Laura Weber

Reporter / Producer - Michigan Public Radio Network

Laura Weber is the newest player for the MPRN team. A native of Ann Arbor, she crossed rival lines into East Lansing and did her undergraduate work at Michigan State University. She later received a M.A. in Journalism from the University of Southern California. After spending time in Los Angeles and at Southern California Public Radio, Laura was ready to come home to report on and tell the stories of people in Michigan.

A self-professed public radio junkie and audiophile, Laura finds the best way to create images in storytelling is with sound. When she's not listening to NPR, she's blaring the kind of Soul music you can only find in dusty record shops full of crates upon crates of vinyl. From Motown to Funk to Hip-Hop, if it sounds like Detroit she can't get enough.

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A lawmaker from the Upper Peninsula says every region in the state could benefit from a strong and vibrant Detroit.

Republican state Senator Tom Casperson has become an unlikely advocate for a regional transit system in southeast Michigan that would connect Wayne, Macomb, Oakland and Washtenaw counties.

Casperson’s district in the U.P. would not benefit directly from the transit system. But the U.P. could benefit long term from newfound political ties to Detroit.

Laura Weber / MPRN

Vote tallies are starting to come in for Michigan’s Republican primary election.

Early results show Rick Santorum with a slim lead over his rival Mitt Romney.

But Romney’s supporters in southeast Michigan say they’re optimistic and feeling good about the Michigan-native’s odds.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is heading up Romney’s campaign efforts in the state. Schuette says he is disgusted that Santorum encouraged Democrats to vote in the GOP primary against Romney.

“I think that’s stupid, and I think most people view that as cynicism or hypocrisy in its worst form. I don’t get too stressed by it. What it really does show is there’s something in the air of desperation from the other side,” said Schuette.

But Schuette says he thinks Romney will walk away with a win in Michigan tonight.

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Michigan’s medical marijuana law is the focus of ongoing discussions at the state Capitol this week.

Lawmakers are considering proposals that would add regulations to how users can grow and store medical marijuana, and could change how police officers gather information about medical marijuana ID holders.

State Representative John Walsh (R- Livonia) chairs the House committee discussing the medical marijuana proposals.

He said he knows not everyone will be happy with the measures, but he says it’s not his intention to dramatically alter the medical marijuana law as it was approved by voters.

“We’ve worked hard to be as open as possible, and to prove to the skeptics that we’re open minded,” said Walsh.

Supporters of medical marijuana say lawmakers are “nipping away at the edges” of the medical marijuana law by considering the changes. And they say they are particularly concerned with a proposal in the state Senate that would eliminate glaucoma as a medical condition that is treatable with marijuana.

Walsh says medical marijuana users don’t need to be concerned about the proposed changes.

"We’re not interested...in doing away with the law, or undoing what voters asked for when they passed it, and I think we made that very very clear, to the point that when I left the room a number of medical marijuana came up and said, ‘Wow, we thought you were out to crush the whole movement, and now we understand you’re open to different things,’” said Walsh.

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Rick Santorum is making his final campaign stops across southern Michigan today. He told a crowd of about 300 people in a small hotel ballroom in Lansing that the manufacturing industry needs to “explode” with new jobs again.

Santorum highlighted the disparity in employment levels between people with college degrees and those without, and says the solution is to create more jobs that don’t require a college degree.

"We need to see Michigan again full of people who want to work and creating job opportunities for people to get training and skills so they can get that entry-level job," said Santorum. "They can improve and upgrade their skills as they work in those jobs and move up the ladder and become a foreman and to go up maybe even into management someday. That’s the ladder of success.”

Santorum told his supporters that Michigan’s primary could be a "game changer" for the national primary season. He did not directly mention Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, but Santorum did refer to himself as the true conservative in the race, and the best candidate to beat President Obama in the general election this fall.

