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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Politics
5:08 pm
Thu November 17, 2011

Ann Arbor students petition Michigan legislature for strong anti-bullying bill

A petition calling on state lawmakers to approve a strong anti-bullying bill has received more than 50,000 signatures.

The petition was started by an 11th grader and an 8th grader in Ann Arbor, on the website change.org.

Mark Anthony Dingbaum, with change.org, said the two students – Katy and Carson – want the bill to list characteristics that should be protected from bullying.

He said the students who started the petition have first-hand experience with bullying.

“They identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, across the board,” said Dingbaum. “And I know that they’ve spoken out on this issue before, and I know that they were very interested in having their voice injected into the conversation this time.”

Dingbaum said the current proposal leaves gay students out of the conversation and unprotected.

“In the process I think these students voices are getting lost, and I think what’s been really inspiring for me in hearing Katy and Carson’s story is that those groups, those enumerated groups, those enumerated protections in the bill are essential because they are the groups that are most likely to be bullied in school,” said Dingbaum.

The petition also calls on lawmakers to require schools to report bullying incidents to the state.

Democratic leaders in the state Senate say the anti-bullying measure approved by the state House last week is not perfect, but it’s a good start. They say they hope to approve that bill in a couple weeks, and will continue to push for listing and reporting requirements in the future.

Politics
5:21 pm
Wed November 16, 2011

Advocates: Michigan Legislature should act before people left cold

Federal home heating assistance levels are being cut. Advocates say the state needs to step in.
user dominic's pics Flickr

The federal government has proposed dramatic cuts to home-heating assistance.

Susan Sherer, CEO of the Heat and Warmth Fund, said that cut for Michigan could be as much as $120 million.

“By removing $120 million that was available last year to serve customers, most certainly people are literally going to be left out in the cold,” said Sherer.

Advocates for the poor say the state Legislature needs to make sure people in low-income households do not have their heat turned off this winter.

Scott Dzurka is with the Michigan Association of United Ways, which is part of a coalition of groups pushing for heating assistance funding.

“Our interest is making sure that the residents and families in the state of Michigan are warm this winter season,” said Dzurka.

Dzurka said the state Legislature needs to ensure home-heating assistance will be available before lawmakers leave for a winter break in December.

The state fund for home heating assistance is also caught up in a court fight and cannot be touched. State lawmakers are trying to come up with a plan.

Politics
4:25 pm
Tue November 15, 2011

Michigan AG files corruption charges against former Pontiac fire chief

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette
Michigan Attorney General's official website

The Michigan Attorney General’s office has filed more than 100 charges related to corruption of state and city officials since January.

Adding to that list is a former fire chief from Pontiac who was charged today by Attorney General Bill Schuette with racketeering and bribery.

John Sellek is a spokesman for the attorney general. He said the fire chief solicited bribes from the owner of a bar.

“Walked into a bar and said ‘I will look the other way on fire code violations if you pay me $1000.’ It’s been going on for a long time in the world, it’s nothing new, but it’s something we’re going to do our best to put a stop to,” Sellek said.

Sellek said Schuette formed a public corruption unit at the beginning of the year to tackle corruption cases.

“We want to put a focus on the entire state, all 83 counties,” said Sellek. “We want people who hold positions of public trust to be very clear what they’re job is, what their ethics are, and what their moral responsibilities are, before they make a decision like this.”

Sellek said the Attorney General’s office hopes focusing on corruption will act as a deterrent for public officials.

Politics
6:36 am
Mon November 14, 2011

Snyder could veto first non-budget bill

Governor Rick Snyder must decide soon whether to sign a bill that would restrict the ability of state regulators to impose stricter standards than those applied by the federal government. The proposal would require the Legislature to approve any stricter regulations. Hugh McDiarmid is with the Michigan Environmental Council. He believes the bill is a bad idea.

