May a diversified force be with us, police say

By Gloria Nzeka

Capital News Service

LANSING — As police departments across the state are recruiting their next class of officers and deputies, they’re confronted with the lack of diversity within their ranks.

Some local departments, including the Holland Police Department, are actively recruiting a more diverse group of recruits.

Robert Stevenson, the executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, said that for some reason, it’s very difficult to attract people to the profession.

“Diversity is something we are striving for, we’re working very hard to get there. The problem within a lot of communities and even among women is that the profession is just not attractive,”  Stevenson said.

David Ceci, director of the Oakland Police Academy in Auburn Hills, said diversity is more than what people often make of it.

“We often get stuck on ‘it’s black and white’ but diversity is greater than just that. We’ve got to look at gender, sexuality and religion. Those are all aspects that we need to focus on,” Ceci said.

The state Commission on Law Enforcement Standards has over 50 positions it’s recruiting for. To attract a diverse pool of applicants, police officials have been visiting schools, colleges and universities.

Stevenson, of the Association of Chiefs of Police, said one factor that limits efforts to make police departments better reflect Michigan’s diverse population is the cost of training to become a cop.

While the State Police covers training costs for its recruits, local police departments don’t.

“Many police departments cannot afford to send someone to the police academy,” Stevenson said. “They have to hire someone who has already put themselves through the police academy, which costs between $5,000 to $6,000 for tuition, and it takes 14 weeks to get through it.”

Besides tuition and books, students still need to purchase uniforms, firearms and other necessities. And that can come up to $7,000 or $8,000 for students to pay their way through the academy, Ceci said.

“There aren’t many candidates who can afford to spend that kind of money and time, especially in some minority communities,” Stevenson said. However, he said, the Association of Chiefs of Police looked at what other states have done, and the state could pick up the cost for a local police recruit’s training.

Adding to the cost of education is the loss of wages because most people can’t work while going through the academy. It’s time-consuming, said Ceci. If they do work, it’s usually part time.

Ceci said the career is demanding and people don’t necessarily want to give up weekends or holidays to work.

“It’s seven days a week, 24 hours a day, all day.” He also said that some of the expected perks  in law enforcement aren’t there. “Nationwide, not just in law enforcement, not just in Michigan pensions and health care benefits are being reduced and are going away.”

Ceci said there’s a need for better recruiting. “We need to start younger —  getting into schools with children at a young age so that they can see a positive police figure. Maybe that will change some perceptions earlier in the experiences of children.”

The Holland Police Department has put in place initiatives that expose local youth to careers in law enforcement.

Capt. Keith Mulder said the department’s Junior Police Academy and Citizens Police Academy are programs aimed at exposing youth and adults from diverse backgrounds to such careers.

“The Junior Police Academy targets junior high school students in our community, with many of them being from different ethnic backgrounds,” Mulder said. “It promotes teamwork, character, commitment and fitness, and exposes them to different aspects of law enforcement and our department.”

He also said Holland officers are involved in the schools, mentoring students and working with organizations that promote good life choices, education, professional direction and character among minority groups.

The Holland Police Department’s strategy to address the issue of diversity is recruiting at a variety of colleges with criminal justice programs, Mulder said.

The department also runs a cadet program, which is a part-time job for college students who want to go into criminal justice. Recruits come from high schools in the area and get experience and exposure to what a career in law enforcement is all about, he said.

A recent study found a lack of diversity in the Ann Arbor Police Department. At the time of the study, the department had 122 officers. Only 22.9 percent were female, and 17.2 percent belonged to an ethnic group other than white.

The report, by independent consulting firm Hillard Heintze, prompted the department to develop plans that include having a diverse mix of recruits.

Howell Police Chief George Basar said that what’s shown in the media may contribute to a lack of diversity.

Police officers in some minority communities do “some incredibly stupid things, which paint the entire profession with a broad brush,” said Basar, a past president of the Association of Chiefs of Police.

Ceci, of the Oakland Police Academy, said news stories paint a negative picture of police-community relations always being a race-related issue, and that deters some minority candidates who might want to get into the field.

The current divide isn’t all the police’s fault or all the community’s fault, he said. “I think it’s a little bit of both.

“Both sides need to come to the table and be willing to listen and learn a little bit about each other. I think that will help greatly in improving perceptions of law enforcement, and in turn, increase our recruitment prospects in diverse communities,” he said.

Dec. 8, 2017 – CNS Budget

Dec. 8, 2017 — Week 14

To: CNS Editors

From: David Poulson and Sheila Schimpf

For technical problems, contact CNS technical manager Tony Cepak at (517) 803-6841 or

For other matters, contact David Poulson:

Editors note: This is the last original file of the fall semester. We will move another budget next week of previously moved stories that you may not have yet used.

