Friday, February 26, 2016

House Democrats introduce Fair Day in Court for Kids Act

Click here to watch the video of the press conference
WASHINGTON, D.C – Today, 54 House Democrats, led by U.S. Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Luis V. Guti√©rrez (D- Ill.), and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), introduced new legislation – a companion to similar legislation in the U.S. Senate – to protect children and other vulnerable groups in immigration proceedings by ensuring access to counsel, legal orientation programs, and case management services.

The Fair Day in Court for Kids Act ensures due process for children and vulnerable individuals, and offers an alternative to ICE raids that risk sending individuals to dangerous countries where they face threats of violence, abuse, or even death.

The members were joined by U.S. Representatives John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), Alma Adams (D-N.C.), and Judy Chu (D-Calif.) at a press conference this morning to announce the new legislation (video in link).

Under current law, there is no right to appointed counsel in immigration removal proceedings, even if the respondent is a child.  Statistics show the overwhelming majority of children without attorneys are ordered deported while children with attorneys are five times more likely to be granted protection. Advocates assert that a child’s constitutional right to “due process” cannot be met without legal representation.

The Fair Day in Court for Kids Act:

  1. Requires the government to appoint counsel to children, and vulnerable individuals, including those with disabilities and victims of abuse, torture, or violence.
  2. Requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Attorney General to establish procedures to ensure that legal orientation programs are available to all detained immigrants.
  3. Creates a case management pilot project to increase court appearance rates.
  4. Requires DHS to submit reports to Congress on the number of individuals identified in the Act who were represented by counsel and the number of individuals who received legal orientation presentations.

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Thursday, February 25, 2016

CONYERS Invites You To Continue Celebrating Black History Month

Rep. John Conyers Invites You To Continue Celebrating #BlackHi...
The celebration of #BlackHistoryMonth gives all Americans the opportunity to highlight the special contributions of the African-American community to the growth and development of our nation. Happy Black History Month.
Posted by Congressman John Conyers, Jr. on Thursday, February 25, 2016
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Floor Statement of the Honorable John Conyers, Jr., Ranking Member of the Committee on the Judiciary, Regarding H.R. 3624, the “Fraudulent Joinder Prevention Act of 2016"

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
“H.R. 3624, the so-called “Fraudulent Joinder Prevention Act of 2016,” is not really about fraud.  Rather, this measure is just the latest attempt to tilt the civil justice system in favor of corporate defendants by making it more difficult for plaintiffs to pursue state law claims in state courts. 

“I say this for several reasons. To begin with, H.R. 3624 addresses a nonexistent problem.  

“Under current law, a defendant may remove a case alleging solely state law claims to a federal court only if there is complete diversity of citizenship between all plaintiffs and all defendants, with an exception.

“If the plaintiff adds an in-state defendant to the case to defeat diversity jurisdiction, this constitutes fraudulent joinder and, in such circumstance, the case may be removed to federal court. 

“In determining whether a joinder was fraudulent, the court must consider only whether there was any basis for a claim against the non-diverse defendant.  For the case to remain in federal court, the defendant must show that there was no possibility of recovery or no reasonable basis for adding the non-diverse defendant. 

“This very high standard has guided our federal courts for more than a century and it has functioned well. 

“But, H.R. 3624 would replace this time-honored standard with a thoroughly ambiguous one.  The measure would require a remand motion to be denied unless the court finds, among other things,

•That it is “plausible to conclude that applicable State law would impose liability” an in-state defendant,

•That the plaintiff had a “good faith intention to prosecute the action against each” in-state defendant or to seek a joint judgment, and

•That there was no “actual fraud in the pleading of jurisdictional facts.”

“Additionally, H.R. 3624 would effectively overturn the local defendant exception, which prohibits removal to federal court even if complete diversity of citizenship exists when the defendant is a citizen of the state where the suit was filed.
“The bill’s radical changes to longstanding jurisdictional practice reveal the true purpose of this measure.  It is simply intended to stifle the ability of plaintiffs to have their choice of forum and, possibly, even their day in court.

“In addition, H.R. 3624 would sharply increase the cost of litigation for plaintiffs and further burden the federal court system.

“For example, terms like "plausible" and "good faith intention" are not defined in the bill.  This ambiguity will lead to greater uncertainty for both courts and litigants and will spawn substantial litigation over their meaning and application, further delaying decisions in many cases. 