"To be attacked on television by someone who is not an authentic conservative by a Massachusetts governor – [laughter and applause] – is a joke. Michigan, you have an opportunity to stop the joke."

Laura Weber / MPRN

Republican candidate for president Mitt Romney received a warm reception from the Detroit Economic Club today.

Romney and his rivals vying for the Republican nomination have just a few days left to woo voters before the state’s Republican primary on Tuesday.

Romney spoke to the group on the 30 yard line of the vast, mostly empty Ford Field about his proposals to reduce individual and corporate income taxes, and end federal subsidies for Amtrak and funding for Planned Parenthood if he is elected president.

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Lawmakers at the state Capitol have approved a proposal to make sure students from Highland Park schools are able to attend classes next week.

The school district is on the brink of immediate shutdown after the district’s state-appointed emergency manager was removed.

A circuit court judge ruled the district’s financial review team violated the Open Meetings Act and must begin its work over again.

Ari Adler is the spokesman for state House Speaker Jase Bolger. He said the emergency legislation is necessary to protect students.

“We’re trying to set this up so parents and students will have a choice; they will have some options of where they can continue their education for the school year. Speaker Bolger has drawn a clear line of distinction between the Highland Park district and the Highland Park students. We’re done trying to save the Highland Park school district, we don’t believe it can be saved, but we are trying to save the students,” said Adler.

Adler said a payless payday tomorrow appears to be a foregone conclusion for employees in the destitute district.

Republican leaders say they are not willing to forward more money to the district while the school board remains in control of its finances.

Democratic House Minority Leader Rick Hammel said the Republican plan to provide money for kids to attend other public or charter schools in the area will hurt the students of Highland Park.

Hammel thinks a local intermediate school district should be allowed to take over Highland Park schools until a more permanent solution is found.

"The number one thing is those kids stay in that school – that’s the number one thing for us," said Hammel. "Now, the devil’s in the details. And we have taken an opportunity to just fund Highland Park schools through a responsible source, and created law with lots of stuff that goes in there that doesn’t have anything to do with taking care of Highland Park.”

The Highland Park school board will meet tonight to decide its next move.

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The Republican candidates for president have taken their messages of energy independence on the road in Michigan. The state’s primary is just a few days away.

Rick Santorum has been the most vocal candidate about energy and environmental issues on his campaign stops in Michigan. He says “radicals” are blocking energy independence and economic growth in the country.

At a campaign stop in west Michigan this week Rick Santorum was asked for his stance on man-made global warming. He responded:

“There is a radical ideology of radical environmentalists, who, in fact, do put the earth above the needs of man, and see them in conflict with each other.”

Santorum says the federal government should focus on the needs of people first – such as the need for more jobs. He says when people have their needs met they are better able to take care of themselves and, in turn, the earth. He says ultimately the responsibility of environmental stewardship is on the individual. But Santorum says radical environmentalists are using global warming to manipulate the federal government.

“And so I never signed on with global warming. I realized…[applause]”

And then Santorum clarified—

“Let me be specific so I’m not taken out of context—manmade global warming. I do believe the Earth warms, I do believe it cools.”

Santorum rejects the science of climate change – though the vast majority of scientists agree that climate change is real and caused mostly by people.

Santorum also says the federal government needs to stop hoarding and protecting the country’s bountiful natural resources. He says natural gas and coal could be used to enrich the United States, lower fuel costs at the pump, and establish energy independence. His rival, Michigan-native Mitt Romney, agrees.

“Coal, oil, gas, nuclear, solar, wind, ethanol – use all those resources, so we have an ample supply of energy ourselves, and don’t have to send hundreds of billions of dollars buying energy every year. And by the way, put in place that keystone pipeline. That’s a no-brainer.”

But environmentalists in Michigan say the proposal to install an oil pipeline from Canada, through the middle of the U.S., is not a no-brainer for Michiganders. The Enbridge pipeline ruptured in the Kalamazoo River two summers ago.