Here is your file:

WOMENLAWMAKERS: Former  lawmaker Barb Byrum was once admonished on the floor of the state House for using the word vasectomy. Her mother, a state senator, was reprimanded for allowing her son to sit in her seat. Lana Pollack said she was ignored and verbally and physically assaulted during her service as a state senator. And current Sen. Margaret O’Brien says sometimes when she is in the Capitol, she feels like she’s in a boy’s lockeroom. While charges of sexist behavior are leveled in Washington, women who served in the Michigan Legislature say such behavior is hardly confined to the nation’s capital. By Stephen Olschanski. FOR LANSING CITY PULSE, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS AND ALL POINTS

LEADPIPES: The Department of Environmental Quality has proposed  replacing all of the state’s lead water pipes within the next 20 years. The mammoth undertaking would include replacing about 500,000 lead service lines at the cost of billions of dollars. The final decision is up to a legislative committee. By Kaley Fech. FOR LANSING CITY LIMITS AND ALL POINTS

DUNES: While Michigan’s dunes are certainly scenic, they’re also valued as vantage points to view Great Lakes storms. Respondents to the first-ever “How you dune” survey also credit them with benefits to the local ecology and economy. The survey is a first step in building an organized constituency of dune supporters.  By Jack Nissen. FOR TRAVERSE CITY, PETOSKEY, LUDINGTON, LEELANAU, HI+OLLAND, OCEANA, STURGIS, THREE RIVERS, CHEBOYGAN, LUDINGTON, MANISTEE, ALCONA, MARQUETTE, SAULT STE. MARIE, HARBOR SPRINGS  AND ALL POINTS.

w/DUNEPHOTO: A roll cloud moves over Sleeping Bear Dunes near Empire, Michigan, in June 2016. Credit: Art Bukowski

BUDGETWOES:  Michigan programs are especially vulnerable to looming federal budget cuts as 42 percent of its budget comes from the federal government. That’s the second- highest in the country, behind only Mississippi, according the Michigan League for Human Services. Funds for health care, roads and other public services are at risk. We talk to local government groups and policy experts. By Jack Nissen. FOR GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS, LANSING CITY PULSE AND ALL POINTS

TICKETS: Drivers with unpaid parking tickets might be given a break by the Secretary of State when it comes to license renewal if current  law reverts  to an earlier, tougher form. The Secretary of State can refuse to renew your license if you have three unpaid parking tickets. A bill that recently passed the Senate would keep that number from reverting back to six, which is slated to happen Jan. 1. If that happens, lawmakers say cities will not be able to effectively collect unpaid fees because there will not be a big enough incentive for drivers to pay their tickets. We hear from the sponsor, from Lowell, and the city of Grand Rapids .By Stephen Olschanski. FOR GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS AND ALL POINTS.

CHIPFUNDS: More than 100,000 Michigan children who don’t qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford private insurance are at risk of losing their health insurance. The federal government failed to renew funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and now state officials are scrambling to figure out if it can be patched. By Kaley Fech. FOR LANSING CITY PULSE AND ALL POINTS

HEADINJURIES: Sixteen high school sports saw a decrease in head injuries from the 2015-16 school year to the 2016-17 school year, according to a report by the Michigan High School Athletic Association. They increased or remained the same in 13 sports. But with only two years of data, the numbers can’t be relied upon as indicating a trend, experts say. The report indicated that the rate of injury is higher among girls than boys which could be attributed to a difference in anatomy or more honest reporting. Football led the list for boys and basketball led the list for girls. Soccer ranked second for both genders. Editors note: your local schools may provide you with data on their own rates. For sports and news pages. By Emily Lovasz. FOR ALL POINTS.

w/HEADINJURIESTABLE: High school sports with the most head injuries, 2016-17. 2015-16 in parentheses. Source: Michigan High School Athletic Association.

FROZENFISH: Stomachs of more than 1,000 fish from lakes Huron and Michigan are in a freezer at Michigan State University awaiting dissection as part of a study critical to managing gamefish. Lack of funds is putting the project on ice. Now fisheries scientists are asking Great Lakes residents to contribute to a campaign to raise the $8,500 needed to pay MSU students to analyze what’s in the stomachs of those fish. By Evan Kutz. FOR LUDINGTON, MANISTEE,  OCEANA, HOLLAND, ALCONA, CHEBOYGAN, LEELANAU, TRAVERSE CITY, PETOSKEY, HARBOR SPRINGS, HOLLAND, MONTMORENCY, ST. IGNACE, SAULT STE. MARIE, MARQUETTE AND ALL POINTS.

           w/FROZENFISHPHOTO1: Fish stomachs are stored in this freezer, sharing space with samples from another study. Credit: Evan Kutz

           w/FROZENFISHPHOTO2: MSU grad student Katie Kierczynski slices fish stomachs in half, like this one belonging to a walleye. Credit: Evan Kutz

