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Tomorrow (TUES.) the Michigan legislature holds the first hearings on bills that would change the state’s no-fault auto insurance.  Legislators say auto insurance is too high and they want to allow people to buy less coverage. 

Right now, people who buy car insurance in Michigan also have to purchase something called Personal Injury Protection.  But, Representative Pete Lund says drivers who don't want the coverage should by law be able to pay for something less.

“I think it’s good to give people the options in life.”

ICE sweep nets 58 arrests in Michigan

Sep 28, 2011
nancybechtol / Morguefile

More than 2,900 convicted criminals in the U.S. illegally were arrested in a week-long sweep.

All of the men arrested in Michigan were  from countries including Mexico, Iraq, Serbia, Poland and India.

Khaalid Walls is with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcemen, known as “ICE.”

He says the seven-day operation was the largest of its kind and had help from state and local law enforcement.

Car rear ended another car in Ann Arbor.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

While doing some research for a story, I went back over some data issued by the Michigan State Police Criminal Justice Information last May. 

It might not be surprising that the number of traffic crashes is lowest during years of a down economy.  After all, there’s less commercial traffic and there are fewer people driving to work because so many are unemployed. 

The Michigan legislature and the governor are working to make Michigan a more business-friendly state by changing the tax structure.  But, while businesses are benefiting from already passed tax reductions --and anticipate more--  the change is costing communities. 

I went to one city to see how it was handling those changes.

When I visited, it was a beautiful day in downtown Monroe.  The city is situated on the River Raisin in the southeast corner of the state, right on Lake Erie.  It’s just 19 miles north of Toledo, Ohio.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Michigan lawmakers are considering eliminating the Personal Property Tax.  That’s a tax businesses pay on equipment.  The money goes directly to local units of government.  Businesses say it’s a complicated tax that punishes them for investing in equipment.  Cities, townships, counties and schools say if the tax is eliminated, that revenue has to be replaced. 

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

For most Michigan kids, today is the first day back to school.  And many are taking backpacks full of school supplies. They are not required to take school supplies. By state law the public schools are to supply everything students need for class. 

When you add it all up, the new school clothes, gym shoes, and all those binders, crayons, paper, pens and pencils, back-to-school shopping is big business.

“It’s really become probably the second biggest shopping period of the year, right behind Christmas.”

That’s Tom Scott with Michigan Retailers Association. One national estimate puts back-to-school shopping at about 16 percent of retail business in a year. It’s difficult to separate just how much of that is actual school supplies and not clothes or computers. 

The school districts always put out a long list of things kids might need for school and parents start hunting.

Robbie Howell / Flickr

The Michigan legislature is considering bills to end the state’s mandatory no-fault auto insurance.  Its supporters say it will give consumers more choices and help reduce cost of auto insurance.  Opponents say it’s a misguided effort that will have very little effect on insurance rates and could mean people who suffer injuries won’t get the help they need to fully recover. 

Kristin Howard was driving, taking an interstate to work on a summer day in 2006 when her life was changed forever.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Part 3 of 3 part series -

Salmon fishing has meant a lot of tourism dollars for cities along the coasts.  But, changes in Lake Huron have caused a collapse of salmon.  But, what if other Great Lakes lose their salmon?

Fishing for salmon on some parts of Lake Huron is still a big deal.

INTERNET AUDIO ADVERTISEMENT

“This July for the first annual Mackinaw City Salmon Festival..."

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Part 2 of a 3 part series -

Fishing in the Great Lakes would not be what it is today without stocking Pacific salmon in the lakes.  But it costs a lot of money.  Michigan fisheries managers say it’s worth every dime.  In the second report of the series 'The Collapse of the Salmon Economy," we look at the economic benefits of subsidizing salmon fishing in the Great Lakes.

In the 1960s, the state of Michigan first put salmon into the Great Lakes.  It was a gamble to create world-class recreational fishing. 

Michigan spends about $8-million a year stocking salmon and other types of fish.  But the Department of Natural Resources doesn’t really know how many fish we’re catching for those millions of dollars.

Gary Whelan is in charge of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources fish hatcheries. 

“I wouldn’t say we have no idea.  I think we have a ballpark.  We don’t have a great estimate.  We would like to have a lot better estimates than we have now.  I would absolutely agree with that.”

A Michigan Watch analysis found the cost for each fish caught in Michigan waters ranges from a couple of dollars to $150 per fish caught, depending on species and depending on year.  We use catch estimates used by some other Great Lakes states.

The Michigan DNR’s Gary Whelan questions those estimates and our calculations.

And… he says besides, we’re looking at it all wrong.  It’s not about the cost per hatchery-raised fish caught; it’s about what those salmon mean to Michigan’s economy. 