“This isn’t solely an issue about regulation or the environment," McDiarmid said. "It’s also a little bit about an issue of a power grab where the Legislature is taking power that now belongs to the governor to act, promulgate rules and various things and taking it for themselves.”

Supporters of the bill say Michigan is less competitive in attracting businesses when it imposes stricter rules. Mike Johnston is with the Michigan Manufacturers Association, which favors the bill. 

“When Michigan imposes regulations in excess of federal standards we by definition make ourselves less competitive than other states that don’t have to operate under those excessive regulations,” said Johnston.

A spokeswoman for Governor Snyder says he is concerned with many aspects of the measure. It could be the first bill sent to Snyder by the Republican Legislature that the governor vetoes. He has vetoed some budget line items.

Politics
5:32 pm
Thu November 10, 2011

House OKs anti-bullying bill

A measure that would require all school districts to adopt anti-bullying policies has cleared the state House.

The proposal says there is no reason for kids to be allowed to bully each other. That sets it apart from legislation approved by the Senate last week. That bill exempted statements based on a student's deeply held religious or moral belief. Critics called the provision a license to bully. 

 “School districts across the state know the dangers of bullying and are tracking this issue head-on. And we should too. Our students deserve it," said Republican State Representative Phil Potvin, who sponsored the House bill. "We cannot sit by the sidelines anymore. There is no excuse for bullying.”

But some critics say the bill does not go quite far enough. Democratic state Representative Lisa Brown said schools should also be required to report bullying incidents to the state Department of Education.

"How many children need to be hurt?" she said. "I would hope that we’re looking to do more than just stop or prevent bully-side, but that every children—child has an opportunity to learn in a safe environment.”

 The measure was approved by a wide margin, with only a handful of Republicans voting against it.

Politics
5:30 pm
Wed November 9, 2011

Michigan Legislature considering changes to workers comp

Republicans in the state Legislature want to change Michigan’s workers compensation law. They say the changes would help Michigan businesses by reducing what business owners pay in insurance premiums.

Democrats say the changes would also reduce the amount of money given to many injured workers.       

Michael Czinski was hurt on the job as a police officer a few years ago. He broke his wrist in a fall and damaged an artery that supplied blood to the area. Three surgeries later, he has limited use of his right hand.

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Politics
4:42 pm
Fri November 4, 2011

Michigan Legislature considers infrastructure funding options

Lawmakers at the state Capitol are considering options to help raise more than $1 billion in additional revenue to fix and maintain Michigan’s bridges and roads. Governor Rick Snyder called on the Legislature to find the money for the state’s aging infrastructure.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said lawmakers should be able to find the additional funds without raising taxes.

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Politics
5:11 pm
Thu November 3, 2011

House approves state worker retirement contribution

Michigan state workers may soon be required to contribute four percent of their salaries into their retirement benefit plans, or choose to convert their retirement benefits to a 401-K plan.

That’s according to a bill approved by the state House.

Democratic state Representative Brandon Dillon said the proposal puts the health and wellness of future retirees at risk.

"We should be looking at ways to expand access to health care, whether in the public or private sector, and the reality is this bill is going to make people’s health care and the ability to get treatment essentially based on the stock market, which we know in the past 10 years has been pretty tough, and I just don’t think that’s the right direction to go," said Dillon.

State employees currently contribute three percent of their salaries to their retirement benefits plans.

Republicans say the current retirement plan is not financially sustainable with too many retirement obligations going into the future.

Politics
5:30 pm
Wed November 2, 2011

Michigan Senate committee approves film incentive measure

A new film-incentives program would give money to film and video game companies under a proposal approved by the state Senate.

Republicans have been looking for a new way to attract film companies to Michigan.

A tax-credit program created by Governor Jennifer Granholm was largely unpopular with the GOP.

Republican state Senator Mike Kowall says he a grant-based system for funding the film industry could still attract big-name productions to Michigan.  

He says the amount of money the state appropriates for the film industry may become a contentious issue down the road. But he says it’s important to get a system in place now that will keep the film industry interested in Michigan.

