Local and Michigan Headlines: Agema Ranked Least Effective Legislator in Michigan House; U of M Study Says Smoking Ban Won’t Hurt Businesses

Here are some recent headlines published elsewhere covering Grand Rapids and Michigan:

  • Goodbye, GM – Michael Moore–writing from the Flint birthplace of General Motors–looks at the company’s bankruptcy.
  • Congratulations to Rep. Dave Agema – Representative David Agema of Grandville was ranked the least effective legislator in the House of Representatives according to a survey conducted by the Lansing based MIRS news service. Apparently Agema’s attacks on immigrants, LGBT people, and Native Americans aren’t working in his favor.
  • E-Verify is Verifiably Bad – The ACLU of Michigan is criticizing a proposal by an Oakland County Commissioner to require that contractors and vendors doing business with the county participate in the “E-Verify” program. E-Verify is a flawed federal database that is supposed to determine if people are legally able to work in the United States. The ACLU says that 17.8 million of the database’s files have incorrect information and that the program is an invasion of privacy.
  • Convicted Detroit reporter faces sentencing – A Detroit-based reported will be sentencing this week after being convicted of felony police obstruction. Many see her conviction as retaliation for her work in illuminating police brutality in Detroit.
  • Detroit: Farm city – Urban gardening in Detroit has received a lot of attention in recent years and now a Detroit businessman is touting a plan to create the largest urban farm in the world in Detroit. It’s an interesting idea.
  • U of M study concludes a workplace smoking ban will not hurt business – A University of Michigan study has concluded that a ban on smoking in the state’s bars and restaurants would not negatively affect revenues.
  • Kent County Board members propose ‘local first’ policies – Three Democratic Kent County Commissioners are proposing a subcommittee to develop a “local first” policy for the county that would emphasize using local companies. The rationale is that it would keep more jobs and money in the county.
  • Union agreement with GM not enough to revive Wyoming stamping plant after Friday’s closing – Local workers hoped that the GM plant in Wyoming might reopen after GM declared bankruptcy, but the plant was not listed among GM’s stand-by plants.
  • Proposed budget for Grand Rapids school district cuts 95 teaching jobs, almost $9 million in spending – The Grand Rapids Public Schools is proposing eliminating 95 teaching jobs and $9 million in spending. The Board will discuss the plan tonight at its meeting.
  • Stupak: Move Gitmo to UP Mackinac meeting – U.S. Representative Bart Stupak–who represents residents in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula–is advocating that the Obama administration consider moving the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to a detention facility in the U.P. Representative Pete Hoekstra of Holland said that he has been to Guantanamo and that the people held there are “evil people” and that they would “become magnets for homegrown terror” if they were moved to Michigan.

If we missed anything, let us know in the comments.

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West Michigan Legislator Announces New Effort to Increase Penalties for Church Disruption

Dave Agema Has Launched a New Effort to Increase Penalties for Disrupting Church Services; Perhaps Motivated by Anti-Gay Politics

Grand Rapids area Representative Dave Agema has launched a new effort to increase penalties for disrupting a church service in response to a protest last year by a gay activist group that targeted an church in Lansing known for its involvement in anti-gay politics.

According to The Grand Rapids Press online:

In response to a pro-gay group charging into an evangelical church near Lansing and shouting “Jesus was a homo,” and “It’s OK to be gay,” a Grandville lawmaker proposed a bill to hike penalties for disruptions of religious services.

Republican state Rep. Dave Agema’s legislation increases the penalty for disruption of a religious service to a $5,000 fine.

“This disruptive behavior is not appropriate or acceptable anywhere, and not in places of worship,” said Agema in a news release. “Religious freedom is a basic American right and it must be protected by increasing the penalty to deter those who would obstruct and endanger other people’s rights in a church with their excessive demonstration.”

Anti-Gay Motivation?

Reading this, you’ve really got to ask yourself whether it has to do with the act of disrupting the church service itself, or Agema’s own anti-gay politics. In the past, he’s proposed measures that would cut funding for university’s–including West Michigan’s Grand Valley State University (GVSU)–that offer domestic partner benefits.

Why didn’t he pursue this last term, following well-publicized efforts by anti-gay protestors to disrupt funeral services? Granted, that happened before he was elected, but if this was really such a serious issue for him you’d think he would have pursued it.

Furthermore, is this not proposing an unnecessary law–such behavior is already illegal and constitutes a variety of charges? In the past, Agema has been a staunch opponent of “hate crimes” legislation in part because he argues that those crimes are already illegal under existing law.

