Kate Wells

Reporter/Producer

Kate Wells is an award-winning reporter covering general news for Michigan Radio. Her work has been featured on NPR’s Morning EditionAll Things Considered, and Weekend Edition, as well as on WNYC, Harvest Public Media, KUT (Austin Public Radio) and in the Texas Tribune.

Kate got her start as an intern with New Hampshire Public Radio before heading out to the Midwest, where she covered the presidential caucuses for Iowa Public Radio and won a regional Edward R. Murrow award for investigative journalism. She joined Michigan Radio in 2012. Kate enjoys hiking, the Muppets, and cake in all forms.   

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Studies suggest even low levels of lead exposure can hurt a fetus’ development in the womb.

And for months now, the state health department has been looking into whether the Flint water crisis caused problems with pregnancies.  

Meanwhile, researchers at Hurley Medical Center are investigating whether the lead in the water increased the number of miscarriages.

But it turns out that trying to track miscarriages is really tough.

Davontae Sanford
Michigan Department of Corrections

The Michigan State Police have wrapped up a nearly year-long investigation into who really killed four people in a Detroit home one September night in 2007.

Back then, police brought in a 14-year-old kid named Davontae Sanford. After hours of interrogation without a parent or a lawyer, he confessed and was later sent to prison.

But just weeks later, a professional hitman, Vincent Smothers, was arrested and confessed to those same killings, even leading police to the weapon he used. 

prison cells
Thomas Hawk / Flickr - http://bit.ly/1rFrzRK

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled this week that Lorinda Swain, who served more than seven years in prison for child abuse, is entitled to a new trial. And the prosecuting attorney says he’s dropping all charges.

Swain was convicted in 2002 of sexually abusing her adopted son. But her son later recanted and told the court he’d lied about the abuse.

Swain’s attorneys also presented new witness testimony they said made the prosecution’s timeline of the abuse impossible.

Money
Steve Carmody

The White House says more than 100,000 Michiganders could see bigger paychecks, under new overtime rules.

The Department of Labor is essentially doubling the salary threshold for workers who are guaranteed overtime pay.

Starting in December, salaried workers making less than $47,476 will qualify for overtime, if they work more than 40 hours a week.

But some employers just won't be able to absorb those costs, says Wendy Block, with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

map of michigan
Screencap from Google Maps / Google / Google

Waukesha, Wisconsin got some good news today: the city wants to build a pipeline to pump millions of gallons of water a day from Lake Michigan, because its own groundwater is contaminated with radium (which can cause cancer.)

And that plan just got preliminary approval from a regional body of Great Lakes states.

Technically, the vote just finds that the Waukesha’s plan meets the “exception standard” for cities outside the Great Lakes basin to use the water.

public domain

Flint residents are again being warned about the risk of Legionnaires’ disease, which increases as the weather warms up.

At least a dozen people died during an outbreak after the city started using Flint River water in 2014.

Usually Genesee County sees between 9 to 11 cases of Legionnaires’ in a year. But state officials say there were 91 cases of the disease during the summers of 2014-2015.

The Legionella bacteria causes a kind of pneumonia, and it’s riskier for people over 50 and anyone with a history of smoking or lung problems.

The red lines show where Enbridge's Line 5 crosses Lake Michigan.
screenshot from Enbridge report to the state

The National Wildlife Federation is suing a federal agency over safety concerns about an oil pipeline running under the Straits of Mackinac.

Line 5 is operated by Enbridge Energy, the company responsible for a massive oil spill in the Kalamazoo River in 2010.

taliesin / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday it will not hear a case where Wayne County sheriffs were found to have violated the First Amendment.

The case goes back to Dearborn's Arab International Festival in 2012. A group called Bible Believers showed up and told the mostly-Muslim crowd that their prophet was "a pervert," and that Muslims were going to burn in hell.

Some hecklers threw plastic bottles at the protesters. Eventually, police told the protesters to leave or be arrested for disorderly conduct.

Ricardo Solis/Flickr

Sewer rates are going up for Detroit's suburbs by nearly 5 percent – and most of that is to cover Highland Park's $30 million debt.

The Great Lakes Water Authority says it has to raise sewer rates on its suburban customers by 4.9% starting July 1. Without Highland Park's debt, the increase would have been 1.7%.

