morning news roundup

In this morning's news...

Dec 20, 2011
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Snyder Signs Workers Comp Legislation

Governor Snyder signed major changes to employer paid benefits into law yesterday afternoon. “One change limits how much injured workers can be compensated (basing their pay on how much an injured worker could potentially make at another job), and another limits a person's ability to collect unemployment payments,” Mark Brush reports. And, the Associated Press reports:

The bills would further limit the ability of a person who was fired for cause or who may have left a job voluntarily from collecting jobless benefits. They would require some unemployed workers to take jobs after 10 weeks of benefits even if the jobs are outside the unemployed worker's previous experience or pay lower wages. The measures also would push injured workers to seek some type of employment once they're able.

Citizen Input on Statewide School District

Leaders of Michigan’s new statewide school district are looking to residents for their input. Sarah Cwiek reports:

The Education Achievement System (EAS) is Governor’s Snyder’s plan to improve the state’s lowest-performing schools. The EAS held input sessions in Detroit and Kalamazoo yesterday. Plans for the EAS have been sketchy so far. It’s set to launch in 2012 with an unspecified number of Detroit Public Schools. EAS Chief of Staff Tyrone Winfrey says part of the reason few details have been announced is because the district wants to hear from the community. Winfrey says the EAS will announce its “strategic plan” and other details in mid-to-late January.

Flint Crime Rate Drops

Preliminary data from the FBI shows there’s been a drop in Flint’s crime rate. In 2010, the city recorded a record number of homicides: 66. Now, the Flint Journal reports:

For the first six months of 2011, the city reported 909 instances of violent crime — a 19 percent decrease from the 1,123 instances reported by the same time last year. There were 22 homicides, compared to 27 last year; 41 forcible rapes, compared to 51 last year; and 229 robberies, compared to 274 last year, according to the data. Any decrease in crime is welcome news in a city that was recently dubbed "the Most Dangerous City in America."

In this morning's news...

Dec 16, 2011
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Busy Day at the Capitol

Lawmakers were busy yesterday in Lansing as the winter legislative session came to an end. “A proposal to get rid of the limit on the number of university-sponsored K- 12 charter schools in the state is on its way to Governor Rick Snyder’s desk. The state Senate gave final approval to the measure yesterday at the state Capitol,” Laura Weber reports. And,  the state Senate approved a bill that would allow state officials to appoint a transition team to work with a community after an emergency manager’s term is up. Rick Pluta reports:

The bill would create a transition team for a local government that’s ending its run with an emergency manager. But lawmakers could quickly adopt an alternative version next year if the state’s emergency manager law is stalled by a referendum or reversed by a court. Lawmakers will not however, revisit the emergency manager law before January when they return from a month-long winter break.

And, of course, what would the end of a legislative session be without a fight on the House chamber floor.

W. MI Power Plant Restarts after Shutdown

The Palisades nuclear power plant in West Michigan has been restarted after it was shut-down due to a problem with its water pumps. The Associated Press reports:

Operators of the southwestern Michigan plant say it returned to service and reconnected to the electric grid late Thursday night. Both of the plant's feed water pumps automatically shut down Wednesday afternoon. Palisades is about 35 miles west of Kalamazoo and about 80 miles east-northeast from Chicago across the lake. Palisades has had several recent operating problems, with two shutdowns in September and one each in August and January.

Detroit Red Kettle Donations Down

The Salvation Army’s annual Red Kettle Campaign is running short of its goal in metro Detroit. “The charitable organization's Eastern District has a goal of $8.2 million. It’s raised about $3 million dollars with only a week and a half left to go in the campaign. The Salvation Army’s West Michigan group is faring better. Spokesman Roger Snider says kettle donations are up about one percent in Kent County, where the goal is $1.6 million dollars. He says overall donations in Kent County are up nearly five percent,” Rina Miller reports.

In this morning's news...

Dec 13, 2011
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Detroit Stops Paying Some Bills

In order to fund its payroll, Detroit has delayed paying some of its vendors and contractors, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

City Council President Pro Tem Gary Brown told the Detroit Free Press… that the delays allow the city to fund its payroll…  Mayor Dave Bing's office acknowledged that it's delaying some payments but says the intention is to fully compensate everyone. Bing has said Detroit faces a $150 million budget deficit and a projected $45 million cash shortfall... Michigan Treasury officials have started a preliminary review of Detroit's finances, a possible first step to an emergency manager's appointment.

Snyder Doesn’t Want ‘Right-to-Work’

Governor Rick Snyder says he is still against right-to-work laws in Michigan. The Governor told WJR radio that, “he doesn't want to repeat the experiences of Wisconsin and Ohio, where anti-union measures have been extremely divisive.Snyder says Michigan has taken steps to encourage job growth that will be more useful than a right-to-work law, such as significantly cutting business taxes effective Jan. 1. He adds many of the new jobs being created in Michigan aren't in unionized industries anyway,” the Associated Press reports.

Lawmakers Face To-Do List as Year Wraps Up

A fight could be brewing at the state Capitol over funding an exchange that would allow people and businesses to comparison-shop for health insurance, Laura Weber reports. From Weber:

The state is supposed to create the exchange as part of the new federal health care overhaul requirements. Republicans have debated whether funding the health insurance exchange would be showing support for the new federal health care law. Republican state Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says it’s one of a handful of pressing questions that should be settled this week before the Legislature begins a month-long winter break. The Legislature is also still debating whether to allow more K-12 charter schools, and whether to overhaul the state’s workers compensation rules. And a lingering question remains whether the state House will vote to dramatically alter Michigan’s no-fault insurance laws.

In this morning's news...

Dec 12, 2011
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Detroit Bus System Cuts

Beginning today, tens of thousands of people who use metro Detroit’s suburban bus system will see their options dramatically limited, Sarah Hulett reports. “The cash-strapped SMART system is cutting 15 routes on weekdays, and it’s terminating some routes at Detroit’s city limits. Megan Owens of the advocacy group Transportation Riders United says the downriver area will be hit the hardest – losing several major routes. Declining tax revenues due to drops in property values, fewer federal dollars, and the SMART system’s inability to win concessions from its unions are blamed for the cuts,” Hulett reports.