West Michigan Legislators Among the Most Conservative in State House

A new ranking by MIRS places several West Michigan legislators among the most conservative in the state. It’s not surprising to see that Grandville Representative Dave Agema is on the list, but readers might be more surprised to see that Grand Rapids’ Robert Dean was the most conservative Democrat in the House.

The Lansing-based news agency MIRS recently compiled annual rankings of the conservative legislators in Michigan’s House of Representatives. Not surprisingly, West Michigan is home to several of them. Grandville Representative Dave Agema, Arlan Meekhof of West Olive, and Bill Huizenga of Zeeland all made the list. MediaMouse.org readers will likely recall Agema for his missing critical votes for an exotic sheep hunting trip, repeated legislative attacks on undocumented immigrants, his desire to cut state aid to GVSU over domestic partner benefits, his work to end tuition assistance to Native Americans, his support fo arming teachers, and his support for the death penalty in Michigan. We haven’t really covered either Meekhof or Huizenga, with the exception being Meekhof’s desire to allow citizens to carry Tasers.

Democratic Party Representative Robert Dean of Grand Rapids had the most conservative voting record among Democrats.

Agema Defends Call for GVSU Funding Cut

While receiving still more publicity to promote his views on marriage, Representative Dave Agema’s most recent column in the Grand Rapids Press defending his call to cut GVSU’s funding by 5% shows how little support he has for his position.

In a guest column published in The Grand Rapids Press on Saturday, Representative Dave Agema–who recently proposed cutting funding to Grand Valley State University by 5% for offering benefits to unmarried employees–defended his call. The core of the column argued that GVSU is overstepping its bounds and that marriage should be defined as between one man and one woman:

“Obviously, this is America and people are free to live together without being married. However, Michigan voters and the Supreme Court supported the legal definition of marriage as between one man and one woman, reinforcing the public’s view on lawfully recognized bonds between individuals.

It is irresponsible for any public institution that receives tax dollars to use those funds for anything that goes against the accepted majority view. To reflect those wishes, I continue to propose a 5-percent reduction in state funding to any college or university that offers health care benefits to employees’ unmarried partners.”

However, rather than responding from a position of power–Agema’s column comes from a position of powerlessness. Despite his frequent publicity on this and other issues, he admits to having difficulty in bringing his proposal up for debate–hopefully it stays that way.

Agema Attacks “Household Membership Benefits” at GVSU

Dave Agema–a West Michigan representative who has a history of making racist attacks against undocumented immigrants, Native Americans, and Iraqis–is now targeting GVSU for the school’s decision to grant “Household Membership Benefits” to live-in partners of its employees regardless of their marital status or gender.

Dave Agema, a West Michigan representative in the Michigan House of Representatives, is criticizing Grand Valley State University’s (GVSU) recent decision to grant “Household Membership Benefits” to its employees. Under the program, the GVSU Board of Trustees extends employee’s health benefits to “household members” living with that employee. A “household member” is defined as “an adult who lives in the employee’s home for at least 18 months but is not a tenant or boarder or already a dependent of the employee, without regard to marital status or gender.”

While GVSU was clear in stating that this program is different than the “same-sex plans which are banned by state law,” Agema is attacking the benefits as being a way for GVSU to subvert the 2004 ban on benefits for same-sex couples. In light of GVSU’s decision, Agema is resurrecting a proposal to cut state funding by 5% to colleges and universities that give benefits to “gay or unmarried partners.” Agema also has questioned the trustees’ “moral compass” and has said that “Especially in West Michigan, … it needs to be stopped.”

Agema has twice introduced this measure in the Michigan House of Representatives, but both times it has not made any progress. It is also important to remember that in addition to LGBT people, Agema has made racist attacks on undocumented immigrants, Native Americans, and Iraqis.

One-Sided Republican Report Calls for Tougher Immigration Enforcement

A new report on undocumented immigration in Michigan by a Republican task force calls for a variety of measures aimed at criminalizing immigrants and immigration. The task force features West Michigan Representative Dave Agema who has made a variety of controversial statements about immigrants.

Earlier this week, Mediamouse.org reported that the Michigan Task Force on Border Security & Immigration Reform had released a new report that calls for a variety of new measures aimed at reducing undocumented immigration in Michigan. The task force includes West Michigan area Representative Dave Agema who has in the past pledged to make it difficult for undocumented immigrants “to survive” in Michigan.

