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Politics
2:26 pm
Thu May 31, 2012

Michigan school districts could get more money in next budget

Hundreds of school districts that now get the minimum amount of state aid would get $120 more per student this fall under a compromise reached by state lawmakers. A conference committee has voted today to raise the minimum per-pupil grant. The school aid budget now goes to the state House and Senate, which are expected to pass it later today.

Politics
12:07 pm
Thu May 31, 2012

Michigan lawmakers hope to pass state budget today

A view of the state capitol building in Lansing, Michigan
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

State lawmakers are working to pass the final pieces of the 2012-13 budget, but differences are still being worked out on funding for universities and public schools.

If the budget is finished today as planned, the Legislature will meet its goal of passing a budget by June 1.

A House-Senate conference committee is expected to reach a compromise on the K-12 budget soon.

The two chambers are having trouble reaching an agreement on kindergarten funding. Differences on the higher education budget include whether Michigan State University must give up its requirement that all students get health coverage and whether the University of Michigan must report more on stem cell research.

Wildfire
5:09 pm
Wed May 30, 2012

DNR says wildfire in Michigan's UP 55% contained

Michigan DNR Facebook

This morning the Michigan Department of Natural Resources released an update on the Duck Lake Fire, still burning in the Upper Peninsula.

According to the DNR, the fire, located in Luce County, was roughly 21,450 acres is size and about 55 percent contained, as of this morning.

From the DNR press release:

Read more
Health
12:31 pm
Wed May 30, 2012

State funds may increase for inspections of migrant worker housing

Laura Elizabeth Pohl Flickr

Governor Snyder wants to allocate $400,000 in next year's budget to hire three more inspectors to investigate living conditions of migrant farm workers. 

Alberto Flores is with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. He says that leaves only 8 inspectors to look at housing for the more than 90-thousand migrant workers that come to Michigan every year.

Read more
Environment & Science
11:23 am
Wed May 30, 2012

Tahquamenon Falls State Park reopens after wildfire

Tahquamenon Falls
Bhasker Garudadri wikimedia commons

A popular state park is reopening near a wildfire that's been burning across more than 30 square miles of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

A Department of Natural Resources spokesman says Upper Falls and related facilities in Tahquamenon Falls State Park have reopened, and the Lower Falls campground is expected to reopen at noon today. The well-known destination for campers was originally closed because of smoke and ash problems. The DNR spokesman says those conditions have cleared up in the park.

The DNR says the blaze known as the Duck Lake Fire began with a lightning strike last week and burned about 34 square miles.

Politics
2:36 pm
Tue May 29, 2012

McCotter to run as write in candidate

Republican Congressman Thaddeus McCotter.
U.S. Congress

U.S. Rep Thaddeus McCotter (R- Livonia) will run in the August primary as a write-in candidate after the state found he did not have enough signature to be on the ballot. McCotter is seeking a sixth term in Congress. His campaign delivered 2,000 signatures, but more than half of them were found to be invalid. The Michigan Attorney General's office is investigating for potential election fraud.

Update 2:36 p.m.

The Detroit News reports all but 244 of the 2,000 signatures turned in by the McCotter campaign were invalid:

A review by The Detroit News of the petition signatures found full copies of a sheet of signatures that were photocopied once and in some cases two times and mixed in with the 136-page stack of signatures. In some cases, a different petition circulator's name was signed to the duplicate copy.

The overt copying is "frankly unheard of," said Chris Thomas, Michigan's director of elections, as he thumbed through the stack of petitions. "It's amazing when you sit and look, and it starts to dwell on you what they've done."

The Michigan Information & Research Service tweeted that prospective write-in candidate, David Trott, will not run against McCotter:

David Trott says he backs Thad #McCotter, won't run b/c the "timing is not right for me or my family."

Earlier today, the Detroit News wrote about the lone Republican left on the August primary ballot for Michigan's 11th Congressional District.

60-year-old Kerry Bentivolio a veteran and a "public school teacher who raises reindeer." He said he's running because he's angry about the federal government's excessive debt.

