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News Roundup
8:58 am
Fri January 21, 2011

In this morning's news...

Legislation Planned for New Detroit-Windsor Bridge

State Senator Hoon Yung Hopgood says he will sponsor a bill that would be connected to the effort to build a new international bridge from Detroit to Windsor, Ontario. The Democratic lawmaker's statement follows Governor Rick Snyder's announcement that he supports the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC). Snyder announced his support on Wednesday evening during his first State of the State address. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the project is “absolutely critical” to trade with Canada.

Could Price Tags Become ‘A Thing of the Past’?

Also, during Wednesday night’s State of the State address, Governor Snyder said Michigan lawmakers should get rid of or modify, “antiquated laws.” As Mark Brush reports, one such law is the state’s "Item Pricing Law." Snyder said:

Requiring 'stickers' over other forms of price-marking costs Michigan’s economy over $2 billion dollars a year. Let’s use the technology we have to protect customers.

Not everyone, however, agrees that getting rid of price tags is such a good idea. Chris Michalakis, the Legislative and Political Director with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, said the law is necessary so shoppers can compare prices or catch errors at the checkout:

You know, in these hard economic times we need stronger consumer protection laws. There are more people than ever in Michigan on fixed incomes, and we also need to think about the amount of jobs this would cost if passed.

There's also the worry that changing the law could cut the number of stock workers required at stores around the state.

Dingell Will Run Again in 2012

Michigan Democratic Congressman John Dingell said yesterday that he will run for re-election in 2012. Dingell, who won his 28th full term in Congress last November, is The U.S. House of Representative’s longest serving member. The 84-yeard old, who represents Michigan’s 15th District, told the Detroit News, it is. “the greatest job in the world.” Dingell has been in Congress since 1955.

State Legislature
6:44 am
Fri January 21, 2011

Legislation on new Detroit-Windsor bridge to be introduced in state Senate

Runners underneath the Ambassador Bridget, Detroit, MI
J.Stephen Conn Flickr

State Senator Hoon Yung Hopgood said yesterday that he is sponsoring a bill that would be connected to the effort to build a new international bridge from Michigan to Windsor, Ontario. The Democratic lawmaker's statement follows Governor Rick Snyder's announcement that he supports the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC). Snyder announced his support on Wednesday evening during his first State of the State address.

As the Associated Press reports:

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Thursday the project is "absolutely critical" to trade with Canada. Some Republicans and the owners of the private Ambassador Bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor have opposed the proposal.

A statement released after the State of the State address on Senator Hopgood's website noted:

State Senator Hoon-Yung Hopgood (D-Taylor) is backing Governor Rick Snyder's measure to support the Detroit River International Crossing, which could create thousands of jobs and boost Michigan's economy. According to state officials, the project could create 10,000 jobs directly and 30,000 additional jobs through related economic activity...

The Canadian government has offered to pay up to $550 million to cover Michigan's cost to build the new bridge between the U.S. and Canada. This agreement mirrors the agreement to build the Blue Water Bridge. The U.S. paid for that bridge and Canada's offer to cover this investment is in the same spirit of cooperation. Canada will be repaid – as Michigan was – through tolls collected from bridge users.

Politics
5:46 pm
Thu January 20, 2011

Clarifying what an Emergency Financial Manager can do

Governor Rick Snyder wants the Legislature to clarify the Emergency Financial Manager's Act.

There was a dispute over how much power state-appointed emergency financial managers have when the Detroit School Board sued the state's Emergency Financial Manager for Detroit Public Schools, Robert Bobb.

They said he was exercising too much power, and the court agreed.

Laura Weber, of the Michigan Public Radio Network, filed this report:

Snyder wants the Legislature to rework the Emergency Financial Manager’s Act to provide more clarity on the powers of an emergency manager.

Robert Bobb is the emergency financial manager of the Detroit Public Schools. He says many other school districts and municipal governments are in serious financial trouble.

