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
4:32 pm
Mon August 8, 2011

Lt. Gov: Deal on bridge plan may come by the end of the year

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, (R) MIchigan
(photo by Laura Weber/MPRN)

Officials from Governor Rick Snyder’s administration say they would like to have a deal on a new bridge between Detroit and Canada reached before the end of the year.  That means many Republican  lawmakers who are on the fence about the project could be forced to make a decision soon.  

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley, who is spearheading the governor’s effort to build the bridge, says he has not counted heads recently to see who in the Legislature supports a new bridge project. But he says the only count he cares about is the final vote in the House and Senate. 

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Politics
3:44 pm
Thu August 4, 2011

Rep. Scott recall campaign will hand in petitions

State Rep. Paul Scott
Rep. Paul Scott

Organizers of the recall campaign against Republican state Representative Paul Scott say they will have enough petition signatures to hand in tomorrow to get the recall on the November ballot in Genesee County.

Bobbi Walton is a coordinator with the recall campaign. She says the recall of one lawmaker would send a message everyone working in the Capitol.

“For me personally it means that the residents in Michigan, when they see that their government has extended their reach , or disappointed them or lied to them, that they then have a law that allows them to come forward and correct the mistake and recall the person that is sitting in that chair.”

Walton says the recall question is also a referendum on Governor Rick Snyder’s job performance. Scott is the chairman of the House Education Committee.

The Michigan Education Association teachers union helped organize the petition drive against Scott.

Scott sponsored the recent changes in Michigan’s teacher tenure laws.

Politics
2:49 pm
Thu August 4, 2011

Capitol Farmer’s Market brings out Gov. Snyder and opponents

Governor Rick Snyder visited the annual Farmer’s Market on the Capitol lawn today.

Alongside the booths of sweet corn, wild flowers and homemade soap were petition collectors for the campaign to recall Governor Snyder.

Governor Snyder says he is focused on the future, and met recently with legislative leaders to discuss their plans for the fall and winter.

“Yeah, we had a very good meeting and it was largely talking about an assessment of how the first six months went, and where we’re going for the future, and I appreciate it. It’s good to do some longer-term planning and looking at how we’ve done, rather than just talking about the issue of the day.”

Representatives of the campaign to recall Snyder say they will continue to collect signatures through September, and they hope to get the recall question on the February 2012 ballot.

The campaign did not collect enough signatures in time to make the November ballot.

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Politics
2:45 pm
Tue August 2, 2011

Jesse Jackson meets with statewide Black Caucus

Rev. Jesse Jackson continues his campaign against Gov. Snyder's emergency manager law.
Laura Weber MPRN

Reverend Jesse Jackson is in Michigan this week to continue his campaign against the sweeping emergency manager law.

Jackson wants to expand his Rainbow PUSH Coalition in Michigan to increase action against the politics of Governor Rick Snyder and the Republican-led Legislature.

Jackson says large businesses in Michigan have been allowed for too long to make huge profits while many people have struggled to make ends meet or find a job.

“Michiganders have something to say about restructuring our economy.”

Jackson says there are two issues in Michigan that are most concerning to the state’s economic and political future.

The first is the expansion of the emergency manager law, which he says negates voter rights.

Jackson describes the problem:

“Not a person accountable to the people, or formed by the people, only to the Secretary of Treasury, who then can suspend labor contracts. How Democratic. So that to end democracy and to choose a czar is no solution to an economic crisis.”

The second is a looming decision in the Legislature to place a lifetime cap on welfare benefits at four years. With one procedural action left in the Senate, the measure is expected to go to Governor Snyder for his signature and begin on October first.

Jackson says October first would become a sort of Armageddon Day for Michigan’s most struggling residents.

Politics
4:16 pm
Mon August 1, 2011

Time running out for recall drives against state lawmakers

Recall campaigns against the state’s elected officials have until the end of the week  to hand in petition signatures to be considered for the November ballot. There have been more than two dozen recall campaigns against Republican lawmakers, and just three against Democratic lawmakers. 

Two of those lawmakers – State Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer and state Representative Barb Byrum – are in the clear after an elections panel in Ingham County rejected petitions language against them. 

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Court Rulings
6:18 am
Mon August 1, 2011

MI Supreme Court: Trails are not highways

The justices of the Michigan Supreme Court have made their final rulings of this term. That includes a decision that says Michigan cannot be sued for injuries sustained on state-owned trails for all-terrain vehicles.

