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It's been less than a week since voters in three very different Michigan cities all approved ballot initiatives allowing small amounts of marijuana for personal use on private property.

And that has pro-marijuana advocates hoping those votes will boost pressure on state lawmakers to legalize or decriminalize pot.

Michigan Public Radio Network's Lansing correspondent Jake Neher joined us today to give an overview of what efforts are underway.

Listen to the full interview above.

Marijuana plant.
USFWS

Marijuana was on the ballot on Lansing, Jackson and Ferndale, and voters in all three cities said "yes" to decriminalizing pot.

Michigan Radio’s Steve Carmody joined us today to talk about the impact of this vote.

Listen to the full interview above.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Lansing mayor Virg Bernero says he hopes Tuesday’s election results will put an end to “sniping” in city politics.

Bernero easily won his third term as the capitol city’s mayor.  His slate of city council candidates also won. 

Bernero says the results show voters want to end the gridlock on the Lansing city council.

“This is realignment.  This is the voters saying to the council ‘Get with the program’.”]

Bernero believes it’s his ‘program’ the voters want.

Marijuana plant.
USFWS

Voters in three more Michigan cities approved ballot questions today decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana.

Ballot proposals in Lansing, Jackson and Ferndale each passed with more than 60% of the vote.

“This is an historic night ... a landslide by all considerations,” says Jeff Hank, who headed Lansing’s pro-marijuana campaign. “It sends a message not only to our local politicians, but politicians at the state level that it’s time to do something.”

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

On Tuesday, voters in Jackson, Ferndale and Lansing will decide if they want their police departments to focus less on busting people for small amounts of marijuana.

The results should tell us something about whether Michigan is getting more comfortable with pot.  

In Jackson, Steve Sharpe says volunteers have been handing out fliers and signs, talking with prospective voters and encouraging supporters to get out and vote.   

He admits he’s been waiting for opposition that so far hasn’t appeared.

“No one’s come to me and complained about this,” says Sharpe, who adds when he’s asked if he’s surprised by the lack of a sizable opposition, “I am totally surprised.”

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The Michigan Secretary of State’s office is investigating allegations that Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero’s re-election campaign may have violated state election law by funneling money to a city council candidate.

State law (Section 44 of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act) forbids paying individuals money with the understanding that the money will be donated to a political campaign.   That’s what a complaint filed with the state claims the Bernero re-election campaign did back in June.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Some Lansing city workers have a new three year contract.

The Lansing city council gave the final OK to the contract with the city’s UAW employees last night.  

Under the contract, the city’s UAW employees will pay more toward their retirement benefits.   Also, the families of new city employees will not be eligible for health benefits after the employee retires.   The contract also includes a slight pay increase.   

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Earlier this summer, the state’s House and Senate chambers got facelift. The $370,000 renovations included replacing the chamber’s carpet, which was held together by duct tape in several spots.

Now that carpet is being cut up, and put on the market for anyone who wants a piece of legislative tapestry — er, history.

As the Detroit Free Press’s Kathleen Gray reported, at least 170 people have requested swatches of the Senate’s old carpeting, which are “being sold for $25 for an 8-by-14-inch swatch and $50 for a 27-by-27-inch square.”

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They call themselves "Gifts or Creatures."

That's Brandon and Bethany Foote with the song "Relicts and Ghosts" off of their new album "Yesteryear Western Darkness," their second album out from Earthwork Music.

The Lansing-based couple joined us today in the studio.

To find out more, visit http://www.giftsorcreatures.com/.

Listen to the full interview above.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Lansing cyclists may soon have a new trail to ride their bikes.

The city council recently approved using money from a federal grant to pay for construction of a five mile long bike trail on the city’s south side.

The trail would connect with a more extensive network of trails on Lansing's east side.

Julie Powers is the executive director of the Mid-Michigan Environmental Action Council.

She says expanding Lansing's bike trails is a great idea.

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In Lansing this week, a group hopes to lay the course for developing Michigan's railroads.

There is a growing demand for passenger and freight rail transportation. But the question is how to increase capacity on the rail lines that crisscross Michigan.

Tuesday’s conference at Lansing Community College will try to answer that capacity question.

Pasi Lautala is an engineering professor at Michigan Technological University and the director of the MTU Rail Transportation Program.   He’s also one of the co-chairs of the conference.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Lansing’s historic Old Town district is getting another boost.

The shopping and dining district is just north of Lansing’s downtown.

Mayor Virg Bernero says a developer plans to spend three million dollars rehabbing and expanding an old building into new retail and residential space.

“Vibrant, thriving cities have great buildings… great places for people to live and work,” says Bernero, “and Old Town increasingly, more and more, is becoming that place.”

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow is hopeful getting a deal on a new Farm Bill won't be derailed by a looming deadline to avoid a federal government shutdown.

The current Farm Bill’s mix of farm subsidies and low-income food programs expires at the end of September. The next day, unless a budget deal can be reached, the federal government may have to shut down.

