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Science/Medicine
4:38 pm
Wed May 18, 2011

Flame retardant found in baby products

A study of baby products made of polyurethane foam found many contained toxic flame retardants.
Photoglife Morguefile

An environmental group says some baby products made of foam could contain toxic chemicals. It also says parents are likely not aware of the danger.

A study published in the journal of Environmental Science and Technology found 83 percent of baby items it tested in Michigan contained flame-retardant chemicals linked to adverse health effects or that the products had not been adequately tested.

The study looked at 18 products from Michigan; some were new and others were donated by parents. Fifteen of the 18 contained the flame-retardant chemicals.

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Politics
4:26 pm
Wed May 18, 2011

Report calls Michigan's public defender "abysmal"

Michigan’s system of providing lawyers for indigent defendants is so bad it amounts to a “constitutional crisis.”

The Michigan ACLU and the Michigan Campaign for Justice produced the report called “Faces of Failing Public Defense Systems.”

It profiles 13 men who spent time in prison, even though there was evidence of their innocence.

One is Frederick Mardlin, who spent three years in prison for arson.

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Politics
4:25 pm
Wed May 18, 2011

Senate bill passes - requires public employees pay 20% of health benefit costs

The Michigan Senate chamber.
user cedarbenddrive Flickr

Most public employees would be required to pay at least 20 percent of their health benefit costs under a bill approved by the Republican-controlled Michigan Senate.

The measure was approved along a mostly party line vote.

Republican state Senator Mark Jansen sponsored the measure. 

"Not all of us are all that excited all the time about doing these things," said Jansen. "In fact we know people that this impacts – in fact if you look in the mirror, it’ll impact each one of you sitting here today. But we know it’s the right thing to do – and I know that’s very subjective."

Democratic state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer says the state is asking too much from public employees – especially teachers.

"I heard Governor Snyder defend the $250,000 price tag for his budget director by saying 'you get what you pay for,'" Whitmer said. "Well isn’t that true for the most important people to our kid’s success as well? Why is that rationale sufficient for the governor paying taxpayer dollars, and not true for the people working every day to help our kids?"

The Senate also approved a constitutional amendment that would give the Legislature control over the benefit plans of university employees and state civil service employees.

That plan is unlikely to clear the state House, where Republicans don’t have the two-thirds majority needed to put the measure on the ballot.

Science/Medicine
3:00 pm
Wed May 18, 2011

Preparing for the worst

Doctors and nurses train in the pediatric unit of a 140 bed mobile hospital near Dimondale, Michigan
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

State health officials are putting a 140 bed emergency field hospital to the test today just south of Lansing.      They're preparing for the kind of medical needs that may follow a catastrophic natural or man-made disaster.  

“Never had a seizure before?" 

Doctors and nurses scramble to try to understand why a child suffered a seizure during an earthquake that rattled southwest Michigan.      They are real doctors and nurses, but their patient is actually a dummy, and the earthquake is just a scenario. 

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Politics
1:54 pm
Wed May 18, 2011

Film advocates push for preserving tax credit

Supporters of Michigan’s film industry are conducting an eleventh-hour push to convince Lansing politicians to keep the state’s generous film tax credit.

Nancy Skinner has been a vocal opponent of plans to scrap the credit and replace it with a much more modest grant program. She runs a Web site that’s brought in donations from thousands of people:

"And what we are trying to do is put names and faces to these numbers. The spreadsheet wars that are going on in Lansing? We want these folks to see the names and faces of people who will be affected by this."

The ads will run on Comcast cable channels over the next week. They emphasize the economic impact of the film industry, and the threat of a continued “brain drain” if the film industry pulls out of Michigan.

Just the threat of the elimination of Michigan’s 42 percent tax credit caused her to lose business, says Rose Gilpin. She and her partner Kathy Remski own Real Style Extras Casting:

"They evaporated immediately. Kathy and I right off the bat lost three projects in February right after the announcement was made. So immediately gone."

