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
4:34 pm
Mon June 27, 2011

Legislature continues discussion on changes to medical marijuana

Chuck Caveman Coker Creative Commons

Republican state Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said a few months ago that he did not want to deal with any major social issues – including medical marijuana regulations – until the budget was complete.

With the budget debate behind them, lawmakers are once again looking at the Medical Marijuana Act.

The Michigan Supreme Court is preparing to decide where and how marijuana plants can be grown, and the state Senate is looking at a bill that would regulate where patients could smoke marijuana.

Bills have come up for debate that would affect everything from where a person could smoke medical marijuana, to where it could be distributed and who could distribute it.

One would prevent convicted felons from becoming medical marijuana caregivers, or distributors, and the other would make it a crime to distribute medical marijuana near a church or school.

Meanwhile, medical marijuana supporters have shown up at every legislative hearing on bills that would add regulations to the law since it was approved by voters a few years ago.

They say any additional regulations would make it harder for people who need treatment to get access to medical marijuana.

State Legislature
6:39 am
Mon June 20, 2011

Busy week scheduled at the Capitol

Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan
Matthileo Flickr

State lawmakers have a busy two weeks ahead of them before they take a two-month summer break. This week, legislators will debate the threat of feral pigs to woods and farmland, whether the state should mirror a federal ban on so-called “partial birth abortions,” and how the state’s new political maps should be drawn.

Perhaps the most contentious issue at the Capitol right now is whether the state should build a publicly owned bridge from Detroit to Canada. State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says the Detroit bridge issue impacts everyone in the state. One reason for that is the bridge project is linked to federal road money that would go to every region of the state.

“This is part of a bigger issue in Michigan, and that’s infrastructure, period. I look at the roads in the state – whether they’re county roads, local roads, state highways – that infrastructure is important to people too. And I really think this is one piece of a much bigger issues that we have in Michigan.”

But Richardville says the Senate will not vote on any bridge legislation until lawmakers return from the summer break. Governor Rick Snyder had hoped to approve the bridge legislation before July. Snyder will, however, get to sign the state budget for the coming year into law. The governor is expected to sign the budget bills this week.

Politics
5:39 pm
Thu June 16, 2011

Matt Moroun testifies against new bridge crossing

The Maroun family owns the Ambassador Bridge and have been vigorously fighting the construction of a second bridge over the Detroit River. Matthew Maroun testified against a new bridge today.
Mike Russell creative commons

A member of the family that owns the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Canada testified before a state Senate committee in Lansing today.

He spoke with a handful of lawmakers who appear annoyed by conflicting information.

Matt Moroun told lawmakers that a proposal to build a publically owned bridge between Detroit and Canada is unnecessary because traffic is down, and tolls would not cover the construction costs.

But he also says the company is prepared to build a second bridge.

That prompted this question from Republican state Senator Geoff Hansen:

“If you receive a permit, will you build a second span?”

Moroun answered:

“The next day we’ll start. Promise.”

Republican state Senator Mike Nofs asked why the Ambassador Bridge owners would want to build a second bridge.

“Why would you build a second bridge the next day if you can’t make the money? The tolls aren’t going to be there. The traffic isn’t going to be there," Nofs said. "It’s going to cost you a lot more money, and you have to expand the roadways on both sides, and you have a government against you apparently right now - Canada - why would you build a second span?”

Moroun says his family’s company needs to build another bridge because the Ambassador Bridge is about 80 years old, and costs a lot of money to maintain.

Democratic state Senator Virgil Smith from Detroit says the Ambassador Bridge owners are controversial figures in the city.

“If you want to proceed with this – with the new project, with the new bridge – I think you’re going to have to clean up a number of your actions in southeast Michigan to do so, or I don’t see it happening no time soon," Smith said.

Many state senators expressed frustration with what they view as a slew of contradictory studies about whether a publically owned bridge would be profitable to taxpayers, or a burden.

Hearings on the bridge issue will continue next week.

Politics
4:27 pm
Tue June 14, 2011

Elder abuse legislation unveiled

A proposal to encourage more reporting of senior abuse and strengthen penalties against people convicted of the abuse will be unveiled tomorrow at the state Capitol.

The measure will deal with physical and financial abuse of elderly people.

Republican state Senator Tanya Schuitmaker has worked on the issue for a couple years.

“You hear all too often about many cases that—where seniors are getting defrauded and certainly there are vulnerable adults out there that need to be protected.”

