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Michigan’s workers’ compensation laws are under review in Lansing.

Some business groups told the House Commerce Committee that changes are needed in the workers’ compensation program because of medical advances.

They used examples of shorter recovery times for knee and hip replacements.

Democratic State Rep. Vicki Barnett says there could also be a requirement for some people to take other work while they’re healing.

DETROIT (AP) - Volkswagen is recalling more than 168,000 cars with diesel engines because a defect in the fuel injectors that could cause fires.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says on its website that the recall affects some 2010 to 2012 Volkswagen Golf and 2009 to 2012 Jetta models. Also affected are some Audi A3 models from the 2010 through 2012 model years.

Volkswagen says cracks can develop in the fuel injectors of 2-liter diesel engines. Fuel can leak and could cause a fire.

But the company says it doesn't know of any fires or injuries from the problem.

Volkswagen will replace the fuel injector line on one of the cylinders free of charge.

Russ Climie / Tiberius Images

Governor Rick Snyder has laid to rest speculation that he might not seek a second term. The governor told a collection of local government officials his plan is to serve eight years, if voters let him.

"I'm not announcing my candidacy yet, but as a practical matter I do intend to be around for eight years, assuming the voters go along with that and the family is supportive, which they have been consistently," said Snyder.

There was speculation the governor would choose to serve only one term based on remarks he made last month on Mackinac Island.

The governor said he would consider serving a single term if he accomplished his entire agenda in four years. Snyder said today those remarks were "misinterpreted."

The revelation that Wayne County paid its former economic development chief a $200,000 “severance package” to take another, better-paying county job has raised a lot of eyebrows.

It’s also raised questions about whether the payment to now-Metro Airport CEO Turkia Awada Mullin violated the law.

Mott.org

Genesee County officials have changed a rule that restricted political activities in its parks.

A ranger in Genesee County’s Linden Park told members of a group circulating petitions to recall Governor Snyder that they’d have to get a permit first.

So they did, but then they were told they’d have to stand in a nine-square-foot space while asking for signatures.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a federal lawsuit against the county.

AccuWeather, the  respected private weather forecasting service based in Pennsylvania, is  predicting this will be a horrible winter, worse even than the last one. This  news came on the very day it became certain that it will
soon be faster to  escape to Chicago.

Photo by Rebecca Williams

Asian carp have been making their way up the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers toward the Great Lakes for decades. Bighead and silver carp are the species people are the most concerned about.

Government officials are trying to keep the carp out of Lake Michigan. One of the main methods they’re using is electrical shock. There’s a man-made canal near Chicago that connects the Mississippi River system with Lake Michigan. And on that canal is a system of three underwater electric barriers built by the Army Corps of Engineers.

I recently had a chance to visit the electric barriers. You can’t see the actual barriers, because the electrodes are underwater. But the Army Corps invited me into the control room of Barrier 2B. It looks about like you’d guess – lots of computers and gauges. There are a couple large mounted Asian carp on the shelves.

Chuck Shea is a project manager with the Army Corps.

He says the barriers repel fish by emitting very rapid electric pulses into the water... which, if you’re a fish, is not a whole lot of fun.

“The idea is, as a fish swims in, the further it goes it’s getting a bigger and bigger shock and it realizes going forward is bad, it’s uncomfortable, and it turns around and goes out of its own free will and heads back downstream.”

The electric bill for this barrier runs between $40,000 and $60,000 a month.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says several projects planned for the Huron-Manistee National Forest in northern Michigan will restore wildlife habitat while providing jobs.

EPA said Wednesday it will devote $592,400 to the projects. They'll include improving habitat for several threatened or endangered species, including the Karner blue butterfly, the piping plover, the Kirtland's warbler and the Massasagua rattlesnake.

Other work will focus on removing invasive species and stabilizing stream banks.

The money will come from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a wide-ranging plan to fix environmental problems in the lakes and their tributaries. In August, EPA announced that $6 million of the Great Lakes
money would be directed to projects designed to hire unemployed workers.

Officials have scheduled another announcement for Thursday at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Michigan home sale prices increased significantly during the past three months. But according to a new report, prices are predicted to take another tumble. 

Michigan home sale prices are down dramatically from their pre-recession highs. However, a new report from Clear Capitol says Michigan home buyers have been paying more in recent months.

“Michigan overall is actually up even more so than the Midwest region. We have them up 8.5 percent on a quarter over quarter basis.  But still down six percent from where prices were a year ago," says Alex Villacorta with Clear Capitol. 