Budgeting Flint Education

The Flint School District will deliver its deficit elimination plan to the state today, Steve Carmody reports. But a long-time critic doubts the district’s administration will be able to make the plan work. Carmody explains:

State law requires local units of government that finish their fiscal year with a deficit to send a ‘deficit elimination plan’ to the Treasury Department. Friday night, a divided Flint School Board approved their district’s plan. The plan includes closing and consolidating schools, though which schools would be closed is somewhat unclear. David Davenport is a school board member who voted against the deficit elimination plan.  He says he would rather see the governor appoint an emergency manager to run the district. Flint schools superintendent Linda Thompson is confident the district can follow its own plan and eliminate its budget deficit, while improving educational opportunities. 

Lowe’s Pulls Ad from Muslim TV Show

Lowe’s says it’s pulling television advertisements from “All American Muslim,” a new reality television show based in Dearborn, Michigan. The news comes after a conservative evangelical Christian group protested the show, the Associated Press reports. “’All-American Muslim’ premiered last month on TLC and features five families from Dearborn, a Detroit suburb with a large Muslim and Arab-American population. The Florida Family Association mounted a campaign against the show and claims victory after Lowe's announcement. In California, Democratic state Rep. Ted Lieu of Torrance says he's considering a call for a boycott against Lowe's for what he calls ‘naked religious bigotry,’” the Associated Press reports.

In this morning's news...

Nov 22, 2011
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‘Occupy’ No Longer

It looks like the ‘Occupy Movement’ in Detroit is winding down.  “Most of the Occupy Detroit protesters ended their stay in a downtown park as a permit neared its deadline. The Detroit City Council gave protesters a one-week extension until last night to remain at Grand Circus Park. About 150 people were taking part in the protest that started October 14th”, the Associated Press reports.

Possible EM for Benton Harbor Schools

The state is reviewing the finances of Benton Harbor Area Schools. That’s the first step in a process to determine if the school district needs a state-appointed emergency manager. Lindsey Smith reports:

It does not mean one would be appointed for certain. But, the rumors are already flying in the community about a takeover. The school district needs to cut more than $2.6 million to avoid major problems like not meeting payroll. That would trigger the state to appoint an emergency manger to run the school district’s finances. The state’s financial review of the district is due in late December. The City of Benton Harbor has been under emergency management for a year and a half.

State Jobless Benefits

Unemployed people in Michigan have a harder time getting jobless benefits than in other states in the Midwest, according to a new report from the Michigan League for Human Services. Laura Weber reports:

The report also says Michigan pays the lowest maximum unemployment benefits in the region to people out of work. Peter Raurk wrote the report for the Michigan League for Human Services. He says making sure unemployed people have access to jobless benefits helps stimulate the economy. The report also says Michigan provides the fewest weeks of unemployment coverage in the region. Raurk says the Legislature should not approve proposals that would make it even more difficult for workers to get unemployment benefits.

In this morning's news...

Nov 21, 2011
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Can You Spare $60 Million?

Lawmakers return to the state Capitol next week and topping their agenda: coming up with $60 million to fill a budget gap created by the state Supreme Court’s decision last Friday on Michigan’s new pension tax. Rick Pluta explains:

The court upheld the tax on pensions, but said denying a tax break to some higher-earners effectively created a graduated income tax, which is not allowed under the state constitution. That part of the decision blew a $60 million hole in the state budget. Sixty million dollars is a small part of a general fund budget that exceeds $8 billion. But it is an amount the governor and the Legislature will need to make up to meet their obligation under the state constitution to have a balanced budget.

Bridge Opposition

A new poll shows that likely voters in the state oppose a plan to build a new international bridge connecting Detroit to Windsor, Ontario. The Associated Press reports:

The poll for the Detroit Free Press and WXYZ-TV showed 59 percent oppose the project, 30 percent support it and 11 percent were undecided… The Republican governor supports the new bridge, saying it is crucial to expanding trade between the U.S. and Canada. But the private owners of the Ambassador Bridge already spanning the Detroit River oppose a second bridge, saying a publicly supported bridge would unfairly compete with their own.

MI: 3rd Most Reliant on Food Stamps

“Michigan households relied on food stamps last year more than all but two other states, according to the U.S. Census Bureau,” the Lansing State Journal reports. “The states with the highest food stamp participation rates were Oregon (17.9 percent) and Tennessee (17 percent.) States with the lowest participation rates included California (7.4 percent), New Jersey (6.8 percent) and Wyoming (6.2 percent). The national rate was 11.9 percent,” explains.

In this morning's news...

Nov 15, 2011
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Detroit Finances

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing will give a speech tomorrow night regarding his city’s troubled finances, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

City council member Gary Brown says Detroit is "broke." The Detroit Free Press is reporting Tuesday that the city will run out of cash by April unless immediate cuts are made.The newspaper says it obtained a report by Ernst & Young that the city won't release. The mayor plans to speak Wednesday at 6 p.m. It's possible that Detroit's poor health could lead to the appointment of an emergency manager with sweeping authority to make changes.

Dems Release Jobs Plan

Democratic lawmakers in Lansing have outlined a plan that they say would help small businesses grow and hire unemployed people. Rick Pluta explains:

The plan includes taking a portion of the money that’s in a state trust fund and investing it in local banks and credit unions to make small business loans. The Democratic package would allow small banks and credit unions to pool their finances to invest in larger projects…The plan also calls for a tax credit for small businesses that hire long-term unemployed people and veterans. Republicans shy away from job creation credits. They say the state should not single out specific businesses for tax breaks.

Deer Seasons Begins

Today is the first day of the state’s firearm deer season. “Some  675,000 hunters are expected to scour woods and rural areas across the state,” over the next 16 days, the Associated Press reports. There are more than 600,000 licensed deer hunters in the state. Rodney Stokes, Director of the state Department of Natural Resources,  says the firearm deer season generates about a half billion dollars for Michigan's economy.

In this morning's news...

Nov 14, 2011
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Occupy No Longer?