Last year, a court ruled Highland Park had to pay up. But the city appealed that ruling, and the case still hasn’t been settled.

everydayfamily.com

Chicken pox cases are up nearly 60% from this time last year, state health officials say.

The majority of those 239 cases were people who hadn’t been vaccinated.

"There's this misconception that because they're not seeing the illness as much as they were in the past, that there isn't a need for immunizations,” says Jennifer Eisner, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

“But really, what that's showing is that immunizations are effective, and they're still necessary."

A Detroit water shutoff notice
Ali Elisabeth / Michigan Radio

One week after Detroit resumed water shut offs to residential customers behind on their bills, more than 1,800 households saw their service turned off. 

But city officials say another 3,000 customers avoided shutoffs in the last week in two ways:

1) by paying their bills, which 765 customers did, according to official numbers.

2) by getting on a new payment plan, as 1,892 customers opted to do. 

Those payment plans allow residents to pay off their past-due bills a little bit each month, on top of paying new monthly water bills.

Kylie Clifton (right) and her mom, Ginger, talk about Kylie's transition and life as a transgender girl.
Kate Wells/Michigan Radio

Kylie Clifton has long, thick waves of blonde hair, the same sandy shade as her mom's.

And the day Kylie's mom took her to the salon to get those hair extensions – that was a big day. And not just because, for the first time, Kylie felt really pretty.

"Today is the first day of the rest of my life," 11-year-old Kylie posted on Instragram that evening.  "So happy I don't know what to do with myself."

Just a few months before, Kylie was still living as Kyle – an earnest, thoughtful boy who struggled with anxiety.  

Water running from tap
jordanmrcai / Creative Commons

Some 20,000 Detroit water customers could have their water shut off starting Tuesday.

That's how many are behind on their bills, according to the city.

In Detroit, the average monthly water bill is $75. The average past due amount? $633.

All those unpaid bills add up: Last March, the city was owed some $47 million in past-due residential bills – though a department spokesperson said they’re not sure what the current amount owed is, because so many people are currently making payments to avoid shutoffs.

Research
Flickr/Bill Dickinson

It would be a felony to get any money for donating or transporting fetal tissue in Michigan, under bills passed by the Republican-led Senate today. 

But Democrats say the bills are cracking down on something that's already illegal – and potentially criminalizing basic medical practices. 

Since 1993, it's been illegal to make any profit from fetal tissue donation. 

Michigan will see more extreme storms as the climate changes
Flickr/mdprovost

By 2095, Michigan's summers will be like those we're used to seeing in Arkansas and Mississippi. Our winters will be like West Virginia's and Kentucky's.

And that changing climate – with extreme heat, big storms, plus a LOT more rain and snow – means we're looking at five major health risks, according to a new report from climate researchers and the state health department.

white house
David King / Flickr Creative Commons bit.ly/1iowB8m

White House and federal officials met with LGBT advocates in Metro Detroit on Thursday, as part of a summit focused on creating safe schools and improving health for transgender youth.

The Department of Education has said for more than a year now that under Title IX, schools are legally required to treat transgender kids "consistent with their gender identity in all aspects" – including letting students use the bathroom that fits their gender identity.

Kate Wells

Firefighters have been pushing to get the cancer coverage they were promised by state lawmakers for more than a year now. 

And while the $3 million approved by the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday still has to be approved by the full House and Senate, it is a sign that crucial Republican leaders are on board. 

Bernie Sanders speaking in Traverse City, Michigan.
Todd Church / Flickr

He may have won Michigan's Democratic primary in March, but now Sanders’ campaign wants to make sure the delegates he won, actually stick with him.

“We need to ensure delegates committing to Bernie are 100% committed Bernie supporters who will not change their vote during the second or third rounds of voting at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July,” an email sent Tuesday from the Michigan for Bernie campaign states.

“We need you to join the Michigan Democratic Party so you can be a member before the April 21st deadline.”

Alton / Creative Commons

Bills heading to Gov. Rick Snyder's desk would make it a misdemeanor, with possible jail time, for posting sexually explicit photos or videos of someone in order to threaten or intimidate them.

