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12:33 pm
Fri August 26, 2011

Court rules Michigan legislature illegally quashed pay raise

The Michigan Court of Appeals says the Legislature violated the state constitution by illegally taking money from state employee paychecks to cover retirement health care costs.

State employees are in line to get back $60 million dollars that was withheld from their paychecks if this decision stands.

The court of appeals says then-Governor Jennifer Granholm and the Legislature could not take three percent of state employee salaries for retirement costs after lawmakers failed to block three percent pay raises.

The pay raises were approved by the independent state Civil Service Commission, and could only be reversed by super-majorities in the House and Senate.

The appeals court said that was just another way to take away the pay raise, and violated the process set up by the state constitution.

Governor Rick Snyder says the money is needed to help cover a shortfall in the state employee retirement fund. He could ask the state attorney general to appeal the decision to the Michigan Supreme Court.

*Correction - an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the current Michigan legislature and Governor Snyder "adopted the plan earlier this year that requires state employees contribute 3 percent of their paychecks toward their retirement health care costs."

The plan was adopted under a previous legislature and then-Governor Granholm.

The headline has been changed as well. (previous headline "Court rules Michigan legislature and Gov. illegally quashed pay raise").

We regret the error.

 

 

Auto/Economy
12:07 pm
Fri August 26, 2011

GM to cut production of pickup trucks next month

GM says it will cut production of pickup trucks next month. The 2011 Chevy Silverado, GM's best-selling truck.
Tino Rossini Flickr

Disappointing economic data seems to be rolling in more frequently these days. The U.S. economy grew "a meager 1 percent" from April through July (a downgrade from an earlier 1.3 percent estimate), and unemployment numbers show no signs of improving (here's a cartoon of people looking for work in downtown Portland).

Now, news of cuts in production at GM.

From the Associated Press:

General Motors is cutting its production of pickup trucks next month, a sign that truck sales aren't as robust as the company had hoped.

A GM spokesman says the company cancelled five scheduled overtime shifts on Saturdays in September and October. He didn't know how many vehicles would be involved, but the Flint, Mich., plant where the pickups are made can produce 900 trucks per day.

Full-size pickup truck sales were up 9 percent for the year through July in the U.S., compared with a year earlier, according to Autodata Corp. But that increase was smaller than the industry saw as a whole. Continuing weakness in the housing and construction sectors has dampened demand for trucks. Sales of the Chevrolet Silverado, GM's best-selling truck, were up 7 percent.

Sports
12:00 pm
Fri August 26, 2011

The 35th Crim Festival of Races

running shoes
User: minorissues Flickr

About 15,000 people will participate in the 35th anniversary of the Crim Festival of Races on August 27th. People from all over the world come to Flint to run or walk in the festival.

Deb Kiertzner is with the Crim Fitness Foundation. 

"This year the headline is that we’re bringing in the legends of the Crim. These are four really good solid American long distance runners that have set records at the Crim. We have the last American male and female to have won the Boston marathon. That’s Greg Meyer and Lisa Rainsberger."

The festival has eight different races ranging from the teddy bear trot to the 10 mile run.

Kathy Gomez is a first-time runner in this year’s Crim race. She explains why the race is so important to her.

"My dad had heart disease and he had got me a little red dress, which is for healthy heart. And once he started doing his stuff before he died, once he started doing his exercise, he always encouraged me to get my cardio stuff in. So from a health benefit that’s a really great way to have cardio."

The Crim festival draws about 50,000 people to Flint and generates over $10 million a year for the local economy.

-Traci Currie, Michigan Radio Newsrooom

Education
11:06 am
Fri August 26, 2011

98 lowest achieving Michigan schools identified

Carstens Elementary-Middle School in Detroit is on Michigan's list of "Persistently Lowest Achieving Schools."
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

The Michigan Department of Education has revealed its list of "Persistently Lowest Achieving Schools" (follow the link to see the list - it's an excel spreadsheet).

