Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Education experts wary of health care, pension proposal

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By JORDAN TRAVIS
Capital News Service

LANSING – As the state figures out how to pay for future health care and pensions for its workers, educators are waiting to see the solution.

If Rep. Andy Dillon, D-Redford Township, sees his proposal passed, school employees will get the same deal.

Dillon proposed that they pay into the same pension and health care pool as state employees.
He also called for creation of a state board that, according to Rep. Dan Scripps, D-Leland, would formulate pension and benefits packages for school districts.

Dillon’s Web site, Newideasformichigan.org, claims that his plan would save the state $700 million to $900 million per year by “consolidating the planning, delivery and administration of health care benefits” for state employees and retirees, as well as school employees.

While Scripps is undecided on supporting the proposal, he said it should be carefully considered.
“Any time you talk about potentially saving that amount of money, it’s something you’ve got to look at,” he said.

One concern Scripps has about the proposal is how it would affect the collective bargaining process used by school districts.

Currently, he said, each district draws up a benefits package and negotiates with the unions representing district employees.

Cal DeKuiper, superintendent of the Ludington Area School District, said the current system works well for his employees.

“A union contract is a solid document to work from if it’s done in a fair, equitable way and if you have people to work with in good faith,” he said, “which I do.”

DeKuiper said he is more concerned about the funding “cliff” that schools are approaching. While he wasn’t familiar with Dillon’s plan, he said the state must look at everything that could potentially save money.

The superintendent noted also that school districts don’t set up their own retirement system. This means he has no control over pension costs, which come out of the per-pupil funding from the state.
Scripps said he also worries that any change in school worker benefits packages would shift costs to the employee.

The Michigan Education Association (MEA) opposes the Dillon plan. Communications director Doug Pratt said the plan has two problems: It wouldn’t achieve the savings Dillon promised, and it would cost $870 million to set up.

The MEA is the state’s largest union of school employees

Pratt said that administrative efficiencies promised in Dillon’s plan have already been realized. Instead, he said, the plan is designed to save money through other means.

“The only way to realize savings is by gutting health care packages,” Pratt said, and cutting health care coverage of educators already in the middle of the H1N1 flu crisis would be a mistake.

Pratt noted that $700 million had already been saved through choosing less expensive health care plans, or ones with higher premiums and co-pays.

“The fundamental problem isn’t health care costs,” he said. “Our tax structure is broken, and school funding is gone.”

The problem can’t be fixed, he said, by taking away benefits.

Kate Kohn-Parrott, health care policy adviser to Dillon and the House of Representatives, said that isn’t the case.

“There’s an incorrect perception that this is all about taking benefits away,” she said. “It’s actually about making sure we can still give benefits.”

She said the MEA’s claim that the plan would take $877 million to start is “totally ridiculous. I can’t even imagine how they came up with that number.”

Kohn-Parrott said that the plan would have a 7 percent administrative cost, but the state health care system currently has administrative costs of 10 to 12 percent.

Dillon’s plan, she said, could save the state money by making the purchase, administration and oversight of state employee health insurance more efficient.

The bill is in the House Committee for Public Employee Health Care Reform.

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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New life sought for dead auto plants

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By JORDAN TRAVIS
Capital News Service

LANSING – As Ford Motor Co., Clairvoyant Energy and Xtreme Power work to turn the auto company’s former Wixom Assembly Plant into a renewable energy industrial park, other former auto plants in the state sit empty.

Some are being torn down, like the General Motors Craft Centre in Lansing.
Others, such as the Packard Plant in Detroit, await their fate.

One, however, went through a transformation like Wixom Assembly is expected to see.
General Motors Corp. announced the closing of its stamping plant near Kalamazoo in 1992. After the factory closed in 1999, Hackman Capital Partners, a development company based in Los Angeles, bought it and created Midlink Business Park.

The company renovated the building, splitting it in half. The two halves have since been partitioned and occupied by manufacturing and warehouse businesses.

