Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Drunk kids could get help without facing prosecution

By MATT WALTERS

Capital News Service

LANSING — Legislators are looking to provide a safety-net for underage drinkers who need medical attention.

Their bill would allow a person under 21 to seek help without the risk of criminal penalties if they become dangerously intoxicated.

The goal is to make sure they get the help necessary should they drink too much, said its main sponsor, Rep. Anthony Forlini, R-Harrison Township.

“Kids will make the mistake of drinking.  I just want to make sure they don’t make another, potentially fatal one,” Forlini said.

But a Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police official cautioned that the measure could be abused by underage drinkers trying to avoid criminal charges.

According to Forlini, people who are over-intoxicated but underage tend to avoid medical treatment for fear of being charged with being a minor in possession of alcohol.

“I’m not for underage drinking, but if a person needs help, they shouldn’t be deterred from seeking it,” Forlini said. “Right now, I can’t imagine a kid willingly going to the police if they’ve been drinking.”

He said that the bill would allow dangerously intoxicated people or their friends to contact police or emergency medical services without being punished.

“A lot of times, when a kid is drunk to the point that they need help, they can’t seek it for themselves.  That’s why I would also like to see amnesty for the friend who initiates contact with police or EMS,” Forlini said.

However, he said the “good Samaritan” clause wouldn’t apply to drunken driving laws so violators could still be punished for getting behind the wheel.

“They need to contact help and have it come to them, not drive drunk to the hospital,” Forlini said.

Rep. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, said he co-sponsored the proposal in hopes that it would convince more young people to seek treatment for alcohol-related problems.

“I don’t want to penalize young people for admitting that they have a problem,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt said that he prefers that money spent on arresting underage drinkers go towards rehabilitation instead of incarceration.

“A night in jail won’t solve a young person’s drinking problem.  Treatment is always better,” Schmidt said.

However, Schmidt said that if a crime is more serious than underage drinking alone, punishment would be necessary.

“Seeking help is one thing, but if someone is driving drunk or doing something more serious, they should be penalized,” Schmidt said.

A 2008 survey by Michigan State University found that 24 percent of its students that were interviewed had experienced self-injury or health-threatening consequences due to drinking in the previous school year.

And 64 percent said they wouldn’t call 911 for an over-intoxicated friend who passes out.

Cornell University implemented a campus “medical amnesty protocol” in 2002 and reported that alcohol-related EMS calls increased by 22 percent during its first two years.

According to a report by the Students for Sensible Drug Policy, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., more than 90 universities including Michigan Technical University, Kalamazoo College and Lake Superior State University have programs similar to Cornell’s.

Steve Marino, vice chair of external affairs for the Associated Students of Michigan State University, said the group has called for medical amnesty for more than two years.

“We started advocating it after we heard of its success at Cornell and other universities,” Marino said.

New Mexico is the only state with similar legislation in place, according to Marino.

Because alcohol impairs judgment, underage drinkers may not always make the right decisions when a friend is in trouble, he said.

“No one should ever fear calling the police if someone is in trouble.  This legislation would help someone make the right decision,” Marino said.  “We want to save lives and if this saves just one, it’s worth it.”

George Basar, Howell police chief and legislative chair of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, said the bill is a good concept but abuse could be a problem.

“The bill is open-ended, and the unintended consequences need to be considered.  If police arrive at a party with underage drinkers and they all claim to need medical attention, it could put the officers in a tough situation,” Basar said.

He said that if violators use the law just to get out of a citation, it could stretch police resources thinner than they already are, especially in college towns where a high proportion of the residents are under the drinking age.

“There could also be potential for drunk driving by kids thinking they may be exempt under this law,” Basar said, adding that it could be a serious public safety issue.

Basar said that in his experience, young people are willing to seek help for friends who drank too much.

According to Basar, being caught doesn’t always mean a conviction and fine because issuing a ticket is done at an officer’s discretion.

“I can’t speak for every police officer but in general, if we are approached by someone in need of help, we will get that person the attention they need before giving out any tickets,” Basar said.

