Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Sheriffs wrestle with budget woes

Bookmark and Share Download Story


Capital News Service

LANSING- The State Police are not the only law enforcement officials feeling the pinch of the state budget crisis.

As county governments are forced to cut their own budgets, sheriff’s offices across the state also have to adjust, including those in Mason and Manistee counties.

Terry Jungel, the executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, said he worries that money is getting in the way of law enforcement.

“You can’t let economics drive the train of public safety,” he said.

Jungel said that uniformed services, which he described as all officers except traffic patrols, have suffered the most. He warned that such cuts, combined with state plans to release prisoners early, might lead to an increase in crime.

However, the Mason County Sheriff’s Department might not face any serious cuts in the 2010 budget, according to a county official.

County Administrator Fabian Knizacky said he couldn’t foresee any significant cuts in the sheriff’s office budget.

“The county board has the sheriffs’ office in priority,” he said. “We always try to maintain the sheriff’s office funding.”

Knizacky said he will know for certain after the Legislature works out the state budget.

The county board of commissioners’ efforts don’t go unappreciated, Undersheriff Thomas Trenner said. He applauded the board for handling budget cuts without severely damaging the sheriff’s office.

“The county has been pretty good to us so far,” Trenner said.

The department has been forced to cope with financial difficulties nonetheless. Cuts in funding have forced a cutback on nonessentials such as landscaping. By “trimming the fat,” as he called it, the department has avoided any staff reductions so far.

“I try anything I can before I have to lay staff off,” he said.

Even so, the department faces problems caused by funding at the state level.

Trenner said that his deputies have picked up routes that were once patrolled by State Police because the shrinking state trooper presence has left Mason County deputies handling even more duties.

Manistee County Sheriff Dale Kowalkowski said his office faces the same situation as his deputies cover shifts that troopers were forced to eliminate.

As a result, his department is looking to add another full-time deputy.

Kowalkowski also said that his department likely won’t see any budget cuts in 2010.

Both Kowalkowski and Trenner credit their county governments for the stability of their budgets.

The Manistee County board “runs a pretty tight ship,” Kowalkowski said. Although a strict budget can affect how he does his job, he said it also keeps his office running.

Knizacky said the Mason County board has struck a balance between staffing levels and finance.

“We try to budget pretty conservatively to start with,” he said. “When times are good, we can build a reserve for when times are not as good.”

The situation Kowalkowski and Trenner face is not uncommon, said Thomas Hickson, the legislative affairs director of the Michigan Association of Counties.

Counties across the state have had to pick up services that other governments have dropped, Hickson said. He also said he’s concerned about possible cuts in state revenue sharing with counties.

If that happens, county governments may have to adjust their budgets once more, he said.

Jungel, of the sheriffs’ association, said, “The advice I’ve been giving the sheriffs is, buckle up ‘cause it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.”


Filed under: Budget, Uncategorized

Titles highlight Metro Detroit, Isle Royale and Great Lakes

Bookmark and ShareDownload Story

Capital News Service

LANSING—In many ways, Michigan is a state of connections, from the vibrant urban life of Detroit and its suburbs to the water passage between the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean and on to the historic links between the Ojibwe and Isle Royale.

And those connections can be explored in words and pictures that illustrate the linkages that bind land and water, peoples and places, present and past.

Detroit photographer John Sobczak draws such connections in “A Motor City Year” (Wayne State University Press, $39.95), a collection of 365 pictures depicting residents of Southeast Michigan and the things that do and use daily.

“The idea for this book was simple,” Sobczak writes, “a different image every day for one year to capture the flavor of Metro Detroit. Whether it’s fishing in the mist on Lake St. Clair or sledding down the hills in Franklin, working on the line at the Rouge Plant or watching the Tigers play at Comerica Park, the photos show Metro Detroit’s unique communities and personalities.”

Some are familiar – longtime WXYZ newscaster Bill Bonds celebrating the station’s 60th anniversary, clowns parading on Thanksgiving, the huge guitar in front of the Hard Rock Café.