David Smith, president of Midlink, said that part of attracting business to the former factory involved rebranding the site. So in 2003, his company repainted the building to give it the appearance of a facility that could house multiple tenants.

Smith also said that the market for large manufacturing spaces had changed, and manufacturers were looking for smaller spaces instead.

“We had to take a 2-million-square-foot building and figure out how to divide it into spaces of 25,000 to 100,000 square feet,” he said.

Midlink’s Web site lists several companies operating in the business park, including Kaiser Aluminum, Landscape Forms and W. Soule and Co.

Smith and Jill Bland, vice president of Southwest Michigan First, a regional economic development organization in Kalamazoo, agree that Midlink wouldn’t exist without the help of a team of professionals and public officials and without state tax incentives.

The buildings are on 340 acres of property, including 110 in a renaissance zone.

Those zones allow businesses to operate nearly tax-free for 15 years. Businesses are exempt from the Michigan Business Tax, state and local income and local personal and real property taxes.

These exemptions are phased out during the last three years, and the state reimburses school, library and community college districts for lost tax revenue.

The state has different zones for different industries, such as tool and die and renewable energy businesses.

Renaissance Zones require the approval of local governments, and both Smith and Bland credit Comstock Township board members for their cooperation.

Bridget Beckman, a public relations officer for the Michigan Economic Growth Corp. (MEDC), said that programs like tax incentives and renaissance zones help bring economic activity to locales that otherwise might not see it.

She also cited another incentive, the Michigan Economic Growth Authority or MEGA credit.
Focused on job retention, job creation and high wages, the credit gives eligible businesses a 50 to 100 percent break on the Michigan Business Tax for up to 20 years.

The MEDC is a state agency that works with local governments and development organizations as a liaison between businesses and the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth.

It was involved in Midlink’s formation by providing a $3 million grant for the property’s redevelopment and tax credits for potential tenants.

Other state incentive programs focus on renewable energy industries.

One such incentive has proven crucial to bringing Clairvoyant Energy and Xtreme Power to Wixom, an undertaking expected to create 4,000 jobs.

Ford’s Wixom plant, once the headquarters of its Lincoln division, will be occupied by at least three tenants.The 4.7 million square feet of one of the company’s oldest and largest factories will be home to a renewable energy park, according to Ford.

Xtreme Power, a developer and manufacturer of batteries and power management systems based in Kyle, Texas, has qualified for an advanced battery credit. The tax credit is for businesses that develop and manufacture high-energy batteries.

Another empty manufacturing center, GM’s Centerpoint truck plant in Pontiac, will become a movie studio.

Detroit-based Raleigh Michigan Studios, formerly Motown Motion Pictures, will spend $70 million to turn the former factory into sound stages for film productions, according to the MEDC. The company, which is expected to create 3,600 jobs, will get a 12 year, $101 million tax credit.

The company will also benefit from Michigan’s movie tax credit.

There’s another tangible advantage of reusing abandoned automotive factories.

Smith, of Midlink, praised the construction of the Comstock Township facility, saying that tearing it down “would have been a crime.

“GM builds one heck of a factory,” he said. “There’s more steel, more concrete, a huge electrical capacity” and other assets that make such buildings ideal for manufacturing.

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Legislature mulls tax break for fifth battery maker

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By JORDAN TRAVIS
Capital News Service

LANSING – Any business hoping to claim a fifth advanced battery manufacturing tax credit will have until March 31, 2010, if Sen. Gerald Van Woerkom, R-Norton Shores, gets his way.

The lawmaker introduced a bill that would extend the deadline to apply for a credit of up to $25 million per year for four years. The bill, he said, was written with fortu PowerCell GmbH, a German battery manufacturing company, in mind.

A state program allows an eligible business to claim 50 percent of its capital investment expenses to construct a factory where battery cells will be made. To qualify, the business must create at least 300 new jobs in the state.

