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Economy
12:39 pm
Sun March 13, 2011

Daylight saving time: a payroll headache

Computing pay for third-shift workers can get a bit complicated when Daylight Saving Time starts and ends.
inquisitr.com

There are fans and foes of daylight saving time, which began at 2 a.m. Sunday.

It means setting our clocks forward an hour, and for many, that means losing an hour of sleep every spring.

But for shift workers, it means working one  hour less.

Beth Skaggs is an attorney with Varnum Law in Grand Rapids.

She says daylight saving time can get a bit confusing when it comes to payroll

“For employers, it can create some headaches when they have third-shift workers who are actually working at the time when daylight saving time change occurs,” Skaggs  says.

Varnum says in the spring,  employers are not required to pay workers for the phantom hour when daylight saving time takes effect.

However, she says employers are required to pay for the extra hour worked when daylight saving time ends in the fall.

Science/Medicine
12:28 pm
Sun March 13, 2011

Study to examine whether air pollution can cause diabetes, heart disease

Study will focus on air pollution's effects on in Detroit and in rural areas.
wired.com

It’s no secret that air pollution can lead to breathing problems, like asthma. But a new study will look at what else pollutants may be doing to humans.

Michigan State University has been named a Clean Air Research Center by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Scientists will investigate how certain mixtures of air pollutants affect human health.

MSU professor Jack  Harkema is leading the study.

He says certain toxins may contribute to or even cause heart disease or diabetes, especially in people with other health issues.

"One of those risk groups are people who are overweight or obese," Harkema says. "And maybe you wouldn't think of that right away, but we have some evidence, just like  cigarette smoke, can affect multiple organ systems."

The study will take place primarily in the Detroit area and in rural areas.

University of Michigan and Ohio State University researchers are also taking part.

Education
3:14 pm
Sat March 12, 2011

Detroit schools offer new plan to cut deficit

The emergency financial manager for Detroit's public schools is floating a new proposal to cut into the district's costs by turning over the operations of 41 academically struggling schools to outside groups or charter school operators.  

The district says Saturday in a release that Robert Bobb's "Renaissance Plan 2012" would reduce operating costs by up to $99 million and address the district's declining enrollment heading into the 2011 to 2012 fiscal year. It also would mean closing fewer schools as called for in a state-approved plan to eliminate the district's $327 million legacy deficit.

The deficit elimination plan would close 70 schools and increase class sizes in some high schools to 62 students. Bobb has said that plan would not be good for the district or students.

Auto/Economy
5:43 pm
Fri March 11, 2011

Japanese car exports to U.S. threatened by tsunami

Many car plants in Japan remain closed as a result of the massive earthquake and tsunami. 

Japanese carmakers say it’s too early to know if the disaster will hurt their exports to the U.S. 

Toyota, Nissan, Subaru and Honda suspended most of their operations in Japan after the disaster, and many plants remain closed today.

Nissan says small fires broke out at two plants but the fires were quickly extinguished. 

One Honda employee in Japan was killed when a cafeteria wall collapsed at Honda’s Research & Development Center in Tochigi. 

More than thirty Honda employees were also injured in Honda facilities in Tochigi due to ceilings collapsing and other damage that took place during the earthquake.

Exports to the U.S. are threatened not just by damage to plants but damage to Japanese ports. 

There could also be parts disruptions from damage to Japanese suppliers.

Crime
5:10 pm
Fri March 11, 2011

Eastern Michigan University suffers security breach of personal information

Over 45 EMU students have been left vulnerable to identity theft
mconnors morgueFile

Officials at Eastern Michigan University are investigating two former student employees who allegedly stole personal information when they worked for the University. At least 45 EMU students could now be vulnerable to identity theft.

Walter Kraft is EMU’s Vice President of Communications and said the university discovered the breach during another investigation. He says the university is working with federal authorities to investigate the breach:

"We’re obviously pursuing it aggressively. Our department of public safety has notified federal authorities that are joining us in the investigation."

Students whose information was compromised have been contacted. EMU officials have not said if the stolen information was used.

Though the investigation is ongoing, Kraft encourages those with questions to visit the University's website for more information.

-Bridget Bodnar, Michigan Radio News

Politics
4:50 pm
Fri March 11, 2011

Unions say EFM bills bad for teachers

The scene in Lansing, from February 26
User P.E.C. Flickr

A teachers’ union leader says a proposal in the Legislature to give emergency financial managers sweeping control over school districts is a bad deal for educators.

