Community college students may soon be able to get a bachelor’s degree without transferring to a four-year college or university. A bill before a state Senate panel would allow community colleges to offer the degrees in a few fields.
The measure would allow community colleges to offer baccalaureate degrees in culinary arts, maritime studies, concrete technology, energy production, and nursing. State Representative John Walsh says the state needs more highly trained nurses. “We do at present have a shortage, and it’s only going to increase according to every study, including ones conducted by our own government.”
Those who oppose the measure say it would create unnecessary competition between community colleges and universities, especially in the field of nursing. But supporters of the bill say many people are not within a reasonable driving distance of a university, and community colleges could offer people in rural areas more opportunities to pursue four-year degrees.
A conversation at the state Capitol about turning an old stretch of train track in Petoskey into a public recreation trail has become a debate about the future of train transit in Michigan.
Officials in Petoskey are asking lawmakers to give them the go-ahead to purchase a section of train track from the state to add onto an existing trail. Kelly Bartlett is with the Michigan Department of Transportation, which supports the request from Petoskey. Bartlett said the state does not sell viable train track.
The newsroom 8-ball says: "Answer hazy, try again later."
As we reported earlier this week, a proposal in the state legislature that would create a "Choose Life" specialty Michigan license plate cleared a Senate committee and has made its way to the chamber floor. If the proposal passes, proceeds from the plates would go to a newly-formed organization called the Choose Life Michigan Fund.
A Facebook fan responded, writing: "These 'pregnancy resource centers' and 'other prolife entities' actively evangelize and attempt to convert vulnerable women to their version of Christianity."
This comment got us wondering, if the proposal passes, what exactly will money from the plates pay for?
MPRN's Capitol Bureau Chief Rick Pluta weighed in on the question of whether or not the proposed legislation would allow pro-life groups to use money raised by the state to proselytize in any way.
Some health advocates say Governor Rick Snyder was not bold enough in his State of the State speech on fighting childhood obesity. Governor Snyder mentioned a program in his speech last week that would teach parents about proper nutrition for young children to help combat childhood obesity.
Katherine Knoll is with the Midwest chapter of the American Heart Association. She says kids need direct instruction on how to control their weight, and that should take place in school.
“Just as we don’t expect them to know how to read when they enter school, we don’t expect them to know how to balance that calories-in-calories-out equation, and we need to work with them on that," Knoll says.
Knoll says she hopes the state Legislature will approve a measure that would require all kids in elementary and middle school to have physical education twice a week.
A spokeswoman for Governor Snyder says the governor wants to take a comprehensive approach toward tackling obesity. She says the administration expects to hear soon from the Department of Community Health on details of an obesity-fighting plan.
Tea Party activists and health care advocates packed a public hearing yesterday at the state Capitol. State lawmakers will decide over whether Michigan should create a website that would allow people to comparison shop for health insurance. Most people who showed up used the event to voice their opinion on the federal Affordable Care Act.
The online health care exchange is required under the new health care law, which is why many Republicans at the state Capitol have been hesitant to approve the website. They say it would be an endorsement of the Affordable Care Act.
Doctor Fadwa Gillanders is a chronic disease management specialist. She opposes national health care. She told lawmakers about a patient with several chronic conditions who called her – in her words – begging for help.
“I get beggars every day. We’re turning into a nation of beggars, ‘Can you give me? Can you give me?’ Because we don’t know how to take care of ourselves, and we’re hoping insurance will make it better, but it actually makes it worse.”
Those who support national health care say health care is too expensive and too few people receive adequate care. The Republican chair of the House panel says she has no timeline to approve or reject the creation of the health exchange website.
Lawmakers have previously tried to bring up similar legislation, but it has failed. According to mlive.com:
About half the U.S. has "Right to Life" specialty plates, but their roll-out has been contentious. Groups in several states have mounted legal challenges on First Amendment grounds, some successfully, some not. The Supreme Court has let stand state rulings barring production of the plates.
Most recently, in November, a North Carolina judge blocked production of the plates until a legal battle was resolved. The American Civil Liberties Union argued production of the plates constituted "viewpoint discrimination" because there was no corresponding pro-choice alternative.
A national advocacy group for autism-treatment says Michigan tops its list of states it believes could require insurance companies to cover treatments for autistic children this year.
Rick Remington, with the New York-based group Autism Speaks, said the support of Republican leaders in the Michigan legislature along with Governor Rick Snyder bodes well for autism-treatment legislation.