"There could be more in the future that an emergency financial manager should have complete authority over the operations of a school district and/or a municipality, working with their elected leadership."

Bobb says the emergency financial manager of a school district should be allowed to take over the curriculum as well as finances because, he says, money is involved in all facets of school systems.  A judge denied Bobb that authority.

Bobb says he is encouraged by the governor acknowledging the issue in his State of the State speech, but Bobb says he is not clear what is being proposed, and he is anxious to hear details.

Land use
5:36 pm
Thu January 20, 2011

MI Supreme Court to hear dispute over Benton Harbor golf course

A portion of Jean Klock Park before the golf course was developed
Vincent Duffy Michigan Radio

Attorneys will make their case before Michigan’s Supreme Court Friday over a disputed Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course in Benton Harbor. The course opened last summer.

Nearly a century ago, the Jean Klock Park was donated to the city of Benton Harbor for public recreation. The city leased part of the 90-acre park to non-profit developer Harbor Shores Community Redevelop Corporation, who used land including sand dunes along the Lake Michigan shoreline for 3 holes of an 18 hole golf course.

John Cameron represents the developers.

“We’re not focusing here on three golf holes, we’re focusing here on the entirety of a park and what its being used for, all the different uses; picnicking, hiking, kite-flying, volleyball, concerts, triathlons, and golf.”

Michigan’s Court of Appeals agreed with Cameron that designating part of it as a golf course is not against the restrictions. It also ruled that the city is allowed to lease the land.

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Economy
5:07 pm
Thu January 20, 2011

Will price tags be a thing of the past in Michigan?

A law in Michigan requires retailers to label each product in their stores with a price tag.
Christopher Matson Flickr

Price tags? We don't need no stinkin' price tags.

In his State of the State address last night, Governor Rick Snyder said the legislature should get rid of or modify "antiquated laws."

One law he used as an example was the state's "Item Pricing Law." The law, he said, is an undue burden on retailers. From Snyder's State of the State outline:

"Requiring 'stickers' over other forms of price-marking costs Michigan’s economy over $2 billion dollars a year. Let’s use the technology we have to protect customers."

Michigan Radio news intern, Sarah Alvarez, filed a report on the state's Item Pricing Law.

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Arts/Culture
4:31 pm
Thu January 20, 2011

DSO and musicians meet as strike enters 16th week

The Detroit Symphony musicians and the DSO management have agreed to meet
Zuu Mumu Entertainment Flickr

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra agreed to meet with striking musicians on Thursday. Musicians walked out on October 4th. The last time the two sides met to resolve the contract dispute was late November.

Meanwhile, patrons are hoping for a resolution soon. Jean Cranston has attended DSO concerts for the past 15 years.  She says missing out on the concerts is like “losing a friend.”

Cranston lives in the suburbs now – but she was born in Detroit.

"It made me have some connection with the city -- which I feel I don’t have too much of any more," says Cranston.  "And it also gives you hope when you go down there that things can revive in the city."

The DSO lost nearly $9 million last year. Management recently increased its wage offer to musicians. But the DSO also wants work rule changes that musicians oppose.

Transit
4:25 pm
Thu January 20, 2011

Feds sink $25 million into Detroit light rail

Artist's rendering of light rail along Woodward Ave. in Detroit
M1 Rail

Plans for a light rail line in Detroit got a boost with a $25 million grant from the federal government.

The money will help with the first phase of the project, which will connect Detroit’s downtown and New Center areas. That 3.5 mile stretch could ultimately extend up Woodward Avenue to the city’s border at Eight Mile Road.

The project is backed by a powerful group of business leaders in the city – including Dan Gilbert, Peter Karmanos, and Roger Penske. They’ve helped pull together about $125 million in private funding. In an unusual arrangement, the federal government agreed to match those private dollars. Normally the city would have to put up the money, but Detroit is broke.

The project is expected to break ground this year.

