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5:06 pm
Wed November 2, 2011

Michigan House approves workers compensation overhaul

The Michigan House of Representatives passed changes to the state's worker-compensation system.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

The state House has approved an overhaul of Michigan’s worker-compensation system. That system is supposed to pay benefits to people injured on the job.

Business groups and Republicans say an overhaul of the system is needed to reduce insurance rates paid by employers, and get people back to work more quickly – even if it’s a job that pays less.

They say a leaner and less-expensive system is still needed to make the state more employer-friendly.

Representative Bradford Jacobsen (R-Oxford) sponsored the bill.

“We’re not talking about someone driving 50 miles looking for a lawn-mowing job. But we do ask, if you’re on work comp that if you’re able to go back even in a marginal job to get back on some earning capacity to go ahead and do it,” said Jacobsen.

State Representative Vicki Barnett (D-Farmington Hills) opposed the overhaul.

She says it will reduce benefits for injured workers and force some of them to take lower-paying jobs before they are fully healed:

“What we do here matters to people and to families every day. This particular bill will be hurting families, workers, and the very people we came here to protect,” said Barnett.

Democrats also say the changes are not needed because Michigan’s unemployment coverage rates have gone down in 12 of the past 16 years.

They say the changes could become harder for employees to file claims or receive benefits they deserve.

Politics
4:25 pm
Wed November 2, 2011

Wayne County Auditor will probe payroll, contract questions

The Wayne County Commission’s Auditor General will look into some persistent questions about county contracts and payment practices.

Willie Mayo says the audit will dig into two primary issues. One is how the county’s payroll process works—and whether there are safeguards to prevent some county appointees from getting big payouts.

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Economy
2:00 pm
Wed November 2, 2011

Mixed economic messages: It's all about perspective

automotiveauto.info

If the constant stream of what seems like contradictory economic news leaves you feeling confused, join the club.

Headline No. 1: “Midwest economy slows.”

No. 2: “Michigan surpasses 48 states in growth.”

And No. 3: “Michigan has fourth-highest number of layoffs.”

These are all true stories about the third quarter.

Bob Tomarelli is an analyst with IHS. He says the stories just reflect different aspects of the economy.

“It is doing better," Tomarelli says. "It is recovering at a decent pace, a very quick pace. But things are still not great because it was hit so very hard.”

Tomarelli says most of the 100,000 jobs added in the third quarter were in professional business services and manufacturing. But he says that boost is probably temporary.

So while they are getting a nice short-term burst that’s adding to payrolls and creating some jobs, or at least bringing some jobs back, it is not expected to keep up at that pace, and in the long run is actually expected to decline.”

Most of Michigan’s 29,000 layoffs were in government and financial sectors.

courts
12:06 pm
Wed November 2, 2011

Macomb Co. to pay settlement to man wrongfully convicted of rape

Jeffrey Moldowan spent a dozen years in prison for a crime he didn't commit.
Michigan Department of Corrections

Macomb County will pay a $150,000 settlement to a man who was wrongfully convicted of beating and raping his former girlfriend.

A lawsuit filed by Jeffrey Moldowan was set to go to trial today. Moldowan spent a dozen years in prison for the crime before a jury acquitted him in a second trial.

Politics
11:37 am
Wed November 2, 2011

Video: A visit with Michigan militia members

A Michigan militia member speaking with Rina Miller.
Pete Tombers

Here's a video we produced back in February of 2010.

It gives us a quick look at a militia in Michigan and helps us understand why people participate in militias.

Running themes for participating are a distrust of the government and being ready should society break down.

One member says, "I'm worried about the damage that government interference has done to the economy. How much of your tax dollars are sent to other countries? Countries that people can't even pronounce, so I think you need to narrow taxation down to exactly what's spelled out in the Constitution."

Interviews by Rina Miller and video by Pete Tombers. Michigan Radio's multimedia producer Mercedes Mejia produced the video.

Militia
11:25 am
Wed November 2, 2011

Guilty plea set next week in Michigan militia probe

Joshua Clough following his arrest.
U.S. Marshals Service

DETROIT (AP) - One of nine people charged in an investigation of a southern Michigan militia apparently has agreed to plead guilty next week.

Records show Joshua Clough of Lenawee County is due in federal court next Tuesday to change his plea, three months before trial. He's accused of conspiring to rebel against the government among other charges, but it's not clear what's in his deal with prosecutors. No details were filed.