“It’s been before the legislature for a number of years, it’s gotten strong support from Governor Snyder, as well as the advocacy of the lieutenant governor,” Remington said. “We’ve got strong support, bi-partisan support from the Michigan legislature. So, we’re very confident we will see a bill become law this year.”
Twenty-nine states already have insurance mandates for autism-treatment.
Remington said advocates for autism coverage are becoming more prevalent in legislatures throughout the nation as the number of autism diagnoses increases.
Many insurance companies oppose the idea, saying it would increase costs.
State union leaders say lawmakers should focus on creating more jobs in Michigan with more support for education and public services. And they say lawmakers should not try to make Michigan a right-to-work state.
Karla Swift is president of the Michigan chapter of AFL-CIO. She says most people in Michigan still support unions and collective bargaining rights, and would not want Michigan to be a right-to-work state. And she says Governor Rick Snyder has signaled he does not favor a right-to-work law, either.
“The governor’s made his position clear that he wants to do the work of rebuilding Michigan’s economy and creating jobs, and not spend time on right-to-work," Swift says.
Swift says right-to-work laws have not proven effective in many states with high unemployment rates. Supporters of right-to-work say it would help Michigan attract new businesses.
Republican leaders in the state Legislature say they will not be quick to spend any potential surplus money left over from the last budget year. An annual conference to determine how much money the state will have to spend this year is scheduled for Friday. A few hundred million dollars in additional revenue is expected to be available for lawmakers to spend on state-funded programs.
Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says special interest groups and advocates won’t get far if they ask him for more funding. “It doesn’t matter to me if they ask or not. You know, we’ve all been about financial responsibility from the beginning, and I think the reason you have emergency financial managers, the reason the president of the United States is trying to figure out ways to print new money is because we haven’t been financially responsible in the past," Richardville says.
Richardville says the Legislature was smart last year by adding to the state’s rainy day fund and helping to pay off long-term debts. Some Democratic lawmakers say a priority for surplus revenue should be to fill cuts to K-12 schools and higher education.
Meanwhile, Richardville also says he does not think Michigan should be a right-to-work state. He says he does not think eliminating the requirement that some workers pay union dues would help the business climate in Michigan.
“I believe any economic benefits that are talked about with regard to bringing jobs into Michigan are overstated quite a bit because the jobs that we’re trying to attract in Michigan aren’t the lower-level jobs that right-to-work might address," Richardville says.
Governor Rick Snyder has also said he thinks a debate over right-to-work would be divisive. Supporters of right-to-work legislation say Michigan could lose business and jobs to neighboring states if they adopt similar measures.
A developing proposal from Senate Democrats would allow Michigan high school graduates to get grants of up to roughly $9,500 a year for attending college by ending some tax credits and other revenue changes.
The grants could be used to pay tuition or associated costs for attending public universities and community colleges in the state.
The plan would be paid for by closing what Democrats call "tax loopholes" and ending some tax credits, collecting sales tax from out-of-state Internet retailers and saving money on state contracts.
Democratic Senator Gretchen Whitmer told The Associated Press on Wednesday that it's a bold step needed to make Michigan more prosperous and attractive to businesses.
The proposal likely would face stiff opposition in the Republican-dominated Legislature, particularly at a time of tight state budgets.
A scuffle between lawmakers interrupted a session of the state House of Representatives yesterday evening. Michigan Public Radio's Rick Pluta was at the Capitol and reports:
Representative Harvey Santana lunged at fellow Detroit Democrat David Nathan during a heated discussion at Nathan’s desk. State Representative Roy Schmidt got between the two and was knocked about. A staffer was also accidentally pushed to the floor as House security rushed to break up the altercation. Santana was escorted out of the room by the House sergeant at arms, but was later allowed to return to his seat to vote.
"No physical contact was exchanged in the incident that occurred at about 8:45 p.m. as the chamber was winding down after passing a flurry of bills before to the Legislature's holiday break, " the Detroit Newsreports.
State Representative Schmidt, "had his teeth clenched around a lollipop stick that remained lodged in his mouth through the several seconds of the fracas," Pluta reports. Wood-TV has this statement from Schmidt's spokesman:
"News reports of a 'fist fight' on the House or Floor tonight are greatly over stated. (sic)
Two Democrat Representatives had a difference of opinion that got a little heated. Representative Roy Schmidt, wanting to avert any escalation of the problem, stepped in between the two gentlemen and stopped the argument.
No punches we (sic) ever thrown. The House Sergeants responded immediately and had one of the Reps step outside to cool off while Representative Schmidt returned to his seat."