Politics
3:34 pm
Thu January 20, 2011

Dingell plans to run again

John Dingell (D), the dean of Michigan's congressional delegation
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The dean of Michigan's congressional delegation plans to stay in Washington. John Dingell says he plans to run again for the seat he's held since the mid-50's.

Here's the Associated Press story:

Two months after winning a 28th full term in the U.S. House, Michigan's John Dingell says he's going for 29. The 84-year-old Dearborn Democrat tells The Detroit News he'll be a candidate for re-election in 2012. Dingell has been in Congress since 1955. He calls it "the greatest job in the world."

The man known as "Big John" currently represents the 15th District, which could be in jeopardy as redistricting looms. The number of House seats in Michigan will drop one to 14 next year, and majority Republicans could change up Dingell's district.

It now encompasses the far southeastern portion of the state, including Monroe and Ann Arbor. Dingell says he's "had three bad redistrictings" and has "survived every one of them.

Crime
1:56 pm
Thu January 20, 2011

Detroiters hopeful serial rapist is in custody

Detroit Chief of Police Ralph Godbee
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

Detroiters are hopeful police have found the person responsible for raping seven women on the city’s east side.

A “person of interest” is in police custody The man has not yet been charged. Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee says investigators are being careful not to rush things:

"We have 48 hours to present a warrant to the prosecutor. That is in any case. If it goes outside the scope of 48 hours, as in any case, we would have to have an exception that would allow us to do so."

In most cases, the women were waiting for a bus or walking near a bus stop when they were attacked.

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Education
1:49 pm
Thu January 20, 2011

New digs for Detroit schools police

Officials including Detroit Board of Education President Anthony Adams, holding giant scissors, and Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb, to Adams' left, were on hand for the opening of the new DPS police headquarters
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

Detroit Public Schools has a brand-new, state-of-the-art police headquarters.

It’s part of a $42 million initiative to improve security in the school district.

The facility includes a detention center, K-9 kennels, and an alarm system that will alert officers when doors to school buildings are opened when they shouldn’t be, said DPS Police Chief Roderick Grimes:

"We have a command center that will house state-of-the-art camera systems, which will allow us to look at the interior and the exterior of every school, 24 hours a day."

Money to pay for the building’s construction came from $500.5 billion bond initiative voters approved in 2009.

Politics
1:43 pm
Thu January 20, 2011

Michigan Supreme Court to consider who should prosecute violations of the state's election laws

The seal of the Michigan Supreme Court
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The Michigan Supreme Court will hear arguments tomorrow involving Meijer officials who may have violated state campaign finance law.

The company financed a public relations campaign to kick out village trustees who opposed Meijer’s plans to build a new store in their community.   The move may have violated Michigan’s campaign finance law, which bars corporations and their agents from making campaign contributions. The Grand Traverse Eagle has done a great job covering the case. 

 Alan Schneider is Grand Traverse County Prosecutor.  He’s wanted to pursue an investigation against the Meijer officials.  But attorneys for the Meijer officials involved say only the Secretary of State’s office has the authority to prosecute campaign finance cases.   Alan Schneider says the Michigan Supreme Court must decide who’s right.

“If there’s a crime, that’s a state crime, we are obligated to prosecute.”    

The whole issue could be moot.   Last year, the US Supreme Court struck down federal laws barring corporations from making political contributions. 

Meanwhile, Meijer has paid millions of dollars in settlements to the state and the targeted village trustees.

Legal
12:38 pm
Thu January 20, 2011

Is a firefighter's discovery of pot plants an illegal search?

The defendant was charged with possessing marijuana plants after a firefighter discovered them.
USFWS

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case regarding a possible illegal search today.