Legislation has been introduced to preserve the tax credit. The governor has proposed replacing the tax credit with grants totaling 25 million dollars for film and video projects.

Politics
1:33 pm
Wed May 18, 2011

Michigan bill would freeze pay between contracts

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Republicans in the Michigan Senate have approved a bill that would freeze pay and benefits for union-represented public employees including teachers working under expired contracts.

The bill that passed by a 21-17 mostly party-line vote Wednesday now returns to the Republican-led House, which already has passed the bill and could soon send it to Gov. Rick Snyder.

The bill calls for public employers to provide no more than current pay and benefits after the expiration date of a collective bargaining agreement until a new contract is in place. It would eliminate or freeze so-called step increases sometimes paid by school districts regardless of contract status.

Democrats say the bill dabbles in issues that should be left to local decision-makers.

Republicans say the changes would give unions more incentive to bargain.

Auto/Economy
12:53 pm
Wed May 18, 2011

State incentives lead to GM's investment in Warren Tech Center

State tax breaks worth $10 million are leading to an investment in GM's Warren Tech Center.

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts indicated an announcement like this would be coming last month.

From the Detroit News:

General Motors Co. won $10 million in tax incentives from the state today to build a new information technology facility at its Warren Tech Center.

The $130 million project — expected to create about 25 permanent jobs — will add on to the Cadillac Building on the campus and occupy about 30-acres of land located along Van Dyke Avenue. The new jobs will pay an average of $44 an hour, according to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

The brownfield tax credits valued at $10 million were approved this morning by the Michigan Economic Growth Authority board.

The state brownfield tax credits involved in this deal won't be around for long. In Governor Snyder tax overhaul plan, approved by state legislators, the tax credits will be replaced with a system that will grant redevelopment money up front.

Politics
12:23 pm
Wed May 18, 2011

Find a dead body? New laws would require you to report it to police

One bill in the Michigan Senate would make failure to report the discovery a dead body a misdemeanor; a second bill would make failing to report a body for the purpose of fraud a felony.
David Goehring Flickr

If you discover a dead body in Michigan, you’re not legally required to report it to police. That would change under a proposal making its way through the state Senate.

Timothy McMorrow is the chief appellate attorney for the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office.

"We had a case where a woman died in an apartment.  Her boyfriend, with whom she lived, did not  report it," McMorrow explains. "It was discovered about four days later when the woman's daughter came looking for her mother, wondering where she was, and was told that her mother had died."

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Culture
12:08 pm
Wed May 18, 2011

Census: Divorces decline but 7-year itch persists

WASHINGTON (AP) - New census figures show the "seven-year" itch persists - couples who break up typically separate upon seven years of marriage, and divorce a year later.

The 2009 data released Wednesday also show U.S. divorces are leveling off after decades of increases. The census report found that among all race groups, women who were ever married and then divorced reached as high as 41 percent among 50- to 59-year-olds. That's down from 44 percent in 2004.

The exception was black women ages 50 to 59. Their divorce rate edged up to 48 percent.

Rose Kreider, a census demographer, says recent increases in couples cohabitating as well as rising median ages before marriage are contributing to overall declines in divorce as people wait
longer before making long-term commitments.

Politics
11:22 am
Wed May 18, 2011

Legislator acts to close lottery loophole

Leroy Fick of Auburn winning a $2 million prize after competing in the third episode of "Make Me Rich!", the Lottery game show.
Michigan Lottery

After news reports circulated that a lottery winner in Michigan was still using food stamps, one state senator has decided to try to close a loophole in state law.

Senator John Moolenaar (R-Midland), released a statement saying he's proposing legislation that would require Michigan lottery officials to share the names of winners with various government departments and immediately remove them from all public assistance programs:

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Politics
10:49 am
Wed May 18, 2011

Michigan lawmakers seek compromise on next budget

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan lawmakers may be closing in on a compromise plan related to education spending.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said Wednesday negotiators are working on a proposal that would lessen the projected cuts to K-12 school funding.