Forlini’s bill is pending in the House Judiciary Committee.  Other sponsors include Reps. Matt Lori, R-Constantine; Sharon Tyler, R-Niles; Matt Huuki, R-Atlantic Mine; Dave Agema, R-Grandville; Ray Franz, R-Onekama; Pete Lund, R-Shelby Township; Marilyn Lane, D-Fraser; Barb Byrum, D-Onondaga; Lesia Liss, D-Warren; and Harold Haugh, D-Roseville.

A similar bill is pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Its sponsor is Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

 

Filed under: Legislation

Scofflaws would lose driver’s license faster under new proposal

By MATT WALTERS
Capital News Service

LANSING – Some lawmakers want the Secretary of State to block license renewals for drivers with three or more unpaid parking tickets – half the current six-ticket threshold.

The change would encourage scofflaws to pay their tickets sooner and pump money faster into municipal coffers.

Now, drivers with at least six unpaid parking tickets cannot get their licenses renewed until they pay the fines and late fees, plus a $45 driver’s license clearance fee.

Ed Kettle, senior legislative aide for the lead House sponsor, Rep. Roy Schmidt, D-Grand Rapids, said that lowering the cut-off would mean more money for local governments.

For example, he estimated that the measure would bring in close to $300,000 more a year for the city of Grand Rapids.

“Nobody likes parking tickets, but the laws are there for a reason,” Kettle said.

He said that opponents of the proposal argue that it would unfairly target people in financial trouble and put more unlicensed drivers on the road.

But Kettle said those drivers could get assistance paying their overdue tickets. He added that the measure would also keep their number of unpaid tickets from getting out of hand.

“The system wouldn’t change. If someone is having trouble paying their parking tickets, the Secretary of State and the local courts will help them get on a payment plan,” Kettle said.

Albert Mooney, the Grand Rapids city treasurer, said he favors the bill.

“This measure would provide much-needed revenue for cash-strapped cities around the state,” Mooney said.

According to Mooney, Grand Rapids was owed more than $3.5 million in unpaid parking fines of August 2009, the most recent statistics available.

“In 2008, the city had to write off more than $500,000 in unpaid fines,” Mooney said.

Mooney said there were 5,394 drivers with fewer than six parking tickets from the city who had yet to pay up as of 2009. That added up to almost $900,000 in lost revenue.

He said that those numbers have increased since then.

“Some people may have had one or two unpaid tickets then but now have three or more,” Mooney said.

Andy Schor, assistant director of state affairs at the Michigan Municipal League in Ann Arbor, said the bill would help local governments collect money they’re due from violators.

“These people are breaking the law and this measure would make it easier to enforce the law,” Schor said.

“If communities can collect the fines more quickly, they can get what they’re due, and right now, every little bit counts,” Schor said.

The bill is in the House Judiciary Committee. Co-sponsors are Reps. Brandon Dillon, D-Grand Rapids, and Harold Haugh, D-Roseville.

A similar bill was introduced to the Senate and is being reviewed by the Senate Transportation Committee. Its sponsor is David Hildenbrand, R-Grand Rapids.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Filed under: Legislation

Bill would require taped police interrogations

By SARA QAMAR
Capital News Service

LANSING — A new House bill would require audiovisual recording of major felony interrogations by law enforcement officials.

Under the proposal, juries would be notified of the requirement if police fail to comply and could consider the absence of a recording when evaluating evidence.

Videotaping should be encouraged for all law enforcement agencies and funding for equipment should be provided, said Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan President Ron Schafer.

But Schafer, who is the Ionia County prosecutor, said he opposes any sanctions for violations.

“You’re calling in the credibility of the officer, but you wouldn’t do that to the jailhouse snitch,” he said.

Because of some past methods used to extract confessions, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, said recorded interrogations should be a part of Michigan’s judicial process.

An audiovisual recording would encourage law enforcement officials to follow all proper procedures, she said.

“Having a permanent recording also protects law enforcement officers from false confessions. More and more we’re finding out through DNA that we have people incarcerated for crimes they didn’t commit,” Tlaib said.

The main sponsor, Tlaib said Michigan’s lack of a statewide public defense system makes videorecording essential.

“In essence we have to get with the times in Michigan. We have to use technology to make our judicial process fair and just. It’s extremely important that we get with this trend,” Tlaib said.