“Yeah, I think Michigan has seen the dangers firsthand that communities around the country face.”

That’s Jordan Lubetkin with the Michigan chapter of the National Wildlife Federation.

“Pipeline spills are not a rare occurrence. In fact they happen hundreds of time per year.”

A state House panel is expected to begin hearings at the state Capitol today on a series of bills that would add regulations to the state’s medical marijuana law.

The bills before the state House panel would add regulations to how medical marijuana ID photos are taken and how the IDs are distributed. They would also add requirements for transportation of medical marijuana in a car. Several state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said the medical marijuana law is too vague and needs some clarification.

But supporters of the law say it was approved overwhelmingly by voters in 2008, and lawmakers should not tamper with it. Similar public hearings to the one scheduled this week have attracted hundreds of medical marijuana supporters – many of them in wheelchairs and suffering from chronic disease or pain.

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney made a couple campaign stops in southeast Michigan before traveling to Arizona for a debate with the other Republican candidates. Romney told people at a town-hall-style meeting in Shelby Township that the federal government is not working for Michiganders.

“We know what it takes to get Washington to work so that America can work, so that Michigan can work, so that people here can have confidence that the promise of America – and that is hard work and education – will be the promise of prosperity and security, that that promise is one that we will live and we will fulfill, and I’ll get that job done if I’m your president,” said Romney.

Romney also weighed in on Michigan’s ongoing debate over compulsory union membership.

“My view is, every person in America ought to have the right to choose whether to join the union or not, so I’m in favor of Right-to-Work legislation,” Romney said.

Governor Rick Snyder – who endorsed Romney – says he thinks the right-to-work debate is divisive and he has no interest in pushing right-to-work legislation in the near future.

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Republican candidate for president Rick Santorum says he thinks he would appeal to Democrats and independents in Michigan if he is on the November ballot.

Appearing on public television’s “Off the Record,” Santorum said he was able to attract votes when he ran for the US Senate in his Democratic-leaning home state of Pennsylvania. And he said, if he is the Republican nominee for president, independent voters will appreciate his honesty.

“You know what policies I’m going to be out there advocating for, I’m someone you can trust, I’m someone who is open to listening but who has a very clear vision for where I want to take the country,” Santorum said.

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Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum told members of the Detroit Economic Club that he still thinks the federal bailout of the auto industry was the wrong move.

Santorum said he thinks auto companies should have been allowed to thrive or fail in the free market.

“Would the auto industry look different than it is today? Yes it would be. Would it still be alive and well? I think it would be equally alive and better,” said Santorum.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette hopes lawmakers will make room in the budget for his plan to hire 1,000 new police officers. Gov. Rick Snyder did not include Schuette’s plan in his executive budget proposal.

Schuette says state officials need to be forward-thinking with public safety.

“We have to be decisive, we need to be solution-oriented in this new Michigan, and that means in terms of this linkage between economic growth and public safety.”

Schuette would also like the state Legislature to toughen sentencing guidelines for repeat violent felons. Governor Snyder plans to deliver a special message on public safety next month.

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Voters may soon decide whether Michigan should scrap the 19-cents-per-gallon tax on gas at the pump in favor of a sales tax increase of 1 percent.

The change would help generate more money for transportation funding.

A proposal to put the question to voters is gaining momentum with some legislative leaders.

That change would require a constitutional amendment and put the question to voters on the ballot.

Republican state Senator Howard Walker sponsored the measure. He said if taxpayers are asked to pay more to fix the state’s roads, they should have a voice.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

State House Democrats say it’s time to beef up Michigan’s campaign finance and political ethics laws.

House Democrats unveiled a set of proposals that include a constitutional amendment that would require corporations to disclose political and lobbying activity, and a measure that would prevent state lawmakers from being lobbyists in the state for two years after a political term.