A woman sued the Michigan Department of Natural Resources after she flipped her ATV while riding with family and friends on a state-owned trail. The vehicle flipped over half-buried boards sticking out of the ground. The woman hit some trees and injured her back. She argued the state is responsible for maintaining trail safety as it is for maintaining highways. She said the trail fell under the definition of a highway.

But the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that a trail is a trail or a route, and the state is not responsible for safety on the trails as it is for the highways.

The court ruled four-to-three in favor of the state.

Politics
4:09 pm
Thu July 28, 2011

MI Attorney General seeks to overturn affirmative action ruling

A 2006 BAMN rally in Lansing against Proposal 2. The proposal was passed by Michigan voters that November.
BAMN

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has requested a panel of 16 judges review and overturn a U-S Court of Appeals decision that said a ban on affirmative action is unconstitutional.

The decision came earlier this month and focused on the use of affirmative action in public university admissions.

Schuette says universities should accept students based on achievement, and the state must work harder to make sure all kids are getting a good education.

“And that’s where we need to tear down and rebuild our K-12 system so that kids in urban areas have opportunity and a chance to get up the latter. Right now that’s not occurring. The status quo is not acceptable.”

“America is about a single premise, and that is it’s about opportunity for anybody and everyone. And we need to make sure when you’re on the educational doorstep, entering one of our marvelous universities, that decision of admission needs to be done by merit, talent and ability.”

Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union say they hope the panel denies Schuette’s request. Schuette says he expects to have a ruling in the fall.

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State Legislature
6:37 am
Thu July 28, 2011

Speaker Bolger cuts House employees' benefits

State House Speaker Jase Bolger (R)
Michigan Municipal League Flickr

Lawmakers and staff members of the Michigan House will be required to pay more for their health insurance benefits come October 1st. The change was ordered by House Speaker Jase Bolger.

Bolger made the decision to require all state House employees to pay as much as 20 percent of their health insurance benefits alongside an 18 percent reduction to the money lawmakers have allotted for their office expenses. “And that’s not pleasant for anyone, and we empathize with them,” says Ari Adler, Speaker Bolger’s spokesman. Adler continues, “but we also empathize with the taxpayers who are facing many similar situations in their own households, and we all have to share in the sacrifice.”

The changes ordered by Bolger’s office comes amidst a debate between the House and Senate over how much teachers and local government employees should be required to pay for their health benefits.

Adler says House lawmakers need to lead by example if they plan to cut benefits for other public workers. The House Democratic caucus supports the new policy, but many Democrats oppose passing a law to force public employees to pay more for their benefits.

Environment
6:34 am
Thu July 21, 2011

White Lake gets federal funding for restoration

An inland lake in west Michigan is getting a boost from the federal government to help clean up pollution and restore wildlife habitats.

It’s one of many places along the Great Lakes shoreline where cleanups are needed.

Programs to clean up White Lake, north of Muskegon, have been awarded more than $2 million for restoration. The money will be used to help clean toxins and reestablish habitat for fish and wildlife.

Patty Birkholz, director of the Office of the Great Lakes says damage done by years of pollution from the manufacturing industry is not beyond repair. 

“That’s true, it’s not. But it’s taken a huge investment on the part of the federal government, on the part of the state government, but also a lot of work by the local people.”

Birkholz says Michigan has more “Areas of Concern” near the Great Lakes than any of the other Great Lakes states. She says it’s important for the state to rehabilitate waterways that were damaged by the, quote, ‘sins of our fathers.’

Politics
5:04 pm
Tue July 19, 2011

State officials want Feds to pass Balanced Budget Amendment

Matthileo Flickr

State officials want Feds to pass Balanced Budget Amendment

Republican state House Speaker Jase Bolger wants Congress to approve an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would require the federal government to pass a balanced budget every year. 

Bolger sent a letter encouraging approval of the Balanced Budget Amendment so states could work to ratify the amendment as well.

Three-quarters of states would have to approve the amendment to get it into the constitution.

Bolger says lawmakers in the federal government need to be fiscally responsible.  

“I hope they understand what the citizens of our state want, and that is that responsibility.”

Bolger says Michigan approves a balanced budget every year.

“As we’ve shown, it’s possible to balance a budget by facing fiscal reality, and our own government needs to face reality. I’m very concerned about the future of our kids, grandkids, and with the way our federal government is going, even our great-grandkids, and the debt that’s being passed onto them that they’ll be saddled with.”

Bolger says he thinks he could persuade Democrats in the state to ratify the amendment, which would require supermajorities. But Democratic Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer says Bolger is using a partisan issue to flirt with a run to unseat U-S Senator Debbie Stabenow.

Bolger denies any interest in leaving Lansing for Washington D.C.

