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Unfunded state mandates, local governments & the Headlee Amendment

Michigan Hall of Justice, Lansing, Michigan
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)
Michigan Hall of Justice, Lansing, Michigan

Tomorrow, the Michigan Supreme Court will consider a rule change that could put local governments in a stronger position to challenge unfunded state mandates.  

The Headlee Amendment is a state constitutional amendment meant to reduce unfunded state mandates on local governments, like requiring but not necessarily providing extra money for special education programs. 

But to challenge a state mandate, local governments must present all their evidence to a judge just to get a court to consider their case. 

Attorney Bill Mathewson is with the Michigan Municipal League. He says the Supreme Court should consider scrapping the current rule and instead requiring a ‘Special Master’ to review evidence in Headleecases. 

“Someone who could go through the fact finding procedure. Which would help solve the case more efficiently.”

Michigan’s Attorney General opposes changing the rule, arguing that more Headlee cases could glut state courts.  Joy Yearout is  with Michigan’s Attorney General’s office. 

“Without that level of detail, at the beginning, it’s very difficult for judges to issue rulings in these cases.”

The rule change might help local governments avoid spending money on state mandated programs and cutting their budgets elsewhere.  

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.