BRIAN DICKERSON: GOP legislation is dangerous to Michigan’s health


MCT News Service

Critics like to dismiss him as a “numbers guy,” but Rick Snyder is typically at his best when he follows where the data leads.

In a state where far too many elected officials prefer “common sense” to hard evidence, Snyder puts his faith in metrics that tell him which state policies are succeeding and which are falling short.

Gov. Rick Snyder, seen here during the State of the State address, has not admitted that two decisions his GOP cohorts have ideologically pushed through and he signed are failing. (MCT News Service Photo)

The tricky part comes when the numbers the governor believes in show convincingly that an initiative popular with fellow Republicans is a complete bust.

But that’s just what’s happening to two measures Snyder cravenly signed into law in the first half of his inaugural term as governor: the repeal of Michigan’s mandatory helmet law, and a bill that bars public employers from extending medical benefits to same-sex couples.

There’s no reason to believe Snyder gave a flying slide-rule about either of these crackpot ideas. But in each case, he deferred to the bill’s Republican sponsors, signed on the dotted line and cheerfully parroted the specious arguments offered by GOP ideologues.

Opponents of the law mandating that motorcyclists wear helmets argued that its repeal would loosen the government’s leash on Michigan citizens, making the state more welcoming to out-of-state cyclists at little or no cost in lives or taxpayer dollars.

Proponents of the ban on same-sex benefits told their conservative constituents that they were protecting the sanctity of marriage. To the governor, who is less susceptible to such non-quantitative pap, they insisted that denying benefits to same-sex couples was a way to cut the cost of government.

But that was then, when advocates of both bills helmets were still living in the realm of pure conjecture. Now we’re back in evidence-based world. The numbers are in, and they suggest quite forcefully that neither group knew what it was talking about.


Blood in the streets

Let’s start with helmets. Late last month, less than a year after legislation repealing the state’s mandatory helmet law took effect, researchers appearing at a traffic safety summit sponsored by the state Office of Highway Safety Planning testified that the number of cyclists riding without helmets has increased, and that the change is linked to a corresponding increase in motorcycle fatalities and serious injuries.

Dr. Rachel Titus, a researcher affiliated with Grand Rapids’ Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital, told those attending the summit that when data from the seven months following the repeal was compared to the same period a year earlier, the number of helmet-less cyclists who were dead on arrival at the hospital’s level one trauma center more than tripled, from 3 to 10.

She said riders who had eschewed helmets spent more time in the critical care unit and on breathing machines and ran up hospital bills an average of $11,000 higher than cyclists injured while wearing helmets.

Carol Flannagan, a researcher at U of M’s Transportation Research Institute, said her analysis showed that 26 fewer cyclists would have died statewide if the helmet requirement had remained in place.

That’s a tough number to hear if you’re the guy who signed the repeal into a law.


Chasing away talent

Also sobering is the 123-page report released earlier this year by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. The product a year-long study underwritten by the non-profit Tides Foundation, the department’s study concluded that “all available evidence” indicates that discrimination based on sexual orientation “has direct, negative effects on Michigan.”

The study’s author’s cited statistically significant correlations between workplace discrimination against gays and reduced productivity on the part of heterosexual as well as homosexual employees. The Department of Civil Rights also projected that disproportionate numbers of professionals and college-educated residents will continue to flee the state until legislation permitting or mandating discrimination against gays is repealed.

In other words, GOP legislators who insisted that denying health benefits to same-sex couples was “an economic issue” were half-right; they simply failed to apprehend that such state-sanctioned bigotry would cost taxpayers and employers more than it would save.


Now Snyder has a choice:

He can put his money where his metrics are, and insist that Republican legislators reconsider two initiatives that are achieving the opposite of what their proponents promised.

Or he can ignore the data and continue to indulge policies that are manifestly counter-productive.

What the governor can’t do is maintain his pretense of pragmatism while continuing to indulge the worst-informed, most evidence-averse elements in his own party. That would be dishonest, and people who can read the data Snyder professes are bound to say so.


Brian Dickerson is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at (313) 222-6584 or


Posted by Tribune News Services

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