morning news roundup

In this morning's news...

Aug 22, 2011
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CMU Work Stoppage

The Faculty Association at Central Michigan University has authorized union leaders to call a job action that could include a strike as CMU and its professors still have not reached a labor contract. Despite the work stoppage, the school sent a release yesterday saying students should show up at their classes as scheduled and that it would seek a court injunction to get faculty members back to work. Professors have been without a contract since June 30th.

'Pure Michigan' To Go International

The “Pure Michigan” tourism campaign targeted a new audience over the weekend: NASCAR fans. Steve Carmody reports:

The state tourism marketing campaign sponsored the nationally televised “Pure Michigan 400” race on Sunday at Michigan International Speedway. It's part of the state’s $25 million tourism promotion budget… Governor Rick Snyder says he plans to take the state’s “Pure Michigan” tourism campaign international. Snyder says he’ll take the “Pure Michigan” message with him on a trade Mission to China, Japan and South Korea this fall. 

Corrections Boss Sees 'Mission Creep'

About a quarter of Michigan's 43,000 state prisoners are mentally ill, and new Michigan Corrections Director Dan Heyns says he wants to shift responsibility for their treatment from his department to other agencies, the Associated Press reports. “Heyns says in an interview with The Detroit News… that his department ‘has had a kind of mission creep over the years.’ He says the department needs to return to its original mission. Heyns is an ex-Jackson County sheriff and took over the state's prison system in June,” the Associated Press reports.

In this morning's news...

Aug 19, 2011

EM Ruling

Governor Snyder has asked the Michigan Supreme Court to rule on the legality of the new Emergency Manager law. “That would mean bypassing lower court proceedings, against the wishes of the law firm that filed the lawsuit opposing the EM law,” Laura Weber reports. “The revised law lets emergency managers strip power from locally elected leaders and scrap union contracts. A lawsuit filed in Ingham County claims the law is unconstitutional in part because it takes away citizens' rights to petition local government on certain matters,” the Associated Press explains. The Detroit News reports there was no immediate word from the Michigan Supreme Court on Snyder's request.

Pontiac Cuts

Pontiac residents could soon pay more for fewer services as the city tries to tackle a projected $12 million deficit.  “Emergency manager Michael Stampfler's plan would add more than $6 million to Pontiac’s tax rolls. Stampfler is also calling for $9 million dollars in budget cuts – which could mean the layoffs of 10 deputy sheriffs and a reduction in fire services,” Rina Miller reports.

Durant In

Republican Clark Durant, a charter school executive in Detroit, has officially entered the race to unseat Democratic U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow in the 2012 election. A formal announcement is expected to come after Labor Day. Just last week, three state Republican leaders endorsed Durant even though, at that point, he had not entered the race. As of now, Durant faces other Republican candidates in the primary including former West Michigan U.S. Representative Pete Hoekstra. As I reported last week, Governor Snyder plans to endorse Hoekstra in the GOP primary.

In this morning's news...

Aug 17, 2011
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“Kids Count”

There was a 64 percent increase in the child poverty rate in Michigan between 2000 -2009, according to a new report. The “Kids Count” report, released yesterday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, keeps track of 10 factors including child poverty, education levels and the rate of infant mortality. There was some good news to come out of the report. It shows that Michigan ranks better than the national average for the death rate among teens due, in part, to fewer fatal car accidents.

Detroit Job Fair

Thousands of people waited for hours to get into a job fair in Detroit yesterday. “The job fair was part of a nationwide tour hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus. It’s meant to draw attention to unemployment among African Americans… The Congressional Black Caucus says the unemployment level for African Americans is more than 16 percent. In Detroit, the figure ranges anywhere from 30-50 percent,” Sarah Cwiek reports.

‘Underwear Bomber’ Back in Court

The Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound jetliner with 290 people aboard on Christmas Day in 2009 is due back in court after prosecutors raised questions last week about sealed documents in the case, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The government seeks to know if Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab agreed to the sealed filings recently made by his standby counsel, Anthony Chambers. The hearing is Wednesday afternoon at U.S. District Court in Detroit. The subject of the filings hasn't been disclosed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Cathleen Corke. But she wrote that it could affect the Oct. 4 trial date and the 24-year-old Abdulmutallab's ability to "continue with self-representation." He dismissed his court-appointed lawyers last year and said he wanted to represent himself.

In this morning's news...

Aug 15, 2011
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Snyder to UP

Governor Snyder will visit the Upper Peninsula this week where he’ll meet with state lawmakers, community leaders and tour businesses. The governor will be in St. Ignace and Sault Ste. Marie early today with state Senator Howard Walker and state Rep. Frank Foster. He’ll then meet with state Sen. Tom Casperson in the afternoon in Grand Marais and then address the Marquette Economic Club in Marquette this evening.  Snyder is scheduled to travel to Houghton tomorrow.

The Continuing Bridge Debate

A group of state lawmakers will head to Detroit as discussions intensify over whether to build a publicly owned bridge to Canada. Laura Weber reports:

A group of lawmakers will tour the site proposed for a second bridge from Detroit to Canada. And they will hear from parties interested in and opposed to building the second span. The tour and meetings are expected to last all day, and Senate hearings on the bridge issue will resume when lawmakers return next week. Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley says Governor Snyder’s administration is serious about getting the project approved before the end of the year.

Kalamazoo River Oil Spill Update

The federal Environmental Protection Agency will hold a public meeting this week to discuss what’s happening with the Kalamazoo River oil spill. “Wednesday’s public meeting is expected to focus on the ongoing need to remove oil that remains submerged in three distinct parts of the Kalamazoo River,” Steve Carmody reports. An oil pipeline, owned by Enbridge Energy, ruptured near Marshall in July 2010 and spilled more than 800,000 gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River. It has cost Enbridge about a half billion dollars to clean up the spill and reimburse residents living near the spill zone.

