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City planners in Grand Rapids are debating whether food trucks should be allowed in the city. Food trucks are becoming more popular thanks in part to TV shows like “The Great Food Truck Race”.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Republicans who control the Michigan Legislature have approved a bill aimed at blocking the offering of taxpayer-paid health insurance to domestic partners living with some public employees. The main bill in the package passed by 63-45 vote Thursday in the House. It's headed to Gov. Rick Snyder for consideration. The legislation would prohibit some public employers from extending health benefits to unmarried partners of employees, whether they are of the same sex or opposite sex. It would apply to public schools, local governments and some state employees.

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With the legislature set to go on winter break next week, there's a flurry of activity at the state capitol. 

In this week's political roundup we look at the state senate bill, which makes major changes to worker’s compensation, the bill to restrict public employers from offering live in and same sex partner benefits, and news about the emergency manager law.

screen grab from YouTube video

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is sticking to his Michigan roots, at least in his choice of campaign song.

Romney has chosen "Born Free" by Detroit-area rocker Kid Rock to serve as the theme music for his bid for the Republican nomination.

While a post on Kid Rock's website seems to give at least tacit approval to Romney's use of the song, things don't always go so smoothly for candidates when choosing their soundtracks.

Michigan Radio has put together a list of controversies, disputes, and gaffes related to campaign songs:

  1. In what might be deemed a classic of campaign song missteps, Bruce Springsteen was none too happy when Ronald Reagan praised "Born in the U.S.A" during his 1984 campaign, as told by CNN.
  2. Earlier this year, Rolling Stone reported that Republican primary contender Michelle Bachmann drew the ire of Tom Petty for using his song "American Girl" to tout her patriotism and her position as the only woman in the Republican field.
  3. Apparently, Bachmann didn't learn anything from President George W. Bush who was scolded by Petty back in 2000 for using "I Won't Back Down" without permission.
  4. A post from mentalfloss.com reports that in 2008, John McCain had a heap of campaign song troubles, receiving cease and desist requests from John Mellencamp, Boston, Foo Fighters, and Jackson Browne in response to his use of their songs.
  5. McCain's running-mate Sarah Palin also took heat for using "Barracuda" by Heart as her intro music at the Republican National Convention. As Rolling Stone reports, a press release from the band said the song was written as "a scathing rant against the soulless, corporate nature of the music business, particularly for women" and that the band found "irony in Republican strategists' choice to make use of it there."
  6. In a more creative, but no less artist-angering effort, Bob Dole rewrote the lyrics to the 1960's Sam & Dave hit "Soul Man,"  to create the eponymous "Dole Man," before being threatened by the song's rights-holders (again from mentalfloss.com)
  7. Not to be accused of partisanship, however, Sam Moore of the above mentioned duo took issue with Barack Obama's use of the group's song "Hold On, I'm Comin.'" As Mother Jones reports, Moore was nonplussed by the politicization of a song about "gettin girls."
  8. While not technically a campaign song per se, Herman Cain became the punch-line of more than a few jokes (many of them made by the Daily Show's John Stewart) for quoting the theme song of the Pokemon movie during his speeches.
  9. If the above stories show that misuse of music by political candidates is an increasingly-common occurrence, then at least, as the Washington Post reports, Charlie Christ had the decency to record a video apology to David Byrne of the Talking Heads for his unauthorized use of the song "Road to Nowhere."

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

The Michigan Supreme Court will decide whether Michigan State University can continue to enforce its rule against harassing its employees as they do their jobs.

Jared Rapp confronted and yelled at a university employee in an MSU parking garage after he found a ticket on his car.

The employee felt threatened and called the campus police.

The employee sat in his car waiting for the police to arrive while Rapp hovered outside the vehicle and snapped pictures with his mobile phone.

Rapp was charged with a misdemeanor and was later convicted of violating a university rule against interfering with MSU employees.

A judge reversed the conviction. He said the rule is so vague it would be hard for a reasonable person to know if they broke the rule.

The rule has been upheld by the state Court of Appeals, though, and the prosecutor hopes the Michigan Supreme Court will do the same.

Native Detroiter Harry Morgan died yesterday. What makes me feel old is that while the rest of the world remembers him fondly for his role in MASH, I think of him as Officer Bill Gannon from Dragnet.

