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.

Pages

Politics
2:46 pm
Fri September 9, 2011

Senate leader does not want "right-to-work" in Michigan

The Republican leader of the state Senate says he has no interest in making Michigan a right-to-work state.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says union workers have already made many concessions to help Michigan’s economic outlook.

Read more
Politics
4:38 pm
Thu September 8, 2011

Senator pushes for licensing of in-home health agencies

A state lawmaker has called for licensing of in-home health care workers to help combat fraud. He says recent fraudulent billings from some agencies cost the Medicare program $28 million.

State Senator Mark Jansen (R-Grand Rapids) says some fraudulent in-home agencies came to Michigan because other states require the groups to be licensed, and Michigan does not.

"Some of those folks have been chased out of their states because they've been caught or they know people are paying attention, and they're coming to states that don't have licensure."

Jansen says fraudulent in-home care agencies prey on the most vulnerable people in Michigan.

Read more
Education Reform
6:23 am
Thu September 8, 2011

State Senate introduces more sweeping education reforms

A state Senate panel began hearings yesterday on a package of sweeping education reforms. This is the second round of major changes proposed to Michigan’s education system this year.

The package of bills include measures that would allow more charter schools in the state, allow schools to hire teachers from private companies, and require districts to open empty seats in classrooms to students who live outside of the area.

Representatives from the education community say the proposals are controversial. Senate Education Committee Chairman Phil Pavlov says, he does not think so.

“I’m not sure I’d use the word ‘controversial,’ I mean we having a conversation about choice for parents and students in the state and that shouldn’t be controversial,” Pavlov says.

Pavlov also took the lead on the debate over teacher tenure reform earlier this year. Pavlov says Governor Snyder supports some of the reforms. Pavlov says he does not have a timeline to get this round of education reforms through the Legislature.

Representatives from the education community say they are concerned these proposals are based on politics and not research of successful education reforms.

Politics
6:06 pm
Tue September 6, 2011

Changes coming to Michigan's no-fault auto insurance?

A fight is brewing at the state Capitol over whether Michigan’s no-fault auto insurance law should be changed.

Backers of the legislation want drivers to be able to opt out of coverage that provides unlimited lifetime benefits for the most severely injured accident victims.

Pete Kuhnmuench, with the Insurance Institute of Michigan, says the option would save people money:

"We think putting more money back in the pockets of the consumers we think now is the right time to do that, given our economics," says Kuhnmuench.

A study commissioned by the measure’s opponents says most drivers would choose to underinsure themselves to save money.

The study says that would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

Politics
2:55 pm
Mon September 5, 2011

Legislature to continue hearings on second international bridge

A new bridge would compete against the Ambassador Bridge which spans the river between Detroit and Windsor, On.
Matt Callow Flickr

 A state Senate panel is expected to continue hearings soon on a proposed second bridge between Detroit and Canada. Lawmakers say they still have a lot of testimony they need to hear before they can make a decision.

State Senator Geoff Hansen is from Oceana County. He says people ask him every day about the Detroit bridge proposal, even on the west side of the state.

“It’s been brought up to a really high profile thing with all the advertising on the TV and all the fliers that have come out,” Hansen said.

Read more
Education
4:46 pm
Tue August 30, 2011

Report: Michigan students pay about half the "sticker price" of tuition

Northern Michigan University, one of Michigan's 15 public universities.
The Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan

A coalition of Michigan’s public university officials says college is still affordable, despite tuition hikes.

A report from the Presidents Council says need-based financial aid is on the rise, and universities are covering more student costs.         

Michael Boulous is executive director of the Presidents Council.

"The bottom line is aid is available if you have need. College still is affordable, and we don’t want that to be a discouraging piece in attending any post-secondary institution."

Boulous says a college education is more important than ever for workers in Michigan.

"The number of jobs for workers with high school diplomas is shrinking rapidly," says Boulous. "In many cases, entire industries that employed these workers are vanishing. Unemployment for people who have gone to college is half the rate it is for those who have only a high school diploma."

        The report says merit-based scholarships have decreased slightly over the past few years. But the report says need-based financial aid has nearly doubled in that time.

The Presidents Council says the average student pays about $4,800 in tuition at a public university. Housing and books can add about $9,000 to that price tag.

School officials say about two-thirds of students qualify for financial aid.

Politics
1:48 pm
Tue August 30, 2011

Democrat leaves Lansing to lobby for school reforms

State Representative Tim Melton (D-Pontiac) is leaving the Michigan legislature.
screenshot from HTV

The former state House Education Committee chairman is resigning his office to become a national school reform lobbyist.

