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Opposition ads to Prop 2 get 'no foul' from Truth Squad

MICHIGAN TRUTH SQUAD ANALYIS: "Student safety" and "What they are saying about Proposal 2"

Who: Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution, Protecting Michigan Taxpayers

What: TV/Web videos

Truth Squad call: No foul

Proposal 2 would "grant public and private employees the constitutional right to organize and bargain collectively through labor unions."

According to a report by the independent, nonpartisan Citizens Research Council of Michigan, Proposal 2 is an effort to combat recent actions taken by the governor and Legislature to restrict the bargaining power and costs of public sector workers. Those recent actions include restriction of teacher tenure, requiring public employees to pay more for health-care premiums and prohibit minimum staffing levels for police and firefighters. Further, Proposal 2, would, according to the Citizens Research Council, "effectively restrict the ability of the Michigan Legislature to enact right to work legislation."

Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution is a coalition of business groups, such as the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, opposing a variety of ballot props this year, including Proposal 2. Protecting Michigan Taxpayers also opposes Prop 2. Its treasurer is Jared Rodriguez, who is president of the West Michigan Policy Forum.

Questionable statement: "It’s rare, but when it happens, lives are ruined, a child’s future denied. So we took action." (Safety)

In one ad, school scenes play with a voiceover, while headlines flow by about a teacher, a former teacher and school employees with criminal records. "We took action" appears to refer to the Student Safety Initiative of 2005, a package of bills signed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm. One required school employees to undergo criminal background checks, and when they were carried out, 66 teachers and 399 other school employees were found to have felony convictions. Eleven more, including three teachers, had convictions connected to sex crimes.

Questionable statement: "But Proposal 2 could stop schools from removing employees with criminal records. ... Proposal 2 could limit the use of background checks for school employees, and make it harder to get convicts thrown out of schools." (Safety)

These claims trace back to a memo by Attorney General Bill Schuette, which contains a long list of state laws that he claims could be nullified by Proposal 2, including the Revised School Code Act. Public Act 138 of 2005, which amended the Revised School Code Act to require criminal background checks through the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is on the list.

Independent analysis of Proposal 2 by the nonpartisan Citizens Research Council of Michigan agrees that the constitutional amendment would invalidate – or at least throw into legal limbo – existing laws that could be seen as restricting collective bargaining by public employees.

The "saying" spot takes a minimalist approach, quoting short passages from a variety of commentary about Proposal 2, including a column by Stephen Henderson in the Detroit Free Press, an editorial in the Greenfield Daily News, a column by Brian Pannebecker in the Advisor & Source newspapers, an editorial in the Detroit News, a column by Doron Levin in Deadline Detroit and a news story in the Detroit News.

All the commentary pieces are opposed to Proposal 2, and are taken in context. The Henderson column chides proponents for over-the-top hyperbole before concluding the proposal is a bad idea. The Detroit News story passage, "... an effort to get around laws passed by the state Legislature on collective bargaining and public safety," is an indirect quote from Terry Jungel, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs Association, and not the paper’s editorial board or other commentator.

Overall impression: Pulling quotes flattering to your cause is a practice familiar to anyone who’s ever scanned movie ads. All but one of these in the "saying" ad are from clearly marked opinion pieces, and they all boil down to disapproval of Proposal 2.

The "safety" claims hinge on the word "could." In an analysis of a similar ad, the Truth Squad noted, "Since there is not clear legal agreement on what Prop 2 will or won’t do, the use of the word ‘could’ do something is tough, but in-bounds. The use of ‘would’ evokes certainty, but with the language of Proposal 2 leaving so much open to interpretation by the courts, it is possible that the changes envisioned in these ads would happen."

Foul or no foul: No foul. The "safety" ad rests on the legal uncertainty sure to follow if Proposal 2 passes. The "saying" ad collects comments critical of Prop 2.

The Center for Michigan (the parent company of Bridge Magazine and the Michigan Truth Squad) has been financially supported by a wide range of corporate and foundation supporters. We are grateful to all funders for helping us create and grow a new nonprofit journalism service for Michigan citizens. Those funders have absolutely no role in the editorial decisions of the Michigan Truth Squad or Bridge Magazine.

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