New Adrian representative is working for her community

By CAITLIN TAYLOR
Capital News Service

LANSING — Bronna Kahle’s campaign for state representative came full circle when she was sworn in at a ceremony in her hometown of Adrian, rather than the state capital.

“A lot of people do that in Lansing,” said Kahle, R-Adrian. “But I just had to do it in Adrian. I’m representing Lenawee County.”

Over 100 people watched as Kahle took the oath of office administered by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley in an Adrian College lecture hall in mid-December. Looking into the audience, she said it was humbling to recognize everyone in the room who helped with her campaign.

“I remember when I did that with that person, I remember when they made phone calls — oh, they hosted a coffee with me,” Kahle said in her Lansing office, gesturing toward the community members she recalled sitting in her swearing-in crowd. “I am honored to serve these people.” Continue reading

Transgender youths defend their rights against bathroom bill

Ash and M.K. Kelly in a Lansing bookstore during the interview

Ash and M.K. Kelly in a Lansing bookstore during the interview

By CHAO YAN
Capital News Service

LANSING — Twins MK and Ash Kelly, both wearing wire-rimmed glasses and hoodies in navy blue, are wandering on Michigan Avenue in Lansing, jamming their hands into jeans pockets. Someone in a coffee shop recognizes them and waves enthusiastically through the window as they pass by.

MK and Ash, 20, are of some renown in Lansing, and not only because they do music and drawing. Lots of people are getting to know them from a video on Popsugar about their GoFundMe campaign to help pay for their gender reassignment surgeries, which are not covered by their health insurance. MK works in a tattoo shop and Ash is unemployed.

Sexually assigned as girls at birth, Ash came out as “non-binary” in 2014 and MK in 2015. Non-binary describes any gender identity which doesn’t fit strictly into categories of male or female. Continue reading

In Trump era, minority anxiety up, civil rights complaints steady

By CAITLIN TAYLOR
Capital News Service

LANSING — The number of state civil rights complaints has not increased, despite increasing anxiety among immigrant and minority residents post-election, according to Agustin Arbulu, director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.

Vicki Levengood, the department’s communications director, said Civil Rights has monitored 86 bias incidents since Election Day. That’s a 10 percent increase in calls to the department’s toll-free intake center, but it has not resulted in a corresponding increase in complaints filed.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a national legal rights advocacy group, has tracked 1,372 bias incidents in the U.S. since Election Day. Of those incidents, 346 were motivated by anti-immigrant rhetoric, 260 were anti-black and 127 were anti-Muslim. Other incidents targeted LGBT groups, members of the Jewish faith, women and other groups.    Continue reading

Women’s marches inspire increased activism across Michigan

By CAITLIN TAYLOR

Capital News Service

LANSING — Amy Shamroe felt proud to hear Traverse City recognized in a speech by Michigan filmmaker Michael Moore at the Women’s March on Washington.

“Michael Moore said Traverse City is a place where people are active and engaged and you can find people there who make a difference,” said Shamroe, a Traverse City city commissioner and president of the local American Association of University Women (AAUW) chapter.

Though she was pleased by the shout-out, Shamroe wasn’t surprised: Since Election Day, she has seen increased engagement with AAUW Traverse City, which focuses on empowering women and girls. Shamroe has always had to recruit members, but now they’re coming to her.

“It’s something I haven’t seen in my six years in this community,” she said. “People are showing up and saying, ‘Where do I sign up?’ and ‘How can I help?’”   Continue reading

Military spouse attorneys could get bar licensing break

By BRIDGET BUSH

Capital News Service

LANSING — Attorneys married to someone on active duty in the military would be admitted to the Michigan Bar without taking the exam, if a pair of bills passes.

Introduced by Reps. Robert Wittenberg, D-Oak Park, and David Maturen, R-Vicksburg, this two-bill bipartisan package passed the House and was voted through the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously.

It would make it easier on military spouses who already passed the bar in one state when they follow their husband or wife to duty in Michigan.  