“I’ve had numerous complaints from mothers that their daughters had to leave high school because an ex-boyfriend put their nude image all over the high school,” says Republican State Sen. Rick Jones, one of the bill’s sponsors.

lee/flickr creative commons

It was a tense, emotional afternoon at the Michigan Board of Education.

In the two months since the board put out a draft proposal for how schools could choose to support LGBT kids, it’s become a major controversy.

Quinn Dombrowski/ Flickr

In the two months since the Michigan Board of Education put together its draft guidelines for how schools can support LGBT youth, the purely-optional policy suggestions have become a statewide battleground.

On one side, you’ve got advocates who feel the proposals would give schools a much-needed model for basic human decency towards students, especially transgender youth.

https://www.svsu.edu/visit/

“Your entire life is just one big lie,” Charin Davenport’s former supervisor allegedly told her, according to a lawsuit filed today.  

“You disgust me!" the lawsuit alleges Davenport was told, when she announced to her supervisor that she planned to dress and present as a woman. "I can’t even stand to look at you! This is not about your so-called ‘gender identity.’ This is about you being a liar.”

lee/flickr creative commons

  At Bedford Public Schools in Monroe County, transgender students are only allowed to use the gender-neutral bathrooms.

That's even if they've asked to use the bathrooms matching their gender identity.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The state is offering Flint and Genesee County officials 100-thousand dollar grants, to help cover some of their emergency response costs from the water crisis.

But the Genesee County sheriff says that's not nearly enough.  

"Oh, heck no," says Sheriff Robert Pickell, who says he’s also the Homeland Security Emergency Manager for the county. “I mean, I understand that the Governor is trying to help. But that’s an unrealistic number, $100,000. I’ve already got 40 or $50,000 in dried food [costs.] And every day, the costs add up.”

flickr user Joe Gratz / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Peggy Toms can't figure out why so many jurors just aren't showing up lately, but she knows it's getting worse.

The Livingston County Circuit Court Administrative Coordinator says she doesn't think the court's ever had to let an accused person go free because it couldn't find enough jurors, but - “You’d never want it to get to that point,” Toms says of all the no-shows.

Tom Izzo talking to a referee
MGoBlog on Flickr / Flickr

Maybe this will help make up for this year's stunning upset. 

Long-time coach and MSU legend, Tom Izzo, will be named to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame this year. And he's in good company: Allen Iverson and Shaquille O'Neal are also in this year's class of 10.

In his 21 years as head coach, Izzo has taken the Spartans to 19 consecutive NCAA tournaments. That's a Big Ten record, according to MSU. 

And his teams have made it to the Final Four seven times, winning the NCAA National Championship in 2000. 

Shayan Sanyal / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

That’s what a case coming before the Michigan Supreme Court this week will decide.

The defendant here is Lorinda Swain, who was convicted in 2002 for sexually abusing her adopted son.

But her son later told the court he’d lied about the abuse. After more than seven years in prison, Swain was let out on bond when a judge ruled she deserved a new trial.

But the Court of Appeals overruled that decision two separate times. Now the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case.

Yet  there’s a lot more at stake here than just whether one woman will get a new trial.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

It may soon get a little easier for Detroit parents to figure out which schools are the right fit for their kids.

Navigating the maze of options – and enrollment deadlines, and application processes – from Detroit Public Schools, the Education Achievement Authority, and charter schools can feel overwhelming for some families.

Starting Friday, a new program called Enroll Detroit will offer parents a common application and enrollment system.

Tony Webster

  State Senator Tom Casperson, a Republican from the UP, says he’ll introduce a bill requiring Michigan students to “only use bathrooms and locker rooms matching their birth” sex, unless they have “written consent from a parent or guardian.”

Even then, transgender student would be barred from locker rooms or bathrooms “of the opposite sex … if those facilities are in use or could be in use,” according to a release from Casperson’s office Tuesday.

Michigan's school system could get an overhaul. 

Governor Snyder's creating a new team to try to figure out how to make this state's schools more like the top-performing states.

The 25 people who’ll staff the “Governor’s 21st Century Education Commission” haven’t been appointed yet, but they’ve already got a big task: figure out what the best school systems do right, and what’s keeping Michigan from being more like them – and then, by November 30, tell the governor what to change.

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