Van Woerkom said the company could create 300 jobs immediately and 750 in the long term.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm spoke with the German battery manufacturer during a trip to Europe.

The company said it would look at Michigan as a possible location for a new facility in the United States.

Van Woerkom said the tax credit would be only one of many incentives for the company to locate in Muskegon Township, including the location’s proximity to auto manufacturers and to Bayer CropScience, which the senator said produces chemicals fortu uses to make batteries, is another benefit.

Fortu has a similar arrangement in Europe with Bayer CropScience, he said.

The site is also near a rail line that connects to a deep-water port in Muskegon, he said.

Van Woerkom acknowledged that he was nervous about the bill’s fate since the state has already granted $400 million in tax credits for four other battery manufacturers, the maximum allowed under current law. However, he said he believes that other taxes paid by the employees will offset the lost revenue.

“If the jobs are created, those people will pay income tax, they’ll be purchasing goods in the state and paying sales tax, they’ll be living in houses and paying the property tax, and they’re good paying jobs at this factory,” he said. “I think that it’s a good investment.”

The tax credits are major tool in a strategy by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. to position the state as the “advanced battery manufacturing capital of North America.”

Battery tax breaks have been awarded to LG Chem-Compact Power Inc. for its $200 million battery plant in Troy, according to Granholm’s office.

Glendale, Wisc.-based electronics maker Johnson Controls Inc. and French battery manufacturer Saft Advanced Power Solutions also received the tax credit. The two companies will produce lithium ion power cells as a joint venture at their $220 million Holland plant.

The governor’s office said Midland-based Dow Chemical Co., Townsend Ventures and Lee’s Summit, Mo.-based Kokam America Inc. received a tax credit for their $665 million joint venture, KD Advanced Battery Group, in Midland.

A123Systems, Inc., a Watertown, Mass.-based battery developer and manufacturer, also received a tax credit for a $600 million plant in Livonia.

Van Woerkom’s bill passed the Senate 31-3, with Sens. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi, Jud Gilbert, R-Algonac and Alan Sanborn, R-Richmond, opposed. It’s awaiting action in the House New Economy and Quality of Life Committee.

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Report: Old coal power plants need to clean up their acts

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By VINCE BOND Jr.
Capital News Service

LANSING – Unlike fine wines, coal power plants don’t get better with age.

According to a new report by the Ann Arbor-based Environment Michigan, American power plants built before 1980 accounted for 73 percent of all carbon dioxide pollution emitted by plants, with coal operations as the primary culprits.

Environment Michigan is an advocacy and research organization.
Despite the environmental risks of these aging plants, the nation still relied on them for two-thirds of its fossil-fuel electricity in 2007.

Michigan power plants ranked 12th in the nation in carbon dioxide emissions, producing nearly 79 million tons in 2007 while a Monroe coal-fired plant was named 7th-dirtiest in the country.

Although natural gas and petroleum plants contributed to carbon dioxide levels, coal plants were responsible for more than 80 percent of all plant pollution, according to the group’s report.

Shelley Vinyard, program associate with Environment Michigan, said it’s time for older plants to clean up their acts before doing further damage.

“In order to stop global warming and reap all the benefits of clean energy, we must require old coal-fired clunkers to meet modern standards for global warming pollution,” Vinyard said.

“Another thing we called for in the report is for the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. It’s a very important part of reducing our carbon footprint.”

In 2007, power plants released 2.56 billion tons of carbon dioxide, or 42 percent of the nation’s total carbon emissions.

Reducing carbon dioxide pollution will not only preserve the ozone layer and slow global warming, but it could curb public health costs, said Charles Morris, founder of the Wyandotte-based Michigan Interfaith Power and Light.

Michigan Interfaith is a statewide coalition of churches that promotes energy conservation, energy efficiency and other sustainable practices.