In this morning's news

Aug 11, 2011
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Obama to Holland

President Obama travels to West Michigan today to tour a plant in Holland that makes Lithium-ion batteries for electric and hybrid vehicles.  The plant that the President is visiting received a nearly $300 million federal grant. This marks the second time that the President has visited Holland to bring attention to the area’s investment in battery technology. After his stop in Michigan, the President heads to New York City for a fundraiser for his 2012 re-election campaign.

Seniors Challenge Pension Tax

Groups representing seniors and public employees filed briefs yesterday with the state Supreme Court challenging Michigan’s new tax on pension income, Rick Pluta reports. From Pluta:

Extending the income tax to pensions was part of Governor Rick Snyder’s budget proposal that was adopted earlier this year by the Legislature’s Republican majorities.

Eric Schneidewinde, with the AARP of Michigan, says the tax violates a part of the state constitution that protects the pension income of teachers and other retired public workers.

Republicans say the tax treats everyone the same, so it does not specifically target public employee pensions.

Governor Snyder asked the state Supreme Court to rule on the pension tax before it officially takes effect in January. The court will hear arguments in the case early next month.

Michiganders Represent on Debt Commission

Two Michigan Congressmen, U.S. Representatives Dave Camp and Fred Upton, have been selected by U.S. House Speaker John Boehner to a powerful committee that will work out a plan to reduce the nation’s budget deficit. Considering there will only 12 members, six Democrats and six Republicans, on the so called “super-committee”, it’s a pretty big deal for the state. Rep. Camp told Michigan Radio he believes if the panel takes a common-sense approach, it will be able to work together without the rancor that marked the debt-ceiling debates. The committee has until November 23rd to come up with a plan.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

More Cut from Food Assistance than Predicted

Some 30,000 college students in Michigan have been dropped from the state’s food assistance program since April. Earlier this year, the state Department of Human Services took bridge cards away from college students who didn’t meet federal guidelines for food assistance. However, the new eligibility requirements put in place were not predicted to drop so many students from the program. DHS says even more people will be cut from the program in October when qualifications become asset-based instead of income-based.

Bridge Debate Continues

Officials from Governor Rick Snyder’s administration say they would like to have a deal on a new bridge between Detroit and Canada reached before the end of the year, Laura Weber reports. From Weber:

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley, who is spearheading the governor’s effort to build the bridge, says he has not counted heads recently to see who in the Legislature supports a new bridge project. But he says the only count he cares about is the final vote in the House and Senate. Most lawmakers, especially Republicans –who are in control of the Legislature—have yet to take a position on the bridge issue, citing misinformation from both sides of the debate. Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says he won’t bring the bridge issue up for a vote if most Republicans are not on board.  But Calley hinted last week that there could be a handful of ways the governor’s administration could get the bridge built without the Legislature’s approval.

Remembering Eleanor Josaitis

Focus: Hope co-founder Eleanor Josaitis has died. “Her son says she died this morning at a hospice in Livonia after being diagnosed with cancer last year… Josaitis and the Rev. William Cunningham founded Focus: HOPE in 1968 following the race riots that widened a rift between Detroit's black and white residents. The group offers job training, as well as food programs for the poor and elderly. Cunningham died in 1997,” the Associated Press reports. Josaitis was 79.

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MI Politics

President Obama will visit Holland next week to tour the Johnson Controls Inc. advanced battery facility. The President came to Holland last year for the LG Chem battery facility ground-breaking. Holland Mayor Kurt Dykstra says the president’s visit is a great opportunity for his community, and the state in general. Meanwhile, Republican Congressman Thaddeus McCotter of Livonia, who wants President Obama’s job, has opened up his national campaign headquarters in Plymouth. Rep. McCotter says opening the national office in Plymouth proves his commitment, "to running a winning, grass-roots campaign for the presidency."

Auto Earnings

General Motors made $2.5 billion in the second quarter, slightly more than its rival Ford which took in $2.4 billion in the same period. “Most of GM’s second quarter profit came from North America, as truck and Chevrolet brand car sales rebounded.  North American President Mark Reuss says the strong performance came despite the slow economy and some unexpected events… This is GM’s sixth quarterly profit in a row, a dramatic improvement compared to the years leading up to the bankruptcy,” Tracy Samilton reports.

Looking for Asian Carp

Crews in Chicago are on the hunt for Asian carp this week, Rebecca Williams reports. From Williams:

The crews are looking for the carp in Lake Calumet, which is linked by a river to Lake Michigan. Asian carp have been found in the rivers that feed into Lake Michigan from Illinois. John Rogner is the assistant director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. He says they’re looking for live carp after finding carp DNA in Lake Calumet. He says it could mean there are live Asian carp in the lake… He says so far this week, they have not found any live bighead or silver carp in Lake Calumet.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

States Wary of Debt Deal

President Obama announced last night that leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties in both the House and Senate have come to a deal to avert a default on the national debt. As the Associated Press reports, the deal will likely inflict fiscal pain on states still struggling to recover from the recession:

Although the details of the spending cuts to states remain unclear, lawmakers from both parties have discussed the need to cut or impose caps on so-called discretionary spending over the next decade.

That could mean wide-ranging cuts in federal aid to states, affecting everything from the Head Start school readiness program, Meals on Wheels and worker-training initiatives to funding for transit agencies and education grants that serve disabled children.

There also is concern among governors, state lawmakers and state agency heads that Congress will make deep reductions or changes in federal aid for health services for needy people, most notably through Medicaid. That could shift more of the costs onto states already having trouble balancing their budgets.

Snyder Recall

Organizers of a recall petition against Governor Snyder have until  Friday to collect more than 800,000 signatures to put the issue on the November ballot. “The recall campaign is being led by groups that claim Snyder’s policies are hurting Michiganders. Recall critics accuse the petition drive organizers of just trying to reverse the voters’ decision last year,” Steve Carmody reports. Tom Bryant, the recall campaign spokesman, says petition circulators will be at polling places across the state tomorrow to gather more signatures for the recall petition.