Others are ordinary in content but dramatic in presentation: Detroit police officers and firefighters at a Sept. 11 memorial service, assembly line robots at the Warren Truck Assembly Plant, a freighter on the Detroit River nearing the Ambassador Bridge.

Still others remind us of past glories and uncertain tomorrows: the interior of the abandoned Michigan Central Depot in Corktown, overnight quarters for the homeless at Royal Oak’s Emmanuel Bethel Church, demolition of Tiger Stadium.

In a different type of book, Muskegon journalist Jeff Alexander tells a grim story of environmental shortsightedness in “Pandora’s Locks: The Opening of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway” (Michigan State University Press, $29.95).

His account of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which opened with international fanfare in 1959, lays out the complex balance between economic growth – global trade – and unintended adverse consequences, especially alien species such as the zebra and quagga mussels brought into the Great Lakes by ocean-going freighters.

Through his account, we also meet the people who study and work on the lake, including a fisheries scientist from South Haven, the captain of a fishing vessel from Naubinway, a biologist from Alpena and an ecologist from Muskegon.

These “destructive changes,” Alexander warns, may be irreversible.

In the Seaway’s half-century of operation the lakes’ top fish predator, lake trout, was displaced, alewives invaded and the salmon fishery became “wildly popular” but artificial.

Now, he continues, the ecosystems of the Great Lakes bear “only a slight resemblance to those pristine, healthy waters – teeming with giant sturgeon and lake trout – that Native Americans discovered when they settled the region more than 2,000 years ago.”

That observation connects, in turn with “Minong – The Good Place,” (Michigan State University Press, $24.49), an account of the intimate relationship between the North Shore Ojibwe people and Isle Royale, which is now a national park in Lake Superior off the west coast of the Upper Peninsula.

Former national park historian Timothy Cochrane explains how the Grand Portage Band of Ojibwe had used the island and its resources, including the prized siscowet trout, the caribou that became especially prized when mainland moose numbers dropped in the 1800s, the beaver whose skins were traded and the maple syrup produced in the spring.

Ironically, the well-meaning move intended to preserve the island for the greater public by creating a national park was the low point of the Ojibwes’ relationship with Isle Royale, according to Cochrane. They were not consulted in advance, and the park brought them few economic opportunities.

Only later was the relationship between the tribal council and the national park reworked, with the two sides now communicating about such matters as treaty rights, jobs, the fishery, cultural-resource research and invasive species, he said.

There is now better recognition of cultural connections with Isle Royale and the fact that it was “an Ojibwe homeland – a place of bungled treaties and an island where hunters, fishers and plant gatherers made use and intimately knew Minong resources,” not a wilderness with little human history, according to Cochrane.

Filed under: Uncategorized

CNS – 9/11/09 Budget

Download Budget

CROPDAMAGE: Farmers are worried about deer damage to their crops but can obtain DNR permits to hunt them out of season—a move that makes some hunters unhappy. We hear from a Traverse City farmer, a legislator from Traverse City, the president of the Northwest Farm Bureau and Michigan United Conservation Clubs. A Southwest Michigan legislator wants to make it easier for farmers to shoot nuisance deer, and co-sponsors include representatives from Tipton, Holland, Lum, Constantine and Niles. By Adam DeLay. FOR TRAVERSE CITY, THREE RIVERS, HOLLAND, SOUTH BEND, LAPEER, STURGIS, UP NORTH & ALL POINTS.

SEXED: Pending legislation would require public school districts to teach students more about sex education than just abstinence. The measure, which unanimously passed a House committee, is backed by the state Association of School Board but is drawing fire from the Michigan Family Forum. Sponsors include representatives from Royal Oak, Warren and Mount Clemens, and the lead sponsor is from Salem Township. By Emily Lawler. FOR MACOMB, ROYAL OAK, OAKLAND, LANSING, MICHIGAN CITIZEN & ALL POINTS.