A permit that is allowing Occupy Detroit demonstrators to stay at a Detroit park expires tonight. The Associated Press reports:

About 150 people have holed up at the park since Oct. 14 and have held a number of marches and protests of financial institutions since then. The city's Recreation Department last month denied a request by the group's attorney for a 45-day permit to erect tents in the park but did issue a 30-day permit, retroactive to Oct. 14… Last week, spokesman Evan Rohar said the group assumes police will come to clear out the protesters once the permit expires. She says members are considering whether to stay or go.

Flint Swearing In

Flint Mayor Dayne Walling will take his oath of office later today… but, what happens next is up to Governor Rick Snyder, Steve Carmody reports:

Incumbent Dayne Walling won a four year term as Flint’s mayor last week. He’s already been serving as Flint’s mayor for the past two years, since winning a special election. The challenge then was to reduce Flint’s massive budget deficit. The challenge now will probably be to work under a state appointed emergency manager. On the same day Walling won reelection, Governor Snyder agreed with a state review team that Flint is in a ‘financial emergency’. The governor is expected to name an emergency manager to run the city.

Biden in Detroit

Vice President Joe Biden visited Detroit yesterday. He spoke at a, “fundraiser Sunday night for a Jewish Orthodox day school near Detroit. The vice president says Israel is a key element to the U.S.'s own security and its broader efforts in the Middle East. Biden said President Barack Obama feels the same way. Hundreds of people attended the dinner at a downtown hotel for the Yeshiva Beth Yehudah,” the Associated Press reports.

In this morning's news...

Nov 11, 2011
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State Health Care Exchange

The state Senate has adopted a bill to create a statewide health coverage exchange where people and businesses could comparison shop for insurance, Rick Pluta reports. From Pluta:

Republicans were divided on the question, and whether a vote for it was an endorsement of the federal health reforms. Some Republicans argued they should take a principled stand against the federal law by refusing to enact any portion of it. Others argued the state should not risk being forced into a federal bureaucracy. Without action, the state would be forced into a federal exchange system. The measure now goes to the state House. Republican Governor Rick Snyder says the statewide coverage exchange is a good idea with or without the federal mandate. He has asked the Legislature to send the bill to his desk before the end of the year.

Anti-Bullying Bill

A measure that would require all school districts to adopt anti-bullying policies has cleared the state House. “The proposal says there is no reason for kids to be allowed to bully each other. That sets it apart from legislation approved by the Senate last week. That bill exempted statements based on a student's deeply held religious or moral belief. Critics called the provision a license to bully,” Laura Weber reports.

Medical Marijuana

There’s a new challenge to the rights of Michigan’s medical marijuana patients. Steve Carmody reports:

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette issued a legal opinion yesterday that said police can seize marijuana from medical marijuana patients. In the opinion, the attorney general also said it would be illegal for police to return the pot, even after they confirm that the patients possess a medical marijuana permit. Under the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, a patient with a valid state issued identification card may possess up to two and a half ounces of usable marijuana. That same state law prohibits police from seizing marijuana or drug paraphernalia from authorized medical marijuana patients. But Schuette says the state law conflicts with federal law on the subject of marijuana forfeiture and that federal law preempts state law.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Election Day

Polls across the state are open today as Michiganders decide on mayoral races, various millages and one closely watched recall. There are mayoral races in Flint and Jackson. In Lansing, voters will decide if they want to increase their property taxes and in Detroit, residents are being asked if they want to change their city charter. And, constituents of Republican state Representative Paul Scott will decide whether he should be recalled. The recall is being spearheaded by the Michigan Education Association due to Scott’s support of cuts in state education funding and efforts to weaken the teachers’ union. You can find out what’s on your ballot here: Publius.

'Fracking' Moratorium

Some Michigan Democratic lawmakers are calling for a two-year moratorium on a procedure that is used to extract hard-to-reach oil and gas deposits. Rick Pluta reports:

Lawmakers are taking aim at a process called hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking” – where water, sand, and chemicals are sent down a well to loosen stubborn pockets of gas and oil. Critics say it has caused pollution and dried-up water wells in other states. Democratic state Representative Jeff Irwin thinks the procedure needs to be more tightly regulated as it becomes more common in Michigan… Brad Wurfel with the state Department of Environmental Quality said Michigan has some of the strictest fracking regulations in the country, and that the process has been safely used in the state's shallow rock for decades.

Nuclear Power

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says there are no environmental reasons to reject DTE Energy’s application to build a new nuclear power plant, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The NRC's staff has released a report for public comment on its analysis of plans for the Fermi 3 plant. The complex is near Monroe and Lake Erie in Monroe County's Frenchtown Township, northwest of Toledo, Ohio. The Monroe Evening News says the proposed cooling tower is larger than the two serving Fermi 2. Opponents say the plant would harm wetlands and feed toxic algae in Lake Erie.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Pontiac’s EM Fires Department Heads

The state-appointed emergency manager of Pontiac has fired the city’s clerk, attorney and director of public works, according to The Associated Press. “The Oakland Press of Pontiac reports Lou Schimmel fired the department heads effective Friday. The changes are part of what Schimmel, who was appointed to the post in September by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, says is an effort to put together his own team,” the AP reports.

Snyder: Rail Part of Michigan’s Economic Future

Governor Snyder says developing faster and more-reliable rail service is critical to Michigan’s economic future. Rick Pluta reports:

The governor delivered the opening address to a conference on improving train service in the state yesterday. Snyder is trying to build support for an infrastructure strategy that includes spending a lot more money on higher-speed passenger rail service and a faster, bigger network to transport agricultural and manufactured goods.  He says the current system of rails and roads will not be able to keep up with growing demand. The governor envisions Michigan as the center of a Midwest-to-Canada business corridor that accounts for a third of North America’s economic activity.

Some Cuts to Welfare Delayed

The state’s plan to end welfare benefits for thousands of families has been at least temporarily blocked by a court order, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

Genesee County Circuit Court Judge Geoffrey Neithercut issued a preliminary injunction Monday that would prevent the Michigan Department of Human Services from using a five-year lifetime limit based on federal regulations to end benefits for welfare recipients. Some families were expected to begin losing benefits under that policy in November. Roughly 11,000 cases would be affected by the five-year limit.

In this morning's news...