It's still unclear just what, exactly, the fight was about. Pluta reports that shortly after the scuffle, everyone BUT the lawmakers was ordered off the House floor and House members were confined to their seats under Rule 32.2 of the House of Representatives. Rule 32.2 reads:
The members shall keep their seats until the Majority Floor Leader announces that no further voting will occur or the Presiding Officer announces that the House is adjourned.
This, reportedly, led to discussions in the Capitol lobby that lawmakers were in an "adult time out."
The House finished its work for the year last night.
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. The state is supposed to create the exchange as part of the new federal health care reform requirements.
Republican lawmakers at the state Capitol have debated whether funding the health insurance exchange would be showing support for the new federal health care law.
Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says it’s one of the handful of pressing questions that should be settled this week before the Legislature begins a month-long winter break. He says there are other issues that can wait.
“We want to have a docket ready to go come January, and we want to use that month of January a little more effectively than in the past.”
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.
Republican leaders at the state Capitol say they expect to wrap up work on a plan to ensure there’s money to help low-income families with their heating bills this winter. But, their efforts are already being criticized because they don’t encourage energy efficiency.
About 600,000 Michigan households needed heating aid last winter. House and Senate leaders say they will continue discussions to fix a problem created last summer by a court decision that forced lawmakers to find a new way to pay for the program.
Republican state Representative Ken Horn says the new program will not include money for a part of the program that pays for energy efficiency projects on public buildings.
“That is not helping low-income families. What we are doing very specifically it is very targeted, is helping the most-vulnerable families in the state of Michigan.”
Representative Jeff Irwin, a Democrat, says that’s a mistake.
“Shouldn’t we at least continue with the projects that are half-baked and not waste hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money?”
Republicans say that’s a discussion that can wait until next year.
At the state Capitol, the debate continues over how to ensure there’s money available to help thousands of low-income families that need help paying their heating bills this winter. The need for a solution is becoming more urgent as temperatures start to dip below freezing, and the Legislature is a week away from starting its winter break.
Senator Mike Nofs chairs the Senate Energy and Technology Committee. He said a solution will be in place before the Legislature begins its holiday break next week.
The bill on Tuesday cleared the Senate's Military and Veterans Affairs Committee by a 3-0 margin, with two Democratic senators absent.
The original law came in response to members of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, which has staged controversial protests at military funerals. Church members assert that military deaths are God’s punishment for tolerance of gays.
Michigan’s law keeps such protesters at least 500 feet from a funeral ceremony, but lawmakers have said other people could have been affected – such as a person parked near a funeral home with an an anti-war bumper sticker on their car, or someone mowing their lawn near a cemetery.
The new version of the bill which cleared the House would make it clear that the actions must be intended to intimidate, threaten, or harass people attending a funeral, service, viewing, procession, or burial.
The Grand Rapids Press reports that the law is in accordance with a U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the Westboro members' rights to conduct their controversial protests.
More charter schools may soon be allowed to open in Michigan. The state House is expected to vote this week on a measure that would get rid of the cap on the number of university-sponsored charter schools in the state.
State Representative Tom McMillin chairs the House Education Committee. He said it’s important for lawmakers to approve the changes before they leave for a winter break.
“I want to unchain as many kids as I can from failing schools,” said McMillin. “And the sooner we put in place how that can be done, the more that people who are interested in filling that need that desperate need, will be able to start planning and putting it in process so they don’t lose a year, you know so they can do it quicker.”
But Peter Spadafore disagrees. Spadafore is with the Michigan Association of School Boards, which opposes the proposed changes. He said most of the testimony lawmakers heard was from representatives of high-performing charter schools.
“But what’s not being talked about is that one third of failing schools in the state of Michigan are charter schools, and one third of all charter schools are on the bottom 20 percent of the Michigan Department of Education’s list of persistently low-achieving schools,” Spadafore said.
Spadafore said the proposal should include requirements that all charter schools perform well as a condition of staying open.
Supporters of the measure say parents and students –especially in neighborhoods with low-performing public schools – deserve more options.
LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Organizations representing retiree groups say they want the Michigan Legislature to repeal an unpopular tax on pensions, or lawmakers will pay the political price in the 2012 election.
The AARP and groups representing public employee retirees called for a repeal Friday before the new tax plan takes effect in January.
The groups say they haven't ruled out filing suit in federal court to try and block the changes, but they are focused on getting lawmakers to take action.
LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A proposal designed to allow more charter schools or public school academies in Michigan has taken a step forward.
The Republican-led House Education Committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would end some numerical and geographical limits on charter schools. The bill passed by an 11-6, mostly party line vote and advances to the House floor.