It would be the first guilty plea since charges were filed against nine people in spring 2010. Trial for the others is set for February.

Messages seeking comment were left Wednesday with Clough's attorney and a prosecutor.

The government claims members of Hutaree were scheming to kill a police officer, then attack law enforcement.

Commentary
11:15 am
Wed November 2, 2011

A New Detroit River Bridge: The Situation in Delray

For a brief moment, a couple weeks ago, it looked like things might finally be moving on the governor’s plan to build a new Detroit River bridge a plan heavily supported by business.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville seemed to have  enough votes to move the bridge bills out of the economic development committee and on to the full senate.

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Offbeat
11:10 am
Wed November 2, 2011

Squirrel blamed in Grand Rapids for power outage

A red squirrel in Michigan.
Steve Burt Flickr

Colder weather means squirrels are looking for indoor homes and places to cache their food. Some are more aggressive in establishing their indoor domiciles than others.

From the Associated Press:

Officials at Consumers Energy are blaming a squirrel for knocking out electrical service to about 10,000 customers yesterday in the Grand Rapids area. The critter managed to get into a piece of equipment at a substation, briefly knocking out power.

Changing Gears
9:06 am
Wed November 2, 2011

Empty Series: The economic and social cost of emptiness (Part 1)

It's been estimated that 27 percent of the buildings in Detroit are vacant. Some experts say that figure has been improving of late.
Tim Beckett Flickr

This week, Changing Gears kicks off a look at Empty across our region. During November, we’ll be looking at empty buildings, empty property — and how we can fill things up again.

In the first part of our series, I explore the economic and social cost of emptiness.

Things may be better in some neighborhoods, but problems still abound.

The numbers

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Politics
7:54 am
Wed November 2, 2011

The Week in State Politics

State Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
Ifmuth Flickr

Every Wednesday we speak with Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry about what's going on in state politics. This morning, we take a look at whether improved rail service can lead to a healthier state economy, what to watch for in next Tuesday's election, and the latest happenings in Pontiac, where that city's emergency manager has fired some department heads.

We are having a technical problem with the audio link above. Please use the link below:

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School Closure
7:37 am
Wed November 2, 2011

Police stand-off closes a Grand Rapids school

Grand Rapids Public Schools has closed Southwest Community Campus school today because of a police stand-off underway in the neighborhood near the school.

Police are looking for a man who they consider a "person of interest" in connection with the fatal shooting of a woman.

That incident happened around six o’clock this morning. Police have blocked off some streets near the school.

The shooting is not related to the school at all, but administrators are closing the school because the neighborhood may not be safe for students to travel through it, according to John Helmholdt, spokesman for the Grand Rapids Public Schools.

Environment
11:40 pm
Tue November 1, 2011

Federal judge rejects proposed settlement for Saugatuck Dunes

This story has been updated: An earlier version of this story incorrectly suggested that development was prohibited on all 300 acres of the property. The story below has been updated to make the requirement for special permits more clear.

A federal judge has thrown out a proposed legal settlement between Saugatuck Township and a private developer looking to build near Lake Michigan coastal dunes.

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Battle Creek
10:59 pm
Tue November 1, 2011

Battle Creek city commissioners approve health care exemption

Battle Creek is opting out of a new state law that requires local government employees pay more for their health insurance. And it’s not alone. The Michigan Municipal League says about a third of the cities it surveyed plan to exempt themselves from the law requiring an 80/20 split on health insurance costs.   

The law allows a temporary opt out. And there are many reasons.  

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Politics
9:32 pm
Tue November 1, 2011

Detroit Police want gunshot-sensing technology

Detroit Police say a technology known as “Shot Spotter” would help the department’s battle against gun violence.                                                     

The department wants to use $2.6 million in federal money to pilot the gunshot-sensing technology system.

Police Chief Ralph Godbee says it would be an invaluable tool in locating shots fired, and deploying officers quickly.

But City Council members, who must approve the project, were skeptical. Councilman Gary Brown questions Shot Spotter’s effectiveness—especially since it won’t include video.

“According to the Department of Justice, this is an expensive piece of equipment for…the value that you get out of it,” Brown says.

Brown also suggested the department doesn’t have enough manpower to respond to all detected gunshots.

The Council delayed a vote on the issue until next week.

