Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Benefits running out for some jobless workers

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Capital News Service

LANSING – Michigan’s unemployment rate is the highest in the country and shows the state is still in deep trouble.

Unemployment benefits eventually dry up, although a new extension of benefits signed by President Barack Obama will offer relief to those who have used up all of theirs.

“My unemployment benefits just ran out, so I’m now in the process of filing for an extension,” said Aaron Powell, a former employee of AT&T U-verse.

Powell worked for AT&T U-verse for two years and was laid off about a year ago due to cutbacks. Powell worked at Sterling Heights and Southfield locations.

He said, “I’ve tried to seek new employment programs, but they are so bombarded with the unemployment rate here in Michigan, by the time they get to you, the jobs have been taken, so I chose to finish school.”

Powell is now taking classes at Henry Ford Community College, with a focus on computer information.

“Rent is somewhat of a struggle. I’m unable to save money and I lost my car,” he said. Powell supported his mother and his girlfriend while working.

Powell had planned to move out of the state but losing his job derailed his plans.

The new federal law adds 20 weeks of benefits to workers who are unable to find jobs, according to the Michigan League for Human Services (MLHS).

The United States employment rate rose to 10.2 percent, which is the highest in 26 years, while Michigan was at 15.1 percent in October.

Unemployed workers can now collect benefits up to 99 weeks.

There are two state Senate bills pending that would allow benefits for people in training programs and those seeking part-time work.

According to the MLHS, “passing those bills would put Michigan into compliance with federal requirements and bring an additional $139 million of federal funds into Michigan to run the unemployment system and expand the number of families and individuals served by the system.”

After unemployment benefits run out, jobless residents can still get food assistance and medical care for their children from the state, said Judy Putnam, communications director of the MLHS.

Putnam said Michigan Helping Hand, in association with the United Way, provides additional help with health care, unemployment benefits, job training, family support and housing. The United Way 2-1-1 program lets people dial 2-1-1 and for help with rent, utilities and food assistance.

The president of the Michigan Association of United Ways Scott Dzurka, said the 2-1-1 program is funded by state and local governments and private donors. He said calls centers have increased 51 percent over the past year and that food assistance is the number-one request.

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


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Recycling lags despite state’s green push

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Capital News Service

LANSING- Even as the state strives to transition to a “green economy,” recycling doesn’t appear high on residents’ to-do lists, new data suggests.

Recycling rates in the state have fallen by 28 percent in the last 10 years — dropping from .36 tons per resident in 1998 to .26 last year, according to a report by Lansing-based Public Sector Consultants.

In contrast, Michigan’s 72 percent landfill rate is second only to Ohio among Great Lakes states.

William Rustem, president of the firm, said a renewed commitment to recycling initiatives could create between 6,000 to 12,000 jobs that “provide for new economic growth.”
Public Sector Consultants researches issues involving health, education, environment, economics and technology.

Boosting Michigan’s 20 percent recycling rate to the 30 percent combined average of Great Lakes states could generate as much as much as $300 million in income and $22 million in state taxes, according to the report.

Recycling businesses are more likely to create jobs than landfill operations, said Kerrin O’Brien, executive director of the Michigan Recycling Coalition.

For every 10,000 tons of waste handled, one job is created at a landfill while nine jobs are formed in the recycling industry, she said.

“If we want to see real progress, we have to fund market development and attract businesses that can use recycled materials,” O’Brien said. “We’re in a stagnant state. We don’t have a culture of recycling yet.”

Although some new jobs would require advanced training in waste management sciences at universities, Rustem said, other tasks such as collecting items, could be filled by displaced workers without formal education.

Recycling will pick up only if communities make a firm commitment to such programs and understand its economic advantages, Rustem said.

“The benefits would outweigh the costs. There isn’t any doubt,” Rustem said. “At the moment, it’s not a high priority.”

In 2006, Michigan had about 2,240 “recycling and reuse industry” businesses with a payroll of $2.06 billion that supported 61,700 employees, although Rustem said those numbers probably have dropped since then.

Rustem cited products such as thermal coats and carpeting as some of the useful items created from recycled material.

Steve Sliver, chief of the storage tank and solid waste section of the Department of Environmental Quality, said a statewide system measuring municipal solid waste is necessary to better monitor recycling performance.