Senator Stabenow hopes the focus on the shutdown will not delay passage of the Farm Bill.

“Regardless of the broader discussion going on on the budget, we can get this done,” says Stabenow.   

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Schuette will challenge re-sentencing for juvenile lifers

A federal judge says the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down automatic life sentences without parole applies to 363 inmates in Michigan. The judge says the ruling applies to every inmate sentenced as a child and entitles them to re-sentencing hearings. Attorney General Bill Schuette wants the ruling applied to only five Michigan inmates who challenged their cases in federal court, and to future cases. The American Civil Liberties Union disagrees and says the ruling applies to everyone affected. Rick Pluta has more.

U of M research shows association between autism and induced labor

“New University of Michigan research has found an association between autism and inducing or augmenting labor during childbirth. Researchers looked at the birth records of more than 600 thousand children and compared them to the children’s school records. They found a 35 percent increased chance of autism in boys whose mothers’ had their labor induced or augmented. Marie Lynn Miranda, a Pediatrics professor at U of M, says the data is worth further study, but it does not draw a direct link between inducing labor and autism,” Michigan Radio’s Steve Carmody reports.

Lansing wants to cut ties with Russian sister city

“Officials in Lansing want to end their community's 'sister cities' relationship with the Russian city of St. Petersburg due to that country's anti-gay policies. The Lansing State Journal and MLive.com report Lansing City Council voted unanimously Monday calling for end to the relationship. A new Russian law is aimed at 'propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors.' It imposes fines for organizations, plus stiffer penalties for propaganda online or in the media,” according to the Associated Press.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

An insurance company’s planned $100 million expansion in Ingham County took an important step forward Monday night.

The Lansing City Council approved an agreement with a neighboring township which allows the city to collect taxes from the new Jackson National Life headquarters expansion. In exchange, the township would receive some city services.

“This puts us in a position where we can start construction in the fall,” says John Brown, the company’s vice president for government relations,  “And we are very excited about the continuation of the project.”

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A lot of attention has been paid to Detroit’s mayoral primary on Tuesday. But that’s not the only election in which Michigan voters will be casting ballots this week.

Voters in more than 50 Michigan counties will be casting ballots on Tuesday.

There’s the usual mix of school and library millages.

There are also numerous local primary elections.

Voters in parts of Ann Arbor, Jackson, Grand Rapids, Lansing and other cities will be voting for local city council seats.

More money for Michigan transportation projects?
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The Michigan Department of Transportation is asking businesses whether they’re interested in partnering with the state for certain projects. That could include taking over the building, operating, or financing of infrastructure projects from the state.

Joe Pavona is Governor Rick Snyder’s special advisor on public-private partnerships.

“I think that this is the direction of the future, and I think is consistent with providing improved customer service and value for Michigan,” he says.

Lawmakers in Lansing are debating how to boost transportation spending by more than a billion dollars a year. Pavona says including private businesses in transportation projects could save the state money and time.

But Michigan’s largest state employees union doesn’t like the idea. Ray Holman is with UAW Local 6000.

“You’re talking about services and responsibilities that are vital. And you’re talking about issues of safety, of course. And we believe that certain things are best handled by the state workforce,” he says.

Right now, MDOT is exploring public-private partnerships involving bridge work, freeway lighting, and two rest areas in Northern Michigan.

It says it’s too early to say whether the partnerships would shift public sector jobs to the private sector.

Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
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The Sister Cities relationship between Lansing and St. Petersburg, Russia might have a limited future. 

Lansing has had a sister cities relationship with St. Petersburg since the early 1990’s, though the exchange program has been dormant for many years.     The push to formally sever the relationship came after St. Petersburg enacted an anti-gay ordinance and arrested LGBT activists in recent weeks.

Jody Washington is a Lansing city councilwoman.   She plans to introduce a resolution next week setting a timeline for reviewing the relationship.

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Detroit bankruptcy is topic of national conversation

Snyder, Detroit's emergency manager Kevyn Orr and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing appeared on Sunday morning talk shows yesterday to talk about filing bankruptcy for Detroit. Snyder said he will push to protect the retired city workers whose pensions are on the table. He said the bankruptcy filing included protections for retirees and urged them to remain calm. Orr said on "Fox News Sunday" that there are going to have to be "concessions." Bing on ABC's "This Week" said now that bankruptcy has been filed, leaders have to take a step back before making a decision on a federal bailout.

Flint school district faces more budget cuts

The Flint School Board will take up a Deficit Elimination Plan tomorrow night. The district is wrestling with a nearly 16 million dollar deficit. The Flint school district has made deep budget cuts but more cuts are likely if the district follows the plan to eliminate its deficit by June 2016. The Flint School Board has until July 31st to send its deficit elimination plan to the state.  

Lansing may end its relationship with St. Petersburg, Russia

The Lansing city council will be meeting tonight to discuss its sister city relationship with St. Petersburg, Russia. St. Petersburg recently passed an anti-gay ordinance and police there arrested people at an LGBT rally. Members say they want to send a message to St. Petersburg officials by canceling Lansing’s two decade sister cities relationship with the city.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Possibly ending the city of Lansing’s sister city relationship with St. Petersburg, Russia will be the topic of a meeting tomorrow evening.

