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Economy
3:59 pm
Fri April 15, 2011

Rep. Miller: Michiganders pay too much for national flood insurance

U.S. Congresswoman Candice Miller of Michigan says the federal government should not be in the flood insurance business.
totalmortgage.com

Michigan homeowners whose homes are not at risk for floods are footing the bill for people whose homes are in danger. That’s according to a lawmaker from  Michigan who says that’s not fair.

U.S. Congresswoman Candice Miller wants to eliminate the National Flood Insurance Program, or at least let Michigan opt out of the system.

Miller says Michigan residents pay high rates to help homeowners in other parts of the country.

"You have a very expensive vacation home that has been ruined by a hurricane or a flood several times, and the federal flood insurance is still paying you to rebuild. If you want to have a home like that, God love you, that's fine, but I don't know why people in Michigan should have to pay high premiums."

Miller is taking part in a hearing Monday evening in Harrison Township with homeowners, realtors, insurers, builders and lenders.

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Politics
3:49 pm
Fri April 15, 2011

Plan would require foster children to shop for clothing in thrift stores

State Sen. Bruce Caswell suggests foster and poor children should use their state-funded clothing allowance only at thrift stores.
facebook.com

Foster children in Michigan would use their state-funded clothing allowance only in thrift stores under a plan suggested by State Senator Bruce Caswell.

Caswell says he wants to make sure that state money set aside to buy clothes for foster children and kids of the working poor  is actually used for that purpose.

He says they should get "gift cards" to be used only at Salvation Army, Goodwill or other thrift stores.

"I never had anything new," Caswell says. "I got all the hand-me-downs. And my dad, he did a lot of shopping at the Salvation Army, and his comment was -- and quite frankly it's true -- once you're out of the store and you walk down the street, nobody knows where you bought your clothes."

Gilda Jacobs is CEO of the Michigan League for Human Services. She’s not a fan of the thrift shop gift card idea.

"Honestly, I was flabbergasted," Jacobs says. "I really couldn't believe this. Because I think, gosh, is this where we've gone in  this state? I think that there’s the whole issue of dignity. You’re saying to somebody, you don’t deserve to go in and buy a new pair of gym shoes. You know, for a lot of foster kids, they already have so much stacked against them.”

Caswell says the gift card idea wouldn’t save the state any money.

Transportation
2:44 pm
Fri April 15, 2011

More Michiganders riding Amtrak

Amtrak lines in Michigan get more riders
cbassweb MorgueFile

Michiganders are taking the train more than they have in the past. Amtrak officials say they've seen an increase in the number of riders on all three of their Michigan lines. Two of those lines are supported by the state.

Amtrak’s Blue Water Service runs from Port Huron through Lansing to Chicago. It had one of the largest increases in ridership in the nation.

Janet Foran  is with the Michigan Department of Transportation. She says some of the growth is likely from the rise in gas prices and the interest in building high speed rail in the state:

“Because of the talk about high speed rail in the State of Michigan, this has actually been a major factor in increasing the interest of people to try passenger rails.”

M-DOT said ridership usually increases during the holiday season and summer. They expect ridership will continue to grow in the state.

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budget cuts
2:29 pm
Fri April 15, 2011

Deficit could close all but a few Detroit library branches

calamity_sal flickr

An $11 million deficit could force Detroit Public Library commissioners to close the vast majority of the system’s branches. Commissioners are weighing a few options. But all of them call for closing at least half the library branches in the city, and one proposal would leave only five of 23 branches open.

Shrinking tax revenues are largely to blame for the system’s budget shortfall.

Detroit is not alone. Libraries all over Michigan are struggling with falling tax revenues and cuts to state aid. Even Troy, a relatively affluent suburb of Detroit, is closing its library.

Detroit library commissioners are expected to finalize their plans for eliminating the deficit next month.

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Sports Commentary
2:25 pm
Fri April 15, 2011

Michigan Ice Hockey, Shawn Hunwick's Cinderella story

Shawn Hunwick in the goal during the NCAA championship
MGoBlue.com

Most sports fans love a Cinderella story.