Gov. Rick Snyder in February proposed cutting per-student funding by an additional $300 in the next budget year. The developing revised plan would provide $100 per student to all districts to offset or restore part of that cut. The cut could be reduced by another $100 per student if districts adopt so-called "best financial practices."

The proposal would cut university funding by 15 percent and community college funding by 4 percent.

Richardville stressed negotiators are still working toward the possible agreement. Talks are continuing between Senate, House and Snyder administration leaders.

Commentary
10:22 am
Wed May 18, 2011

Bring Back the Posthumus Rules

I am aware that there’s a battle over whether to put the state’s unexpected surplus in the rainy day fund or to use it to help the schools. I know that libraries are in a fight for their very existence all over Michigan, and Detroit City Council is proposing crippling cuts of something like 75 percent to the city’s cultural jewels, including the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Detroit Historical Museum.

However, none of that was featured very prominently in any of the newspaper or commercial station news reports I heard while driving across the state yesterday. What was treated as big news was that former Governor Jennifer Granholm and her husband, Dan Mulhern, were denouncing Arnold Schwarzenegger via Twitter.

Granholm told the world, or at least that portion of it who follow her tweets, that this indicates that maybe we need more women governors, and advised men to keep their pants zipped.

Her husband, a leadership consultant, tweeted “Men: Can we talk maturely, openly and seriously about sex and fidelity?”

The ex-governor’s spouse then appeared to denounce the Arnold as a masculine ideal, and added that it was time to replace machismo - I am paraphrasing here - with brains and heart.

That’s all sensible advice. It also would be nice to think those tweets will be enough to dissuade the next millionaire movie star from impregnating his housekeeper, but I am skeptical.

Nor do I know why we are treating whatever the Granholm-Mulherns are tweeting about this as newsworthy. Yes, I know. He was a governor; she was a governor, it’s about sex, sex sells, et cetera.

However, this also reminds me of one of the few genteel customs in our politics that we seem to have lost in just the past few years. Until now, it has been the convention for defeated candidates and outgoing officeholders to quietly disappear, at least for a year.

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News Roundup
8:28 am
Wed May 18, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Wednesday, May 18th, 2011
Brother O'Mara Other

Budget Negotiations

Lawmakers at the state Capitol will continue today to resolve the differences between their various state budgets. The Associated Press reports:

Joint panels of House and Senate members are scheduled to begin formal conferences on the budget Wednesday and Thursday.

The House and Senate have approved different versions of the next budget and compromises must be reached before a spending plan can become law.

A key factor for the overall budget plan will be determining how deep to cut state aid to K-12 schools. Gov. Rick Snyder has proposed an additional $300 per student cut for the fiscal year that starts in October, on top of a $170 per student cut that's already on the books.

Some Senate Republicans are among the many lawmakers seeking to make the school cuts less deep.

Cities want Emergency Managers?

Jackson’s Mayor has asked the state to review the city’s finances. Michigan Radio’s Tracy Samilton reports that’s the first step towards the state appointing an Emergency Manager for the city. From Samilton:

Mayor Karen Dunigan says the city needs the state’s help, even though it has a balanced budget.  She says the budget covers payroll and not much else, and meanwhile, the city has $80-million in debt, with no plan to pay anything on the debt except the interest expenses. The state has also been asked to look at Allen Park’s finances, and Flint’s Mayor says he wants a state review, too. A new state law allows an Emergency Manager to set aside union contracts, along with elected officials' powers.

Obama Job Approval

A new poll finds President Obama's favorability rose among Michigan voters after Osama bin Laden's death. But, as the Associated Press reports, the poll, “finds that most state voters are unhappy with how he's handling the economy. The EPIC-MRA poll released Tuesday showed 53 percent of 600 likely voters polled May 9-11 had a favorable opinion of the Democratic president, up 9 points since February. Forty percent had an unfavorable opinion and 7 percent were undecided. A third gave him a positive job rating on handling the economy, while 66 percent gave him a negative rating and 2 percent were undecided.”