TRANSPARENCY: Once the state budget is resolved, some legislators, including one from Evart, want to move to tighten ethics and financial disclosure requirements for politicians and candidates. Attorney Gen. Mike Cox wants to extend disclosure requirements to immediate relatives of state and local officials and candidates. A  Canton senator, backed by colleagues from East Lansing,  Holland, Saugatuck, Algonac and Bay City wants to prohibit lawmakers from voting on bills when there’s a conflict of interest. By Quincy Hodges. FOR CADILLAC, MICHIGAN CITIZEN, LANSING, OAKLAND, ROYAL OAK, HOLLAND, LAPEER & ALL POINTS.

STANDISH: A legislator from Farwell is among the vocal critics of a proposal to house Gitmo terrorism suspects at the state prison in Standish. A local corrections officer reflects some of the community criticism of the idea under review by the Obama administration. We also hear from a senator from Bay City and the Corrections Department. By Nick Mordowanec. FOR CLARE, GLADWIN, MICHIGAN CITIZEN, LANSING & ALL POINTS.

SHERIFFBUDGETS: Sheriffs across the state have been cutting services and face even more constraints as state and local government revenues shrink. The executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association says he’s warning his members to “buckle up ‘cause it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.” However, the sheriffs in Mason and Manistee counties say they’re running tight ships and hope to be able avoid serious cuts in 2010. By Jordan Travis. FOR LUDINGTON & ALL POINTS.

FREETUITION: A Detroit lawmakers wants the state Constitution to establish and fund a program to reimburse high school grads for undergraduate tuition and vocational training at universities and community colleges. The Three Rivers schools superintendent and Glen Oaks Community College like the idea, which would require participating students to do a year of public service. By Hyonhee Shin. FOR THREE RIVERS, STURGIS, SOUTH BEND, MICHIGAN CITIZEN & ALL POINTS.

GROCERYSTORETAXBREAK: Northern Michigan could gain jobs and improve public health due to new tax breaks for grocers selling healthy produce in underserved areas, including parts or all of Charlevoix, Alpena, Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Mason, Clare and Gladwin counties. The owner of 12 Save-a-Lot stores, the Michigan Grocers Association and a state Agriculture Department official talk about the program. By Caitlin Costello. FOR ALPENA, CHARLEVOIX, TRAVERSE CITY, CLARE, GLADWIN, LUDINGTON  & ALL POINTS.

ALGEBRA2: The superintendent of the Manton schools and the principal of Cadillac High School are among advocates for modifying the state mandate that students must pass algebra 2 to graduate from high school. They favor allowing practical-oriented alternatives, such as diesel fuel technology or learning how to manage a ledger. The House and Senate must negotiate different proposals to accomplish that aim and, for example, let students substitute a class such as financial literacy, engineering or electronics. The House lead sponsor, from West Branch, tells how one of his own sons struggled with math. Other sponsors include legislators from Alpena, Tipton, Hart, West Olive and Wallace. By Vince Bond. FOR CADILLAC, HOLLAND, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS, OAKLAND, MACOMB, ROYAL OAK, MICHIGAN CITIZEN, ALPENA, BLISSFIELD, LUDINGTON, MARQUETTE & ALL POINTS.

GREENJOBS: The Granholm and Obama administration are aggressively pursuing a green jobs agenda, and some Michigan companies, including ones in Royal Oak and Rochester Hills, are taking advantage of that interest. So is Lawrence Technological University and its Center for Sustainability The Mackinac Center for Public Policy questions the move, however, but the Michigan Manufacturers Association and Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth like its potential. By Mehak Bansil. FOR ROYAL OAK, OAKLAND, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS & ALL POINTS.