 “Every year that goes by that we have not passed meaningful reform is another year that the bad actors in the state are allowed to spend money to influence public opinion with little or no accountability,” said State House Democratic Floor Leader Kate Segal.

Ari Adler is the press secretary for Republican state House Speaker Jase Bolger.

Adler says at first glance he’s not impressed.

“Saying you support better campaign finance and ethics laws is like saying you support the sun coming up tomorrow. It’s difficult to argue with the concept, but the devil is in the details, and we need time to look at them,” said Adler.

Adler says he is particularly concerned that labor unions are exempt from some of the disclosure proposals.

Democrats say unions are already required to follow federal financial disclosure laws, and corporations in Michigan should be held just as accountable.

Democratic House Minority Leader Richard Hammel said their measure addresses one of Governor Rick Snyder’s key concerns for 2012.

“The governor touched on it when he called for campaign finance and ethics reform in the state, in his State of the State address,” said Hammel. “It has now been two weeks since that address, and we have yet to see majority Republicans hold any hearings on the changes the governor said are needed.”

A spokesman for House Republicans said the package of bills would need major changes before winning bipartisan support.

Community college students may soon be able to get a bachelor’s degree without transferring to a four-year college or university. A bill before a state Senate panel would allow community colleges to offer the degrees in a few fields.

The measure would allow community colleges to offer baccalaureate degrees in culinary arts, maritime studies, concrete technology, energy production, and nursing. State Representative John Walsh says the state needs more highly trained nurses. “We do at present have a shortage, and it’s only going to increase according to every study, including ones conducted by our own government.”

Those who oppose the measure say it would create unnecessary competition between community colleges and universities, especially in the field of nursing. But supporters of the bill say many people are not within a reasonable driving distance of a university, and community colleges could offer people in rural areas more opportunities to pursue four-year degrees.

The new emergency manager appointed to run the Highland Park schools began work today.

Meanwhile, community leaders gathered at the school district’s administrative building to call for residents and parents to publicly challenge the state’s decision to appoint an emergency manager and the emergency manager law.

Democratic State Senator Bert Johnson said state officials should view Highland Park as an opportunity to include residents and parents in on the conversation about turning school districts around.

“Once an emergency manager has left, what has resulted from their leadership, or the lack-there-of, the citizens will grapple with into the future,” said Johnson. “And so I hope they understand that this is a smart move in the right direction. And if you can’t get behind this, you can’t get behind democracy.”

Glenda McDonald is a resident of Highland Park and a former school district employee. She said students have been leaving the district in droves because of chronic disinvestment in the schools and community.

“We want our children to come back,” said McDonald. “And in order to do that, the community must be a part of this process. We must have community involvement. We must have parent involvement.”

The Highland Park district joins Detroit Public Schools as the only school districts with emergency managers. The cities of Ecorse, Pontiac, Flint and Benton Harbor also have emergency managers.

Governor Rick Snyder says he has heard many opinions about how projected surplus tax revenue in the state budget should be spent. But, the governor appears to have his own ideas as he prepares to present his budget proposal next week.

Governor Snyder says he agrees with the many Democratic lawmakers who want more money to be spent on education. “I’ve also been fairly clear, though, it shouldn’t just be about writing checks. It should be about making sure we’re setting some standards to see real performance and encouraging student growth in particular," Snyder said.

Governor Snyder says he is not ready to reveal his plans for K-12 or higher education in the budget. However, Snyder does appear cool to a proposal to spend surplus money in the budget to hire a thousand new police officers, or another to decrease the state’s income tax rate. He says the state needs to make sure it’s paying down long-term liabilities and approving adequate funding for existing programs.

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A conversation at the state Capitol about turning an old stretch of train track in Petoskey into a public recreation trail has become a debate about the future of train transit in Michigan.

Officials in Petoskey are asking lawmakers to give them the go-ahead to purchase a section of train track from the state to add onto an existing trail. Kelly Bartlett is with the Michigan Department of Transportation, which supports the request from Petoskey. Bartlett said the state does not sell viable train track.

