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1:35 pm
Wed June 8, 2011

Battle over President Obama's healthcare reform law continues

Challenges to President Obama's health care law continued today in an Atlanta courtroom
Joe Crimmings Flickr

The legal battle over the Affordable Care Act continues today in an Atlanta courtroom.

The Washington Post reports:

The multi-pronged legal battle over President Obama’s health-care law moves to an Atlanta courtroom Wednesday, where a three-judge appellate court panel will hear oral arguments in a suit brought by Florida and 25 other states challenging its constitutionality.

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Politics
1:26 pm
Wed June 8, 2011

Motorcycle Helmets

Thirty years ago, I lived next door to a family with a twenty-something son, whose main pleasure in life seemed to be riding his motorcycle, at all hours and, mostly, without a helmet.

One summer night he was speeding and the police started chasing him. He panicked and fled, eventually hitting a tree at a high rate of speed. At the funeral home, his parents said he might have survived had he been wearing a helmet.

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Environment
12:29 pm
Wed June 8, 2011

Crawford County wildfire under control, investigation starts

Officials say the fire near Grayling has been contained.
Marcus Obal creative commons

Officials say the wildfire near Grayling, Michigan has been contained after burning 817 acres.

From the Associated Press:

Crawford County officials released the updated acreage total Wednesday morning. They say the fire damaged several buildings and caused one minor injury.

About 100 homes were evacuated. That order has been lifted and an evacuation center was closed.

Crews are attending to remaining hot spots and making sure the perimeter line is holding.

Howes Lake Road remains closed to traffic except for fire and emergency vehicles. Only local residents are being allowed on Manistee River Road.

Booth MidMichigan reports that Jeff Pendergraff, Crawford County Undersheriff, said conditions were ideal for a wildfire yesterday:

"It was hot, humid and high winds. Two bad things made it worse: it hit the jack pines and the wind picked up. But then it moved into a hardwood forest and slowed down."

Fire crews contained the blaze around midnight last night. The state is monitoring the area today:

"We are working at the holding the fire line today," said Mary Detloff, spokeswoman for the DNR. "We're a little concerned about the weather; it's supposed to be hot and gusty and we don't want the fire jumping lines and spreading to a new area."

An investigation into how the fire got started is beginning today.

Politics
11:47 am
Wed June 8, 2011

Michigan Humane Society's kill rate questioned

Of the 13,725 cats taken in by the Michigan Humane Society in 2010, 70% were euthanized, according to the Detroit Free Press.
user cat's_101 Flickr

Two board members of the Michigan Humane Society have resigned over questions about the number of animals the agency euthanizes.

The Detroit News reports that Cheryl Phillips of Northville and Lee Lein of Ann Arbor resigned Monday questioning whether the Michigan Humane Society is doing enough to prevent stray animals from being euthanized.

From the Detroit News:

The society's kill rate was about 70 percent in 2010... with locations in Detroit, Rochester Hills and Westland, the Michigan Humane Society is among the largest in the nation. It operates with a $12 million budget and took in more than 29,000 animals last year, Vice President Mike Robbins said, with about 51 percent of the animals coming from Detroit.

The News reports that Phillips said the society wasn't clearly revealing how many animals were being killed, and she wanted a third party to review the agency's practices, but her proposal was rejected.

At Monday's board meeting she resigned and released a statement that read, in part:

"I doubt that our funders would be happy with a '100 percent healthy adoption rate' if they knew that behind the scenes, fewer than 7,000 of the 24,000 total intakes were actually adopted, and more than 17,000 animals were 'classified' as untreatable by MHS management … and were killed,"

The Michigan Humane Society's director of operations and its chief veterinarian defended the agency's kill rate. From the Detroit Free Press:

C.J. Bentley, director of operations, said the numbers are high because the facility accepts animals regardless of origin or condition. Dr. Robert Fisher, the humane society's chief veterinarian, said animals with terminal or major medical issues are often not adoptable and that "what the public is willing to accept in their homes" helps determine an animal's fate.

The Freep reports that in 2010 the Michigan Humane Society took in 13,725 cats and kittens - 70% were euthanized. And in 2010 the agency took in 11,191 dogs and puppies - 68% were euthanized.