URBANFARMERS: The two-story brick building on Chene Street in Detroit has a dirt floor and no roof, but it does have four walls – more than you can say about many remaining structures in the neighborhood. The walled garden is part of a bigger food-growing effort by Peacemakers International, a ministry that helps addicts get off the streets and into jobs. Meanwhile, a Detroit-based financial holding company plans to buy thousands of Motor City acres and turn them into what may be the world’s biggest urban farm, intending to put the properties back on the tax rolls. By Andy McGlashen of Great Lakes Echo. FOR MICHIGAN CITIZEN, OAKLAND, MACOMB, ROYAL OAK & ALL POINTS.

w/URBANFARMINGPHOTO: Shirley Robinson and Mike Score work in a walled garden at Peacemakers International in Detroit. Credit: Andy McGlashen, Great Lakes Echo

CITYWATERSISLAND: Michigan is a state of connections, from the vibrant urban life of Detroit and its suburbs to the water passage between the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean and on to the historic links between the Ojibwe and Isle Royale. Three new books explore these themes. A photographer shows us 365 days in Southeast Michigan. A Muskegon environmental journalist explains how the St. Lawrence Seaway has opened the Great Lakes to dangerous invasive species. An ex-national park historian highlights the long involvement of Native Americans with Isle Royal. By Eric Freedman. FOR OAKLAND, MACOMB, ROYAL OAK, MICHIGAN CITIZEN, HOLLAND, CHEBOYGAN, PETOSKEY, LUDINGTON, SOUTH BEND, ALPENA, PETOSKEY, MARQUETTE, TRAVERSE CITY & ALL POINTS.

Filed under: Uncategorized

State presses green jobs agenda

Bookmark and Share Download Story

Capital News Service

LANSING—With so many workers unemployed, manufacturers are beginning to look favorably at President Barack Obama’s idea of a greener future.
Michigan holds a huge stake in such discussions with unemployment at its highest level in 26 years.
Some organizations see “green” manufacturing as a path to economic salvation and security, but others such as the Mackinac Center for Public Policy located in Midland, a free market oriented think tank, say they are worried about possible consequences.
On Sept. 2, Gov. Jennifer Granholm was joined by U.S. officials in Saginaw to solicit support for mandates requiring greener manufacturing.
Among those present was U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. “If we don’t lead they will,” he said, “and all the jobs will go to China and all the products we buy will be from China.”
Some companies across Michigan have already taken action. Among them is Royal Oak-based Bonal Technologies Inc. According to its sales manager, Greg Merritt, the growth spurt that the company has experienced in five years from creating a greener company has surpassed the growth it saw in the first 20 years of its existence.
Another such firm is Rochester Hills based technology firm ECD Ovonics. It develops alternative energy products such as hydrogen and solar power and believes in the future of green jobs.
For education, Lawrence Technological University in Southfield has a Center for Sustainability, which offers courses and seminars that teach students and professionals about both the technological details and social concepts needed to create a sustainable future.
John Groen of the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth highlighted the Green Jobs Initiative and the state’s decision to offer $700 million in tax credits to encourage advanced battery technology development in the auto industry.
“Green jobs are here and they’re here to stay,” said Groen, a department communications officer.
According to the 2009 Michigan Green Jobs Report by the No Worker Left Behind program, cleaner cars could comprise 40 percent of green jobs if the development of alternative fuels is successful.
The interim chief executive officer of General Motors, Fritz Henderson, agrees.
“GM and the auto industry will benefit by having more consistency and certainty to guide our product plans,” he said.
Despite the spin the government has given it, whether green jobs will boost the economy is still a controversial issue.
“Mandating more expensive forms of alternative energy takes money out of the pocket of consumers and drives up business costs, resulting in the loss of jobs,” said Russell Harding of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
But Granholm insists the idea isn’t to completely replace current energy sources.
Chuck Hadden, chief executive officer of the Michigan Manufacturers Association, said he is hopeful that there will be prosperity in the future of green jobs.
“We’re trying to get our members to look at every way they can diversify, and if building green cars is one, why not?” he said.
“I don’t know about the future more than anyone else does, but if I don’t encourage members to take that opportunity, I wouldn’t be doing my job, especially with all the federal money coming in,” Hadden said.
According to Groen, a $3 million federal grant through the No Worker Left Behind program to train Michigan workers for alternative energy jobs makes it hard to not give green jobs a chance.