“I think [the proposal] strengthens and tightens the regulations that are also there. It also adds some assistance in terms of when someone with Alzheimer’s walks away that there’s a system of alert similar to the Amber Alert.”

Schuitmaker will introduce the bills during “Older Michiganians Day” at the Capitol. She expects the Legislature to vote on the measure this fall.

Politics
4:00 pm
Thu June 9, 2011

House approves teacher tenure changes

School districts would have an easier time firing teachers under changes to tenure laws approved by the state House.

The tenure proposal would rate the effectiveness of teachers based on student test scores.

The bills have begun their march through the Legislature after many years of debating changes to tenure rules.

Democratic state Representative Ellen Cogen Lipton says tenure laws came about to protect teachers from administrators that tried to ban certain books from being taught in the classroom.

She says of course tenure rules should be updated and changed, but she says these changes go too far:

"Rather than go in with the precision of a surgeon with a scalpel, identify a problem and fix it, what these bills do, really, I think, absolutely flay the tenure act with all the zeal of a butcher’s knife," said Lipton.

Republicans say the proposed changes would ensure bad teachers with failing student test scores are removed from classrooms.

The tenure bills were approved along mostly party lines, with one Democrat saying he would discourage his granddaughter from ever teaching in Michigan. The bills now head to the Republican-led state Senate.

Politics
4:49 pm
Wed June 8, 2011

Governor Snyder announces free legal help for start-up businesses

User Sabine01 Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder has unveiled a new program with a law firm that will offer free legal services for about 60 start-up companies a year.

The MiSpringboard program with Varnum law firm will last five years.

Snyder says he would be open to creating similar programs with other law firms that are willing to offer free services for start-ups. 

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Politics
4:29 pm
Mon June 6, 2011

Bridge issue to begin, Republicans still unsure

J. Stephen Conn Flickr

The state Senate will get its first look this week at legislation proposing a new bridge between Detroit and Canada.

Republicans have rejected the idea of a new bridge for years. Many of them received campaign contributions from the owner of the Ambassador Bridge – the only current span between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

But Republican lawmakers say they are against a new bridge because there has never been clear information about how the bridge would be paid for.

Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger agrees.

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Politics
3:55 pm
Mon June 6, 2011

Supreme Court says stories can be used as evidence

User sabine01 Flickr

A work of fiction written by a person charged with a crime can be used against the defendant in court according to a new decision from the Michigan Supreme Court.

The question before the state’s highest court was whether a story a defendant had written depicting graphic scenes of incest between siblings and their father could be used against him as evidence of his intent.

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Politics
1:00 pm
Fri June 3, 2011

Mounting recall efforts for state government

A rally in Lansing on March 16, 2011. Recall efforts are underway for several Republican leaders. The last time the state saw this many recall efforts was in 1983 targeting Democrats.
Michigan Education Association

A wave of recall efforts is rolling through the state Capitol. There are about half a dozen recall campaigns under way, and all of them target Republicans.

Recall campaign organizers have a difficult, but not impossible, task ahead of them to get the recalls on the ballot.

The last time a swath of recall campaigns swept over a political party in control of the House, Senate and executive office was in 1983.

He says the last time a group of recall campaigns swept over a single political party in Michigan was in 1983.

Bill Ballenger is the editor of the Inside Michigan Politics newsletter. He says the last time a group of recall campaigns swept over a single political party in Michigan was in 1983.

"There were a whole bunch of recalls mounted that year, upwards of maybe a dozen, against Democratic legislators over the hike in the state income tax in 1983. Of all those recall efforts, two actually made it to the ballot."

Ballenger says talk of tax hikes got people motivated in 1983, but that’s not the case this time around.

“In fact it’s just the opposite,” said Ballenger.

He says most of the complaints levied against lawmakers and Governor Rick Snyder are about cuts to funding and programs, and an expansion of the control of emergency managers.

One of the more publicized recall efforts is against state Representative Al Pscholka, who sponsored the emergency manager legislation.

There are also recall efforts against Governor Snyder and state Senator Mike Nofs, Ballenger says Senator Nofs could face the biggest test among the current recall campaigns because he is in a swing district.

Politics
5:23 pm
Tue May 31, 2011

House prepares to lower population requirements for Detroit's special taxes

A measure that would let Detroit continue to levy taxes on utility bills and income is likely to pass in the state House this week. 

