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Politics
3:53 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Proposed changes to Michigan election laws draw ire from protestors

State Rep. Pete Lund chairs the House Redistricting and Elections Committee
gophouse.com

A House committee meeting in Lansing was interrupted today by a group of about 50 protestors angry over proposed election law changes.

The House Redistricting and Elections Committee planned to vote on a series of changes including one that would require either a photo ID or birth certificate to be presented when registering to vote.  Opponents argue that the new rule would create unfair hurdles for some potential voters.

Protestors yelled slogans including "respect our vote" and some people were escorted outside.

According to the Detroit News, the protest was led by Pastor W.J. Rideout and Rev. Charles Williams Sr., the latter of whom told committee members "you're killing democracy" before leaving the meeting.

Another man, the News says, told committee chairman Rep. Pete Lund that, "The blood of Martin Luther King Junior is on your hands."

Despite the disruption, the committee voted to have the bill move to the House floor. 

-John Klein Wilson,Michigan Radio Newsroom

Crime
3:20 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Jury finds Elias Abuelazam, accused serial stabber in Flint, guilty of murder

Elias Abuelazam (file photo)
(courtesy of the Genesee County Prosecutor's office)

Update:

A man suspected of stabbing 14 men in and around Flint, Mich., two summers ago has been convicted of first-degree murder in the first case to go to trial.

A Genesee County jury convicted Elias Abuelazam (EE'-lee-us ah-BOOL'-ah-zahm) on Tuesday of fatally stabbing 49-year-old Arnold

Minor in August 2010. Minor's blood was found on Abuelazam's clothes and in his SUV. Abuelazam was arrested trying to board a plane to his native Israel.

Investigators say Abuelazam asked for directions or help with car trouble before stabbing his victims. Five of the 14 Flint-area victims died. Abuelazam also is charged with stabbing someone in Toledo, Ohio, and is suspected in attacks in Leesburg, Va.

Abuelazam's attorneys argued he was insane that summer. A psychiatrist said he was compelled by violent delusions.

12:27 pm:

A lawyer for an Israeli immigrant charged with murder in a Michigan stabbing spree is telling jurors to find him not guilty by reason of insanity.

Attorney Ed Zeineh says Elias Abuelazam heard voices and saw black clouds two summers ago and fits the profile of a paranoid schizophrenic.

Jurors are hearing closing arguments Tuesday in Genesee County court.  Abuelazam is on trial for the fatal stabbing of 49-year-old Arnold Minor. Prosecutors say he was not mentally ill and should be held criminally responsible.

Fourteen people were stabbed in and around Flint two summers ago, and five died. Abuelazam is charged in nine of those stabbings, including three deaths. He's charged with attempted murder in Toledo, Ohio.

Environment & Science
2:40 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Report: No contamination found in well water in Kalamazoo River oil spill zone

Oil spill clean up work along the Kalamazoo River, near Battle Creek, July, 2010
(Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Tests suggest household wells near the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill have not been contaminated.

A pipeline break in July, 2010, resulted in more than 800 thousand gallons of crude oil leaking into the Kalamazoo River.   The cleanup of the river and the surrounding area continues.

Health officials have spent the past few years testing 150 wells in the spill zone.

Read more
Economy
1:23 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Report: Michiganders will use less gasoline and electricity this summer

Will you be filling up as often this summer?
(Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Michiganders will use less gasoline and electricity this summer, that's according to the Michigan Public Service Commission.

The state utility regulatory agency issued its annual Summer Energy Appraisal today.

Judy Palnau is the agency’s spokeswoman. She says there are a couple reasons why the public service commission expects gasoline sales will decline about 2 percent this summer in Michigan.

“Part of that is a economy. But part of that is we are also driving more energy efficient vehicles,” says Palnau. 

Palnau says the economy is also a reason why they expect electricity use will dip slightly this summer.

“Our sluggish economy is still a factor in decreasing use of electricity,” says Palnau, though the MPSC expects residential electric use will increase. 

The MPSC study also predicts natural gas sales will decline nearly 5 percent this summer. A mild winter drove down demand among both business and residential natural gas customers.