Oct 31, 2011
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Rail Summit

Following his speech on transportation and infrastructure last week, Governor Rick Snyder will address a summit today that will focus on improving the state’s rail service. “Michigan has 540 miles of publicly owned rail. The governor has called for improving and expanding that system to move people and cargo more quickly and efficiently.  The governor says he will seek more federal dollars and wants part of vehicle registration fees to be used for improving mass transit… The governor’s plans for the state include making Michigan a central point in a regional business corridor that runs from Chicago to Toronto,” Rick Pluta reports.

Flint Financial Review

Today is the deadline Governor Snyder set to complete a review of the city of Flint’s finances. Steve Carmody reports:

When he appointed the financial review panel in September, Governor Snyder said he wanted to hear back from them by the end of October. However, what the governor will hear is unclear. As of Friday, a governor’s office spokeswoman said the review team was still analyzing its data. The financial review panel could recommend a variety of options to the governor. They include giving Flint’s elected leaders more power to deal with budget decisions or handing over power to a state appointed emergency manager. Flint city officials have said they hope to avoid a state takeover similar to the one in 2002.

MI Helps the Northeast

CMS Energy, a Michigan-based power company, will send some 70 employees to assist crews in New Jersey who are trying to restore power to customers who lost electricity after this weekend’s snowstorm. “At least 3 million people from Maine to Maryland have lost power in the unseasonably early storm that dumped heavy, wet snow… Authorities blame a least three deaths on the weather, and states of emergency are in effect in New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and parts of New York,” the AP reports.

In this morning's news...

Oct 12, 2011

Chrysler/UAW Tentative Agreement

Chrysler and the United Auto Workers have reached a tentative deal on a new four-year contract. The Associated Press reports:

The union says in a statement Wednesday that Chrysler will invest $4.5 billion in its plants under terms of the deal. The union gave few other details. But the agreement is expected to be similar to deals reached earlier with General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. Workers at those companies gave up pay raises for most union members in exchange for profit-sharing payments. The Chrysler deal covers 26,000 workers.

State Budget Surplus

A legislative agency says Michigan is taking in a lot more money than it expects to spend as the books are about to close on the last fiscal year, Rick Pluta reports. “The revenue estimates from the state House Fiscal Agency say the state appears to be in line to reap $285 million more than expected. That includes a $145 million windfall for the School Aid Fund. Some Democrats say a portion of that money should be used to restore cuts to K-12 schools. But Republican leaders say the economy remains shaky, and the state should not be too quick to spend the money,” Pluta explains.

Great Lakes’ Health

Mercury levels in the Great Lakes have dropped over the past 40 years but, those levels are still high enough to pose risks to humans and wildlife, especially in many inland lakes, according to a new summary of the latest research on Great Lakes mercury levels. “Researchers summarized 35 new scientific papers to get a clearer picture of mercury in the Great Lakes. The good news: due to pollution controls, those levels continue to go down. But researchers are finding mercury has more wide-ranging effect than they initially thought. And in some species of fish and wildlife in particular areas, it appears mercury concentrations may be on the rise,” Sarah Cwiek reports.

In this morning's news...

Oct 11, 2011

‘Underwear Bomber’ Trial Begins

Opening statements are set today for the trial involving Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the man accused of trying to detonate a bomb in his underwear on a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day 2009. Abdulmutallab is, “acting as his own lawyer but is relying on attorney Anthony Chambers to handle the courtroom work. Chambers will grill witnesses and give an opening statement after Abdulmutallab dropped plans to give his own statement. Chambers is promising to ‘challenge everything’ at trial,” the Associated Press reports. Michigan Radio’s Sarah Hulett will be in the courtroom today and report on the proceedings during All Things Considered.

Obama to MI

President Barack Obama travels to Michigan on Friday. Mr. Obama and the President of South Korea will tour the General Motors Orion Assembly plant. They’ll speak about the South Korean trade agreement that the White House says, “will open up economic opportunities and support jobs on both sides of the Pacific.” Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden will be in downtown Flint tomorrow to talk about the President’s jobs plan.

Snyder Wants Immigrants Ready to Start Businesses

Governor Rick Snyder says he wants to attract more foreign entrepreneurs to the state, Lindsey Smith reports. From Smith:

Snyder told a gathering of “The World Affairs Council of Western Michigan” he’d like to leverage a federal immigration program to attract new jobs and investments. Under the program, immigrants who’ve invested at least $500,000 in a business that creates at least 10 full-time jobs can apply for green cards. That allows them to live and work in the United States permanently. Snyder says he realizes there are a lot of people who are against inviting more immigrants into the U.S. Snyder says Dow Chemical and the Meijer retail chain are examples – both were founded by immigrants.

In this morning's news...

Oct 10, 2011
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Chrysler/UAW Talks Continue

Talks continue between negotiators for the UAW and Chrysler but no deal on a new contract has been announced. From the Associated Press:

Union leaders from all of Chrysler's factories are headed to the Detroit suburb of Warren for a meeting on the talks. Normally they don't meet until an agreement is ready. Both sides talked into the night Sunday. The union says in Internet postings that bargaining resumed around 4:30 a.m. Work has continued at Chrysler under a contract extension that expires Oct. 19. Chrysler's 23,000 workers cannot strike over wages under terms of the company's government bailout. Disagreements can be taken to binding arbitration.

Michigan Radio reporters are in Detroit monitoring the situation.

Bridge Vote

The state Senate is scheduled to vote on bills having to do with a new bridge connecting Detroit to Windsor this week. A state Senate committee will hold hearings tomorrow and Wednesday and vote on the legislation after  the hearings conclude, the Detroit News reports. Governor Snyder’s administration has been pushing for a new span across the Detroit River since January, when the Governor signaled his support for the new bridge during his first State of the State address.

Challenge to Redistricting Maps

A coalition of African-American and civil rights groups is expected to challenge Michigan’s new congressional and legislative district maps approved earlier this year by the Republican-controlled Legislature, Rick Pluta reports. From Pluta:

State Representative Fred Durhal chairs the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus. He says the new maps violate voting rights laws. He says that’s because they diminish the voting power of urban minority voters – and the evidence of that is how many Democratic incumbents from minority districts will be forced next year to run against each other. Republican leaders say a court challenge to any redistricting plan is normal, and was entirely expected. GOP leaders say the maps reflect population shifts, and that they were very careful to comply with the law.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Snyder Planning on a Second Term

Governor Rick Snyder has laid to rest speculation that he might not seek a second term, Rick Pluta reports. From Pluta:

The governor told a collection of local government officials his plan is to serve eight years, if voters let him."I'm not announcing my candidacy yet, but as a practical matter I do intend to be around for eight years, assuming the voters go along with that and the family is supportive, which they have been consistently," said Snyder. There was speculation the governor would choose to serve only one term based on remarks he made last month on Mackinac Island.