Governor Rick Snyder says he will decide no later than tomorrow whether to place an emergency manager in charge of the Highland Park public schools.

Snyder says he understands that parents are concerned about what could happen to the school district if it is taken over. But he says it’s important the school district is able to stay open to students for the rest of the year.

"Well the main answer on all of this is let’s make sure that kids can finish the school year because Highland Park got themselves in a situation where they couldn’t meet their payroll," Snyder said.

 Snyder’s office has received phone calls from about 100 concerned parents in Highland Park since a financial review panel determined there is a financial emergency in the district.

Detroit Public Schools is the only school district in the state currently run by an emergency manager.

The governor says he wants families to be assured that Highland Park students will be able to finish the school year.

Drivers in Michigan may soon pay nine cents more per gallon at the gas pump.

A package of bills that would change funding for the state’s aging bridges and roads has been rolled out at the state Capitol.

It would get rid of the fuel-tax at the pump in favor of a tax at the wholesale level. That would result in drivers paying a few cents more per gallon. 

Drivers might also have pay more to register their vehicles. The package of bills also includes a plan to increase vehicle registration fees by 67 percent.

That should generate about $500 million dollars for transportation.

State Representative Rick Olson (R-Saline) said generating money to maintain roads is similar to a driver changing the oil in a car.

"Why do you do that? Because you want to save your engine," said Olson. "Same thing with roads; unless we do some of this capital preventative maintenance on a timely basis, we’re going to have more and more roads fall into the ‘poor’ category when then it costs 6 to 8 times as much to repair."

There are no plans to turn any of the state’s major highways into toll roads. But Olson said the conversation could come up in the future.

"Oh, it’s a possibility, but I don’t hear anyone pushing that at this point. Toll roads, tolls are a relatively inefficient way to collect funds for roads," said Olson. "Does create jobs, but those are government jobs, so why not then create the net revenue the most efficient way we can."

The package of bills also includes a plan to create a regional transit authority in southeast Michigan. 

Governor Rick Snyder called on lawmakers to find about $1.5 billion in additional revenue to adequately fund transportation needs.

The debate over the effectiveness of K-through-12 cyber schools is ramping up at the state Capitol.

A state House panel is considering a measure that would allow more "cyber schools" to operate in Michigan.          

There are currently two cyber schools authorized in Michigan.

Former state schools Superintendent Tom Watkins supports allowing more cyber schools to operate in the state. But he cautioned lawmakers to take careful consideration of how well individual schools are performing.  

“I would invoke an old Chinese saying; that once you open the window, all the flies can come in,” said Watkins.

Those opposed to more cyber schools in the state say not enough is known about their success rates.

Democratic state Representative Rudy Hobbs, playing on Watkins' flies metaphor, said he wants to make sure new cyber schools operating in the state meet high performance standards.

"Once we pass this, we open up the window. All the flies can come in; every single one of them," said Hobbs. "And then we have to try and figure out which ones are good, which ones are bad, get our fly-swatter out and kind of kill the ones that are bad. Why get the fly-swatter out? Let’s just make sure we let the good ones come in and be done with it."

Supporters of online learning say kids and parents should be afforded more education options and opportunities in the digital age. And they say wait-lists for cyber schools are long.

Republican state Representative Tom McMillin chairs the House Education Committee.

"Education is changing, and it’s changing rapidly. But if we don’t change, the world’s not waiting. And we can’t be stuck in some of the older ways of doing things and our kids are going to be left behind and our state is," said McMillin.

Governor Rick Snyder says he wants traditional public schools to incorporate more cyber-learning. But he has not called for more online-only schools.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A proposal at the state Capitol would cut the Michigan income tax rate to 3.9 percent over the next five years. Right now the rate is 4.35 percent.