“Additionally, these standards require a court to engage in a mini-trial during an early procedural stage of a case, without any opportunity for the full development of evidence.  Thus, the bill would sharply increase the burdens and costs of litigation for plaintiffs and make it more likely that they would be prevented from choosing the forum for their claims.
“Finally, the amendments made by this bill raise fundamental federalism concerns.

“Matters of state law should be decided by state courts, subject to certain exceptions as set forth in the Constitution. 

“Removal of a state court case to federal court always implicates federalism concerns, which is why the federal courts generally disfavor federal jurisdiction and read removal statutes narrowly.

“H.R. 3624, however, ignores these federalism concerns.  By applying sweeping and vaguely-worded new standards to the determination of when a state case must be remanded to state court, the bill denies state courts the ability to decide and, ultimately, to shape state law.

“H.R. 3624 not only violates state sovereignty, but also violates our fundamental constitutional structure.

“Accordingly, I urge my colleagues to join me in opposing this problematic legislation.”

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House Judiciary Committee to Hold Hearing on Encryption

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
Washington, D.C.  – On Tuesday, March 1, 2016 at 1:00 p.m., the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing titled “The Encryption Tightrope: Balancing Americans’ Security and Privacy.” The House Judiciary Committee previously held member briefings on encryption, which included a briefing from technology companies and a classified briefing from the government. 

As encryption has increasingly become much more widespread among consumers, there is an ongoing national debate about the positive and negative implications it poses for consumers’ security and privacy. Encryption is used to strengthen consumers’ privacy but it also has presented new challenges for law enforcement seeking to obtain information during the course of its criminal investigations. For example, following the December 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, investigators recovered a cell phone belonging to one of the terrorists responsible for the attack. After the FBI was unable to unlock the phone and recover its contents, a federal judge recently ordered Apple to provide “reasonable technical assistance to assist law enforcement agents in obtaining access to the data” on the device.

Below is a statement from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.) on this hearing.

“The widespread use of strong encryption has implications both for Americans’ privacy and security. As technology companies have made great strides to enhance the security of Americans’ personal and private information, law enforcement agencies face new challenges when attempting to access encrypted information. Americans have a right to strong privacy protections and Congress should fully examine the issue to be sure those are in place while finding ways to help law enforcement fight crime and keep us safe.

“Next week, the House Judiciary Committee will continue its examination of encryption and the questions it raises for Americans and lawmakers. As we move forward, our goal is to find a solution that allows law enforcement to effectively enforce the law without harming the competitiveness of U.S. encryption providers or the privacy protections of U.S. citizens.”

Witnesses for the hearing are:

Panel I
·         The Honorable James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Panel II
·         Mr. Bruce Sewell, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Apple, Inc.
·         Ms. Susan Landau, Professor, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
·         Mr. Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., District Attorney, New York County

This hearing will take place in 2141 Rayburn House Office Building and will be webcast live at Camera crews wishing to cover must be congressionally-credentialed and RSVP with the House Radio-TV Gallery at (202) 225-5214.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Statement of the Honorable John Conyers, Jr., Ranking Member Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law Hearing on the “Triple Threat to Workers and Households: Impacts of Federal Regulations on Jobs, Wages and Startups”

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
“Today’s hearing is the 29th anti-regulatory hearing that the Committee has held over the past 5 years.  Yet, during those same 5 years, the Committee has not conducted a single hearing on –

                     The devastating impact that overwhelming student loan debt has on families and our Nation’s economy; or
                     How to strengthen protections for employees and retirees of companies and municipalities that seek bankruptcy relief; or
                     The life-threatening public health and safety ramifications of penny-wise, but dollar-foolish budget cuts made by unelected emergency financial managers, as illustrated by the catastrophic Flint water crisis and hazardous condition of Detroit’s Public School buildings.

“These are matters that affect millions of hardworking Americans and that have real consequences, not the illusionary, so-called ‘triple threat’ referred to in the title of today’s hearing. 

“I say illusionary for several reasons.

“To begin with, there is absolutely no empirical evidence that regulations have a deleterious impact on job growth.  In fact, one could argue that a strong, regulatory environment actually promotes job growth. 