Just as when Henry Ford sparked Michigan’s industrial renaissance with the invention of the assembly line, the state needs similar ingenuity based upon smart power grids and battery powered cars to move towards a clean-energy economy, Morris said.

“There’s a moral obligation in energy stewardship,” Morris said. “It’s really a matter of imagination. There’s a way we could use other systems.”

Morris said the state spends $24 billion a year on fossil fuels, so it’s in its best economic interest to move away from them, especially coal.

“There are other costs like public health costs and costs in terms of the ozone layer,” Morris said. “Emissions contribute to all that.”

Vinyard said she expects the U.S. Senate to vote on legislation this spring that would establish the country’s first-ever limits on global warming pollution, along with standards and incentives for clean energy.

Vinyard said she’s optimistic that something will get passed in the near future.

“I think we’re doing as much as we can,” Vinyard said. “We just need to continue letting our legislators know that we want a strong climate bill passed.”

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Odds of new ticket tax doubtful

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By ADAM DeLAY
Capital News Service

LANSING – As state funding for arts and culture dwindles, a proposal to tax admission to cultural and entertainment events could generate much-needed revenue.

Rep. George Cushingberry, D-Detroit, has introduced a bill to establish a 2 percent tax on admission to entertainment events. The proceeds would go into a fund dedicated to arts, culture and history.

The legislation would apply to zoos, museums, live theaters, collegiate and professional sporting events and concerts. It would exempt elementary and secondary school events and programs, events organized by nonprofits and charities, college events and state, county and local fairs.

Kirk Profit of Governmental Consultant Services, a Lansing lobbying firm, said the goal is to have the arts fund themselves through tax revenue, something the state has done with other entities in the past.

“Years ago, the state decided to tax natural resources and with the money created the Natural Resources Trust Fund in order to preserve them,” he said. “This is similar because you would be taxing the arts to help preserve them.”

Jan Fedewa, executive director of the Michigan Humanities Council, said it’s important to create funding mechanisms for cultural arts in the state.

“Arts and culture create jobs and economic development and needs to be supported,” she said. “Right now, none of the funding for the arts comes from a dedicated fund. It would good to have a dedicated revenue stream.”

The council, the state’s affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, promotes cultural arts through advocacy, fundraising and community engagement.

Fedewa said she hasn’t fully reviewed Cushingberry’s bill but is encouraged by the Legislature’s interest.

“It’s good that they are looking at ways to fund arts and culture in the state,” she said.

John Bracey, executive director of the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, said his organization, which provides grants to cultural institutions, is facing devastating cuts.

“We had $6.9 million for grants in 2009,” he said. “For this coming fiscal year, we’ll have about $2.2 million.”

While Bracey said he isn’t sure whether his council would receive any revenue the bill would generate, he added that arts and cultural groups need all the help they can get — although for some entertainment venues the tax could be painful.

“It’s a double-edge sword,” he said. “You want to see these cultural institutions receive as much aid as possible, but for smaller businesses or museums, 2 percent could hurt the amount of people who would be willing to pay for admission.”

Tom Shields, president of Marketing Resource Group, said large businesses could also be hurt by the tax.

“People think that only adding a few cents to a ticket isn’t a big deal, but when you have tens of thousands of customers, it can add up to millions of dollars being taken from a company and going to the government,” he said.

Shields’ firm heads Fans Against the Ticket Tax, a coalition of Michigan sports and entertainment fans, as well as entertainment providers such as Fox Theatre in Detroit, DTE Energy Music Theatre in Clarkston and VanAndel Arena in Grand Rapids.

Profit said he thinks the bill is a long shot to pass, but is still important.

“I don’t envision this bill going forward, but it’s good that someone is starting the conversation on funding arts and culture,” he said. “We need to look at finding a funding source before the cuts get to deep.”

The bill is pending in the House Tax Policy Committee.

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Rising teen HIV rate prompts concern

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By QUINCY HODGES
Capital News Service

LANSING – More Michigan teenagers are becoming infected with HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS, health officials warn.