Pontiac Turns Over Police

The Pontiac Police Department is about to close, making way for the Oakland County sheriff to take over law enforcement in the financially challenged southeastern Michigan community, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The sheriff's department says the official changeover happened at  11 p.m. Sunday. The city of 58,000 is under the control of state-appointed emergency financial manager Michael Stampfler. He proposed eliminating Pontiac's police force last year. Hiring the sheriff's department to do the job is expected to save about $2 million each year.

In this morning's news...

Jul 28, 2011
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Health care lawsuit to SupCo

The Thomas More Law Center of Ann Arbor has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review its constitutional challenge to the nation’s healthcare overhaul law. As the Associated Press reports, “the appeal filed Wednesday… said Congress overstepped its authority in requiring Americans to purchase health insurance or pay financial penalties.” The appeal is challenging the first federal appeals court ruling that upheld the legislation.

Ford Investing in India

Bloomberg is reporting that Ford will spend more than $906 million on a second car factory in India. In an email statement today, the company says it will build the plant with an initial capacity to make 240,000 cars and 270,000 engines annually. Ford says the new plant will employee 5000 people. It’s being reported that the factory will start production in 2014.

House Cuts

State House Speaker Jase Bolger is requiring lawmakers and state members of the Michigan House to pay more for their health insurance benefits come October 1st. Laura Weber reports:

Bolger made the decision to require all state House employees to pay as much as 20 percent of their health insurance benefits alongside an 18 percent reduction to the money lawmakers have allotted for their office expenses. The changes ordered by Bolger’s office comes amidst a debate between the House and Senate over how much teachers and local government employees should be required to pay for their health benefits.

In this morning's news...

Jul 25, 2011
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Contract Talks Begin

Contract talks between the United Auto Workers and Detroit automakers kick off today. Tracy Samilton reports that, although the union and auto companies are on better terms than perhaps any other time in history, it could still take weeks to reach a deal. Car companies want to reduce their labor costs and other issues will include health care, pensions, and how many skilled trades workers there should be. The current contract ends September 14th.

Unconstitutional Recalls?

State House Speaker Jase Bolger says the process citizens use to launch recall campaigns in the state is unconstitutional. Bolger is facing a recall campaign himself and has filed suit to block it, Sarah Hulett reports. From Hulett:

State House Speaker Jase Bolger has filed suit to block the recall against him. At issue is the fact that county election commissions are made up of a judge, the county clerk and the county treasurer. Bolger says that violates the separation of powers doctrine in the state constitution. More than a dozen state officials – including the governor and attorney general – are currently the targets of recall campaigns.

Cooler Temps thru Wednesday

We’ll have a bit of a weather ‘cool down’ over the next few days. But, of course, when temperatures were in triple digits, calling it a ‘cool down’ is only relative. “High temperatures are expected to be around 85 degrees today with low humidity levels… The somewhat cooler weather will continue Tuesday. But the heat and humidity will return Wednesday and Thursday, with highs hovering again around the low 90s,” the Detroit Free Press reports.

In this morning's news...

Jul 22, 2011
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New Asian Carp Evidence

There is new evidence that Asian carp may have slipped past electric barriers in Chicago-area waterways. The barriers are meant to keep the fish from reaching the Great Lakes, Rick Pluta reports. From Pluta:

The news has launched a new wave of arguments over the threat posed by the invasive species. The Army Corps of Engineers turned up nine positive tests for Asian carp DNA out of hundreds taken from Chicago-area waterways. Federal officials say that’s not proof the invasive species is getting closer to Lake Michigan, or that it poses an imminent threat of infesting the Great Lakes. The state of Michigan is suing the federal government to get the shipping locks shut down as an emergency precaution.

Gov’t to Chrysler: Bye-Bye

The U.S. Treasury Department says Italian automaker Fiat SpA has bought the U.S. government’s remaining holdings in Chrysler. “Fiat paid $560 million to the Treasury Department for the government's 98,000 shares. Fiat has run the company since it emerged from bankruptcy protection in June 2009. Treasury provided a total of $12.5 billion to Chrysler and its financing arm after the recession hampered auto sales and sent Chrysler and General Motors to the brink of collapse. The funds came from the government's $700 billion bank bailout fund,” the Associated Press reports.

Michigan in the “Toxic 20”

Michigan ranked seventh worst in air population in a study released by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The NRDC study found almost half of all toxic air pollution came from coal and oil-fired power plants. The NRDC used data from the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxics Release Inventory. Ohio had the worst air population, followed by Pennsylvania, Florida and Kentucky.

In this morning's news...

Jul 21, 2011

Heat, Humidity Continues

It’s official, the Detroit News reports: Michigan is in the middle of a heat wave. From the News:

The National Weather Service declares a heat wave when there are five or more consecutive days of 90-degree weather or three or more consecutive days of 95-degree temperatures. Today is expected to top out at a sweltering 100 degrees with high humidity. It is the fifth straight day of at least 90-degree temperatures. The heat and humidity will combine to make it feel like 110 degrees outside…  The 100 degree high would set a record.

Changes to Binding Arbitration

A local government's ability to pay will be the top factor for an arbitrator to consider when settling labor disputes involving police and fire departments under terms of legislation signed yesterday by Governor Snyder, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The legislation… will speed up arbitration in some cases by requiring the process to be completed within 180 days. The expenses of arbitration would be split between the local government and the union involved. Snyder says making a community's ability to pay the top priority could help prevent "drastic cuts" that could lead to layoffs of public safety personnel. Michigan has relied on binding arbitration to help resolve public safety personnel labor disputes for decades.

Jobless Rate Rises Slightly

Michigan’s unemployment rate rose slightly to 10.5 percent in June. There were 8,000 more unemployed people in Michigan last month – a total of 496,000 people looking for work. When part-timers, people who would like to work full-time, and those who got discouraged and stopped looking for work are counted, the rate of unemployment and under-employment was 19.6 percent.