Politics
9:14 pm
Tue November 1, 2011

Protesters target DTE Energy

Many people are worried about a long, cold winter ahead for low-income people who could face utility shutoffs.

That’s particularly true in Detroit, where dozens of people protested about the issue in front of DTE Energy headquarters.

The protesters want DTE to end utility shutoffs in the winter months, and create a rate structure that better accommodates the elderly, disabled, and poor.

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October U.S. auto sales
5:54 pm
Tue November 1, 2011

October U.S. auto sales up, especially at Chrysler

U.S. auto sales rose again last month, as pent-up demand for cars continues to overcome low consumer confidence in the economy. 

Chrysler’s sales increase was especially strong, as customers continue to return to the smallest of the Detroit Three car companies. 

The company's sales rose 27 percent over October last year. 

It was also the 19th straight month of sales increases for Chrysler.  

Michelle Krebs of Edmunds.com says Chrysler finally has new products to sell, like the new Jeep Compass, which outsold its predecessor by 566 percent. 

Krebs says Chrysler is also running good ads for its cars, like the instantly iconic Superbowl ad starring Eminem and the Chrysler 200.

"And it’s caused people to at least know that the company still exists," says Krebs, "when many people did not think the company would survive after its bankruptcy, and it’s catching the attention of buyers."

Nissan sales rose 18 percent, while sales declined nearly 8 percent at Toyota and 1 percent at Honda.  Both companies are recovering from inventory shortfalls related to the tsunami in Japan last spring.

Politics
5:42 pm
Tue November 1, 2011

State to look at merging Saugatuck, Douglas and Saugatuck Twp

Travis Randolph's group collected more than the 250 signatures needed to submit to the State Boundary Commission. The group will submit the petitions Wednesday.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

A group of citizens will hand over hundreds of signatures Wednesday to petition the State of Michigan to allow three West Michigan communities to merge.

Travis Randolph lives in Saugatuck Township. He chairs the Consolidated Government Committee that’s asking the state to consider merging the township with the Cities of Saugatuck and Douglas. Together, the three local units of government serve a little more 5,000 people.

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Politics
4:57 pm
Tue November 1, 2011

A conversation with State Representative Paul Scott

A week from today, Michigan voters head to the polls for a number of millage and mayoral elections. In Genesee County, there will also be a recall for Republican State Representative, Paul Scott. He serves as chairman of the House Education Committee.

In this interview, Michigan Radio's Jennifer White asks Rep. Scott why he thinks he has been targeted for recall and what he plans to do over the next week to try and keep his seat.

Education
4:37 pm
Tue November 1, 2011

Fact finder sides with CMU administration in dispute over salary and benefits

A state-appointed fact finder has issued a report on the dispute between the Central Michigan University Faculty Association and the administration.
CMU

The Central Michigan University Faculty Association held a strike on the first day of classes last August. The union said the CMU administration was not bargaining on their new contract in good faith.

A judge ordered the striking faculty members back to work and a state appointed fact finder heard both sides of the grievances in early September.

Now that fact finder, Barry Goldman, has let issued a report siding with the CMU administration on salary and benefit issues, according to Lindsay Knake of the Saginaw News.

More from the Saginaw News:

With salary adjustments, Goldman acknowledged in the report CMU has $228 million in unrestricted net assets, but said the university cannot be as generous with the funds as it appears.

“The CMU proposal of a zero increase in the first year and modest increases in subsequent years is not an unreasonable offer, all things considered. Circumstances are bad and getting worse. It would be extremely unwise for CMU to eat its seed corn,” Goldman’s statement said.

The administration’s offer includes a wage freeze for one year with increases equal to 4 percentage points over three years.

Golman also said the faculty should accept the health care plan being offered by the administration. His findings are non-binding, according to the Saginaw News.

Environment
3:54 pm
Tue November 1, 2011

Two Michigan pollution hotspots show signs of improvement

Great Lakes Areas of Concern
EPA website

Two of Michigan's "Areas of Concern," heavily polluted sites around the Great Lakes region, have seen recent progress in terms of cleanup. This according to state environmental regulators.

The Associated Press reports:

The U.S. and Canada designated 43 toxic hot spots in the region in the late 1980s. Among them are Muskegon Lake and the Upper Peninsula's Deer Lake.

Among the problems that put Deer Lake on the list were deformities or reproductive problems for wildlife. Another was excessive algae.

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