News Roundup
8:47 am
Wed June 8, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

Heat and sun cook up pollution today, close schools

Temperatures across the southern part of the state are expected to be in the mid to upper 90s today.

In addition to heat related stress, the hot weather can also lead to more pollution.

The weather has led the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to post "ozone action days" for several cities in the southern part of the state including Ann Arbor, Benton Harbor, Detroit, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids and Ludington.

Smokestack and tailpipe emissions and vapors from gas and chemicals can be turned into ozone pollution on days like today. People are urged to drive less, refrain from using gas-powered lawn equipment, and refuel cars and equipment at a later time.

Ozone pollution can cause chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and congestion, and it can worsen bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma.

The Detroit News reports that several schools in Detroit will be closed because of a lack of air conditioning in those buildings.

Grayling Wildfires contained

Wildfires burned near Grayling yesterday. Now state officials say the blaze has been contained. From the Associated Press:

A state spokeswoman says fire crews have fully contained a blaze that burned 750 to 800 acres of northern Michigan woodlands, destroyed or damaged a number of buildings and forced the evacuation of 100 homes.

Mary Dettloff is a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. She tells The Associated Press Wednesday morning that the fire was 100 percent contained by midnight Tuesday and people who had been evacuated were permitted to return home.

Riders go to Lansing to support repeal of helmet law

Michigan is one of twenty states with a motorcycle helmet law.

Advocates of repealing the law have been successful in the past at getting the legislature to pass repeals of the helmet law, but they ran into vetoes from former Governor Jennifer Granholm.

Now they're hoping Governor Snyder will be on their side.

Motorcycle riders are expected to hold a rally in Lansing today supporting a helmet law repeal.

MPRN's Rick Pluta spoke with a helmet law repeal advocate who said Michigan is losing out on a lot of tourism opportunities as riders avoid Michigan: 

"Every state surrounding Michigan allows adult choice and people do not come from those states to Michigan simply because we have a mandatory helmet law," said Jim Rhoades.

Supporters of the helmet law say it cuts down on medical costs that are often passed onto others. The Detroit Free Press reports :

Many medical and insurance organizations are lobbying to keep the current law, which they say reduces serious injuries and deaths in motorcycle accidents. Medical costs for riders injured without helmets are four times costlier than for those injured while wearing helmets, says the National Transportation Safety Board.

Governor Snyder has not taken a side on this issue, but the Free Press reports Snyder "has said he would support the change if other motorists didn't pay more as a result."

Education
6:45 pm
Tue June 7, 2011

National AFT leaders visit Detroit

Randi Weingarten
American Federation of Teachers

The leader of the nation’s second-largest teacher’s union made a pitch for empowering teachers in Detroit.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten toured Palmer Park Preparatory Academy. The district says the school has been transformed for the better in the past year, since teachers took control of most school functions, including the budget and curriculum.

The AFT touts the school’s success as “a model of successful union-district collaboration and teacher accountability.”

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Politics
6:39 pm
Tue June 7, 2011

"Eviction notices" shake Detroit community

Residents in a Southwest Detroit neighborhood found what appeared to be eviction notices on their front doors Monday.

The notices were actually flyers distributed by the group Americans for Prosperity in the city’s Delray neighborhood.

The flyers warned residents that the state will seize their homes, if legislators approve a plan for a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor.

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Environment
5:49 pm
Tue June 7, 2011

Wind Energy in Michigan (video)

A brief look at wind energy in Michigan, using American Wind Energy Association data and other sources.

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Ford, GM future bright
5:19 pm
Tue June 7, 2011

GM, Ford tell stakeholders that future is bright

Both Ford and General Motors today predicted they will expand their global presence, despite rising energy and commodity prices. 

GM held its first public stockholders meeting in Detroit – and Ford held its annual Investors Meeting in New York. 

GM CEO Dan Akerson told stockholders to consider the company a long-term investment, not short-term.  GM stock has lost a fair bit of value since the IPO in November.    

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Politics
4:59 pm
Tue June 7, 2011

Local officials, emergency manager continue to struggle for power in Benton Harbor

Benton Harbor City Hall
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Emergency Manager Joe Harris signed two orders this week to discourage city commissioners determined to fight his orders.

