Best of #StateReads: Michigan Term Limits Encourage Politicians To Go Professional

By: - November 1, 2012 12:00 am

This week’s collection of #StateReads quantifies how term limits made Lansing more — not less — full of political professionals, shows how religious exemptions allow Florida military-style homes for children to escape scrutiny and demonstrates the sometimes fatal consequences of child welfare caseworkers not being able to get information across state lines.

These examples of extraordinary journalism about state government were recommended in tweets using the #StateReads hashtag on Twitter and in email submissions to [email protected]

“Term limits launching political careers, Free Press analysis shows” —Detroit Free Press

Michigan’s legislative term limits helped create a professional class of politicians in Lansing, the opposite effect of what proponents hoped for when they imposed the time restrictions on lawmakers two decades ago, reports Paul Egan (@PaulEgan4). “Seventy percent of those elected to term-limited offices cling to the political system after they leave,” Egan writes, “remaining as politicians or bureaucrats in government or parlaying their Capitol experience into jobs as lobbyists or consultants.” Egan reached the conclusions by tracking the careers of 291 lawmakers elected between 1992, the year term limits took effect, and 2004, so it only includes legislators who had the chance to serve out their maximum time in the legislature.

“In God’s Name: Religious exemption at some Florida children’s homes shields prying eyes” —Tampa Bay Times

Florida exempted religious children’s homes from strict state oversight in 1984, which has allowed those homes to continue operating even after state authorities responded to allegations of neglect, physical injuries and sexual abuse at the facilities, reports Alexandra Zayas (@AlexandraZayas). Zayas spent a year looking into two dozen military-style facilities for her three-part series. She detailed how girls were punished in one Panhandle facility for infractions as slight as saying “yeah” or “cool.” Discipline could involve prolonged isolation or “flooring,” in which several fellow residents were ordered to sit on perceived troublemakers for hours on end. In another case, Zayas reported how a self-titled “colonel” continued to operate a military-style home free from most state oversight, even after losing his religious exemption eight years ago.

“States don’t often share child-abuse records. And sometimes kids like Jeanette Maples die” —The Oregonian

Caseworkers in Oregon could not get enough information in time from their counterparts in California to prevent teenager Jeanette Maples from dying at the hands of her parents, but the problem is all too common, reports Michelle Cole (@MichelleRCole). Congress passed a law in 2006 to create a national database of child abusers for caseworkers to use, but that database still does not exist. Privacy rules, balky technology, jurisdictional issues and other hang-ups prevent caseworkers from getting information they need or force them to wait for months to get it, Cole reports. (Cole, a state capitol reporter, has announced she will leave The Oregonian to join a public affairs firm in December.)

“Documents found in meth house bare inner workings of dark money group” —Pro Publica and Frontline

A box of documents found in a Colorado meth house show that a secretive political group may have overstepped a legal line by working too closely with Montana legislative candidates in the last two elections, reportProPublica’s Kim Barker (@Kim_Barker) and Frontline’s Rick Young and Emma Schwartz (@FrontlinePBS). Montana authorities had already investigated Western Tradition Partnership (now known as American Tradition Partnership) and recommended a fine for the group because it went beyond advocating issues and promoted individual candidates. But the new trove of documents shows the group coordinated with candidates, and includes bank statements and other evidence that link Western Tradition Partnership with other groups that weighed in on legislative races.

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