Schafer said, other states, including Illinois, have variations of the law in place. Michigan does not mandate sound or visual recording or transcripts of interrogations, Shafer said.

The bill has been in development since 2006, when the State Bar of Michigan created a task force of prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement officials, judges and others.

The task force oversaw three pilot programs in Washtenaw, Eaton and Jackson counties which worked out the kinks of a videotaping policy before the legislation was drafted.

The task force was co-chaired by Nancy Diehl, a former assistant prosecutor in Wayne County for 28 years.

“We’ve ended up with convictions being overturned. We want to make sure interrogations are done correctly. When done correctly, it’s the best evidence that the prosecution can have,” she said.

She cited a Detroit rape-murder case where a wrongful conviction was overturned on appeal. The defendant, Eddie Joe Lloyd, also won a civil suit requiring Detroit police to tape all interrogations of homicide suspects.

Diehl estimated the expense to outfit one interrogation room at $2,500 or less. She said many law enforcement agencies have already bought the equipment on their own.

“We’re hoping the cost won’t be overly burdensome,” she said.

Tlaib said the requirement would eliminate many high costs in the judicial process by reducing wrongful convictions and subsequent appeals.

Co-sponsors include ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Reps. Joan Bauer, D-Lansing; Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor; Mark Meadows, D-East Lansing; and David Nathan, D-Detroit.

The bill is pending in the House Judiciary Committee.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

 

Filed under: Legislation

Proposal would regulate amateur mixed martial arts events

By DAN SMALLWOOD
Capital News Service

LANSING – “Someone’s going to get killed.”

That’s the worry of Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grandville, which led him to propose a new regulatory body to oversee amateur mixed martial arts (MMA) events.

The proposal would also make it a felony to arrange a fight between an amateur and a professional MMA fighter.

However, several people within the sport call the proposal heavy-handed and unenforceable.

MMA is an increasingly-popular sport in Michigan and around the country. Participants use a wide variety of martial arts to compete in fights.

Joseph Battaglia, a promoter with Birmingham-based Triple X Cagefighting that arranges professional and amateur events, is heavily critical of the bill.

The Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth regulates only professional MMA events.

“We have three to four pro matches (in Michigan) each year,” he said. “We have two to four amateur events every weekend. There’s no way the state can do it.”

Battaglia said it’s necessary to regulate amateur events, but Agema’s legislation will never work and never get passed.

Agema, Battaglia said, went to fight promoters to write his proposal, but ignored professionals who regulate events.

He said the costs in funding and manpower would be prohibitive if the state were to regulate both amateur and professional events.

The problem isn’t just the number of events that the state body would have to regulate, but the number of locations where they’re held, according to Archie Millben, a co-director at Mixed Amateur Martial Arts, a MMA organization in Waterford.

Millben said that when he oversaw pro boxing enforcement for the state, most bouts were held in the big cities. That’s not the case with amateur MMA competition.

But Agema said it’s necessary to standardize the sport across the state and get rid of promoters who ignore safety.

“There are a lot of bad actors out there,” he said. “They’ll just have a fight in a bar or a restaurant.

“We need to get qualified people in the ring.”

Ironically, the bill to increase state regulation comes at a time when GOP Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican-controlled Legislature are calling for fewer such regulations.

The co-sponsors include Reps. Anthony Forlini, R-Harrison Township; Phil Potvin, R-Cadillac; Richard LeBlanc, D-Westland; and Jimmy Womack, D-Detroit.

Forlini said the state should create “proper safety requirements for amateurs,” because there’s nothing protecting them right now.

The proposal would set membership fees and payments, with the money paid chiefly by promoters. Amateur fighters would pay $20 for official registration and would need to submit to physical screenings. It would require a doctor’s okay before a fighter comes back into the ring following a concussion.

“Right now you can have someone knocked out with a concussion and they’ll be back fighting the next week,” Agema said. “You used to be able to just flail around, but you can’t do that anymore.”

Battaglia said higher fees and fines would be a more effective way to encourage safety than Agema’s proposal.

He also said that the proposed 2 percent ticket fee, or $300 per event, whichever is higher, would hurt bigger, more reputable organizations.