That was the show made famous by the iconic line “Just the facts, ma’am.‘ Which, by the way, nobody ever actually said on the show, any more than Humphrey Bogart said “Play it Again, Sam,” in Casablanca. Those are enduring cultural myths.

There’s another, more dangerous myth out there in Detroit today, a myth apparently shared by the mayor and city council.

A group known as "Michigan Forward" is collecting signatures in an effort to repeal Public Act 4, the state's emergency manager law.

If they collect enough signatures, the question of whether or not to keep the emergency manager law would be put on the November 2012 ballot:

As we reported yesterday,

As of now [Michigan Forward has] over 155,000 signatures. They need 161,304 signatures or more.

If they're able to collect those signatures and the petition is approved, the emergency manager law will be suspended until the 2012 election.

Now there's news that some in state leadership are thinking of retooling Public Act 4 in the face of this challenge.

House Speaker Jase Bolger is quoted in the Detroit Free Press that he is "concerned about the chaos that could ensue if the emergency manager law is suspended and so should every citizen of Michigan."

From the Free Press:

State officials are working on legislation to replace the state’s emergency manager law, which could be suspended early next year as a result of a ballot initiative, Treasurer Andy Dillon said today.

“I think we’ll have a pretty confused situation if the law gets held in suspension,” Dillon said in a telephone interview with the Detroit Free Press.

Dillon said his office has sent a list of improvements he’d like to see to the emergency manager law, Public Act 4, and officials in the Legislature confirmed today they are working with the governor’s office on a possible replacement.

“We will continue to discuss this issue with the governor and our partners in the Senate and take appropriate action if and when necessary,” Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger said in a statement.

United Auto Workers members are voting on whether to authorize a strike at General Motors’ Lansing Delta Township plant.   The vote centers on several workplace issues.   

The Delta Township plant produces the Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave.  Tracy Handler is an analyst with IHS Global Insight.    She says if UAW members strike at the Lansing plant, the effect would not be immediate on GM.   

It appears a measure to forbid public employers from offering live-in and same-sex partner benefits will soon be on its way to Governor Rick Snyder.

The measure was adopted yesterday by the state Senate.

It would affect state and local governments, as well as school districts, and community colleges, but not public universities.

State Senator Rebekah Warren is a Democrat who voted against the measure. She says the ban would make it harder for Michigan’s public employers to compete for the best workers.

“Our best and most-successful companies have already figured out that by creating diverse workforces and making sure health insurance is provided for their employees, they get the best environment. We’re tying the hands of our local governments and public employers if we don’t give them the same tools,” said Warren.

Republicans say public employers that offer live-in partner benefits violate the intent of the voter-approved amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions.

The Michigan Supreme Court has ordered a lower court to decide whether the Michigan High School Athletic Association discriminated against a former exchange student from South Korea.

The MHSAA said he was only eligible to play one year of high school football and denied him permission to be a member of the Hudson High School varsity team.

The rule is meant to stop schools from recruiting exchange students to build championship teams.

The state Department of Civil Rights sued the high school athletic association for discrimination based on race and national origin.

*Correction - an earlier version of this story stated the Michigan Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. The text and title have been corrected in this version.

U-M to Make Gender Neutral Housing More Accessible

Dec 8, 2011

The University of Michigan student assembly wants to make it easier for gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual students to live together. It’s part of a movement called gender neutral housing.

The student organization wants to see a gender neutral housing option on next year’s on-campus housing application. It would allow students to be contacted by the LGBT student resource center, and partnered with a roommate they feel comfortable with.

Michigan lawmakers are debating this week how to help low-income families pay their heating bills. It’s turned into an urgent problem because of federal budget cuts... and a court decision that has tied up millions of dollars. Here’s how it works: there’s a program called the Low-Income Energy Efficiency Fund. If you get your power from DTE or Consumers Energy, you pay into that fund when you pay your energy bills... somewhere between one and two dollars a month. There’s been about $90 million dollars in that fund annually.

There’s a shakeup in managing Michigan’s forests.

A new advisory council is heavily weighted with voices from the timber industry, and there will be more emphasis on developing forest products to boost the state’s economy.