“For example, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle assert that the current Administration has issued an unprecedented number of regulations.  Assuming that is true for the sake of argument, how can they ignore these facts -

                     Unemployment has fallen by half since the 2008 Great Recession;
                     The United States is in the midst of one of the longest running streaks of private-sector job creation in history; and
                     14 million new jobs created over the past 7 years.

“And, what about the impact of regulations on wages?  The Economic Report of the President, which was just issued earlier this week, reports that wages grew faster last year than at any time since the Great Recession.

“Admittedly, wages have not increased as much as they should.  But the cause is not over-regulation. Rather, wage stagnation is largely a symptom of workplace inequality fostered by declining union membership and the resultant diminished bargaining power of lower- and middle-wage workers. Sixty years ago, 1 out of every 4 workers belonged to a union.  Now, less than 10% of Americans belong to a union.  In fact, union membership in some states is less than 3%.  

“Declining unionization, according to one study, accounts for between a fifth and a third of the increase in inequality since the 1970s.  And finally, with regard to the illusionary threat that regulations inhibit the creation of new businesses, this too is a canard.  Startup companies, by bringing new products and services to the marketplace, are vital to productivity growth in the United States. And, startups create jobs.  In 2013, startups created more than 2 million new jobs compared with established firms that accounted for over 8 million new jobs.

“Unfortunately, there are real barriers to entry for new companies.  Weak antitrust enforcement over the years has substantially reduced competition thereby allowing larger firms to squeeze new entrants.  In addition, existing firms often lobby for rules protecting them from new entrants.

“Eliminating these real barriers to entry should be our Committee’s priority, not spending yet another hearing dealing with illusionary problems.

“In closing, I want to thank the witnesses for their participation and I look forward to hearing their testimony.” 

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Statement of the Honorable John Conyers, Jr., Ranking Member, Markup of H.R. 3892, the “Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act of 2015,”

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
“For several reasons, I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join me in opposing H.R. 3892, the ‘Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act of 2015.’

“Most importantly, our Committee is marking up this bill without holding a single hearing and without considering the serious diplomatic and foreign policy ramifications of our actions."

“Less than one year ago, our Committee marked up a bill expressing the sense of Congress that the Taliban ought to be designated a terrorist organization by the United States government."

“At that time, my Democratic colleagues and I appealed to the Chairman and to our colleagues on the other side of the aisle to reconsider. Over our objections and calls for a reasoned consideration of the subject matter, the Majority moved to a vote and reported the bill out of the Committee."

“Once again, without holding any hearings or even receiving a briefing from the Department of State or the intelligence community, the House Judiciary Committee is marking up a bill that would have the United States designate a foreign organization as a terrorist organization.

“It is very worrisome that the Majority appears to be making a habit of bringing up measures for consideration that have received no deliberative process."

“Another concern I have about our Committee’s process is that it is taking action today without any real consideration of the facts."

“I want to be clear that my opposition to this measure does not in any way mean that I would hesitate to condemn the Brotherhood’s anti-Israel rhetoric."

“However, since swearing off violence in the 1950s, the Brotherhood has become a predominantly non-violent religious, political, and social service organization.  Before rushing to conclusions that can lead to unknown or unintended consequences, our Committee should weigh and consider the specific facts that pertain to this complex organization."

“When the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence held a hearing on the Muslim Brotherhood five years ago, every expert witness cautioned against taking the kind of action our Committee is taking today."

“Any terrorist designation must be based on the facts, not innuendo and supposition.  Moving this bill out of our Committee today is precisely the kind of provocative action that all five witnesses at that hearing, the Department of State, and every foreign policy expert warns against."

“Finally, I fear that this bill appeals to our base fears. Islamaphobia may be good politics - time will tell - but it is certainly not good policy.  It does not serve our national security or foreign policy interests.  And it will not make us safer."
“This bill paints with a broad brush all members of the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorists.  But we know that in Kuwait and Jordan, members of the Brotherhood served in Parliament and in the cabinet.  The Muslim Brotherhood has the support of millions of Egyptians. "

“Hundreds of thousands of Egyptian-Americans who have family in Egypt and other countries in the Middle East would be subject to draconian consequences due to the foreign terrorist designation."

“Instead of hastily passing such flawed legislation out of this Committee, we should be taking steps to counter the growth in anti-Muslim sentiments, targeted rhetorical attacks, and violence against the Muslim, Arab, Sikh, and South Asian American communities. "

“Those efforts will strengthen our Nation’s security and not undermine it, as this ill-conceived legislation will certainly."