The measure narrowly passed the Republican-led Senate in October.
The state has roughly 250 charter schools. Supporters say more should be allowed to boost educational options in public schools.
Democrats in Lansing have outlined a package to help small businesses grow and hire unemployed people.
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.
State Representative Vicki Barnett said that will help small businesses having trouble getting credit from larger banks and investment funds.
“We know that a very teeny investment can have huge dividends in terms of job creation and access to capital,” said Barnett.
“There is no other state that I know of that is taking this approach to aggressive investment – doing things they already do with taxpayer money and targeting it to grow jobs in their own state,”she added.
The Democratic package would also allow small banks and credit unions to pool their finances to invest in larger projects.
Barnett says that would make larger loans possible while allowing the institutions to share the risk.
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.
Critics say it has caused pollution and dried-up water wells in other states.
State Representative Jeff Irwin thinks the procedure needs to be more tightly regulated as it becomes more common in Michigan.
He said more study is needed on the potential effects of deep-rock fracking on the world’s largest supply of fresh water.
“We have a tremendous amount to protect here in Michigan with our surface waters and our Great Lakes,” Irwin said. “When you think about what makes Michigan a special place to be, it’s really our water. It’s the one thing that we have that makes us unique over and above anyplace in the world. We have the best water resources in the world.”
Irwin said new rules should include limits on groundwater withdrawals and full disclosure of all chemicals used.
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.
“If you look around the state, you’ll see where oil and gas producers over the past 60 years have fracked probably on the order of around 12,000 wells,” said Wurfel.
Wurfel said the state updated its drilling regulations in May to address hydro-fracking deeper into the rock.
The additional annual fees Michigan driver’s pay if they have seven or more points on their license may soon be reduced. The state House is expected to vote this week on proposed changes to the unpopular driver responsibility fee.
The state currently collects about $120 million every year from drivers with at least seven points on their records. State House spokesman Ari Adler said that’s too much money to simply cut from the state budget.
“We looked at doing this in a little bit more of an incremental approach without taking so much money out of the budget all at once,” Adler said. “The long term goal is to try to reduce or eliminate these driver responsibility fees but the reality is that there is a good chunk of the budget that is predicated on these fees and penalties.”
Senator Bruce Caswell agreed the state cannot afford to completely eliminate that amount of money from the budget right now but he said the fee is unfair to drivers who have already paid their fines.
“These later bills coming, I don’t care what the charge is, are inappropriate I believe and shouldn’t be done. So my hope eventually is to get rid of this thing entirely,” said Caswell.
Drivers with seven or more points on their license are assessed the annual fee in addition to the cost of their ticket. The proposal would omit or reduce the fee for minor infractions, but major traffic violations, such as driving under the influence of alcohol, would still be assessed the annual fee.
There are only a few weeks of work left for lawmakers at the state Capitol before they break for the rest of the year and there are still many issues legislative leaders would like to tackle in 2011.
House Republican spokesman Ari Adler says the Legislature is able to focus on a lot of different issues this fall, in part because lawmaker approved the state budget many months earlier than usual. Adler says much of the work left before the Legislature is on issues the public will notice:
“We’re going to be looking at Michigan’s helmet law for motorcycle riders, we’re going to be looking at making some reforms within the no-fault insurance plans that are out there to make that a system that can be sustained.”
Adler says the House will look at a Senate proposal to allow more charter schools in the state. The Senate is expected to work on proposals to further regulate medical marijuana before the end of the year.
Governor Rick Snyder says the state should be more concerned with bringing down infant mortality rates in Michigan. Infant mortality rates have gotten worse in Michigan in the past three years. He says infant mortality rates reflect the overall health of a state.
“We’ve got this up on our dashboard. On the state dashboard, not just the health and wellness dashboard, because this is something we really need to do a better job on that is an important indicator of how well our state is. And more important, we’re talking about real lives,” Snyder said, speaking this morning at an infant mortality awareness summit in Ypsilanti.
Michigan has one of the worst infant mortality rates in the nation (nearly eight deaths per 1000 live births) and ranks 37th among the states. The national rate is nearly seven deaths per 1000 births.
Snyder has had some pushback recently from lawmakers who do not like the governor’s health proposals – which include body-mass-index reporting and banning smoking on state park beaches.
Snyder said he thinks he will be able to sway skeptical lawmakers:
“Well they’re all in the pipeline, they’ll come along in terms of looking at those types of issues, because health and wellness is a big issue.”
Snyder said he does not think there needs to be anything done legislatively to help drive the rate of infant deaths down in the state, but he said state officials and medical science leaders need to get together to come up with a plan to reduce the rate of infant deaths.
