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2:06 pm
Wed September 7, 2011

Medical marijuana supporters rally in Lansing

Medical marijuana supporters rally in Lansing this afternoon.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

Several thousand medical marijuana patients and their supporters rallied at the state Capitol today. 

The state Court of Appeals recently ruled that medical marijuana dispensaries are illegal under Michigan law.

Patient advocate Joe Cain says the courts and state officials are working to undermine the state constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana.

"They don't care about you," said Cain. "They don't care or they would have had a plan, because you don’t take sick people’s medicine away."

Cain says the state Court of Appeals decision was politically motivated.

"The objective was to deny people safe access to their medicine. This was not a judicial decision. This was a political decision," said Cain.

The Michigan Supreme Court will soon consider several medical marijuana cases. The court's decision in those cases is expected to go a long way to determining the scope of Michigan's medical marijuana law.

State Legislature
12:48 pm
Wed September 7, 2011

State House votes to restrict food assistance use

Inside the state Capitol building, Lansing, MI
Cedar Bend Drive Flickr

Welfare recipients could not use their state-issued debit cards to draw cash from casino ATMs or buy lottery tickets, alcohol and tobacco under legislation moving through the state Legislature.

The Michigan House passed bills Wednesday that would restrict the use of Michigan Bridge Cards, used like debit cards for state food assistance and cash programs. The major bills passed 108-0 and advance to the Senate.

Monthly food assistance in Michigan is based on income, how many people are in their household and other criteria. Funds are made available on a debit card swiped through electronic reader when buying groceries.

Other bills in the package would require the state to deactivate a Bridge card when a recipient is in jail.

Auto/Economy
12:10 pm
Wed September 7, 2011

Saab Automobile files for bankruptcy

A Saab 9-3 SportCombi II. The company stopped production last April.
user S 400 HYBRID wikimedia commons

Saab Automobile AB filed for bankruptcy protection Wednesday.

Saab used to be owned by General Motors. GM sold the company to Spyker Cars in January of 2010.

From the Associated Press:

The owner of cash-strapped car maker Saab filed for bankruptcy protection on Wednesday in a last-ditch attempt to salvage a brand crippled by production stoppages, withheld salary payments and mounting debt.

Swedish Automobile, formerly known as Spyker Cars, said the move would buy it time to receive funding from Chinese investors, currently awaiting regulatory approval, and avoid bankruptcy.

The Wall Street Journal reports this is an attempt at reorganization, similar to Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the U.S.:

Saab Automobile has struggled with its finances for months. Production at its plant in the Swedish town of Trollhattan has been halted since April.

In a bid to solve its long-term funding needs, the car maker this summer signed agreements with two Chinese companies. But Saab will receive no money until regulators in China and Sweden approve the deal, so the company is still strapped for cash.

Politics
12:00 pm
Wed September 7, 2011

Mid-Michigan Red Cross workers on strike

A Mid-Michigan Red Cross worker on the picket line.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

Workers at the American Red Cross Mid-Michigan chapter are on the picket line, after a strike deadline passed without a deal.

Red Cross spokeswoman Monica Stoneking says the strike will drastically reduce blood collection efforts in 65 Michigan counties:

"In the Great Lakes region alone, we need to collect about 700 units of blood every day to meet the hospital needs and the needs of the patients we serve, and not being able to collect those blood products really puts our blood supply in jeopardy," said Stoneking.

Stoneking hopes negotiations will resolve the standoff soon.

"We're preparing for at least ten days," said Stoneking. "We're calling on other regions that aren’t affected by the union to increase our blood collection so that our national blood supply is healthy."

The strike affects about 280 nurses and staff who handle blood. They’ve been working without a contract since 2008.

Union officials say the two sides are far apart on many issues.

Talks are scheduled to resume September 17.

Politics
11:38 am
Wed September 7, 2011

Reaction to stronger limits on Michigan welfare benefits

Yesterday, Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation that places tighter limits on cash assistance benefits to the poor.

It puts a four-year lifetime cap on cash assistance payments from the state. The four years don't have to be consecutive, they can be tallied up over time, and the clock on the four-year cap started on October 1, 2007.

It's estimated that 12,600 cases will be taken off the cash assistance as of October 1, 2011.