According to the report, the state doesn’t record information such as handling, collection, transport and marketing of recyclable materials.

Compiling a recycling database would give the state the ability to see where adjustments need to be made, Sliver said.

“Businesses want to know how much of that material is out there, but we can’t give them more than an estimate,” Sliver said. “Many aspects of the waste stream aren’t measured. It puts us at a disadvantage for attracting recycling businesses.”

Items such as yard waste also can be broken down and sold to offset costs while “solid wastes can’t do that for us,” Sliver said.

Some cities cut their recycling programs because operating costs outweigh revenues, said Robert Ratz, director of the Wayne County Department of Environment’s Land Resource Management Division.

Ratz said it’s up to municipalities in his county to decide if they want recycling services or not.

Although statewide recycling rates are down, Ratz emphasized that recycling has been consistent in Wayne.

“In most cases, people don’t generate enough money to run the program,” Ratz said. “They have to decide if it’s a priority for them or not. A lot of it is cost avoidance.”

Meanwhile, the Tuscola County Recycling Center in Caro reports that between 30 and 50 people drop off paper, cardboard and plastic bottles each day, but yearly rates have fluctuated.
The drop-off facility is county-owned and operated.

The coalition’s O’Brien said recycling rates will improve if more people could use curbside recycling.

The Public Sector Consultants’ study found that only 37 percent of residents have access to curbside service.

“Not everyone has the same kind of access to recycling programs. It has to be easy and convenient for people,” O’Brien said. “I think there is a diehard contingent of people who believe in it, but there are still municipalities that aren’t well served.”

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

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Many workers toiling below their skill levels

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Capital News Service

LANSING – While the plight of unemployed workers in this sluggish economy is well known, another group of workers is also struggling largely out of public view.

They’re the underemployed — workers who want full-time jobs but find themselves stuck in part-time positions or at jobs below their skill level.

Susan Parks, president of the Michigan League for Human Services, said underemployment hurts families and the state.

“Families are making less money and having a hard timing paying the bills,” she said. “The state also suffers because people are spending less, which hurts revenues.”

The league is a nonprofit advocacy organization on economic security issues for low-income residents.

Western Michigan University economics Professor Jean Kimmel said part of the problem is the lack of high-paying but unskilled jobs.

“It used to be possible to have a middle-class salary by working as an unskilled laborer in the manufacturing industry, but today we don’t have unskilled jobs that pay very high,” she said.

Many of Michigan’s most popular occupations are low-wage unskilled positions, including retail salespeople, cashiers and fast food workers. Four of six occupations with the most employees in the state don’t pay enough to lift a family of four out of poverty, according the U.S. Department of Labor.

The state averaged a 12.6 percent unemployment rate during the last year, but that jumps to 19.2 percent when adding part-time workers seeking full time jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Current statistics don’t calculate skilled workers in unskilled jobs because it’s hard to measure, meaning the underemployment percentage may be higher.

Michigan’s unemployment rate was 15.1 percent in October.

Kimmel suggests a solution to the underemployment problem is increasing both the number of high-wage jobs and educational opportunities for workers.
“Part of the equation is trying to get back some of the high-wage jobs we’ve lost, but it’s very hard to get a high-wage job with a high school education,” she said

Parks said it’s important to retrain workers for higher-skilled jobs so they can be more competitive.

“Michigan ranks very low in the percent of people with higher education,” she said. “It’s not enough anymore to have a high school degree, and we’re working to push adult education and retraining.”

Malorie Kersten, public relations coordinator for the Michigan Works! Association, said underemployed workers can receive retraining and assistance at her organization’s service centers.

“There is a common misconception that Michigan Works! only serves those who are on welfare or unemployed, but we will assist anyone,” she said. “People who come in can practice interviewing for a new job or have someone go over their resume with them for free.”

Kersten said underemployed residents may qualify for the No Worker Left Behind Program, which offers up to $10,000 for courses that prepare them for new jobs. The program is open to those who are unemployed, about to become unemployed or have a joint family income of under $40,000 a year.

Even underemployed workers who don’t qualify for the program can take advantage of other services provided by Michigan Works! she said.

“We enable workers at any point in their career to get the skills they need to further their career,” she said. “If you come in to a service center, you’ll have a professional meet with you and discuss your options.”