The bill is necessary for Detroit to keep the income and utilities taxes because the law says to keep those taxes a city must have a population of at least 750-thousand. Detroit’s population slumped below that in the past decade. Now lawmakers from Detroit are calling for a change to reduce the population requirement to 600-thousand.

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State Legislature
6:43 am
Tue May 31, 2011

Lawmakers to take up big issues in June

Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan
Allieosmar Flickr

Leaders in the state Legislature say there is still a lot of work they would like to get done before lawmakers take a two-month summer break.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer says some of the issues she expects to see in the coming weeks include education reforms, redrawing Michigan’s political maps, and whether the state should build a second bridge between Detroit and Canada.

“I expect most of that will be done before we break for the summer, yes. June ought to be a very busy time around here. Just because the budget bills get signed into law next week doesn’t mean we won’t be working very hard around here for the next month or so.”

The Republican-led Legislature sent Governor Rick Snyder the state spending plan last week. The governor is expected to veto some items within that budget and sign them into law next week.

Politics
5:17 pm
Wed May 25, 2011

School cuts likley as budget rolls through Legislature

The budget is on track to be signed next week.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

The Michigan Senate handed a complete state spending plan over to the state House today.

That leaves just a couple more steps before the budget bills go to Governor Rick Snyder for his approval.

The arguments on both sides of the aisle in the Legislature have been cyclical in recent weeks; Republicans have offered up departmental spending plans with deep cuts, and Democrats have said the cuts help businesses and hurt working poor families and children.

When talking about the K-12 schools budget, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer said:

"Amidst a long day of voting on bad budgets, we find ourselves looking at the absolute worst of the worst."

The K-12 schools budget makes additional cuts in per-pupil funding with the possibility of offsetting those cuts by consolidating services and by encouraging other Republican-proposed “best practices.”

Overall the complaints of Democrats have had little impact on the budget process. The party lacks enough votes to get in the way of a budget that has thus-far rolled quickly through the Republican-controlled Legislature.

It appears any debate on this budget will be over by early next week.

Politics
4:50 pm
Tue May 24, 2011

Budget bills start rolling through Senate

The Republican-led state Senate has started approving parts of the budget.

That includes a bill that cuts funding for public universities by 15 percent.

Universities could face bigger cuts if they don’t hold tuition increases at or below 7.1 percent.

Democratic state Senator Morris Hood says tuitions are already too high.

"Our profound disinvestment has led to tuition increase after tuition increase, making a degree even harder to attain," said Hood. "We’re passing this problem onto our already struggling constituents. Budgets are about priorities, and I think we are sending a clear message; the wrong message."

Republican leaders in the Legislature expect to wrap up work on the budget quickly and easily in comparison with recent years.

The budget bills will volley between the Senate and House over the next week as lawmakers try to wrap up work on the budget by next Tuesday.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says he does not anticipate any big battles between the Republican-controlled chambers. But he says there may be a few hang-ups over schools funding.

"The K-12 budget is one of the more complicated budgets and made some adjustments during targets," said Richardville. "That one being also being one of the biggest budgets has the highest propensity to have some problems with it. But I think those problems will be mostly technical. I don’t anticipate any problems with getting the budgets passed."

Democrats are upset that additional funds for K-through-12 schools will not go directly to reduce cuts to per-pupil funding. Additional projected tax revenue will instead go toward districts that approve cost-saving measures, and make retirement payments.

Politics
5:33 pm
Mon May 23, 2011

State unions call for cost-saving measures in budget

State employee unions are calling on lawmakers to approve government reforms that the unions say would save the state tens of millions of dollars.

A labor organization report says Michigan government has too many managers compared to workers who directly deliver services to the public. It also says the state spends more on outside contracts than it does on its civil service workforce.

Phil Thompson, with union SEIU 517M, says he knows time is running short to influence lawmakers on the current budget.

"Realistically we understand that the elements in this report aren’t going to be able to be handled in the next week or so. What we want to do is set the foundation for an intelligent, in-depth discussion that will generate savings in fiscal 2012, but more importantly to generate millions of dollars in savings in future years."

The state employee unions say efficiencies could save the state about $185 million dollars in the coming year, if lawmakers approved the changes before October.

Politics
3:37 pm
Thu May 19, 2011

Democrats feel slighted on budget deal

A budget deal was reached between Governor Snyder and the State Legislature, but democrats say they feel slighted by the deal.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder and Republican leaders in the Legislature have reached a budget deal for the coming fiscal year.