The annual listing is required by state law. The state started the PLA listing last year, when 92 schools were called out.

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Your Story
9:00 am
Fri August 26, 2011

Your Story: Why a serial entrepreneur keeps trying

courtesy of Brendan Doms

Brendan Doms has launched more than a dozen ventures. Most of these are tech websites designed to do something new and useful. By his own admission, none of the start-ups have been particularly successful. Nevertheless, he’s getting ready to launch the next one “within the next month.”

Doms is a serial entrepreneur. These are people who start businesses again and again, apparently impervious to outside pressures like a bad economy, tight lending environment, or failure.

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News Roundup
8:27 am
Fri August 26, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Friday, August 26th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Michigan’s Low-Achieving Schools

The Michigan Department of Education will release a list of the state’s lowest-achieving schools later this morning. “It will be the second time Michigan officials have released an annual list that notes the poorest-performing academic schools in the state. The rankings are based on a federally-prescribed and federally-approved formula. Schools on the list will have 90 days to submit a detailed school improvement or redesign plan. Michigan officials also will release a 'top-to-bottom' ranking of all public schools based on proficiency, student achievement, improvement, graduation rates and other factors,” the Associated Press reports. You can find last year’s list of the state’s lowest-achieving schools here.

Mandating Time-Off for Parents?

Democratic lawmakers in the state Legislature say businesses should be required to give parents unpaid leave to attend parent-teacher conferences and other education related appointments with their kids. “The bill introduced this week would require businesses to give employees eight hours of unpaid leave per child, per school year. A spokesman for the House Republicans says he has not seen the bill, but he does not anticipate support for any mandates on businesses,” Laura Weber reports.

‘Underwear Bomber’ Claims Excessive Force

The Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound plane in 2009 claims he was the victim of excessive force after he allegedly assaulted several officers in prison. The Associated Press reports:

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab filed a handwritten request with a judge yesterday asking that no excessive force be used against him after he says he was assaulted in his cell on Wednesday. Abdulmutallab is being held at a Milan, Michigan federal prison while awaiting trial in Detroit.

Jury selection is set to begin September 14. A trial date is set for October 4.

Unemployment
6:43 am
Fri August 26, 2011

Most Mich. regional jobless rates increase in July

The state says seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates increased in most regions of Michigan in July.

The figures released Thursday by the Department of Technology, Management and Budget show jobless rates increased in 14 of the state's 17 major regional labor markets compared to June. Statewide, the unadjusted jobless rate in July was 11.9 percent compared to 11 percent in June.

Rates ranged from a low of 7.8 percent in the Ann Arbor region to a high of 14.1 percent in the Detroit region. The state says the seasonal jobless rate increases were less than normal for July. Temporary summer layoffs in the auto industry were fewer than typical.

State Law
6:35 am
Fri August 26, 2011

Lawmaker wants to prevent taxpayer funded sex-changes in prison

A state lawmaker says tax-funded sex changes for prisoners need to be outlawed. The Department of Corrections says it already has a policy to reject sex-change requests.

Republican state Representative Tom Hooker says even though there is a department policy against granting tax-funded sex change operations, it needs to be set in Michigan law.

“It’s certainly not targeting any specific lifestyle or organization. I’m trying to save the taxpayers of the state of Michigan money.”

Hooker says it could cost taxpayers between 20 and 60-thousand dollars per sex change, with ongoing hormone therapies. And Hooker says he hopes to make sure taxpayers do not foot the bill for other elective surgeries for prisoners. But he says this was a good place to start as a preventive measure.

A spokesman for the Department of Corrections says they do receive occasional requests for sex change operations, and those requests are denied. He says the prisoners argue it is not an elective surgery, but rather a matter of mental wellbeing.

Politics
1:01 am
Fri August 26, 2011

Is Gov. Snyder's new political action committee tied to bridge campaign?

