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Science/Medicine
9:37 pm
Wed August 24, 2011

Attorney General will push to shutdown Michigan's medical marijuana dispensaries

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette
(Courtesy of the Michigan Attorney General's office)

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.  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. 

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Environment
9:27 pm
Wed August 24, 2011

Federal Court says "no" to closing Illinois canal to prevent Asian carp from reaching Lake Michigan

A federal appeals panel has rejected a request by five Great Lakes states for an immediate order to close shipping locks on Chicago-area waterways and take other steps to prevent Asian carp from invading Lake Michigan. 

The three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday against the request by Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.  The states were appealing a decision by a federal district judge in Chicago last December. 

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Politics
5:05 pm
Wed August 24, 2011

Legislature approves health benefits changes

The state legislature has approved changes to some public employee health benefits.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

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 thousand dollars a year per family.

Democratic state Senator Glenn Anderson called his Republican colleagues hypocrites:

“I just find it amazing that anyone that would support this bill would get up and make statements about the federal government dictating to us at the state level what we must and must not do. And yet we’re super-imposing our will on a matter that has always been a local issue.”

 The measure now heads to Governor Rick Snyder for his signature.

Detroit library to conserve essentials
5:01 pm
Wed August 24, 2011

Detroit Public Library seeks to preserve its most essential services

The Detroit Public Library is forming a task force to figure out how to continue to provide its most essential services to residents.

The library laid off 79 staff this spring due to revenue shortfalls. 

Now, six of its branches may close because of the staffing cuts.

Executive Director Jo Anne Mundowney says revenues will likely continue to fall.  Ninety percent of the library's revenue comes from property taxes, which are declining.

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Environment and Economy
4:48 pm
Wed August 24, 2011

EPA wants to hire unemployed for Great Lakes clean-up

There are 30 pollution hotspots or "areas of concern" on the U.S. side of the Great Lakes (four of the "areas of concern" are shared with Canada). A new EPA project aimed at employing workers could lead to clean up in some of these areas.
U.S.E.P.A.

The U.S. has suffered from a bad economy for the last three years.

Parts of the Great Lakes have suffered from bad pollution problems for the last several decades.

Now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants to use money from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) to put people to work cleaning up pollution in the region.

From an EPA press release:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced that the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is setting aside approximately $6 million for federal agencies to sign up unemployed workers to implement restoration projects in federally-protected areas, on tribal lands and in Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes basin. EPA will fund individual projects up to $1 million. To qualify for funding, each proposed project must provide jobs for at least 20 unemployed people.

“These projects will help to restore the Great Lakes and put Americans back to work," said EPA Great Lakes National Program Manager and Regional Administrator Susan Hedman. "In a sense, we will be using these funds to create a small-scale 21st century Civilian Conservation Corps."

The AP reports that Congress has appropriated $775 million over the past two years for the GLRI.

One of the GLRI's main goals is to clean up toxic hot spots known as "Areas of Concern" around the Great Lakes.

These Areas of Concern have been identified for decades, but clean-up efforts have stalled as funding for clean-up has been scarce.

EPA officials say they will award funding for these new clean-up projects by the end of September.

Politics
4:37 pm
Wed August 24, 2011

Detroit leaders promise to take on crime

Sarah Cwiek Michigan Radio

Federal, state, and local officials say they’re banding together to fight rising gun violence in Detroit.

FBI Special Agent Andy Arena, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing are among those calling for a “holistic”

approach to curbing crime.

Arena says the FBI is pitching in by helping analyze Detroit’s crime data for trends and hotspots. But he says there are also deeper problems to address.

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Economy
4:09 pm
Wed August 24, 2011

Detroit might close six libraries

The Richard Branch of the Detroit Public Library system. It's one of six being proposed for closure.
Detroit Public Libraries

As Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek reported last February, "libraries face a tough paradox.  People tend to use them more when the economy is bad. But a bad economy also means they get fewer resources to work with."

Cwiek was reporting on the Detroit public library system which at the time was facing a $17 million budget shortfall.

This past spring, the city proposed closing 18 libraries, but then backed away from that proposal.

Staffing cuts were made, and now, according to the Detroit News, the city is proposing to close six of its 23 libraries because the "layoffs of about 40 staffers in spring hurt service and forced some branches to temporarily close on some days."