But Villacorta says home sale prices nationally appear to have plateaued and he expects they will decline about 3 percent this winter and even more in Michigan, which he says is more volatile than the national housing market.  

Villacorta says Detroit’s housing market continues to struggle and remains one of the lowest performing home sales markets in the country. He blames this on the fact that one in every three homes on the market has been repossessed by banks that are now trying to sell them at far below market prices.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

“Veggie Mobile” will sell locally grown fruits and vegetables in Grand Rapids neighborhoods with limited access to grocery stores.

“This is awesome,” Governor Rick Snyder said while visiting the refrigerated truck’s first stop Wednesday night at New Hope Baptist Church - located in a low-income neighborhood on Grand Rapids’ southwest side. He praised the public-private partnership (and the W.K. Kellogg foundation for a $1.5 million grant) that made the “Veggie Mobile” possible.

Detroit schools are doing everything they can to get students in class for the annual state “count day.”

The numbers recorded Wednesday are more important than ever. They’ll account for 90% of state aid to schools, up from 75%  in past years.

Some Detroit schools are using gimmicks and incentives, like iTunes gift cards and “get out of homework passes,” to boost their numbers.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

This week's court ruling ordering the state to reinstate welfare benefits until recipients get adequate notice of termination has re-ignited the fight over whether the state should have approved new limits on the cash assistance.

 “We have the chance to right one of the wrongs committed by this body, and to save thousands of children from starvation and homelessness,” said Sen. Coleman Young (D-Detroit).

Joe Gratz / flickr

The state Supreme Court will decide whether a man charged with sexually assaulting two children was denied a fair trial because one of the victims testified from behind a screen. The screen shielded her view of the defendant. But he could still see her.

The defendant's attorney, Scott Grabel, says the screen made the jury more likely to believe his client was guilty:

American Panel

Michigan’s unemployed have a new online resource that looks at their personalities as well as their job skills.

A tool long used in evaluating white-collar workers is now being used for people who worked in manufacturing.

Tim Slaper is with the Indiana Business Research Center, which is part of Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business.

The school developed a Web site to help displaced workers look at new options. It includes a personality profile to find out if they like working with other people or prefer solitary jobs, and how they handle conflict.

Michiganradio.org

The Michigan Supreme Court Thursday will hear the case of a mentally ill woman who was sent to jail because she could not pay her child support.

Selesa Likine  is divorced, has children, and worked as a realtor.

Likine suffers from schizoaffective disorder. She was hospitalized several times, lost her job, and was declared totally disabled by the Social Security Administration.

But the jury wasn’t allowed to hear about that, so Likine spent 43 days in Oakland County Jail after she was convicted of failure to pay child support.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

People rallied in Holland today to ask officials not to expand the city-owned coal-fired power plant.

Holland took the state to court get an air quality permit that would allow it to replace a more than 60-year-old boiler with a more efficient one. City officials haven’t decided if they will replace it yet or not.

Tia Lebherz is with the Sierra Club in Holland. She and about twenty others held protest signs outside the Holland farmer’s market demanding the city move “beyond coal”.

User: penywise / MorgueFile

If you’re on faculty at the University of Michigan and you have an idea for a startup company…you’re in luck. If you can get outside funding, U of M will match that funding up to $500,000.

U of M President Mary Sue Coleman says "if you can convince a venture fund to invest in you, you just automatically get an investment from us. So we’re not picking winners and losers, and that’s what I like about the program."

Help Wanted: Why manufacturing temps are in demand

Oct 5, 2011
Kate Davidson / Changing Gears

Here are four very bad words you hear a lot these days:

There.  Are.  No.  Jobs.

But it turns out, that’s not entirely true.

Yes, the manufacturing sector lost six million jobs last decade.  But now, staffing agencies that place temporary workers in manufacturing say business is booming.

user cedarbenddrive / Flickr

The state Senate has approved a measure that would end lifetime benefits for incoming state lawmakers.

Fewer than half of current lawmakers would be exempt from the change. But all but two sitting senators would still get their retirements. No incoming lawmakers would be offered the retirement benefits.

The Detroit Free Press reports:

The Senate voted 37-1 on the measure, with Sen. Coleman Young Jr., D-Detroit, voting against the bill.

The House passed a bill that would have ended retiree health benefits for legislators who took office after Jan. 1, 2007. But the Senate version puts that date at Jan. 1, 2013.