Smaller events would hit the $300 cap, but larger events, such as one that attracted 5,000 spectators to the Palace of Auburn Hills, would have to pay the 2 percent fee.

Al Low, a co-director of Mixed Amateur Martial Arts, who once served as chair of the Michigan Unarmed Combat Commission, called the proposal the same old story of a legislator trying to do something when he doesn’t fully understand the repercussions.

He said his organization can effectively regulate the sport if the state allows it to.

Low also said he’s talking with legislators, including those who helped establish Michigan’s boxing regulations, to make sure they’re aware of what’s happening.

“I’m going to do everything I can to make this right,” he said.

Low said the proposal, if passed, could stop the sport’s growing popularity and eliminate the professional leagues’ farm system.

The legislation is pending in the House Regulatory Reform Committee.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Filed under: Legislation

Farm environmental standards bill nears governor

By DAN SMALLWOOD
Capital News Service

LANSING – Legislation to formally recognize a long-standing farm environmental improvement program is well on its way to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk for approval.

The measure would recognize the decade-old Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) and add further incentives for farmers to sign up for the voluntary program.

Chief among those incentives is reduced liability for farmers who accidentally contaminate water sources. Under the bill, MAEAP-verified farms would be exempt from civil fines for “discharges” into public water.

Rep. Kevin Daley, R-Lum, who sponsored the legislation, said it would “make Michigan a leader in agricultural environmental stewardship.”

“By making it law, but keeping it a voluntary program, we believe more farmers will participate,” Daley said.

And Rep. Matt Lori, R-Constantine, praised the “fantastic program” and said encouraging more farmers to join while keeping its voluntary nature intact is the right step.

Jim Johnson, the director of the environmental stewardship division of the Department of Agriculture, said the program is the first time the state has used a “comprehensive approach” to farm conservation. MAEAP is operated by Johnson’s division within Agriculture.

Reduced liability would be mitigated by the amount of work required to become verified, he said.

According to Johnson, the average farm spends approximately $25,000 to become verified as complying with environmental standards and larger farms can spend upwards of $100,000.

The money goes to equipment to make the farms compliant with MAEAP standards, address existing risks, implement an “action plan” and participate in seminars.

The program, introduced in 2000, works to “identify, address, improve and verify” farms’ impact on the environment. Johnson said it helps farmers become more environmentally aware and make their operations more sustainable.

The lengthy process includes educational sessions, a detailed risk-assessment procedure and confirmation that controllable risks have been reduced or eliminated.

The aim is to reduce the number of discharges of pollutants.

Rep. Steven Lindberg, D-Marquette, however, wasn’t fully sold on the proposal.

While he supported recognizing MAEAP, he also voted against an accompanying bill that loosens civil liabilities for water pollution by verified farms.

“I generally think the fewer laws we have, the better,” Lindberg said, “but if we are going to do this, we need to give farmers a really good reason to self-enforce.” The enforcement provisions in the bill he opposed don’t “have enough teeth.”

However, the Michigan Farm Bureau disagrees.

Matt Smego, its legislative counsel, said its members are “very pleased” with the legislation, calling it a “good middle ground” between farmers and other partners in food production.

“It’s a great program,” Smego said of its incentive-based approach and voluntary nature.

“The meaningful incentives help offset substantial personal investment” by farmers, Smego said.

The Farm Bureau has a goal of increasing the number of verified farms by 500 percent by 2015, covering 80 percent of Michigan’s food production, he said.

Approximately 10,000 farms have entered the process, with nearly 1,000 having completed or requested final verification.

James Clift, the policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council, said his organization is neutral on the legislation because of concerns with the environmental safeguards.

While Clift said the council generally supports MAEAP and its goals, he said potential improvements to the legislation weren’t adopted.

“Originally the bill gave farmers complete liability protection,” he said. “We worked to successfully limit the scope to that of the current program.”

However, he said some provisions are ambiguous, including definitions of accidental discharges, repeat offender language and increased water quality assurance.

For example, the council wanted more details on water quality monitoring, specifically whether water quality was improving.

However, Johnson said such concerns are “easy to say if you’ve never been on a farm.”

