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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State Legislature
6:41 am
Fri March 4, 2011

Marijuana Clubs come under fire in state Senate

Medical Marijuana
Troy Holden Flickr

People with medical marijuana cards may soon be unable to smoke together in their support groups. A bill approved by a state Senate committee would prohibit so-called “marijuana clubs” or bars.

Republican state Senator Rick Jones says people who gather to smoke marijuana away from their homes could easily become a danger on the roads to other drivers.

 “There’s really no good reason for people to gather and consume marijuana. If somebody really needs to know how to use it, their care provider can go to their home and teach them. They don’t need to gather in a bar-like atmosphere.”

Medical marijuana supporters say the bill is a continued attempt by lawmakers to add rules to the constitutional amendment approved by voters. The Michigan Medical Marijuana Act was approved by voters by a wide margin in 2008.

Greg Pawlowski is a representative of medical marijuana support groups. He told lawmakers that regulation of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act is an attempt to stifle the voices of patients. 

 “I applaud you so much for taking the time to talk to us, but now you need to hear what we have to say, and not talk amongst each other that we’re wrong. Because this is not an issue of being right or wrong, this is a human issue. I should not have to be a second-class citizen and have to have a patient card.”

Politics
5:31 pm
Tue March 1, 2011

Snyder defends budget and tax plans

Rick Snyder campaigns last year. Now, Governor Rick Snyder is having to campaign for his budget proposals.
Bill Rice Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder is defending some of his controversial budget plans.

He says taxing pensions is the right thing to do, even though some Republican lawmakers say they will not support that plan.

And Governor Snyder says his proposal to cut funding for universities by 15% this year is necessary, but he says it will get better for the schools in the future:

"We shouldn't have to walk away from our universities. Again, I'm a big, long-term advocate of we need more students going through our universities. Higher Ed is very important in our state, actually we're a very fortunate state in having the high-quality institutions that we have.

We have a tough budget situation and we need to deal with that, but if you look forward to 2013 we’re able to show that hopefully this is the bottom point in terms of where we go with higher education funding."

Snyder also told building-trade union members that he wants to work with unions to help balance the budget, not against them.

He says he is not interested in Republican proposals in the Legislature to strip unions of their power.

State Legislature
5:12 pm
Tue March 1, 2011

Immigrant rights advocates stand against House bill

A protest of Arizona's immigation law in Minnesota. Advocates in Michigan say the immigration bill in Michigan will lead to racial profiling.
user Fibonacci Blue Flickr

Dozens of Latinos and Arab Americans joined faith leaders from around Michigan at the state Capitol calling on lawmakers to reject a House immigration bill similar to the controversial immigration law in Arizona.

The House Republican proposal would require police officers to question people about their immigration status if there is a suspicion that the person could be an undocumented worker.

Imam Mohammed Mardini of the American Islamic Center in Dearborn says a similar controversial law in Arizona has caused a lot of problems with how to determine who should be targeted:

"One Congressman suggested that you could tell an undocumented immigrant by their shoes. Let us face it – the police aren't going to be pulling over any suspected Canadians."

But Republican Representative Dave Agema says the intention of the bill is genuine, not racist.

"You're going after anyone who happens to be here illegally and they've already broken a law, that's why the police officer has detained them."

Agema says his proposal would save the state money in health care costs for illegal immigrants, but the protesters say it would cost the state money in additional law enforcement personnel.

Governor Rick Snyder says he wants to bring more immigrants to the state who have advanced degrees.

Economy
11:58 am
Thu February 24, 2011

Pure Michigan funding bill on the way to governor's desk

Thinking of summer days along the Lake Michigan shoreline
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A bill that would fund the Pure Michigan ad campaign for the entire year will soon be on its way to Governor Rick Snyder for his signature. The Legislature has approved the additional dollars to keep the campaign on airwaves through the busy tourism months. 

Republican state Senator Geoff Hansen says the funding had to be approved this week before ad-buy costs go up. 

"It was more important that we got it done right now because every day that we delay this means that we’re going to have that less of a chance to buy the ads that we need. We can buy more now than we can in a week, so it was just so important to get it done.”  

The state will tap a venture capital fund to pay for the ads for the balance of this year. Hansen says lawmakers still need to find a permanent funding source for the Pure Michigan ad campaign. But he does not think they will deal with that issue until next year.

Politics
4:24 pm
Wed February 23, 2011

Protesters march again at state capitol

Corvair Owner Flickr

Protesters were in Lansing again today to speak out against several proposals in the Republican-controlled state Legislature that they say will strip unions of the rights. That includes a measure approved by the state House that would give more control to emergency financial managers appointed to run cities and townships, or school districts. The state Senate is considering a similar measure.