Governor Rick Snyder says there’s a lot of potential to use natural resources to bring in more revenue.

The head of the Department of Natural Resources has just appointed a new ten member forest advisory council. Eight of the ten members are connected to the timber industry.

The new council will focus on developing logging and lumber, pulp and paper, and biofuels. An existing forest management advisory group includes other interests such as wildlife, recreation and conservation as well as logging.

Marvin Roberson with the Sierra Club says those other voices largely will be gone from the new council.

“I think this is going to mean a lack of management for natural conservation values and an increase in management for timber-only values,” said Roberson.

The DNR also is reorganizing its forestry division so that come January it will no longer deal with oil, gas and minerals or recreation on state forestland.

-Bob Allen for The Environment Report

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Legislators to challenge Michigan redistricting in court

The Michigan Legislative Black Caucus is expected to announce a lawsuit today challenging some of the new political boundaries drawn up and approved by the state Legislature and Governor.

From the Associated Press:

A press conference has been scheduled for Thursday at a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People office in Detroit.

The lawsuit's primary emphasis will be state House districts, according to Democratic Rep. Thomas Stallworth III of Detroit.

Democrats are upset that maps approved by the Republican-led Legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder would force incumbent state lawmakers from Detroit to run against each other in 2012.

It was not clear late Wednesday how or if the suit might address districts representing Michigan in the U.S. House.

Proposal to limit abortion coverage moving forward

Laura Weber reports a Senate panel cleared a proposal to restrict access to health care coverage for abortion procedures.

It would require individuals or employers to pay higher premiums to include abortion coverage in their health care plans.

Critics say women do not plan an abortion, so the proposal effectively strips their coverage.

Weber reports "there is no plan in the Senate to approve the abortion insurance proposal before lawmakers begin a winter break next week."

Detroit Police union leaders step down as negotiations heat up

Just as leaders from the city of Detroit are demanding more concessions from city union workers, two leaders from the Detroit Police Officers Association have announced they're retiring.

From the Detroit Free Press:

The Detroit Police Officers Association is planning to replace its leadership after the top two officials stepped down abruptly Tuesday, shocking colleagues as Mayor Dave Bing steps up his demand that police accept 10% wage cuts.

Union President Marty Bandemer and Vice President Cheryl Smith plan to retire officially at the end of the year after ending discussions with the Bing administration over concessions that police officers strongly oppose.

Kids with autism struggle with reading non-verbal cues, like facial expressions. They also have a tough time knowing the right words to say. That’s why there are social skills clubs for kids with autism.

One such club meets regularly at Bel-Mark Lanes in Ann Arbor. There are three different groups based on age, and this particular group includes kids in junior high and high school.

After a little bowling, and cheering each other on, everybody heads back to a side room.

A new report says home prices in Michigan, and the rest of the country, are stabilizing.   

During the recession, home prices swung wildly.  First plunging down, then bobbing up as government incentives spurred buying.  

Alex Villacorta is with Clear Capital.   He says their data shows home prices in Michigan remained relatively flat over the past six months.   Villacorta expects 2012 will bring slight growth in Michigan home prices.  Though he cautions, in cities like Detroit, home prices are still going to be very low.   

A proposal to limit access to health care coverage for abortion procedures has cleared a state Senate panel. The proposal would require employers or individuals purchasing health care plans to pay higher premiums if they want to include abortion coverage.         

Critics say it’s important for insurance companies to offer abortion coverage because no one plans for unintended pregnancies or unforeseen medical issues.

"Nobody expects to have an unintended pregnancy and I think nobody who has a wanted pregnancy expects that something is going to go wrong," said  Shelli Weisberg of the American Civil Liberties Union, which opposes the measure. "But the problem with this is it’s taken away something that women already have. From a moral standpoint – it’s taken away comprehensive coverage when women most need it.”

There is no plan in the Senate to approve the abortion insurance proposal before lawmakers begin a winter break next week.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney went back to his Michigan roots to choose a campaign theme song.

“Born Free” by Michigan native Kid Rock has been chosen as Romney's official campaign theme. A Romney staffer confirmed the music selection with Michigan Radio this afternoon.