The view of downtown Detroit and the Ambassador Bridge from the approximate crossing location of the proposed new international bridge.
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

UPDATE:   9:00am

A Governor's office spokeswoman denies that the purpose of the One Tough Nerd PAC is tied to the bridge fight.

ORIGINAL Post: 1:00am

Governor Snyder is apparently adding another weapon in his fight for a new international bridge in Detroit.  The new weapon is money for political campaign donations.  

Rich Robinson is the director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. Robinson says Governor Snyder probably formed his new political action committee, One Tough Nerd, at least in part to battle for a new international bridge connecting Detroit to Windsor, Ontario. 

The owners of Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge have spent millions of dollars to kill support for the bridge. Robinson says that includes about $600,000 in political campaign donations. Robinson says if he wants the bridge, the governor is going to have to use PAC money.

"Unfortunately, policy is kind of the semi-controlled game of bribery…that’s just the game’s that’s there.”

The governor predicts the legislature will give its approval for a new international bridge project this fall.

 

 

Education
5:28 pm
Thu August 25, 2011

A look at the politics behind Schools of Choice

Mercedes Mejia

Since taking office Governor Snyder has proposed many new education reform proposals, including mandatory Schools of Choice, which would allow students throughout the state to attend schools outside of their district.

In this weeks political roundup we take a look at Schools of Choice with Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and senior policy fellow for Public Sector Consultants.

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Politics
4:48 pm
Thu August 25, 2011

Dems want to give parents unpaid leave for their kids

Democratic lawmakers in the state Legislature say businesses should be required to give parents unpaid leave to attend parent-teacher conferences and other education related appointments with their kids.

State Representative Lisa Brown is a mother of three. She says business owners should understand the importance of active parental involvement in education.

"Juggling work and getting kids to a parent-teacher conference is not easy, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have that my kids have had teachers that make special time for me, because I work far from home."

The bill introduced this week would require businesses to give employees eight hours of unpaid leave per child, per school year. A spokesman for the House Republicans says he has not seen the bill, but he does not anticipate support for any mandates on businesses.

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Environment
3:39 pm
Thu August 25, 2011

Feds re-open comment period on gray wolf de-listing

Does this wolf look any different to you? It's an Eastern Wolf; a separate species from the Gray Wolf. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials say they're working to set the record straight on where these wolves historically ranged in the U.S.
Christian Jansky wikimedia commons

Last May, the federal government proposed dropping gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region off the endangered species list... again.

The public  comment period on that proposal ended July 5, but now the federal agency in charge of the Endangered Species Act wants to open the comment period back up.

The reason? They want to get their scientific history right.

The federal government historically had the gray wolf ranging in 48 states.

But in all or parts of 29 eastern states there was actually a different wolf species - aptly named the "eastern wolf."

Scientists suspect the gray wolf species did not historically range in these 29 states.

In their proposal to de-list the gray wolf in the western Great Lakes region, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also proposed to revise the range of the gray wolf, and to establish the range of the eastern wolf.

From a USFWS. press release:

the Service received significant comments from states and other stakeholders concerning North American wolf taxonomy. The Service is seeking all information, data, and comments from the public with respect to any new information relevant to the taxonomy of wolves in North America.

So if you want to weigh in on the taxonomic history of gray wolves and eastern wolves, you have 30 days to do so starting tomorrow.

Auto/Economy
3:33 pm
Thu August 25, 2011

Business incubator in Muskegon celebrating success story

SVL engineer Matt Pinter (left) speaking with MAREC director Arn Boezaart (middle) and MAREC manager Doug Huesdash (right).
Amanda Pitts Grand Valley State University

An entrepreneur in Muskegon has outgrown the business incubator where his company began.

Smart Vision Lights reopened at its new location this week after more than three years at the incubator. The company develops LED lighting systems for manufacturing companies who want to take quality control photos.

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Arts/Culture
2:49 pm
Thu August 25, 2011

"Pillar of Motown" Esther Gordy Edwards dies at 91

Esther Gordy Edwards Donating Motown Collection with Eastern Michigan University President Harold E. Sponberg and Larry Head of the Alumni Department
Eastern Michigan University Archives

Update 2:49 p.m.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett spoke with Motown Museum CEO Audley Smith.