In the case "The People of the State of Michigan vs. Mark Slaughter" - the defendant, Mark Slaughter, was charged with possessing marijuana plants in his basement after a firefighter found the plants during an emergency call. From the court filing:

On May 6, 2007, firefighters were called to the residence of Kathleen Tunner at 3206 Coolidge, Royal Oak, Michigan. Ms. Tunner testified that she suspected that water was running down the wall of her basement in her unit over her electrical box. Ms. Tunner contacted 911 and the fire department arrived...even though the unit in which called for assistance was Ms. Tunner's unit, Lieutenant Schunck never entered or inspected Ms. Tunner's unit...[Schunck] testified that they entered Defendant's unit, absent any signs of leaking water or hearing water running from outside Defendant's unit...Upon entering Defendants unit, the firefighters observed suspected marijuana plants...and subsequently contacted the police."

The Associated Press reports that lower courts have ruled in Slaughter's favor:

Slaughter's defense lawyer successfully argued that it was an illegal search. Prosecutors say there's an exception when authorities find evidence of a crime during an emergency.

So let's play armchair Supreme Court justice. Do you think this amounted to an illegal search? You can read the complaint to gather more information before you issue your ruling.

Environment
9:58 am
Thu January 20, 2011

Environment in the State of the State

Governor Rick Snyder at last night's State of the State address.
gophouse.com

In his first State of the State address last night, Governor Rick Snyder made it clear that jobs are his first priority.

But he also made several announcements on conservation and park projects and the Pure Michigan tourism campaign. He announced that his budget recommendation will include annual funding of $25 million for the Pure Michigan tourism campaign.

“This program supports one of our strongest assets – our water resources and the treasures of the Great Lakes, and it’s an illustration of value for money. It’s positive for our image, and it’s positive return on our tax dollars.”

And he urged the legislature to quickly pass a bill that would implement the recommendations of the Natural Resources Trust Fund board. The board has recommended that $100 million be used to buy land for conservation and parks.

“These projects will positively impact every corner of our state. From Iron County in the Upper Peninsula to Traverse City, to Luna Pier in Monroe County. Also included is a significant expansion of the William T Milliken Park on the Detroit riverfront.”

In his address, Governor Snyder called the Great Lakes “economic engines.”

 

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Governor Snyder
9:24 am
Thu January 20, 2011

State of the State: What the pundits are saying

Governor Rick Snyder delivering his first State of the State address Wednesday night
Photo courtesy of www.gophouse.com

Governor Rick Snyder delivered his first State of the State address last night to a joint session of the Michigan legislature. Though the speech was highly optimistic, some said they hoped for more details in the address, particularly regarding how the governor plans to balance the state's projected $1.8 billion deficit for the fiscal year that beings October 1st. Snyder said he'll outline his budget plans in February. And, he said, he'll detail plans for government reform and education in March and April respectively. Although some hoped for more specifics, overall, pundits from across the state were pretty upbeat about the address. Here's a look at what they had to say:

Commentary
9:22 am
Thu January 20, 2011

The Statesman and the State

When it comes to speeches, Rick Snyder cannot begin to touch Jennifer Granholm in terms of style.

At no time during his State of the State speech last night did he come close to matching her perfectly modulated tones. He’s getting better, but the governor still sounds much of the time like a college student making a speech in a class he’s required to take.

But when it comes to substance and leadership, he blew her out of the park. He took one of the most divisive issues in the state, made it his own, worked out an astonishing deal with the federal government, and happily co-opted both his friends and enemies.

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Politics
6:45 am
Thu January 20, 2011

The State of the State

Governor Rick Snyder delivering his State of the State address Wednesday night.
gophouse.com

Update - 1/20/11, 6:35 a.m.:

Republicans and Democrats say they're encouraged by what they heard from Governor Rick Snyder last night. The Republican delivered his first State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature in Lansing. Laura Weber sent this report:

Democratic lawmakers say they are eager to work with Governor Snyder on many of the issues he brought up, but their optimism is tempered with caution.