Michigan store owners say shoppers who don’t pay sales tax on Internet purchases are cheating the state and themselves.                                

There’s already a state law that requires a six percent sales tax on online purchases.

Shoppers are supposed to keep track of what they buy and pay the tax on next year’s tax return.

But there’s no real enforcement.

Jim Hallan is president of the Michigan Retailers Association.

He says the state’s brick-and-mortar stores can’t compete and he says that hurts everybody.

A fire at a Detroit bus facility destroyed eight newer buses Wednesday morning.

The fire was more bad news for a city that’s been struggling with a fleet of broken buses. Many passengers have complained about hours-long waits at bus stops.

Steve Serkaian  is the city’s communications director.

He says the fire started under a bus in a storage bay.

Serkaian denies reports that the facility’s sprinkler system didn’t work.

The state Senate is expected to vote this evening on major changes to Michigan’s workers’ compensation laws. The proposal would reduce payments to an injured worker by the amount an insurance company believes the worker could make at another job.    

“Just what that will do to the working people of this state, I shudder to think, because it will cause untold misery on thousands of people’s lives," says Rick Warsh, an attorney who handles workers' compensation cases.

Those who support the measure say it would help prevent fraudulent claims, and would stabilize the workers’ compensation system for businesses.

Michigan to Wisconsin: Hands off our mitten image

Dec 7, 2011
travelwisconsin.com

In a fight over mittens, the gloves have come off.

Michigan and Wisconsin are tussling over which state can rightly lay claim to using mittens in their public-relations and tourism campaigns.

Michiganders, who have long nicknamed the state’s lower peninsula “The Mitten,” for its similar shape to a hand, have taken good-natured umbrage to a new campaign launched by Wisconsin’s Department of Tourism, which uses a knit-brown mitten to represent the shape of the state.

Wisconsin began using the new image in tourism campaigns on Dec. 1, and tells the Detroit Free Press it follows up on an earlier seasonal campaign that used an image of a leaf shaped like the state in the fall. A Wisconsin Department of Tourism spokesperson tells the newspaper that people in Wisconsin consider their state mitten-shaped as well.

Dave Lorenz, who manages public relations for the state of Michigan, tells the Free Press that, “We understand their mitten envy. But there is only one mitten state, only one Great Lakes state.”

Michigan's emergency manager law was strengthened this year with Public Act 4 which gave emergency managers more sweeping powers.

PA 4 is now facing a number of court challenges.

The group Michigan Forward is gathering signature to put the law to a voter referendum on the November 2012 ballot. As of now they have over 155,000 signatures. They need 161,304 signatures or more.

If they're able to collect those signatures and the petition is approved, the emergency manager law will be suspended until the 2012 election.

A fierce partisan battle among Oakland County politicians played out in front of a state House panel at the state Capitol today.

Democrats tried and failed to block a Republican effort to let the GOP-led Oakland County Commission redraw its own district lines.

The district map was already adopted earlier this year by a bipartisan apportionment commission, and it was upheld by the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Democrats called the action to redraw the map a brazen effort by Republicans to undo a county commission map they don’t like.

Oakland County Commissioner David Woodward is a Democrat opposed to the bill.

“That this is being brought up, introduced after the rendered decisions, speaks of partisan overreach, specifically, Republican Party overreach - an attempt in this body to undo a process that has already run its course,” said Woodward.

The Oakland apportionment commission has a Democratic majority, while the Oakland County Commission is led by Republicans.

The bill would also reduce the number of county commissioners.

Republicans say the bill is designed to save taxpayers money.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Students in Detroit Public Schools showed slight improvements in the latest round of a benchmark standardized test.

But Detroit students still posted the worst scores of any district in the country on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test.

The NAEP exam tests fourth and eighth-graders in reading and math. When Detroit students took the test for the first time in 2009, they produced the worst scores in the test’s history.

In 2011:

·        Math, 4th grade: proficiency up from 31% to 34%

·        Math, 8th grade: proficiency up from 22% to 29%

·        Reading, 4th grade: proficiency up from 27% to 31%

·        Reading, 8th grade: proficiency up from 41% to 43%

Some experts question whether the posted gains are even statistically significant. But Detroit schools’ emergency manager Roy Roberts says the important thing is a positive trend.

