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
6:04 pm
Tue October 11, 2011

Bridge proposal vote looms, but outcome unclear

A proposal to build a second bridge between Detroit and Canada may be nearing a critical vote in a state Senate committee. The chairman of the committee says he does not think there is enough support to approve the proposal, but he thinks the matter could be decided one way or the other as soon as this week.        

“The committee has – you know we’ve studied this subject matter to a point of nauseum," said state Senator Mike Kowall. "There’s a binder about four inches thick and we’re still adding to it every day, and when you answer one question, four more questions pop up.”

Republican leaders have other options if the measure does not have the votes to pass Kowall’s committee. One of those options could include sending the proposal to a different committee.

Politics
5:04 pm
Mon October 10, 2011

Lawmakers take another stab at funeral protest law

Lester Graham Michigan Radio

About a month after a federal judge struck down a Michigan law banning protests at funerals, state lawmakers are taking another go at the issue.

 “We need this protection," said state Representative Bruce Rendon. "And yet everybody does have the freedom of speech in this country and that’s one of the greatest things about America – is we all have the right to express ourselves. But now we’ve defined what we can do within that.”

Legislation before a state Senate panel would specify what protest behaviors would be unlawful. Its aim is to keep protestors from the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church from disrupting funerals in the state. The group has taken its anti-gay protests to military funerals nationwide.    

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Politics
9:15 am
Fri October 7, 2011

Why Michigan voters might be cut out of the auto no-fault debate

Flickr

Hundreds of people showed up at the Capitol this week to speak for or against a proposal that would dramatically alter Michigan’s no-fault auto insurance law.

The overwhelming majority of the people were in favor of keeping the state’s lifetime medical coverage for injured people.

If the law is passed, and people don’t like it, the Michigan Constitution allows voters to challenge it with a referendum, but the Republican sponsors have found a way around that.

At the end of the 42-page bill that would require drivers to choose the level of auto insurance coverage they want, and end guaranteed lifetime medical coverage, there is an appropriation of $50,000.

The stated purpose of the $50,000 appropriation is to help implement the change in law.

Republican state Representative Pete Lund said the money is needed for a report and study on the effects of the law.

The framers of the Michigan Constitution wrote that any law that appropriates money is referendum proof, and they did that to ensure that the full faith and credit of the state is not jeopardized.

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Politics
3:38 pm
Thu October 6, 2011

Charter schools proposal in Michigan Senate turns into bullying debate

Debate in the Michigan Senate turned to school bullying.
user cedarbenddrive Flickr

The Michigan Senate approved eliminating a cap on the number of charter schools, but not before a heated debate broke out about bullying.

The state Senate eventually approved a measure that eliminated restrictions on the number of university-sponsored charter schools in the state by a narrow margin. It now moves to the state House.

State Senator Bert Johnson (D-Highland Park) says eliminating the cap might give students and parents more options, but not necessarily better options.

 "Good public schools should be nurtured. Bad ones, they should be shuttered. Good charter schools should be nurtured. Bad ones should be shuttered," said Johnson. "The legislation proposed today does everything to eliminate the limits on how many charter schools can open in the state of Michigan, but it does nothing to ensure that those are high-quality schools."

Prior to passage, discussion over eliminating the cap on university-sponsored charter schools turned into a heated debate over bullying.

Democratic state lawmakers tried to attach an amendment to the charter school proposal that would require charter schools to adopt anti-bullying policies that specify what qualifies as bullying.

Senator Glenn Anderson tried to tack an amendment onto the charter school bill that would require charter schools to adopt anti-bullying policies.

His bill required lists of reasons kids could not be picked on, including weight, gender, race and sexual orientation.

Republicans have traditionally railed against similar bullying lists, and Anderson says that’s not acceptable.

"The sad fact is that there are some people that believe that there are some kids that should be protected and not others," said Anderson.

State Senator Tory Rocca (R- Sterling Heights) argued a Republican proposal that does not specifically list which groups of kids should be protected from bullying is better. He said their bill does not make distinctions between who is protected and who is not.

"This is why, when I hear my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, with who I’ve repeatedly worked in good faith, make frankly hateful comments about people on this side of the aisle, saying ‘they want to see children bullied, they want to see children committing suicide,’ it is beneath contempt, frankly," said Rocca. 

In the end, Republicans voted against both bullying proposals, saying the issue should be dealt with at a later date.

Politics
5:42 pm
Wed October 5, 2011

Judge's order re-ignites welfare fight

Lester Graham Michigan Radio

This week's court ruling ordering the state to reinstate welfare benefits until recipients get adequate notice of termination has re-ignited the fight over whether the state should have approved new limits on the cash assistance.