I've found an athlete who played the role twice.

Last year, Michigan’s men’s hockey team was in danger of breaking its

record 19-straight appearances in the NCAA tournament – a streak that started before many of the current players were even born.

They were picked to finish first in the league, but they finished a disastrous seventh. 

The only way they could keep their streak alive was to win six straight playoff games to get an automatic bid.

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Politics
1:32 pm
Fri April 15, 2011

Making sense of redistricting

Michigan State Capitol
user cncphotos / flickr

The 2010 Census figures, released last month, announced that Michigan was the only state in the nation to lose population in the last decade. Now it is up to the states to redraw their congressional districts based on the findings of the Census.

Redistricting can play a big role in the political makeup of both state and federal representation. In Michigan, citizens are waiting to see how the Republican-dominated Legislature will handle the task of reshaping the state’s congressional districts.

The main objective of redistricting is to create congressional districts with roughly equal populations in each district, says John Chamberlin, Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

“It takes account of the fact that people move around the state or people move out of the state. In 2010, if you looked at the populations in state House districts, for instance, there are disparities. So redistricting resets the clock back to roughly equal populations.”

Each state handles the task of redistricting differently. In Michigan, redistricting is treated as legislation, with the Legislature creating a bill for passage by the governor. Because the Republican Party controls the Michigan state Senate, House, and governorship, the task of redistricting will fall solely to the Republicans.

Due to the fact that Michigan lost population since the last redistricting took place, the state will lose one member in the U.S. House of Representatives. Through redistricting, the Michigan Legislature must determine where to combine districts in order to eliminate the district of one U.S. Representative, explains Chamberlin.

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Politics
12:26 pm
Fri April 15, 2011

Sterling Heights honor student faces deportation

Ola Kaso, left, and her sister Nevila Wing. Barring an extraordinary action on the part of Congress and President Obama, Ola and her mother will be deported in June.
Sarah Cwiek Michigan Radio

With immigration reform bogged down in Congress and perennially on the back burner, the Obama administration is pushing a more aggressive deportation agenda. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement plans to deport a record number of people this year.

If the agency has their way, one of them will be Ola Kaso, an 18-year-old girl from Sterling Heights. She’ll be forced to leave just days after she graduates high school as one of the top students in her class.

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Commentary
12:09 pm
Fri April 15, 2011

Drunken Sailors

I’ve been following the Michigan legislature’s attempts to approve various sections of the state budget, and the cliché that first came to my mind this morning was the wrong one. I was tempted to tell you that they have been behaving like drunken sailors.

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Education
11:10 am
Fri April 15, 2011

Bike program sneakily teaches basic social skills

Ethan Alexander addresses the crowd
Eric Sweet

Riding a bicycle is a classic part of childhood. But plenty of kids don’t have bikes. One program in Kalamazoo teaches kids simple bike maintenance and at the end of the program, kids get their own bike. But the people who run the Open Roads workshop say the heart of the program is about teaching basic social skills.

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News Roundup
7:53 am
Fri April 15, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

New emergency financial manager powers to be used in Detroit?

The controversial new law that gives state-appointed emergency financial managers more power could first be used in the Detroit Public School system.

Detroit Public School Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb said he intends to use the law.

From the Detroit Free Press:

"I fully intend to use the authority that was granted," Bobb said, referring to a new law that gives emergency managers the authority to modify -- or terminate -- collective bargaining agreements. It was the first time Bobb had publicly indicated he intends to use the expanded authority.

This statement came after all teachers in the Detroit Public School system were sent a layoff notices yesterday. As Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett reported, sending layoff notices to all the teachers is unprecedented, but final decisions on whose job will actually be cut have yet to be made.

Teachers, in the meantime, say they're prepared to fight Bobb's proposals - from the Freep:

"If he tries to modify the contract and back-door us on the issue of seniority, we are aptly prepared," said DFT President Keith Johnson, who also will receive a layoff notice. "We have already prepared our legal counter."

House fails to reject partner benefits

There weren't enough votes in the State House to reverse the Civil Service Commission's decision to allow health benefits for the live-in partners of state employees.