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Environment
4:50 pm
Tue June 7, 2011

Why does it take 40 years to clean up a polluted river?

Advisories warn people of dioxin contamination in the Tittabawassee river. Dow is responsible for releasing dioxin into the river.
Lisa Williams United States Fish and Wildlife Service

The Tittabawassee River has flooded three times already this year. Each time floodwaters carry dirt from the bottom of the river all over yards, basements, fields and parks.

This sediment is contaminated with Dioxin from Dow chemical’s plant in Midland. Dioxin has been linked to a host of health problems including cancer.

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Politics
4:38 pm
Tue June 7, 2011

Riders and legislators work to repeal Michigan's motorcycle helmet law

A moped chopper. Helmet needed?
user spicybear Flickr

Michigan’s motorcycle helmet law is once again in the sights of advocates who say riders should be allowed to operate a bike without head protection.

Legislation approved today by the state Senate Transportation Committee would allow licensed operators to forgo a helmet if they are 21 years old and have had a motorcycle endorsement for two years; or they have passed a motorcycle safety course.

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Politics
3:53 pm
Tue June 7, 2011

Mitt Romney to make campaign stops in Michigan, state staff named

MItt Romney
Matthew Reichibach Flickr

The Associated Press reports Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will make campaign stops in Michigan this week:

From the AP:

A campaign spokesman said Tuesday the ex-Massachusetts governor would attend a Grand Rapids fundraiser Tuesday night and another in Detroit on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Romney is to campaign at a Livonia diner and attend a business round table in Detroit. They're his first Michigan stops since formally entering the race last week.

Romney's Michigan campaign staff has been revealed. From the Detroit Free Press:

  • Lori Wortz, senior advisor - once served as Dick Posthumus' chief of staff
  • Rob Macomber, state director - previously served as director of candidate and party assistance for former state Republican Party chairman Saul Anuzis
  • Lauren Rakolta, state campaign finance director - daughter of John Rakolta, head of construction firm Walbridge Aldinger who served as a national chairman for the Romney campaign in 2008
  • Bryce Sandler, state deputy finance director, once served as finance director for former U.S. Rep. Joe Knollenberg

In 2008, Romney won the Republican presidential primary in Michigan. He eventually pulled out of the race after John McCain won the Florida primary.

Environment
3:06 pm
Tue June 7, 2011

Pollution levels high, Ozone Action Days declared in Michigan

SEMCOG says the Ozone Action Day is the earliest one called since 1999.
deqmiair.org

The sun and heat cooks up the pollution in Michigan.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says an "Ozone Action Day" has been declared in four Michigan cities today:

  • Benton Harbor
  • Kalamazoo
  • Grand Rapids
  • Ludington

And tomorrow, six cities will be have Ozone Action Days, as the heat is expected to stay with us.

  • Ann Arbor
  • Benton Harbor
  • Detroit
  • Kalamazoo
  • Grand Rapids
  • Ludington

Ground-level ozone pollution is formed on hot, sunny days when emissions from cars and trucks, industrial smokestacks, and vapors from gas and other chemicals are cooked into "bad" ozone.

The EPA says the pollution can have serious health and environmental impacts:

Breathing ozone, a primary component of smog, can trigger a variety of health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and congestion. It can worsen bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma. Ground-level ozone also can reduce lung function and inflame the linings of the lungs. Repeated exposure may permanently scar lung tissue.

Ground-level ozone also damages vegetation and ecosystems. In the United States alone, ozone is responsible for an estimated $500 million in reduced crop production each year.

We're supposed to take action on an Ozone Action Day. The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments offers these tips on what to do when an Action Day is declared in your area:

  • Avoid refueling your vehicle. If you must refuel, fill up as late in the day as possible, preferably in the evening when the weather is cooler. Fumes released at the gas pump contribute to ozone formation.
  • Delay mowing your lawn. Emissions from your lawn mower help form ozone.
  • If you plan to barbeque, avoid using lighter fluid. Emissions from the fluid contribute to ozone formation.
  • Take the bus, carpool, bike or walk. You'll reduce traffic congestion and air pollution as well as save money.
Politics
1:47 pm
Tue June 7, 2011

Richardville becomes latest Michigan recall target

Michigan Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville.
senate.michigan.gov

  MONROE, Mich. (AP) - The highest-ranked member of the Michigan Senate has become the latest target of an attempted recall campaign.

