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Michigan banned a designer drug known as “bath salts” last August.

But the highly addictive substance has returned, with slight chemical modifications, to skirt the law.

The crystalline powder is classified in the same category as amphetamines and methamphetamine.

In other words, it’s not for the bathtub.

Although Michigan lawmakers outlawed bath salts, it’s back – and it’s valuable.

user "Dmitri" Beljan / Flickr

Some Republicans in the Michigan House want to give workers in union shops the option not to pay union dues. Unions in the state say that’s something that they’d “take to the streets” to fight. 

But not all union members agree.

Terry Bowman works at a Ford plant in Ypsilanti. He’s a member of the United Auto Workers.

He calls himself a 'union conservative.'

user bettyx1138 / Flickr

The Michigan House of Representatives is expected to bring HB 4936 to the floor for a vote soon.

That legislation would significantly change Michigan’s auto no-fault Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage.

Here is a quick overview of what we have now, the proposed changes, and the potential consequences of those changes.

1. What we have now

There’s some confusion about changing no-fault. It’s not the “no-fault” part that would change. It’s the Personal Injury Protection portion of auto insurance that would change.

Photozou

Next year is an election year. That means lots of campaign literature in the mail, lots of ads on the television,   and, maybe worst of all, robo-calls. Those are the recorded calls that automatically dial your phone…usually right at dinner time. There are a lot of them now, but there could be a lot more in the future.

Even one of the guys who makes robo-calls happen knows most people don’t really like them.

“Everybody hates them. I think that they’re universally hated.”

Last month, more than 11,000 families were kicked off Michigan’s Family Independence Program, a cash assistance welfare program.

Lester Graham with Michigan Watch is working with the online magazine Bridge in a year-long collaboration, following families who’ve lost the state assistance. 

The legislature has been blamed for the loss of benefits to those 11,000 families, but its vote to restrict families to 48 months of benefits in a lifetime only immediately affected about 100 families.

It was an administrative decision by the Department of Human Services which resulted in kicking all those other families off of cash assistance. 

The new law allows no more than 48 months of benefits in a lifetime and it started counting months in 2007.  On its own, the agency, started counting months in 1996 and decided anyone who’d received help for more than 60 months since then would be cut off. 

That’s how those 11,000 families suddenly lost cash assistance.

Fire destroys 8 Detroit buses

Dec 7, 2011

A fire at a Detroit bus facility destroyed eight newer buses Wednesday morning.

The fire was more bad news for a city that’s been struggling with a fleet of broken buses. Many passengers have complained about hours-long waits at bus stops.

Steve Serkaian  is the city’s communications director.

He says the fire started under a bus in a storage bay.

Serkaian denies reports that the facility’s sprinkler system didn’t work.

Michigan legislators are considering changing insurance benefits for people badly injured in auto accidents.  The sponsors of the legislation say it will lower the price of auto insurance.  Some analysts say it will mean people who are severely hurt won’t get the care they need and argue in the end won’t save much money at all.

user H.L.I.T. / Flickr

Michigan legislators are looking at changing the state’s mandatory auto no-fault insurance.  But some of the legislators say the information they need from insurance companies to make an informed decision has not been available to them.  Regulators say legislators and the public wouldn’t be able to understand the information even if it were made available.

How the media portrays class

Nov 23, 2011

From the Bradys to the Cosbys, most of us can probably name several television families... some middle class, some working class and some decidedly upper class. But, how do media portrayals of these families affect our ideas about class... and ourselves? We asked Susan Douglas, author and professor of Communication Studies at the University of Michigan, just that question.

Debtors pay... or stay in jail

Nov 22, 2011

Debtor's Prison

When you step into a Michigan courtroom, crime is supposed to be crime, regardless of social class. But whether you go home or go to jail  sometimes depends on whether you have money.

Let’s say you’re one of the many thousands of people in Michigan who’s unemployed. Or, you’re working in a job that doesn’t cover your bills. Like your rent or mortgage. Or, like child support.