HURRICANES: What does a hurricane sound like from underwater? Researchers may soon find out after recovering listening devices planted off the coast of Puerto Rico in a test that could lead to year-round underwater monitoring of the Great Lakes. Ann Arbor-based researchers are part of the project, and the results could be used to monitor environmental impacts of the upcoming construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge spanning the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor.  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) researchers in the agency’s Great Lakes office in Ann Arbor secured $60,000 to monitor reefs off the southern coast of Puerto Rico, in part to learn more about how they might be used in the Great Lakes. By Steven Maier. FOR MARQUETTE, SAULT STE. MARIE, ALCONA, LUDINGTON, MANISTEE, PETOSKEY, TRAVERSE CITY, CHEBOYGAN, ST. IGNACE, HARBOR SPRINGS, LEELANAU, HOLLAND AND ALL POINTS.

Women say sexism still exists in Michigan legislature

Capital News Service

LANSING — When Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum was a state representative in 2012, she was silenced on the floor of the House for using the word vasectomy.

The same day her colleague, Lisa Brown, now the Oakland County Clerk, was silenced on the floor for saying vagina. Both women were banned from speaking on the floor.

When Byrum’s mother, Dianne Byrum, was elected to the Michigan Senate in 1998, a sergeant of arms reprimanded her for allowing her son to sit in her seat for a family photo.

“That would not have happened to a male senator,” Dianne Byrum said.

Sexism was common when they served in the  Legislature, the women said.  

Has anything changed?

“I doubt it,” Barb Byrum said.

A litany of sexual assault and harassment allegations has rocked Congress, sports and Hollywood recently. Many of the accused men have lost their jobs, and allegations appear almost daily. It hasn’t gone unnoticed by women who serve or have served in the  state Legislature.

In state legislatures nationwide the number of women lag men nearly 4 to 1. Michigan is just below the national average with 23.6 percent of state lawmakers who are female, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Arizona leads the nation with a legislature that is 40 percent female.

Thirty-one of the 110 Michigan House districts are represented by women. Four of the 38 Senate districts have female senators

That’s hardly progress, according to women who serve today.

“In 1921 we had one woman state senator and today we have four,” said Sen. Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage. ”While some might say, ‘well, that’s an increase of 400 percent,’ I would say we barely moved the bar.

“When our population is much more than 10 percent, why do we have only 10 percent of the senators as women?”

Women who are former lawmakers say sexism in the Legislature has prevailed for a long time.

Lana Pollack, current chair of the International Joint Commission, served three terms in the Legislature beginning in 1983. During two of her terms she was the only Democratic woman senator.

“I walked into many rooms for many years where I was the only woman in the room,” Pollack said.

And men noticed. “It was as if I ignored a sign on the door that said ‘men only’ and somehow I missed that signal,” she said.

Sexism came in two forms. The first was when men talked over her and degraded her ideas, ideas that were acceptable for them to talk about.

“The other kind, and there was plenty of that, is just lewdness and that kind of sexuality that is totally inappropriate,” Pollack said. “It’s assaultive verbally or assaultive physically.

“The physical assault, the worst of it, was somebody planting a wet kiss on my mouth as a total gross surprise.”

It wasn’t just Senate colleagues who were sexist, she said.

“It was from other lobbyists, labor leaders, civil servants, Gov. (James) Blanchard’s cabinet,” Pollack said. “I’m not painting a wide brush, but what I’m trying to say is there were a lot of dark lights everywhere, but a lot of bright lights, too.”

It continues today, O’Brien said.

“I can only speak for the state Capitol, but sometimes I feel like I’m in a boys’ locker room,” O’Brien said. “But I grew up with brothers so usually I can defend myself pretty well, but the sexual harassment stuff threw me for a loop.”

Beyond assault and harassment, women legislators say they have to deal with working in a role still viewed as untraditional for a woman by male legislators.

Women were quicker to be gaveled for minor lapses in decorum during her time in the legislature, Dianne Byrum said.

Barb Byrum said she was told she was being a child and needed to be placed in timeout like one of her kids when she spoke out on the floor.

Often the denigration of women legislators is a bipartisan slam at their roles as mothers, O’Brien said.

“The assumption is, if a woman has kids at home, maybe we need to think twice about that,” O’Brien said. “And that’s not a Republican issue or a Democrat issue. That’s just a societal issue where we need to break out of some stereotypes.”

Women lawmakers resent being pigeonholed, and that keeps some from running for election, she said.

“Because apparently women are only supposed to care about education and healthcare and men can care about everything and women can only think one way on certain topics,” O’Brien said. “That actually keeps women from running for office.”

Women lawmakers are often underestimated, even when they hold leadership positions, said Dianne Byrum, the first-ever female Democratic House Leader.

“Women were always underestimated,” she said. “They had to be harder workers but women kind of knew that going in,”

She was often challenged by the previous House leader, Kwame  Kilpatrick, who as mayor of Detroit would show up in Lansing with an entourage and acted like he was still leader, she said.