Nick Ciaramintaro is with the union AFL-CIO of Michigan. He told lawmakers that more power for emergency financial managers means less democracy for local governments. 

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Crime
4:17 pm
Wed February 23, 2011

Charges in Michigan State Police corruption probe

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Two Michigan State Police lieutenants have been charged with more than 30 counts of corruption. The officers are accused of stealing property during home searches. Authorities say stolen items include televisions, computers, cell phones and drugs. 

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says the officers also worked with a Monroe County civilian to profit off of auctions of seized property. 

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Politics
3:22 pm
Tue February 22, 2011

Union members protest changes to Prevailing Wage law

The Michigan House of Representatives. Union members protested today in a State House committee room.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Hundreds of outraged union members filled a State House committee room and the surrounding hallways to protest a proposal to eliminate Michigan’s Prevailing Wage law. Many union members people began chanting and banging on the walls of the committee room.

Unions say the law makes sure workers are paid fairly and that union members get work.

Some Republicans want to get rid of the Prevailing Wage law, saying developers and contractors could save money on construction costs by making wages more competitive.

Jeff Mowry, a member of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 333, says the proposal to get rid of the wage law is not a direct attack on the collective bargaining rights of unions, but it still tries to hurt unions. 

 "You know, that’s the scary part – everything gets very complicated and very confused but it sure seems like it’s all tied together. And it seems like this is just one piece of a great big puzzle that’s looking to take away our collective bargaining rights, yeah."

Some Republican lawmakers say eliminating the prevailing wage law would save about 10% on construction costs and could create more jobs in the state.

Chris Fischer with the Association of Builders and Contractors gave a presentation to lawmakers on how the state could save money by eliminating the wage law.

Fischer says the chanting was distracting, but he was not deterred.

"It is difficult to make a factual presentation when there’s a lot of white noise in the background. It is disconcerting, but the bottom line is prevailing wage does come at the expense of two things Michigan does not have right now – and that’s jobs and taxpayer dollars."

Union members were told they will be able to testify on the wage law when legislation is before the committee for a vote.

Economy
4:14 pm
Fri February 18, 2011

State Senate approves bill giving control over Sunday AM liquor sales to local governments

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The state Senate approved a measure this week that would allow local governments to once again prohibit Sunday morning liquor sales. 

The measure would allow local governments to opt out of the Sunday morning liquor law approved by the Legislature late last year. Lawmakers who sponsored the new measure say the opt-out was always supposed to be included in the original package, but was accidentally left out because it was slapped together and approved during hasty lame-duck negotiations. 

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State Legislature
6:38 am
Thu February 17, 2011

GOP leaders won't reject Snyder pension tax plan

State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville
Photo courtesy of http://senate.michigan.gov

Republican leaders in the state Legislature say they want to give Governor Rick Snyder time to roll out his entire budget proposal before passing judgment on pieces of it that have become public.

State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says he’s been briefed on the entire budget proposal and is telling people to be patient.

“We’re a little premature making an evaluation of an overall big picture solution. I commend the governor for not being afraid to take on a tough issue and not being afraid to take on a tough issue, not being afraid to roll out a plan. But this is his day, this is his budget. It’s his time to throw out his plan."

The governor is expected to propose lifting the tax exemption on pensions as part of a plan that will also include repealing the Michigan Business Tax, but replacing only part of the revenue.

The governor will make his formal budget proposal to the Legislature this morning at 11 a.m.

Children
7:27 am
Tue February 8, 2011

Report: Child poverty increases in Michigan

There has been an increase in child abuse and neglect cases in the state, as well as increase in children living in poverty. That’s according to an annual report published by the Michigan League for Human Services.

Jane Zehnder-Merrell works on the annual Kids Count report. She says the Legislature needs to stop making cuts to important programs in the state budget that help kids:

I think that’s sort of the trouble with term limits – that the legislators who are coming to town may not realize that we’ve already cut billion, literally billions, out of the state budget, many compromising programs that serve families and children.

Zehnder-Merrell says there are some bright spots in the Kids Count report, including a decline in high school dropout rates and teen births.

She also says she is optimistic that Governor Rick Snyder will make decreasing child poverty a priority.

Great Lakes
6:59 am
Tue February 8, 2011

Environmentalists call on Congress to fully fund Great Lakes restoration

Environmentalists are calling on Congress to fully fund the Greak Lakes restoration projects
Bug_girl_mi Flickr

A group of environmentalists is calling on Congress to fully fund Great Lakes restoration projects in the federal budget.