Since he became the only clear GOP candidate on the ballot, his head has been "spinning a little bit" with all the newfound attention. "I'm just an average guy that wanted to stand up and say this is not fair and this isn't right," said Bentivolio, who calls himself a strict conservative inspired by the tea party and liberty movements. With McCotter off the ballot, "the average guy gets a voice and gets a lucky break," he said. "I'm going to take advantage."

12:32 p.m.

According to the Detroit News, U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter says he thinks faulty petition signatures that will make him ineligible to qualify for an upcoming primary ballot were the result of deception by a trusted member of his staff.

From the News:

"At some point, for something like this to happen, I do feel like someone … lied to me," [McCotter] said on [WJR-AM's "The Frank Beckmann Show"]

McCotter told Beckmann it's possible someone was plotting against him, but more likely it was someone making an error while trying to help the campaign. He filed the petitions under the belief all signatures were valid.

10:30 a.m.

MPRN's Rick Pluta reports the Michigan Secretary of State and the Attorney General’s office are investigating possible election fraud related to the McCotter petitions. The Secretary of State’s office says many of the petitions submitted by the McCotter campaign appear to be photocopies.

7:52 a.m.

Republican Congressman Thaddeus McCotter says in a column in today's Detroit News that he will run as a write-in candidate in the August primary.

McCotter says his campaign's review of the signatures gathered to put him on the primary ballot for re-election confirms the state's finding that he did not have enough.

McCotter's campaign delivered 2,000 signatures so he could run again in the 11th district, but more than half of them were found to be invalid.

He says he will ask the Board of State Canvassers to refer the invalid signatures to the Attorney General's office for investigation.

In a press release this morning, McCotter said:

“I feel like George Bailey after Uncle Billy admitted he lost the money.  Like George Bailey, knowing my misplaced trust has negatively impacted so many people is heartrending.  Unlike George Bailey, I am not tempted to jump off a bridge.

Read more
Arts & Culture
5:00 am
Mon May 28, 2012

Ann Arbor goes mainstream, debuts "Cinetopia International Film Festival"

The Michigan Theater
user andypiper Flickr

Ann Arbor will be hosting its first-ever Cinetopia International Film Festival this week.

Russ Collins, executive director of the Michigan Theater, says festival organizers expect about 5,000 attendees this weekend.

Over the four-day festival, 35 mainstream films will be screened primarily in the Michigan and State Theaters.

Collins notes that this festival is different from the longstanding Ann Arbor Film Festival because that event's focus is on experimental films.

"The Cinetopia International Film Festival is a festival that celebrates the feature length, story-based films that you're going to see at festivals like Toronto and Sundance," Collins says.

The festival opens Thursday night with a party and screening of Tod Louiso's "Hello I Must Be Going" and continues with Sundance-acclaimed films like "I Am Not a Hipster."

"It seems like our ambient interest in cinema and the ability of our town to host festivals and special events would make Ann Arbor an exceptionally good place to do a film festival of a large scale," says Collins,

There are high hopes for this pilot event. Festival organizers plan to expand the event into an 11-day festival for Ann Arbor and Detroit.

- Julia Alix Smith-Eppsteiner, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Environment & Science
3:57 pm
Fri May 25, 2012

Mining resurgence in Michigan's UP gains some national attention

Drilling began at the Eagle Mine this past September. This aerial photo was taken in September of 2011. The mine is 25 miles northwest of Marquette, Michigan.
Kennecott Eagle Minerals

The boom and bust nature of the mining industry is nothing new to residents of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. And while recent decades have seen the region's once-prosperous iron and copper mines falling further and further into "bust" territory, the last few years have seen a resurgence of interest from companies hoping to pull valuable ore from this remote part of the state.

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Politics
3:17 pm
Wed May 23, 2012

Granholm on voter ID laws: "un-American" and "treasonous" (Video)

screengrab from the War Room on Current TV

Yesterday, a meeting of the Michigan House Redistricting and Elections Committee was disrupted by protesters angry about proposed changes to the state's election laws.

Chief among protesters' concerns was a measure, now headed to the state House floor, that would strengthen ID requirements for voter registration in Michigan.

Read more
Auto
1:26 pm
Wed May 23, 2012

Auto loan delinquency rates reach record low

Screen grab from TransUnion.com

Fewer Americans are falling behind on their car loan payments.