The difference means that while some sitting legislators would have been eligible for the benefits under the House plan, many more sitting legislators will be eligible under the Senate plan.

Members of the House and Senate need only serve six years to be 100% vested in the retiree health care benefits. But members who don't have six years in by 2013, which mean members in tbe House who were elected in 2008 and 2010, and two state Senators - Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton and Vince Gregory, D-Southfield - would be ineligible for the benefits. All the rest of the Senators and third termers in the House will get the retiree health benefits.

The measure now goes back to the House for final approval.

Ford and the UAW

Oct 5, 2011

There’s a fair amount of grumbling in union ranks over the new four-year contract the United Auto Workers reached with Ford.

Some workers are unhappy that they failed to gain back concessions, and that there is nothing new for the retirees, who overwhelmingly outnumber those still working on the line.

Ford workers also thought they deserved more than those at GM and Chrysler, mainly because their automaker was the only one not to declare bankruptcy. They get a little more, but not much.

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Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case between the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School in Redford, Michigan and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

At issue, according to the SCOTUS blog (SCOTUS stands for the Supreme Court of the United States) is whether the U.S. government can be involved in church activities. From the blog:

Courts have generally believed that federal employment discrimination statutes do not apply to church employees performing religious functions. The question is whether this ministerial exception applies not simply to religious leaders, but also to teachers at a religious elementary school.

The Associated Press has more on the arguments from the church school employee:

Cheryl Perich got sick, then tried to return to work. Still, the school, now closed, fired her. She complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which sued the church.

Religious groups say the case should be thrown out. The Americans With Disabilities Act has an exception to prevent government involvement between churches and ministerial employees.

But a federal appeals court said Perich’s job as a teacher was secular, not religious, so the exception blocking the lawsuit didn’t count.

The Cuban hip-hop group Obsesion is in Ann Arbor this week.

Alexey Rodriguez Mola and Magia Lopez Cabrera mix African and Cuban rhythms with hip-hop and world beats. They will perform on Thursday, October 6 at the Michigan League Underground.

Here’s a song titled Tu con tu ballet from their current album “El Disco Negro de Obsesion."

Rapper Magia Lopez says her Afro-Cuban culture is what inspires her.

“The hip-hop culture is very much rooted in the 'barrios,' and in Cuba the majority of people are black, although we have mixed races, so we talk a lot about race issues, what we see and our reality as Afro-Cubans," says Lopez.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Judge Stops Cut to Cash Assistance

U.S. District Judge Paul Borman issued a restraining order yesterday that stops a round of cuts in cash benefits for Michigan welfare recipients. Rick Pluta explains:

Cash assistance welfare payments will go out today to thousands of families that were about to lose them as the state prepared to enforce state and federal time limits on the program. A federal judge ruled the state Department of Human Services failed to properly notify the families why their benefits were about to be cut off. DHS says new notices will be sent this week that comply with the ruling. And they say the state’s four-year time limit on cash assistance will officially begin in mid-October instead of at the beginning of the month.   

Count Day

Today is ‘Count Day’ at all of Michigan’s public schools. “The tally of students who show up at each school district is a major factor in how much money a district gets from the state. There are two count days each year; one in the spring and one in the fall. The Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency estimates changing the count day formula will save the state $15 million this year. That also means districts with declining student enrollment will get less money,” Lindsey Smith reports.

Money Talks (and Wins Elections)

U.S. Senate candidate and former Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra says he raised $1 million in the third quarter in his campaign to become the Republican nominee to challenge Democrat Debbie Stabenow in the 2012 election. The Associated Press reports:

Hoekstra's campaign said in a statement Wednesday that the former congressman's contributions came from more than 3,500 donors. The campaign for the Holland Republican has said he didn't loan it any money. On Tuesday, Clark Durant said he's raised more than $750,000. Durant's campaign says the charter schools executive didn't loan it any money. Also running are former Kent County Judge Randy Hekman, Roscommon businessman Peter Konetchy, former Libertarian Scotty Boman of Detroit and Gary Glenn of Midland, president of the American Family Association of Michigan.

Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm and her husband, Dan Mulhern, have a new book out titled, "A Governor's Story: A Fight for Jobs and America's Economic Future." Christina Shockley spoke with Granholm and Mulhern about their book last week and it got us thinking:

What can you really learn from a political memoir? Are they filled with honest introspection or just self-congratulatory drivel? To help us answer these questions, we called up Craig Ruff, Senior Policy Analyst with Public Sector Consultants.