“It was a constant challenge of authority.”

Pollack said serving is a balancing act. “It’s tough because people depend on you, yet other people are trying to undermine you.”

How could things improve?

It starts with more dialogue and a higher standard of behavior in the Legislature, O’Brien said.

It’s not just fellow legislators she’s talking to but also staff members who have faced sexism.

“I’m trying to do a lot of listening, talking to staff in casual conversations because there is a lot of them who don’t feel comfortable. And so they’re not willing to share information. Is there a depth of a problem? I don’t know.”

More women elected to office would help, Dianne Byrum said. They bring a different perspective and tend to be more collaborative.

Pollack agrees: “I’d like to see more women on the board of directors and more women in the cabinet and more women bosses.

“In both parties.”

State wants lead out of all pipes in 20 years

Capital News Service

LANSING — The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has proposed replacing all lead water pipes in the state within the next 20 years.

“The new rules would require [municipalities] to start removing lead service lines at an average rate of 5 percent per year, which would get us to 100 percent over 20 years,” said Eric Oswald, director of DEQ’s Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance Division.

The rules would also reduce the acceptable level of lead in drinking water from 15 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion, Oswald said. But the main objective of the changes is to get lead out of drinking water.

That has always been a goal, Oswald said, but it picked up steam when Flint’s water crisis brought lead in drinking water to the national stage.

“There’s always been a known risk there, but Flint really exposed it and brought national attention to the problem of lead lines and lead contamination or lead poisoning from drinking water pipes,” Janice Beecher, director of the Institute of Public Utilities at Michigan State University.

One of the challenges facing replacement of lead service lines is funding. The state will not fund the line replacements, Oswald said. That responsibility will fall to the local governments.

“The state does have loan programs and grant programs that would be able to help out,” Oswald said. “But the majority of the burden would be on the local water supplies to remove those lines. We’re looking for the communities to be innovative in how they do that.”

Another problem facing the replacement is that often parts of the lines belong to the homeowner.

“The policy challenge is how do we get these lines replaced?” Beecher said. “And that’s complicated by the fact that in the majority of cases, those service lines that have the lead content are owned by the customer, not the utility, so it’s actually private property.”

This raises questions on the legality of having water systems pay to replace the lines on private property, said Tom Frazier, the legislative liaison for the Michigan Townships Association.

Oswald said there are some ways to get around this.

“The communities could pass an ordinance where they take the water line until it gets to the house so it all belongs to the community, similar to how gas lines are done,” he said.

Local units of government should focus on how they can best address public health issues, Frazier said.

“We’re in support of public health, but we don’t feel the rules as written the way they are now is the best way to do that,” Frazier said. “We think we should focus on replacing pipes in areas where there are elevated levels of lead and use funds to go after those sources, at least in the short term.”

Lansing has already replaced all of its lead water pipes. Starting in 2004, the city removed 12,150 active lead service pipes, finishing the project in Dec. 2016, said Amy Adamy, communications coordinator for the Lansing Board of Water and Light.

“When we started doing the removals, there was obviously a learning curve,” she said. “As we got better at it, we realized there was a better way to do it. It cut the price significantly, and it cut the time in half.”

Utilities from all over the country have since reached out to the Lansing Board of Water and Light, asking how it did it and what advice they can offer.

“We’ve been very helpful in providing resources and ideas,” Adamy said. “We had the learning curve, and we want to help them skip that part of it so they can immediately get to the and time saving methods so that it’s the most efficient work possible.”

The cost of the project was $44.5 million, Adamy said. The cost was built into the budget, spread out over 12 years.  

Good communication with customers throughout the process was a huge contributor to the success of the project, Adamy said.

Replacing all of the lead water pipes in the state would be a massive undertaking.

“You’re talking maybe 500,000 lead service lines in the state, in the billions of dollars to replace,” Oswald said. “It’s going to be an expensive proposition, but we want to get the lead out of the system.”

The draft proposal of the rules will be sent to the governor’s office where they will be put into legal format, Oswald said. The department hopes to open up public comment in mid-January and hold a public hearing at the end of that month. From there, the rules will be sent to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. It will then be up to the committee whether these rules take effect.

With Flint and other issues that have recently been brought to light, now is a good time to tackle this, he said.

“The public’s attention is on this, and I think we’ve got the backing to make this a priority,” Oswald said. “We may not go about it exactly how we think we’re going to, but I think the end result will be a rule that requires lead to be removed from the distribution center in one way or another.”

Michigan particularly vulnerable to federal budget cuts

Capital News Service

LANSING — The money Michigan draws down from the federal government is the second- highest in the country, according to the Michigan League for Public Policy.

While Congress wages war on tax reform and health care, the uncertainty over Michigan‘s budget has officials nervously awaiting the outcome.