Politics
1:15 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Court of Appeals rules Michigan's emergency manager process doesn't violate Open Meetings law

Flint Emergency Manager Michael Brown
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled review teams can meet behind closed doors as they decide whether to recommend a state takeover of a city or school district. Opponents of Michigan’s emergency manager law filed the challenge. They say review teams should have to comply with Michigan’s open meetings law.

The ruling essentially upholds the decision to name an emergency manager to run Flint and the state’s consent agreement with Detroit.

Robert Davis filed one of the lawsuits. He says the court made a mistake.

“The financial review teams are able to exercise extraordinary powers, including issuing subpoenas and compelling testimony of local elected officials, and, certainly, since they are discussing financial management of a local unit of government certainly that should be open for every person and every citizen to be privy to,” Davis said.

Davis said he will appeal this ruling to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the Court of Appeals is still deciding whether to allow a referendum challenging the emergency manager law on the November ballot

Economy
12:57 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Benton Harbor hosts 2012 Senior PGA Championship

Professional golfers practice at Harbor Shores golf course in Benton Harbor.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

The Senior PGA tournament for professional golfers is in Benton Harbor this week.

Famous golfers began practicing on the course Monday afternoon. Harbor Shore golf course was partially built on city owned land. Elected city leaders agreed to lease the property with the hope of attracting jobs and tourists to the region.

Herb Caldwell is Vice President of the Consortium for Community Development. The non-profit group tries to improve the community’s workforce skills. He says the group has helped more than 260 people get temporary jobs for the tour.

But Caldwell says the tournament is also bringing a sense of excitement and pride to its residents.

“People will walk away from this – not only the people internally who live here – with a different perspective on their community but the people who will visit here will now have a different picture of Benton Harbor,” Caldwell said.

But not everyone is pleased.

Benton Harbor is the poorest city in Michigan with an average household income of $17,000 a year. The city government is under the control of an emergency manager.

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Health
12:03 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Rep. Dingell supports bill to speed up FDA reviews

Tom Varco Wikimedia commons

Congress is trying to speed up the review process for new medicines and devices while still keeping them safe.   A bill before the House would increase the amount of money and authority given to the Food and Drug Administration to do that.

Congressman John Dingell represents Michigan's 15th District and supports the bill.  He says one way the new bill will protect the drug supply is by increasing the FDA's authority over imported medicine.

"[The User Fee bill] enables [the] Food and Drug [Administration] to address the problems that we had (i.e. unsafe pharmaceuticals and unsafe commodities and components for the manufacture of pharmaceuticals in this country," Dingell said.  "So Food and Drug can control them now."

Drug and medical device manufacturers typically pay user fees that fund the reviews by the Food and Drug Administration.  The new bill will expand those fees to more companies, including international ones. 

"This is the best way of leveling the playing field between American manufacturers and foreign manufacturers" said Dingell, "and also seeing to it that everybody -- consumers, manufacturers and all get the services that they're entitled to from [the] Food and Drug [Administration]."

Patient safety advocates are against parts of the bill. They say even tougher reviews should be applied to medical devices.

-Nishant Sekaran, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Commentary
11:18 am
Tue May 22, 2012

Contraception Rules

The Michigan Catholic Conference filed a federal lawsuit yesterday, charging that their freedom of religion has been violated because of a new rule regarding health insurance policies.

And on the basis of logic alone, I have to say, what they are claiming makes absolutely no sense to me. This is not an issue that only involves Michigan. Forty-three Roman Catholic dioceses, social service agencies, schools and even the University of Notre Dame filed similar lawsuits across the nation. Their issue is simply this.

The Obama administration's Department of Health and Human Services has a rule requiring all employers that provide health insurance to have that coverage cover contraceptives.

The Roman Catholic Church opposes any use of contraception, and says being required to cover this violates their religious freedom.

This is not, by the way, part of the Affordable Care Act, the constitutionality of which is due to be decided by the United States Supreme Court next month, This is entirely a different case.