They say they’re waiting for Snyder’s budget proposal in February. "At this point the voters have given him the ball, he needs to advance it up field, and I think the next big play will be on February 17th where we’ll really get to see what their priorities are and how they’re going to balance the budget," said Democratic Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer.

Republican lawmakers say they are most eager to work with Snyder to reform or eliminate Michigan’s complicated business tax.

Update - 1/19/11, 8:58 p.m.:

For those wishing to keep track of the goals laid out in the State of the State address, Governor Snyder announced a new website. The "Michigan Dashboard." The information on the website claims to tell you "how the state performs in areas that affect you and your family."

Update - 1/19/11, 8:20 p.m.:

Here's the audio of Governor Snyder's State of the State address:

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Unemployment
6:36 am
Thu January 20, 2011

State jobless rate declines in December

Michigan's December unemployment rate was 11.7 percent
Khalilshah Flickr

Michigan's unemployment rate dropped in December to 11.7 percent. But, as Rick Pluta reports, the decline in the jobless rate was due mostly to people who have stopped looking for jobs:

Michigan’s unemployment rate dropped steadily throughout 2010. But there are still 555,000 people in Michigan who are out of work and looking for jobs. Half of them have been looking for six months or more.

There was little new hiring last month. The number of people who simply stopped looking for work is the biggest reason for the decline in the jobless rate. The state Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth says the number of people who say they are available to work fell by 37,000.

When people who are looking for jobs, those who’ve quit looking, and part-time workers who’d like to be full-time are rolled together, Michigan’s rate of unemployment and under-employment is 21 percent.

Michigan’s unemployment rate in 2010 was 13.6 percent. That’s a drop of half a percentage point from the 2009 average.

State of the State
10:24 pm
Wed January 19, 2011

Gov. Snyder supports new Detroit River bridge (and he says he's got a way to pay for it)

A downstream view of the Ambassador Bridge and downtown Detroit from the proposed location of the new bridge crossing
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The controversial plan for a new bridge linking Detroit with Windsor, Ontario has a new very high profile supporter: Michigan’s new governor.

Rick Snyder voiced support for the Detroit River bridge project in his State of the State address last night. Last year, Republican state lawmakers rejected Canada’s offer of $550 million to help pay for Michigan’s share of the bridge.

But the Republican governor says he’s come up with a way to make the bridge a reality.  

Transportation Director Kirk  Steudle and I have secured a unique agreement with the federal Highway Administration to use this $550 million investment in our infrastructure towards the matching funds required for all federally funded highway projects across our state.

The bridge still faces opposition. The owners of the Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge have waged a long fight against a new bridge built and operated by anyone other than them.

Economy
10:13 pm
Wed January 19, 2011

U of M, MSU and Wayne State to work with Procter & Gamble

U of M will partner with Procter & Gamble on future research for consumer products
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Consumer products giant Procter & Gamble is teaming up with Michigan’s three leading research universities.

The University of Michigan, Michigan State and Wayne State Universities will work with P&G to develop new products.

Daryl Weinert is the executive director of U of M’s Business Engagement Center. He says the collaboration will allow university researchers to move ‘at the speed of industry’.

It sends a message to the world when a company like P& G chooses a state like Michigan to do a collaboration like this.

Weinert says the state of Michigan will benefit because of the ripple effects of business investment. The program will eventually expand to other Michigan universities. Procter & Gamble has a similar research corridor in Ohio.

Politics
9:00 pm
Wed January 19, 2011

Democratic response to Michigan Governor's State of the State address

Gretchen Whitmer, Senate Democratic Leader delivers the Democratic response to the State of the State speech
Michigan Senate Democrats

The Democratic response to Governor Snyder's State of the State address was delivered by Gretchen Whitmer, leader of the Michigan Senate Democrats. You can watch the response on the Michigan Senate Democrats website. The transcript of Whitmer's speech follows:

Good evening,

The election this past November saw Michigan government turn the page on an unproductive time of Michigan history.

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