your tax dollars.

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I continue to look for innovative ways to save money in state government. Two reforms I will be sponsoring in 2013 are measures to adopt a two-year budget and create a part-time Legislature. Lawmakers must plan ahead when budgeting, instead of using one-time gimmicks, and they should enter elected office as a public service – not for a paycheck.

Education is key to our future, so I am putting forth reform to help ensure every student has a good teacher by allowing military spouses who are certified teachers in other states and have been re-located to Michigan to teach here as long as they pursue Michigan certification.

I will also continue to push to allow students to study “career and technical education” as jobs in the trades are valuable and necessary in our communities.

I believe it’s important to listen to the people about the challenges we face and what we can do to meet them. That is why I encourage area residents to contact my office to express their opinion or request assistance with a state issue.

Residents may contact my office at senjproos@senate.michigan.gov or by calling 1-517-373-6960. Letters may be sent to: Senator John Proos; P.O. Box 30036; Lansing, MI 48909.

Snyder Signs Erin’s Law to Fight Child Sexual Abuse

Author Erin Merryn meets with Senator John Proos and Governor Rick Snyder regarding Proos' legislation, which would make Michigan the 5th state to enact Erin’s Law. The bill was unanimously approved by the Michigan Senate.
Author Erin Merryn meets with Senator John Proos and Governor Rick Snyder regarding Proos’ legislation making Michigan the 5th state to enact Erin’s Law.

Gov. Rick Snyder recently signed Erin’s Law to strengthen protections against sexual abuse of children.

Named in honor of sexual abuse survivor Erin Merryn, the package includes Senate Bills 1112-1114, sponsored by state Sens. John Proos, Rebekah Warren and Judy Emmons.

The bills allow schools to implement a program to educate and provide resources for students, staff and parents about the warning signs of sexual abuse as well as available resources and counseling for children affected. They also create a one-time task force to develop recommendations on how schools can best handle this education.

“Everyone involved in a school – staff, students and parents – needs to recognize the warning signs of sexual abuse,” Snyder said. “We educate our children on how to say no to drugs, how to stay safe in a fire or tornado and how to avoid strangers. Unfortunately, sexual abuse is a reality for some children, and we need to provide age-appropriate education to encourage them to speak up and end the abuse.”

The bills now are Public Acts 593-595 of 2012.

Program Offers Free Skiing for Michigan 4th Graders

SkiingWinter too often result in kids staying indoors, watching television.

To help get children active, the Michigan Snowsports Industries Association (MSIA) is giving fourth graders the opportunity to get three free lift tickets to 20 participating Michigan ski areas.

I encourage Southwest Michigan families to take advantage of this chance to introduce young kids to new activities and experiences or just to have fun in our great outdoors.

The Fourth Grade Ski & Ride Passport is part of MSIA’s “Cold is Cool” program, which is dedicated to improving the health of the children in the state by offering winter outdoor activities for all Michigan kids and their families.

In order for fourth graders to use the free lift or trail pass coupons, a paying adult must accompany them.

Up to two fourth graders can ski free with each paying adult. Although the skiing is free, MSIA charges a $15 printing and shipping fee for each passport ordered.

Applications for the passport have been sent to all Michigan elementary schools. Parents and children can also pick up the applications at participating MSIA ski shops or by visiting the group’s website at http://www.goskimichigan.com.

On the website, families will find valuable information on other money-saving programs, ski equipment and Michigan lodging. One link offers updated information on ski and snow conditions at Michigan resorts, as well as details on amenities.

Even if you are unable to participate in the program, I encourage you to consider getting out and enjoying Michigan skiing.