State Legislature
6:32 am
Fri December 16, 2011

Charter cap elimination on its way to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder

A proposal to get rid of the limit on the number of university-sponsored K–12 charter schools in the state is on its way to Governor Rick Snyder’s desk. The state Senate gave final approval to the measure yesterday at the state Capitol. Democratic lawmakers say it will hurt traditional public schools.

Republican state Senator Phil Pavlov said the final version of the bill should be more acceptable to everyone.

“There were some additional transparency measures included in this legislation, as well as a gradual lifting of the authorizers on the public school academies,” said Pavlov.

The bill would allow unlimited university-sponsored charters in the state by the year 2015. And it would require charters to report back to their authorizers on whether the new schools are meeting their academic goals. The bill does not require the charters to meet exceptional performance standards.

Sports Commentary
6:00 am
Fri December 16, 2011

A look back at the year in sports

Justin Verlander was one of the good sports stories of the year. Photo - Verlander and Alex Avila receiving awards from Tigers owner Mike Ilitch.
Dave Hogg Flickr

Former Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren said, “I always turn to the sports pages first, which records people’s accomplishments. The front page has nothing but man’s failures.”

But this year, the sports page had plenty of both.

Sad to say, bad news tends to travel faster.

So let’s start with some good news.  In men’s tennis, the rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, already one of the best, was joined by a man named Novak Djokovic, who won three majors this year on a gluten-free diet – no joke. 

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Economy
5:00 am
Fri December 16, 2011

Red Kettle donations down in Metro Detroit

The Salvation Army’s annual Red Kettle Campaign is running short of its goal in metro Detroit.

The charitable organization's Eastern District has a goal of $8.2 million. It’s raised about $3 million with only a week and a half left to go in the campaign.

Major Curtiss Hartley is a youth officer with the organization.

"We at the Salvation Army are seeing greater numbers of our neighbors coming in needing the basic: food and shelter, warm coats for the winter, not to mention gifts for the kids under the trees," Hartley said.

The Salvation Army’s West Michigan group is faring better.

Spokesman Roger Snider said kettle donations are up about one percent in Kent County, where the goal is $1.6 million.

He said overall donations in Kent County are up nearly five percent.

The organization accepts donations on its Web site as well.

Arts/Culture
9:33 pm
Thu December 15, 2011

Arab-American groups reject donations from Lowe's

Photo from "All-American Muslim" courtesy of TLC

A network of Arab-American nonprofits say they will no longer accept donations from Lowe's.

The home improvement chain has gotten tons of media attention since it pulled its ads from TLC's All-American Muslim, saying the show was a "lightning rod" for controversy. The retailer was also the recipient of the conservative Florida Family Association's campaign to get the ads pulled.

Now 22 Arab-American nonprofits have refused to accept any future donations from Lowe's.

Hassan Jaber is with ACCESS, a nonprofit based in Dearborn. He says for the past five years the Lowe's in Allen Park donated shovels, paint, tools, and all other kinds of supplies to ACCESS. The items went to support the nonprofit's home renovation program in some of Detroit’s poorest neighborhoods.

"Together we gave hope to the community," says Jaber. But he goes on to say that the decision by Lowe's at the corporate level is "a complete contradiction of their local mission here."

Jaber says they will no longer accept those supplies. He adds they considered the Lowe's in Allen Park a "friend and partner," but he says ACCESS "made it clear that we stand by our principal."

Economy
5:58 pm
Thu December 15, 2011

Michigan town grapples with shrinking public sector

Inkster, Mich., resident Darrel Osborne says he's noticed the reduced police presence in the city.
Sarah Hulett for NPR

Originally published on Wed December 14, 2011 2:47 pm

Tammi Warren has lived on the same winding street in the Detroit suburb of Inkster, Mich., all her life. But as she drives down the block in her Ford pickup, Warren points to several houses on her street that stand vacant, casualties of the housing market collapse.

Vacant houses mean less tax revenue for the city, and less revenue makes it harder for Inkster to provide basic city services.