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Conyers Applauds Additional $2 Billion Dollar Investment into the Hardest Hit Fund

DETROIT – Last week the U.S. Treasury Department announced that it will be adding an additional $2 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds to the Hardest Hit Fund (HHF) program due to bipartisan procurement of additional funding in Congress.  The additional funding into the HHF will assist homeowners who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads and help stabilize impoverished neighborhoods.

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
After the funds were approved by Congress, Rep. John Conyers sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew earlier this month, advocating on behalf of Michigan as the Obama administration designed a process for distributing the funds between states. He urged the Administration to take into consideration Michigan’s “disproportionate economic challenges resulting from the Great Recession,” including continued high unemployment and underemployment, and the ongoing impact on Michigan families of the drop of housing prices caused by the economic collapse.  Rep. Conyers also highlighted the “expeditious manner that Hardest Hit Fund resources have been disbursed in our state,” as the funds enabled Michigan to conduct more blight removal than any other state, in addition to providing important assistance with those at risk of losing their homes due to property tax foreclosure.

“The people of Michigan and I are deeply grateful for the work of the Treasury Department and allies in Congress for this important infusion of funding to the Hardest Hit Fund.  As the impact of the Great Recession continues to be particularly harsh for Michigan families, I am thankful that Secretary Lew and the Obama Administration supported my request to design a process that will provide special assistance for our state. The result of their process is that, in this first round of funding, Michigan will receive one of the largest portions of funds, per capita, of any state receiving assistance. The formula for the second round of funding considers states' housing market realities and capacity to put additional funds to use, again positioning Michigan to also receive a substantial portion of the funds in the second round."

The process announced by the Department of Treasury will allocate $1 billion using a formula based on state population and the state’s use of their HHF allocation to date. In the second phase, Treasury will focus additional resources on those states “with significant ongoing foreclosure prevention and neighborhood stabilization needs, a proven track record in utilizing funds, and successful program models to address those needs,” mirroring the criteria Rep. Conyers urged Treasury to consider in his February 2016 letter.

The Hardest Hit Fund was created in 2010 to provide $7.6 billion in targeted aid to 18 states and the District of Columbia deemed hardest hit by the economic and housing market downturn.  The program has funded numerous initiatives in Michigan that have made significant progress for the people of Michigan. As of January 17, Michigan’s Blight Elimination Program had successfully demolished 8,022 blighted properties, the most of any state in the country. And aside from California (which has a population four times greater than that of Michigan), Michigan has used the Hardest Hit Funds to assist the greatest number of homeowners of any state, surpassing 30,000 in January 2015. 

Visit the Treasury Department’s website for more information on how the Hardest Hit Fund is helping communities and homeowners across the country.
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Reps. Conyers, Scott, Nadler and Cohen Ask DOJ to Have 2007 OLC RFRA Opinion Reconsidered

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.

WASHINGTON - Yesterday, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), House Education and Workforce Committee Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA) and House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice Ranking Member Steve Cohen (D-TN) issued a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch asking the Department of Justice (DOJ) to follow-up on a request to instruct the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) to review and reconsider an opinion issued on June 29, 2007. The opinion has been interpreted to permit federally funded faith-based organizations to use the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to override statutory employment nondiscrimination laws.  

The 2007 opinion, based on flawed analysis, found that RFRA was “reasonably construed” to permit World Vision, a religiously-affiliated federal grant recipient, to refuse to hire non-coreligionists for jobs that were funded by taxpayer money even though the statute governing the grant explicitly prohibited such religious hiring discrimination.

In the letter, the Members express that they are “…deeply concerned that the OLC opinion is being cited with increasing frequency to protect discriminatory employment practices in cases beyond the specific grant at issue in the opinion.”  The letter continues, “while the OLC opinion specified that its conclusion was ‘limited to the issuance of this grant to World Vision,’ it has since been used to justify hiring discrimination practices in other Justice Department programs such as the Violence Against Women Act, and in programs run by other federal agencies.”

“Although the OLC opinion is now more than eight and half years old, it remains problematic because it continues to be cited to justify blanket exemptions to nondiscrimination provisions in federally-funded programs,” said the lawmakers.