Election 2012
4:20 pm
Mon July 18, 2011

Hoekstra reconsidering U.S. Senate bid

Former GOP Congressman Pete Hoekstra
Republican Conference Flickr

Former Congressman and Republican gubernatorial candidate Pete Hoekstra said last April he would not try to unseat Democratic U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow. But Hoekstra is reconsidering a bid for the Senate.

The spokesman for Hoekstra’s previous campaigns says the former congressman is not rushed to make a decision on whether he will run for the Republican nomination to face Senator Stabenow.

But he says Hoekstra was persuaded by political insiders and influential Republicans not to give up on the idea.

The spokesman says Hoekstra most likely will not decide until late in the summer.

Hoekstra could face anti-gay activist Gary Glenn, former juvenile judge Randy Hekman, and John McCulloch, the Oakland County water resources commissioner in a Republican primary.

State Legislature
6:25 am
Mon July 18, 2011

Senators seek to toughen dog-fighting laws

Inside the Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan
Cedar Bend Drive Flickr

The state Senate is expected to approve legislation in a few weeks that would strengthen penalties against dog fighting. Dog fighting has been illegal in Michigan since the late 1800's.

But state Senator Rick Jones says the state needs to get tougher on dog fighting to get rid of it once and for all.

“And so we want to toughen the law to make it easier to charge the people that are running these dog fights and take their property away and sell it off, because it’s just inappropriate for this behavior.”

The Senate proposals would consider dog fighting to be racketeering, and would allow law enforcement officers to seize property from people who profit from dog fighting.

Politics
3:12 pm
Fri July 15, 2011

Public employee health benefits bills heading to conference

Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan
Matthileo Flickr

A joint legislative panel is set to negotiate how much some public employees should be required to pay into their health insurance benefits.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says the payment structure for health benefits for public employees should have been overhauled several years ago.

But he says lawmakers should still work with public employee unions to find the savings.

“We want to try and be as flexible as we can and allow as much local input as we can, but the time to act is way past right now, this should have been dealt with 10 years ago or more.”

Ray Holman is with UAW Local 6,000. Holman represents state employees who won’t be affected by the proposed changes to public employee benefits.

He says that public employees have already made many concessions over the past few years.

“That’s been done at the bargaining table, and that’s been a proven place to find those savings.”

But, Holman says, if collective bargaining is compromised in the measure before the House and Senate conference committee, all public employees will be on alert and at risk of paying more for their health benefits.

State Legislature
6:44 am
Fri July 15, 2011

Senate to evaluate statute of limitations

Inside the state's Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan
Cedar Bend Drive Flickr

A state Senate panel will hold hearings soon on whether Michigan should extend its 10-year statute of limitations for charging people with violent crimes such as kidnapping, assault, and murder.

Republican Senator Rick Jones says he understands that extending the statute of limitations does not mean every old crime will be solved.

“Well certainly the colder the case, the more difficult it is for a prosecutor to obtain a conviction. But if somebody comes forward, there’s evidence – whether it be scientific evidence or a confession, certainly they should be able to bring charges.”

Jones says he wanted to take up the issue after he learned the statute of limitations prevented the Ingham County prosecutor from filing charges in a manslaughter case.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin hearings when lawmakers return to the Capitol later this summer. Jones chairs the committee.

Politics
4:32 pm
Thu July 7, 2011

Recall campaigns and how Republican politicians might react

Bill Ballenger of Inside Michigan Politics says Republican politicians aren't concerned by the number of recall campaigns, but they might become concerned if one is successful.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

There's a growing list of Republicans battling recall campaigns – Governor Rick Snyder, the leaders of the House and Senate, lawmakers who supported controversial measures, and lawmakers who approved changes to the tax structure.

In all, thirteen Republicans must stave off petition drives. But that growing number may not be what sends shock waves through the Capitol, according to the editor of Inside Michigan Politics, Bill Ballenger:

"I don't think it's even a question so much of how many recalls there are, the question is just scaring the living bejesus out of all incumbents thinking no one is safe, they're coming after us, and it only takes one recall successfully completed," said Ballenger.

Ballenger says successful recalls are rare and difficult, and the question of whether politicians should be recalled for the policy they support is open and ongoing.

"Many people have said the only basis on which there should be a recall is gross criminal neglect, misfeasance, malfeasance, whatever," said Ballenger. "Not for differences in policy. However, as long as the law is written the way it is, there can be a difference on policy decisions."

A recall campaign against Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville was given the green light this week.

Other top Republican officials facing recall campaigns include Governor Rick Snyder and House Speaker Jase Bolger.