Republican state Senator Jack Brandenburg sponsored the measure. He said people in Michigan were promised the reduction during messy budget and tax deals made in 2007. Brandenburg said he told his Republican colleagues about his plan earlier this month.

“At our caucus retreat, we were all asked to list our priorities, and I made it clear that this is one of my priorities,” Brandenburg said.

He said an estimated $450 million budget surplus convinced him it’s a good time to propose the rollback.

“I wanted to wait to see what kind of surpluses we were having. One-tenth of a point represents  $175 million,” said Brandenburg

Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville cautiously supports the proposal, but he said he’s hesitant to spend money that could be added to the state’s rainy day savings fund.

Democrats say surplus should be used to restore cuts made to K-12 schools and higher education.

About one-fourth of kids in Michigan live in poverty. That’s according to the Kids Count report from the Michigan League for Human Services. The report says the percent of kids living in poverty and “extreme poverty” has risen dramatically in the past decade, as has the rate of kids who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches.

Jane Zehnder-Merrell is with the League. She says poverty is pervasive throughout the state.

“There’s sort of a perception out there of ‘if people would just look for a job then they wouldn’t have to rely on public support. But when you look at what’s happened throughout Michigan counties and their employment rates, it’s a pretty staggering picture thinking about trying to look for a job in this job market," Zehnder-Merrell says.

She says the good news from the report is teen births continue to decline. The number of teen deaths and the rate of high school dropouts are also declining.

Some health advocates say Governor Rick Snyder was not bold enough in his State of the State speech on fighting childhood obesity. Governor Snyder mentioned a program in his speech last week that would teach parents about proper nutrition for young children to help combat childhood obesity.

Katherine Knoll is with the Midwest chapter of the American Heart Association. She says kids need direct instruction on how to control their weight, and that should take place in school.

“Just as we don’t expect them to know how to read when they enter school, we don’t expect them to know how to balance that calories-in-calories-out equation, and we need to work with them on that," Knoll says.

Knoll says she hopes the state Legislature will approve a measure that would require all kids in elementary and middle school to have physical education twice a week.

A spokeswoman for Governor Snyder says the governor wants to take a comprehensive approach toward tackling obesity. She says the administration expects to hear soon from the Department of Community Health on details of an obesity-fighting plan.

(L)Brian Robert Marshall/geograph.org (R) USFWS

Michigan voters may soon be asked whether utility companies should be required to collect a fourth of their energy from renewable sources such as solar, wind, and hydropower. The state Board of Canvassers approved the language of a petition that calls on utilities to draw more from clean energy sources by 2025.

Mark Fisk is with a coalition working to get the question on the ballot this November. He told the panel reviewing the petition that the fee increases people would pay for more clean energy would be small.

“The average rate-payer would pay no more in a year than $15 for the implementation of this proposal,” said Fisk. “Moreover, we have analysis that shows over time this initiative would reign in the cost of rising energy costs, compared to doing nothing.”

The Board of Canvassers also approved a petition that would end prohibition of marijuana in the state for anyone age 21 or older.

Matthew Abel is director of Committee for a Safer Michigan, which is leading the petition drive. He said if voters approved the measure, marijuana would still be illegal under federal law.  

“Generally the federal government has a rule of thumb where they tend not to prosecute anyone who has possession of less than 100 plants or 100 kilos of dry material, so generally they stick to larger cases,” Abel said. “But they could prosecute any individual for one single plant or one single gram of marijuana.”

Each petition drive must collect more than 300,000 valid signatures to get the question on the ballot.

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Tea Party activists and health care advocates packed a public hearing yesterday at the state Capitol. State lawmakers will decide over whether Michigan should create a website that would allow people to comparison shop for health insurance. Most people who showed up used the event to voice their opinion on the federal Affordable Care Act.

The online health care exchange is required under the new health care law, which is why many Republicans at the state Capitol have been hesitant to approve the website. They say it would be an endorsement of the Affordable Care Act.