 “When you go down into these studios and you see not only how many people are there but the caliber and they’re from Michigan – they’re Michigan kids, they’re people that maybe moved to California and had the opportunity to move back and they grabbed it, said Kowall.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville has said he would like to see as much as $100 million budgeted for the film incentives program.

If the Legislature approves the new incentive program, lawmakers will still have to decide how much money to budget for the film industry. The state Senate is expected to vote on the film-incentive program proposal tomorrow.

Politics
5:15 pm
Wed November 2, 2011

Michigan Senate approves anti-bullying bill

Update 5:15 p.m.

All school districts in Michigan may soon be required to adopt anti-bullying policies to help protect students from ridicule, humiliation and physical threats.

An anti-bullying bill approved by the state Senate would not, however, protect students from bullying done by teachers, school employees or parents.

The measure also does not protect students from cyber-bullying on home computers, nor does it list the traits or characteristics that are protected from bullying— such as gender, race or sexual orientation.

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State Legislature
6:24 am
Tue November 1, 2011

Michigan Legislature preps remaining ’11 agenda, looks to ’12

Michigan Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
Ifmuth Flickr

There are only a few weeks of work left for lawmakers at the state Capitol before they break for the rest of the year and there are still many issues legislative leaders would like to tackle in 2011.

House Republican spokesman Ari Adler says the Legislature is able to focus on a lot of different issues this fall, in part because lawmaker approved the state budget many months earlier than usual. Adler says much of the work left before the Legislature is on issues the public will notice:

“We’re going to be looking at Michigan’s helmet law for motorcycle riders, we’re going to be looking at making some reforms within the no-fault insurance plans that are out there to make that a system that can be sustained.”

Adler says the House will look at a Senate proposal to allow more charter schools in the state. The Senate is expected to work on proposals to further regulate medical marijuana before the end of the year.

Politics
5:03 pm
Fri October 28, 2011

State roads chief: "We're already at work" on governor's plan

user ardee4 Flickr

The director of the Michigan Department of Transportation said he’s already at work on Governor Rick Snyder’s proposals to fix and maintain the state’s bridges and roads.

Snyder’s plans include generating more than $1 billion in additional revenue each year for road maintenance, and using advanced technology to strengthen bridges.

Transportation Director Kirk Stuedel said he discussed the governor’s proposals yesterday with his bosses at the state Transportation Commission.

“They set the policies for the department, and we’re going to be following up with the committee chairs saying ‘It’s about time to be putting our budget together, and our budget is going to be focused a lot around the things that are in this message,’” Steudel said.

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Education
3:57 pm
Thu October 27, 2011

More online public schools coming to Michigan?

More K-12 schools may be opening virtual doors in Michigan.

The state Senate has approved a measure that would eliminate the cap that allows only two cyber schools to operate in the state.

State Senator Patrick Colbeck says kids are learning more online than ever before.

“There’s kids who can fix computers in third and fourth grade [sic]. They’re the instructors for their parents and their grandparents already, so a lot of them are already learning that stuff online and they’re more in tune with it than [we are]… It’ll help channel kids into more productive pursuits, frankly,” says Colbeck.

Colbeck says thousands of kids are on waiting lists to get into the two cyber schools already in Michigan.

Those who oppose the cyber schools say online teaching should be blended with traditional classroom teaching in brick-and-mortar schools.

State Senator Phil Pavlov says it’s time to allow more cyber schools.

“I think that this idea of trying to limit the cyber opportunities is the wrong direction. I think we open it up, we let the parents and students decide, and the track record that we do have on cybers in terms of course catch-up work is phenomenal, in terms of addressing kids that may have dropped out already or are on a path to drop out,” says Pavlov.

The proposal now heads to the state House.

Politics
5:30 pm
Tue October 25, 2011

Michigan Senate looking to retool state film incentives

user reinistraidas Flickr

Michigan’s film industry will take center stage before a state Senate panel tomorrow.