The Michigan Catholic Conference and other Catholic groups across the nation say that requiring them to insure contraceptive coverage violates their rights under both the First Amendment and under a bill called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

They want the federal courts to make the Obama Administration drop this requirement.

But here's why their argument seems illogical. The government is not requiring that anybody approve of or use contraception. That would be a tremendous violation of religious freedom. What the government is saying is that if someone does choose to do so, insurance plans have to cover it.

That makes logical and legal sense, given that nearly half a century ago, in a case called Griswold vs. Connecticut, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a state could not outlaw the use of contraceptives. Incidentally, every survey I have ever seen shows that the majority of American Catholics do in fact use contraception, even though it is against their church's teaching.

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Politics
10:56 am
Tue May 22, 2012

Detroit Works Project gets long-term planning input--but is anybody listening?

Houses in Detroit's Woodbridge neighborhood
Andrew Jameson Wikimedia commons

A project that aims to radically re-shape Detroit’s geography and better align resources with its declining population is starting to wrap up.

After a rocky launch in 2010, city officials split the Detroit Works Project into short-term and long-term planning teams.

The long-term plan organizers have been holding community meetings for months. They’re trying to develop a comprehensive blueprint for the city’s future.

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Memorial Day
10:29 am
Tue May 22, 2012

GM group to honor U.S. military fallen today

Alan Crosthwaite

General Motors' Customer Care and Aftersales (CCA) Veterans Affinity Group (VAG) will honor U.S. Military personnel who lost their lives in Afghanistan at the first annual "Field of "Flags" event.

The formal semi-military event, featuring U.S. Navy Color Guard members and Military Buglers, will be held Tuesday, May 22 from 1:00-2:00 p.m., at the GM CCA Willow Run Complex located at 50000 Ecorse Road, Belleville, Mich., 48111. The event is also in conjunction with the GM UAW local 174.

"The Field of Flags event leading up to Memorial Day is another way we can honor their commitment and say thank you to the members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families for their courage, service and sacrifice," said Steve Hill, GM North America Vice President of CCA and GM's corporate champion for the group. "This is a grassroots event sponsored by our employees, who have a passion for this cause, and spend their own time to demonstrate their support and respect for the U.S. Military."

Approximately 2,000 flags will be planted in a field on the lawn of the facility. The ceremony will include the raising of an American flag flown over Afghanistan, the playing of "The National Anthem" and "America the Beautiful," the reading of the "Field of Flags" declaration, remarks by guest speaker Steve Hill, a special CCA VAG presentation, the planting of the final flag and a memorial wreath, the ringing of a ships bell honoring service members lost, Taps, and the presentation of the flag flown over Afghanistan.

GM's VAG Customer Care and Aftersales, headquarters in Grand Blanc, conducts fundraising activities to support GM employees who are U.S Military Veterans, in the Reserves or National Guard. To date, the group has raised $20,000 for Piquette Square, a non-profit organization in Detroit that helps homeless veterans. Additionally, it provides support through various activities such as sending care packages and phone cards troops abroad.

"Our group's overriding objective is to take care of the military men and women who take care of us," said Don Gore, president of the Customer Care and Aftersales VAG Chapter. "I am proud of the job our team has done, which has resulted in overwhelming support for veterans, deployed military and fellow employee reservists."

Read more
The Environment Report
6:39 am
Tue May 22, 2012

25 x '25: Creating a new renewable energy standard for Michigan

Green Energy Futures Flickr

The Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs coalition wants to increase the state’s renewable energy standard to 25 percent by 2025.

That would mean that a quarter of all the energy used in Michigan would come from renewable sources like the wind and sun.

The coalition is trying to collect enough signatures to put the issue before voters in November. They'll need to collect a minimum of 322,609 valid signatures by July 9th, 2012. Organizers say their goal is to turn in 500,000 signatures.

And, interestingly enough, the proposal is getting support from both Democrats and Republicans.