In this morning's news...

Jul 20, 2011
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Hoekstra In

Former West Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra announced this morning that he is launching a campaign for Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow’s seat in 2012. Earlier this year, Hoekstra announced that he wouldn’t run but, in a statement released this morning, he says, “After a good deal of reflection, I've decided that I cannot sit on the sidelines while the President and U.S. Senate mortgage our children and grandchildren's future.  For these reasons, I have made the decision to file the appropriate paperwork to build an organization and begin a campaign for the U.S. Senate.”

Snyder Signs Teacher Tenure Law

Governor Rick Snyder signed a measure yesterday that will make it easier for school districts to fire teachers in classrooms where students are struggling. Rick Pluta reports:

It also eliminates discipline and layoff rules as a subject of collective bargaining with teachers unions. The governor says seniority is an outdated system for deciding which teachers are laid off first, and where they should work. School employee unions say the new law will remove critical job protections and lead to districts getting rid of veteran teachers for financial rather than academic reasons. A commission will make specific recommendations to the Legislature next year on how to measure teacher performance. The new rules will take effect at the beginning of the school year that begins in the fall of 2012.

Median Income Drops

The median income for Michigan households has dropped by more than $9,000 over the past decade, Jennifer Guerra reports. “Michigan’s median household income in 2009 was $45,255, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey. When adjusted for inflation, the median income in 2000 was $54,651, according to the Bureau's Supplemental Survey,” Guerra explains. Only one other state, Hawaii, has seen a bigger loss in income.

In this morning's news...

Jul 19, 2011
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Borders to Close

Ann Arbor-based Borders Group Inc. announced yesterday that it plans to close down after it failed to receive any bids that would keep it in business. It’s being reported that the 40-year old company could start liquidating its remaining 399 nationwide stores as early as Friday. Borders employs 10,700 people, 400 of which are located in Ann Arbor.

Snyder Talks Immigration

Governor Snyder and other leaders talked about immigration and Michigan’s economic future at a conference yesterday in Detroit . Sarah Cwiek reports:

Organizers say they want to change the conversation about immigrants and the economy. They maintain immigration is a key driver of economic growth… Governor Snyder says the state needs to do more to attract immigrants, and get them to stay once they’re here. Snyder says Michigan needs to get over what he calls its “shrinking pie” mindset about immigrants, the economy and jobs… Snyder gave a broad outline of what he’s calling the state’s “Global Michigan Initiative” to do just that.

Hoekstra Changes His Mind?

Former West Michigan Congressman and Republican gubernatorial candidate Pete Hoekstra announced earlier this year that he wouldn’t run against Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow for her Senate seat in 2012… but, reports say Hoekstra may be reconsidering a bid. “The spokesman for Hoekstra’s previous campaigns says the former congressman is not rushed to make a decision on whether he will run for the Republican nomination to face Senator Stabenow. But he says Hoekstra was persuaded by political insiders and influential Republicans not to give up on the idea. The spokesman says Hoekstra most likely will not decide until late in the summer,” Laura Weber reports.

In this morning's news...

Jul 18, 2011
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Immigration Discussion

Governor Rick Snyder will speak at a conference today on immigration at Wayne State University. Topics at the “Immigration and Michigan’s Economic Future,” conference will include how immigration can help Michigan’s economy and boost the state’s population. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will be on a panel titled, “Can Immigrants Save Detroit?” via teleconference. Earlier this year, Mayor Bloomberg said he thought immigrants could help reverse Detroit’s population loss.

Kildee’s Open Seat

Michigan Congressman Dale Kildee announced on Friday that he is retiring from the U.S. House of Representatives at the end of his current term and political watchers are already beginning to ask: who will replace him? From the Detroit Free Press:

"Our assumption is that Jim will get in. He never wanted to leave in the first place," said Bay County Executive Thomas Hickner, referring to Jim Barcia, the former Democratic congressman and state senator from Bay City who left his U.S. House seat in 2002 after redistricting forced him and Kildee, a Flint Democrat, into the same district.

Barcia said he never would consider running if Kildee was staying in office, "but now, I'll certainly consider it."

Kildee's 5th District seat stretches from Bay County through Genesee County and into the Thumb. The newly redrawn district loses most of the Thumb territory and gains Arenac and Iosco counties. It's expected to remain solidly Democratic. Kildee's closest race came in 2010, when he won with 54% of the vote…

Other names that surfaced as possible successors were state Sen. John Gleason, D-Flushing; Kildee's nephew Dan Kildee, the former treasurer for Genesee County, and current county Treasurer Deb Cherry.

It’s Hot… (As If You Hadn’t Noticed)

Summer in Michigan has certainly arrived. Temperatures pushing the mid-90’s were reported as far north as the western Upper Peninsula, the Associated Press reports. “The National Weather Service says Sunday's heat is a preview of what's ahead this week. The temperatures climbed to 95 degrees at Iron Mountain in western upper Michigan. Alpena in northern lower Michigan was the state's hot spot Sunday at 97 degrees, while Ypsilanti's high hit 96,” the AP reports. Temperatures throughout the southern Lower Peninsula are expected to be in the 90’s throughout the week.

In this morning's news...

Jul 15, 2011
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Bid for Borders Falls Through

The Borders bookstore chain has gone from having a potential buyer to talk of liquidation in the last 24 hours, Jennifer Guerra reports. From Guerra:

The auction to sell Borders is still scheduled for Tuesday, July 19th.  But the lead bidder, known as a "stalking horse," has pulled out. That bidder was Najafi, a private equity from Arizona a firm. The New York Times reports creditors were "concerned that the agreement could allow Najafi to buy the company at a low price and then liquidate Borders later without letting creditors benefit."  So with Najafi out, the new stalking horse is a group led by Hilco Merchant Resources, and they want to liquidate Borders… About 400 Borders stores remain open.