St. Petersburg recently passed an anti-gay ordinance and police there arrested people at an LGBT rally.

Some Lansing city council members say they want to send a message to St. Petersburg officials by canceling Lansing’s 2 decade old sister cities relationship with the Russian city.

U.S. Congress / congress.gov

What are your summer vacation plans? For many in Michigan, it's time at the cottage or beach up North.

If you're a lawmaker, either state or federal, "summer vacation" has a different meaning. It gives you time to be in your district, take the pulse of voters, hear their concerns.

Covering the Washington angle is Todd Spangler, the D.C.-based reporter for the Detroit Free Press. And looking at Lansing is Jack Lessenberry, Michigan Public Radio's political analyst.

They joined us today to talk about summer vacation for members of Congress and state Legislature.

Listen to the full interview above.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A fledgling bicycle share company hopes to get rolling in Lansing in August.

A group of college students have founded a company that will provide bikes for temporary rentals.

The idea would be to set up bike rental stations at bus stops and other commuting locations in Lansing to give people an option for the next short leg of their journey.

Holland BPW

Michigan has a new commercial scale power plant; the first new power plant in Michigan in 25 years.

Coal is still the dominant fuel source in the state, but this plant's existence means there will be a little less coal being imported into Michigan.

At the ceremony today celebrating its opening, the Lansing Board of Water & Light sang the new "REO Town" plant's praises:

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The Fourth of July holiday is fast approaching. 

Many Michigan cities and towns are looking for ways to quiet home-made fireworks shows.

Last year, a new state law opened the door to sales of bigger and louder fireworks in Michigan.   That led to some sleepless nights in many parts of Michigan last summer, as the whirl and bang of newly legal fireworks often sounded into the wee hours of the morning.

Lansing Board of Water & Light

The Lansing Board of Water & Light say this new power plant will be "the first new utility power plant built in Michigan in 25 years."

Following a national trend away from coal, this power plant will burn natural gas.

According to their press release, the municipally-owned utility expects to cut is greenhouse gas emissions by 50% compared to the coal-fired steam and electric units the new power plant will replace. They list other benefits as well:

- Eliminate the need to burn 351,000 tons of coal compared to the steam and electric units that the new plant will replace.

- Lower mercury and SO2 (sulfur dioxide) emissions by over 99 percent, and NOx (oxides of nitrogen) by over 85 percent compared to the coal-fired boilers that are now retired.

The power plant called the "REO Town plant" will be fully operational Monday.

It's part $182 million project that also includes a headquarters building and a restored Grand Trunk Western Railroad depot for the BWL Board of Commissioners meetings.

The plant is expected to generate up to 300,000 pounds of steam for 225 steam customers in downtown Lansing, replacing the Moores Park Steam Plant. It also will provide 100 megawatts of electricity, about 20 percent of the utility's electric generation.

The Lansing Board of Water & Light offers water, electric, steam and chilled water service to more than 100,000 residential and business customers.

Michigan Flyer

A private bus service will get a federal grant, despite the objections of Lansing’s Capitol Region International Airport.

The Tri-County Regional Planning Commission last night approved a $595,000 federal grant to the Michigan Flyer. The Flyer currently operates 8 daily round trips from Lansing to Ann Arbor to Metro Airport. The grant will allow its buses to run four more round trips each day.   

Airport officials fear the added bus service will siphon off potential air passengers from Lansing.

Everyone knows, of course, that Rick Snyder was elected governor three years ago. And by now it is safe to say that everyone has an opinion about him. Some think he is saving the state.

Others are vowing to do everything they can to prevent him from winning a second term. But stop for a minute.

Do you remember who Snyder defeated to be elected governor in the first place? Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, the Democratic nominee in what was an impossible year for his party.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A Lansing bio-pharmaceutical company has opened a ten million dollar expansion at its Lansing facility.

Emergent Biosolutions produces an anthrax vaccine at its facility in Lansing.

“The government is purchasing as much as we can produce,” says Daniel Abdun Nabi, the company’s president, “So one of the reasons we have expanded here on the Lansing campus is to address the nation’s requirement for a broader stockpile of BioThrax.”

The company hopes to triple its Lansing production of the anthrax vaccine by 2015.

Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

For a lot of uninsured families in Michigan, this is a big week.

Lawmakers in Lansing are sloooowly moving ahead with expanding the state’s Medicaid program.

That would give another 470,000 Michiganders coverage.

So who exactly are we talking about here?

The morning I meet Jen and Todd Nagle, we have no clue the day will end with Todd being rushed to the doctor for chest pains.

Google

My kids love using Google Earth. With the push of a button they "fly" from Ann Arbor, Michigan to Newfoundland, the Panama Canal, the Great Barrier Reef, or some other place they're curious about.

Now Google has mined satellite images from the U.S. government that allow us to fly back in time.

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