Smith said Edwards was instrumental in starting Motown. From Hulett's report:

Edwards served as the label’s vice president, its corporate secretary, and its director of international operations.

But Motown Museum CEO Audley Smith says even before that, she established a "savings club" for her family’s entrepreneurial pursuits.

"And that fund was where Berry Gordy got the first $800 to start his record company," said Smith.

Smith also said that Edwards was a mother figure to many of the Motown artists who became stars.

"She felt that by sharing her love and her wisdom and her guidance and her time and her resources and her tough love, that she could make a difference in the lives of young people," said Smith.

Hulett reports that Edwards stayed in Detroit after her brother moved the Motown label to Los Angeles in the early 1970s. She started the Motown Museum in 1985, which sees 60,000 visitors a year.

1:05 p.m.

Esther Gordy Edwards, the elder sister of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy Jr., died last night at the age of 91.

From the Associated Press.

The Motown Museum made the announcement Thursday. The museum, which Edwards founded, says she died Wednesday night in Detroit surrounded by family and friends. Edwards was a Motown executive for nearly three decades.

She served as senior vice president, corporate secretary and director of Motown International Operations, where she was charged with exposing the famed "Motown sound" to international
audiences.

Berry Gordy Jr. released a statement today saying his sister was "was the most educated in our family and was the go-to person for wisdom in business." Berry Gordy Jr. praised her for preserving Motown's history after he sold the company 1988:

Esther turned the so-called trash left behind after I sold the company in 1988 into a phenomenal world-class monument where Hitsville started—The Motown Museum.She preserved Motown memorabilia before it was memorabilia, collecting our history long before we knew we were making it. She nurtured and held it together through the years, protecting the Motown legacy for generations to come—which is only one of the reasons people all over the world will remember and celebrate Esther Gordy Edwards. Despite my sorrow, I will proudly continue to honor and celebrate her. She will always be my big sister and she will forever live in my heart.

Billboard Magazine writes that this is the second loss Motown has suffered this week "following the death Tuesday of legendary Ashford & Simpson songwriter, Nick Ashford."

The Detroit African American History project writes that Esther Gordy Edwards was born in Oconee, Georgia and moved to Detroit as a child. She's a graduate of Cass Technical High School and attended Howard University and the University of Michigan. She was married to former Michigan State Representative George Edwards.

Politics
1:27 pm
Thu August 25, 2011

Lt. Gov. Calley on building a new international bridge

Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley (R)
Michigan Works! Association Flickr

Governor Snyder has been in office for eight months… and he has had quite a bit of success getting his proposals through the state legislature. However, the Governor has not been able to get many Republican lawmakers on-board with his proposal to build a new international bridge over the Detroit River. Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley has been one of the Snyder administration’s most vocal proponents of a new bridge and he spoke this morning on Michigan Radio.

Science/Medicine
12:09 pm
Thu August 25, 2011

Macomb County man may be first victim of West Nile Virus in Michigan this summer

Michigan has its first probable human case of West Nile Virus this summer.  An unnamed Macomb County man died recently, after showing symptoms consistent with the mosquito-borne disease. Lab tests are underway to confirm this was a case of West Nile Virus.  

Sue Tremonti is with the Macomb County Health Department.  She says West Nile Virus infections are more prevalent than most people think. 

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Politics
11:04 am
Thu August 25, 2011

Local Control and Health Care

As you may know by now, the Michigan Legislature passed a bill  yesterday limiting how much local governments and schools can spend to provide health care for their employees.

The new law, which Governor Snyder is expected to sign, says local governments can contribute a maximum of fifty-five hundred dollars an employee, or fifteen thousand dollars a family.

Their only other option is to split health coverage cost with the employees, as long as the workers pay at least twenty percent.