The Michigan Senate approved the bills this week that would dissolve union contracts and eliminate collective bargaining rights at the local level if an emergency manager were put in control of a school district, city or township.

David Hecker is vice president of the Michigan division of the American Teachers Federation union. He says many financial problems can be better addressed through collective bargaining.

Hecker appeared on public television’s “Off The Record.”

“It either eliminates or severely undercuts collective bargaining – so it hurts the middle class – and it also hurts education. Because, you know, the problem with the EFM bill is if it’s an issue – and it’s an issue, there are districts and there are cities who are in financial difficulties – but you just don’t throw out a solution. You figure out what the problem is, and then you craft a solution.”

“We rather Governor Snyder work with us, we all work with the Legislature, and we work in support of communities, we work in support of the middle class, we work in support of our students. We think the EFM bill works against communities, works against the middle class, and is not good for our students. So Governor Snyder has a choice. We rather work together than become Wisconsin.”

“If people think we need this hammer to come to the table to say ‘yeah, health care costs are increasing, we have to address it. The school district’s in debt, we have to address it,’ we already do that at the table. You know, what do you say to a secretary of Detroit Public Schools who makes 22-thousand dollars a year and just took a three-percent pay cut?”

The House is expected to vote on the emergency financial manager bills next week. Governor Rick Snyder called for the reforms in his State of the State address.

Japanese Earthquake
4:50 pm
Fri March 11, 2011

Earthquake "nightmare scenario" for Michigan students from Japan

Universities across the state are reporting all students they have studying overseas in Japan are safe and accounted for. But many students from Japan who are studying in Michigan are trying to get in touch with friends and relatives.

Thirty-year old Tomomi Suwa is working on her doctorate degree at Michigan State.

 “As an international student I fear about this kind crisis a lot. I live so far away from home that sometimes it’s very difficult to get a hold of family or friends. It’s like a nightmare scenario for me.”

Her father called Suwa and woke her up at 6 o-clock Friday morning to tell her the news about the earthquake. She says she wasn’t totally shocked by the news. She grew up practicing earthquake and tsunami drills at school and she’s experienced numerous earthquakes. The biggest registered 4.4 on the Richter scale. 

“At that magnitude you can really feel that things are moving around; it’s already scary at 4.4. So I can’t even imagine what 8.8 or 8.9 could be.”

So far, Suwa says she’s very relieved all of her family and friends that she’s been able to contact on the phone or online are okay. But she has not been able to get in touch with everyone yet. 

The University of Michigan, Grand Valley State University, Michigan State University, and Eastern Michigan University each have students currently in Japan for classes overseas.

Economy
4:45 pm
Fri March 11, 2011

Snyder says agriculture key to small business growth

Governor Snyder says it's important to process the commodities made in Michigan.
Helen Hanley creative commons

Governor Rick Snyder says agriculture is a key part of his strategy to focus economic development efforts on small businesses.

The governor spoke today to the Future Farmers of America state convention. He says there’s lots of room to grow small businesses processing farm products in rural areas of the state.

"There’s an opportunity there to do more economic development in our smaller towns and our villages, and one of those connections is if you look at it, we’re producing all these great commodity products, and if we can do more and more to say let’s continue the processing of these products right where they are being produced, that’s an opportunity to create jobs in these smaller communities. "

At the same time, Snyder says he wants to rely less on tax breaks and other industry-specific incentives to create jobs.

State Legislature
4:40 pm
Fri March 11, 2011

Emergency Financial Manager controversy continues

The scene in Lansing, from February 26
User P.E.C. Flickr

As protests continue in Madison over a controversial bill removing collecting bargaining rights from some public unions, attention is drifting to Michigan.

Governor Snyder has responded to reports and protests by saying that he does not want to follow Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's example, reiterating in an interview with WXYZ that he is eager to solve problems--including the specifics on $180 million dollars worth of concessions from state employees--through the collective bargaining process, and that he "was hired to solve Michigan's issues."

But whether Governor Snyder wants attention from national media or not, it is happening, including a ten-minute report on last night's Rachel Maddow Show.

But what does the law actually say? What is an Emergency Financial Manager? How are they appointed?

The following is taken from the "Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Public Act 72 of 1990, Local Government Fiscal Responsibility Act, and the Appointment of Emergency Financial Managers."