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

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Bill would deny health licenses to sex offenders

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LANSING—A patient went to her dentist in Farmington Hills for a routine checkup, but instead of getting her teeth cleaned, she was molested.

“She complained to me, saying that the dentist had urinated and defecated on her after raping her,” said Rep. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge.  “And she begged me to do something about it.”

Jones is sponsoring legislation to prevent defendants convicted of first-, second-, or third-degree criminal sexual conduct from obtaining a health care license or having a health care license reinstated, as happened to the dentist, Donald Quinn, now based in Millington.

“I am totally shocked that the state of Michigan would give this man his license back,” Jones said. “How many more women and children need to be raped before we fix this?”

Quinn was convicted in 2002 of criminal sexual conduct and possession of ecstasy. After a year in jail and five years on probation, the Board of Dentistry reinstated his license in 2007.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan opposes the bill.

“That man should have never had his license reinstated, but that’s not what this legislation is about. It’s about every person ever convicted of first-, second-, or third-degree counts of criminal sexual conduct,” ACLU legislative director Shelli Weisberg said.

This legislation would apply to all licensed health professionals.

Weisberg said the legislation would affect Romeo-and-Juliet cases, another reason her organization opposes it. She cites as an example the case of a man whose license was revoked because as a 13-year-old he had sex with his 12-year-old cousin.

“What does a Romeo-and-Juliet event have to do with a health care license?” Weisberg said.

But according to Jones, sex offenders never change.

“In my experience as a law enforcement agent for 33 years, very few rapists are ever totally cured,” said Jones, a former Eaton County sheriff. “I believe statistics that say they can be are false.”

Co-sponsors include Reps. Vicki Barnett, D-Farmington Hills; Lesia Liss, D-Warren; Peter Lund, R-Shelby Township; and James Marleau, R-Lake Orion.

The bill is pending in the House Health Policy Committee.

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

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Online classes prove boon to employers, students

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Capital News Service

LANSING—Jeff Oliver has taught from a beach in Mexico, a Mediterranean island, home and his Alpena Community College (ACC) office. That’s one of the perks of teaching an online class, he said.

Oliver, an adjunct professor at ACC, said there’s been an increase in the number of online classes and students because of the rough economy and the need for training.

“People are training for current jobs and new jobs in new industries,” he said.

Don MacMaster, dean of workforce development, said laid-off laborers, especially in manufacturing, benefit because they can re-train for another job at their own convenience.

“A lot of folks that used to have good stable jobs lost them and are now moving into totally different industries they need training for,” he said.

Middle-skill jobs, which require more than a high school diploma but not a four-year degree, represent 51 percent of Michigan jobs, according to the Workforce Alliance in Washington, D.C.

Community college programs are among the best ways to train people for these jobs, and having classes online makes it even easier, said Ronda Edwards, executive director of the Michigan Community College Virtual Learning Collaborative.

Online courses allow community colleges to do more collaborative programming, as well, Edwards added.

In some programs, students take courses online at a community college that may not be in their hometown, and do necessary lab work or on-site assessments at a closer location, she said.

Edwards told of a police officer on disability in the Upper Peninsula who completed Jackson Community College’s online diagnostic medical sonography degree but did the required clinical work in his hometown. He was able to train for another career without commuting to Jackson.

The Michigan Community College Association hopes to expand these kinds of programs, as well as joint programs among community colleges.

Funding is slowing down the process, however, said Edwards.

“Faculty members who are utilized to develop new programs are working overtime. The only way to promote online collaborations is to go out for additional money to pay for adjunct faculty or hire more faculty,” she said.

Edwards said the plan is “to break up training programs into modules that community college professors from across the state can collaborate on. That way, one college isn’t doing all the work.

“We’ll be able to get a lot more done in a lot less time,” she said.

Enrollment is up at community colleges around the state, so the need is there, but progress will depend on available resources, she said.

The association is looking for grants from foundations and state grants to help with such projects.

ACC’s MacMaster said employers, especially those struggling to survive, like online classes for training purposes because they don’t have to pay employees’ costs for transportation, lodging or missed work.

“If these companies are scratching and clawing to hang on, they are less likely to spend money on training,” he said.

David Annestedt took an online control equipment class with ACC and said he was impressed.