Michigan Gets ‘Occupied’

The “Occupy Wall Street” campaign is starting to pop up in towns and cities across Michigan. Steve Carmody was in Ann Arbor last night and reports:

A crowd of about a hundred gathered on the University of Michigan campus to talk and listen. Many in the crowd have been inspired by the anti-corporate protest that’s been taking place on Wall Street for the past several weeks. Others were just curious.The‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement is planning on large scale protests in Lansing, Detroit and Grand Rapids later this month, meanwhile social media websites are popping up calling for grassroots groups to sprout up around Michigan.  

ArtPrize Winner

The winner of the 3rd annual ArtPrize was announced last night. Mia Tavonatti, an artist originally from Iron Mountain in the U.P., took home the $250,000 top prize. Her piece, titled, “Crucifixion,” is a large-scale mosaic depicting Jesus Christ dying on the cross. “More than 1,500 artists from across the United States and 39 other countries competed in ArtPrize this year. More than 382,000 votes were cast by those who visited the event in Grand Rapids. Organizers estimate around 500,000 people came to the event, which runs through Sunday,” Lindsey Smith reports.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Judge Stops Cut to Cash Assistance

U.S. District Judge Paul Borman issued a restraining order yesterday that stops a round of cuts in cash benefits for Michigan welfare recipients. Rick Pluta explains:

Cash assistance welfare payments will go out today to thousands of families that were about to lose them as the state prepared to enforce state and federal time limits on the program. A federal judge ruled the state Department of Human Services failed to properly notify the families why their benefits were about to be cut off. DHS says new notices will be sent this week that comply with the ruling. And they say the state’s four-year time limit on cash assistance will officially begin in mid-October instead of at the beginning of the month.   

Count Day

Today is ‘Count Day’ at all of Michigan’s public schools. “The tally of students who show up at each school district is a major factor in how much money a district gets from the state. There are two count days each year; one in the spring and one in the fall. The Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency estimates changing the count day formula will save the state $15 million this year. That also means districts with declining student enrollment will get less money,” Lindsey Smith reports.

Money Talks (and Wins Elections)

U.S. Senate candidate and former Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra says he raised $1 million in the third quarter in his campaign to become the Republican nominee to challenge Democrat Debbie Stabenow in the 2012 election. The Associated Press reports:

Hoekstra's campaign said in a statement Wednesday that the former congressman's contributions came from more than 3,500 donors. The campaign for the Holland Republican has said he didn't loan it any money. On Tuesday, Clark Durant said he's raised more than $750,000. Durant's campaign says the charter schools executive didn't loan it any money. Also running are former Kent County Judge Randy Hekman, Roscommon businessman Peter Konetchy, former Libertarian Scotty Boman of Detroit and Gary Glenn of Midland, president of the American Family Association of Michigan.

In this morning's news...

Sep 20, 2011
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Dems Want School Fund Constitutionally Protected

A group of Democratic lawmakers at the state Capitol is continuing a push to constitutionally protect money in the state’s school aid fund. Laura Weber reports:

Democrats in the state House say voters should be allowed to decide how the state spends its education dollars. They’re calling for a constitutional amendment that would specify that School Aid Fund money be spent only on K-12 schools, and not on universities and community colleges. Democratic state Representative Barb Byrum says Republicans have proposed diverting $900 million from K-12 schools for the fiscal year that starts in October. Byrum says she thinks parents would be eager to organize a campaign to get a ballot question before voters. Republican lawmakers say schools have taken a less drastic cut in the budget than most areas of government, which demonstrates the state’s commitment to education.

Detroit Could Cut 40 Percent of Teachers

A deficit-elimination plan for the Detroit Public Schools district includes cutting nearly 40 percent of its teachers in the next four years, according the to the Detroit News. “The Detroit News reports… that under the plan, the state's largest district would cut more than 1,500 teachers by fall 2015, including nearly 1,100 next fall. The cuts next fall would come as the district moves its weakest schools into a new state system to run Michigan's lowest performing schools. Some Detroit teachers could be employed by the new school system. Detroit's school district has a $327 million budget deficit and its finances are overseen by Roy Roberts, an emergency manager appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder,” the Associated Press reports.

FBI Ranks Flint Crimes

The FBI is calling Flint the most dangerous city in the United States. The FBI released a report yesterday that shows Flint had the highest violent crime rate in the nation last year among cities with 100,000 people or more. According to the report, the city recorded a record number of murders in 2010.  "Other violent crimes also increased, as budget cuts forced the city to reduce its police force. Detroit, Saginaw and Pontiac also posted crime rates last year that are among the worst in the nation", Steve Carmody reports.

In this morning's news...

Sep 19, 2011
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Health Care Reform Coming to Lansing

Draft versions of Governor Snyder’s health care reform plan will be presented to state lawmakers this week. Rick Pluta reports:

Snyder has asked lawmakers to adopt major portions of his health reform plans before their Thanksgiving break. Republicans are wary of requiring insurance companies to cover childhood autism treatments, a government database of children’s health statistics, and adopting mandates in the federal Affordable Care Act, such as health coverage exchanges. The governor says an exchange that would allow people and businesses to comparison shop for health coverage is a good idea no matter the fate of the federal health reforms.

Update: CMU Contract Negotiations

Central Michigan University and its faculty are waiting for a report from a fact-finder appointed by a state agency that could help settle their contract dispute, the Associated Press reports. “A report is likely sometime in late October or early November. Members of the Central Michigan University Faculty Association went on strike on Aug. 22, which was the first day of classes for the fall semester. A judge ordered faculty members back to work but they are still allowed to demonstrate on campus. The faculty group says its previous contract expired June 30 with disputes continuing over wages and other issues,” the AP explains.

