While controversy over budget cuts lingers, new statistics show that Michigan's prison system may have some system-wide problems that actually increase cost.The Chicago Tribune/A.P. reports:
Michigan often keeps inmates long after other states would have released them for similar crimes, driving up prison costs by millions of dollars a year and eating up a quarter of the state's general fund.
Both former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm and current Republican Gov. Rick Snyder have encouraged the parole board to be more lenient when it comes to releasing prisoners who have served their minimum sentences. Yet a bill that would require that inmates serve 100 percent of their minimum sentence but no more than 120 percent failed to make it through the Legislature during the last two-year session.
That has left 8,000 inmates still behind bars who have served more than their minimum sentences, a practice that's costing Michigan taxpayers around $280 million annually.
It's likely to take years for the parole board to consider those 8,000 cases, which make up nearly a fifth of the prison population. On April 15, the parole board will shrink from 15 members to 10 under a Snyder executive order estimated to save around $500,000 a year in pay and benefits.
Politicians don’t like to flip flop. Going back on what they said before can be a big political headache.
The U.S. Supreme Court also takes flip flopping very seriously. The last time they overturned a decision was in 2003.
By comparison, the Michigan Supreme Court has flip-flopped a lot. Somewhere around thirty-eight times in the past decade.
All this flip flopping means that court keeps changing the law. One reason for the flip flops is because the judges on the court keep changing. Between elections and appointments there can be a lot of turnover on the bench. And new judges don’t necessarily agree with those who came before them.
Robert Sedler is a court watcher who says ideology is causing the back and forth on the Court. And he says things got bad about a decade ago. He teaches law at Wayne State University Law School.
"Around 1998 there were a series of appointments by former Governor Engler who were very ideological in their views. The majority took the position that, if they believed cases were wrongly decided, they were going to overrule those cases."
Conservative majorities, like the one appointed by Engler, aren’t the only ones overturning old decisions. In 2010 there was a more moderate court, and they also overturned cases.
Take marajuana, for example. In 2006 the court saw all marijuana use the same, it was illegal. Four years later the new court saw more nuance and interpreted the law in ways that impacts medical marijuana use.
Listen up, teenage drivers: Starting today, some of you will be driving less and with fewer pals in the car because of two big changes to Michigan's Graduated Driver Licensing Law...
The more teens in a vehicle, the greater the chance of a crash, according to the Office of Highway Safety Planning, a division of the Michigan State Police.
According to the 2009 Michigan Traffic Crash fact sheet, younger drivers "were less likely to be alone in their car at the time of the crash," with 169 people ages 16-24 killed and nearly 18,000 injured.
"Studies have shown for teen drivers, the crash risk increases exponentially for each additional passenger, but parents seem unaware of the dangers associated with passengers and nighttime driving," said Michael L. Prince, director of the Office of Highway Safety Planning. "The new requirements and the awareness campaign will go a long way in improving teen driving safety."
AAA of Michigan is on board with the new changes, according to Jack Peet, traffic safety manager.
"This new law will help strengthen the graduated licensing approach where teens gain more driving privileges as they get older and acquire more experience," Peet said.
"Many studies have shown that limiting the number of teen passengers in a vehicle driven by a teen or novice driver helps make them safer."
Before today, Level 2 drivers were allowed to stay on the roads until midnight.
All the unclaimed deposits from Michigan cans and bottles really add up. The state gets about $12 million a year out of it.
A small amount of this money goes back to the retailers who sell the containers. But most of it is used for cleaning up old industrial land or toxic waste. The state also uses the money to finish the clean-up of federal Superfund sites.
With budget cuts, money for pollution clean-up is harder to come by. Anastasia Lundy is with the Department of Environmental Quality. She says her department used to rely on Michigan’s general fund.
"Well the programs that are funding environmental clean-up no longer receive any general fund whatsoever, so this has increased our reliance on these bottle bill funds to try to keep the programs meeting the most critical needs."
The state wants as much money in the clean-up fund as possible. They’re worried they are losing money to people they call smugglers. These are people bringing cans into Michigan from other states for deposit money.