Mediamouse.org has obtained a copy of the report, titled “Securing Our State,” which was previously unavailable online. The report frames the discussion in terms of how undocumented immigration affects “economic security,” “community security,” and the need to “protect Michigan citizens” in light of the so-called failings of the federal government. From the start, it sets a tone that undocumented immigration is a threat and that immigrants should be feared. The report’s introduction begins by talking about it as a security issue before asserting that “illegal immigration costs U.S. and Michigan taxpayers money as it results in higher costs to schools, health care and human services.” However, the report makes no mention of specific costs and indeed calls for more investigation into the topic.

The report contains 15 legislative recommendations that are designed to “help combat illegal immigration and the negative effects that it has on our state.” The recommendations were compiled based on the comments of those who testified at a series of four hearings held across Michigan by the task force. The majority of those testifying at the hearings were government, law enforcement, or business representatives. There was no testimony from immigrant rights organizations or nonprofit organizations that assist immigrants.

Consequently, the recommendations focus primarily on ways to reduce undocumented immigration by criminalizing immigrants. It urges more cooperation between state and federal law enforcement as well as giving law enforcement officers the ability to ask about a person’s immigration status. Similarly, the bill seeks to penalize cities by withholding revenue if they designate themselves as “sanctuary cities” in which they do not enforce immigration law. It also calls for stronger federal border patrols, as well as measures aimed at denying undocumented immigrants access to employment, identification cards, and labor unions.

Following the recommendations, the report summarizes the testimony delivered at the hearings. While it contains short summaries of what was said by each person on the agenda, it makes no mention of what was said during the public comment period. In the case of the hearing in West Michigan, this omission is particularly glaring as several people commenting directly contradicted what was said and called the task force out for only presenting only one side of the issue.

Michigan Republican Legislators call for “Crack Down” on Undocumented Immigration

Last week, four Republican legislators in Michigan’s House of Representatives–including West Michigan Representative Dave Agema–issued a series of recommendations intended to “crack down” on immigration in Michigan. Not surprisingly given the legislators involved, the legislators touted a number of anti-immigration myths when announcing the new report.

Last week, four Republican legislators in Michigan’s House of Representatives–including West Michigan Representative Dave Agema–issued a series of recommendations intended to “crack down” on immigration in Michigan. While the full report is not available online, media reports say that the group of legislators–Agema, Chuck Moss, Philip Pavlov, and Dave Robertson–who make up the Michigan Task Force on Border Security and Immigration Reform are recommending 15 steps to reduce undocumented immigration in Michigan. These steps include requiring the Auditor General to estimate the cost of undocumented immigration, allowing non-federal officials to ask about immigration status, penalizing cities that chose not to enforce immigration law, preventing the use of the Mexican Consular Card as ID, forbidding municipal ID cards, disallowing banks from offering credit to undocumented immigrants, preventing colleges from giving in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants, and preventing labor unions from recruiting them.

The legislators say that the recommendations are based on comments that the legislators heard at a series of four public hearings on immigration across Michigan. However, Mediamouse.org reported on one of the hearings in Jenison last year and found that those testifying overwhelmingly presented an anti-immigration perspective. Moreover, the public comment period was short and was originally scheduled to only last 10 minutes.

While the hearing that Mediamouse.org covered was designed to promote the legislators’ pre-existing views, the same seems to be true of statements released accompanying the most recent report. Rather than citing specific facts gained during the hearings, the legislators have a variety of statements on their websites making common–and flawed–assertions about undocumented immigration with no proof. Agema again advocated for stopping undocumented immigrants from receiving driver’s licenses. He also said of undocumented immigration, “…it’s taking your job or your kid’s job. It can be not just in the fields, as most people think, but in the factories, as a contractor, it’s even some electricians and so forth.” Echoing these comments, Representative Pavlov said “illegal immigration has added costs to our education system, it’s adding costs to our health care, police and fire protection, it’s having an adverse affect on Michigan’s economy at a time when we really can’t absorb any more pressure.” He went on to say that “it’s costing the taxpayers of this state millions of dollars every year.” The legislators also raised concerns about “safety” and crime, thereby creating the impression that undocumented immigrants are a threat to public safety.

The legislators largely regurgitated common myths and stereotypes circulated about undocumented immigration by various anti-immigration think-tanks and organizations.

College Newspaper Defends Agema’s Native American Tuition Plan

The Lanthorn–the student newspaper at GVSU–has come to the defense of West Michigan area Representative Dave Agema’s plan to abolish the Michigan Indian Tuition Waiver. Like Agema, the paper completely ignores the fact that the Waiver is guaranteed in legally binding treaties signed in the 1890s and 1900s.