Ford Laid to Rest

Former First Lady Betty Ford’s funeral took place yesterday afternoon at Grace Episcopal Church in East Grand Rapids. It is the same church where the Ford’s were married in 1948. Michigan’s Governor, former congressmen, ambassadors, and other politicians attended the services with Ford’s family and friends. Mrs. Ford died last week at the age of 93.

Head Start Funding

Detroit is in danger of losing millions of dollars in federal Head Start money, Sarah Hulett reports. “Head Start provides early childhood education for low-income kids. The city department that runs Head Start has been in trouble with the federal government for failing to fix problems uncovered in audits – including accounting errors and misspent funds. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is reportedly looking to Wayne County to take over the program,” Sarah Hulett reports.

In this morning's news...

Jul 14, 2011
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Senate Approves Welfare Cap

The Michigan Senate approved a four-year limit on cash assistance welfare benefits yesterday. The 48-month cap is part of a Republican plan to balance the state budget. Some 12,600 families are expected to begin to lose benefits on October 1st because of the new limits. Lawmakers voted along party lines: 24 Republicans voted for the measure, 12 Democrats opposed it. The Senate Fiscal Agency says the legislation will save the state $77 million. If signed into law, the new limits would be among the strictest in the Midwest.

Ford Brought Back to Grand Rapids

Betty Ford will be laid to rest this afternoon in Grand Rapids. Thousands of people paid their respects yesterday evening during visitation at the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum. Dustin Dwyer was at the museum and reports:

The sidewalk outside the Ford Museum was packed with people when the motorcade rolled by, carrying Betty Ford on her final trip home. Visitors remembered Mrs. Ford as a woman who wasn't afraid to discuss her battles with alcoholism and breast cancer. A funeral service is scheduled for 2 o’clock Thursday afternoon. Afterward, Betty Ford will be laid to rest next to her husband at the Ford Museum.

University Tuition Increases

Ferris State University trustees have voted to raise undergraduate tuition 5.14 percent, well short of a 7 percent cap that Governor Snyder has set for schools to get access to special funds, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

Ferris is among the final state universities to set their tuition for the 2011-12 academic year. Central Michigan and Northern Michigan are expected to set their rates Thursday, and Grand Valley State is expected to decide Friday… The state is reducing its aid to the school by 15 percent, or $7.3 million.

Jennifer Guerra has a roundup of the schools that have announced tuition increases so far:

In this morning's news...

Jul 12, 2011
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Feds Coming to Detroit

The Obama administration unveiled a federal program yesterday aimed at helping cities like Detroit revitalize parts of their urban centers. “The Strong Cities, Strong Communities program will target Detroit, Fresno, Memphis, Cleveland, New Orleans, and Chester, Pa… Officials say the program seeks to cut through federal red tape by providing communities with technical assistance to ensure federal and local dollars are spent wisely. Federal representatives will help Detroit Mayor Dave Bing tackle issues he had identified as ‘vital to their economic strategies, including efforts to build on local assets, strengthen regional economies, develop transportation infrastructure, improve job-training programs and support community revitalization,’” Mark Brush reports.

Thousands Still without Power

Utilities companies say about 90,000 homes and businesses remain without electricity a day after severe thunderstorms and strong winds moved across the lower half of the state. The Associated Press reports:

At least 191,000 customers lost power following Monday's storms. CMS Energy Corp. says Tuesday morning about 42,000 of its customers still were without power. DTE Energy Co. tells WDIV-TV and WWJ-AM about 47,000 of its customers remained blacked out… The storms hit as southern Michigan was already seeing a dangerous mix of high temperatures and high humidity.

Services for Ford

About a thousand people will attend a funeral for former First Lady Betty Ford today. The invitation-only service will take place in Palm Desert, California. Tomorrow, Mrs. Fords’ body will be flown to Michigan where a public viewing will take place in the evening at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids. A private service is planned for Thursday in East Grand Rapids.

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Many Still Powerless

Crews are still working to restore electricity to about 11,000 homes and businesses across the state after this weekend’s severe thunderstorms. The Associated Press reports:

DTE Energy Co. says Tuesday morning that those without power included about 10,000 in Wayne County and about 1,000 in St. Clair County. DTE says it hopes to restore electrical service to as many as possible by day's end… The storms on Saturday generated 2-inch-wide hail and winds gusting to 64 mph that knocked down trees and power lines and left 125,000 utility customers in the dark.

Teen Driving

A new bill could change driving restrictions for Michigan;s teens. The measure would allow teen drivers on the road between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. if they were driving to and from school activities, such as sporting events. Currently, teens can only drive between those hours if they are commuting to and from work. The bill would also allow a teen to drive between those hours if a parent or legal guardian was in the car with them.

Insurance Reforms for the Fall?

Will Governor Snyder propose sweeping changes to insurance regulations this fall? That’s a question floating around the state Capitol. Laura Weber reports:

The discussion [over insurance reform] began when Snyder recently said that negotiations over repealing Michigan’s motorcycle helmet law should be part of a larger discussion on insurance reform. But, even Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville is unclear on what other proposals the governor many want… Richardville says he has been discussing a repeal of the helmet law with Governor Snyder since the beginning of the year.

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Reports: McCotter Ready to Enter 2012 Presidential Race

There are reports out this morning, quoting many unnamed sources, that Republican Congressman Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan is planning on jumping into the 2012 presidential race.  From the Associated Press:

A person familiar with the plans of Michigan Congressman Thaddeus McCotter says the Republican will make a "major announcement" Saturday about whether he will run for president in 2012. A person in contact with the Livonia congressman told The Associated Press yesterday that McCotter will address whether he'll seek the Republican presidential nomination.

Lawmakers Finish Work For the Summer

State lawmakers worked into the evening yesterday, finishing up their work before a two month summer break begins. Lawmakers worked on teacher tenure rules, the House passed another version of a bill that would require many public employees to pay more of their health insurance costs, and the House also approved a measure to regulate hunting ranches as an alternative to new regulations that would outlaw wild boar.