Democratic state Representative Tim Melton (D-Pontiac) will work for the Students First organization in California starting in early September.

Students First is an organization headed up by a nationally polarizing figure in education reform, Michelle Rhee.

"I’ll be helping other state’s throughout the country pass reforms similar to the ones we did in Michigan," said Melton. "The Students First organization is a national grassroots advocacy for school reform. We’re going to really try to move the United States and this country forward as far as what the rest of the world’s doing on education reform."

Melton says the job will allow him to build on the work he did with the controversial "Race To The Top" legislation he spearheaded in Michigan.  

He is the third state lawmaker in the past couple years to leave office early for a different job. Melton says term limits could make leaving early a trend for politicians.

"I’ve got two young kids and I guess not knowing what’s going to happen after your term is up, and if an opportunity arises that allows you to do the thing that you’re really passionate about—you know, school reform to me is something that is a major issue," said Melton.

Melton’s departure will leave the House with 46 Democrats, to the majority of 63 Republicans. He was known for frequently working with and voting with Republicans.

He had contemplated a run at a House seat in Congress, but says he has reached the end of his career as an elected official.

Election 2012
6:22 am
Mon August 29, 2011

Snyder endorses Hoekstra

Former Republican West Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra (pictured) will be endorsed later today by Michigan Republican Governor Rick Snyder.
Republican Conference Flickr

Update 3:23

Michigan Public Radio's Laura Weber covered today's announcement. She reports Hoekstra says he and Snyder became friends after running against each other in a “hard-fought” primary for Governor last year:

“Isn’t it great that two people can go through a campaign, they can go through a primary, and at the end of that process they actually like each other, they actually have respect for each other, because they went through it in a way that the people of Michigan respected.”

Hoekstra said he does not think Snyder’s sinking approval rating will have a negative impact on his campaign for Senate. In his remarks, the governor reciprocated Hoekstra's admiration. Snyder said the experience of gave him respect for Hoekstra:

"Being one of our senators is critically important to our state, so I felt it was appropriate to speak up on this. And it was so easy to speak up. This is a case where we have a compelling candidate.”

6:22 am

Governor Rick Snyder has scheduled a press conference today to endorse former Congressman Pete Hoekstra in the race for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination. Michigan Radio was first to report the endorsement earlier this month.

Snyder and Hoekstra first got to know each other last year as rivals for the Republican nomination for governor. Snyder won, but people close to the governor say he walked away from the campaign with respect for Hoekstra. They say Snyder praised Hoekstra as a results-oriented congressman with a history of rising above partisan interests to get things done.

The endorsement will put the governor at odds with other Michigan Republican power players. Billionaire Betsy DeVos, Republican National Committeeman Saul Anuzis, and ex-Senator Spencer Abraham – all former GOP party chairs – are backing school choice advocate Clark Durant.

Former Judge Randy Hekman, anti-gay rights activist Gary Glenn, and Roscomman businessman Peter Konetchy are also vying for the nod to face incumbent Senator Debbie Stabenow next year.

State Law
6:35 am
Fri August 26, 2011

Lawmaker wants to prevent taxpayer funded sex-changes in prison

A state lawmaker says tax-funded sex changes for prisoners need to be outlawed. The Department of Corrections says it already has a policy to reject sex-change requests.

Republican state Representative Tom Hooker says even though there is a department policy against granting tax-funded sex change operations, it needs to be set in Michigan law.

“It’s certainly not targeting any specific lifestyle or organization. I’m trying to save the taxpayers of the state of Michigan money.”

Hooker says it could cost taxpayers between 20 and 60-thousand dollars per sex change, with ongoing hormone therapies. And Hooker says he hopes to make sure taxpayers do not foot the bill for other elective surgeries for prisoners. But he says this was a good place to start as a preventive measure.

A spokesman for the Department of Corrections says they do receive occasional requests for sex change operations, and those requests are denied. He says the prisoners argue it is not an elective surgery, but rather a matter of mental wellbeing.

Politics
4:48 pm
Thu August 25, 2011

Dems want to give parents unpaid leave for their kids

Democratic lawmakers in the state Legislature say businesses should be required to give parents unpaid leave to attend parent-teacher conferences and other education related appointments with their kids.

State Representative Lisa Brown is a mother of three. She says business owners should understand the importance of active parental involvement in education.

"Juggling work and getting kids to a parent-teacher conference is not easy, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have that my kids have had teachers that make special time for me, because I work far from home."