The Economic Development Committee is expected to discuss a proposed new funding structure for rewarding film companies that want to shoot in Michigan.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said a generous film tax-incentive program under Governor Jennifer Granholm’s administration was not sustainable, but he said it helped initially attract the movie industry.

“We got a lot of attention by bringing Hollywood here, so to speak, now we’re going to spend a lot less on famous actors and big names and more on providing credit if you’re shooting here in Michigan, [and] if you have a Michigan studio,” said Richardville.

Richardville said film companies want to work in Michigan, but he said many feel the state forced them out when it scaled back its once-generous incentive program.

“You talk to producers, you talk to directors, you talk to movie makers that have been all around the country – they really like Michigan, they’re excited to come back to Michigan. And even the film that we lost recently, I heard a lot from the companies involved that they were very disappointed because those up close wanted to stay in Michigan and film Iron Man 3,” said Richardville.

Governor Snyder approved a less aggressive, $25 million grant program for film projects, but the state Film Office stopped taking applications earlier this month, saying there were no rules for projects to qualify.

The Richardville legislation would put those rules in place.

Politics
9:45 am
Mon October 24, 2011

Michigan House could vote on no-fault auto insurance changes this week

State Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
Ifmuth Flickr

A proposal to drastically alter the state’s auto no-fault insurance law could come up for a vote as soon as this week in the state House. The House proposal includes a $50,000 appropriation that protects the measure from a voter-led ballot initiative to overturn the law via a referendum.

Democratic state Senator Bert Johnson says using referendum-proof language to shield controversial measures from being overturned by voters is a dangerous political game.

“We think that that limits voter protection as well. People should always be able to come and petition their government for what they believed the right thing is. And that’s the foundation of democracy in America, that’s what we’re built on," Johnson says.

If the proposed changes to the no-fault insurance law are approved as currently written, it would be the fourth time this year the Republican-led Legislature passed referendum-proof bills that were not part of the state budget.

Politics
3:22 pm
Tue October 18, 2011

Governor Snyder and Michigan Senate leader to decide next bridge move

The Ambassador Bridge is currently the only bridge between Canada and Detroit.
user Gradys Kitchen flickr

Governor Rick Snyder and state Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) will meet this afternoon to discuss what should happen next with a stalled international bridge project proposal.

Richardville says he could potentially move the proposal to build a second bridge between Detroit and Canada out of the committee where it has failed thus far to gain enough support to move to the Senate floor.

Richardville has suggested moving the proposal to his own Government Operations Committee.

State Senator Mike Kowall (R-White Lake) chairs the committee currently handling the proposal. 

“I don’t want it to go to Government Ops. I started it, I want to finish it. I want to see it through to the end. Ultimately I don’t have a lot of authority to tell the majority leader what to do,” he said.

Kowall said he thinks the bridge proposal would face just as many hurdles on the Senate floor as it is in his committee to gain approval:

“Oh that’s just a microcosm of what’s going on, there’s a lot of discussion here, in caucus, outside, all over. So there’s a lot of discussion.” 

He continued:

“You ever go to the dentist and have a root canal done? Well it’s always a good thing when it’s over with, so I liken this to a root canal. No, I’d like it to be over one way or the other.” 

Kowall said one of the issues creating some division is whether a bridge proposal should include a measure to help members of the community that would be displaced at the new bridge location in Detroit.   

Governor Sndyer says he wants the issue approved by the end of the year.

Politics
5:06 pm
Mon October 17, 2011

Bridge project could move committees this week

The Ambassador Bridge in Detroit
J. Stephen Conn flickr

State Senate Republican leaders hope to have a floor vote as soon as this week on building a new publicly owned bridge between Detroit and Canada. The proposal has struggled for support as many rank-and-file Republicans remain skeptical the bridge is a good deal for taxpayers despite Canada's promise to pay all the construction costs.

