State Sen. Joe Hune, after last year introducing a bill in an attempt to ensure that members of Michigan’s school boards avoid conflicts of interest, is at it again, this time with a more palatable approach to compelling ethical behavior. Hune’s latest bill may be more reasonable than it’s predecessor, but it still needs a little tinkering before lawmakers give it consideration.
Hune recently introduced Senate Bill (SB) 1051, which would require those serving on school boards of local and intermediate school districts or boards of directors of public school academies to abstain from voting on a contract or other financial transaction requiring board approval if they believe or have reason to believe that they have a conflict of interest. The bill states that a conflict of interest would be presumed if the board member or his or her family member — a spouse or spouse’s sibling or child; a person’s sibling or sibling’s spouse or child; a person’s child or child’s spouse; or a person’s parent or parent’s spouse, including those relationships created by adoption or marriage — has a financial interest in the contract or other financial transaction, or if that family member is an employee of the school district, intermediate school district or public school academy.
Last year, Hune introduced SB 773, which seeks to bar people who have a spouse, child, parent or sibling employed by a school district from seeking election or appointment to that district’s school board. The bill requires the vacation of a school boat seat upon a member’s spouse, child, parent or sibling becoming employed by the district that board governs. SB 773 hasn’t moved out of the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee.
SB 773 is an example of overkill that flies in the face of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, which bars the states from denying “to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Qualified electors have a fundamental right to seek elected office, regardless of family members’ current or potential employment with a school district.
Hune’s SB 1051 is more tempered. But, under its provisions, we wonder whether a school board member would have to abstain from voting on an annual budget, if, for example, the board member has a spouse that is a teacher or a coach in the district. That scenario should be addressed directly by the bill’s language, as casting a vote on a budget is a primary function of a school board member.
A general tightening down on the bill’s language would probably help lawmakers — and the general public, not to mention school board members — understand just what would and wouldn’t be expected if the bill is enacted. Frankly, SB 1051′s provisions are so broad it’s difficult to pinpoint what a school board member can and can’t vote on. That’s a good indication that the language needs to be readdressed and revised. <f"Za