This might sound like the Seinfeld episode where Kramer and Neuman drive cans and bottles into Michigan. But the state is getting serious about cutting down on bottle deposit fraud. So, they want bottle manufacturers to put a special mark on containers sold in Michigan. Bottle return machines would then only take containers with the mark-Michigan containers.
The state changed the bottle bill to require manufactures to add the mark, and the manufacturers are now suing the state over the changes to the bill.
Congress will hear testimony on Tuesday morning from experts in nuclear energy to determine what lessons can be learned from the crisis in Japan.
Dave Lochbaum is the director of the Nuclear Power Project, part of the Union of Concerned Scientists. He says the United States needs to be prepared for disaster"not on bright sunny days, but on days when the infrastructure may be damaged or compromised and impede the ability of people to get out of harm’s way."
Lochbaum says U.S. plants are at risk for the same problems that nuclear plants in Japan are facing:
“It’s U.S. reactor technology that was used there, under similar regulations that are here in the United States, so faced with similar challenges, we’d probably experience similar outcomes and I think the United States and Congress more broadly will take steps to better protect Americans from that outcome. ”
Michigan ranks 13th worst in the nation for bridge condition according to a new report released on national bridge conditions. The report says 1,400 bridges in Michigan are in critical condition and are deteriorating in some way.
Kirk Steudle is the director of the Michigan Department of Transportation. He says most bridges in Michigan are about 40 years old, and bridges are built to last 50 years.
“We take a slightly different approach with that 50 years, and say that with the right kind of maintenance and preventative maintenance, we can extend that life indefinitely.”
“Well, indefinitely to a point where there’s really nothing more financially responsible to do other than replace the bridge.”
“Our first and foremost responsibility is to make sure that the infrastructure that people are driving on, the bridges they’re driving on, are safe.”
“And if there is a condition that warrants it as immediately unsafe, the bridge will be closed immediately.”
“The bridges that are out there, that people are driving on right now, including all of us, are safe. If the bridge is open, the bridge is safe.”
“It’s been inspected by our bridge engineers, and we take that very seriously and if there’s something that needs to be taken out of service, it will be taken out of service immediately and fixed and adjusted.”
Representatives from Transportation for America, who released the study, say federal support is needed to fix a backlog of bridge issues. They say it will cost about 226 dollars per driver to make sure bridges remain safe and drivable.
Steudle and representatives from Transportation for America say they understand that there is a focus right now on less government spending. But, they say, safety needs to be a priority over budget cuts.
How many bridges do you cross in a day?
However many you cross, it is possible that some of those bridges might be part of the 13% of state bridges that are "structurally deficient."
In a survey of national statistics, the Associated Press found that Michigan came in with the 13th worst bridge statistics.
More than 13% of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient, a number that will only rise as thousands of spans statewide approach their expected 50-year life expectancy, transportation leaders said today.
With about 1,400 bridges ranked structurally deficient, Michigan ranks 13th worst in the nation in the number of bridges in poor condition, according to a report released this morning by Transportation for America, a national transportation advocacy group. The national average is 11.5%.
The average age of Michigan’s bridges is 41 years. The group said nationwide, it would cost $70 billion to upgrade deficient bridges. About 185,000 U.S. bridges are 50 or older, and that number could double by the year 2030.
This news comes on the heels of another big announcement about the long-awaited new Detroit-Windsor bridge, now known as the New International Trade Crossing (NITC).
Governor Rick Snyder is expected, in the next two weeks, to submit a new bill to the Michigan legislature authorizing construction of the new Detroit-Windsor bridge, now called the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) in Lansing.
One of the most significant changes between Snyder’s NITC proposal and the DRIC bill that died in the state Senate last year is the removal of MDOT from the process. A special authority established to govern the bridge replaces the state agency in the legislation. According to Crain’s Detroit’s Bill Shea, shifting control away from MDOT is seen as an effort to win support among GOP lawmakers.
The removal of MDOT from the equation is one of the significant changes between the NITC proposal and Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) bill that stalled in the Michigan Senate in 2010.
Of course, what we really need is some kind of Michigan Acronym Awareness Association (MAAA).
As we continue our “What’s Working” series this week, Christina Shockley sits down to speak with Linda Jones, the Executive Director of the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council. Over the past decade, the wine industry in Michigan has grown ten to fifteen percent each year, with most of the wine being produced in the southwest and northwest regions of the Lower Peninsula.