And if the title wasn't a clue, the explanation is a little long.

From the FAQ:

 What triggers the Act?

Among the conditions specified in the Act are the failure by a unit of local government to pay creditors, the failure to make timely pension contributions, and payless paydays. In addition, certain officials, or residents, of a unit of local government may request a preliminary review under the Act, as may either the State Senate or House of Representatives.

What happens when the Act is triggered?

The State Treasurer conducts a preliminary review of the financial condition of the unit of local government. Once that review is concluded, the State Treasurer reports the result to the Governor. If a serious financial problem is found to exist in the unit of local government, the Governor then appoints a financial review team to conduct a more detailed review of the financial condition of the unit of local government.

What is the purpose of a Financial Review Team?

...[A] Financial Review Team...conduct[s] a more detailed review of the financial condition of the unit of local government. A Financial Review Team generally has 60 days (generally 30 days in the case of school districts) to complete its work and file its report. A Financial Review Team report must reach one of the following three conclusions:

-- A serious financial problem does not exist in the unit of local government, or

-- A serious financial problem exists in the unit of local government, but a Consent Agreement containing a plan to resolve the problem has been adopted, or

-- A local government financial emergency exists because no satisfactory plan exists to resolve the serious financial problem.

If the third conclusion is reached, or if a unit of local government signs, but subsequently violates a Consent Agreement, then a financial emergency is determined to exist in the unit of local government and an Emergency Financial Manager is appointed.

Who appoints Emergency Financial Managers?

For units of local government other than school districts, Emergency Financial Managers are appointed by, and serve at the pleasure of, the Local Emergency Financial Assistance Loan Board, which consists of the State Treasurer, the Director of the Department of Management and Budget, and the Director of the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth. Emergency Financial Managers for school districts are appointed by the Governor, subject to the advice and consent of the State Senate

 

New Powers for EMFs

But a bill passed by the Michigan Senate this week expands the Emergency Financial Managers' powers to include ending union-approved contracts. Holland radio station WHTC reports:

After days of debate and protests, the State Senate passes a bill to give more power to emergency financial managers appointed to cities or school districts.  The 26-to-12 vote, which followed party lines, will allow emergency managers to cancel workers union contracts.

Democrats have said passing the bill would undermine collective bargaining in the affected communities or schools, while Republicans contend the legislation would help target municipalities or districts before their financial problems reach critical levels.

Six localities or school districts are currently affected by the law. From the Chicago Tribune:

The current state law related to emergency financial managers is affecting about a half-dozen local communities and schools at this time. Only Pontiac, Benton Harbor, Ecorse and the Detroit Public Schools have state-appointed emergency financial managers in place.

The bill has passed the House and the Senate and is on its way back to the House, where approval is required for some minor changes.

-Brian Short, Michigan Radio News

Education
4:21 pm
Fri March 11, 2011

University of Michigan reviews trespass policy

Flickr user Dextera Photography

The University of Michigan is reviewing its trespass policy after faculty members have requested an update.  The review follows an incident last fall when former assistant state attorney general Andrew Shirvell was banned from campus. He allegedly harassed the U of M student body leader in person and online. The ACLU has complained about banning Shirvell from campus.  

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Politics
4:20 pm
Fri March 11, 2011

Judge weighs victims' rights against... victims' rights

Shayan Sanyal Flickr

A Washtenaw County judge is trying to broker an agreement that would allow the state and two counties to collect back child support and restitution from hundreds of women, while still protecting their identities.

More than 500 women were part of $100 million settlement from the state because they were sexually abused while in Michigan prisons. Attorneys for the state and Oakland and Wayne counties want to know whether any of them owe child support or restitution.

Read more
On the Radio
4:05 pm
Fri March 11, 2011

In case you missed it...

user cpstorm Flickr

Michigan Radio broadcasts hundreds of stories, interviews, and commentaries every week.

One person can't possibly hear them all.

Here, you'll find a few stories we think you might like to hear:

Oh You Shouldn't Have... no really - This American Life

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Auto/Economy
2:32 pm
Fri March 11, 2011

Highland Park ex-treasurer charged with embezzlment

User the commedian Flickr

A former Highland Park charter school treasurer named Shantell Bell has been charged with embezzlement, the Associated Press reports:

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette's office says in a release that 37-year-old Shantell Bell was arrested Friday and was expected to be arraigned in Highland Park District Court.