“You have lots of people, for example, who are catch-and-release fishermen who will never take fish home.  But, they’re spending a lot of money to go fishing for this fish or the opportunity to fish for them.”

And stocking Pacific salmon does attract anglers from all over.

Headed out to go salmon fishing on Lake Michigan near Grand Haven.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

To understand why salmon are so important to the Great Lakes and the Michigan economy, you first have to understand some history.

It used to be the lake trout was the fish to catch.  It was big.  It was tasty.  But, by the late 1950s, that fish and others had been severely over-fished.  And, an eel-like, blood-sucking parasite called the sea lamprey further reduced lake trout numbers.

Those weren’t even the worst problems for lake trout.  A fish called the alewife invaded the Great Lakes through manmade canals.  Lake trout starting feeding on alewives.  But  alewives caused a thiamine deficiency in lake trout.  A lack of vitamin B-1.

Mark Gaden is with the Great Lakes Fishery Commission

“The thiamine deficiency that the alewives cause is one of the top reasons why natural reproduction has been very slow to occur over the decades in the Great Lakes of these species.”

Catching a lake trout became rare.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Mail policies at several county jails across the state are becoming more restrictive, mainly to save money. It’s causing an outcry from inmates’ family and friends, and people who advocate for prisoners’ rights.

Jurveston / Flickr

You’ve probably seen news outlets asking for your opinion, or asking you to share your story with them. More and more, media outlets are asking YOU for your personal stories to help them tell the news. Michigan Radio’s Changing Gears project has recently started trying it out with the Public Insight Network. It’s all about using social media to reach out to you. The goal is to tell a more compelling news story because it includes examples and real-life experiences.

To find out more about this trend in information-gathering and whether or not it's a good thing for a news-consumer, we caught up with Cliff Lampe, an assistant professor at the School of Information at the University of Michigan.

Death penalty overturned in 1997 murder case

Aug 3, 2011
ccadp.org

A federal appeals court has overturned a death sentence for a Michigan man  convicted of drowning a young woman. He killed her to prevent her from pursuing a rape case against him.

Marvin Gabrion was convicted in 2002 of killing 19-year-old Rachel Timmerman.

Her body was found in a lake in Manistee National Forest in 1997.

Gabrion was sentenced to death because the body was found on federal property. Michigan does not have a death penalty.

David Moran is clinical professor of law at the University of Michigan.

Rick Snyder said the Michigan Business Tax was bad for business. 

 “I propose replacing it with a flat six-percent corporate income tax.  Let’s take a job-killer environment; let’s start creating jobs.”

He said it on the campaign trail.  He made the point to business leaders.

User: sarrazak6881 / Flickr

Flint officials have offered seven nonviolent criminal suspects the chance to enter a program that could change their lives for the better. Five suspects accepted the offer to join CeaseFire, an initiative to end violence in U.S. cities. One of the suspects is already seeking help in another program.

Jackie Poplar is president of the Flint City Council.  She says the suspects will be working with prosecutors and social workers.

The sponsor of a boat race from Chicago to Mackinac Island says it will investigate the capsizing of a sailing vessel that caused the deaths of two crew members during a storm in northern Lake Michigan.

Race chairman Greg Freeman said Tuesday that the Chicago Yacht Club commodore will establish a review board. Speaking online with reporters, he said the club wants to understand what happened and look for ways to improve safety guidelines.

The 35-foot boat WingNuts from Saginaw overturned during fierce gusts around midnight Sunday about 13 miles off Charlevoix.

Fifty-one-year-old skipper Mark Morley and 40-year-old crew member Suzanne Bickel died. A rival boat rescued the other six crew members.

Freeman says the storm arose after the race was well under way, so postponing it wasn't an option.

User:benwatts / Flickr

Police in Flint have arrested five people for a string of arsons that has plagued the city. Flint residents and law enforcement have been working together to catch them.  David Leyton is the Genesee County Prosecutor who charged the five offenders.       

"The people are fed up, the people don’t want to live in fear, they don’t want their homes burnt down, they don’t want to have a problem where they live, and so they’re stepping up now and that’s going to make all the difference in the world."

I can only imagine, thinking you might have been exposed to HIV might be one of the scariest things of a person’s life.  Am I infected?  Will I get AIDS? 

Even more traumatic, is contracting it because you were sexually assaulted.

David—not his real name— says he was at a bar one night late in 2009.  He was hoping for a ride home.  He ended up at another man’s house and they had sex.  David says it was unwanted, that it was sexual assault.

“He doesn’t think he assaulted me.  So, uhm.  But, he was going to against my will.”

Flint civil rights activist Robinson fatally shot

Jun 18, 2011

Police say longtime Flint civil rights activist and attorney C. Frederick Robinson has been fatally shot. The Flint Journal reports Robinson was killed late last night in Flint at his home. There are no suspects in the case.