The News visited one library slated for closure and talked to people there:

Erin Carter...searches for jobs using computers at the Chase branch in northwest Detroit that is recommended for closure.

"There is so much stuff closing down," said Carter, 22. "I don't know where to go."

The small library at Seven Mile and Southfield Freeway was packed Tuesday afternoon and every computer was in use. Fifteen-year-old Brandon Thomas and his neighbor, 12-year-old Kalan Lewis, rode their bikes to the library for the first time Wednesday to pick up some books and look for the Civil War movie, "Glory."

"They shouldn't close it," Kalan said. "It's for kids. We need to be able to learn what we don't learn in school."

The libraries on the list for potential closure:

Politics
3:33 pm
Wed August 24, 2011

Michigan Legislature approves new welfare limits

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Residents involved in roughly 12,500 welfare cases in Michigan could lose benefits under a stricter, four-year lifetime limit that has received final approval in the Michigan Legislature.

The Republican-led House passed the legislation with 73-34 votes Wednesday mostly along party lines.

The measures will go to Gov. Rick Snyder.

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.

Six Word Story
2:59 pm
Wed August 24, 2011

Your housing stories, in six words

Ray Gauss II flickr

Changing Gears is kicking off a new feature. Inspired by Smith Magazine, and possibly Ernest Hemingway, we're asking people to share stories of what the economic transformation of the industrial Midwest means to them. But there's a catch. We want these stories in six words.

Listen to the result of our request for stories about the housing crisis. Take Mary Mary Beth Matthew's submission for example, "2007 bought ex's half, 2011 underwater." Set to music, it's creative, poignant, and even funny.

You can also contribute to our current six word story-your "Plan B."

Six-word poets: Marcus Bales, Amanda Thomas, Becky McRae, Matt Lechel, Christopher Lada, Manuel Magana, and LaGaspa McDougal.

Music by Steve Osburn, produced by Cade Sperling.

Medicine
2:37 pm
Wed August 24, 2011

Court says "no" to medical marijuana dispensaries

The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled on a medical marijuana case today.
user elioja Flickr

Updated at 9:57 p.m.

We have this update from Rick Pluta -

The decision leaves the discretion to close a dispensary with local prosecutors.

Isabella County Prosecutor Larry Burdick, who brought the case to the Court of Appeals, says local police in his bailiwick will start tonight delivering copies of the decision and warning letters to the "four or five  dispensaries in his bailiwick."

He says the letters warn the dispensaries they are out of compliance with the law if they accept payments for medical marijuana and, if so, they need to change their operations or shut down.

Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III says he's facing a more complicated situation. The city of Lansing has become a center for dispensaries. It has upwards of 40 -- some of them operate 24/7.

Dunnings says he warned city officials the dispensaries are illegal, but the city passed an ordinance allowing them. Dunnings says he intends to step carefully since the dispensary operators thought they were playing by the rules. Nevertheless, The Lansing City Pulse reports most of the  11 dispensaries on the Michigan Avenue strip directly east of the state Capitol responded to the ruling by closing their doors.   

 

Update 2:37 p.m.

Here's a video of the oral arguments made in front of the Michigan Court of Appeals on June 7, 2011.

The Court of Appeals ruled today that the marijuana dispensary in question operated in violation of the law.

People v Compassionate Apothecary from Eric L. VanDussen on Vimeo.

And here is Steve Carmody's raw interview with Michael Komorn, the president of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Association.

Komoron told Carmody that despite the ruling, dispensaries around the state will continue to operate under local implementation and interpretation of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act - at least until the Michigan Supreme Court rules on the case.

Update 12:48 p.m.

Sarah Alvarez, Changing Gears Public Insight Analyst and lawyer, read the ruling that was released by the Michigan Court of Appeals this morning. A three-judge panel wrote the opinion (Joel Hoekstra, Christopher Murray, and Cynthia Stephens).

The case involves Isabella County prosecutors office and the two owners of the Compassionate Apothocary, a dispensary in Isabella County operating  with 345 members. Alvarez says the appeals court finds that no provision of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act would permit for patient to patient sale of marijuana.

The dispensary is therefore found to be a public nuisance and must cease operations. (important to note this is not a criminal prosecution).