The bill introduced this week would require businesses to give employees eight hours of unpaid leave per child, per school year. A spokesman for the House Republicans says he has not seen the bill, but he does not anticipate support for any mandates on businesses.

Read more
Politics
5:05 pm
Wed August 24, 2011

Legislature approves health benefits changes

The state legislature has approved changes to some public employee health benefits.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

The state Legislature has approved a measure that would mean higher health care costs for some teachers and local government employees.

The bill would require local governments to pay no more than 80 percent of their employee health care costs, or limit the payment to 15 thousand dollars a year per family.

Democratic state Senator Glenn Anderson called his Republican colleagues hypocrites:

“I just find it amazing that anyone that would support this bill would get up and make statements about the federal government dictating to us at the state level what we must and must not do. And yet we’re super-imposing our will on a matter that has always been a local issue.”

 The measure now heads to Governor Rick Snyder for his signature.

Politics
4:47 pm
Tue August 23, 2011

Human services advocate hopes Snyder will put breaks on cash assistance cap

Human services advocates say many families still don’t know whether they will lose their cash assistance if the Legislature approves a four-year lifetime cap on benefits.

Legislative analysis estimates more than 12,000 cash assistance cases would be closed on October 1 if lawmakers approve the cap.

Judy Putnam of the Michigan League for Human Services says the state should look more closely into who would be affected by that cap.

“Two-thirds of the caseload on assistance are children, and the average age of a child on assistance is seven," says Putnam.

"That’s a second grader.”

Putnam says the state has not provided enough information to families who would have their cash assistance cut off October 1.  

“If it passes, this will give us the harshest time limits in the Midwest," Putnam says.

"Indiana cuts families off after two years on assistance, except that they only subtract the money for the adult. They still give the money for the kids."

Putnam says many people who receive cash assistance are unaware or confused about how they would be affected by the change.

Putnam hopes Governor Rick Snyder will change his mind and step in to at least phase out cash assistance, rather than cut it off.

"As it is we’re just saying ‘No more cash assistance, you’ve had enough.’ The problem is is that there aren’t jobs available. That might make sense if there were a lot of entry-level jobs available, with transportation to get to those jobs. But we all know that that’s not the case."

Snyder called on the Legislature to approve the measure, which would save the state an estimated $65 million dollars in the coming fiscal year.

Politics
4:24 pm
Tue August 23, 2011

Michigan legislature to vote on changes to healthcare benefits

The legislature will vote on changes to health care benefits for public employees tomorrow.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Thousands of teachers and local government employees will have to pay more for their health care benefits under a plan to be voted on tomorrow at the state Capitol.

The plan limits what school districts and local governments can pay for health benefits.

A legislative committee approved the measure today. It's expected to be voted on tomorrow by the House and the Senate.

It will require local governments to pay no more than 80 percent of their employee health care costs, or limit the payment to $15,000 a year per family.    

Read more
State Legislature
6:28 am
Mon August 22, 2011

Legislature reconvenes this week

State Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
Ifmuth Flickr

The state Legislature will meet this week after two months of summer recess and a couple controversial issues await lawmakers at the state Capitol.

Republican leaders in the Legislature say they worked through the summer to prepare to vote on a proposal to require teachers and some public employees to pay more for their health care benefits.

“A lot of important work is happening, and a lot of the most important work happens outside of the session schedule," says House Speaker Jase Bolger.

The state Senate also has a final procedural vote waiting on a plan to set a four year lifetime cap on cash assistance for unemployed people. Democratic leaders say Republican proposals have made it harder for people to live and find jobs in Michigan.

Economy
7:10 am
Wed August 17, 2011

Report: MI teens are doing better, young children are worse off

Teen deaths are on the decline in Michigan. That’s according to an annual report that compares indicators on the wellbeing of children.

According to the report, Michigan ranks better than the national average for the death rate among teens. Jane Zehnder-Merrell is the “Kids Count” project director at the Michigan League for Human Services. She says teens are getting into fewer fatal car accidents. But she says Michigan is experiencing a national trend toward more teen murders. 

“It’s troubling to see that as we push down one rate another rates starts going up; the homicide rate. Suicide rate has remained relatively stable, but we may see increases in that as well with the stress.”

There has been a 64 percent increase in the child poverty rate in Michigan over the past decade, according to the report.

Zehnder-Merrell says increases in unemployment and home foreclosures affect the wellbeing of children.

 “Very stressful, very difficult times for families, even though in Michigan I think part of it too is we’re used to having a lot more people living a middleclass life and having access to housing and good jobs and good health insurance, and the world is changing.”