With 14,600 acres of vineyards, Michigan ranks fourth amongst all states in grape production. Most of these grapes are used to make juices, but about 2,000 acres of vineyards are devoted solely to wine grape production, making Michigan the eighth largest producer of wine grapes. Ms. Jones says that when we talk about Michigan’s wine industry, we are really talking about the grape industry as well.
“They’re an integrated function. Many of the wineries in Michigan grow their own fruit. And our program is housed in the Michigan Department of Agriculture because wine is really an exemplary industry for value-added agriculture, meaning you take a crop that is grown here in Michigan and you add value to it on the farm property and attract customers to come and visit you, and that translates into a huge economic boom for that area when you can do that.”
In a state that has seen its industries and population decline in the past decade, Michigan’s wine industry has continued to grow steadily. Jones says this is because wine production incorporates two of Michigan’s strongest assets.
“It combines our second and third largest industries: agriculture and tourism. Michigan is a long-standing fruit-producing state, especially on the west side of the state, but increasingly throughout Michigan we are planting wine grapes with new varieties that are being developed.”
But Michigan isn’t just good at growing fruit because we’ve been doing it for centuries. The climate in Michigan is particularly well-suited for growing grapes, says Jones.
The vote, engineered by the opposition Liberal Party and backed by two other opposition parties, triggers an election expected in early May.
The move stemmed from a ruling on Monday that the minority government was in contempt of parliament.
But the Conservatives are thought likely to keep power in a May election.
With the House of Commons adjourned, Mr Harper on Saturday will ask Governor General David Johnston to dissolve parliament.
Following that, an election will be held after a minimum 36 days of campaigning. Canadian analysts expect it will be called for the first week in May.
Mr Harper's Conservative Party holds 145 seats in the dissolving parliament, shy of a majority of the 308 seats.
Recent polling suggests the Conservative Party holds a lead at the start of the campaign, with the Liberal Party in second, the New Democratic (NDP) Party third and the Bloc Quebecois, which campaigns only in Quebec, fourth.
The Conservative Party is likely to emerge from the May election in power, with some polls indicating it could even gain seats.
After the vote, Mr Harper said he suspected the forthcoming election, the country's fourth in seven years, would "disappoint" most Canadians.
Analysts say Canadian voters have shown little desire for an election, although Mr Harper's minority government had set a record for its tenure.
Canada is a historically important trading partner with Michigan.
According to the Government of Canada, about "237,100 jobs in the Great Lakes State depend on the Canada–Michigan trade relationship, which is valued at $43.3 billion."
Can a judge determine what happens when you flush your toilet? A case before the Supreme Court may decide that very question.From the AP:
The Michigan Supreme Court said Thursday it will decide if local governments can be ordered to install a sewer system when private septic systems fail and spoil a lake, a case that centers on Lake Huron and a five-mile stretch in the Thumb region.
State regulators want Worth Township to install a sewer system, but an appeals court last year said the township isn't responsible for the problems of private property owners.
Some septic systems are failing in an area between M-25 and Lake Huron in Sanilac County, 80 miles northeast of Detroit. Waste is being discharged into the lake and its tributaries, and the lots are too small to build new systems.
In a brief order, the Supreme Court narrowed the issue: Does state law allow regulators and the courts to demand that a township install a sewer system when a lake is contaminated?
Township attorney Michael Woodworth said he's not surprised that the justices agreed to take the state's appeal.
"The case is one of statewide significance," he said. "There have been (local governments) that did not challenge the authority of the Department of Environmental Quality. What surprised the DEQ in this case is the township stepped back and said, 'Wait a minute.'"
Worth Township seemed ready to build a new sewage system as recently as 2008, but the cost kept them from proceeding.
A package containing a bomb was held for three weeks at the McNamara Federal Building in downtown Detroit. From the Detroit News:
A security officer at the McNamara Federal Building stored a suspicious package that turned out to contain a bomb for three weeks before alerting authorities, said a spokesman for a union that represents guards at the site, who called the incident "a total embarrassment."
"He apparently set it aside," said David Wright, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 918, which represents the Federal Protective Service (FPS) employees, who guard the McNamara and other federal buildings around the country.