“It’s why we’re so concerned about the federal tax plan that’s being discussed at this point, either in the House or the Senate,” said Rachel Richards, legislative coordinator at the League, a nonpartisan institute that analyzes economic opportunity in Michigan.

All of the state’s 18 departments are at the mercy of the federal government, Richards said.

“There’s nothing set in stone currently, but the areas where we receive federal funding — like Medicaid, food assistance and child care — may be impacted by moves at the federal level,”  Richards said.

Michigan’s estimated budget in 2018 is $56.3 billion. The state budget office reports that 42 percent, or $20.1 billion of that would come from the federal government.

Leveraging federal dollars to support state programs generally makes sense. But acquiring so much money from the federal government has a dark side, said Craig Thiel, a research director with Citizens Research Council, a governmental policy research organization. What happens if it’s taken away?

“You could argue both sides of that,” Thiel said. As government funds less, the states have to pick up more of the tab, which can be concerning.

“That’s just the arithmetic of things.”

The risk of relying on federal dollars to fund state programs isn’t lost on the national level either.

“It’s a fair statement, given the level of deficit that the federal government has been running, to say ‘at some point, there would be spending cutbacks as one part of a solution to resolve that’,” said John Hicks, the executive director of the National Association of State Budget Offices based in Washington, D.C..

The  League for Public Policy reports that both tax plans in the House and Senate would provide massive tax cuts for wealthy taxpayers, leave little for middle class individuals and grow the deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next decade

“While the Legislature is allowed to lower tax revenue, we fear that at some point lawmakers down the road will see this and try to right-size the budget,” Richards said. “That means cuts to things that improve quality of life, like education and food assistance.”

If a tax code like the one being written at the federal level passes, the impacts on the budget would happen indirectly.

“What we anticipate this tax plan doing in the long run is affecting federal dollars to states,” Richards said. “For example: if the federal government had fewer dollars coming in, we would expect a reprioritizing of federal dollars that go to programs important to Michigan residents.”

Michigan’s budget isn’t threatened only by Congress. Some state legislators are trying to pass tax cuts that some officials say would be bad for many of the same programs that receive funds from the federal government.

The problem of receiving less money from above is exacerbated by Speaker. Rep. Tom Leonard, R-DeWit, who is attempting to lower taxes even more, said Meghan Swain, the executive director of the Michigan Association for Local Public Health. “We already have liabilities like transportation and infrastructure that will have to be paid for out of the general fund.”

Last February, Republican lawmakers proposed gradually decreasing the income tax from 4.25 percent to 3.9 percent, a move that the House Fiscal Agency estimated would result in a $1.1 billion budget hole by 2022.

It failed 52-55. But the bill could be brought up again.

“There’s going to be some pulls on the 2019 budget if any cuts happen,” Swain said. “Michigan won’t be able to backfill any of those programs.”

Federal proposals that might impact state budgets are nothing new. Over the 2017 summer, efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act would have drastically changed health care funding if they had succeeded.

“Everything that’s happening in Washington, D.C., will have significant impacts on the state,” said House Democratic Leader Sam Singh of East Lansing, ”and that’s why you’re seeing people really try to stand up and protect the systems that are in place, systems like Healthy Michigan.”

The Healthy Michigan plan was an expansion of Medicaid dollars from the federal government to states under the Affordable Care Act. It was meant for covering more individuals not under the original health care plan. About 91 percent of health care in Michigan, or $18.4 billion, is funded by federal dollars.

“It was a bipartisan effort that helped cover close to 700,000 people,” Singh said. A lot of small business owners were able to provide access to healthcare they couldn’t afford beforehand.

Michigan was among 31 states that expanded Medicaid when it was offered.

With the increased coverage came more costs. The New England Journal of Medicine reports that Healthy Michigan cost the federal government almost $3.6 billion in 2016.

Singh said he’s worried that programs like this may be slashed as part of governmental cuts.

“There’s been concern that you could see that program get cut, and that would mean going back to the old system.”

In response to the potential repealing of the Affordable Care Act, Michigan House Democrats issued a “Health Care Bill of Rights.” It’s a resolution that would require insurers to continue key Obamacare provisions, even if the law were repealed. The bill was referred to the Health Policy Committee.

Richards said that beyond health care, federal funding for roads and temporary assistance for needy families could be in the crosshairs of federal budget cuts.

The National Association of State Budget Offices, which analyzes how federal policies impacts state budgets, has yet to analyze how this tax policy would change things.

Hicks said, “We won’t be able to do a state-by-state analysis for a while.”

Once the bill becomes law, there’s still going to be a lot to unpack in how it affects each state’s budget, he said.

Fewer unpaid parking tickets could trigger block of license renewal

Capital News Service

LANSING — Drivers in Michigan with unpaid parking tickets might be given a break by the Secretary of State when it comes to license renewal if current state law reverts back to an earlier, tougher form.