Cle0patra / Flickr

It’s official: Michigan’s 2012 Republican presidential primary will be held February 28th. After both the state House and Senate passed legislation designating the date, Governor Snyder signed it into law yesterday. The date means Michigan will be one of the earliest states in the nation to hold a primary, but it also means it could lose half of its nominating delegates according to Republican National Committee rules. So, why all the fuss about the presidential primary date? Political explains:

Both national parties are struggling to keep the national nominating schedule from imploding as state after state tries to move earlier than the next to have more say in picking the presidential nominee. Typically, the later the primary the less influence a state has in the nomination.

Under rules set by both national parties, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina are the only states allowed to hold primaries or caucuses in February and no other state can hold a nominating election prior to March 6, which is likely to be a "Super Tuesday" with multiple contests.

As Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry explains, “Michigan, of course, wants to make a bigger splash, wants more attention, [but] it’s blunted because Mitt Romney is seen as Michigan’s favorite son and the Michigan primary is only important if Mitt Romney doesn’t win [the primary].”

Meanwhile, Michigan Democrats aren't planning a presidential primary in 2012 as President Obama is believed to be the only Democratic candidate who would be on the ballot. Instead, they'll pick their 2012 presidential delegates at state meetings.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

The tally of students who show up at each school district is a major factor in how much money a district gets from the state.

There are two count days each year; one in the spring and one in the fall. This year state lawmakers changed the formula so that the fall count day is even more important. The number of students a district has is determined by a blend of the two count days. The fall day makes up 90-percent of that blend, the spring only 10-percent.

A federal judge has stopped a major round of cuts in cash benefits for Michigan welfare recipients, saying the notices were deficient.

It's a significant decision. Republicans who control the Legislature and Governor Rick Snyder had approved a stricter four-year cap on cash payments, effective Oct. 1.

U.S. District Judge Paul Borman issued a restraining order today that prevents people from being cut from the program. He says the Michigan Department of Human Services did not meet the requirements under law when it sent notices to thousands of people.

The judge ordered new notices, which would give people the right to a hearing to determine if they would lose cash assistance from the state.

U.S. Marshals

Update 5:15 pm:

Judge Nancy Edmunds has recessed today's proceedings. The count so far: 20 jurors made it into the pool of potential jurors and will proceed to the final round of jury selection - 16 women, and four men. Seven were excused - three of them for bias. Two were excused for job-related reasons, one for mental health. The final juror who was excused has a wife with medical needs and expressed some frustration with his previous experiences with the courts.

The 13 jurors who were not questioned today will be questioned tomorrow, and 27 more jurors will also be called. Judge Edmunds is looking to have about three dozen prospective jurors in the pool for the second, final phase of jury selection - tentatively set for Thursday afternoon.

1:12 pm:

The first phase of jury selection is under way for the man accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas 2009.

So far five of the 17 jurors questioned have been excused.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab shouted, "Sheik Anwar is alive!" upon entering the courtroom. He also said "I will defend Muhammad," and likened the U.S. to a "cancer."

Judge Nancy Edmunds urged Abdulmutallab to change out of his prison clothes to make a better impression on potential jurors. After a brief back-and-forth, the defendant was escorted downstairs and returned wearing a dark blazer over a tan robe with white gym socks and wing tips.

Three of the jurors who were excused said they would have trouble putting aside their belief that Abdulmutallab is guilty.

"I shouldn't be this way, but this one just bothers me," said one. "I just have this guilty verdict in me."

We are now just a few days into the state’s new fiscal year. State Budget Director, John Nixon gives us an update on the state of Michigan’s finances.

Nixon says many states relied on federal stimulus money, and now it's time to look at other options.

“We had a huge infusion of stimulus money and then there was a big cliff because once that stimulus money went away all the states are scrambling saying, “oh my gosh how do we keep our programs whole?” Well that’s what we’ve done. We cut a billion and a half dollars of spending out the budget and we balanced the budget.”

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The owners of the Ambassador Bridge are once again attacking Governor Snyder’s  push to build a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.  

The company says experts it hired say the proposed bridge would not attract the billions in federal money promised by the governor and would end up costing Michigan taxpayers money.  

Matt Moroun is the vice chair of the Ambassador Bridge company.   He says "building a new bridge to Canada will not garner any more federal funds for highways in Michigan…then what Michigan gets ordinarily from the feds every year.”  

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