Proposed petition language seeking to recall Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville was filed this week in Monroe County. The petition cites Richardville's support for recent tax policy changes.

The changes include an overall business tax cut and the end of some tax exemptions on retiree income.

Recall supporters would have to collect thousands of signatures to make the ballot if their proposed wording is approved. A hearing is likely later this month.

Roughly a dozen Republican lawmakers have been targeted for possible recall this year but all of the efforts face long odds against success. A state lawmaker was last recalled in 1983.

Richardville says Tuesday he remains focused on his job.

Education
1:20 pm
Tue June 7, 2011

Grand Rapids School Board will discuss superintendent's future

Grand Rapids School Board President Senita Lenear and Superintendent Bernard Taylor share next steps with reporters in front of the district's administration building Tuesday.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

The Grand Rapids public school board will consider whether their superintendent should continue with the district. Superintendent Bernard Taylor was passed up for job at another school district today. This is the second time this year Taylor was considered as a finalist for another job.

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Auto/Economy
1:01 pm
Tue June 7, 2011

Raising Gas Taxes

Yesterday, as the congressman from New York was going through his excruciating televised confession, someone called to ask me, “why don’t we have any good sex scandals in Michigan?”

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Politics
12:32 pm
Tue June 7, 2011

State lawmakers: Detroit can keep taxing at current rates

State lawmakers have passed bills allowing the city to keep taxing at certain rates. The legislation awaits Governor Snyder's approval.
Bob Jagendorf Flickr

Because of the recent U.S. Census showing significant population loss in Detroit (the city went from 951,270 people in 2000, to 713,777 in 2010), Detroit was at risk for losing tax revenue.

Current state law says a city must have a population of at least 750,000 people in order to tax at certain rates.

State legislators have been working to change that number to help Detroit. A law lowering the threshold to 600,000 passed the State House last week, now it's passed the State Senate.

From the Associated Press:

Michigan lawmakers are approving measures that would allow the city of Detroit to continue its 2.5 percent city income tax on resident individuals and a separate utility users' tax.

Bills allowing continuation of the taxes were approved Tuesday by the Senate on 21-17 and 20-18 votes. The House already has approved the measures so they should soon be sent to Gov. Rick Snyder.

State Senator Bert Johnson (D - Detroit) told MPRN's Laura Weber that 600,000 is a safe and low-enough number, "You know, I think Detroit’s days of really hemorrhaging people are probably behind us," said Johnson. "We'll lose a few more along the way, but not in the significant numbers that we've seen over the past decade."

Politics
12:22 pm
Tue June 7, 2011

Pontiac police dispatchers union contract can be voided by emergency manager

Pontiac police car
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

For the first time, a state appointed emergency manager has permission to void a union contract in a Michigan city. The state Treasurer’s office gave its approval to Pontiac’s emergency manager Monday to void the city’s police dispatchers’ contract.   Pontiac’s policing duties are being taken over by the Oakland County sheriff’s department. 

Robert Sedler is a constitutional law professor at Wayne State University.  He believes the courts would find the decision to void the contract a ‘reasonable’ one. 

 “What I think makes this reasonable in the Pontiac situation is that it is part of a transfer of law enforcement from the city of Pontiac to the sheriff.”

 The Michigan legislature expanded the powers of state appointed emergency managers this year. 

There are numerous groups considering legal challenges to the law.

Auto/Economy
11:51 am
Tue June 7, 2011

GM Chief concerned about the economy, and Ford looks to Asia

 The CEO of General Motors, Dan Akerson, told reporters today that he's concerned about the "jobless economic recovery" and high federal deficits.

From the Associated Press:

The CEO told reporters before the company's stockholders meeting Tuesday that the government should have a 10-year plan to cut its roughly $14 trillion deficit. He says that would bring much needed stability to markets.

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