The plan will use hundreds of millions of dollars from a tax revenue windfall to lessen proposed cuts to K-12 schools.

Democratic leaders say the plan violates a deal they agreed to last week, because the money doesn’t go directly to replace the cuts. Instead it will be used to urge schools to cut costs, and help make retirement payments.

"I think that we should motivate people to do the right thing and to find efficiencies where they can," said Democratic Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer. "And if you want to incentivize them with extra dollars, I’m comfortable with that idea. But this violates the agreement that we had, and the agreement was that we would mitigate the per-pupil foundation allowance so that the dollars would get right into the classroom with the kids."

Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says negotiations could have gone more smoothly with Democrats.

"There was no malice, there was no intent to mislead or anything like that, we don’t have that kind of a relationship. But this is the first time that this group of people is actually getting together and negotiating a deal, so there may have been some improvements laid out, we could probably do things better than we did, and we’ll continue to work toward that."

There is about a week and a half left before Governor Snyder’s self-imposed, May 31 budget deadline.

Richardville says he expects the Legislature to meet that goal.

State Budget
6:37 am
Thu May 19, 2011

Legislative leaders meet to finalize budget targets

Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan
Thetoad Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder met with legislative leaders to refigure budget plans, now that the state is expected to collect more tax revenue than originally predicted.

An application on Snyder’s i-Pad reminds him every day of a looming, self-imposed budget deadline of May 31st. He says he and lawmakers are going to meet that deadline.

"There’s still work to be done, but we’re moving in a very positive direction, and we’re moving on a path to have the Legislature get the budget done by May 31st – so those countdown clocks could pay off.”

Details could be made public as soon as today.

Part of the deal appears to include about $25 million in tax credits for the film industry, and rolling back cuts to K-12 schools. That’s more money than Governor Snyder or the Legislature had originally proposed.

Politics
4:25 pm
Wed May 18, 2011

Senate bill passes - requires public employees pay 20% of health benefit costs

The Michigan Senate chamber.
user cedarbenddrive Flickr

Most public employees would be required to pay at least 20 percent of their health benefit costs under a bill approved by the Republican-controlled Michigan Senate.

The measure was approved along a mostly party line vote.

Republican state Senator Mark Jansen sponsored the measure. 

"Not all of us are all that excited all the time about doing these things," said Jansen. "In fact we know people that this impacts – in fact if you look in the mirror, it’ll impact each one of you sitting here today. But we know it’s the right thing to do – and I know that’s very subjective."

Democratic state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer says the state is asking too much from public employees – especially teachers.

"I heard Governor Snyder defend the $250,000 price tag for his budget director by saying 'you get what you pay for,'" Whitmer said. "Well isn’t that true for the most important people to our kid’s success as well? Why is that rationale sufficient for the governor paying taxpayer dollars, and not true for the people working every day to help our kids?"

The Senate also approved a constitutional amendment that would give the Legislature control over the benefit plans of university employees and state civil service employees.

That plan is unlikely to clear the state House, where Republicans don’t have the two-thirds majority needed to put the measure on the ballot.

Politics
5:26 pm
Tue May 17, 2011

Part of projected budget windfall expected to go to schools

Part of a projected budget windfall is expected to go toward reducing proposed cuts to Michigan’s K-through-12 schools.

The question floating around the state Capitol is how much of a projected boon in tax revenue collection will go toward reducing cuts to per-student funding, and how much will go toward paying for pensions or into the state’s “rainy day” fund.

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Politics
6:28 pm
Mon May 16, 2011

Gov. Snyder welcomes improving tax revenue picture

Gov. Rick Snyder (R) Michigan
(Official state portrait)

The state is on track to bring in about $430 million more than originally forecast for the coming fiscal year. That’s according to state officials and economists who met today at the state Capitol for a revenue estimating conference.  

Governor Rick Snyder says he’s happy to hear the state is on the track to economic recovery. But he does not want to spend the money too quickly.  

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Politics
4:26 pm
Fri May 13, 2011

Governor Snyder defends tax plan

Russ Climie Tiberius Images

Governor Rick Snyder defends his tax overhaul, which has drawn a lot of criticism from the public in recent weeks, saying that he is confident that cutting taxes for Michigan businesses will create jobs. The Legislature approved his tax plan yesterday and it’s on its way to Snyder’s desk for his signature.

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