They say the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is working to clean waterways and drinking water, and create jobs in the Great Lakes region.

Jeff Skelding, with the Healing Our Waters coalition, says talk of budget cuts in Washington, D.C. have Great Lakes conservationists on guard:

There are those in Congress who would gladly take the axe to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative without a second thought. Our message to Congress is – cutting successful Great Lakes restoration programs that protect drinking water, safeguard public health, create jobs and uphold the quality of health for millions of people is exactly the wrong thing to do.

The coalition hopes Congress will approve $300 million dollars for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in the coming weeks.

Governor Snyder
6:47 am
Tue February 8, 2011

Snyder signs executive order to reduce state parole board

Governor Rick Snyder
Photo courtesy of Governor Snyder's office

Governor Rick Snyder has signed an executive order to reduce the size of the state parole board by a third.

It’s not clear how this shakeup will affect the policy set by Governor Jennifer Granholm to parole more inmates as a way to control corrections costs.

Governor Snyder is reducing the parole board from 15 to 10 members, and placing it under direct control of the Corrections director. He also eliminated the board that advices the governor on clemency decisions.

His administration say the move will streamline government and save the state about half-a-million dollars.

The parole board members will have to reapply for their jobs. But Snyder says the parole board was written into state law to be a 10-member board with the Department of Corrections, and so it will return to its original form.

Politics
4:43 pm
Thu January 27, 2011

Proposal calls for revenue sharing based on population

Proposals for different ways the state delivers payments to local governments for services are bubbling up at the state Capitol.

A bill in the state Senate would distribute revenue sharing payments to cities, townships and villages based on population.

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Politics
5:09 pm
Wed January 26, 2011

Michigan Municipal League calls for region-based taxes

Michigan’s local governments say if the state cuts revenue sharing, then they should be allowed to ask voters for new taxes to replace that money.

The Michigan Municipal League met with Governor Rick Snyder last week, and has answered his call for proposals to save money and cut costs for local governments, and to make communities more viable and attractive.

Dan Gilmartin is executive director of the Municipal League. He says it starts by looking at regions:

Economies in Michigan are regional. The dirty little secret is there is no state economy. And there’s certainly no local economy. Economies are regional.

Gilmartin says local governments need the authority to ask voters for region-based taxes to support development, and maintain roads and services.

State Legislature
4:59 pm
Tue January 25, 2011

Lawmakers moving to eliminate tax credit for the poor

Legislators in the Michigan State Capitol want to do away with the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Republicans at the state Capitol are working to get rid of a tax credit for working poor people.

But people who support the Earned Income Tax Credit say the money helps poor people keep their jobs.

Without the credit they might have to go back on welfare, an they say that would cost the state more money.

Gilda Jacobs, director of the Michigan League for Human Services, says all lawmakers have constituents who claim the credit:

"We have some districts where 18% to 20% of the people are filers of this, and they’re putting multi-millions of dollars back into small businesses. So we kind of need to ask people to see this up-close and personal and to really be open to understanding what this is all about."

Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger says the state cannot afford the Earned Income Tax Credit right now:

“The Earned Income Tax Credit is very new in Michigan. It didn’t exist a couple of years ago. It was added at a time where I believe we couldn’t afford it. So as we look at how we are going to revamp Michigan and how we are going to move forward, we have to evaluate things that we can maybe no longer afford, however we do have to look at that with a broader tax structure, and we have to understand that the best social program is a good-paying job.”

Bolger says eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit will be part of a large package of reforms that are expected to be introduced soon in the House.

Supporters of the tax credit say they have a lot of work to do to convince lawmakers that getting rid of it would hurt people in their districts.

Politics
4:32 pm
Mon January 24, 2011

Lawmakers seek a 2-year budget cycle for Michigan

The Michigan House of Representatives
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

The state could be headed toward a two-year budget cycle.

Governor Rick Snyder and many lawmakers say they need to start thinking farther into the future when putting together a budget.

However, creating a two-year budget cycle would require an amendment to the Michigan Constitution. The Legislature would have to put it on the ballot for voters to approve.

State Senator John Proos says that could and should happen, but it will take time. He says in the meantime lawmakers can create a two-year projection:

"That’s something that every year instead of scrambling to fix a budget hole and not really telling the whole story about what our budget will look like out into the future, this will give us the time instead to say our revenue picture and expenditure picture is going to look like X. Once we’ve made that determination, then we can say are we actually getting value for the tax dollars that we’re spending."

Proos is expected to introduce a measure that would amend the constitution to create a two-year budget cycle as well as a part-time Legislature.

Proos says for now it’s important to complete work on the budget by Governor Snyder’s May 31st deadline.

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