Granholm Says 'No' to More Time in Office

Former Governor Jennifer Granholm says she will not run again for office. From the Detroit Free Press:

"No, no and no." That was the response from former Gov. Jennifer Granholm when asked whether she might run for office again in 2012, 2014 or beyond. "I served for 12 years in public office, and I'm thoroughly enjoying post-government life," Granholm told the Free Press.

Granholm and her husband, Dan Mulhern, are the co-authors of the new book “A Governor’s Story: The Fight for Jobs and America’s Economic Future."

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Negotiations between UAW and automakers might go down to the wire

Contracts between the UAW and Detroit automakers expire this week. The sides have been negotiating for the past month and will likely continue to negotiate through the middle of this week. The Detroit Free Press reported that "GM's agreement... is likely to add thousands of jobs at U.S. plants, offer buyouts for skilled trades workers and enhance the profit-sharing formula.":

Chrysler has been in lockstep with talks at GM and out-of-state union leaders were told that they might need to travel to Detroit soon to review a tentative deal.

Talks were continuing at Chrysler over the weekend. CEO Sergio Marchionne said in Canada that he would be involved in the talks, even though he was traveling from Calgary, Alberta, to Detroit and then to Frankfurt, Germany, over the course of the weekend.

Meanwhile, talks lag at Ford, where economic issues have barely begun being discussed.

State to decide whether to increase testing standards this week

The state Board of Education might decide to raise school testing standards at a meeting tomorrow, according to the Detroit News. If the scores are raised, fewer schools in Michigan will be found to be proficient in key subjects:

Education officials say the changes are necessary because existing standards reward students for average work and have disguised dismal ability levels. For instance, just 10 percent of third-graders are not proficient in reading, according to last year's Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP) tests. State Superintendent Mike Flanagan said the newer scores will show that more than 60 percent are not proficient.

F-16s scrambled to follow a passenger plane on 9/11

Two passengers behaving suspiciously raised concerns of terrorism on a Frontier flight from Denver to Detroit yesterday. More from

People on the plane tell Action News the two men in question spent long periods of time in the plane’s lavatories. It's not clear how the woman was involved.

“They were going back and forth through the aisle,” passenger David Mungia said, describing the behavior of the two men who were taken away by police.

“One of the guys was in the bathroom for at least ten minutes,” Mungi said.

Authorities are not saying what was going on inside the lavatories but ABC News is reporting the unidentified passengers were making out.


Update 11:47 a.m.

The Detroit Free Press reports that reports of amorous activity on the flight are false:

Three passengers detained at Detroit Metro Airport Sunday after the crew reported suspicious activity were actually just using the rest room, according to an FBI spokeswoman in Detroit.

FBI Detroit spokeswoman Sandra Berchtold said reports about sexual encounters taking place in the rest room are false, describing them as "stories spinning out of control."

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Shakeup in the state's labor movement

The head of the Michigan AFL-CIO announced that he will step down. Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney announced yesterday that he will not seek another term. Gaffney said new leadership is needed. MPRN's Rick Pluta reported that "Gaffney’s pending departure had been widely rumored as labor leaders fret about how to deal with the growing pile of anti-union measures under consideration at the state Capitol – including right to work bills." Pluta reports that Gaffney's replacement will likely be Karla Swift, who could be formally chosen at a labor convention next month.

Grand Rapids airport seeks permission to discharge de-icing fluid into river

Officials at the Gerald R. Ford International airport want to build a pipeline that will allow them to dump de-icing fluid into a nearby river. The Grand Rapids Press reports the pipeline will cost around $15 million:

The nearly mile-long pipeline to the Thornapple River would be used to dispose of an estimated 90,000 to 100,000 gallons a year of de-icing fluid. A proposal was submitted Sept. 1 to the state Department of Environmental Quality.

Most Detroit Schools are opening after power outages

Some schools in the Detroit district missed opening week because of power outages around the city. Detroit Public Schools now says most schools will reopen.

More from the Associated Press:

The Detroit Public Schools plans to hold classes as scheduled at most schools following power outages that caused early dismissals across the district.

The district said Friday morning that all but four schools had power. One of the schools will relocate classes for the day and three will be closed.

Recent storms and weather-related issues were blamed for outages that forced the early school closures Thursday and left other public buildings without lights for several hours. Problems with Detroit's aging electrical grid also contributed to the outages.

Most power was restored by Thursday evening.

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Medical Marijuana Rally

More than a thousand supporters of Michigan’s medical marijuana law rallied at the state Capitol yesterday. They protested against Republican proposals to limit the law. In 2008, Michigan voters approved medical marijuana use by a wide margin but, just last month, a Michigan Appeals Court ruled that medical marijuana dispensaries could not sell the drug. The Michigan Supreme Court will likely have the last word on the legality of the law.

Another Round of Education Reforms

A state Senate panel has begun hearings on a new package of sweeping education reforms. “The package of bills include measures that would allow more charter schools in the state, allow schools to hire teachers from private companies, and require districts to open empty seats in classrooms to students who live outside of the area”, Laura Weber reports. Earlier this year, the state legislature and Governor Snyder approved measures that reformed Michigan’s teacher tenure laws.

MI SupCo Takes Up Pension Tax

The Michigan Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday for and against Michigan’s new tax on pensions. Governor Snyder proposed the pension tax to increase revenue for the state. Rick Pluta reports:

Public employees argued the pension tax violates the state’s constitution because it effectively reduces compensation that was agreed to by the state. Lieutenant Governor Brain Calley was in the audience to watch the arguments. He says the new state budget will come up short if the tax on pensions in not upheld… Calley says the court should rule quickly to ensure budget stability.

If the pension tax is ruled unconstitutional, the state budget will be short $340 million dollars for the fiscal year that begins October 1st.

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Obama Speaks in Detroit

President Obama spoke to union members and supporters at a Labor Day rally in Detroit yesterday. As Sarah Cwiek reports, the President says his biggest concern is to “fully restore” the country’s middle class:

The President will outline a jobs agenda to Congress on Thursday. He drew a disbelieving groan from the crowd when he said he still believes “both parties can work together.” But Mr. Obama also said he “won’t wait around for” Republicans in Congress.  “We’re going to see if Congressional Republicans will put country before party. We’ll give ‘em a plan, and then we’ll say: do you want to create jobs? Then put our construction workers back to work re-building America.” The President says he’ll urge spending on infrastructure, growing export markets, and renewing a payroll tax cut for workers.