Video of the November 17, 2015 Oversight of the United Department of Justice full committee hearing is available here.

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Senior House Judiciary Committee Democrats Express Concern Over Government Attempts to Undermine Encryption

Washington, D.C.—Earlier this week, through a court order, the United States government demanded that Apple Inc. help the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) develop software in an effort to break the encryption on an iPhone that was recovered after the recent shootings in San Bernardino, California.  The government cited the “All Writs Act,” enacted in 1789, to demand that the technology company create a new version of the iPhone operating system to circumvent several security features on the device.  Apple has five days to respond to the court’s order.  The House Judiciary Committee will hold an oversight hearing on the encryption debate on March 1.

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
Senior Democratic Members of the House Judiciary Committee, Reps. Conyers, Nadler, Lofgren and Jackson Lee, released the following statement in response:

“The terrorist attack in San Bernardino was a tragic event.  We agree that heightened vigilance is necessary to combat the threat of home grown extremism in all of its forms.  In this effort, we commit our full support to law enforcement agencies at the local, state, and federal levels and hope to provide them with the resources and tools they require to perform their jobs. 

“But there is little reason for the government to make this demand on Apple—except to enact a policy proposal that has gained no traction in Congress and was rejected by the White House.

“Properly understood, strong encryption is our best defense against online criminals—including terrorist organizations.  It is the backbone of the Internet economy and vital for the protection of both free expression and privacy.  The government’s demand on Apple would coerce a private U.S. company to hack its own device, threatening the trust of millions of customers and placing our technology industry at a significant disadvantage abroad. 

“In a September 2015 article, the Washington Post  cited an email from a top intelligence community official which stated: ‘the legislative environment is very hostile today . . . it could turn in the event of a terrorist attack or criminal event where strong encryption can be shown to have hindered law enforcement.’  We are concerned that the heartbreaking event in San Bernardino is being exploited to undertake an end-run around the legislative process in just this fashion.”

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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Flint Is the Predicted Outcome of Michigan’s Long, Dangerous History With ‘Emergency Managers’

By John Conyers, Jr.

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
For years, I have joined voters, other elected officials, and even courts in warning that the right-wing takeover of local government would end this way.

The immediate causes of the water-contamination crisis in Flint and the hazardous conditions of Detroit’s public schools are by now common knowledge: the poor, shortsighted decisions made by the emergency managers appointed by Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder. Far less known are the numerous warning signs of the dangers posed by these unaccountable EMs to the people of Michigan—signs that Governor Snyder chose to ignore. The resulting tragedies were thus not only foreseeable, but entirely preventable.

Enacted in 1988, Michigan’s original financial-distress law—which simply authorized the state to involve itself in the affairs of local governments facing a “financial emergency”—was rarely used. Then, in 2005, the right-wing think tank Mackinac Center for Public Policy advocated that law be broadened to grant EMs the power to take over all aspects of local government, including the power to unilaterally reject collective-bargaining agreements, and to insulate EMs from any resulting legal liability. By 2011, Snyder had been elected governor, and Republicans had taken control of both the State Senate and House. One of their first orders of business was to dramatically expand the law along the lines proposed by the Mackinac Center. The EM law soon came to be seen as a vehicle for corporate privatization, with a 2011 New York Times investigation revealing that EM training sessions were “run primarily by representatives from companies who stand to benefit financially.”

As EM appointments increased sharply due to state-imposed cutbacks in local revenue-sharing as well as the impact of the Great Recession, numerous red flags were raised. The Michigan Department of Treasury’s own internal analysis highlighted the law’s overreach, concluding: “This bill allows emergency managers too much power and control over local units of government. Emergency managers can’t be trusted to act in the interests of the local unit and will use the enhanced powers granted under this bill for their own gain.” Professor Kenneth Klee, one of the nation’s preeminent experts on bankruptcy, wrote that the law “is violative of [the US Constitution’s] Contracts Clause…. No prior legislature has had the audacity to legislate the unilateral termination, rejection, or modification of a collective bargaining agreement.” Voting-rights expert Jocelyn Benson, the current dean of Wayne State Law School, found that “there is significant evidence [that the] amended Emergency Financial Manager law has disproportionate impact on the state’s Black and Latino population.”