The benefits are scheduled to take effect this October.

Michigan Public Radio Network's Rick Pluta reported that Republicans say the decision "undermines 'traditional families' and violates the intent of a voter-approved amendment that bans same-sex marriage and civil unions in Michigan."

Attorney General Schuette is looking into that last claim, and House Speaker Jase Bolger says he'll continue to look for other ways to block the benefits.

Flags at half staff today for Navy medic from Niles

Benjamin D. Rast was killed in Afghanistan. Flags around the state will be at half staff today.

From the Associated Press:

Gov. Rick Snyder has ordered U.S. flags to be lowered to half-staff in honor of a 23-year-old Navy medic from southwest Michigan who was killed while on patrol in Afghanistan's Helmand province.

The order is in effect for today.

The military says 23-year-old Benjamin D. Rast of Niles died April 6. He was assigned as a hospitalman to the 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division.

There will be a visitation today at Brandywine High School in Niles and a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday at the school.

Education
9:31 pm
Thu April 14, 2011

Detroit sends layoff notices to all its teachers

Elizabeth Albert flickr

Layoff notices are being delivered to each and every teacher in the Detroit Public Schools.

It’s an unprecedented move for the troubled school district. Hundreds of teachers have been issued notices in previous years. But Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb says the circumstances are different this time around.

"This year, because of our declining student enrollment, because of the possibility of some of our schools becoming charters, and of course school closures, we decided to send layoff notices to our entire membership."

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Politics
4:11 pm
Thu April 14, 2011

Political Roundup

We’re getting a roundup of this week’s state politics with Susan Demas, Political Analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, former Republican state Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants.

This week Governor Snyder and GOP leaders announced they had come up with a tax deal. Demas says the biggest part of the deal is that they modified the pension tax, which was controversial.

If you are on a pension right now, if you are 67 and older you are not going to have to worry anymore, they have taken that off the table. If you’re younger than 67 you will be taxed more than you would have previously. But that means that instead of the almost $1 billion that was suppose to raised it will only raise $300 million. So to make up the difference we will see more budget cuts. And the income tax will stay at the 4.35% rate. It will not drop down to 4.25%.

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State Legislature
3:59 pm
Thu April 14, 2011

House effort fails to reject partner benefits

 State House Republican leaders failed to muster enough votes to reverse health benefits for the live-in partners of state employees. The new policy will treat unmarried employees with live-in partners the same as married employees, and it will apply to people in same-sex relationships. A two-thirds majority vote isrequired to reverse  the contracts approved by the state Civil Service Commission.

GOP lawmakers said the Civil Service Commission decision undermines “traditional families” and violates the intent of a voter-approved amendment that bans same-sex marriage and civil unions in Michigan.

House Speaker Jase Bolger says he is looking for other avenues to block the new policy from taking effect October first.

"I’m going to continue to explore the legality of their decision. I believe they made an end run around the constitution. I’m not an attorney, but I’m going to consult with attorneys to see if something can be done about their illegal decision,” Bolger said.

Democrats say the Legislature should not rescind agreements collectively bargained with state employee unions.

State Attorney General Bill Schuette has also been asked for an opinion on whether state employee live-in partner benefits violates Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban.

immigration
3:41 pm
Thu April 14, 2011

Immigrant advocates ratchet up pressure on ICE to respond to harassment

United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Advocates for immigrants are stepping up the pressure on the Detroit office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement – or ICE – to respond to allegations of harassment.

Late last month, Ruben Torres was driving home from work when he was stopped by an agent in an unmarked vehicle on the Lodge Freeway. He says he was not shown a warrant or given a reason for the stop. He says he was asked to show a visa and birth certificate.

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Politics
3:33 pm
Thu April 14, 2011

Inkster Judge investigated for spending after audit

Judge Sylvia James is on leave while being investigated by the State Supreme Court

The State Supreme Court began the investigation of Judge James after frequent charges of financial mismanagement by Inkster city officials.