Filed under: Uncategorized

State legislature may alter graduation requirements

Bookmark and Share Download Story

Capital News Service
LANSING- Sometimes, the best way to learn mathematics is to bring the equations to life, says J. Mark Parsons, superintendent of Manton Consolidated Schools.
Instead of toiling away on dozens of algebraic functions, students would be better served studying the intricacies of diesel fuel technology or learning how to manage a ledger, Parsons said.
“Through technical education courses, students will learn everyday applications for the data,” Parsons said. “They’ll get practical applications. This is very important for our students.”
More high school students could take advantage of this hands-on style of learning if the House and Senate come together on a bill giving pupils an option to take a tech education class instead of algebra II to fulfill graduation requirements.
The House version of the bill also would allow a financial literacy course to replace algebra II, while the Senate draft deems electronics, construction, renewable energy and engineering classes with “embedded mathematical content” as worthy substitutes.
Rep. Joel Sheltrown, D-West Branch, is the chief sponsor of the House bill, while Sen. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland, is pushing the Senate version.
Sheltrown knows firsthand that not all students are wired for success in math, especially algebra II.
One of his sons struggled to pass algebra II in high school and eventually became a corrections officer, while another went on to earn a Ph.D. in math.
Current state graduation guidelines adopted in 2006 as part of the Michigan Merit Curriculum mandate students take four credits of math, including geometry and algebra I and II.
Students would be able replace up to three of those credits with tech education courses or a financial literacy course if the House gets its way.
The current requirement could produce a bevy of disgruntled students who get white-collar jobs, but don’t enjoy their careers, Sheltrown said.
“I don’t want to go to someone who hates his job,” Sheltrown said. In America,“we put more value on what you do and not how well you do it. You have to recognize that everyone has different skill sets.”
Michigan is one of only five states that require four math credits for graduation, while the national average is 2.76, said Derrick Fries, assistant professor of special education at Eastern Michigan University.
Fries, who is conducting a study on the impact of the Michigan Merit Curriculum, said “railroading” students into algebra II when many are struggling to pass algebra I will influence them to drop out.
During Fries’ research, he has found that nearly 30 percent of high school students in Oakland and Macomb counties fail algebra I
He estimates that 38,000 students will drop out by 2011 — doubling the current rate — if the curriculum isn’t modified.
From a national standpoint, Michigan’s 70 percent graduation rate is good enough only for 30th place.
“It has to fall in the zone of relevance,” Fries said of math requirements. “White collar workers only use their algebra II skills 7 percent of the time per year.”
Todd Bruggema, principal of Cadillac Senior High School, said forcing students to take algebra II won’t necessarily help them if they have no desire to pursue a math-related career in college.
“I think there need to be alternatives,” Bruggema said. “Not every student needs algebra II to be successful. They need to design a curriculum or course that teaches problem-solving skills.”