 “We have the chance to right one of the wrongs committed by this body, and to save thousands of children from starvation and homelessness,” said Sen. Coleman Young (D-Detroit).

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Politics
11:37 am
Wed October 5, 2011

Michigan Senate passes measure ending lifetime benefits for lawmakers

The Michigan Senate voted to end lifetime benefits for lawmakers.
user cedarbenddrive Flickr

The state Senate has approved a measure that would end lifetime benefits for incoming state lawmakers.

Fewer than half of current lawmakers would be exempt from the change. But all but two sitting senators would still get their retirements. No incoming lawmakers would be offered the retirement benefits.

The Detroit Free Press reports:

The Senate voted 37-1 on the measure, with Sen. Coleman Young Jr., D-Detroit, voting against the bill.

The House passed a bill that would have ended retiree health benefits for legislators who took office after Jan. 1, 2007. But the Senate version puts that date at Jan. 1, 2013.

The difference means that while some sitting legislators would have been eligible for the benefits under the House plan, many more sitting legislators will be eligible under the Senate plan.

Members of the House and Senate need only serve six years to be 100% vested in the retiree health care benefits. But members who don't have six years in by 2013, which mean members in tbe House who were elected in 2008 and 2010, and two state Senators - Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton and Vince Gregory, D-Southfield - would be ineligible for the benefits. All the rest of the Senators and third termers in the House will get the retiree health benefits.

The measure now goes back to the House for final approval.

Politics
5:58 pm
Mon October 3, 2011

Former Michigan lawmaker: No-fault insurance bill attempts to circumvent voters

Toby Oxborrow Flickr

A state House panel will begin public hearings tomorrow (Tuesday) on whether Michigan should make some big changes to the mandatory no fault auto insurance law.

The controversial proposal would let drivers choose their level of coverage.

The proposal also includes a $50,000 appropriation to implement the law in such a way as to make it referendum-proof.

Former state Representative Jim Howell says that money is in the bill to prevent voters from overturning the measure on the ballot.

"You know, I saw that appropriation, I knew what was going on with it. Very honestly – unless some of the current representatives have read about it some place, or heard it in the media, they wouldn’t have any clue," said Howell.

Howell said he thinks term limits prevent new lawmakers from understanding the content of a major proposal such as the no fault elimination bills.

Howell said they probably don’t remember that voters rejected similar changes to no fault insurance by a significant margin in the early 1990s.

The former Republican lawmaker will testify against the proposal tomorrow (Tuesday).

Politics
5:06 pm
Thu September 29, 2011

State will institute furloughs in lieu of concessions

Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder’s administration has ordered that 367 unfilled jobs with the state remain vacant. The order comes as a result of no bargaining agreement with state worker unions to cut costs.

The governor’s administration will order state workers to take four unpaid vacation days in the coming fiscal year.

Some say the furlough days won’t save the state as much money as expected.

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Politics
5:26 pm
Wed September 28, 2011

Senate panel OKs controversial education measure

A state Senate panel has approved a measure that would allow school districts to hire teachers through private companies. The proposal is part of a controversial education-overhaul package.

“It’s something they can do as a tool to contain costs, if that’s what they want, if they want to take a different approach to how they hire their instructional service, they have that opportunity. It’s not a mandate, it just makes it permissive,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Phil Pavlov.

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Politics
5:39 pm
Tue September 27, 2011

Legislature expected to send abortion bills to Governor this week

A state Senate panel has approved a measure designed to make it more difficult for a pregnant minor to have an abortion. The proposal would prevent young women from so-called “judge-shopping” if one court denies her request to have an abortion without parental consent.

Mary Pollock is with the National Organization for Women. She says the proposal works against pregnant teens who don’t want to have a baby.

"Some teens fear that if their parents are told of their pregnancy, they will take actions to prevent the procedure and force them to complete the pregnancy," says Pollock.

Pollock says some teens will hurt themselves as they try to end pregnancies on their own.

The Legislature is also expected to send a ban on a controversial later-term abortion procedure to Governor Rick Snyder for his approval.

Politics
11:52 am
Mon September 26, 2011

Republican leaders say a bridge vote will happen this fall

The owners of the Ambassador Bridge are waging a multi-million dollar ad campaign against a second, publicly-owned bridge.
Jim Wallace Flickr

State Republican leaders say they hope to move forward in October with a proposal to build a publically owned second bridge between Detroit and Canada.