"[The] city of Inkster has eliminated 38 positions," says City Treasurer Mark Stuhldreher. "It's about 25 percent, roughly, of the workforce."

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Auto/Economy
5:50 pm
Thu December 15, 2011

Record number of cars get "Top Safety Pick" award from IIHS

Touring Club Suisse Flickr

A record number of cars got a “Top Safety Pick” award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for 2012.  That’s just two years after the safety group made it a lot tougher to get the award. 

In 2010, the Institute added a rollover crash test to its criteria for “Top Safety Pick” awards.  Only 26 cars got the award that year.  This year, most car companies had strengthened the roofs of their cars – and 115 vehicles got the award. 

But safety is a moving target, and it could once again get harder to win the coveted award.

Spokesman Russ Rader said the group is considering adding two new criteria. One is forward collision warning, with automatic braking.  Another is making side panels harder to sheer off when one car sideswipes another.

"If they prove to be effective, we will add those to the top safety pick criteria," Rader said.

Rader admits new safety features cost money, but he said car companies managed to add electronic stability control to all their cars without greatly increasing the price of their products. 

He said car companies tend to introduce new safety features to higher-end luxury cars first - and once the technology becomes "off the shelf," they add it to lower-priced vehicles.

Politics
5:41 pm
Thu December 15, 2011

Lawmakers close to home heating deal

bucklava flickr

Discussions continue between House and Senate Republicans on how to ensure low-income families in Michigan have help with their winter heating bills. Today is most likely the final day of official meetings of the Legislature in 2011. And lawmakers don’t want to leave for their month-long winter break without passing a plan for home-heating assistance.

“We still have some numbers to crunch," said Sen. Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth). "As the rubber hits the road, this is all becoming very real, and we’re very confident on both sides that we’re ready to combine those ideas and come up with a solution.”

Horn says the state will reduce the amount of money a household can receive in home-heating assistance to $450 for the winter months. He says that will help ensure state money for heating assistance lasts until the spring. 

Politics
5:28 pm
Thu December 15, 2011

Snyder: "No decision yet" on domestic partner benefits

michigan.gov

Governor Rick Snyder says he has made no decision yet on whether to sign or veto a ban on taxpayer-funded health benefits for the live-in partners of public employees.

The governor said his team is still examining the measure to ensure it will not outlaw benefits offered to the domestic partners of university employees. There’s wide disagreement on whether that’s the case. But the governor has said he’d likely veto a measure that does not respect the independence of state universities.

“That’s where I want to go through the issues of uncertainty, the comments from all sides, and really analyze that," Snyder said. "It has to wait it’s time and place and that will be coming very soon.”

The governor has until December 27 to sign or veto the bill. He could also ask the Legislature to reconsider the measure. That would require the Legislature to ask for the bill to be returned.

Politics
5:23 pm
Thu December 15, 2011

Senate OKs emergency manager transition bill

State Sen. Phil Pavlov
State Senate GOP website

The Michigan Senate has approved a bill that would allow state officials to appoint a transition team to work with a community after an emergency manager’s term is up.  

“This is insurance to the people of those affected communities under emergency managers to make sure that there’s financial stability going forward, collective bargaining agreements, revenue estimating conferences are also a part of this process, to determine the financial stability of that community going forward,” State Sen. Phil Pavlov (R-St. Clair) said. Pavlov said it’s important the state not abandon communities coming out of financial crises.

The bill would create a transition team for a local government that’s ending its run with an emergency manager. But lawmakers could quickly adopt an alternative version next year if the state’s emergency manager law is stalled by a referendum or reversed by a court.

“The Legislature and the governor are trying to capitalize on our cities’ financial distress by appointing these emergency financial manager dictators that can oust elected officials and overtake local governments without any accountability to the community,” said Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing).

Lawmakers won't revisit the emergency manager law before January when they return from a month-long winter break.