The Secretary of State can refuse to renew your license if you have three unpaid parking tickets. A bill that recently passed the Senate would keep that number from reverting back to six, which is slated to happen Jan. 1.

The original bill was given a sunset, meaning the law and its three-ticket threshold would expire Jan. 1. If it does, lawmakers believe cities will not be able to effectively collect unpaid fees because there won’t be a big-enough incentive for drivers to pay their tickets.

Cities often use ticket revenues to pay for public safety and city services. Collecting more fees would provide higher revenue for the services.

“(The bill) just removes that sunset so we can continue to have the program in place which helps our cities collect unpaid parking tickets and make sure people are responsible, when they break the law, that they are doing their due diligence on the fines they have occurred,” said Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell.

A law in 2012 established the three-ticket minimum and was sponsored by Hildenbrand, who is sponsoring the bill to keep it that way.

“So every four years you have to renew your license. What the bill allowed the Secretary of State to do, when they send out your driver’s license renewal and you had three unpaid parking tickets, they would basically just say ‘hey, you can’t renew your driver’s license until you get this taken care of,’” Hildenbrand said.

Grand Rapids, which pioneered the program, has had success with the law, city officials say.

That city wrote off approximately $1.2 million in unpaid tickets before the state law was passed, City Treasurer John Globensky said. Since 2012 when the law passed, the city wrote off only another $275,000 as more people paid their tickets because of the law.

“After six years the city can no longer collect on a ticket,” Globensky said.  Grand Rapids was losing money it could use for public safety and services.

The law has shifted the burden of collection to the district court in Grand Rapids, Globensky said. When a person renews his or her license, the Secretary of State can see that the court has placed a hold on that renewal until the fines are paid.

Furthermore, the Secretary of State will also issue a $45 license clearance fee after the tickets have been paid, but the clearance fee could also be waived by the court.

A Senate Fiscal Agency analysis found that Grand Rapids sent $2.8 million in unpaid parking tickets to the courts and 81 percent of the costs were collected because of the bill.

A House fiscal impact analysis found that if the law were not enacted, drivers would have less incentive to pay their outstanding tickets.  And the Secretary of State could lose more revenue if the $45 clearance fee goes away.

While lowering the threshold from six tickets to three boosted revenue for public safety and city services by prompting more people to pay their fines, it was also about giving people a chance to take care of their outstanding tickets.

“It’s just kind of a nudge for people to take care of their unpaid parking tickets because, really, municipalities, especially our big municipalities, didn’t have a way to enforce these collections,” Hildenbrand said.

A sunset on Hildebrand’s bill to lower the ticket trigger from six to three was first put in place as a review method to see if the policy worked for cities. The policy is optional, Globensky said. Not all cities use the policy.

“All of the feedback was that it was working fine, it was accomplishing the goals of making sure people were taking care of their outstanding liabilities,” Hildenbrand said.

Survey: dune supporters include stormwatchers, ecologists, campers, economists

Capital News Service

LANSING — It’s not just their beauty that people love about dunes. Some value Michigan’s sandy knolls for storm-watching.

“It was a really popular activity that we didn’t have on our radar,” said Brad Garmon, director of conservation at the Michigan Environmental Council. “Some parks, specifically in Southwest Michigan, had a pretty high percentage of people rank storm-watching as the primary purpose of their visit to the dunes.”

Those storm clouds and lightning bolts are among many reasons why Michigan’s residents value the state’s dunes, a new survey is telling researchers.

“About 93 percent of people that took the survey valued dunes for their scenic value,” Garmon said. “I think that’s not surprising if you think about Sleeping Bear and some of these high-profile dunes, but that’s still a really high number.”

As one of the first of its kind, the online “How You Dune” survey administered by Michigan State University  pinpointed where and how people spend time when they visit dunes. Popular uses included beach-going and camping.

More than 89 percent of the respondents valued protection of dunes, while 80 percent valued them as a unique ecosystem.

“The idea of generational importance that ‘the dunes I enjoy today I want my kids and grandkids to have the opportunity to have and see and experience these dunes too,’ was really significant,” Garmon said.

Found mostly on the state’s west coast, the 275,000 acres of Michigan dunes comprise the world’s largest freshwater dune system. They house an ecosystem of animals and vegetation distinct to the region.

Many of these organisms rely on how the dunes migrate, a nuisance to many homeowners.

“From a coastal homeowner’s perspective, you’re always trying to keep the dunes in place,” said Shaun Howard, a Nature Conservancy project manager. “You’ve got your home and you’re worried about erosion. But they are dynamic and they are supposed to move.

“Dunes are really important as a component of the ecosystem food-chain because they have these really specific plants which have really specific insects that feed on them which in turn feed birds and other wildlife,” Howard said.

Some species, like the federally endangered Pitcher’s thistle, indicate the health of the dunes.