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley says a second bridge would benefit businesses throughout the state.

"Those entities that make things here, be they automobiles, furniture, chemicals, cereal or baby food or even Slinkys, all these things we make in Michigan, and agricultural products as well, Canadians buy more of that than anybody else in the world," said Calley.

He says a publically owned bridge that connects major highways on both sides of the river would keep exports streaming into Canada from Michigan.

Calley was on Mackinac Island over the weekend for a Michigan Republican Party conference.

He lobbied for the bridge project while there saying the bridge project is a conservative one that will be attractive to Republicans and Democrats alike.

The proposal has been unpopular with some Republicans who think a second bridge should be built by a private company. The owner of the existing bridge in Detroit was also at the Michigan Republican Party conference on Mackinac Island to try to influence lawmakers oppose a publically owned bridge.

Calley says he and Governor Rick Snyder are not deterred by campaigning against the project by the company that owns the existing bridge in Detroit.

"[We're] making very steady progress and feel good about the track that it's on right now," said Calley. "It's really always been more a matter of getting through all of the garbage on the TV ads, and simply articulating what the proposal is."

Calley says one of the biggest hurdles they face is countering the influence of the multi-million dollar ad campaign. The campaign is paid for by the owners of the existing Ambassador Bridge.

Election 2012
4:48 pm
Fri September 23, 2011

Michigan Republicans on Mackinac Island, visits from Perry and Romney expected

Republican leaders are on Mackinac Island talking shop this weekend.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Republican presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Rick Perry will be on Mackinac Island this weekend for a Republican conference held by the state party every two years. The two prominent presidential candidates will speak with party faithful tomorrow at the Grand Hotel.

Also on the island are many campaign signs, buttons and t-shirts advertising names of Republican U.S. Senate hopefuls. Among them is Gary Glenn, the president of the anti-gay-rights group American Families Association of Michigan. He says coming to Mackinac Island this weekend is important for his campaign.

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Politics
4:54 pm
Thu September 22, 2011

Domestic partner benefit claims in Michigan less than some estimates

Fewer than 100 unmarried state employees are expected to sign-up for health care benefits for their domestic partners by the end of this month.

That would mean less than $600,000 would be spent on live-in partner benefits paid for by the state.

The preliminary estimates are well below what some Republican lawmakers said taxpayers would end up paying for the benefits.

Republican state Representative Dave Agema (R-Ottawa Co.) sponsored a measure to end domestic partner benefits for public employees in the future.

"Numbers aside, it really doesn’t make any difference because what we have now, if it doesn’t stop, it will only grow in the future," said Agema. "We haven’t included the colleges and the local governments and so-forth, so it would only be increased to millions and millions of dollars in the future."

Agema’s proposal could not reverse the decision by the state Civil Service Commission to allow for public employee domestic partner benefits.

Politics
5:43 pm
Wed September 21, 2011

Lawmakers pass ban on controversial abortion procedure

At the state Capitol, the House and the Senate have approved separate measures that would ban a controversial abortion procedure that’s already illegal under federal law. Both bills were approved by commanding majorities.

Democratic state Representative Jimmy Womack is also a minister and a doctor. He was a “no” vote.

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Politics
5:17 pm
Wed September 21, 2011

Richardville talks about fall agenda in Michigan Senate

Lester Graham Michigan Radio

State Senate Republicans say they want to focus on proposals this fall that will help businesses create jobs.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says eliminating the Michigan Business Tax on small businesses was a good start. He says now it’s time to get rid of the Personal Property Tax that businesses pay.

“The government itself does not create jobs, all we can do is better the environment. And that’s what we’re attempting to do with the legislation we’ve put on the table so far, and what we’ll continue this fall.”

Richardville says the Senate will also take up measures this fall to reform education and regulate the medical marijuana law.

The law was approved by a wide margin of voters in 2008.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says the law is too vague.

“I have a real concern about those that would abuse this law and that somehow more would illegal marijuana would end up on the street, and eventually find its way into our school yards. That’s my big concern here.”

Senate Republicans also plans to take up legislation to eliminate the tax on businesses and factory equipment. Education reforms, and a ban on a controversial abortion procedure are also at the top of the party’s fall agenda.

Politics
4:45 pm
Tue September 20, 2011

Michigan legislature set to vote on dilation and extraction abortion ban

The state Legislature is expected to vote tomorrow to ban a controversial abortion procedure performed after 21 weeks of pregnancy.

“Dilation and extraction,” or “partial birth abortion,” as it’s called by opponents has been illegal in the U.S. since 2003.