The Department of Community Health released a report for World AIDS Day, saying the rate of new cases among 13-to-19 years old in Michigan more than doubled between 2003 and 2007.

Among those teens, 85 percent are African American and almost 62 percent are African American males who had sex with other males.

Michigan is following the national trend of increasing HIV diagnoses among teens.

Jennifer Kates, vice president and director of HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington D.C., said education and community awareness have to be ongoing and renewed with every new generation.

Kates said show that African American behavioral and substance abuse patterns haven’t changed but their sexual networks have a higher prevalence of HIV. African Americans are more likely to come in contact with someone carrying the infection than other racial and ethnic groups, she said.

Bridie Bereza, public information officer for the Kent County Health Department, said “There are a number of reasons for this increase in the state. It’s easier to find partners, people are complacent about getting tested and people tend not to pay attention.”

She said some people don’t know they have the virus and are spreading the infection without knowing it. “Kent County is more of an urban area so we have more people and more cases,” Bereza said.

The county department has an ambassador program, which is “dedicated to social networking and educating young people about all types of diseases, and it’s used to encourage young people to get tested,” she said.

“Our main goals are surveillance, education and testing,” she said. “Resources in West Michigan are strong, so we have a lot of treatment and support options for people who are infected.”

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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More schools focus on healthier menus

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By VINCE BOND Jr.
Capital News Service

LANSING- School districts around the state are working to make sure the “fast-food generation” doesn’t remain the chubbiest one.

To combat obesity rates that tripled among 6-to-9-year-olds since 1963, school systems are offering healthier options, getting rid of fatty foods and stressing the importance of eating a quality breakfast.

A 2004 federal law requires any school funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s lunch program to have a wellness policy.

Certain foods such as French fries and fried potato chips were taken off menus, said Kyle Guerrant, supervisor for the Coordinated School Health and Safety Programs Unit of the Michigan Department of Education.

Not only will healthier students avoid obesity-related illnesses such as diabetes, but they’ll also perform better in the classroom and miss fewer days of class, Guerrant said.

“Obesity is a growing issue for our country, both educationally and health-wise,” Guerrant said. “There is a link between health and academics.”

In 2007, 16.5 percent of Michigan high school students were overweight and 12.4 percent were obese, according to the Department of Community Health.

Meanwhile, 83 percent of youth consumed inadequate fruits and vegetables in 2007.
Obesity has been a “recognized pattern of development” for the past 30 years, but there has also been a growing acceptance of healthier living measures, said Mary Claya, child nutrition consultant for the Macomb Intermediate School District, which has 1,500 students.

The food industry also needs to catch up with more stringent nutritional standards, she said, but schools can’t demand that companies create healthier options overnight.

“School menus are a very good value. The choices have improved,” she said. Obesity is a problem “for pretty much the entire population.”

Claya said every breakfast must include a meat, grain product, vegetable and milk while meeting 25 percent of a student’s daily nutritional need.

In Detroit’s 172 public schools, free breakfast is available for their 85,000 students.

The breakfast program was created in 2002, but it went “under the net” shortly after and was revived at the beginning of this school year, said Corrinn Manns, program associate of training, marketing and promotion of food services for the Detroit system.

Manns estimates that nearly 45,000 students eat breakfast in school each morning.
“We have met the challenge. Children that are hungry can’t concentrate and they have poor attendance,” Manns said. “We know that with the economy, many people have lost jobs and it’s hard for parents to meet nutrition guidelines.”

The Detroit district has also added salad bars to some of its locations to fulfill protein and vitamin requirements, Manns said.

Janet Allen, president of the School Nutrition Association of Michigan, said there are several factors contribute to childhood obesity, including lack of exercise and home-cooked meals.

Allen, who is also the nutrition supervisor for the 8,100-student Clarkston Community School District, said she doesn’t believe schools had any role in the obesity epidemic, but districts still needed to “tighten things up a little bit.”