All three say they are focused on their work and not on combating recall petitioners.

Science/Medicine
4:15 pm
Wed July 6, 2011

Report shows increase in pregnancies out of marriage

Two-thirds of all births occur outside of marriage according to a new study

Laura Weber reports: 

Two-thirds of all babies born to Michigan women in their early twenties are born out of wedlock. That’s according to a new report from the Michigan League for Human Services.

The reports shows a significant uptick over the past decade in the number of babies born out of wedlock to women in their twenties.

Jane Zehnder-Merrell is with the League. She says teen pregnancies out of wedlock used to be more prevalent.  

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Politics
2:53 pm
Fri July 1, 2011

Could large, consumer-grade fireworks land in Michigan?

Michiganders have to cross state lines to find fireworks like "America's Best" (warning: shoots flaming balls).
user m-gem Flickr

Large fireworks might be sold in Michigan before Independence Day next year.

That’s if  Democratic state Representative Harold Haugh has his way.

Haugh has been working on legislation for a couple years that would allow the sale of large, consumer-grade fireworks that are already sold in surrounding states.

Consumer-grade fireworks are more powerful than the low-grade fireworks currently available in Michigan, but are less explosive than large pyrotechnic displays.

Haugh says selling large fireworks in the state would fit Governor Rick Snyder’s call to make Michigan more friendly to small businesses.

He says the potential increased revenue comes from both stores and roadside tents.

"The speculation was there could be as many as 200 buildings statewide go up that are going to sell consumer-grade fireworks," said Haugh. "Now with the tent issue, it could be as many as another 400 tents that sell consumer-grade fireworks."

Haugh says the additional sales of fireworks could bring in as much as $12 million to the state, and he says the decision to sell large fireworks would be up to local governments.

"I mean they own it. It’s not the people of the state of Michigan. It’s not the people up here," said Haugh. "It's the local community that will own the issue of selling consumer-grade fireworks."

Opponents say the larger fireworks are not safe and are too noisy. But Haugh says he thinks his proposal is gaining support in the Legislature.

He hopes to get the measure approved before the end of the year.

Politics
5:04 pm
Wed June 29, 2011

Legislature approved changes to binding arbitration

State Capitol Building, Lansing, MI

Arbitrators would be required to give top consideration to the ability of local governments to pay public workers during contract disputes with police and fire fighters unions.

That’s under adjustments to binding arbitration laws approved by the Legislature and sent to Governor Rick Snyder.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville: 

“I think the ability to pay piece is probably the most significant. Whereas it’s been in statute all along, this just strengthens it, puts it up front, and actually further defines it.”

The Legislature Senate is debating several other hot button issues before lawmakers take a two-month summer break.

They include proposed changes to teacher tenure rules, and redrawing the state’s political maps.

Politics
5:34 pm
Tue June 28, 2011

Congressman Levin testifies against proposed political maps

The 15 Michigan U.S. House districts as they exist today.

Congressman Sander Levin doesn’t like the proposed redrawn political maps that are based on new census data.

Levin says the maps drawn by Republican state lawmakers are grossly skewed in favor of Republican candidates.

“That so arrogantly places partisan interests ahead of voter interests. And whether the governor, who came to office pledging to put the interests of Michigan citizens ahead of partisan interests, will send a clear message right here and now, that his message is a real one.”

“I don’t think anyone can show a map that has come forth in this state, at least one in recent memory, that so distorts the ability of citizens to have the right to choose, and for the parties to compete with ideas.”

He wants the Michigan Senate to reject the maps approved by the state House last week.

Republican lawmakers say the G-O-P redistricting plan is fair and takes population shifts into consideration.

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Politics
5:13 pm
Tue June 28, 2011

Republicans say tougher medical marijuana regulations needed

K Connors Morguefile

Republicans in Michigan say there need to be more regulations surrounding the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act.

They say dispensaries, growers and many doctors are taking the law too far.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette stood next to a map of the greater Lansing area, with 84 pushpins marking locations of medical marijuana dispensaries. He says new proposed regulations would shut down most if not all of those locations.

“No more marijuana farms. No more collective grow ops. It violates that law – making that very clear.”

 Schuette says most caregivers and dispensaries undermine the needs of terminally ill patients who need marijuana treatment by pushing the limits of the law. Legislation proposed by lawmakers in the House and Senate would further regulate who could grow medicinal pot, where it could be grown, and how it could be distributed.  

They say they have not worked with the medical marijuana community to help craft the proposals yet, but they hope to get that input over the summer.

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