And if you don’t have the money to pay those bills,  you might end up in court. Selesa Likine did. Her husband divorced her. He got custody of the kids.  She lost her home. Likine, who had worked as a realtor, was ordered to pay $1,100 a month in child support. She couldn’t pay it  and the court was not allowed to hear why. So she spent 43 days in the Oakland County Jail.

“The jury in the case never heard that during the period when she wasn’t paying the child support, she was institutionalized with schizo-affective disorder, was declared totally disabled by the Social Security Administration, lost her realtors’ license, was unable to work, and was subsisting on disability income,” says David Moran, co-director of the Michigan Innocence Clinic.

Moran took over Likine’s Case. In October, Moran and the American Civil Liberties Union asked the Michigan Supreme Court for a new trial. They say what happened to Likine is no different than a debtor’s prison – sort of like Dickensian days, when poor people who owed money were thrown into jail.

Likine, who’s in her 40s, lives with her mother now. She takes medicine for her mental illness and says she's stable. But she’s not optimistic about her future. She doesn’t think anyone will want to hire her because she’s a felon.

Class and the courts

Nov 21, 2011

There, perhaps, is no moment in life when the difference in class is more apparent than when you are accused of a crime.  The wealthy hire the best lawyer they can.  If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided.  But, the kind of attorney you get in Michigan all depends on where you live.

Michigan Radio's Michigan Watch is working with the online magazine Bridge on a new project.

We'd like to hear from people who will be affected by the change to Michigan's cash assistance program, and learning more about these stories.

Are you, or do you know somebody, losing benefits because of the new four-year lifetime limit?

Rebecca Williams/Michigan Radio

A little more than 50 years ago, Delores Leonard and her husband moved into their red brick ranch in Detroit.

“I selected it because the sun comes up over there in the morning and I was thinking about my flowers.”

They’ve raised their two kids here and now they have four grandchildren and five great-grandkids and they all live nearby.

But she says on any given day... she doesn’t know what she’ll smell when she steps outside.

“Sometimes it’s a kerosene odor. Sometimes it’s a horrible stench, like at a slaughterhouse. Sometimes, you’re out in public and people will say, ‘where do you live?’ And they’ll say,’ oh yes, I know that area, that stench, I don’t see how those people live there.’”

“There” is zip code 48217. It’s a corner of Southwest Detroit packed with heavy industry.

There’s the state’s only oil refinery, owned by Marathon Petroleum. The salt mine. The city’s wastewater treatment plant. DTE’s coal-burning power plant. Severstal Steel. And many more.

Delores Leonard grew up just a few streets over, in River Rouge. She remembers asking her dad why people were covering their cars with tarps.

“And he said it was because of the fallout, the pollution. Well, if they’re covering their cars so the paint pigmentation won’t peel, then what happens to the person who lives and who’s breathing all this stuff?”

Like Delores Leonard, a lot of people have lived here their whole lives.

getdarwin / Flickr

The issue of class has been in the news a lot lately. From the “Occupy Wall Street Movement,” which has snowballed across the country, to accusations of “class warfare” in Washington, D.C.. We’ve also heard recent reports that show the nation’s middle class is shrinking while the top earners’ salaries have skyrocketed.

Today, Michigan Radio begins a new series The Culture of Class. Over the next week and a half, we'll explore the idea of “social class” and how it impacts our lives. But, first, we had to ask: What is class? How do you define it? We put those questions to demographer Kurt Metzger, who runs Data Driven Detroit.

Inform our coverage: What does class mean to you?

Class segregation

Nov 14, 2011
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ is not just a matter of bank accounts. More and more it determines where you live. 

We’ve all heard about racial segregation. Whites live one place. Blacks live in another. There are all kinds of ethnic neighborhoods. But in the last 40 years, racial-ethnic segregation has moderated somewhat--although it is still high. But socioeconomic segregation, segregation by class, is on the rise.

user H.L.I.T. / Flickr

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.

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