Peter Luke of MLive points out that in 2006, then-governor Jennifer Granholm also signed legislation limiting cash benefits to four years, "but DHS caseworkers had leeway to authorize exemptions."

This measure is more strict, and Governor Snyder said his administration is "returning cash assistance to its original intent as a transitional program to help families while they work toward self-sufficiency."

From MLive:

DHS Director Maura Corrigan said the agency is partnering with non-profit groups to provide recipients with a “soft landing” during the transition... The measure is estimated save the 2012 state budget about $65 million.

The new law also allows families on the rolls to earn more money on the job while still receiving benefits. In the past, families that earned more than $814 a month could no longer qualify for cash assistance. The new limit on earned income is $1,164.

"Michigan continues to face financial challenges, and the fiscal reality is that we cannot afford to provide lifetime cash assistance to recipients who are able to work," Corrigan said.

In a statement, the head of the Michigan League for Human Services, Gilda Jacobs, says these cash benefits support children in need:

The Department of Human Services has estimated that 29,700 children will be cut from cash assistance in October. Though the department says it will assist the families for a few months, it’s questionable whether new jobs will be available for adults in these families by the end of the year.

It will be a hard, hard winter for many of these families.

Read more
Politics
11:32 am
Wed September 7, 2011

Musical chairs in the 14th Congressional District

Michigan has six congressmen from the Democratic Party. Their ages are 85, 82, 82, 80, 54 and 52. One of the 82-year-old guys is retiring.

But Michigan is losing a seat in Congress, and so it has to lose another of these men. Our state has no women Democrats in the house, by the way. So, logically, which one should go?

Should the 85-year-old, whose own party stripped him of his committee chairmanship last year, retire? He has already served longer in the house than any man in history. Should the other 82-year-old retire? He sometimes appears confused in public; his office is chaotic and has been the target of ethics investigations.

What about the 80-year-old, who was his party’s nominee for governor before most of today’s citizens were alive?

Read more
History
10:47 am
Wed September 7, 2011

Police dive team finds cannon in Detroit River

DETROIT (AP) - A police dive team has found a cannon in the Detroit River near the city's downtown. The cannon was discovered about 200 feet from Cobo Center in July. The police department says the cannon could be more than two centuries old.

Changing Gears
9:31 am
Wed September 7, 2011

The "Google of manufacturing?" One company shows a possible future

Matt Hlavin stands in front of a rapid prototyping and manufacturing machine. These can produce small batches of plastic products quickly and cheaply. This is the future, he says.
Dan Bobkoff Changing Gears

Depending on who you ask, American manufacturing is either the way out of our bad economy, or it’s dead.

Whatever you think, there’s no denying that manufacturing has changed.

That’s the story of Thogus Products in Avon Lake, Ohio.

This manufacturer has changed so much, its President calls it a 61 year-old startup company.

Read more
Politics
8:43 am
Wed September 7, 2011

The week in state politics

State Capitol building, Lansing, MI
Matthileo Flickr

Every Wednesday, we get a dose of state politics from Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry. On tap for this morning: state lawmakers are back in Lansing for the fall session, there's a good chance 'right to work' legislation will make its way to the state Legislature, and the latest round of musical chairs in the state's 2012 Congressional election.

Politics
7:47 am
Wed September 7, 2011

Mich. Supreme Court to hear pension tax arguments

State Supreme Court building, Lansing, Michigan
Subterranean Wikipedia Commons

Scores of seniors upset the state will tax some of their public pensions for the first time are expected to pack the courtroom when the Michigan Supreme Court hears oral arguments on the law.

The hearing begins Wednesday morning in the Hall of Justice.

The case is a major test of sweeping tax changes put in place earlier this year by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.

He wants a Supreme Court advisory opinion that would effectively pre-empt any court challenge on the law filed by opponents such as public employee unions, who say the state constitution protects their pensions from being taxed.

Starting Jan. 1, pensions and some retirement income that previously was partially exempt would be taxed as regular income for those born after 1945.

Read more
Agriculture
11:02 pm
Tue September 6, 2011

Michigan apple growers expecting a great crop this year

Apples from an orchard in Ottawa County.
dailyinvention creative commons

Not only will there be way more Michigan apples this year, they’ll probably be bigger and better looking too.