The state supreme court is investigating Inkster’s chief judge. An audit found several unusual expenses were paid for with court money. Judge Sylvia James has been placed on paid administrative leave because she could not explain why court funds were used to pay for travel, clothing, and other expenses.  Retired judge Vladimir Washington will take Judge James’ place.

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Politics
3:29 pm
Thu April 14, 2011

Tea Partiers rally in Lansing

A few hundred Tea Party supporters held a rally at the state Capitol. American flags and bright yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” umbrellas peppered the crowd at the rainy gathering. The group appeared more concerned with actions by the federal government than with the Republican-controlled state government.

Gail Goniwicha is a banker from Royal Oak. She says she likes the job Governor Rick Snyder is doing.

"I was very happy that he’s trying to get the unions to pay and do their fair share. I as a person contribute to my retirement and my medical every month, it comes out of my paycheck. I don’t believe anybody gets a free ride in the United States,” Goniwacha said.

Republican state Attorney General Bill Schuette said he's pleased the group expects their elected officials to be frugal with taxpayers’ money:

"This is an important day because it’s part of the building blocks of a new Michigan. A new Michigan that has less taxes, less spending, less regulation, less government, and more freedom. And everybody here says let’s all work together to build a new Michigan that has more jobs, more paychecks and more freedom.” 

A few signs in the crowd called to stop the proposed bridge project between Detroit and Canada. Governor Snyder hopes to get that plan before lawmakers soon, but a House committee has omitted the proposed funding for the bridge from its version of the state budget.

Commentary
12:46 pm
Thu April 14, 2011

Soaking the Poor

President Obama came under fire yesterday for proposing that the richest Americans pay a higher proportion of the tax burden, especially with deficits soaring out of control.

Republicans, some of whom are running for president, said this would hurt the economy‘s ability to create jobs.

They said this was just one more wrong-headed left-wing proposal to solve economic problems by “soaking the rich.”

Well, that’s a battle that will be fought out on the national stage, likely throughout next year’s presidential campaign and beyond.

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Education
12:12 pm
Thu April 14, 2011

DPS holds bidding conference for charter operators

DPS Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb says the charter school plan will help put the troubled district in the black.
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

Charter school operators interested in turning around schools in Detroit attended a bidders’ conference to get more information about the application process.

As many as 45 Detroit schools could be taken over by charter operators over the next two years. Ahmed Saber is with Education Management Networks, which operates three charter schools in Detroit:

"There is a lot of uncertainty about the plan, and of course because of the speed that it came about, and trying to get it done soon. But maybe that’s what’s needed in a climate that’s bogged down in a climate with all the politics and all the red tape."

Detroit Public Schools hopes the charter plan will avoid having to shut dozens of schools, and help put the troubled school system in the black.

District officials say they’re looking for high-quality operators that have a proven track record – including 90 percent graduation rates and 75 percent proficiency on state math and reading tests.

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Education
12:10 pm
Thu April 14, 2011

Monroe Public Schools sends layoff notices to entire teaching staff

All 343 Monroe Public Schools teachers received layoff notices this week.
en.wikipedia.org

All 343 teachers and 21 administrators in Monroe Public Schools received layoff notices this week.

The Board of Education took the step as it wrangles with a possible $5.5 million budget shortfall for the coming school year.

“We are a district that over the last five years has cut more than $15 million already," says district spokesman Bob Vergiels.  "We’ve been able to stay out of the classrooms so far, but with this particular budget that’s being proposed and debated now in Lansing, I don’t know if we can stay out of the classrooms.”

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Environment
10:25 am
Thu April 14, 2011

Health concerns after the oil spill (part 2)

The Kalamazoo River a few days after the oil spill last July.
Photo courtesy of the State of Michigan

Until last July, many people in Marshall had no idea an oil pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy Partners ran underneath their town.

Then, it broke. More than 840,000 gallons of thick, black oil from the Canadian tar sands poured into the Kalamazoo River.

“I think I can sum it up in one word and that is nightmare."

Deb Miller lives just 50 feet from the Kalamazoo River.

“The smell, I don’t even know how to describe the smell, there are no words. You could not be outside."

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