Governor Snyder has signed the state's partial birth abortion ban into law. Senate Majority Floor Leader Arlan Meekhof sponsored Senate Bill 160 that, "outlaws the practice of partial birth abortion in Michigan, unless determined necessary to save the life of the mother. The law was modeled after the federal Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court," the Holland Sentinel reports.
The approval from the Republican governor, which was expected, could end more than a decade of efforts by anti-abortion activists to get the ban added to state law. Previous attempts were rejected by courts or vetoed by then-Democrat Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
Supporters of the Michigan bill say it should survive a legal challenge this time because it mirrors the federal ban. They argue it was important to include a ban in Michigan in case the federal law changes.
Opponents say the federal ban makes the state proposal redundant and unnecessary. Some opponents of the Michigan measure have said it may be vulnerable to legal challenge.
The outlawed procedure typically is used to end pregnancies in the second and third trimesters and involves partially removing the fetus intact from a woman's uterus and then crushing or cutting its skull to complete the abortion.
Granholm vetoed a similar bill in 2008. She also vetoed a bill in 2004, but hundreds of thousands of voters signed petitions that allowed the bill to become law with only the approval of the Legislature. Federal courts later declared that ban unconstitutional, however, because it also could have prohibited other abortion procedures.
A Michigan law from the 1990s also was eventually overturned by federal courts.
In a statement released today, the Governor said, "the people of Michigan have repeatedly spoken on this issue and this legislation reaffirms the value of human life. It also brings Michigan in line with federal law... I want to thank state Sen. Arlan Meekhof and state Rep. Ben Glardon for their leadership on this issue.”
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. The leader of a group of African-American lawmakers say he expects the lawsuit to be filed in federal court by the end of the month.
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.
“We want to see new lines drawn that are more fair than the lines that we have and that recognize and allow all African-American and minority citizens in this state to be able to participate in the franchise.”
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.
A lawsuit is the only way to challenge the new political map. A technicality in the law makes it immune to a voter referendum.
When your local state legislator campaigns for reelection next time, or runs for some other office, they may remind you of how they helped save the state by gallantly giving up their retirement health care benefits.
When and if they do, you might want to remember that this is mostly a form of horse exhaust. With a very few exceptions, they didn’t vote to give up their benefits at all.
They voted to deny benefits to other people who haven’t been elected yet, and who could theoretically change the law back.
As for our current band of elected leaders - they are mostly keeping their benefits, thank you very much.
Here’s what’s really going on. Retired Michigan legislators have, in fact, been getting taxpayer-subsidized health care benefits since the nineteen-fifties. By the way, it was a solidly Republican legislature that first voted to do this. Contrary to some propaganda you may have been hearing, the benefits aren’t completely free, and they don‘t kick in till the ex-lawmakers reach age fifty-five.
The state House passed legislation yesterday that would eliminate retiree health care benefits for future and some current state lawmakers. The state Senate passed the measure earlier this week. The Associated Press reports:
The retiree benefit will be eliminated for lawmakers who have not served at least six years in the Legislature before Jan. 1, 2013.
Most current state senators would remain eligible for the benefit once they retire and reach age 55. Most current members of the Michigan House would be ineligible for coverage because they don't have enough years of service.
Lawmakers have debated the issue for years but didn't agree on a final version of the plan until this week.
Draft versions of Governor Rick Snyder’s health care reform plan are to be presented this week to state lawmakers. Governor Snyder has asked lawmakers to adopt major portions of his health reform plans before their Thanksgiving break.
The governor faces a lot of skepticism from GOP leaders because there are so many mandates in the plan. House Speaker Jase Bolger says he’s going to carefully examine the details.
“But I think the time to enact something is still quite a ways off.”
Bolger and other Republicans are wary of requiring insurance companies to cover childhood autism treatments, a government database of children’s health statistics, as well as adopting mandates in the federal Affordable Care Act, such as health coverage exchanges.
“The reason I would look at exchanges is with what the federal government has done and it would be reluctantly and it would only be if we have to.”
The fact that many Republicans are skeptical of the mandates in the Snyder health agenda could force the Republican governor to turn to Democrats for support. Representative Rick Hammel is the state House Democratic leader.
“In general, I think the message was very good, you know, pro-action, positive stuff, intervention, I like all those things – and investment in seniors and veterans programs, I like all those things, but let’s look at the legislation to see where it is.”
House Speaker Bolger says he wants to wait for courts to rule on the challenges to the federal law. 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.