The appointment of EMs with the power to usurp local elected officials proved to have a significant negative impact on minority communities and their votes, with more than half of the state’s black voters subject to governance by EMs since 2009. Emergency managers have run cities with large African-American populations, such as Highland Park (94 percent), Benton Harbor (89 percent), Detroit (83 percent), Flint (56 percent), Pontiac (52 percent), and Ecorse (46 percent). Benton Harbor, which has been operating under an EM since 2010, saw its voter-participation rate decline by more than half.

Organized labor, civil-rights groups, and others challenging the law’s unprecedented scope initiated a series of lawsuits. The Ingham County Circuit Court found the law’s implementation to be in contravention of the Open Meetings Act. In 2010, a Wayne County court found the Detroit Public Schools EM had exceeded his mandate by attempting to make academic reforms, which at that time were within the elected school board’s sole discretion.

Numerous instances of abuse, conflict of interest, and mismanagement by EMs came to light. In Pontiac, EMs incurred a potential loss of $1.4 million in US Department of Housing and Urban Development funding due to mismanagement of grants. EM Michael Stampfler outsourced the city’s wastewater treatment to United Water shortly after the firm faced a 26-count indictment in Indiana for violating the Clean Water Act. In Highland Park, the EM had previously been terminated for making more than $200,000 in unauthorized payments to himself.

The sad part is that there are more sensible alternatives than the top-down approach to which Governor Snyder clings.

In Benton Harbor, an independent audit found that the EM had exceeded the budget by more than $650,000, had inadequate controls over its financial reporting, and had failed to make required contributions to pension plans. Senator Gary Peters and I called for a Government Accountability Office investigation, which found in 2015 that under the Flint EM, workforce cuts had reduced the city’s ability to obtain critical federal grants and led to federal funds being withheld from the city as a result of its failure to address grant-monitoring deficiencies.

* * *

None of this went unnoticed by elected officials and voters. Along with two other members of Congress, 55 state legislators, and eight members of the Detroit City Council, I wrote a letter in December 2011 expressing concerns regarding the legislation’s implementation. Similar letters were issued by both of Michigan’s senators and two additional congressional representatives. In March 2012, we again wrote the governor seeking evidence that he was properly overseeing his emergency managers.

But voters themselves delivered perhaps the most significant warning sign. When a petition drive was initiated to allow Michigan voters to decide whether to retain the emergency-manager law, Republicans sought to thwart the effort with a series of legal and legislative maneuvers. Those attempts ultimately failed, and in November 2012, 52 percent of Michigan voters opted to repeal the controversial law outright.

Governor Snyder and the Republicans in Lansing responded to all of these warning signs by doubling down on the flawed law. Instead of listening to the voters and their elected representatives, independent experts, and watchdogs, they passed a substitute bill during a hastily called lame-duck session that retained many of its predecessor’s deficiencies. Even worse, the legislature added an appropriations rider, thereby preventing the citizens of Michigan from being able to overturn the new law. The same failed EMs that had been in place earlier returned to work or were recycled to other jurisdictions. For example, Darnell Earley, who presided over the Flint water debacle, was later appointed to run the Detroit public-school system, where he ignored health hazards that endanger our teachers, students, and parents.

The sad part is that there are more sensible alternatives than the heavy-handed, top-down approach to which Governor Snyder clings. There are numerous cases in which more effective legal alternatives have been used to restore fiscal stability while remaining true to the principles of representative government through the use of financial-control boards and similar supportive fiscal devices. Such methods have been used in New York City (1975), Cleveland (1978), Philadelphia (1991), Bridgeport, Connecticut (1991), the District of Columbia (1995), and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (2011), among other cities.

But after we’ve seen cities starved of desperately needed revenues; and citizens denied the right to elect their own leaders; and short-sighted, mindless budget cuts and privatization schemes; and failed EMs recycled into new jobs; and a steady drumbeat of warnings—from the courts, elected officials, independent watchdogs, and the voters themselves—ignored, the real question isn’t how the disasters in Flint and the Detroit public schools could have happened, but how many other state-made catastrophes are looming.

We can’t undo the damage already done by the lead-poisoned water in Flint, or fix the harm already caused by the deplorable conditions in Detroit’s public schools. But we can make sure that the unaccountable emergency managers responsible for these debacles—and the legal system that empowered them—are not permitted to inflict further harm on our citizens.

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