He said lower liability for farmers who are already taking the necessary steps provides a further incentive for joining.

One goal of the program is to “keep from having these discharges on a farm in the first place,” and the incentives don’t relieve farmers of their legal responsibilities, Johnson said.

“Significant environmental laws are in place that still apply,” he said.

Under the new law, the biggest change to the program would be increased scrutiny from increased public exposure.

Snyder is expected to sign the legislation after endorsing MAEAP in his State of the State address.

Filed under: Legislation

Proposal would exempt some road projects from wetlands requirement

BY PAIGE LaBARGE
Capital News Service

LANSING —- A new Senate bill would prohibit the state from imposing mitigation requirements on some road projects that damage wetlands.

Sen. Tom Casperson, R- Escanaba, sponsored the measure that would apply to projects with the right-of-way of existing roads.

“The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), is saying they can’t go along with this because it is violating federal law and the quality of environment in Michigan, but so many things can be positively affected if the bill is passed,” Casperson said.

The bill would prohibit the DEQ from imposing wetland mitigation requirements on some road projects, said Brad Wurfel, press secretary at the Department of natural Resources and Environment.

Mitigation requires new wetlands to be created if an existing one was previously filled in by road construction.

Wurfel said the DEQ can’t comment about its stance on the bill but said environmental quality could be harmed.

Ed Noyola, deputy director of the County Road Association of Michigan, said the change would benefit the road system, even though it could hurt the environment.

“This bill would definitely have an impact on roads, but for the DEQ, it could jeopardize environmental qualities,” Noyola said.

For example, it would make budgeting easier, reduce permits and make road projects more cost-efficient, he said.

“It would be a streamlined process, not needing mitigation for the building of roads,” Noyola said.

Co-sponsors include Sens. R- Darwin Booher, R-Tory Rocca, R- Howard Walker and R-John Proos.

Casperson said he introduced the bill to alleviate costs of road-building by county road commissions and to upgrade roads, as long as they stay within existing right-of-ways.

“The road commissions throughout the state are frustrated right now because they have to get permission, through permits, to mitigate wetlands for road-building,” Casperson said.

They must go through a permit process and have to build–or not build–based on what the department says, according to Casperson.

According to Casperson, the most significant improvement would be in funding, because commissions devote time to obtain permits when they could be improving the roads.

“Better roads means better transportation to all areas of the state, and this boosts the overall economy and gives the road commissions more money,” Casperson said.

If the bill is passed, it will apply to state highways, and city and county roads.

It’s pending in the Senate Natural Resources, Environment and Great Lakes Committee.

(c) 2011 Capital News Service. Not to be used without permission.

Filed under: Legislation

Property tax exemption proposed for nonprofit housing groups

By SARA QAMAR
Capital News Service

LANSING — A new bill would exempt nonprofit housing organizations such as Habitat for Humanity from property taxes on homes being built for low-income families.

The bill is from Rep. Dale Zorn, who was a county commissioner in Monroe County for 20 years.

Zorn, R-Ida, said some municipalities already grant such exemptions, but it should become a statewide policy.

When such organizations have been paying property taxes, sometimes they can’t afford the payments.

“They end up having to re-sell them rather than re-build them,” Zorn said.

Once a low-income family takes ownership of a property, the tax would be reinstated under the bill.

“In most cases it will only take a year or two,” he said.

The savings to nonprofits could free up additional resources to invest in construction, said Rep. Bruce Rendon, R-Lake City, a co-sponsor of the bill.

“It would help to keep that money in their coffers and to look for another host family to do another project,” he said.

Other sponsors include Reps. Peter Lund, R-Shelby Township; Mark Ouimet, R-Scio Township; Nancy Jenkins, R-Clayton; and Pat Somerville, R-New Boston.

Habitat for Humanity is a community asset, Rendon said, and gives all people involved a sense of worth and direction.

“This would actually aid local economies in communities by creating work and housing. I think the plus is much more than what it would cost the local government,” Rendon said.

But if the bill goes through, it could create a division between nonprofits and local communities, resulting in a weaker program, Michigan Townships Association legislative liaison Bill Anderson said.