Republican state Senator Geoff Hansen says the proposals in the Legislature would help ensure the procedure remains illegal in Michigan, no matter what.

“We want to make sure that our attorney general has every tool that he needs to make sure that we don’t have this practice happening in Michigan,” said Hansen.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says passing the same ban at the state level will cement Michigan’s stand on the procedure.

"It’s kind of an insurance policy, if you will, but also strengthens our resolve that this is something wrong that needs to be addressed wherever it’s found in the state of Michigan," said Richardville. "It’s a responsible bill that tells the citizens of Michigan that we’re concerned about partial-birth abortion, and we’ll do everything we can to stop it from happening in this state."

The proposed ban is set for votes this week in the state House and Senate.

The votes will likely come just before the anti-abortion group "Right to Life of Michigan" has a conference in Lansing this weekend. The group is expecting an update on the status of the proposed ban from one of the Senate sponsors.

Education
5:36 pm
Mon September 19, 2011

Democrats want constitutional amendment to protect school money

Democrats in the state House say voters should be allowed to decide how the state spends its education dollars.

They’re calling for a constitutional amendment that would specify that School Aid Fund money be spent only on K-12 schools, and not on universities and community colleges.

Democratic state Representative Barb Byrum says Republicans have proposed diverting $900 million from K-12 schools for the fiscal year that starts in October.

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Politics
10:42 am
Mon September 19, 2011

Michigan roads need billions more to remain "useable"

A bipartisan legislative workgroup has determined that keeping Michigan's roads useable will require an additional $1.4 billion a year.

In 10 years, that number grows to an estimated $2.6 billion.

Business and infrastructure groups have been pressuring the Michigan Legislature for years without success to come up with a way to raise more money for fixing and maintaining roads and bridges.

Representative Rick Olson says Michigan needs to more than double what it spends to maintain streets and highways:

“Well I think the bottom line of this study is, unless we spend this kind of money we’re either going to need to reconcile ourselves to poorer roads, or we’re going to need to be willing to pay even more in the future.”

 Olson says raising the gas tax would not go far enough in raising revenue to pay for roads. He says a larger and more permanent solution will need to be found to generate revenue. Olson and his Democratic counterpart have submitted their report to state House leadership.

 

Education
5:25 pm
Wed September 14, 2011

Jalen Rose testifies in support of school choice and charters

Jalen Rose testifies in Lansing today.
Dan Wuan Michigan Senate

Former NBA player and one of the “Fab Five” at the University of Michigan, Jalen Rose, told lawmakers at the state Capitol today parents need more school options for their kids.

Rose testified before a state panel in support of allowing more charter schools and schools of choice in Michigan.

He sponsored a charter academy that opened in his hometown of Detroit.

Rose says the school selects students based on a lottery, rather than test scores, so every kid would have a shot at getting in.

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Election 2012
4:42 pm
Tue September 13, 2011

Hoekstra: Time to repeal "No Child Left Behind," other mandates

Pete Hoekstra officially launched his campaign for the U.S. Senate today.
Chelsea Hagger Michigan Public Radio Network

Former congressman Pete Hoekstra has been accepting endorsements and campaign donations to run for the U.S. Senate for weeks, but today Hoekstra formally launched his statewide campaign for the Republican nomination.

Hoekstra says he is glad to have the endorsements of some of his former rivals. They include former state Attorney General Mike Cox, who ran against Hoekstra in the Republican primary for governor.

Hoekstra says he and Cox may not have gotten along during that race, but they have buried the so-called hatchet.

 "Whatever hatchet there was, we’ve agreed to work together to make sure Michigan has a new senator. He and I have talked a number of times over the last few weeks, we’ve had great conversations. If there was a hatchet, it’s gone."

Hoekstra has also been endorsed by Governor Rick Snyder, another former rival.

Hoekstra says if he were elected to the U.S. Senate he would work to repeal "No Child Left Behind" school mandates and the new national health care regulations.

Hoekstra says he has met with many small business leaders who would rather see the federal government focus on deregulation than on tax breaks. 

"We need to get the economic engine going again, which is taking a look at the regulatory reform in Washington, it’s taking a look at repealing Obama-care and putting in place smart reforms for health care, and it is allowing for energy exploration in the United States," said Hoekstra.

Hoekstra is running in the Republican Senate primary against anti-gay activist Gary Glenn, businessman Peter Konetchy, former judge Randy Hekman, and school-choice advocate Clark Durant.

The winner of that primary will run against Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow.

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