According to estimates from the United States Department of Agriculture, Michigan apple growers are likely to produce 26.1 million bushels this season. The 5 year average is 19.5 million bushels. Only Washington and New York state grow more.

Denise Donohue is the Executive Director of the Michigan Apple Committee.

“This is the 5th year on the rollercoaster for Michigan. It’s been an up and down thing for the last three years in particular.”

Read more
Energy
9:57 pm
Tue September 6, 2011

Power outages plague Oakland County communities

DTE Energy says about 12,000 customers were still without power on Tuesday, after Saturday’s strong storms.  Many were clustered in southeast Oakland County, especially in the Detroit suburbs of Ferndale and Oak Park.

The utility had restored power to about 90%  of its customers who saw it knocked out during the weekend storms.

Read more
Politics
6:06 pm
Tue September 6, 2011

Changes coming to Michigan's no-fault auto insurance?

A fight is brewing at the state Capitol over whether Michigan’s no-fault auto insurance law should be changed.

Backers of the legislation want drivers to be able to opt out of coverage that provides unlimited lifetime benefits for the most severely injured accident victims.

Pete Kuhnmuench, with the Insurance Institute of Michigan, says the option would save people money:

"We think putting more money back in the pockets of the consumers we think now is the right time to do that, given our economics," says Kuhnmuench.

A study commissioned by the measure’s opponents says most drivers would choose to underinsure themselves to save money.

The study says that would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

Politics
6:02 pm
Tue September 6, 2011

Gov. Snyder changes welfare in Michigan, signs four-year cash assistance cap

Governor Rick Snyder has signed legislation that would end cash assistance welfare benefits after a family has been receiving payments for 48 months or more. 

About 12,600 cases, many of them families with children, will close and lose their benefits when the law takes effect on October 1.

In a statement, Governor Snyder says four years should be long enough for people to become self-sufficient and some people have been getting cash assistance for as long as 14 years.

Critics of the new limits say many of the people who will lose assistance are families with children, and many of the people who lose the benefits are adults who can’t find a job in a bad economy.

Governor Snyder’s administration says caseworkers will still make sure families who lose benefits will continue to get Medicaid coverage, food assistance, and help with training and job searches.

The savings to taxpayers is pegged at $65 million dollars in the upcoming fiscal year.

Republican state lawmakers say this won’t be the final word this year on changes in the welfare system.

The State House could vote as soon as this week on more limits to public assistance, including making sure automatic teller machines in casinos cannot accept Bridge Cards to make cash withdrawals, and canceling the cards of people with outstanding warrants.

Education
4:39 pm
Tue September 6, 2011

All students in Flint and Detroit eligible for free breakfast and lunch

A new federal program being piloted this year provides free breakfasts and lunches to all students in poorer school districts.
USDA.gov

A new United States Department of Agriculture program will provide free lunches and breakfasts to all K-12 students in the Detroit Public School system and the Flint School District.

The free meal service, known as the "Community Eligibility Option," is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act singed into law by President Obama in December of 2010.

From the USDA:

[The] universal free meal service option...makes it easier for low-income children to receive meals in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. The "Community Eligibility Option" will allow schools in high-poverty areas to eliminate the use of applications and provide free breakfast and lunch to all students.

In a statement, Mark Schrupp, DPS Chief Operating Officer, said the program is aimed at eliminating stigma:

"One of the primary goals of this program is to eliminate the stigma that students feel when they get a free lunch, as opposed to paying cash," said Schrupp. "Some students would skip important meals to avoid being identified as low-income. Now, all students will walk through a lunch line and not have to pay. Low-income students will not be easily identifiable and will be less likely to skip meals."

Blake Thorne reports in the Flint Journal that a district has to meet certain criteria to be eligible for the new "lunch for all" program:

The program evaluates the economic eligibility of an entire school or district, rather than individual students, and if 40 percent of the school or district’s students qualify for free lunches, all students get them...

Last year, 81 percent of Flint students qualified for free lunches, according to Michigan Department of Education data from last fall, the most recent figures available.