Filed under: Uncategorized

Push on for more openness in political ethics, finance

Bookmark and Share Download Story

Capital News Service
LANSING- – Michigan’s ethics and financial disclosure requirements for politicians and candidates are too loose, according to some Republican officials.
The state budget is the most pressing issue, but greater transparency in government is equally important, they say.
Both Republicans and Democrats say they support the idea of more openness but accuse each other of blocking passage.
Attorney Gen. Mike Cox has proposed requiring state and officials, candidates for office and their immediate family members to disclose their personal finances and gifts from lobbyists. He also called for tightening the requirement that legislators abstain from voting when they have conflicts of interest.
Cox, a Republican who is considering a 2010 campaign for governor, proposed that office holders, state officials and directors of state departments who make more than $65,000 per year, and candidates annually report gifts and reimbursements from lobbyists when their total value exceeds $250 per year, per lobbyist.
“I’m tired of Michigan being last economically. I’m tired of Michigan being last ethically,” said Cox.
Rep. Darwin Booher said, “I’m not afraid to open things up,” but added, “Why should I have to show family incomes?” The Evart Republican was referring to the proposal that would release spouses’ finances.
Booher said ethics legislation should be passed this fall after the budget is sealed.
Michigan is one of only three states that doesn’t require financial disclosure by their political officials, Vermont and Idaho being the others, according to Rich Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.
Robinson says the legislation addresses a big gap in ethics law.
There is resistance to the proposal because finances are considered private and personal, but Robinson says there may be problems with politicians buying and selling certain property and buying certain stock.
Transparency is key in running an honest government, according to Robinson.
Meanwhile, Sen. Bruce Patterson, R-Canton has introduced an ethics bill would provide that, “a legislator shall not vote on a bill with which he or she has a conflict of interest and shall state that fact on the record prior to abstaining from voting.
Co-sponsors are Sens. Judson Gilbert, R- Algonac; Wayne Kuipers, R- Holland, Patricia Birkholz, R-Saugatuck Jim Barcia, D-Bay City and Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing.
The bill is pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Constitutional amendment would give free tuition for community service

Bookmark and Share Download Story

Capital News Service
LANSING – High school graduates might get more opportunities for free college tuition and vocational training through a proposed amendment to the state Constitution.
The proposal by Rep. Fred Durhal Jr., D-Detroit, would establish and fund a program to reimburse high school graduates for the costs of undergraduate tuition and vocational training at universities and community colleges.
Roger Rathburn, Three Rivers Community Schools superintendent, said anything that can be done to reduce college costs is worth considering.
“It would be unfortunate to see costs become a barrier for many young adults to further their education,” he said.
“I’m not surprised to see more and more students completing their first two years of college at community colleges and then transferring to four-year institutions due to the significant cost savings,” Rathburn said.
Lon Huffman, manager of public relations and marketing at Glen Oaks Community College, said he is in favor of the proposal.
“Books alone can cost up to $500 a semester,” he said. “The problems with funding college for students are very evident and causing many students and their families to scramble for funds.”
Enrollment at Glen Oaks went up 12 percent this fall compared to last year, and it’s up 20 percent compared to fall 2007, Huffman said.
“Many students have decided on community colleges for their first two years due to the financial crisis,” he said.
Under the proposed amendment, high school graduates would be required to perform one year of volunteer or community service to receive benefits.
Huffman said the proposal sounds noble because it would involve students in public work, volunteerism and community service.
“People needed job training,” he said. “They would learn a lot about life and get a feel for vocations.”
But Huffman emphasized that the training needs to be useful and transparent as possible.
“It should be easy to enroll in and offer convenient classes,” he said. “If too many conditions are put on those who can take training, then it may not get people into training as soon as they need it.
“In Southwest Michigan, agriculture is a very big employer much of the year, so people who live in cities may not know much about farm work. Those people might be able to use skills in trades that would make them employable or so they can begin a new business like painting, cement work, or carpentry,” he said.
Rathburn also mentioned the need to improve existing training programs.
“Seems many of the vocational programs that exist need some retooling, and new ones created should reflect the job market and where the jobs are,” he said.
The proposed program would be funded in part from new special lottery revenue.
Huffman said his only concern is whether the program might generate another layer of government oversight or more administrators, which will cost taxpayers more money.
Rathburn said he has some doubts about its practicality, considering current economic conditions.
“I’m not sure where all the money would come from to support such a bill, especially in a poor economy,” he said.
A constitutional amendment must pass both the House and Senate and then be approved by the voters in a statewide election.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Future of Standish Prison still in doubt

Bookmark and Share Download Story

Capital News Service

LANSING – Standish, like all other Michigan cities, faces high levels of unemployment and slow economic development – plus the possibility of holding Guantanamo Bay terror suspects within its boundaries.