The Lanthorn, the student newspaper at Grand Valley State University (GVSU), has come to the defense of West Michigan area representative Dave Agema’s plan to abolish the Michigan Indian Tuition Waiver. The Waiver, codified in 1976 but guaranteed in treaties signed with legally sovereign Native American nations in the 1890s and 1900s, give many Native American students free tuition at state run colleges and universities in Michigan.

In an article titled “Legislator: State should cut Indian Tuition Waiver,” The Lanthorn reports that 101 students at GVSU qualify for the waiver. The article quotes a student, Josh Leask, who receives the waiver as saying “(The waiver) helped me out so much, and I wouldn’t even consider myself bad off… he said. “But there are definitely some disadvantaged people out there that need that money … by (removing the waiver), it will cut the legs out from a lot of students who depend on this to better their lives.”

However, this comment seems lost on The Lanthorn‘s staff, as they instead call for abolishing the waiver in an editorial titled “Wave it goodbye.” The Lanthorn portrays Native Americans as getting a “free ride” and portrays the Waiver as being in violation of the anti-affirmative action ballot initiative Proposal 2. The Lanthorn writes:

“Minority scholarships are one thing, but singling out an entire nationality based on a 30-year-old waiver just isn’t fair. Native Americans, along with all nationalities, deserve the right to receive higher education at little to no cost, but it should be based on merit and not skin color.”

Of course, The Lanthorn misses the fact that the Indian Tuition Waiver exists due to treaty obligations. Treaties that were signed between sovereign nations. Moreover, The Lanthorn fails to take into account the legacy of more than 500 years of colonialism and genocide. To a large degree, the Waiver exists because the conquest of the Americas devastated the Native American population.

Agema Supporting so-called “Intelligent Design” Legislation

Dave Agema–a controversial West Michigan legislator who has previously attacked undocumented immigrants and who has called for public school teachers to be armed–recently signed onto legislation in that would enable intelligent design (creationism) to be taught in Michigan’s public schools.

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Dave Agema, a West Michigan member of Michigan’s House of Representatives, recently joined with Representative John Moolenaar of Midland to introduce legislation that would support the teaching of intelligent design–otherwise known as creationism–in Michigan’s schools. The legislation, HB 6027, is based on draft legislation prepared by the Discovery Institute, a leading religious right think-tank on the issue of creationism and intelligent design.

The bill is designed to make the issue one of “academic freedom” rather than intelligent design, with advocates of the legislation arguing that it will “protect” teachers and enable them to teach about the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories such as evolution and global warming. However, critics argue that it is “Trojan horse” legislation that instead encourages teachers to bring incorporate material that has no scientific basis and material that has been declared to be unconstitutional to teach.

In The Grand Rapids Press last week, Agema said that he believes “Nothing in science should be beyond scrutiny, not global warming, not intelligent design or cloning” and that “Students and teachers should be allowed to use facts to present alternative views.”

West Michigan Legislator wants to Renege on Obligations to Native Americans

West Michigan area representative Dave Agema of Grandville has made the news again, this time stating that he believes that the state of Michigan should no longer give Native Americans free tuition. In an article in The Kalamazoo Gazette, Agema says “Casinos are making billions of dollars for Indian tribes. But we are paying for their kids to go to college” and recommends that the state stop paying for Native Americans to attend public universities and community colleges in the state. Agema introduced a bill seeking to abolish the Michigan Indian Tuition Waiver, but it has not been moved out of committee despite his protests. He says that:

“The college tuition waiver isn’t necessary anymore since casinos and their revenue sharing with tribal members are thriving despite Michigan’s economic malaise. In fact, the tribes likely have more reserve funds than the state of Michigan.”

He further argues that the waiver program violates the anti-affirmative action Proposal 2 passed in 2004 that makes it so no public university or community college can give preferential treatment on the basis of race. Agema says that “I’m not against Native Americans, but you’re picking out one particular group and giving them something for free when no one else can get it.”

However, Agema is apparently quite ignorant of the fact that these tuition payments exist in part as a means–however limited–of compensating Native Americans for the fact that white European-Americans like himself stole their land and continue to act from a colonial mentality in dealing with Native Americans. The Kalamazoo Gazette article points out that the tuition payment requirement is included in treaties–with legally sovereign nations–signed in the 1890s and the 1900s. However, as is par for the course with the government’s treaty obligations, Michigan failed to formalize the agreement until 1976.

Unfortunately, this level of ignorance is no surprise coming from Agema. In the past, he has held hearings promoting anti-immigration views, has said that he wants to make Michigan “a more difficult place for illegals to survive,” has advocated bombing mosques, and has called for public school teachers to be armed.