Education Department figures show about 41 percent of the state’s 1.57 million students qualify for the meals.

The program is in its pilot phase this year and only a limited number of states can participate.

Once a district signs on, they're required to participate in the program for 4 successive school years.

The Community Eligibility Option will be available to all states beginning in the 2014-2015 school year.

In the Detroit News, Michael Van Beek of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, questioned whether the new program is a good use of taxpayer money:

"Under this program, it appears we would be subsidizing school lunches and meals to students who currently don't qualify under the federal program."

Van Beek said there are more creative solutions than giving away meals to everyone at a school where less than half of the students may qualify.

The news reports that "the federal government spent $338 million on free and reduced school meals" in the state in fiscal year 2010.

Newsmaker Interviews
4:08 pm
Tue September 6, 2011

A conversation with state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer

State Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer
Photograph courtesy of Senator Whitmer's office

The Michigan Legislature is back in session this week, so we took some time to speak with state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-23rd) about what she would like to see happen in the state legislature this fall.

Changing Gears
3:20 pm
Tue September 6, 2011

The future of manufacturing, all this month, from Changing Gears

Wisconsin Historical Society

What’s different about our factories? How are things changing in the Midwest, from the way people are trained to what’s being produced?

This month, Changing Gears’ regular Wednesday reports will be devoted to the future of manufacturing.

The days are long gone when all you had to do to get a factory job was know someone. These are not the same places your dad or mom or grandfather worked in. And the expectations of what employers need from you have changed, as well.

We’ll kick the series off tomorrow with a report from Dan Bobkoff. Meanwhile, we’d like to pick your brain.

What kind of factories do you think we’ll be seeing in the Midwest? Which industry will be next to catch hold here?

We’re looking forward to exploring our manufacturing future with you.

Politics
2:48 pm
Tue September 6, 2011

Medical marijuana advocates to hold Lansing rally

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A rally is scheduled Wednesday on the steps of the state Capitol protesting proposed changes to the state's medical marijuana law.

The Michigan Medical Marijuana Association president and other speakers during the rally in Lansing are expected to discuss the law and treatment patients and caregivers have received from law enforcement. The event starts at noon.

Michigan voters in 2008 approved use of marijuana to relieve pain and other chronic ailments. About 100,000 people have state-issued cards letting them have 2.5 ounces of "usable" pot and up to 12 plants. Registered caregivers also can grow marijuana for five people.

Michigan's Appeals Court has ruled some sales at dispensaries illegal.

Changes proposed by some Michigan legislators requiring stricter doctor-patient relationships before a patient could get authorization to use the drug.

Economy
2:21 pm
Tue September 6, 2011

Flint to consider consolidation as a way to save money

Flint City Council is considering joining a consolidation initiative known as Future Genesee.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

This Wednesday, Flint City Council will consider whether consolidation could be in the city's future.

The Flint Journal reports that a council committee will take up a resolution this Wednesday, with a final decision from council coming next Monday:

Government consolidation in Michigan has been a hot topic since Gov. Rick Snyder told local communities that they would lose out on additional state aid unless they showed a commitment to share services with others to save taxpayer dollars.

Snyder set a Jan. 1 deadline for governments to submit consolidation plans if they want to receive a share of a $200-million pool of funds.

Several local communities, including Burton, Clio, Davison and Davison Township, have already joined the initiative.

The consolidation initiative is known as Future Genesee  and the Journal reports it includes the communities of Burton, Clio, Davison and Davison Township.

Politics
1:04 pm
Tue September 6, 2011

Michigan governor ready to launch fall agenda

Governor Rick Snyder talking to the Michigan Farm Bureau.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder is ready to launch a new series of fall initiatives, including measures to improve Michigan residents' health, fix crumbling roads and sewer systems and train
more people for available jobs.

He could unveil his health and wellness initiatives as early as next week. The Republican governor plans to lay out a roads plan in October and a way to better tap Michigan workers' talents in
November.

Snyder has been focused on "reinventing" Michigan since he took office in January, and doesn't plan to slow down anytime soon.

But he could be distracted this fall by a flurry of bills being pushed by fellow Republicans, such as making Michigan a right-to-work state and outlawing a late-term abortion procedure that's already illegal through a federal law.

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