Under current law, nonprofits are required to ask the city or other municipality’s permission for the tax exemption. But under the bill, nonprofits would be sidestepping the dialogue, Anderson said, instead of working with the community.

“It’s a great program,” but many times people feel the organizations are not contributing revenue to the already cash-strapped communities they are working in, he said.

Most properties are donated by the city or lank banks and are dilapidated houses, which are not paying taxes, said Habitat for Humanity Michigan President Sandy Pearson.

“What we’re actually doing is creating a situation where we are building tax-generating property, so we feel we do contribute to the community,” Pearson said.

The bill is pending in the House Tax Policy Committee.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Filed under: Legislation

Proposal would legalize Taser-type devices

By MATT WALTERS
Capitol News Service

LANSING – A new Senate bill would legalize private possession of high-voltage electroshock weapons, best known by the brand name Taser.

It would let anyone with a concealed weapons permit carry the weapon.

“I very strongly believe that everyone has the right to defend themselves,” said Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, co-sponsor of the legislation.

According to Jones, the “common sense” bill would save lives by allowing potential victims to carry such “less than lethal” devices.

Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, who also sponsored the bill, said that giving the option of carrying a high-voltage electroshock weapon instead of a handgun would be beneficial.

“People can still carry a pistol if they want to,” Hansen said.  He added that the proposal would allow another means of protection for people who are uncomfortable carrying a gun.

Private possession of such devices is already legal in 43 states, according to Jones.

Jones said versions of high-voltage electroshock weapons sold to the public are weaker than those used by law enforcement agencies.

When fired, the devices also release “confetti” that lets police identify the owner.

Owners would be subject to the same laws that govern concealed weapons.

Jones said, “They will be treated just like handguns.  No one can just play with them.”

Jones said legalizing private ownership would help keep real guns off the streets because it would “replace bullets with a Taser.”

He said he isn’t worried about the device winding up in the wrong hands and said most criminals prefer guns.  Only in “rare cases” have criminals used them.

“If my daughter worked at the local convenience store and was robbed, I would be thankful if the criminal had a Taser instead of a gun,” Jones said.

Last year, Hansen and Jones co-sponsored similar legislation in the House but it died.

Hansen said lawmakers were uncomfortable with the proposal because of a couple of Taser-related deaths at the hands of police last year.

However, he said, “There is a big difference between police and civilian use of Tasers.”

According to Hansen, there has been no opposition to the current bill, which unanimously passed in the Senate Judiciary Committee and now moves to the full Senate.

Terrence Jungel, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, said the measure would have little-to-no effect on law enforcement.

He said that any person with a license to carry the device should be able to use it for protection, but added that the user is responsible for the weapon.

“Weapons that are used to protect people can also harm them,” Jungel said.

According to Jungel, there is an increased need for self-protection because the state has fewer police officers this year than in the past.

He said the bill is part of the “evolution of self-protection” and likened it to other protection devices such as pepper spray.

“We don’t know if allowing more protection devices is a good or bad thing,” Jungel said. “Only time will tell if this legislation is a positive.”

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

 

Filed under: Legislation

Advocates call for tougher steps against human trafficking

By YANG ZHANG
Capital News Service

LANSING – Three years ago, a group of college women was recruited to come from Ukraine to Detroit with promises of jobs as professional dancers, but were forced instead to work in strip clubs and as prostitutes.

They are among an estimated 17,500 foreign nationals who are brought to the country annually for exploitation. The number of U.S. citizens trafficked in the country is even higher, according to Polaris Project, a Washington-based organization that works to prevent human trafficking.

Victim advocates, state officials and legislators are trying to raise awareness about the issue in Michigan.

“It is a problem all over the world and our state is not immune to it,” said Jane White, a criminal justice professor at Michigan State University and the founder of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force.

White said Michigan, as a border and agricultural state, is especially vulnerable to human trafficking.

“We have six different ways of entering into the country,” she said. “And we have a high demand for agricultural workers.”

Michigan passed a package of laws this year to crack down on such crimes, but Rep. Mary Valentine, D-Norton Shore, said stronger measures are needed.

Anne Pawli, Valentine’s legislative assistant, said, “We want to raise awareness of human trafficking in Michigan and educate legislators about the need for strong legislation.”