Annestedt is regional operations manager for Block USA, a concrete products manufacturer in Birmingham, Ala, where he is based.

He said that “due to economic conditions the company I work for, like most others, has asked us to find ways to work smarter and reduce our expenses.”

Educating employees to fix technical breakdowns instead of hiring outside support is one way the company hopes to save money. ACC classes, especially online classes, can teach employees these skills in a cost-effective way, he said.

Annestedt said he recommends the class “to others to benefit themselves as well as the company they work for,” and  he “will definitely be enrolling several employees in the next offering.”

Many of ACC’s online classes are in concrete technology under a U.S. Department of Labor grant that lets the college offer courses for free until December, said MacMaster.  There are 19 online courses in the program and eight in-class courses.

Most college degrees, however, cannot be done completely online.

Oliver, the ACC professor, said courses leading to a degree must be “supplemented with hands-on classes—you cannot take away hands-on training.”

Oliver, who is also employed at Besser, an international concrete company in Alpena, said online courses help “the academic world and industrial world link up to better serve customers and students.”

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

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Limits on sulfide mining proposed, opposed in U.P.

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LANSING –Environmental groups in the Upper Peninsula have proposed a mining initiative that would prevent adverse effects from harming the state’s water supply.

But lawmakers representing the U.P. are opposing a ballot measure by environmental groups like the Save Our Water Committee and Save the Wild UP, arguing that sulfide mining would generate economic benefits such as jobs.

The initiative claims sulfide and uranium mining would be destructive to the state’s water in the Great Lakes basin. These groups proposing the initiative do not want to ban mining permanently; they just want stricter regulations.

The Great Lakes supply 80 percent of North America’s drinking water, and sulfide mining could harm such sources by draining acid and contaminating the supply for decades, industry critics argue. If passed by voters in November 2010, it would also be applied to future mining operations in the Lower Peninsula.

“These types of pollution impacts just continue,” said Duncan Campbell, campaign director and treasurer for the Save Our Water Committee, a ballot initiative committee located out of Detroit that wants to slow sulfide mining in the state’s water.

“Sulfide mines dating back to Rome 2,000 years ago are still draining acid. We are just recommending common-sense provisions to guard adverse effects of water from such mining,” Campbell said.

If voters approve the initiative, there could be no uranium mining in Michigan until provisions are passed by the Legislature which eliminate such mining altogether, and mining applicants would need to provide a study of its possible impact on groundwater. It also extends to Wisconsin and Minnesota.

According to Campbell, the mining industry has opposed the efforts of his and other environmental organizations because of an “economic standpoint,” along with “the bar being set too high.”

The proposal also would ban sulfide mining within 2,000 feet of rivers and streams.

Kristi Mills is the director of Save the Wild UP, a nonprofit organization in Marquette. The organization says its mission is to protect the Upper Peninsula’s way of life, wildlife, landscape and water.

Mills said the ballot initiative is not intended to stop mining altogether, but is meant to regulate uranium mining because no provisions currently exist under state law.

Campbell said mining could also damage tourism in the U.P.

“Tourism requires nature to have clean, pure water,” Campbell said. “If the ballot doesn’t go through, acid mine drainage would affect the Great Lakes and the Detroit River because all streams flow into rivers and lakes. If not mined properly, the effects could be widely felt.”

Campbell said, “There is no pure Michigan without pure water.”

However, U.P. lawmakers say the environmentalist-backed initiative would bolster special interests and hinder the economy.

“The people of the U.P. should have the right to decide what is in their region’s best interest,” the five legislators said in a statement.

“Additionally, a statewide precedent could be set where ballot initiatives could negatively impact other industries such as agriculture, manufacturing or siting of renewable energy facilities.”

The statement came from Sens. Mike Prusi, D-Ishpeming, and Jason Allen, R-Traverse City, and Reps. Mike Lahti, D-Hancock, Steve Lindberg, D-Marquette, and Judy Nerat, D-Wallace.

But Campbell said, “Infected water will hurt the state even more. The types of jobs they are talking about are boom and bust – and not as many as reported to be.”

Mills cited the Upper Peninsula’s regional character, the risk to the tourism industry and possible health ramifications of contaminated water.

Campbell said his committee is currently in the midst of fundraising, and that signatures will be gathered by the end of this year. Signatures must be collected by May 2010.