That's according to a new report from the credit agency TransUnion. They say that in the first quarter of 2012, the amount of payments 60 or more days overdue fell by 22 percent compared to the same period last year.

Those findings mark the tenth consecutive quarter that auto loan delinquency rates have declined, something that could benefit car buyers by prompting banks to make more loans.

A press release from TransUnion quoted Peter Turek, automotive vice president in the agency's financial services business unit:

"Auto loan delinquencies continue to perform exceptionally... We are seeing increases in both lending and leasing across the board, along with a higher number of loans originated in the non-prime risk segments."

Turek said that TransUnion expects delinquency rates for the rest of the year to remain low, but said that "a slight increase from this record-low level would not be surprising and should not be construed as a negative event."

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Environment & Science
1:23 pm
Wed May 23, 2012

Federal investigation highlights role of staff turnover, inexperience in Enbridge oil spill

Crews monitor the air near the site of the oil spill
EPA Region 5

An ongoing investigation into the 2010 Enbridge oil spill by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is raising concern over frequent staff turnover and inexperience among personnel in the company’s Endmonton control-room.

Last Friday, the NTSB added new materials to the public accident docket, including transcribed interviews with Enbridge staff.

The Toronto Globe and Mail reports:

In the transcripts, one control-room operator likens his job to that of an air traffic controller and says he’d like to see Enbridge do more to retain control-room staff in the hot Alberta job market.

“And you just don’t have air traffic controllers coming in and out of the system like that, right, because you know that it will impact safety, right?” says the transcription. “So, I’d like to see them really look at keeping people in the control-room, keeping us happy in there, and I don’t know what it’s going to take, but that’s what I’d like to see.”

The employee added that when he started working at the company 25 years ago, he could count a combined 100 years of experience among four employees in the control-room. Now, he said, the experienced personnel in the room tend to only have three or four years under their belts.

The NTSB also reported that the time of the spill coincided with a shift change in the control-room, offering a possible explanation of why the spill went unnoticed for hours.

In a press release, Enbridge officials said that they would wait to comment on the new findings until the NTSB publishes its final report later this fall. In the release, officials added that the company been working to improve the safety of its operations in the two years since the spill by doing things like changing the “structure and leadership of functional departments such as pipeline control, leak detection and system integrity.”

- Suzanne Jacobs, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Politics
3:53 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Proposed changes to Michigan election laws draw ire from protestors

State Rep. Pete Lund chairs the House Redistricting and Elections Committee
gophouse.com

A House committee meeting in Lansing was interrupted today by a group of about 50 protestors angry over proposed election law changes.

The House Redistricting and Elections Committee planned to vote on a series of changes including one that would require either a photo ID or birth certificate to be presented when registering to vote.  Opponents argue that the new rule would create unfair hurdles for some potential voters.

Protestors yelled slogans including "respect our vote" and some people were escorted outside.

According to the Detroit News, the protest was led by Pastor W.J. Rideout and Rev. Charles Williams Sr., the latter of whom told committee members "you're killing democracy" before leaving the meeting.

Another man, the News says, told committee chairman Rep. Pete Lund that, "The blood of Martin Luther King Junior is on your hands."

Despite the disruption, the committee voted to have the bill move to the House floor. 

-John Klein Wilson,Michigan Radio Newsroom

Health
12:03 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Rep. Dingell supports bill to speed up FDA reviews

Tom Varco Wikimedia commons

Congress is trying to speed up the review process for new medicines and devices while still keeping them safe.   A bill before the House would increase the amount of money and authority given to the Food and Drug Administration to do that.

Congressman John Dingell represents Michigan's 15th District and supports the bill.  He says one way the new bill will protect the drug supply is by increasing the FDA's authority over imported medicine.

"[The User Fee bill] enables [the] Food and Drug [Administration] to address the problems that we had (i.e. unsafe pharmaceuticals and unsafe commodities and components for the manufacture of pharmaceuticals in this country," Dingell said.  "So Food and Drug can control them now."