Authorities say a $25,000 check request was made in 2009 for textbooks at George Washington Carver Academy.

The money later was paid to an Ohio title company. Bell's ex-boyfriend reported it to
the school, which contacted Michigan State Police.

Bell no longer works at the school.

Defense attorney Karri Mitchell declined Friday to comment on the case.

Schuette made comments to the Detroit News following the arrest:

"The theft of resources from Michigan's children will not be tolerated" 

"We must root out corruption at all levels of government to ensure the public is served. Nobody will get a free pass when they break the law."

Bell's arraignment was expected to occur this afternoon, in the 30th District Court.

Politics
1:44 pm
Fri March 11, 2011

Report: Psychotropic drugs "dominating" cost of prescriptions in prisons

Prison fence. State auditors say Michigan prisons could have saved millions in prescription costs.
Simon Brass Flickr

The state's prison system is in line for some budget cuts like a lot of other parts of the state government.

Now, a recent audit says the prison system could save more in prescription costs.

From the Associated Press:

DETROIT (AP) - State auditors say Michigan could have saved millions of dollars by choosing lower-cost alternatives to a mental-health drug that is widely prescribed in prisons.

The audit released Friday says psychotropic drugs are dominating the cost of prescriptions in the prison system. They added up to more than $8 million from January through July last year - 41 percent of all pharmaceuticals.

Seroquel is the most prescribed antipsychotic drug. Auditors say the Corrections Department could have saved $350,000 a month by switching just half of those prescriptions to a drug called Risperdal.

The Corrections Department says it's taking steps to control costs. The audit also found that prisoners are not being charged for over-the-counter medicine even if they can afford it.

Developing: Japan
12:05 pm
Fri March 11, 2011

Finding friends in Japan

The American Red Cross is not accepting inquiries to contact friends or family at the moment.
wikimedia commons

After the devastating earthquake and resulting tsunamis in Japan, many people in the U.S. are trying to locate friends an family in Japan.

The Red Cross reports that they are unable to help at the moment but point to some resources:

At this time the Red Cross in unable to accept inquiries to contact or locate family and friends in Japan. However, there are several resources available as follows.

Inquiries concerning U.S. citizens living or traveling in Japan should be referred to the U.S. Department of State, Office of Overseas Citizens Services at 1-888-407-4747 or 202 647-5225.

For inquiries about relatives living in Japan who are not US citizens, encourage the members of your community to keep calling or to try contacting other family members who live in the region. Even though communication networks overloaded right now, the situation may change and access to mobile networks and the internet may improve.

The Red Cross also points to the Google Person Finder as a good resource. People can post that they are looking for someone, or that they have information about someone. You can find it here: http://japan.person-finder.appspot.com/?lang=en - it's tracking around 7,200 records at the moment.

There's also a Facebook page now up for sharing information.

Commentary
11:40 am
Fri March 11, 2011

Wacky Weather

You don’t need me to tell you this, but we’ve had a rough winter. Not nearly as tough as they’ve had in New York, or almost anywhere on the eastern seaboard. But it’s been cold and snowy.

How snowy? Well, in Detroit, we are already in the top dozen winters of all time, with more than sixty inches. Last month was the third snowiest February in recorded history.

But it could always be worse. If you have any interest in the weather, by the way, there’s a fascinating little book that just came out last year: Extreme Michigan Weather: The Wild World of the Great Lakes State, published by the University of Michigan Press.

Author Paul Gross is a longtime meteorologist who now works for WDIV-TV in Detroit.  His book looks at the strange and constantly changing weather we have in this state, or, as he puts it, everything from heat waves to bitter snows, ice storms to tornadoes to floods.

We don’t, however, have hurricanes, and his book will tell you why. (Not having any tropical ocean waters around here is a big part of it.)  Ice we do have -- in abundance.

Ice and snow. But if you are feeling so tired of snow you can’t stand it, consider this. We lucked out today. Grand Rapids once got almost seven inches of snow on March 11. In Flint, it’s been as cold as seven below zero this day, which I found in Paul Gross’s book.

He includes all these tables for fun in Extreme Michigan Weather. So, just in case you were burning to know, it was once twenty below zero on this date in Ironwood.