The federal government is considering the Standish Correctional Facility, located about 150 miles north of Detroit, as one of two potential facilities to house detainees from the Cuban detention center. The other possibility is a military penitentiary at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

President Barack Obama has frequently said he wants to close Guantanamo Bay by early 2010, bringing the suspects state-side. As of Jan. 17, about 245 detainees remained at Guantanamo Bay.

Residents in and around Standish have been vocal about the possibility of having al-Qaida, Taliban and other foreign suspects nearby. From correctional officers to state representatives, many have expressed strong resentment to the idea of housing suspected terrorists there.

“Many questions remain for how such a facility would work, as well as what legal, logistical and governing arrangements would need to be made,” said Rep. Tim Moore, R-Farwell. “The bottom line is that closing the prison would devastate the Standish community and surrounding region.”

The maximum-security men’s prison currently provides hundreds of jobs to correctional officers and other employees, but if terror suspects are moved to the facility, many of those workers would either be transferred or laid off altogether, according to corrections officers and lawmakers.

If the state closes the facility, some current employees could transfer to other prisons.
Jennifer Barnes, the legislative liaison to Sen. James Barcia, R-Bay City, said, “There are bumping rights, meaning folks who were working there longer get better opportunities.”

John Reeves, a corrections officer in the facility, said, “Anyone who has worked around three to five years would be transferred to another facility 100 miles away. The government would bring in its own military workers to survey the suspects.”

Reeves said that if such a scenario unfolds, Michigan workers, businesses and families would be put at risk – not only in terms of financial troubles, but also in safety.

“We as a community are not going to accept Guantanamo Bay suspects,” Reeves said. “Having military present, not keeping employees abreast on the present situation would hurt.”

Reeves also said, “Property values will drop, and who will want to move here once terrorists are right next door?”
John Cordell, a former corrections officer who now serves as the public information specialist for the Michigan Department of Corrections, said the facility is doing its best to assure the safety of people in the area.

“Michigan has no early release program,” Cordell said. “All prisoners must serve their sentences due to the Truth in Sentencing Act of 1998.

“We are looking at prisoners who are past their early release date and may be eligible for parole, at least 10,000 of those people. Many still need to be in prison because they pose a risk in society,” he said. “We do not want to jeopardize public safety.”

Cordell said, “Corrections is trying its hardest to minimalize potential dangers and ensure we can place as many employees as possible within our system” if Standish closes.

Moore said, “I’m looking forward to much more discussion about the Standish facility and welcome the positive attention the national media coverage is drawing to our plight, including MSNBC, Fox and other stations having me and local officials as guests for their newscasts.

“Let’s keep up the efforts to keep the prison facility open, help the families and businesses that it supports and secure the future of our community,” he said.

And Reeves said, “Our security is not being looked upon. It puts everyone at risk when everything is packed too tight. They haven’t told anyone the whole story since June.”

Filed under: Uncategorized

Northern Michigan grocers could benefit from new tax breaks

Bookmark and Share Download Story
Capital News Service

LANSING–Improved health and more jobs are among the benefits seen for northern Michigan if tax breaks are given for opening grocery stores in underserved areas, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Underserved areas stretch throughout the state from rural communities to the city of Detroit. All of Alpena, Clare and Gladwin counties and parts of Cheboygan, Grand Traverse and Emmitt counties are eligible.

Underserved areas have low or moderate incomes, below-average “supermarket density” and limited access to stores because of travel distance.

Elsewhere in northern Michigan, parts of Mason, Manistee, Marquette and Leelanau counties are eligible.

A grocery store chain primarily in northern Michigan, welcomes the program, “With us putting in a new store, this could be huge,” said Paul Freeman, part-owner of 12 Save-A-Lot stores throughout the state.

The law, offering tax breaks for up to 10 years, was passed a year ago, but eligibility criteria were only recently released by the Agriculture Department, so now the program can be implemented.

The department estimates that 3,020 jobs and 20 new supermarkets could result from the program within two to three years.