Zehnder-Merrell says many budget and program cuts and made in the Legislature have exacerbated child poverty issues. That includes a proposed four-year cap on cash assistance that is set for a final vote when lawmakers return to Lansing next week.

Election 2012
5:15 pm
Tue August 16, 2011

Michigan Republican leaders push for early primary

Balloons drop at the Republican Convention in 2008.
Nick Busse Flickr

Republican leaders in the state Senate say they will push for a February 28th closed presidential primary date.

That’s one week earlier than the National Republican Party rules allow. National GOP rules state that only four states are allowed to hold primaries before Super Tuesday in March without penalty.

Michigan is not one of those states. Penalties could include having convention delegates stripped.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says they plan to stick with a primary on February 28th.

“Michigan is going to be really relevant in the decision making process because of this date, but I don’t think we’re doing anything outlandish that would cause the national committee to be upset with us.”

The Michigan Republican Party has not specified a desired primary date. The party is leaving the primary date decision up to lawmakers.

The chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, Robert Schostak, says he is not too concerned with being penalized for the decision:

“The penalties are somewhat unclear. They haven’t been determined by the committee in finality. But if we would be penalized by losing delegates and we were trading that for relevancy, my sense is that the Legislature and the state committee that would be ultimately deciding on this are okay with it.”

Both the Republican and Democratic parties in Michigan were penalized in 2008 for holding an early primary. The parties were stripped of half their convention delegates.

The primary election is estimated to cost $10 million. Taxpayers would foot the bill.

Politics
5:17 pm
Mon August 15, 2011

Lawmakers' bus tour turns into debate over bridges

Matthew Maroun, whose family owns the Ambassador Bridge, outlined his opposition to a new public bridge between Windsor and Detroit.
Laura Weber Michigan Public Radio Network

A busload of lawmakers and state officials toured parts of Detroit today that would be affected by a proposed second bridge between Detroit and Canada.

The tour began at the privately owned Ambassador Bridge, where the owners defended their proposal to build a second span and prevent the state from building a publicly owned bridge.  

Matthew Maroun is a member of the family that owns the Ambassador Bridge. He says his company saves taxpayers from having to pay for a new bridge:

Read more
Politics
6:09 am
Mon August 15, 2011

State officials dig in on bridge

State lawmakers are scheduled to return next week to the Capitol from their two-month summer break. However this week a handful of legislators will head to Detroit as discussions intensify over whether to build a publicly owned bridge to Canada.

A group of lawmakers will tour the site proposed for a second bridge from Detroit to Canada. And they will hear from parties interested in and opposed to building the second span. The tour and meetings are expected to last all day, and Senate hearings on the bridge issue will resume when lawmakers return next week. Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley says Governor Rick Snyder’s administration is serious about getting the project approved before the end of the year.

As for the governor, this week he is in the Upper Peninsula, touring businesses and meeting with community leaders. A spokeswoman for the governor says the bridge in Detroit could come up in those meetings. She says a bridge in the southern part of the state is still an important issue in the UP because the infrastructure would have a big impact on agriculture and businesses throughout the state.

State Legislature
7:45 am
Fri August 12, 2011

Claims tax awaits lawmakers’ return

A new tax on all health insurance claims waits for approval from lawmakers in the state House. As Michigan Public Radio’s Laura Weber reports, the tax is essential to balance the budget for the coming fiscal year.

Lawmakers must approve the health insurance claims tax in order to replace the existing tax on Medicaid HMOs. The federal government is expected to rule later this year that the existing Medicaid tax is illegal. To continue to receive funds from the federal government to help pay for Medicaid the state must approve the new tax on insurance claims.

Some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said they do not like the new tax proposal – Republicans saying they will not vote for a new tax, and some Democrats arguing that it would disproportionately affect some seniors who had their pensions taxed earlier this year.

The House is expected to approve the tax changes when lawmakers return in a couple weeks.

Politics
6:01 pm
Tue August 9, 2011

Unions promise to work together in state contract talks

Five public employee unions say they will bargain with the state as a single unit on economic issues. Governor Rick Snyder is asking the unions to find $260 million in savings.   

Cindy Estrada with the UAW says there is a common assumption that when the state asks for savings from unions, that means employee wages will be docked or workers will be laid off. But she says that should not be the case.  

“That doesn’t just happen by coming to workers and saying ‘you need to give back.’ It happens by looking at what are the real problems in the state.”         

Public employee unions representing more than half of the state’s workers say there are structural changes that should be made. And they say the changes could save the state more than Governor Rick Snyder asked for. Those changes include reducing the number of managers compared to frontline workers and fewer privatized contracts for public services.

Pages