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

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Move to tougher anti-bias law stalled in Senate

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Capital News Service

LANSING – Bias-motivated crimes are back up for discussion in the Legislature although a House-passed bill has stalled in the Senate.

Two Bills would change the language of the current ethnic intimidation law to be more specific with regard to victims’ characteristics and set tougher penalties for those convicted of violations.

The proposal would go beyond ethnic intimidation to include crimes motivated by gender, disability, religion, sexual orientation, color race, or veteran status.

The primary sponsor, Rep. Robert Jones, D-Kalamazoo, said, “ As an African American raised in the segregated South, I know the history not only in our country but from time to time the world where hate crimes do exist.”

Jones complained that the Senate Judiciary Committee hasn’t acted on the legislation. “They sit on stuff and bury if they don’t like the bill or like the person introducing the bill. Sometimes it’s both reasons.”

Jones said the current law covering intimidation isn’t adequate because it doesn’t address the bias factor.

“When there is crime committed against someone because of their background, it isn’t a crime against an individual but a crime against society,” he said.

But Gary Glenn, the president of the Midland-based American Family Association of Michigan, said the bill poses a serious threat to religious free speech rights.

Hate crime laws in Europe, Canada and the United States persecute Christian merely for speaking out against homosexual activists’ political agenda, said Glenn.

Daniel Levy, chief legal officer of the Department of Civil Rights, said the definition of ethnic intimidation under current state law is too broad.

He said some victims are targeted because of their background.

“These kind of crimes should not be tolerated in America,” Levy said.

Levy said judges should have the option of imposing harsher penalties, such as more time in prison, community service and education.

Sen. Hansen Clarke, D-Detroit, introduced the Senate version of the legislation.

Clarke, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, said the Republican chair is holding up the legislation.

The House passed the bill 82-18 earlier this year.

Jones said President Barack Obama’s recent signing of federal hate crime legislation might give the Legislature a sense of urgency to act on his anti-bias proposal.

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

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Safe shopping measures pushed

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LANSING – Looking forward to Black Friday shopping? You might want to consider safety first.

Some lawmakers are pushing for the state to require shopper and employee protection policies to prevent injuries and deaths when shoppers flood into a store.

A bill by Rep. Dian Slavens, D-Canton Township, would require large retailers to implement safety and security measures for special sales, such as when they offer low prices on high-demand items in limited quantities for 72 hours or less. That would apply to Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

The legislation would apply to stores of 90,000 or more square feet and chains of six or more stores, Slavens said.

“It’s to make sure shoppers and employees are safe,” said Slavens. “If they’re worried, retailers should be working on this. If their stores are safe, it’s not an issue.”

However, retailers are already aware of potential problems and try to provide a safe shopping experience, and the bill would cost some businesses a significant amount of money, said Eric Rule, director of governmental affairs for the Michigan Retailers Association.

Under the proposal, retailers would have to train their staff about crowd control, store safety and sales procedures.

Slavens said, “It’s up to those stores, but they might want extra security guards that day. If the doors are closed, they’d have somebody monitoring outside to make sure that there’re orderly lines.”

Under her bill, the safety and security measures would also include customer waiting areas outside the store, designated areas for the hottest items and posting of store policies and shopping procedures.

Slavens said retailers could coordinate with local authorities to prevent risks to public health and safety.

The proposal is in response to a 2008 Black Friday incident in Long Island, N.Y., where a crowd of 2,000 Wal-Mart shoppers broke down the front door and trampled a worker to death.

That day, three additional minor injuries occurred in the stampede. One victim was a 28-year-old pregnant woman who was knocked to the ground and taken to the hospital for observation, Nassau County police reported.

The trampled employee’s family sued Wal-Mart for failing to provide adequate security and creating an environment of mayhem that led to his death.

Consequently, Wal-Mart agreed with federal prosecutors to pay nearly $2 million for improved crowd management plans for all its 92 New York stores to avoid criminal charges, according to Nassau County officials.

That wasn’t the first such stampede.

In 2005, a pregnant woman from Grand Rapids was trampled on Black Friday when a retailer’s doors opened and shoppers pushed their way in, Slavens said. The woman required medical treatment.

“We don’t want something like that to happen,” said Slavens.