"It should have been left in place and he should have called in a canine detection unit to see if they could make a determination about it," he said Tuesday.
The package was eventually placed behind two dumpsters behind the McNamara Building on Michigan Avenue downtown around 10 a.m. Friday. The Detroit Police Department's bomb squad collected the device from there and moved it to Belle Isle, where it was detonated.
An FBI official said yesterday that the device had gone to FBI headquarters in Virginia for additional testing.
Will the real next Spartan hockey coach please stand up?
After conflicting reports, it seems as if the job may go to CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos. From WILX-TV:
Former Spartan Tom Anastos will be announced as the next Spartan hockey coach at a 4 p.m. press conference at Munn Ice Arena. Anastos played for Ron Mason at Michigan State from 1981-85 scoring 60 goals and 143 points in his 4-year career.
Over the last 13 years he has served as the commissioner of the CCHA. He currently serves as the president of the Hockey Commissioner's Association. They created College Hockey Inc. which is responsible for growing the sport of college hockey.
Anastos was the head coach at the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1987-1990. He was then as assistant to Mason at Michigan State from 1990-1992. The 46-year old will be just the 6th coach in Michigan State history.
Anastos emerged from a field of approximately twenty candidates, including Danton Cole, a former Waverly High School hockey star, who many believed was set to replace for MSU's hockey coach Rick Comley.
Comley guided the Spartans to a national championship in 2007, and is the fourth all-time winningest coach.
Students of Western Michigan University are reacting to the donation of $100 million dollars to Western Michigan University for their medical school. MLive reports:
A few hours after the announcement of a $100 million cash gift to jump-start Western Michigan University’s medical school, the event was replayed on a video kiosk inside the Bernhard Center and caught the attention of several students.
Last Friday, Jalen Rose defended some of the comments that he made in the documentary "The Fab Five." Rose claims that Duke did not and would not recruit players like him, and also addresses his use of the term "Uncle Tom," which Rose used in the documentary and which has been a source of ongoing controversy.
Here is Rose, talking about the things he said in the documentary:
"As a seventeen-year old recruit, that's exactly how I felt."
Rick Wilson, the project manager for Heritage Sustainable Energy, is our guest this week as our “What’s Working” series continues. Based in Traverse City, Heritage Sustainable Energy is a wind power company that has been managing the installation of wind turbines in both the Lower and Upper Peninsulas of Michigan. Heritage is in the process of installing and expanding wind farms in the state, and is already producing roughly 40 megawatts of power.
Michigan residents can once again buy flavored malt beverages like Four Loko. The caffeine infused alcoholic drink was banned by many states and by the Food and Drug Administration last year. Caffeine can make it difficult for consumers to realize just how much alcohol they’ve consumed.
President Obama today gave an ultimatum to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi that he must immediately implement a ceasefire in all parts of Libya and allow international humanitarian assistance or risk military action against his regime.
A judge has temporarily blocked Wisconsin's controversial new law affecting collective bargaining rights in the state. Here the update from the New York Times:
A judge issued a temporary restraining order on Friday that prevents Wisconsin’s new law cutting collective bargaining rights for public workers from taking effect, at least for now.
The decision, issued by Judge Maryann Sumi of the Dane County Circuit Court, temporarily bars Wisconsin’s secretary of state from publishing the controversial law, one of the procedural requirements for it to come into effect in the state.
Publication had been expected late next week, but Judge Sumi’s ruling delays that until at least March 29, when she plans to hold a full hearing on a lawsuit that questions the validity of the collective bargaining law based on the speedy manner in which it was carried out earlier this month.
An appeal is possible even before then.
Opponents of the measure said they hoped the decision was but the first of many that would ultimately undo legislation that has split the state and drawn tens of thousands of demonstrators to the state capital over a matter of many weeks.
Supporters of the measure, however, said the judge’s decision was merely a blip, certain to be overturned as various legal efforts make their way fully through the court system.
Wisconsin's Governor Scott Walker has said that the law will shield taxpayers and improve Wisconsin's business climate.
In most medical schools, students recite the Hippocratic Oath together to mark the start of their professional careers. The soon-to-be physicians swear to uphold the ethical standards of the medical profession and promise to stand for their patients without compromise.