Read more
Environment
11:33 am
Fri March 11, 2011

Lake St. Clair fish kills blamed on cold weather

Big fish kills in Lake St. Clair and along the St. Clair river this winter puzzled some residents and scientists in the area. The Detroit News reported that, "the cause of the massive fish die-offs, which began in mid-December, remains a mystery to state investigators...Dead gizzard shad is a common sight this time of year — but not in the tens to hundreds of thousands being reported this winter."

Read more
Education
11:12 am
Fri March 11, 2011

Residency of Detroit School Board president called into question

The Detroit News reports that court records show DPS Board president Anthony Adams is not meeting the Board's residency requirements.

From the Detroit News:

The estranged wife of Detroit school board President Anthony Adams has accused him of living outside the city — a violation of board policy.

Deborah Ross Adams, a judge in Wayne County Circuit Court, contends Adams lives in Oakland County, according to court records related to their divorce proceedings, and that he is improperly using their marital home in Detroit's Palmer Woods as the basis of residency for his school board seat.

Adams filed for divorce from his wife in June 2009 in Wayne County after 31 years of marriage. In his filing, he says the couple separated in January 2009.

One board member is quoted as saying she doesn't have any concerns about the matter.

The board's vice president, Tyrone Winfrey, says the school district has more important things to worry about at the moment.

Sports Commentary
10:49 am
Fri March 11, 2011

Ohio State's Jim Tressel and the NCAA: the sheriff is now the saloon keeper

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel. Ohio State has suspended the coach for two games next season.
user johntex wikimedia commons

It looks like Jim Tressel has gotten himself into a bit of hot water.

That’s why his boss, athletic director Gene Smith, flew back to make sure everyone said they were “taking responsibility” – a phrase which changed some time in the last decade, and now means the exact opposite.

It was fine theater.  

Read more
Japanese Earthquake
10:15 am
Fri March 11, 2011

8.9 magnitude earthquake strikes Japan

Tsunami travel times map from NOAA
NOAA

Update 10:15 a.m.

Updates from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center

Update 9:23 a.m.

Reports that Tsunami waves have reached Hawaii. This from ABC news:

Tsunami waves reached Hawaii early today, following a massive 8.9 magnitutde earthquake in Japan, that triggered tidal wave warnings as far away as Oregon as the giant wave makes its way to the West Coast of the United States.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center says Kauai was the first island hit early by the tsunami, which was quickly sweeping through the Hawaiian Island chain.

Screeching tsunami warning sirens woke residents through the night and Hawaiians were warned to seek higher ground and officials braced for the first 6 foot waves to make landfall just before 3 a.m. local time, 9 a.m. EST

Update 8:04 a.m.:

Hawaii is bracing for a possible tsunami following the magnitude 8.9 earthquake that hit Japan early this morning (Eastern time). The AP reports:

Warning sirens have been sounding and coastal areas are being evacuated. The first waves are expected to hit around 9 a.m. Eastern time today. Waves are predicted to hit the U.S. Western Coast between 11 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Eastern.

Update 7:46 a.m.:

President Obama has issued his condolences for the people who died in the earthquake in Japan. The President said the United States, "stands ready to help" in any way it can. The Associated Press reports:

At the same time, Obama said in a statement early Friday that his administration will "continue to closely monitor tsunamis around Japan and the Pacific going forward."

The largest earthquake in Japan's history - measured at a magnitude of 8.9 - pummeled the eastern coast of Japan Friday, accompanied by a towering tsunami. A rising death toll is in the dozens.

Obama said he has told the Federal Emergency Management Agency to be ready to assist Hawaii and any other U.S. states and territories that might be affected. He said he's ready to support the Japanese people "in this time of great trial."

6:59 a.m.:

Officials in Japan say more than 30 people have died in the magnitude 8.9 quake and 13-foot tsunami that hit the northeast part of the country, the Associated Press reports:

People, boats, cars, buildings and tons of debris were swept away by the wave. The death toll has been rising.

Fires triggered by Friday's quake are burning out of control up and down the coast, including one at an oil refinery.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was a magnitude 8.9, while Japan's meteorological agency measured it at 8.8. It was followed by more than 19 aftershocks, including several at least 6.3, the size of the quake that struck New Zealand recently.

Dozens of cities and villages along a 1,300-mile stretch of coastline were shaken by violent tremors that reached as far away as Tokyo, hundreds of miles from the epicenter.

A tsunami warning was issued for the entire Pacific, including areas as far away as South America, the entire U.S. West Coast, Canada and Alaska.

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