Statistics show 80 percent of victims are female and 50 percent are minors.

Most are forced to work as cheap laborers or in the sex trade, White said.

A recent report by the Michigan Women’s Foundation shows an increasing trend in the number of young girls who are sexually exploited.

Bridgette Carr, human trafficking clinic director at the University of Michigan, said victims are in the state’s big cities and small towns, in hotels, restaurants and hair salons.

But she said the chance of rescuing them is “extremely low” because most people aren’t aware of the issue and can’t identify victims.

“Until we acknowledge this reality, we are not able to identify and rescue victims,” Carr said.

The Ukrainian women were rescued. At least one went home and one has a public relations job in Detroit. Nine defendants in the case were sentenced to the federal prison.

The Department of Human Services and local groups offer shelter, food, clothing, counseling and medical treatment for young victims. The department has served about 80 children in the past three years.

The Hope Project, a faith-based nonprofit group in Muskegon, also helps rehabilitate juvenile victims. It’s building a rehabilitation center with a school, facilities for activities and walking and bike trails.

Women at Risk International, a Grand Rapids-based nonprofit organization, connects rescued women and children with those who can provide shelter, therapy, child care, education and other services.

Jennifer Roberts, the organization’s executive assistant, said it also tries to identify and rescue victims.

“In Grand Rapids we have helped Homeland Security in the last year uncover one brother with underage girls and several trafficking leads,” she said.

MSU’s White said law enforcement agencies and victim services providers must collaborate to prevent trafficking, prosecute criminals and rescue victims.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

 

Filed under: Legislation

Advocates push last-minute action on toy safety proposal

By JULIET WANG
Capital News Service

LANSING— It’s stalled in the Senate, but backers of legislation to promote toy safety say they are not discouraged.

Critics such as the Michigan Manufacturers Association say the bills are too broad but they support their intent.

The legislation would keep consumers informed and require importers and large manufacturers who use “chemicals of highest concern” to disclose such information to the Department of Community Health, advocates say. The bills passed the House but haven’t moved out of a Senate committee.

“If children’s toys contain toxins, the level and which kinds of toxins are in those toys given to children– parents should be informed,” said Lottie Spady, associate director of the East Michigan Environmental Action Council. “It’s a citizens educational standpoint.” Her Detroit-based group supports the legislation.

Some of the chemicals that have been found in children’s toys include arsenic, lead and mercury, according to the Michigan Network for Children’s Environmental Health.

Sarah Mullkoff, Michigan campaign coordinator for Clean Water Action said, “There’s still some opportunity to work with the Senate during the lame duck period.  With the right messenger, parents or health professionals, to speak is important for this year and this term.”

The proposal would require manufacturers to provide information to parents about the chemicals in children’s products.

But Randy Gross, director of environmental and regulatory policy at the Manufacturers Association, said the bills are too broadly worded.

Gross argues the bills apply not only to children’s products, but also to those that a child could possibly come into contact with, like a car or a chair that is not considered a product for children.

“It would just continue to handicap Michigan’s industry compared to other states– Ohio doesn’t have to do this, Indiana doesn’t, or Illinois. The focus needs to be finding a way to do this in a manageable way, so that you are not incorporating every product in the state of Michigan. It’s doing it in a way that’s reasonable so you’re actually accomplishing your goal, protecting children and their health,” said Gross.

Paul Haan, executive director of the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan, supports the legislation.

Manufacturers, especially overseas, need to know what’s going in their products and inform consumers and parents, said Haan. His organization is based in Grand Rapids.

The legislation is in the Senate Health Policy Committee.

Mullkoff said it’s essential to get Senate action this year because “we may not get this chance next year.”

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

 

Filed under: Legislation

About CNS

CNS reporters cover state government — issues and personalities.



Covering stories of meaning to their member papers, they come in contact with the important newsmakers of the day, from the Supreme Court justices and the governor to members of the Legislature and the people who run the state government departments, to lobbyists and public-interest organizations.



Then they also talk with “real people” — the individual citizens and businesses in communities to get their reactions to what’s happening in Lansing.



In addition to weekly news stories, CNS students write in-depth articles on issues facing state government and their impact on taxpayers.
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.