One co-sponsor, Rep. Fred Miller, D-Mount Clemens, said there is significant potential harm from high shopper traffic at large stores.

“I wouldn’t say the bill targets certain retailers, but unmanageable crowds could happen anywhere,” said Miller.

Rule said retailers’ safety concern is growing since last year.

“They’ve got a lot of gates now, passing out refreshments like coffee or pop so people take time, and talking to customers out there and passing out vouchers, saying, ‘Hey, you’re one of the first 300 people so you’re going to get this item. But it’s on first-come, first-served basis. We’re going to give you this voucher so you don’t have to stampede and run back there,’” he said.

Rule said safety is a main consideration, but it doesn’t always have to be regulated by the state.

“Can you always make sure that every individual is going to behave how they should? No,” he said. “Retailers usually take adequate measures and do what they can to ensure that such incidents won’t happen.”

Miller said the legislation is intended to ensure that retailers prepare adequately for special events so it wouldn’t have a big financial impact on them.

“It’s narrowly targeted for certain circumstances,” said Miller. “We don’t want them to be micromanaged but would like to make them think about it and anticipate it. I think the precaution is worth it.”

The bill’s other co-sponsors are Democratic Reps. Mike Huckleberry of Greenville; Jon Switalski of Warren; George Cushingberry of Detroit; Douglas Geiss of Taylor; Jim Slezak of Davison; Lesia Liss of Warren; and Gabe Leland of Detroit.

The bill is pending in the House Commerce Committee.

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

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Digital billboards draw legislative, federal eyes

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Capital News Service

LANSING – Drivers might not see any new glowing digital billboards along Michigan highways for a while.

Rep. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, has introduced a bill to establish a two-year moratorium on new digital billboards until a federal analysis is completed and safety recommendations are issued by the end of 2011.

Under the proposal, the state would issue no permits for new digital billboards or conversion of existing static billboards to ones with moving animation or flashing lights until Jan. 1, 2012. It would allow existing electronic billboards to remain in use.

Controversy over billboards and driver safety started after a 1951 Minnesota Highways Department study, which reported that an increase in billboards would boost the crash rate. Other studies have reached different conclusions. For example, the Michigan Highway Department found in 1952 that signs don’t correlate with the number of crashes.

Distracted driving is a subject of growing concern among federal and state agencies, including the U.S. Department of Transportation.

However, it’s still uncertain whether there’s a correlation between attention-grabbing digital billboards and traffic safety.

There are two popular types of billboards, traditional and digital. A main difference has to do with shared space, according to EMC Outdoor, a Pennsylvania-based advertising agency.

For example, digital billboards let advertisers share their space with others as ads are displayed in sequence for six to eight seconds each. But there is only one advertiser on traditional billboards for an entire display period.

A Federal Highway Administration study is underway to explore that safety question, said Hugh McDiarmid, communications director of the Michigan Environmental Council. The study focuses on the effects of digital billboards on driver behavior and evaluation of their potential risk.

Scenic Michigan, a Petoskey-based environmental coalition, said the federal study could lead to guidelines, regulatory changes or legislative proposals. “It’ll show how often messages on digital billboards should change – every six seconds, eight seconds or 10,” said McDiarmid, a member of the coalition’s board.

Currently there are about 16,000 billboards along Michigan highways, said Abby Dart, executive director of Scenic Michigan. “It’s second only to Florida in the number of billboards in America.”

Peter Steketee of Grand Rapids, a Scenic Michigan board member, said billboards detract from tourism, Michigan’s second-largest industry.

“They’re ugly,” he said. “Although the number is now capped, there are still too many of them.”

Michigan is in a serious economic slump, but tourism could be a bright spot in the economy, Steketee said. “Nobody takes a drive to view billboards along the highway, and many people detest them and go where they are not.”

Steketee said digital billboards are much more distracting, and thus more dangerous to drivers than traditional ones. “They are just starting to go up across the state, but this process should be stopped.”

However, Rick Imshaug, owner of Skyline Outdoor Advertising in Okemos, said there’s no safety hazard from digital billboards.
“Not at all,” said Imshaug. “Drivers are trained to look at signs. It’s not like texting or looking at an iPod, which can pose a safety hazard. They routinely look at billboards through the windshield.”