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Education
1:31 pm
Wed August 24, 2011

Schools of choice proposal stirs debate

Mercedes Mejia Michigan Radio

Opposition is mounting to a proposed requirement that all school districts in Michigan accept students from outside their borders. It’s part of Governor Snyder’s education reform plan. Legislation could be introduced as early as today.

Lynn Jacobs co-founded the group Michigan Communities for Local Control to fight the proposal:

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Changing Gears
11:32 am
Wed August 24, 2011

Foreclosures decline, while foreclosure businesses thrive

Frank Oliver clears out a foreclosed home in Roseville, Michigan.
Kate Davidson Changing Gears

Foreclosure activity dropped by more than a third this past year, according to the group RealtyTrac. But despite the national slowdown, regional companies that take care of foreclosed homes are still thriving. Their job is to keep empty houses clean and safe from the forces that depress local property values: squatters, thieves and decay.

Dawn Hammontree probably never expected to see their work firsthand.

The first part of Hammontree’s story is familiar in Michigan. Her unemployment ran out in December.

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Politics
10:56 am
Wed August 24, 2011

Governor Snyder, Going to China

The other day, Gov. Rick Snyder’s office announced he would be going to China next month. Actually, he will be going to both China and Japan, on a whirlwind, week-long trip that will begin with his attending a trade association meeting in Tokyo.

This will be a high-powered trip. Along with him, the governor will be taking Mike Finney, the director of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, known as MEDC; the state agriculture director, and four other economic development officials.

The reason for the trip, the governor’s communications director said, was to talk about why investment in Michigan is a good idea, and also to promote our state’s farm products.

Politicians often get criticized for taking junkets abroad -- sometimes rightly so. But not only is this trip a good idea, it is terribly necessary and way overdue.  In Toledo, just to our south, Chinese businessmen have spent millions to buy land along the Maumee riverfront, which they plan to develop for a variety of uses.

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Politics
9:03 am
Wed August 24, 2011

The Week in State Politics

Matthileo Flickr

Every Wednesday morning, we get Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry's perspective on the week's political news. Today, we talk about Democratic Representative Hansen Clarke's announcement that he will run in the state's 14th District in the 2012 election, a seat that is currently held by another Democrat, Representative John Conyers. We also take a look at what the state legislature is up to this week and talk about the announcement that Governor Snyder will make his first international trade trip next month to China, Japan and South Korea.

News Roundup
8:44 am
Wed August 24, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, August 24th, 2011
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Changes Coming to State Employee Benefits

A state legislative committee has approved a measure that would require thousands of teachers and local government employees to pick up a bigger share of their health benefits. Rick Pluta reports:

The measure is expected to be voted on today by the state House and the Senate. It will 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. Supporters of the plan say it will save school districts and local governments millions of dollars. Democrats and many local officials oppose the play. They say it robs districts and local governments of flexibility. The plan will apply to legislators, but not to state civil service workers or to university employees, which would require amending the state constitution.

Update: Affirmative Action Ban

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission is fighting state Attorney General Bill Schuette in court. That’s because, “Schuette wants to restore the voter-approved ban on affirmative action in university admissions… A panel of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the ban on affirmative action in admissions policies last month. The Michigan attorney general is now asking the entire court to reconsider and reverse that decision. He says the court should give deference to the wishes of Michigan voters who approved the ban in 2006,” Laura Weber reports. There's no word on when the court may decide to reconsider the decision.

Romney Leading Among MI GOP Voters

The latest state poll of likely voters has mixed news for one Republican presidential contender with Michigan roots and downright bad news for another, Steve Carmody reports. From Carmody:

Epic-MRA polled likely Republican Michigan voters and found a third said they would vote for Mitt Romney in next year’s GOP presidential primary.  That’s more than any other Republican candidate, but pollster Bernie Porn says the bad news for Romney is that he should be getting more support and that could be a problem in the primary… Porn says Michigan Congressman Thaddeus McCotter has a much bigger problem. Only one percent of Michigan Republicans say they would vote for him in the presidential primary, even in his congressional district in southeast Michigan… Texas Governor Rick Perry and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann finished second and third in the poll.