Doctor Fadwa Gillanders is a chronic disease management specialist. She opposes national health care. She told lawmakers about a patient with several chronic conditions who called her – in her words – begging for help.   

“I get beggars every day. We’re turning into a nation of beggars, ‘Can you give me? Can you give me?’ Because we don’t know how to take care of ourselves, and we’re hoping insurance will make it better, but it actually makes it worse.”

Those who support national health care say health care is too expensive and too few people receive adequate care. The Republican chair of the House panel says she has no timeline to approve or reject the creation of the health exchange website.

Senator Whitmer's office

Governor Rick Snyder said in his State of the State speech last night that he wants to make sure all kids in Michigan who graduate from high school are ready for college or advanced job training.

Democratic state lawmakers say the policies the governor has supported so far have hurt that goal.

The governor says he thinks a handful of education proposals that stalled last year would strengthen the state’s education system. He says he would like to see those measures approved this year; including more online learning, and better funding for early childhood education.

Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer says she was not impressed. “He spent 48 minutes talking about last year. We know what happened last year; they picked corporations over kids every time. What we need is a bold vision," Whitmer says.

Whitmer says it was a mistake last year to cut school and university funding. She wishes the governor would have acknowledged a Democratic proposal to ensure all kids who graduate from high school in Michigan receive tuition grants from the state.

Laura Weber / Michigan Public Radio Network

About a thousand protesters marched on Governor Rick Snyder’s residential neighborhood in Ann Arbor yesterday evening. They marched to ask Governor Snyder to repeal the state’s controversial emergency manager law.

The rally started at on the eastern edge of Ann Arbor, and about a mile-and-a-half from Governor Snyder’s house. Protesters marched, chanted and sang, hoisted signs and lit candles. They wound in a long line through the tree-lined neighborhood of gently rolling hills spotted with the occasional large house. They were greeted outside of Snyder’s gated community by the governor’s chief of staff, Dennis Muchmore.

Reverend Charles Williams II of Detroit’s King Solomon Baptist Church told Muchmore to tell the governor that the law negates the will of voters in struggling communities.

“And we need democracy here, in Detroit, Benton Harbor, Inkster, Ecorse and Flint.”

“Will do.”

“Thank you.”

“We’ll do that. Thank you very much.”

Muchmore says the governor wants to work with people living in financially strained communities, but that the cities must also be protected from insolvency.

A national advocacy group for autism-treatment says Michigan tops its list of states it believes could require insurance companies to cover treatments for autistic children this year.

Rick Remington, with the New York-based group Autism Speaks, said the support of Republican leaders in the Michigan legislature along with Governor Rick Snyder bodes well for autism-treatment legislation.

“It’s been before the legislature for a number of years, it’s gotten strong support from Governor Snyder, as well as the advocacy of the lieutenant governor,” Remington said. “We’ve got strong support, bi-partisan support from the Michigan legislature. So, we’re very confident we will see a bill become law this year.”

Twenty-nine states already have insurance mandates for autism-treatment.

Remington said advocates for autism coverage are becoming more prevalent in legislatures throughout the nation as the number of autism diagnoses increases.

Many insurance companies oppose the idea, saying it would increase costs.

State union leaders say lawmakers should focus on creating more jobs in Michigan with more support for education and public services. And they say lawmakers should not try to make Michigan a right-to-work state.

Karla Swift is president of the Michigan chapter of AFL-CIO. She says most people in Michigan still support unions and collective bargaining rights, and would not want Michigan to be a right-to-work state. And she says Governor Rick Snyder has signaled he does not favor a right-to-work law, either.

“The governor’s made his position clear that he wants to do the work of rebuilding Michigan’s economy and creating jobs, and not spend time on right-to-work," Swift says.

Swift says right-to-work laws have not proven effective in many states with high unemployment rates. Supporters of right-to-work say it would help Michigan attract new businesses.

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