Local governments can opt out of these requirements, but it won’t be easy. They’d have to do so by a two-thirds vote of their council or school board, and take a new vote every year.

Read more
Energy
10:56 am
Thu August 25, 2011

Fire at Marathon oil refinery in Detroit contained

The Marathon oil refinery in southwest Detroit had a small fire this morning.
user braun Flickr

There was a fire this morning at a Marathon oil refinery in southwest Detroit. The Associated Press reports the fire was contained by the company.

Authorities say a fire at Marathon's southwest Detroit oil refinery has been contained by the company's on-site crews.

Some evacuations of contractors were reported following the Thursday morning fire, but people were returning to work.

The Detroit Free Press reports that Marathon officials gave the Detroit Fire Department a "courtesy call" at 8 a.m. this morning:

Smears of dark smoke could be seen from Detroit’s east side.

No Detroit firefighters or equipment were dispatched.

Marathon officials declined to release details of the fire, but said contractors working in the area left the scene but are now returning. No injuries were reported.

News Roundup
9:11 am
Thu August 25, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Thursday, August 25th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Lawmakers Busy in Lansing

The state Legislature has approved a measure that would mean higher health care costs for some teachers and local government employees. “The bill would require local governments to pay no more than 80 percent of their employee health care costs, or limit the payment to $15,000 a year per family.  The measure now heads to Governor Snyder for his signature,” Laura Weber reports.  State lawmakers also gave final approval to legislation that would create stricter welfare limits. The Associated Press reports:

Residents involved in roughly 12,500 welfare cases in Michigan could lose benefits under a stricter, four-year lifetime limit… The welfare limit already has been approved as part of the state budget that kicks in Oct. 1. Lawmakers plan to put the cap in a separate state statute to help implement the budget plan. The state's current four-year limit on welfare benefits would expire Sept. 30 unless the Legislature revises or extends the limitations. The revised welfare limits have fewer exemptions than the four-year limit now in state law.

Medical Marijuana No Longer Legal?

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says he'll inform the state's 83 county prosecutors about a court decision that bans the commercial sale of medical marijuana, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

Schuette says the appeals court ruling empowers local authorities to shut down marijuana dispensaries. The businesses typically allow people with medical marijuana cards to sell pot to others who also have cards. The appeals court said Wednesday that such shops are illegal. Schuette says it's a victory for people who don't want pot dispensaries in their communities.

Home Prices Continue Slide

Michigan home prices are still sliding, thanks to banks selling foreclosed homes and short-selling others. “Realty Trac reports 40 percent of all home sales in Michigan between April and June involved banks either selling foreclosed homes or short-selling other homes that were on the verge of being repossessed. That percentage is up slightly from the beginning of the year and the same time last year,” Steve Carmody reports.

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Election 2012
7:25 am
Thu August 25, 2011

When will state Republicans hold their presidential primary?

Cle0patra Flickr

A new bill introduced in the state Senate would let a three-member panel decide when to hold Michigan's Republican presidential primary in 2012. The measure would, as the Associated Press reports,"let a panel appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville and House Speaker Jase Bolger pick between February 28 and March 6," to hold the primary.

Under current state law, the primary is scheduled for February 28 but, the Republican National Committee has said it doesn't want states to hold their primaries that early. In fact, the RNC has said that states that choose to hold early primaries could lose half of their delegates at the party's nominating convention.

So, why all the fuss about an early date? Politico 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.

Earlier this month, Laura Weber reported that some Republican leaders in the state wanted to hold an early primary, despite the consequences:

The chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, Robert Schostak, says he is not too concerned with being penalized for the decision, "The penalties are somewhat unclear. They haven’t been determined by the committee in finality. But if we would be penalized by losing delegates and we were trading that for relevancy, my sense is that the Legislature and the state committee that would be ultimately deciding on this are okay with it," Schostak said.

One thing is known about the 2012 GOP primary in the state: it'll be a 'closed' primary. From the AP:

Read more

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