Arts/Culture
1:01 am
Wed May 18, 2011

U of M may be a bidder in 'Unabomber' auction

Theodore John Kaczynski, mug shot 1996

The University of Michigan may be among the bidders as the federal government auctions off the possessions of the man known as ‘The Unabomber’.  Ted Kaczynski earned his PhD in Mathematics from the University of Michigan. But it’s not his diploma that interests one university researcher. 

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Education
8:33 pm
Tue May 17, 2011

Cut to schools could be lower than school officials first feared

State lawmakers are still expected to cut the funding they provide K-12 public schools. But that cut could be lower than initially expected because the State of Michigan is projected to collect $429 million more in tax revenue than first expected.

Administrators at Grand Rapids Public Schools are pushing lawmakers to restore so-called categorical cuts before anything else. These are separate funds for schools to better handle specific issues– like declining enrollment, and bilingual and special education.

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Politics
5:32 pm
Tue May 17, 2011

"Judge can stay" says Michigan Supreme Court

The Michigan Supreme Court says a judge appointed by Governor Jennifer Granholm as she was preparing to leave office can stay on the bench. The state attorney general challenged the appointment, arguing it should have been made by Governor Rick Snyder after he took office at the beginning of this year.

Governor Jennifer Granholm filled the vacancy in December after she named Judge Amy Krause to the state Court of Appeals. Krause had just won re-election to the Lansing district court in November. Granholm named Hugh Clark to fill the balance of Krause’s term as well as to the new term that began January first.

Republican state Attorney General Bill Schuette challenged the appointment to the new term. Schuette said it should have been made by the new governor, Republican Rick Snyder.

A bipartisan majority on the state Supreme Court ruled timing worked in favor of Granholm making the appointment. The court said Granholm held office until noon on January first, while Judge Clark’s new term began that morning. The ruling also means Governor Snyder will have the power to name people to jobs that begin the day he leaves office.

Politics
5:29 pm
Tue May 17, 2011

State asked to review Jackson, Allen Park's finances

The state is looking at requests to investigate the finances of two Michigan cities.

Jackson’s Mayor has asked for a state review of the city's books.  That's the first step towards the state appointing an Emergency Manager. 

Karen Dunigan says the city needs the state’s help, even though it has a balanced budget.    She says the budget covers payroll and not much else, and meanwhile, the city has $80-million in debt, with no plan to pay anything on the debt except the interest expenses. 

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Politics
5:26 pm
Tue May 17, 2011

Part of projected budget windfall expected to go to schools

Part of a projected budget windfall is expected to go toward reducing proposed cuts to Michigan’s K-through-12 schools.

The question floating around the state Capitol is how much of a projected boon in tax revenue collection will go toward reducing cuts to per-student funding, and how much will go toward paying for pensions or into the state’s “rainy day” fund.

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Environment
5:02 pm
Tue May 17, 2011

Hazardous waste deep injection wells might reopen

The injection wells in Romulus are considered "Class I" wells by the EPA. The wells can "inject hazardous and non-hazardous wastes into deep, isolated rock formations that are thousands of feet below the lowermost underground sources of drinking water."
epa.gov

It's been five years since the deep injection wells in Romulus, Michigan stopped pumping hazardous waste close to a mile underground.

Now those wells might reopen. From the Detroit News:

The two wells located off Citrin Drive have drawn opposition in the Romulus area long before original owner Environmental Disposal Systems (EDS) began accepting waste there in 2005. Operations were halted when the company ran into financial problems and state inspectors discovered leaks in the above ground apparatus. There was no lasting environmental damage, but the findings fueled opposition from local residents...

This week, EPA officials appear ready to grant tentative approval for Environmental Geo-Technologies' underground injection control permit, which would bring the reopening of the site one step closer to reality.

The deep injection wells in Romulus have been a controversial subject for decades.

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