“Detroit had the highest gains of any city in any subject in mathematics,” Roberts says. “Detroit also exceeded the state in gains in reading.”

“Like the budget deficit, it will not be eliminated overnight. But we have demonstrated real progress.”

Roberts says the biggest thing hindering Detroit students’ academic performance has been “instability” in the district.

He says the district will announce in January how many more schools to close, charter, or move to the Education Achievement System, a new statewide district for the lowest-performing schools.

wikimedia commons

Actor Harry Morgan, most famous for his role as Col. Sherman Potter on the hit television show M*A*S*H, died today at 96.

Morgan was born as "Harry Bratsburg" in 1915 in Detroit.

His father, Henry Bratsburg, worked for the Rickenbacker Motor Company. The family later moved to Muskegon, Michigan.

Before discovering acting, Morgan was studying to become a lawyer. While he was a junior in Muskegon High School, Morgan won the statewide debating championship at an event in Ann Arbor's Hill Auditorium.

After dropping out of the University of Chicago for financial reasons, Morgan worked for  an office supply company in Muskegon. The company sent Morgan to Washington D.C. where he discovered acting in a civic theater. The rest is history.

You can hear more about Morgan's life from Morgan himself:

U.S. Navy

People around the country are commemorating the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor today.

It was December 7, 1941 when the Japanese launched a surprise attack on the island of Oahu.

Many of the surviving veterans of that battle are now in their late 80s to 90s. The New York Times reports that 7,000 survivors were on hand at the USS Arizona Memorial for the 50th anniversary. For the 70th anniversary, they're expecting 125 survivors.

The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association announced today that they're disbanding. From the Times:

“We had no choice,” said William H. Eckel, 89, who was once the director of the Fourth Division of the survivors’ association, interviewed by telephone from Texas. “Wives and family members have been trying to keep it operating, but they just can’t do it. People are winding up in nursing homes and intensive care places.”

The Muskegon Chronicle has a nice feature story today on a Pearl Harbor survivor from Hart, Michigan.

Buck Beadle is 91. He's a retired Oceana County Sheriff's deputy. Beadle was aboard the USS Hull on the morning of the attack.

From the Chronicle:

As Beadle remembers it, the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, dawned warm and sunny in Pearl Harbor, like “any other day” in tropical Honolulu, Hawaii. He and the other 220 men aboard the USS Hull were “relaxing, lying on our bunks and reading the newspaper” when all hell broke loose.

“It was scary at first,” Beadle says. “We didn’t know what was going on. But when we heard those four-barrel machine guns going, that told you something was radically wrong.”

After the attack, the U.S. declared war on Japan and Beadle spent four years at sea on the USS Hull.

He's being honored today at a gathering at the Oceana County Historical and Genealogical Society where some of his photographs are on display.

Aflyingpsychofly / Flickr

It's Wednesday - which means it's the day we speak with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry about what's going on in state politics. And, in today's conversation, it's all about the possibility of Detroit coming under a state-appointed emergency manager. We take a look at where things stand in the city's financial review, what a group that wants to repeal the emergency manager law is up to, and we also chat about the letter that Congressman John Conyers' sent to the U.S. Justice Department that is asking Attorney General Eric Holder to look into the constitutionality of the emergency manager law.

Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - The Detroit Public Schools district says its students are making improvements on math and reading testing.

The state's largest district on Wednesday released details of its students' performance on National Assessment of Educational Progress testing. Detroit says it was one of six urban districts nationwide to show improvements in 2011.

The district says scores for its students trended up in all grade levels and both subjects. Still, for example, 66 percent of fourth graders scored at a below basic level for math and 71 percent of eighth graders were at a below basic level.

The district's emergency manager Roy Roberts says he's pleased with the progress.

In 2009, Detroit students ranked the lowest in the nation of participants on the National Assessment of Educational Progress math test.

So, does Detroit really need an Emergency Manager? Can the city’s elected leaders somehow get the job done? This much we know: The governor has ordered a preliminary review of  the city’s finances. There have been major signs of trouble for years.

Now, the city is running a large budget deficit, and the mayor says that as it now stands, the city will run out of cash by April.

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