The plant needs the dunes to scour its seeds so they can continue to reproduce, Howard said. “Without the sand movement, you don’t get that scouring effect, and in return you get reduced germination rates of that particular plant. So we use Pitcher’s thistle success and growth as an indicator for whether the dunes are healthy.”

Coupled with understanding how individuals use dunes, researchers also sought how to galvanize dune supporters.

“We wanted to catalyze a group of dune stakeholders,” said Robert Richardson, an ecological economist with Michigan State who helped develop the survey that 3,610 people answered. “So given that we don’t know who cares about dunes, people who took the survey were invited to give us their contact information so that we could follow up. So now we can build upon this dune stakeholder community.”

Survey respondents were fairly homogeneous, Richardson said. About 87 percent are white.

“We feel like that’s also an opportunity for the Department of Natural Resources to do some targeted outreach to reach more diverse communities who may not have visited dunes or who may not be aware of the uniqueness of dunes,” Richardson said.

To reach minorities, there needs to be a reframing of the discussion about promoting the environment, said Sandra Turner-Handy, the community engagement director for the Michigan Environmental Council.

It’s not that people of color don’t enjoy nature, because they do, she said. The priorities for many people of color in the environment are about survival.

“We are long-term lovers of nature. But when we have our hands in the dirt or we’re fishing or hunting, we’re supplying our food system,” she said. “Reframing how we can enjoy the environment is happening and it will take a while. But we have to invite more people of color into the conversation about the environment so we can begin to understand how it plays a natural role in our everyday lives.”

It’s not easy to calculate the economic value of dunes. Park officials say Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore brought in 1.68 million people in 2016 who spent $183 million in nearby communities. Silver Lake Sand Dunes officials say that state park generates about $2 million a year from the 1 million people who visit. Arcadia dunes near Traverse City collects close to $1.45 million a year in direct economic impact, according to the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy.

Howard said, “They offer Michigan a unique opportunity to develop an ecotourism economy. We know people traveling from all over the country and all around the world come to see these dunes.”

As dynamic as they are, dunes are also sensitive to outside influences. When people pick them as a tourist spot, it can harm them.

“In a large dune area, there are places where people run wild,” said David Foote, the director of stewardship for the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. “It denudes the face of the dune, moving vegetation from an entire system.”

As a solution, the conservancy uses a tactic called controlled trampling. That makes it more inconvenient for individuals to walk on dunes by making the trails between them and parking lots longer. Fewer people walking on the dunes loosens up the sand, without destabilizing the mound.

“If you have just a trickle of people, it can free up sand that will be blown up the dune on the backside,” Foote said. “That way rare plants like Pitcher’s thistle can thrive. It’s sustainable in the long run and a way we handle public use on some of the larger properties.”

Thousands of Michigan kids caught in health insurance gap

Capital News Service

LANSING — More than 100,000 Michigan children who don’t qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford private insurance are at risk of losing health insurance.  

The federal government failed to renew funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) before Oct. 1. Now it’s uncertain if funding will be restored.

CHIP is an insurance plan for working families, said Meghan Swain, executive director for the Michigan Association for Local Public Health.

Most funds provide health care to children through the MIChild program and to pregnant women, said Angela Minicuci, communications director at the Department of Health and Human Services. There are 116,000 Michigan residents  covered by the program.

It’s vitally important to providing health care to children of lower income families, said Emily Schwarzkopf, a health policy analyst for the Michigan League for Public Policy.

“Without it, children would not have access to regular doctors appointments, the ability to get preventive care or immunizations, Schwarzkopf said. “If a kid is sick, they can’t go to the doctor and they can’t get medication.”

The program provides health insurance to almost nine million children. Five states have already run out of the funding but received a little extra money from the federal government to help support the programs, Schwarzkopf said.

Michigan is in somewhat better shape.

“We have funding that will bring us through about April or May of next year,” Minicuci said.

But the agency is preparing to  warn participants of looming changes in early 2018.

“We will need to begin notifying residents that coverage may be ending or changing,” Minicuci said.

CHIP has had bipartisan support in Congress and until now there have been few obstacles to getting the funding reauthorized.

“Should we run out of funding, we would need to do a couple of things,” Minicuci said. That includes asking state lawmakers for new funds or finding another source of them or cutting the program.

“We could partially fund some programs,” she said. “We might need to change the types of coverage that some programs have.”

What happens depends on whatever funding solutions state legislators develop.

“There is the possibility that should we not have federal funding identified and the state is unable to identify funding to cover that CHIP funding, individuals could lose the coverage that they receive through CHIP funding,” she said.

Schwarzkopf said the league hopes if funding is not restored, the state will find a way to pick up the tab.

“Obviously that would be a lot of money that the state would not be receiving from the federal government, so you have to look at what funding is available,” she said.

Hydrophones can hear fish spawning

Capital News Service

LANSING — What does a hurricane sound like from underwater?