Environment
5:12 pm
Thu December 15, 2011

Detroit Green Garage looks for the meaning of "green"

The view inside the Detroit Green Garage
Detroit Green Garage via Facebook

People everywhere are trying to get a grasp on what “sustainability” and “green jobs” really look like.

That’s an especially urgent quest in a struggling industrial city like Detroit.

Some folks there have developed a building—and a community—that’s trying to find out. It’s called the Detroit Green Garage.                                                      

The Detroit Green Garage was a sort of garage at one point. It started off in 1920 as a Model T showroom just north of downtown Detroit.

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Politics
5:07 pm
Thu December 15, 2011

Iraq War ends, 159 Michigan soldiers killed, Senator Levin asks for reflection

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta speaks at a ceremony marking the end of the U.S. mission in Iraq. "The cost was high. The blood and treasure of the United States and also for the Iraqi people," Panetta said.
screen grab from NYTimes video

Today, the U.S. government held a low-key ceremony to mark the end of military involvement in Iraq.

159 Michigan soldiers were killed during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta gave remarks to U.S. troops at a heavily fortified Baghdad International Airport.

Tim Arango reported for the New York Times:

After nearly nine years, some 4,500 American fatalities and about $1 trillion, America’s war in Iraq is about to end. Officials marked the finish Thursday with a modest ceremony at the airport days before the last troops traverse the southern highway to Kuwait, going out as they came in, to conclude the United States’ most ambitious and bloodiest military campaign since Vietnam.

Iraqis will be left with a country that is not exactly at war, and not exactly at peace.

At a Shiite ceremony in Baghdad, one Shia member was thankful to the U.S. for one thing only:

"We are only thankful to them because they got rid of Saddam Hussein. They didn't bring any hope, any construction, any electricity, any water or any infrastructure."

Michigan Senator Carl Levin released this statement today:

“I hope every American will take some time today to reflect on the immense courage and selflessness of our men and women in uniform and their families over the last eight years. Over repeated deployments, in difficult and dangerous conditions, hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines served in Iraq with honor. Beyond their service, they gave our nation unity – the unity of a people who, though divided over the decision to go to war, supported the men and women who fought it.”

Politics
4:31 pm
Thu December 15, 2011

Michigan governor signs bills affecting state workers

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder has signed two bills that will affect some state workers' retiree health care benefits and reduce the future amount the state needs to fund by $5.6 billion.

Workers hired after Jan. 1 won't get state health care coverage when they retire, although they'll get an extra 2 percent match in their 401(k) or 457 retirement plans while working to help them save for future health care costs.

The legislation signed Thursday also refunds the 3 percent contribution toward retiree health care that state workers have been paying for more than a year.

The refunds go out Jan. 19. Workers can choose to receive the money in their paychecks or as a deposit into their retirement accounts. A worker making $50,000 a year should get about $1,500 back.

Politics
4:24 pm
Thu December 15, 2011

Political Roundup: Workers' compensation

The Michigan legislature has passed a bill that would make major changes to the state’s workers' compensation law.

Under the new bill, insurance companies can reduce the amount of compensation to an injured worker based on how much that worker could make at another job while injured. That’s regardless of whether that job is even available.

It’s now headed to Governor Rick Snyder for his signature.

Commentary
3:23 pm
Thu December 15, 2011

Jennifer Granholm to host new television show

Jennifer Granholm will host a new TV show next year.
screen grab from Current TV website

Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm starts a new job next month.

She’ll be a regular on cable television, hosting a one-hour nightly program on Current TV.

Granholm says the show will focus on election year politics.

I spoke with Granholm about the upcoming show. To hear her take on her future as a political talk show host, click on the audio file above.

Education
2:25 pm
Thu December 15, 2011

Reconfiguring Lansing schools

Lansing school children hurry to class
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

 Lansing public schools may soon undergo a big shake up.    

The plan on the table would affect most children in the school district.    

The Lansing public school district has about half the student population it once had. The district is looking at ways to trim its budget in the short term and stabilize its future finances.   

A special task force has been meeting since this summer to come up with ways to address the district’s problems.   