Though the oath has been rewritten over the centuries, the essence of it has remained the same: "In each house I go, I go only for the good of my patients."
But the principles of the oath, says Dr. Gregg Bloche, are under an "unprecedented threat." In The Hippocratic Myth, Bloche details how doctors are under constant pressure to compromise or ration their care in order to please lawmakers, lawyers and insurance companies.
UPDATE: A growing number of angry labor-movement supporters are showing up at the state Capitol to protest Republican proposals to tax pensions and limit union control. A drum circle played on the Capitol lawn, surrounded by thousands of protesters with signs, a 15-foot inflated eagle, and flapping American and U-A-W flags.
There were big, hulking men in hardhats, businesspeople in suits, and young parents pushing strollers.
More protests are planned to take place at the state Capitol tomorrow. From the Daily Tribune:
Opponents of the proposed tax on pensions plan to rally at the state Capitol from 9 a.m to 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 15, with speakers between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
"We don't think it's fair the governor increases tax on seniors and the poor while giving breaks to business and cutting services," said Mark Horbeck, of AARP Michigan, a sponsor of the rally. "Seniors and the working poor are going to be asked to pay more taxes. What do they get in return? Less services and a business tax cut."
Other groups expected to attend include the Michigan League for Human Services and the state employee retirement association, as well as lawmakers from both parties, said Horbeck, though he declined to name the lawmakers.
AARP is one of the sponsors of the rally, but the rally was really the brainchild of Mary Lee Woodward of Oxford, a General Motors retiree who launched a Facebook page to protest the proposed tax.
She says she launched the Facebook page as soon as the governor made his budget proposal to the Legislature last month. Other efforts include passing out fliers of the upcoming rally.
Taxing her pension, Woodward says, could force her to choose between her home and her car.
State Sen. John Pappageorge R-Troy, sits on both the Senate Finance Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee, which will deal with both Snyder's tax proposals and spending plans.
He says it's too early to tell whether taxing pensions is an idea that will eventually pass the Legislature.
"There's not sufficient support yet because we haven't had a chance to dig into it yet and see if we like it as is or if we can improve on it," Pappageorge said. "The point is it's just a little too early. You can't just look at pensions, you have to look at the whole picture and see if we're doing this as fairly as possible."
A spokesperson from the Governor’s office responded via email with the following:
"The proposed budget and tax plan is based on fairness and preserving core safety net services – while improving and strengthening our economy so ALL can prosper and benefit."
A handful of people gathered in Ann Arbor on Monday to speak against Governor Snyder’s proposed budget for an event organized by Progress Michigan, a progressive organization. The speakers included union representatives, city officials, and individuals.
Lois Richardson is Mayor Pro-Tem of Ypsilanti and voiced criticism of the budget. She says cuts to revenue sharing and historic tax credits will devastate Ypsilanti and other cities. Richardson says the changes will affect everyone in the state of Michigan, not just those who relied directly on the funding.
Brit Satchwell is the President of the Ann Arbor teacher’s union. He says students will feel the cuts the most:
“I’m a sixth grade math teacher and I’m here to tell you, the kids don’t get a makeover year. You don’t get to do sixth grade again because the adults messed it up.”
Satchwell also said school districts like Ann Arbor have already been cutting their budgets for the past few years.
This was one of several events held across the state in preparation for a protest scheduled for Wednesday at the Capitol.
This Monday, Morning Edition Host Christina Shockley sits down with Mary King as part of our year-long “What’s Working” series. King is the community coordinator in Washtenaw County for the Michigan Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative (MPRI). The MPRI aims to increase public safety and reduce crime and recidivism by providing supportive services to citizens recently released from prison. The services provided include assistance with locating housing, employment, substance abuse treatment, transportation, and mental health treatment.
In addition to helping released felons get back on their feet in their communities, Ms. King says the MPRI can produce financial savings for the state by reducing the number of prisons in Michigan. While there are many factors that contribute to fluctuations in the prison population, King says recently there has been a substantial decline in the recidivism rate in Michigan, thanks in part to the MPRI.
“What we do know is that returns to prison for people who have been released – which used to be about one for every two people that were released from prison were back within two years – that number has gone down to one in three.”