Steve Linder is President of Sterling Corporation, a Republican consulting firm. He says his organization is behind the proposal for business reasons. “While we don’t like government mandates, this allows us to use manufacturing capacity in Michigan rather than bringing in $1.6 billion worth of coal from West Virginia and Pennsylvania. So, this is really a business to business ballot initiative and we are very comfortable in making the business and economic case that this keeps dollars in our state and it keeps us at the cutting age of new types of manufacturing technology,” Linder says.

Mark Fisk, a Democrat, is co-partner of Byrum & Fisk, a political consulting firm. He says he’s working on behalf of the initiative because of the jobs it’ll bring to the state and the environmental benefits of renewable energy. “This initiative will create thousands of new Michigan jobs and help boost Michigan’s economy by building a clean energy industry right here in our state. And, it gives Michigan cleaner and healthier air and water. It’ll protect our Great Lakes, reduce asthma and lung disease, and ultimately save lives,” Fisk says.

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Lansing
11:06 pm
Mon May 21, 2012

Lansing City Council passes budget, mayor's veto looms

In the next few days, Lansing mayor Virg Bernero is expected to veto all or part of the budget plan the city council passed. 

Bernero indicated his intention to veto the budget during a sometimes contentious city council meeting last night.    He did little, if anything, to conceal his contempt for the changes the city council made to the budget plan he submitted two months ago.

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Flint
10:50 pm
Mon May 21, 2012

Flint election officials are searching for new places for people to vote in November

(file photo)
(Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Elections officials are scrambling to find eight new locations where Flint residents can vote in November’s election. 

The city’s five dozen voting precincts are located in 35 buildings around Flint.

But, the U.S. Justice Department says 4 churches used as polling places don’t meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.    And, the Flint School District is also closing 4 schools this summer that have been used as polling places. 

“We’re going to go ahead and close them and try to locate alternate sites, which is hard to do in a community such as Flint which is an older urban area," says Inez M. Brown, the Flint City Clerk. 

Brown says six of the eight polling places are located on Flint’s north side, which may make it more difficult to find enough appropriate locations. 

Environment & Science
9:11 pm
Mon May 21, 2012

Feds release documents linked to the Kalamazoo River oil spill investigation

(file photo)
(EPA)

MARSHALL, Mich. (AP) — Federal officials have released photographs and 5,000 pages of documents related to the pipeline rupture in southwestern Michigan that polluted the Kalamazoo River and a tributary creek nearly two years ago.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating what caused the leak, which spilled more than 800,000 gallons of crude near Marshall in Calhoun County. Spokesman Peter Knudson said Monday the NTSB expects to reach a conclusion this summer.

The newly released material includes photos of the damaged pipe, reports outlining the sequence of events following the July 25, 2010 rupture and interviews with emergency responders and officials with Enbridge Inc., owner of the pipeline.

The 30-inch line extends from Griffith, Ind., to Sarnia, Ontario. Enbridge announced plans last week to enlarge the pipe so it can carry more oil.

Education
4:00 pm
Mon May 21, 2012

Urban Forest Stewardship Program wraps up first year in Detroit

Belle Isle Nature Zoo Manager Mike Reed shows off a new nature trail DPS students helped clear.
Sarah Cwiek Michigan Radio

Some Detroit Public Schools students involved in the Urban Forest Stewardship Program showed off their work this past weekend.

Eight Detroit middle and high schools participated in the program on Belle Isle this year.

Their projects included beach clean-ups, water quality testing, invasive species control, and clearing a new nature trail.

Tracy Ortiz, a sixth-grade science teacher at Detroit’s Clippert Academy, says the projects have introduced many of her students many of her students to natural world—and taught them science in a way that sticks.

Read more
Environment & Science
4:00 pm
Mon May 21, 2012

Mid Michigan officials consider large wind farm

A wind farm in Huron County
michigan.gov

Officials in Eaton County are considering a proposal that would see the construction of several dozen wind turbines.

The plan from Houston-based Horizon Wind Energy LLC would create a 63-turbine wind farm and, as the Lansing State Journal reports, the Oneida Township Planning Commission is looking into amending zoning restrictions to accommodate the project.

