Some lawmakers in Lansing seemed to have reached a critical mass when it comes to school districts lobbying for their interests in the state Capitol, prompting legislation that would require Michigan districts to adopt policies prohibiting the practice during instruction hours and using school resources, including public funding. While we can appreciate some aspects of the proposal, two crucial points need to be resolved before legislators take any action on the measure.
The proposal, House Bill (HB) 4869, is co-sponsored by state Reps. Eileen Kowall (R-Highland, White Lake), Gail Haines (R-Waterford, West Bloomfield), and Hugh Crawford (R-Walled Lake, Wixom), and has been referred to the House Oversight, Reform, and Ethics Committee, where it awaits that panel’s consideration.
Under the legislation, school districts, intermediate school districts, and public school academies would have until Jan. 1, 2012, to adopt and implement a policy that would prohibit the following:
• Engaging in any lobbying during school hours or other paid work time;
• Expending public funds or using a computer, computer program, telecommunications device, electronic mail system, office supply, vehicle, or any other public resource owned or under the control of those entities for any lobbying; and
• Sending any political or lobbying literature or other materials home with pupils or involving pupils in lobbying in any way during school hours.
The first and third component of the bill have merit, and we don’t quibble with those provisions.
However, we aren’t entirely convinced that the legislation wouldn’t bar districts from being dues-paying members of advocacy groups like the Michigan Association of School Administrators, for example, since the association employs or contracts with lobbyists, as do many other advocacy groups vying for attention in Lansing.
Perhaps more compelling, however, is that schools seemingly would be singled out as the lone unit of government that couldn’t use their own resources — albeit public resources — to hire people to advocate for them.
There are no such prohibitions on counties, for example; Oakland County maintains a contract with a lobbying firm to advocate for it at the state and national level, and White Lake Township had such a firm in its employ at one point in recent memory. Why not enact such bans across the spectrum of governmental units, if lobbying is really the target here?
At best, HB 4869 needs modifications and clarification in committee to address those two key sticking points. At worst, it needs to be sent to the chopping block.