Republican state Senator Dave Hildenbrand supports the bridge, but said the campaigns against the bridge muddied the discussion and made the project harder to approve.

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Politics
4:43 pm
Mon October 17, 2011

Snyder: Infant mortality rates reflect overall health in state

Governor Rick Snyder says the state should be more concerned with bringing down infant mortality rates in Michigan. Infant mortality rates have gotten worse in Michigan in the past three years. He says infant mortality rates reflect the overall health of a state.

“We’ve got this up on our dashboard. On the state dashboard, not just the health and wellness dashboard, because this is something we really need to do a better job on that is an important indicator of how well our state is. And more important, we’re talking about real lives,” Snyder said, speaking this morning at an infant mortality awareness summit in Ypsilanti.

Michigan has one of the worst infant mortality rates in the nation (nearly eight deaths per 1000 live births) and ranks 37th among the states. The national rate is nearly seven deaths per 1000 births.

Snyder has had some pushback recently from lawmakers who do not like the governor’s health proposals – which include body-mass-index reporting and banning smoking on state park beaches.

Snyder said he thinks he will be able to sway skeptical lawmakers:

“Well they’re all in the pipeline, they’ll come along in terms of looking at those types of issues, because health and wellness is a big issue.”

Snyder said he does not think there needs to be anything done legislatively to help drive the rate of infant deaths down in the state, but he said state officials and medical science leaders need to get together to come up with a plan to reduce the rate of infant deaths.

Politics
4:02 pm
Fri October 14, 2011

Governor visits U of M, touts pro-immigration stance

Governor Rick Snyder
Michigan Municipal League flickr

Governor Rick Snyder says he considers himself "probably the most aggressive pro-immigration governor in the country." Snyder says Michigan should work to attract immigrants with advanced degrees, especially in biomedical sciences and high-tech industries.

He reminded students, researchers and educators at University of Michigan today that some of the state’s most successful businesses – such as Meijer and Dow – were founded by immigrants.

“We tend to forget they’re Michigan names. Dow was a Canadian emigrant and Meijers was a Dutch emigrant. And now they’re household words that we consider them Michiganders,” said Snyder.

State Demographer Ken Darga says one of the big reasons Michigan was the only state to lose population in the past decade is because of a failure to attract immigrants.

Meanwhile, there are several Republican proposals in the Legislature aimed at enacting regulations to discourage illegal immigration.

Snyder also stated that too many college graduates in Michigan are leaving the state to pursue careers. He says part of that is because there are not enough jobs available for young workers. He says revitalizing urban areas will help reverse the so-called “brain drain.”

“It’s absolutely critical for Detroit to begin on the path to be a great city again because many of our young people are looking for that urban environment. And there are good things going on in Detroit. They’re good enough going on today that I like to ask young people – and you might appreciate this – I say ‘Do you want to be another yuppie in Chicago, or do you want to stay and make a difference in Detroit?’” said Snyder.

*Correction - an earlier version of this story was titled "Governor visits U of M, touts anti-immigration stance." He was highlighting his "pro-immigration" stance. The headline has been changed.

Politics
5:17 pm
Wed October 12, 2011

Bridge debate creates a divide among Michigan Republicans

A proposal to build a second bridge between Detroit and Canada appears to be the cause of a fierce divide among Republicans in the state Senate.

The chairman of the committee handling the proposal does not seem to have enough support among Republican colleagues to vote on the issue.

State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said if that’s the case he will most likely take on the issue in a committee he chairs and move it along quickly.

“I don’t think we would need to take as much time to go through all the detail, but we have been following the process, we’ve been following the information, so we would still take a hard look at it and take some open testimony, but we’re not going to rehash everything that’s been done for the last nine months,” said Richardville.

Richardville says misinformation floating around in television ads and brochures have made the bridge issue more confusing and frustrating than it should be. He says the Senate could vote on the proposal within a couple weeks.

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