More from the Journal:

Approval of the ordinance changes are under review because the turbines are not currently regulated by the ordinance...The draft ordinance covers placement, maximum size, setback requirements and eventual removal requirements for wind turbine towers, and also regulates noise and electromagnetic interference.

Based on applications filed with the Federal Aviation Authority, each wind turbine is expected to be nearly 500 feet tall from the ground to the tip of the blades, and would be located within a 42 square mile area.

While the proposed wind farm could provide power for up to 30,000 homes, the Lansing State Journal writes that the plan does face some opposition, including from the advisory board of the Grand Ledge Abrams Municipal Airport, which cites concerns about increased air turbulence in the area. 

Even if the plan is approved, actual construction would depend on the results of wind studies in the area, a process that could take up to a year.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Transportation
3:36 pm
Mon May 21, 2012

Fixing Michigan's roads

Road construction along I94 in Jackson County, Michigan (file photo)
(Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Time is running out for Congress to pass a new federal transportation funding bill.

The last funding bill expired in 2009.   Congress has passed a series of extensions of the old law since then.  

A coalition of Michigan environmental groups and unions say the ongoing delay is hurting state roads.

Mark Schauer is the head of the BlueGreen Alliance.   The former Michigan congressman says the state’s roads are deteriorating, in part, because Congress can’t agree on a new six year federal transportation spending plan.

“I’m sure I’m not the only one that had to replace a tire as a result of hitting a huge pothole," says Schauer.

Michigan Congressmen Dave Camp and Fred Upton are on the special House-Senate conference committee working on the transportation bill. A spokeswoman for the committee says discussions continue with hopes of reaching an agreement before the deadline at the end of next month. 

Politics
3:02 pm
Mon May 21, 2012

Michigan Catholics sue Obama administration over birth control mandate

St. Mary Cathederal in Lansing
stmarylansing.org

The Michigan Catholic Conference has filed a lawsuit in federal court to block an Obama administration rule that requires employer health plans to offer contraception coverage. The Catholic church opposes birth control.

The Catholic Conference offers health coverage to about 10,000 employees and their dependents at Catholic parishes, schools and charities across the state.

Paul Long is the president of the Michigan Catholic Conference.

“Inasmuch we provide this benefit, this mandate would be very restrictive upon us," Long said. "We felt that we needed to act in a way that was in keeping with who we are and being able to continue to provide the plan that we’ve always provided.”

The lawsuit says the contraception requirement violates the church’s religious freedom. It was filed at a federal court in Ohio. Franciscan University of Steubenville-Ohio is also part of the lawsuit.

Criminal Justice
1:26 pm
Mon May 21, 2012

New online database tracks US exonerations since 1989

user FatMandy flickr

The University of Michigan Law School and the Center for Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law recently launched an online database containing an updated list of exonerations in the United States since 1989. The goal of the project is to prevent wrongful convictions or improve the process of identifying and correcting them should they occur.

So far, the National Registry of Exoneration lists more than 890 wrongfully convicted individuals.

Read more
Welcoming Michigan
11:54 am
Mon May 21, 2012

Making Michigan more welcoming

A new group plans to encourage four Michigan communities to welcome their new immigrants.

Christine Sauve is with "Welcoming Michigan."  She says many times, when new groups of people begin to move into a neighborhood, there is little effort by the existing residents to get to know them.  But she says it doesn't have to be that way, and it's certainly less than ideal.

One community involved in the project is Hamtramck, which began as a Polish immigrant town.

Now, people from Bangladesh and Yemen are moving in.

"The different groups kind of stick to themselves a little bit," says Sauve.  "So we're trying to get people to know each other and learn about the other groups that are in the community and a lot of them share - they have a lot in common."

Other communities include Hartford, in West Michigan, which has a large group of Latino migrant workers, Sterling Heights, which has new Iraqi immigrants, and the Chadsey-Condon neighborhood in Detroit.

Chadsey-Condon has historically been African American, but it now also has Yemeni and Latino immigrants.

Sauve  says Welcoming Michigan will sponsor dinners, community dialogues and other events.

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