For Sale: Borders

Borders has agreed to sell itself to private investment firm Najafi Cos. for $215 million, according to the Associated Press. “Najafi, which owns the Book-of-the-Month Club, will also assume $220 million in debt. The agreement is tentative and what is known as a ‘stalking horse’ bid for a company under bankruptcy protection. The bid will open an auction for the bookseller and its assets, so a higher bid is possible. A bankruptcy court hearing on the deal is set for July 21,” the Associated Press reports.

In this morning's news...

Jun 30, 2011
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Redistricting Maps Head to Governor

The Republican-led state Senate approved new redistricting maps yesterday. They now head to Governor Snyder’s desk for his signature. But, it appears, that’s not the end of the story. There are reports this morning that the maps will likely be challenged in court. Democrats are unhappy with the maps. As the Detroit News explains, “Democrats claimed throughout the review process that wildly irregular districts — especially in Metro Detroit — were engineered to protect Republican incumbents.” Due to a loss of population in the past ten years, Michigan will go from having 15 U.S. Representatives to 14.

Benton Harbor EM: City Budget Will Break Even this Year

Benton Harbor’s Emergency Manager Joe Harris told residents at a town hall meeting yesterday evening that the city will be able to break even this budget year. In fact, Harris says, the city could run a $400,000 surplus for this fiscal year. Lindsey Smith reports that many of the residents appeared to be relived at the news but some remained skeptical. Harris plans to release his complete budget online by the end of the week.

New Rules for Juries

Beginning this fall, people serving on Michigan juries will be allowed to play a more active role in the pursuit of justice, Steve Carmod reports. From Carmody:

The Michigan Supreme Court announced yesterday that it is revising the rules for people serving as jurors. Until now, jurors were generally expected to sit back, watch the proceedings and wait until both sides had wrapped up their arguments before being able to even discuss the case with other members of the jury. But beginning September 1st, jurors will be allowed to take notes, discuss the case and even ask questions. Many other states, including Arizona and Massachusetts, have implemented similar new rules for serving on a jury.  The Michigan Supreme Court has been studying possible changes to juror rules since 2005.

In this morning's news...

Jun 29, 2011
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Redistricting Maps One Step Closer to Approval

New Republican-drawn maps for Michigan's congressional and state legislative districts have moved closer to becoming final, reports the Associated Press. “The Republican majority on the Senate Redistricting Committee approved a congressional map Tuesday, sending it to the full Senate for consideration later this week. Meanwhile, the Republican-led Michigan House approved versions of maps that would redraw districts for the state House and Senate. Republicans control the redistricting process with majorities in the Legislature, and Democrats have had little luck altering them since the GOP maps were released June 17. Democrats unveiled their own congressional map Tuesday but were unable to get the Senate committee to adopt it or alter the Republican-drawn map,” the AP explains.

Bing Says No More to Negotiating Budget with City Council

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing says there’s no more reason to negotiate with City Council over the city's next budget. That means he’ll be implementing the Council-approved budget, even though he maintains it will mean devastating cuts. Sarah Cweik reports:

Bing and the Council have been wrestling for months over how much money to cut from next fiscal year’s budget. Council wants to cut $50 million more than Bing. Bing then proposed an amendment to restore $30 million, but Council voted that down Tuesday… Council members insist their budget cuts wouldn’t cause layoffs, and say Bing is using scare tactics to get his way.

The 2012 fiscal year begins July 1st.

Student Test Results Released

Results of the Michigan Merit Exam have been released by the Michigan Department of Education. Jennifer Guerra reports:

All Michigan high school juniors take the test in the spring to see how well-prepared they are for college. The MME tests students in reading, writing, math, science and social studies. Students' math, science and writing scores inched up over last year, but scores in social studies and reading went down. Martin Ackley, a spokesperon for the Department of Education, prefers to look at trends when it comes to test results, not just year-to-year data. He says he is "encouraged" student scores have been trending upward over the past five years, but he says the results "aren't where they need to be overall. We’d like to see them obviously higher than they are now." About 109,000 students took this year’s exam, nearly half of whom tested not proficient in writing and math.

In this morning's news...

Jun 28, 2011
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Redistricting Continues

Michigan Democrats plan to introduce their own redistricting map at a state Senate hearing today.  Republicans have already released their maps and pretty much control the redistricting process as they hold majorities in both the state House and Senate. Michigan will go from 15 to 14 U.S. Representatives because of the state’s population loss. A copy of the Democrat's map was obtained by the Associated Press. The map, as the AP notes, would, “pit Republican incumbent Thad McCotter of Livonia against Democratic incumbent Gary Peters of Oakland County's Bloomfield Township and avoid extending a Detroit district up to Pontiac…The GOP map pits Peters against fellow Democratic incumbent Sander Levin.”

Dems to GOP: Restore School Funding

House Democrats are once again calling on Governor Snyder and state GOP lawmakers to restore money cut from public schools. Democratic lawmakers are traveling the state to bring attention to the funding issue. Lindsey Smith reports:

The state will provide K -12 schools about 2 percent less money than last fiscal year. The state public education fund had a surplus this spring. Some of the surplus money from the state’s school aide fund is being used for the first time to fund community colleges and public universities.

Coal Costing the State?

A new report from the Michigan Environmental Council says Michigan’s oldest coal-burning power plants are costing state residents $1.5 billion dollars in health care costs each year, Rebecca Williams reports. From Williams:

The report focuses on the state’s nine oldest coal-burning power plants.  It highlights particle pollution.  This type of pollution comes from power plants and factories as well as car and trucks. James Clift, policy director for the MEC, says these tiny particles are linked to a variety of heart and lung problems, including asthma. DTE Energy owns four of the power plants targeted in the report.  John Austerberry, a spokesperson with DTE, says,“all Detroit Edison power plants meet or exceed federal standards for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.  And it’s those constituents that can contribute to the formation of fine particles under certain atmospheric conditions.” The report calls on DTE and Consumers Energy to gradually phase out the oldest coal-burning power plants.