Researchers may soon find out after recovering listening devices they had planted off the coast of Puerto Rico in a test that could lead to year-round underwater monitoring of the Great Lakes.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) researchers in the agency’s Great Lakes office in Ann Arbor secured $60,000 to monitor reefs off the southern coast of Puerto Rico, in part to learn more about how they might be used in the Great Lakes.

They placed three hydrophones in the water at different depths and left them recording for a full year.

Then the hurricanes hit.

The devices missed the brunt of Hurricane Irma, which skirted the north side of the island, but were hit hard by Maria.

“We were worried we were going to lose the hydrophones,” said Felix Martinez, a program manager for NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science in Ann Arbor.

They were dislodged, but researchers recovered them. Then they were beset with delays in finding out what they heard. With the island’s power grid crippled, the data couldn’t be sent to Purdue University for analysis, Martinez said. When one of the university’s graduate students flew from Puerto Rico to North Carolina, he brought hard drives containing a year’s worth of recordings from all three hydrophones–an enormous amount of data.

The data still has to be copied before it’s shipped to Purdue for analysis.

It’s exciting enough to hear what two hurricanes sound like passing over the reef, Martinez said. But this project is groundbreaking because it’s the first to record continuously underwater for a year – similar to what he envisions could happen in the Great Lakes.

“There’s a lot of questions that can be asked just using sound,” Martinez said.

Some studies use them to listen in on fish spawning.

Recording sound could help scientists monitor fish populations, identify where they spawn and determine how human-generated noise affects them, Martinez said. The recordings could allow scientists to count the fish that join in at the spawning ground, he said.

Hydrophones are a good way to monitor fish and marine mammal populations without disturbing them, said Dennis Higgs, head of the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Windsor.

The  Canadian government is expanding hydrophone programs to assess the effects of human-generated noise, especially the noise caused by shipping traffic.

Hydrophones will probably be used to monitor the environmental impacts of the upcoming construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, which will span the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor, said Higgs.

“How noisy are the Great Lakes?” Higgs said. “We don’t even know the answer to that basic question.”

Hydrophone recording is more widespread in saltwater reefs, partially because they’re noisier, populated by loud species like snapping shrimp and parrot fish. Freshwater recording is just starting to catch up, Higgs said.

The devices could monitor through the winter, long past the time when the ice cuts off access for divers, Martinez said. And even if it were possible, continuous monitoring by divers would cost millions of dollars each year.

Problems must be worked out, he said. How would researchers sift through so much data, for example? How do they interpret a noise they’ve never heard before?

Researchers need to begin to collect sound libraries to help with identification. And more tests – like the one in Puerto Rico – have to run before scientists can figure out what’s practical.

Steven Maier writes for Great Lakes Echo.


Researchers seek fish guts and the money to study them

Capital News Service

LANSING — Stomachs of more than 1,000 fish from lakes Huron and Michigan are in a freezer at Michigan State University awaiting dissection as part of a study critical to managing gamefish.

But a lack of funding has put on ice the project that’s important for gauging the health of predator-prey relationships in an ever-evolving ecosystem.

Now fisheries’ scientists are asking Great Lakes residents to contribute to a campaign to raise the $8,500 needed to pay MSU students to analyze what’s in the stomachs of those fish.

“It really is an important study, and an important time to do this,” said Michigan Sea Grant Extension educator Daniel O’Keefe, who worked with anglers to accumulate the stomach collection. “Hopefully a couple of years from now we’ll have lots of cool answers on what we found.”

The donations will help hire students to provide data to the public and resource management agencies. At the same time, the students will gain experience for careers in fisheries and fisheries management.

Katie Kierczynski, an MSU fisheries and wildlife graduate student, has already processed Lake Huron fish stomachs with the occasional help of lab assistants. She plans to finish before spring, when Lake Michigan’s samples are scheduled for processing. That’s a big task for a small team.

The work is challenging. Digested fish lose their skin first, making it unlikely to identify them from skin pigments. They must instead be identified by their bone structure, Kierczynski said.

“It’s easier to do the ones that are not digested as much,” she said. “You’ll get some that are four to five vertebra and some mush.”

She cuts the stomachs in half to identify a Great Lakes predator’s meal plan. That can include terrestrial insects like moths and beetles—but consists largely of other fish. Walleye can eat fish because of their larger stomachs.

Kierczynski is also examining lake trout with even larger stomachs.

O’Keefe had done similar analysis for his master’s degree.

“I can tell you, it’s a pretty cool job and it’s really fun. Sounds kind of gross, but it’s pretty interesting to see what they eat,” he said. “It’ll be a good experience for whichever students wind up doing this.”

O’Keefe spearheads many citizen science programs.

The diet study is a great way for anglers to contribute to knowledge of the Great Lakes, he said. He helped create a video that demonstrates how to cut out the stomachs, zip them into a labeled plastic bag and drop them off at a local Department of Natural Resources cleaning station freezer.

Evan Kutz writes for Great Lakes Echo.