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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.

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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:

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Investigative
6:00 am
Thu August 25, 2011

Collapse of salmon in Lake Huron (Part 3)

C. J. Baker operates a salmon fishing charter boat for Puddle Jumpers Charters. He moved his boat from Lake Huron to Lake Michigan after the salmon fishing collapsed in Lake Huron.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Part 3 of 3 part series -

Salmon fishing has meant a lot of tourism dollars for cities along the coasts.  But, changes in Lake Huron have caused a collapse of salmon.  But, what if other Great Lakes lose their salmon?

Fishing for salmon on some parts of Lake Huron is still a big deal.

INTERNET AUDIO ADVERTISEMENT

“This July for the first annual Mackinaw City Salmon Festival..."

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Economy
5:01 am
Thu August 25, 2011

Foreclosures & short selling pulling down Michigan home sale prices

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

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. 

Daren Bloomquist is with Realty Trac. He says the banks sold the homes at about a 40 percent discount. 

“We’re seeing the prices come lower and the discounts go higher, which is good news for buyers.  And it does indicate that the lenders maybe more willing to take a bigger loss on these properties in order to get them sold.”

Bloomquist expects repossessed homes will continue to be a drag on Michigan’s housing market for the next few years.

Economy
1:01 am
Thu August 25, 2011

Michigan retailers turning more optimistic

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A new survey finds Michigan retailers are growing more optimistic that they will see their sales improve over the next three months.    

Tom Scott is with the Michigan Retailers Association.   He says the survey’s results are the most optimistic state retailers have been about the economy since the end of last year.

 "I think we’re scratching our heads a little bit over why there’s so much optimism out there…given the mixed economic news we’ve been getting. "

Cadillac Escalade most targeted by thieves
12:00 am
Thu August 25, 2011

And the most stolen vehicle is...(tear envelope)... "the Cadillac Escalade"

The Cadillac Escalade is the number one target of thieves, according to an annual study by the Highway Loss Data Institute.

The Escalade has been in the top ten for many years in a row.

Matt Moore of the Institute says his theory is, thieves like to take vehicles that are associated with high status and glamour.

"There’s probably no other vehicle which is more likely to be featured or seen when you’re watching television and see coverage of a professional athlete or actor or movie star," says Moore.

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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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