Snyder to Sign Welfare Cap

Governor Snyder is expected to sign the state’s new 48-month cap on welfare benefits into law this week. The state legislature approved the measure last month. “The new limits are expected to immediately reduce the cash assistance caseloads by 15 percent. About 12,600 people have been on cash assistance for 48 months or more, and payments to those families will end when the state’s new fiscal year begins October 1st,” Rick Pluta reports. It’s estimated the new limits will save the state $65 million dollars in the new budget year.

Some Schools Remain Closed on First Day

Some schools have had to postpone their first day of classes due to power outages and storm damage from this weekend’s powerful thunderstorms. The Associated Press reports:

The public school district in Ferndale cancelled classes Tuesday to give cleanup crews more time to deal with the remnants of Saturday's storms that downed trees and power lines and knocked out electrical service to several of the district's buildings. Detroit Public Schools says Macdowell, Carstens at Remus Robinson, Emerson and Vernor elementary schools were closed Tuesday due to power outages caused by the storms… In all, utilities say about 176,000 Michigan homes and businesses lost power.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Deadline Comes and Goes for Enbridge

Enbridge Energy, the company that owns the pipeline that leaked some 800,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River last summer, has failed to meet a deadline to clean up some of the submerged oil that remains from the spill. From the Associated Press:

The Kalamazoo Gazette and WWMT-TV say Enbridge Energy notified federal regulators that it would not meet the Wednesday deadline. Enbridge spokesman Jason Manshum tells the Gazette there are many reasons. He says the scope of the cleanup grew over the summer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it is investigating.

Report: MI Setting (Bad) Unemployment Record

An annual report by the Michigan League for Human Services says more than half of unemployed workers between the ages of 26 and 54 looked for work for six months or longer last year. “Even in the 1980's recession when unemployment overall was higher, the long-term unemployment rate was much lower than it is now,” says Karen Holcomb-Merrill who works for the league.

So Long, Price Tags

The state requirement that almost everything sold in Michigan have a price-tag ends today, as a result, the Detroit Free Press explains, “of legislation passed early this year at the urging of Gov. Rick Snyder.” The Free reports:

Snyder and other advocates for repeal said Michigan's item-pricing law, the strictest in the nation, was a relic of an era that was slowing innovation and adding more than $2 billion a year in costs to consumers. Defenders of the old law said repeal would sow frustration and anger among shoppers, result in layoffs for store clerks, and doubted that consumer savings would follow… In the absence of individual stickers, the new law requires that prices be displayed conspicuously and in close proximity to the item on sale.

In this morning's news...

Aug 30, 2011
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Welfare Assistance

Letters have started going out to the 11,000 families in Michigan who are expected to have their welfare benefits cut off on October 1st, Sarah Hulett reports. Sheryl Thompson, deputy director of field operations for the state Department of Human Services, told Hulett that state caseworkers are scheduling one-on-one appointments with people affected by the new law. Thompson says people need to know they will still be eligible for food stamps, childcare assistance, and Medicaid. Governor Snyder has not yet signed the bill which calls for a strict enforcement of a 48-month lifetime limit on case assistance benefits.

McCotter Talks Election 2012

Southeast Michigan Congressman, and Republican presidential hopeful, Thaddeus McCotter will discuss his campaign today in Lansing. “Earlier this month, the Livonia Republican opened his national campaign headquarters in Plymouth. McCotter continues to forge ahead despite finishing last in the Iowa straw poll earlier this month… He spent Saturday campaigning at the Polk County GOP picnic in Iowa and recently spoke to Republicans in New Hampshire and Illinois,” the Associated Press reports.

Lansing Property Tax Increase?

For a second time this year, Lansing voters will be asked to decide if they want to increase their property taxes, Steve Carmody reports. From Carmody:

There are fears of deep cuts in police and fire protection if the millage is rejected again. In May, Lansing voters rejected a millage increase. After that, the city laid off 47 police officers and firefighters to close a multi-million dollar budget gap. Now the city’s finance director is predicting another $12 to $15 million gap next year. Last night, the Lansing City Council voted to put a millage increase on the November ballot, with most of the money earmarked for police and fire.

In this morning's news...

Aug 29, 2011
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Gov Supports Hoekstra

Governor Rick Snyder will formally endorse former West Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra in the race for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination. The seat is currently held by Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow. “The endorsement will put the governor at odds with other Michigan Republican power players. Billionaire Betsy DeVos, Republican National Committeeman Saul Anuzis, and ex-Senator Spencer Abraham – all former GOP party chairs – are backing school choice advocate Clark Durant,” Rick Pluta reports. Former Judge Randy Hekman, anti-gay rights activist Gary Glenn, and Roscomman businessman Peter Konetchy are also vying for the GOP nomination.

Local Leaders Say Unions Have Negative Effect

A new survey by The Center for Local, State and Urban Policy at the University of Michigan shows 56 percent of local leaders think unionized workers have had a negative effect on their community’s fiscal health. The Associated Press reports:

The April 18 to June 10 survey got responses from 360 of the estimated 520 local governments in Michigan with unionized workers. It has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25 says money lost to plunging property values and state aid reductions is responsible for local governments' financial problems, not union contracts.

Tea Party Express to Michigan

The Tea Party Express will visit Michigan later this week. “The conservative political activists hold rallies featuring fiery speeches and patriotic music… the focus will be on Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow. Levi Russell, a Tea Party spokesman, says the Tea Party group is hoping to rally local conservatives to work to defeat Stabenow’s re-election bid next year…The Tea Party Express bus tour will stop in Hillsdale and suburban Detroit next Friday and Saturday,” Steve Carmody reports.

In this morning's news...

Aug 26, 2011
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Michigan’s Low-Achieving Schools

The Michigan Department of Education will release a list of the state’s lowest-achieving schools later this morning. “It will be the second time Michigan officials have released an annual list that notes the poorest-performing academic schools in the state. The rankings are based on a federally-prescribed and federally-approved formula. Schools on the list will have 90 days to submit a detailed school improvement or redesign plan. Michigan officials also will release a 'top-to-bottom' ranking of all public schools based on proficiency, student achievement, improvement, graduation rates and other factors,” the Associated Press reports. You can find last year’s list of the state’s lowest-achieving schools here.