Drug and medical device manufacturers typically pay user fees that fund the reviews by the Food and Drug Administration.  The new bill will expand those fees to more companies, including international ones. 

"This is the best way of leveling the playing field between American manufacturers and foreign manufacturers" said Dingell, "and also seeing to it that everybody -- consumers, manufacturers and all get the services that they're entitled to from [the] Food and Drug [Administration]."

Patient safety advocates are against parts of the bill. They say even tougher reviews should be applied to medical devices.

-Nishant Sekaran, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Environment & Science
4:00 pm
Mon May 21, 2012

Mid Michigan officials consider large wind farm

A wind farm in Huron County
michigan.gov

Officials in Eaton County are considering a proposal that would see the construction of several dozen wind turbines.

The plan from Houston-based Horizon Wind Energy LLC would create a 63-turbine wind farm and, as the Lansing State Journal reports, the Oneida Township Planning Commission is looking into amending zoning restrictions to accommodate the project.

More from the Journal:

Approval of the ordinance changes are under review because the turbines are not currently regulated by the ordinance...The draft ordinance covers placement, maximum size, setback requirements and eventual removal requirements for wind turbine towers, and also regulates noise and electromagnetic interference.

Based on applications filed with the Federal Aviation Authority, each wind turbine is expected to be nearly 500 feet tall from the ground to the tip of the blades, and would be located within a 42 square mile area.

While the proposed wind farm could provide power for up to 30,000 homes, the Lansing State Journal writes that the plan does face some opposition, including from the advisory board of the Grand Ledge Abrams Municipal Airport, which cites concerns about increased air turbulence in the area. 

Even if the plan is approved, actual construction would depend on the results of wind studies in the area, a process that could take up to a year.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Criminal Justice
1:26 pm
Mon May 21, 2012

New online database tracks US exonerations since 1989

user FatMandy flickr

The University of Michigan Law School and the Center for Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law recently launched an online database containing an updated list of exonerations in the United States since 1989. The goal of the project is to prevent wrongful convictions or improve the process of identifying and correcting them should they occur.

So far, the National Registry of Exoneration lists more than 890 wrongfully convicted individuals.

Read more
Sports
1:57 pm
Fri May 18, 2012

Young Flint boxer qualifies for London games

Screengrab from a New York Times Magazine video

Flint's hometown darling, 17-year old boxer Claressa Shields, will be heading to London this summer to compete for Olympic gold.

The Detroit Free press reports that Shields confirmed the news from  Qinhuangdao, China where she had been competing in the AIBA women's world championships.

From the Freep:

Shields earned her spot into the Games when England's Savannah Marshall -- who defeated Shields in the second round earlier this week -- won her semifinal match today and advanced to the finals of the middleweight division.

Despite her early round loss, the Free Press writes, standings worked in Shields' favor and she earned one of the few Olympic berths from continental America.

Women's boxing will be making it's Olympic debut in London.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Economy
5:02 pm
Wed May 16, 2012

Michigan residents more upbeat about Gov. and economy

Michiganders are becoming more optimistic about the economy and that positive thinking is adding a bit of extra shine to Gov. Rick Snyder's image.

That's according to new results out today from Michigan State University's State of the State Survey.

An MSU press release says state residents haven't been this positive about the economy since 2005, with 54 percent of survey participants  characterizing their financial situation as "good" or "excellent" and 61 percent expecting things to get even better in the year to come.

More from MSU:

"The Michigan economy has added 150,000 jobs since the job market bottomed out at the end of 2009," said Charles Ballard, MSU economics professor and director of the State of the State Survey. "The improvement in the economy is reflected in the brighter mood in our latest survey."

The findings are based on the latest quarterly phone survey conducted from Feb. 14 to April 15. A total of 963 Michigan adults were questioned in the survey which has an error rating of +3.16 percent.

In the fall 2011 survey, conducted from mid-September through early November, only 46.2 percent of those answering the survey called their financial situation "excellent" or "good."

Gov. Snyder's approval ratings also improved amongst those surveyed, rising to 33 percent compared with 19.3 percent last fall.