In this morning's news...

Jun 23, 2011
Brother O'Mara / Flickr

EM Law Faces  Lawsuit:

A group opposed to the state’s new emergency manager law has filed a lawsuit seeking to reverse it, Rick Pluta reports. From Pluta:

The lawsuit says the emergency manager law undermines voters’ rights to choose their elected officials. That’s because the law allows state-appointed emergency managers sweeping powers - including the ability to remove elected officials who don’t cooperate…The lawsuit names Governor Rick Snyder and state Treasurer Andy Dillon as the defendants. The Detroit pension board has also filed a lawsuit challenging the law. Governor Snyder’s office says the law is both constitutional and necessary to help the state’s most financially troubled communities. Benton Harbor, Pontiac, Ecorse and the Detroit school district are currently under the control of emergency managers.

Kalamazoo River Cleanup Continues

Cleanup crews are on the Kalamazoo River this week collecting oil that remains at the bottom of the river from last July’s oil spill. Enbridge Energy, the company that owns the pipeline that leaked the oil says more than 90 percent of the 840,000 gallons of heavy crude have already been cleaned up. About 220 people will be along the river for this week’s cleanup and an Enbridge Energy spokesperson says she expects several more hundred will be on hand in the coming weeks.

Changes to Medical Marijuana Law?

Members of the Michigan legislature are considering several bills that would amend the state’s medical marijuana law. “One bill would create a database of marijuana license holders. Another would ban marijuana dispensaries from operating within 1,000 feet of schools and churches. A third would bar citizens from suing cities that restrict or ban marijuana dispensaries... Michigan passed the Medical Marijuana Act in 2008,” Bridget Bodnar reports.

In this morning's news...

Jun 22, 2011
Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Budget Complete

Governor Rick Snyder has signed a new state budget into law. The budget is for the fiscal year that begins October 1st. The budget preserves funding for Medicaid health care, but cuts money for schools, universities, and local governments, Rick Pluta reports. “The governor says tough choices were necessary to retire a $1.5 billion deficit. And, he says that was done without accounting tricks and one-time fixes. The governor says the budget will help create a more inviting environment for businesses and young people,” Pluta reports.

Funding Grand Rapids

Elected officials in Grand Rapids adopted a budget for 2012 yesterday. The plan closes a $6 million budget gap in the city’s general fund. Lindsey Smith reports:

Grand Rapids took a couple measures last year to keep their budget out the red. Grand Rapids expects to deal with operating deficits until 2015, when city officials says city government will become financially sustainable again. The long term budget plan eliminates $80 million in operating deficits over the next five years.

Stormy Weather

Authorities say severe thunderstorms yesterday evening produced high winds that damaged two hangars at Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, injuring at least three people, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

WOOD-TV reports members of the Civil Air Patrol were preparing for natural disaster training when they took cover in one of the hangars on Tuesday night. Winds ripped a door away, sending some of them into the air inside the hangar… The National Weather Service also reports heavy rains. And officials say lightning started a barn fire in Ottawa County's Georgetown Township. The Jackson County sheriff's department received reports of a possible funnel cloud. No tornadoes had been confirmed by the weather service.

In this morning's news...

May 31, 2011
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Powerless

Utility crews continue to work to restore electricity to thousands of Michigan homes and businesses that lost power after a wave of severe thunderstorms and tornados. The Associated Press reports:

CMS Energy Corp. says it may take until late Wednesday to have all power restored. It says Sunday's storms blacked out more than 115,000 of its customers, and about 42,000 remained without service Tuesday morning. DTE Energy Co. says about 30,000 of its customers lost power, and about 4,000 remained blacked out Tuesday morning.

The National Weather Service confirms that three funnel cloud touchdowns Sunday - one near Perry in Shiawassee County, one in the Three Rivers area in St. Joseph County and one in Coldwater in Branch County.No deaths or life-threatening injuries are reported.

Farm Bill

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow will hold the first field hearing on the 2012 Farm Bill later today. Stabenow is Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. The hearing, titled, “Opportunities for Growth: Michigan and the 2012 Farm Bill,” will, as Stabenow’s office explains, “focus on the upcoming reauthorization of the Farm Bill (which determines agriculture policies every five years), examining agriculture as well as energy, conservation, rural development, research, forestry and nutrition policies that affect Michigan.” The hearing will be held at Michigan State University.

Countdown to Break

Leaders in the state Legislature say there is still a lot of work they would like to get done before lawmakers take a two-month summer break, Laura Weber reports. From Weber:

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer says some of the issues she expects to see in the coming weeks include education reforms, redrawing Michigan’s political maps, and whether the state should build a second bridge between Detroit and Canada. The Republican-led Legislature sent Governor Rick Snyder the state spending plan last week. The governor is expected to veto some items within that budget and sign them into law next week.

In this morning's news...

May 27, 2011

Legislature Completes the Budget

The Michigan Legislature completed work yesterday on a $46 billion state budget for the fiscal year that begins October 1st. The process lacked all of the long hours and heated floor debate of recent years, Michigan Public Radio Network's Laura Weber reports. Much of that can be attributed to a Republican majority in both the state House and Senate. In fact, not a single Democrat voted in favor of the budget. The budget includes cuts to K-12 education and public universities. It lifts the exemption on taxing some retiree pensions and reduces the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit. Governor Rick Snyder is expected to sign the budget bills in the next few weeks.

Feds Eye Flint

Investigators from the U.S. Department of Energy are auditing records from Flint City Hall, according to the Flint Journal. Reporter Kristin Longley writes a "city source" says the FBI accompanied the USDOE investigators:

The investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Energy is auditing the city's use of federal energy grant funds, a federal official confirmed today, following reports that federal officials are investigating Flint City Hall.

The DOE's Office of Inspector General has investigators in the city of Flint examining how a federal grant for weatherization of low-income housing is being spent, said Rick Hass, deputy inspector general for audits and inspections.