The plan the board of education will see tonight proposes closing a high school and reconfiguring the district’s elementary and middle schools. 

The plan also addresses ways to improve academic performance among Lansing public school students.   The plan calls for offering preschool and developmental kindergarten to 3 and 4 year olds.

Environment
2:10 pm
Thu December 15, 2011

Cutting back on manmade mercury pollution

DTE's St. Clair Power Plant in East China, Michigan. The plant burns a blend of low-sulfur western coal and high-sulfur eastern coal. Coal-burning power plants are one of the biggest sources of man-made mercury pollution.
user cgord wikimedia commons

A new report from the group Environment Michigan says 115 inland lakes and rivers in the state have advisories for mercury pollution. Eating contaminated fish is the main way people are exposed to mercury.

Jessica Surma is with Environment Michigan. She says children are especially at risk for adverse health effects from mercury exposure.

“These can include lowered IQs, developmental disabilities and problems with motor control.”

The Environmental Protection Agency says electric utilities are by far the largest manmade sources of mercury emissions in the U.S. The EPA is planning to regulate mercury from power plants – for the first time ever.

John Austerberry is with DTE Energy.

“We agree with the goal of those regulations, but we are concerned that the federal rules will not provide sufficient time for the utilities to plan and install control systems.”

He says the company doesn’t know yet how much any new mercury control systems might cost or how much of that cost they might pass on to customers.

Pets
11:41 am
Thu December 15, 2011

Animal welfare group tracks, rates Michigan animal shelters

More than 100,000 cats and dogs are euthanized at Michigan animal shelters annually.
Nino Morguefile

A non-profit group that promotes a no-kill animal shelter philosophy says there are big winners and big losers among the state’s facilities.

The Michigan Pet Fund Alliance tracks the performance of the state’s animal shelters.

Chairwoman Deborah Schutt says The Humane Society of Huron Valley is the best large shelter in Michigan. In 2010, it reported a nearly 81 percent save rate of the animals it took in.

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Culture
11:32 am
Thu December 15, 2011

Stoking fears over migrant worker housing in Port Sheldon, Michigan

Blueberry farmers in Michigan use migrant labor to help harvest their crops. Some residents in Sheldon Township are fighting plans for migrant housing on a nearby blueberry farm.
Andrew Malone Flickr

It's never easy to get citizens to show up at a planning commission meeting, but in Port Sheldon Township they had a bigger turnout than normal because of concerns over migrant worker housing on a nearby blueberry farm.

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Commentary
11:23 am
Thu December 15, 2011

High-speed buses, instead of light rail, make sense for Detroit

There’s a sense of gloom throughout the mass transit community in Michigan today. Earlier this week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that he was canceling the long-talked about light rail line to be built up Woodward Avenue in Detroit.

They’ve been discussing light rail in the Woodward corridor for more than forty years. Few remember now, but Detroit’s much ridiculed People Mover was originally intended as the embryo of such a system, to which it would later be connected. Recently, light rail was thought to be only a matter of time.

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State Legislature
6:50 am
Thu December 15, 2011

Michigan House approves charter school bill

The state House has approved a measure that would allow an unlimited number of university-sponsored K-12 charter schools to operate in Michigan by the year 2015.

The proposal would lift the cap on university charters over a couple years, eventually eliminating the restriction on the number of charters altogether.

Democratic state Representative Steven Lindberg says that could lead to more failing public schools if charter schools are allowed to interview and hand-pick their students.

“It saddens me, because I see us going back to a time when we’re going to have separate but unequal education in this country.”

The measure would require universities to consider county populations and the number of kids in an area that are on charter school waiting lists before opening a new charter school.

Republican state Representative Deb Shaughnessy is on the House Education Committee.

“Many people have tried to paint this legislation as an attack on traditional public schools. I vehemently reject that portrayal. I don’t buy it, and I urge you not to either. I graduated from public school, and so did my children, and my children are leading very productive and successful lives.”

The measure now heads back to the state Senate for final approval.

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