- John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Read more
Economy
4:35 pm
Wed May 16, 2012

Michigan court district ranks No. 1 in lawsuits filed against student loan defaulters

wikimedia commons

Federal data show that a federal court district in Michigan ranks number one in the country for the number of federal lawsuits filed against individuals who default on their student loans.

Relative to population size, defaulters in the Eastern District of Michigan (Detroit) were prosecuted at a rate about 10 times the national average during March 2012.

The Central District of California (Los Angeles) came in second, and the Northern District of New York came in third.

Out of the 279 suits filed in March, 57 were filed in the Eastern District of Michigan, 140 in the Central District of California and 13 in the Northern District of New York.

The report, published by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, compared the total number of civil filings per month since March 2007. The number remained relatively stable (between 200 and 250) until Spring 2009, when it dipped slightly, bottoming out at 168 in December of that year.

The number then rose substantially to 598 in April 2011 before declining again towards the early 2009 average.   

The Eastern District of Michigan’s leadership in per capita student debt lawsuits is nothing new. The court topped the ranks five years ago and came in second last year, according to the TRAC report.

The Institute for College Access & Success, a non-profit research and policy organization, reported that 60 percent of 2010 Michigan graduates carried student debt, owing an average of $25,675 — the 11th highest average in the nation.

- Suzanne Jacobs, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Politics
4:07 pm
Wed May 16, 2012

More revenue than expected for Michigan's next fiscal year

Michigan's budget will have about $300 million more this year than state economists predicted in January.

That money is the result of a combination of higher-than-expected tax payments and fewer people receiving Medicaid and other state services.

That came from today's revenue estimating conference in Lansing.

State budget director John Nixon says he thinks much of the extra money may go into the state's rainy day fund. Or it may be set aside in case the state loses legal fights over collecting income taxes on public pensions or having state workers pay more of their pension costs.

“What we’ll do is with the one-time money, we’ll look for one-time expenditures," said Nixon. Budget Stabilization Fund is obviously a piece, a good place to put one-time money, as well some of the other spending pressures we have in the budget.”

Officials also estimate the state will have about $100 million more to spend in the budget year that starts Oct. 1.

Nixon says he doesn't think that will mean radical shifts in the budget bills lawmakers hope to finish by month's end.

The budget news accompanies forecasts that Michigan’s economy will continue to grow at a slow pace – with many of the new jobs coming from higher-paying fields. Michigan’s unemployment rate dropped again in April, hitting 8.3 percent.

When people who have quit looking for work are counted, as well as ­part-time workers who’d like to be full-time, Michigan’s rate of unemployment and under-employment is 17.8  percent.

Environment & Science
1:54 pm
Wed May 16, 2012

Spring brings more bear sightings in West Michigan

Ken Thomas wikimedia commons

There's been a spate of black bear sightings in West Michigan over the past few days with at least one birdfeeder as a casualty.

Residents in Greenville, about 25 miles northeast of Grand Rapids, saw a bear wandering around a residential neighborhood and sightings have also been reported in nearby Lowell and Vergennes Township this week.

Wildlife authorities with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources don't know if it's the same bear being spotted, or more than one.

Bear sightings in general in many parts of the Lower Peninsula have become more common over the past few years.

Last year, the Environment Report's Rebecca Williams took a look at these southward-drifting bears and spoke to Adam Bump, a bear specialist with the MDNR:

[Bump] said a lot of the time, the bears are young males that get pushed out during the breeding season. They’ll head down looking for new territory.

“It’s not that we’re completely full up in the north – it can’t take one more bear – it’s just that we’re getting more taking the chance and moving south.”

He said bears like to travel along rivers and forested corridors and they appear to be finding good routes to travel...

Bump said some female bears appear to be moving south too. And some might be setting up camp... and having babies.

“We think we have an established population now as far down as Grand Rapids, possibly into Ionia County. We're getting more and more reports of bears in southern Michigan, even bears that are too young to have moved, so they had to have been produced in southern Michigan.”

This past February, Williams and producer Mark Brush got the chance to tag along with MDNR biologists in Oceana County as they tranquilized a black bear to replace a radio tracking collar.

Now that the warm weather is here, the collared bear is likely loping around in search of food.

You can see the bear in a deep sleep in the video below.

- John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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