“Military families move, on average, every two to three years,” said Angela Allen, an attorney at Jenner & Block and military spouse to an Illinois National Guard member, who also serves as the Illinois director for the Military Spouse J.D. Network. To obtain a new bar license with every move is expensive, time-consuming and exhausting, she said.

These bills would make it easier for military families and allow for many military spouse attorneys to continue practicing law. Continue reading

Michigan lags in solitary confinement reform

By RAY WILBUR

Capital News Service

LANSING — Prison reform advocates worry that the lack of policies for solitary confinement in Michigan prisons has exacerbated violence and mental health problems among inmates.

Michigan has no age or time limits for putting inmates in administrative segregation,  commonly known as solitary confinement. And while almost half the states ban solitary confinement for juveniles, Michigan does not.

“We need to have some sort of blanket reform here,” said Kristen Staley, deputy director of the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency. “This is a big fight, but it has to happen.”

Some prisons have tried to reduce the use of solitary, said Staley. But that patchwork change is slow and that makes it ineffective. Continue reading

Mothers Against Drunk Driving blasts Michigan’s drunk-driving laws

By KAREN HOPPER USHER

Capital News Service

LANSING — Only Montana’s drunken driving laws are worse than Michigan’s, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

The group recently rated all states, giving Michigan just one star out of five and Montana half of one star. Idaho, Iowa, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Wyoming were tied for third-worst, with one-and-half stars each. No state earned five stars.

Michigan is the only one-star state.

Michigan isn’t using interlock devices enough, isn’t strict enough on people arrested for drunken driving, needs harsher penalties for people who drive drunk with kids in the car and police should be running sobriety checkpoints, according to MADD.

“Unfortunately, it’s in keeping with Michigan’s history,” said Fred Timpner, executive director of the Michigan Association of Police. He cited then-Gov. James Blanchard’s failed attempt to use sobriety checkpoints in the late 1980s as an example. Continue reading

State works to improve payments to county child care programs

By ALEXANDER SMITH

Capital News Service

LANSING — Delays in paying for programs that help troubled youth are prompting an overhaul of how the state reimburses county courts for the services.

The Child Care Fund reimburses half of county court expenses for programs that support abused, neglected and delinquent youth.

A recent state audit disclosed slow payments but also said some of them may be ineligible for reimbursement — even though counties’ budgets had previous approval.

“If the state can’t uphold a budget it approved, kids and courts suffer,” said Eric Stevens, administrator of the Muskegon County Circuit Court. Continue reading

Police recruiting not a problem in U.P., but retention a statewide issue

By BRIDGET BUSH

Capital News Service

LANSING—While the state’s Upper Peninsula can attract new police recruits, its Lower Peninsula has challenges attracting qualified officers, experts say.

The number of police officers is at an all-time low in Michigan, said Fred Timpner, executive director of the Michigan Association of Police.

“I’ve got departments in lower Michigan that have 10 openings and five applicants,” he said.

The reason is low pay and no retirement benefits, Timpner said. “What the public doesn’t realize is that 70-some percent of officers aren’t eligible for Social Security.

“People are going out of state because why would anyone risk their lives for $13 to $14 an hour after a college education?” Timpner said. Continue reading

Bill to reduce zero-tolerance policies in schools has bipartisan support

BY CAITLIN DeLUCA

Capital News Service

LANSING — A bill aimed at reducing the number of suspensions and expulsions of students in Michigan schools could move to the Senate floor soon.

In Michigan, a zero-tolerance policy covers a plethora of situations in schools, including physical violence, possession of any weapon, tobacco, alcohol and bomb or similar threats.

That means that a student who commits any of those behaviors must be suspended or expelled for at least a year. The mandatory punishment leaves the schools’ hands tied.

The bill would remove mandatory suspensions or expulsions for some of these misbehaviors. It would exclude firearms, which are included in a zero-tolerance policy mandated by the federal government.

The bill would leave the decision up to the district, where administrators would have to consider factors such as age, history of discipline, disability and intent of the action. Continue reading