Before the MPRI came about, King says different agencies worked in local communities throughout the state to connect returning citizens with services they needed. Unfortunately, these localized efforts often lacked both communication with one another and an understanding of what services were most effective to reduce recidivism, says King.
Officials at Eastern Michigan University are investigating two former student employees who allegedly stole personal information when they worked for the University. At least 45 EMU students could now be vulnerable to identity theft.
Walter Kraft is EMU’s Vice President of Communications and said the university discovered the breach during another investigation. He says the university is working with federal authorities to investigate the breach:
"We’re obviously pursuing it aggressively. Our department of public safety has notified federal authorities that are joining us in the investigation."
Students whose information was compromised have been contacted. EMU officials have not said if the stolen information was used.
Though the investigation is ongoing, Kraft encourages those with questions to visit the University's website for more information.
As protests continue in Madison over a controversial bill removing collecting bargaining rights from some public unions, attention is drifting to Michigan.
Governor Snyder has responded to reports and protests by saying that he does not want to follow Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's example, reiterating in an interview with WXYZ that he is eager to solve problems--including the specifics on $180 million dollars worth of concessions from state employees--through the collective bargaining process, and that he "was hired to solve Michigan's issues."
But whether Governor Snyder wants attention from national media or not, it is happening, including a ten-minute report on last night's Rachel Maddow Show.
But what does the law actually say? What is an Emergency Financial Manager? How are they appointed?
And if the title wasn't a clue, the explanation is a little long.
From the FAQ:
What triggers the Act?
Among the conditions specified in the Act are the failure by a unit of local government to pay creditors, the failure to make timely pension contributions, and payless paydays. In addition, certain officials, or residents, of a unit of local government may request a preliminary review under the Act, as may either the State Senate or House of Representatives.
What happens when the Act is triggered?
The State Treasurer conducts a preliminary review of the financial condition of the unit of local government. Once that review is concluded, the State Treasurer reports the result to the Governor. If a serious financial problem is found to exist in the unit of local government, the Governor then appoints a financial review team to conduct a more detailed review of the financial condition of the unit of local government.
What is the purpose of a Financial Review Team?
...[A] Financial Review Team...conduct[s] a more detailed review of the financial condition of the unit of local government. A Financial Review Team generally has 60 days (generally 30 days in the case of school districts) to complete its work and file its report. A Financial Review Team report must reach one of the following three conclusions:
-- A serious financial problem does not exist in the unit of local government, or
-- A serious financial problem exists in the unit of local government, but a Consent Agreement containing a plan to resolve the problem has been adopted, or
-- A local government financial emergency exists because no satisfactory plan exists to resolve the serious financial problem.
If the third conclusion is reached, or if a unit of local government signs, but subsequently violates a Consent Agreement, then a financial emergency is determined to exist in the unit of local government and an Emergency Financial Manager is appointed.
Who appoints Emergency Financial Managers?
For units of local government other than school districts, Emergency Financial Managers are appointed by, and serve at the pleasure of, the Local Emergency Financial Assistance Loan Board, which consists of the State Treasurer, the Director of the Department of Management and Budget, and the Director of the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth. Emergency Financial Managers for school districts are appointed by the Governor, subject to the advice and consent of the State Senate
New Powers for EMFs
But a bill passed by the Michigan Senate this week expands the Emergency Financial Managers' powers to include ending union-approved contracts. Holland radio station WHTC reports:
After days of debate and protests, the State Senate passes a bill to give more power to emergency financial managers appointed to cities or school districts. The 26-to-12 vote, which followed party lines, will allow emergency managers to cancel workers union contracts.
Democrats have said passing the bill would undermine collective bargaining in the affected communities or schools, while Republicans contend the legislation would help target municipalities or districts before their financial problems reach critical levels.
Six localities or school districts are currently affected by the law. From the Chicago Tribune:
The current state law related to emergency financial managers is affecting about a half-dozen local communities and schools at this time. Only Pontiac, Benton Harbor, Ecorse and the Detroit Public Schools have state-appointed emergency financial managers in place.
The bill has passed the House and the Senate and is on its way back to the House, where approval is required for some minor changes.