Robinson was dedicated to equal rights. In addition to organizing rallies and generating support for the civil rights movement, Robinson was instrumental in the 1968 passage of the fair housing ordinance. Its approval made Flint among the first cities to pass an open-housing referendum by popular vote.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Everybody’s got a theory why gasoline prices shot up.

“I think gas prices are up because we’re getting our gas from the wrong place.  We need to get gas from Alaska.”

“I think gas prices are up because it’s summertime and everybody wants to travel and it’s a conspiracy.”

 “Government regulators are not willing to rein in Wall Street.  If you can speculate on a commodity and you have a hedge fund that’s big enough, you can affect prices and earn profits.”

Saving Animals

Jun 13, 2011

There’s been a big controversy lately involving the Michigan Humane Society -- and by extension, every animal shelter in the state. It has to do with how many animals they have to kill.

This started a week ago, when two members of the society’s board of directors resigned because they thought the non-profit agency was euthanizing far too many animals.

“Our donors are giving us money to save lives,” one of them said, adding that she thought what was happening was an outrage.

Evidence abandoned in closed Detroit crime lab

May 27, 2011
dreamstime.com

A Detroit newspaper says a Detroit police lab closed two years ago was left unsecured,with evidence and live ammunition still inside.

The Detroit Free Press reports the lab recently had been left open for at least a week.

The report says evidence kits, personal information of rape and assault victims and live ammunition were scattered around.

The newspaper reported that the lab, housed in a former elementary school, also contained bulletproof vests, gunpowder and bottles of toxic chemicals.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

UPDATE 11:13 a.m.:

At the request of Michigan Watch, the Michigan Department of Human Services retrieved data regarding the number of unclaimed bodies during the calendar year 2010.  The DHS reports State Emergency Relief (SER) payments were made to help 7,099 indigent burials.  Of that number, 125 were unclaimed bodies.    Since the new budget will limit (SER) funds to unclaimed bodies only, this will mean the amount of funds used for indigent burials will drop from about $4-million to an estimated $4-thousand.

May 23, 2011, 9:33 a.m.:

Governor Rick Snyder says he wants to create a more focused approach to getting young children ready for school.  The Governor says Michigan’s publicly and privately funded early childhood programs are fragmented, segmented; there’s not a coherent effort. 

Michigan Geographic Framework

States must redraw congressional and legislative maps to adjust for the shifts in population when the census numbers are released every ten years.  This time Michigan lost population while other states gained.  That means Michigan will lose a representative in Congress.  But there were also shifts of population within the state which means the state house and senate districts will have to be redrawn.

michigan.gov

More than three thousand people are listed as missing in Michigan. They’ll be honored Saturday in Detroit at an event that’s also designed to help find them. 

Michigan’s Missing Person’s Day at Ford Field is a day for families who’ve lost a loved one.

They’re asked to bring photographs and dental records of the missing person. Technicians will  collect DNA samples.

All the information will be scanned into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) database that the public can also access.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Michigan legislature and Governor Rick Snyder are considering a new tax structure for the state.  It would cut the state budget and shift some of the tax burden from businesses to individuals.  The Governor has said up to two-thirds of Michigan’s businesses might not have to file a state tax return at all.  Reporters Lester Graham and Bridget Bodnar with Michigan Watch learned that means some legislators who own businesses could be voting to cut their own taxes.

Rep. Lee Chatfield said the FOIA expansion legislation won't be perfect and he doesn't want "perfect to get in the way of good policy."
Vincent Duffy / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Freedom of Information Act is 34-years-old this month.  According to a ranking by the Better Government Association, it’s one of the stronger Freedom of Information laws in the United States. 

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder’s budget proposal would change how we fund public schools. That change would start with a cut to schools at a time when the School Aid Fund is growing.

The School Aid Fund is one of the main sources of money for K-12 public schools. Since it was established by the 1908 Michigan Constitution and even though in the 1963 Constitution “higher education” was added, the money in the School Aid Fund only has been used to pay for educating public school children. That is, until this year. 

The last legislature ‘borrowed’ a couple of hundred-million dollars from the School Aid Fund to give to community colleges. I say ‘borrowed,’ but there’s no indication that it’s going to be paid back.

Federal stimulus money helped make up the difference. But for this coming fiscal year, there is no more federal stimulus money.

Bill Rice / Flickr

It was only a few months ago that Republican Rick Snyder and the majority Republican legislature were voted into office. Snyder said on the campaign trail that he wanted to change the way state government works.

He promised to “re-invent” Michigan.  People liked the sound of that.

As he’s revealed the path to his vision of Michigan, not everyone is pleased. 

(sound of protestors in capitol)

Union members, Democrats, public employees, retirees and the poor have been holding rallies at the capitol about as often as the legislature meets in Lansing.

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