Anne Readett, communications manager for the Office of Highway Safety Planning, said her agency has not focused on billboards and any role they may or may not play in traffic crashes.

But Skyline’s Imshaug said the temporary ban would hurt the proposed industry and is unnecessary. “I don’t think there are too many billboards along highways. They’re in some places but not generally. I believe the state has tons of other problems to deal with.”

A poll by Lansing-based EPIC-MRA showed that by 2-to-1 ratio state residents support a moratorium on digital billboards. Seventy percent of those responding to the survey voiced “strong support.”

The bill’s co-sponsors are Democratic Reps. Daniel Scripps of Leland; Joan Bauer of Lansing; Robert Jones of Kalamazoo; Alma Wheeler Smith of Salem Township; Deb Kennedy of Brownstown; Sarah Roberts of St. Clair Shores; Gary McDowell of Rudyard; Mary Valentine of Muskegon; Gino Polidori of Dearborn; and Bob Constan of Dearborn Heights.

The bill is pending in the House Great Lakes and Environment Committee.

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

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School clinics vaccinate hundreds against H1N1

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Capital News Service

LANSING – As the H1N1 virus continues to infect many people around the state, six counties offered vaccinations in school-based settings for those who needed them most.

The Central Michigan District Health Department (CMDHD) held two school-based clinics in Gladwin County, one at Gladwin High School and the other at Beaverton High School. Schools in Clare, Isabella, Arenac, Roscommon and Osceola counties have also held clinics and continue to do so.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified priority groups as pregnant women, children and young adults between 6 months and 18 years old, and parents and caregivers of children under 6.
Participation was on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Children in child care centers and those who are home-schooled were also invited to participate. Medical first responders and health care workers were offered the H1N1 vaccination through collaborative efforts among providers, pharmacies and the district health department.

“The goal is to educate everyone about the H1N1 virus and be able to offer vaccine to priority groups based on a vaccination plan,” said Melissa DeRoche, public information officer for the district. “Local health departments across Michigan were asked to immunize residents related to these groups.”

Schools like Beaverton High sent out forms ahead of time to inform parents of the clinics. The health department contacted the school, and the nurse made advance preparations

“The health department gave our school packets with questions that parents could answer,” said Superintendent Joan Cashin. “We anticipated a speedy process so many people could get vaccinated.”
One question the clinics often hear is how they are being paid.

According to Mary Kushion, health officer for the CMDHD, the state tells districts how much vaccine they can order in each jurisdiction, based on each county’s population. It depends on where the most immediate need is.

DeRoche said federal grant money went to the state Department of Community Health, which passed it on to the local departments. Medical providers could collect voluntary registration fees.

“If people chose to donate and had insurance coverage, we asked if they could provide money and then had the right to bill their insurance,’ DeRoche said.

“Most people have been very helpful in providing insurance for such immunizations,” she said.

In addition, Cashin said children were not required to get immunized. A consent form was sent to their parents, along with other information relating to the H1N1 virus.

“In the end, it was a parental choice of whether or not to get the shot,” said Cashin.

Kushion said 755 vaccinations took place at Harrison High School and 569 at Clare High School.

In Gladwin County, 568 vaccinations took place at Gladwin High School and 540 at Beaverton High School.
Rick Seebeck, superintendent of Gladwin Schools, said the clinics went as “smooth as clockwork.”

Seebeck said, “There were ample opportunities for kids to get vaccinated. It was the smoothest operation I’ve seen by the CMDHD.”

Greg McMillan, superintendent of Clare Schools, was also impressed by the CMDHD’s effort in setting up the clinics and making sure everything went as planned.

“To say it simply, ours went awesome,” McMillan said. “It started at 1 p.m. Kids were inoculated in an hour and a half, and by 5:30 p.m. it was a ghost town.

McMillan said, “It was well received. We’ve gotten many positive comments from the parents and community. Most parents wanted their kids to get shots, wanted them taken care of.”
According to DeRoche, the department is receiving more vaccine weekly.

As long as vaccines come in on a consistent basis, the department will hold clinics. More clinics are expected to take place during the remainder of the year, and community clinics will take place in Gladwin County if an adequate supply of vaccine remains.

Seebeck said, “If the health department wants to host another clinic in our schools, I’d be very happy to do it.”

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

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