Detroit School Closures to Increase

The Detroit Public Schools says it’s increasing the number of school closures to 20 by the fall of next year, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

That's up from the previously announced 14.  The Detroit Free Press reports district officials decided to keep open some schools that had been proposed for closure, and some proposed school mergers were changed. The district said Thursday the changes are the result of public input at more than 40 community meetings since April. DPS Emergency Manager Roy Roberts says the district still has too many schools for its shrinking student population, even though it has closed 130 buildings since 2005. That's half its schools.

In this morning's news...

May 26, 2011
Brother O'Mara / Other

Wet Weather Continues

Rain and storms are expected to continue in many parts of the state today. Most of the region is under some type of flood advisory, watch, or warning during the morning hours. Yesterday, rain caused flooding throughout the Southeast. Yesterday, "thunderstorms... dumped more than 4 inches of rain on parts of southern Michigan, causing widespread flooding of streets, expressways and basements,” the Associated Press reports.

State Senate Completes Budget

The Michigan Senate handed a state spending plan over to the state House yesterday, Laura Weber reports. From Weber:

That leaves just a couple more steps before the budget bills go to Governor Rick Snyder for his approval. The arguments on both sides of the aisle in the Legislature have been cyclical in recent weeks; Republicans have offered up departmental spending plans with deep cuts, and Democrats have said the cuts help businesses and hurt working poor families and children. Overall the complaints of Democrats have had little impact on the budget process. The party lacks enough votes to get in the way of a budget that has thus-far rolled quickly through the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Foreclosures Hurting Michigan's Real Estate Market

Foreclosed homes continued to drag down home sale prices in the state in the first quarter of the year, Steve Carmody reports. “Realty Trac reported nearly 32 percent of homes sold in Michigan in the first three months of 2011 were repossessed homes. The average price for a foreclosed home was just a little more than $70,000. That price is about a third less than similar homes on the market. A Realty Trac spokesman says that is keeping home prices from appreciating. Michigan is among a dozen states where foreclosed homes accounted for at least 25 percent of the homes sold during the first quarter of the year,” Carmody notes.

In this morning's news...

May 25, 2011

Tax Restructuring

Governor Rick Snyder will sign his proposed tax-overhaul into law today. The measure has already been approved by both the Republican-led state Senate and House. The measure cuts taxes on some businesses by about $1 billion for the fiscal year that begins in October. The bill also ends tax exemptions on some retirees’ pensions and shrinks the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor. The governor says the legislation will create jobs but many Democrats who oppose the measure say it will hurt seniors and low-income families.

Lansing Lawmakers Move Forward on Budget

The state Senate has started approving parts of the state's budget for the next fiscal year, including a bill that cuts funding for public universities by 15 percent. Laura Weber reports:

Republican leaders in the Legislature expect to wrap up work on the budget quickly and easily in comparison with recent years. The budget bills will volley between the Senate and House over the next week as lawmakers try to wrap up work on the budget by next Tuesday. Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says he does not anticipate any big battles between the Republican-controlled chambers. But he says there may be a few hang-ups over schools funding. Democrats are upset that additional funds for K-through-12 schools will not go directly to reduce cuts to per-pupil funding. Additional projected tax revenue will instead go toward districts that approve cost-saving measures, and make retirement payments.

Detroit Budget: Bing v. City Council

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing says he'll veto the Detroit City Council's budget bill that cuts spending by $50 million more than the mayor wants. Vincent Duffy reports:

Detroit City Council voted 8-1 in favor of their plan. But Mayor Bing says adoption of his $3.1 billion dollar budget is crucial if Detroit is to avoid having Governor Rick Snyder step in and appoint an emergency manager to steer the city out of a $155 million dollar deficit. But many on the council say the mayor’s budget is overly optimistic and the $200 million dollars in cuts he proposed is far short of what's needed. The city's new fiscal year starts July 1.

In this morning's news...

May 24, 2011
Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Chrysler to Repay Government Loans

Chrysler is expected to pay back its federal loans in full today. Michigan Radio’s Tracy Samilton reports:

Chrysler will wire-transfer nearly $6 billion to the U.S. Treasury and $1.5 billion to the governments of Canada and Ontario. Chrysler used some cash from Fiat for the transaction - and refinanced the rest with loans from private banks and investors.The U.S. Treasury still holds about eight and a half percent of Chrysler stock. Fiat could end up buying that stock in the future. As of today, Fiat owns forty-six percent of Chrysler

Crime in Michigan's Largest Cities

The FBI released its preliminary Uniform Crime Report yesterday. The report lists crimes reported in cities with more than 100,000 people. The report shows a decrease in violent crimes in Detroit from 18,000 in 2009 to 17,000 in 2010. Flint, however, had the highest violent crime rate in the nation last year, according to the data. Flint set a record for homicides in 2010.

Plan to Stop the Carp

A new plan has been released by federal and state officials on how to deal with the threat of Asian Carp, an invasive species that many worry could destroy the Great Lakes’ eco-system. Michigan Radio’s Steve Carmody reports:

The plan includes stepping up tracking of the invasive fish species and contracting with Illinois fishermen to catch the carp before they can reach Lake Michigan. Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow says the best way to prevent Asian Carp from reaching Lake Michigan is to close man-made canals linking the Great Lakes with the Mississippi River. Illinois business interests and politicians are opposed to closing the canals.

Al-Qaida Bomber Leaves a Fingerprint

The FBI has a fingerprint and forensic evidence linking al-Qaida's top bomb maker in Yemen to both the 2009 Christmas Day airline attack and the nearly successful attack on cargo planes last year, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

Investigators have pulled a fingerprint of Ibrahim al-Asiri off the bomb hidden in the underwear of a Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up a plane over Detroit on Christmas Day. Counterterrorism officials say the explosives in that bomb are chemically identical to those hidden inside two printers that were shipped from Yemen to the U.S. last year.

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