State Recalls
7:45 am
Wed August 24, 2011

Scott recall effort appears headed for November ballot

The campaign to recall the Republican chair of the state House Education Committee is a step closer to appearing on the November ballot. The state Bureau of Elections has informed state Representative Paul Scott that the campaign to recall him appears to have gathered enough valid signatures to get the question on the ballot.

The recall campaign needed to gather 9,600 signatures from registered voters in the Genesee County state House district. Elections officials determined the campaign gathered more than 11,000. Representative Scott has two weeks to file any challenges to the signatures. The Secretary of State will make an official decision by September 9th. Scott is also challenging the recall campaign in court.

The Michigan Education Association made Scott a top recall target over cuts to schools and the new tax on pensions. Scott is the only state lawmaker potentially facing a recall question on the November ballot. But there are two dozen other recall petitions circulating. The recall is also considered by many to be a local referendum on the record of Republican Governor Rick Snyder.

State Legislature
7:38 am
Wed August 24, 2011

Michigan lawmakers could vote today on welfare limits

Inside the Captiol Building, Lansing, MI
Cedar Bend Drive Flickr

Michigan lawmakers are expected to resume votes to impose a stricter, four-year limit on receiving welfare benefits.

The votes could come Wednesday with the Michigan Legislature scheduled to meet for full sessions.

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.

Michigan already has a four-year cap on welfare benefits but the new version of the limit would grant fewer exceptions.

Critics say the tougher limits would boot roughly 12,000 families off public assistance.

Lawmakers might also continue votes aimed at requiring many public employees to pay more for their health insurance coverage.

Investigative
7:17 am
Wed August 24, 2011

Big returns for subsidized fish (Part 2)

U.S. Fish and Wildlife fish hatchery in Brimley, MI on Lake Superior. The trailers are 'mass marking trailers,' used to tag every hatchery fish introduced into the Great Lakes.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Part 2 of a 3 part series -

Fishing in the Great Lakes would not be what it is today without stocking Pacific salmon in the lakes.  But it costs a lot of money.  Michigan fisheries managers say it’s worth every dime.  In the second report of the series 'The Collapse of the Salmon Economy," we look at the economic benefits of subsidizing salmon fishing in the Great Lakes.

In the 1960s, the state of Michigan first put salmon into the Great Lakes.  It was a gamble to create world-class recreational fishing. 

Michigan spends about $8-million a year stocking salmon and other types of fish.  But the Department of Natural Resources doesn’t really know how many fish we’re catching for those millions of dollars.

Gary Whelan is in charge of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources fish hatcheries. 

“I wouldn’t say we have no idea.  I think we have a ballpark.  We don’t have a great estimate.  We would like to have a lot better estimates than we have now.  I would absolutely agree with that.”

A Michigan Watch analysis found the cost for each fish caught in Michigan waters ranges from a couple of dollars to $150 per fish caught, depending on species and depending on year.  We use catch estimates used by some other Great Lakes states.

The Michigan DNR’s Gary Whelan questions those estimates and our calculations.

And… he says besides, we’re looking at it all wrong.  It’s not about the cost per hatchery-raised fish caught; it’s about what those salmon mean to Michigan’s economy. 

“You have lots of people, for example, who are catch-and-release fishermen who will never take fish home.  But, they’re spending a lot of money to go fishing for this fish or the opportunity to fish for them.”

And stocking Pacific salmon does attract anglers from all over.

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Auto/Economy
10:15 pm
Tue August 23, 2011

Detroit neighborhoods struggle with squatters

flickr user Detroit1701 flickr.com

City officials have confirmed what residents in many Detroit neighborhoods have said for several years: squatting is on the rise.

Detroit has more than 100,000 vacant properties. And with the foreclosure crisis, even the city’s most stable neighborhoods are dealing with squatters.

Michael Brady is with Community Legal Resources, a group that has helped neighborhood groups deal with vacant property issues in Detroit.

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Politics
9:58 pm
Tue August 23, 2011

U.S., Canadian agencies hold security drills on Detroit River

More than three-dozen U.S. and Canadian agencies participated in a mock-disaster situation on the Detroit River Tuesday.

The drills included a mock terrorist attack on a large riverboat, and a follow-up search-and-rescue operation.

Officials say the exercise caps three years of interagency planning to prepare for possible disasters along the international maritime border.

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