Some urban areas also have convenience stores, but no grocery stores that offer fresh produce.

“Grocery stores provide access for healthy foods and home supplies and are essential to be located in cities,” said Sen. Jason Allen, R-Traverse City, a co-sponsor of the law.

Grocery stores that open or expand in underserved areas and sell a set percentage of fresh or frozen produce, meat, poultry and dairy products can apply for the tax breaks.”

“If you don’t have to pay taxes for 10 years, you can use that money for overhead costs and expansion,” said Jane Shallal, president of the Association Food and Petroleum Dealers Inc. in Michigan.

Karen Gobler of the Michigan Grocers Association hesitated to predict what the new law might mean for her industry. But it is a good program, and only time will tell, she said.
“Other tax incentives have been offered before, but this is a new twist now that retail food stores will qualify,” said Gobler.

Shallal said, Local farmers and wholesalers will also benefit from the program because increased demand for products means increased revenue.

Fresh food will give consumers an opportunity for healthy lifestyles and help prevent diet related disease, according to the Healthy Kids, Healthy Michigan program in the Department of Community Health.

“We think we can improve the public health situation in Michigan by broadening access to healthy food that families need,” said Robert Craig, director of agriculture development at the Department of Agriculture.

Over half of Michigan’s population is underserved, according to the U.S. Census, and have limited access to grocery stores.

Craig said local governments must apply for the tax incentive on behalf of grocery stores. A local government is not required to participate in the program, however, as it would lose property tax revenue under the program.

Gobler said, “Many of the communities are very supportive of our industry,” adding that a grocery store “is really a good anchor for our communities, so I couldn’t imagine too many problems.”

Freeman said that he is curious to see if his stores are approved by local governments.

Asked about competition for existing stores, Freeman said he isn’t too worried. Under the program, the incentive will only apply in areas that lack food stores, so even if a grocery store already is there, both would be successful, he said.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Proposal Would Expand Sex Ed in Schools

Bookmark and ShareDownload Story

Capital News Service

LANSING- A House bill would soon require every school district to teach students more about sex education than just abstinence.

The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith, D-Salem Township, would mandate that public schools teach contraceptive techniques as a method of birth control.

“We’re not supplanting abstinence. We’re saying all curriculum that is medically appropriate needs to be taught in schools,” said Smith, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor in 2010.

The bill’s co-sponsors include Reps. Lesia Liss, D- Warren; Fred Miller, D- Mount Clemens; and Marie Donigan, D- Royal Oak.

Currently, state law requires the teaching of abstinence, but makes it optional for schools to teach about contraception.
The bill states that instructors must “discuss the benefits of abstaining from sex until marriage and the benefits of protecting oneself if a pupil is sexually active, and provide the tools to make informed and responsible decisions.”
Smith said the timing of the bill has a lot to do with requests from high school students involved with health centers in their local school systems.

“When the students are telling you what you’re providing is inaccurate, I think it’s important for us to listen,” said Smith.
Michigan Right to Life is neutral but the Michigan Family Forum is not. The conservative-oriented group supports legislation concerning traditional family values.

Dan Jarvis, the organization’s research and policy director, said, “There are two primary things we oppose. One is a requirement that every school teach sex education, and the other requirement is that schools teach it from a comprehensive perspective rather than an abstinence-only perspective.”

The Michigan Association of School Boards says districts are ready for the bill’s proposed changes.

“Studies have shown that the abstinence-only education is not the best course of action,” said Peter Spadafore, assistant director of government relations at the association.

But Jarvis said, “We just think that the parents and school board members of each district should be able to decide what to teach. We’re for local choice,” said Jarvis.

However, the association argues the legislation promotes local decision-making.

“By giving locals the flexibility to teach other options, we have the potential to decrease teen pregnancy and incidents of infection in young adults,” said Spadafore.

The bill passed the House Judiciary Committee unanimously, and is awaiting action by the full House.

Filed under: Uncategorized

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.