Mandating Time-Off for Parents?

Democratic lawmakers in the state Legislature say businesses should be required to give parents unpaid leave to attend parent-teacher conferences and other education related appointments with their kids. “The bill introduced this week would require businesses to give employees eight hours of unpaid leave per child, per school year. A spokesman for the House Republicans says he has not seen the bill, but he does not anticipate support for any mandates on businesses,” Laura Weber reports.

‘Underwear Bomber’ Claims Excessive Force

The Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound plane in 2009 claims he was the victim of excessive force after he allegedly assaulted several officers in prison. The Associated Press reports:

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab filed a handwritten request with a judge yesterday asking that no excessive force be used against him after he says he was assaulted in his cell on Wednesday. Abdulmutallab is being held at a Milan, Michigan federal prison while awaiting trial in Detroit.

Jury selection is set to begin September 14. A trial date is set for October 4.

In this morning's news...

Aug 25, 2011
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Lawmakers Busy in Lansing

The state Legislature has approved a measure that would mean higher health care costs for some teachers and local government employees. “The bill would require local governments to pay no more than 80 percent of their employee health care costs, or limit the payment to $15,000 a year per family.  The measure now heads to Governor Snyder for his signature,” Laura Weber reports.  State lawmakers also gave final approval to legislation that would create stricter welfare limits. The Associated Press reports:

Residents involved in roughly 12,500 welfare cases in Michigan could lose benefits under a stricter, four-year lifetime limit… The welfare limit already has been approved as part of the state budget that kicks in Oct. 1. Lawmakers plan to put the cap in a separate state statute to help implement the budget plan. The state's current four-year limit on welfare benefits would expire Sept. 30 unless the Legislature revises or extends the limitations. The revised welfare limits have fewer exemptions than the four-year limit now in state law.

Medical Marijuana No Longer Legal?

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says he'll inform the state's 83 county prosecutors about a court decision that bans the commercial sale of medical marijuana, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

Schuette says the appeals court ruling empowers local authorities to shut down marijuana dispensaries. The businesses typically allow people with medical marijuana cards to sell pot to others who also have cards. The appeals court said Wednesday that such shops are illegal. Schuette says it's a victory for people who don't want pot dispensaries in their communities.

Home Prices Continue Slide

Michigan home prices are still sliding, thanks to banks selling foreclosed homes and short-selling others. “Realty Trac reports 40 percent of all home sales in Michigan between April and June involved banks either selling foreclosed homes or short-selling other homes that were on the verge of being repossessed. That percentage is up slightly from the beginning of the year and the same time last year,” Steve Carmody reports.

In this morning's news...

Aug 24, 2011
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Changes Coming to State Employee Benefits

A state legislative committee has approved a measure that would require thousands of teachers and local government employees to pick up a bigger share of their health benefits. Rick Pluta reports:

The measure is expected to be voted on today by the state House and the Senate. It will require local governments to pay no more than 80 percent of their employee health care costs, or limit the payment to $15,000 a year per family. Supporters of the plan say it will save school districts and local governments millions of dollars. Democrats and many local officials oppose the play. They say it robs districts and local governments of flexibility. The plan will apply to legislators, but not to state civil service workers or to university employees, which would require amending the state constitution.

Update: Affirmative Action Ban

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission is fighting state Attorney General Bill Schuette in court. That’s because, “Schuette wants to restore the voter-approved ban on affirmative action in university admissions… A panel of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the ban on affirmative action in admissions policies last month. The Michigan attorney general is now asking the entire court to reconsider and reverse that decision. He says the court should give deference to the wishes of Michigan voters who approved the ban in 2006,” Laura Weber reports. There's no word on when the court may decide to reconsider the decision.

Romney Leading Among MI GOP Voters

The latest state poll of likely voters has mixed news for one Republican presidential contender with Michigan roots and downright bad news for another, Steve Carmody reports. From Carmody:

Epic-MRA polled likely Republican Michigan voters and found a third said they would vote for Mitt Romney in next year’s GOP presidential primary.  That’s more than any other Republican candidate, but pollster Bernie Porn says the bad news for Romney is that he should be getting more support and that could be a problem in the primary… Porn says Michigan Congressman Thaddeus McCotter has a much bigger problem. Only one percent of Michigan Republicans say they would vote for him in the presidential primary, even in his congressional district in southeast Michigan… Texas Governor Rick Perry and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann finished second and third in the poll.

In this morning's news...

Aug 23, 2011
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Judge Orders Professors Back to Work

An Isabella County Circuit Court Judge has ordered Central Michigan University professors back into their classrooms. The order comes just a day after the CMU Faculty Association began a work stoppage. CMU and the professors’ union have been unable to negotiate a new contract. CMU Administration officials say the work stoppage is illegal because public employees are not allowed to strike under state law. A court hearing is scheduled for Friday.

Voters Unhappy with Snyder

A new poll shows Michigan voters remain disenchanted with Governor Snyder. From the Associated Press:

In the survey released Monday by Lansing-based EPIC-MRA, 33 percent gave the GOP governor a positive job rating while 62 percent gave him a negative rating and 5 percent were undecided. The results were virtually unchanged from EPIC-MRA's July poll. Forty-two percent of those polled last week said they have a favorable opinion of the governor, while the same percentage have an unfavorable opinion. Thirty-one percent say the state is headed in the right direction, while 54 percent say it's on the wrong track and 15 percent are undecided, similar to July's findings.

MI Congressman: Secure Weapons in Libya

Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers says as the Muammar Gadhafi regime loses power in Libya, the United States needs to make sure Libya’s weapons stockpiles don’t fall into the wrong hands. “Rogers chairs the House Select Intelligence Committee and was among a group of Republicans who supported stronger military support of the rebels in Libya, including a U.S. enforced “no-fly zone.” He says as Gadhafi loses power, the U.S. must move quickly to safeguard Libya’s advanced and chemical weapons,” Vincent Duffy reports.