In Clarkston, sports drinks have been eliminated. Like other districts, Clarkston also sells baked potato chips instead of fried ones, she said.

Of Clarkston’s 11 schools, eight of them of serve breakfast.

“We’ve doubled our breakfast programs over the past three years,” Allen said. “That’s contributed to healthier students.”

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Pay-off of tax breaks debated

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By CAITLIN COSTELLO
Capital News Service

LANSING— North American Bancard Inc., a Troy-based credit card processing business, chose to expand in Michigan, creating 1,899  jobs because of a $21.5 million tax incentive it will receive over the next 12 years.

So far, the company has added 50 jobs primarily in sales and support services, and it’s on track to meet goals set by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC), said Danielle Drane, director of human resources at North American Bancard.

(MEDC grants tax incentives under the Michigan Economic Growth Authority (MEGA).

MEGA has awarded $420 million in credits to more than 500 companies sicne its initiation in 1995. Eligible industries include: manufacturing, mining, research and development, wholesale and trade, film and digital media, office operations and tourism, according to Bridget Beckman, MEDC public information officer.

Businesses in Washtenaw, Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties have received the most credits she said.

But, critics of the program, like the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, complain it’s not cost-effective and is a political tool that manipulates voters into believing something is being done to bring jobs back to the state.

Micheal LaFaive, director of fiscal policy at the Midland-based, free market-oriented think tank, said, “Jobs are the new children, what everyone is worried about. The program works for politicians to use as a PR tool to create the illusion that they are doing something to create jobs.”

In fact, a Mackinac Center analysis of MEGA projects suggests there could be link between tax credits and a decrease in manufacturing jobs in certain counties, said LaFaive.

Not so, counters Mike Johnston, vice president of the Michigan Manufacturers Association, who disputes the Mackinac Center conclusion.

“Michigan has lost jobs just as many other states have, and to blame an economic development growth is inane,” he said.

The promise of jobs may not be completely fulfilled, Johnston said, but the claim that MEGA hasn’t successfully brought and maintained industry doesn’t tell the whole story.

Johnston added, “MEGA is an essential tool for Michigan to compete for jobs and capital investment.”

Other states are aggressively pursuing industrial investment, and Michigan needs strong incentives to prevent companies from leaving, he said.

MEDC’s Beckman said, “Since the program’s creation, competition has grown extremely fierce. Every other state has a performance-based incentive so it’s critical for Michigan to have a program like this.”

High tech firms, alternative energy, defense and auto-related businesses make up significant number of businesses receiving incentives, said Beckman.

She said, many companies in the auto industry can make products for other industries like alternative energy, life sciences, advanced automotive materials, and advanced manufacturing.

And Johnston said, “The evolution of automobiles is critical, and if Michigan doesn’t attract these companies, they will go to another state and bring the automobile industry with them, and Michigan will lose the future of the auto industry.”

Beckmen said, many companies in the auto industry can make products for other industries like alternative energy, life sciences, advanced automotive materials, and advanced manufacturing.

One of MEGA’s goals is to help diversify the state economy.

Alex Rosaen, a consultant with the Anderson Economic Group, a research and consulting firm  in East Lansing, said keeping complementary clusters like the auto industry and bringing new clusters into the state is another goal of the incentives.

However, it’s difficult to gauge the effectiveness of tax incentive programs because there’s no way to prove if a company really would leave the state if it didn’t receive the incentive, he said.

He added that some companies like North American Bancard that expand in Michigan rather than Florida may be considering locating or expanding in another state, but not all companies actually have another designated choice.

Giving out tax incentives on an experimental basis could help measure MEGA’s ability to keep businesses in the state, but it’s not politically feasible  to do so, said Rosaen.

Other critics also worry about the openness of MEGA.

Kerry Birmingham, the Michigan Education Association’s media relations specialist, said the union doesn’t oppose tax incentives but wants greater transparency and better follow-up on MEGA recipients.

“Each project needs to be looked at to make sure it is creating jobs, and if they aren’t, it needs to stop now,” she said.

Kara Wood, director of the Grand Rapids Economic Development Department, said it would be helpful to have local municipalities play more of a role in checking the productivity of projects in their area.

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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House may resolve flap over breast-feeding in public

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By MEHAK BANSIL
Capital News Service

LANSING—Mary Martinez was nursing her newborn baby daughter in a Harper Woods Target store in November when a security guard told her to leave. When she told him it wasn’t illegal, he called the police and Martinez was escorted out of the store.

Martinez’s story isn’t uncommon. Rep. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, has heard plenty like it.

In an effort to prevent similar incidents, Warren is sponsoring a bill that would protect a woman’s right to breast-feed in public and prohibit practices that discriminate against a woman for breast-feeding. For example, a woman breast-feeding in a store couldn’t be asked to leave.

“It’s not some new radical idea,” Warren said, noting that 43 states already have laws protecting breast-feeding.

She said the problem isn’t whether public breast-feeding is improper but whether it’s illegal.

Current law leaves the question up to counties and municipalities. Local governments have the option of prohibiting public nudity within their jurisdiction, but breast-feeding is usually not mentioned in such laws.

“I think a lot of businesses would welcome it because it eliminates the ambiguity in the law,” Warren said.

Donna Organek, the leader of the North Macomb County La Leche League, said she agrees with Warren’s statement that public breast-feeding isn’t improper. The group is part of the international organization that supports a breast-feeding.

“I see far more breast tissue on women who wear low-cut blouses than on women who are breast-feeding,” Organek said.

However, Reps. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, and Justin Amash, R-Kentwood, said they opposed the bill in committee because they believe a woman’s right to breastfeed shouldn’t be elevated to the same level as civil rights, according to Rebecca Devooght, Schuitmaker’s chief of staff.

The bill is pending in the House.

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Babysitters win exemption from day care license law

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By NICK MORDOWANEC
Capital News Service

LANSING – A couple of months ago, a Middleville woman who cared for children found that her act of kindness almost turned into jail time.

Lisa Snyder watched her neighbors’ kids wait for the school bus after their parents had left for work.

However, a neighbor complained to state officials and the Department of Human Services cited her for running an unlicensed day care operation.

Snyder wasn’t paid for watching her friends’ children but she almost landed in jail.

Snyder’s case prompted a new law that differentiates between daycare operations and casual babysitting.

Rep. Brian Calley, R-Portland, was instrumental in the change. He took on Snyder’s case even though she wasn’t his constituent and urged the revision on her behalf.

“I initially wasn’t aware of how the Department of Human Services applied the law,” said Calley, the lead sponsor. “The law needed clarification and to get government out of the way of good neighborly actions. A lot of people related to the situation because they have done the same thing.”

Rep. Mike Huckleberry, D-Greenville, sponsored a similar Legislation and also spoke out on the issue, saying that it was a situation in which one neighbor was helping another.

A 1973 state law said that non-relatives could babysit only in their home and for only 28 days each year, regardless of how many minutes or hours the child was watched. Otherwise, the babysitter was required to acquire a daycare license.

If Snyder had been found guilty under the previous law, she would have received a misdemeanor conviction.

Human Services worked closely with Gov. Jennifer Granholm to revise the law and assure that there would be no similar misinterpretations in the future. Director Ismael Ahmed said the change clarifies what most people already know: helping neighbors should not result in legal penalties.

To make things clearer, the revised law exempts unpaid babysitting from daycare licensing requirements, Calley said.

To qualify for an exemption, a sitter can’t be paid more than $600 a year, Calley said.

“The law passed unanimously and moved faster than almost any other bill for a reason,” Calley said. Snyder “was just doing a favor, and that is the law we are working with today.”

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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