State ramps up opioid response

By COLTON WOOD
Capital News Service

LANSING — Last October, President Donald Trump called the nation’s opioid crisis a public emergency.

Now, six months after his announcement, Michigan has taken more steps to strengthen the state’s battle against opioids.

“The news has definitely been reporting on the opioid crisis for a while now, and, yes, it continues,” said Monica Gonzalez-Walker, the clinical implementation and engagement manager of Michigan OPEN — the Michigan Opioid Prescribing Engagement Network.

Data published by the governor’s office says the number of opioid prescriptions dispensed has decreased by 10.7 percent since 2015. For the first time since 2011, the total number of controlled substance prescriptions dispensed in Michigan dropped to below 20 million.

“The decrease is a result of our partnerships and collective efforts to raise awareness among patients and health professionals,” said Shelly Edgerton, the director of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. “We, along with our partners, will continue our targeted education and outreach efforts to fight back against this devastating public health crisis.”

In 2015, 10,833,681 opioid prescriptions were written in Michigan, contrasted with 6,670,989 in 2017.

“These figures are promising indicators for our continuing efforts against the opioid epidemic in Michigan,” Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said. That means “less potentially addictive opioids in our communities.”

Calley chaired the governor’s Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Task Force.

To continue that trend, he said there’s a need for “a conscientious approach to prescribing and dispensing while managing care for patients.”

Even before Trump’s announcement on the opioid crisis, Rep. Joseph Bellino Jr., R-Monroe, had introduced legislation to assist in Michigan’s battle against opioids.

“My district got opioids early — 10, 12 years ago,” he said. “Now, it’s everywhere in the United States. It’s affected my family — I lost a cousin. It affected my work. It affecting my community, my school. It’s hurt all of us.”

Last December, Gov. Rick Snyder signed Bellino’s bill that restricts the amount of opioid prescriptions given to children.

“My bill says if you’re a minor, you have to have your parent or guardian’s signature OK’ed for the doctor or provider to give you an opioid for pain, Bellino said.

Several other restrictions on opioids will be put into place later this year. On June 1, health care providers must be registered in the Mandatory Michigan Automated Prescription System before prescribing controlled substances.

As of July 1, doctors treating patients with acute pain won’t be able to prescribe more than a seven-day supply of an opioid within a seven-day period.

Regulations threaten services for disabled, nonprofits say

By CASEY HULL
Capital News Service

LANSING — Facilities employing and training people with disabilities face increased regulations that will decrease the amount of help they can provide, nonprofit program experts say.

Federal regulations intending to provide disabled residents with more community integrated programs for employment education have vocational rehabilitation facilities worrying that changes may mean less choice for participants.

Vocational rehabilitation facilities around Michigan specialize in working with people  with physical and mental disabilities. The goal is to enable them to find employment. Services include socialization skills, resume building, career planning, transportation assistance and job placement.

The U.S. Census Bureau says 75 percent of the 552,000 persons living with a cognitive disability in Michigan are unemployed. The poverty rate for Michigan residents with disabilities is 28 percent.

Federal law requires vocational rehabilitation facilities to provide more opportunities for work experience in community settings. The intent is to ensure that facilities don’t  isolate participants from the broader population in what are referred to as sheltered workshops.

North Eastern Michigan Rehabilitation and Opportunity Center, a nonprofit manufacturing facility in Alpena, employs around a hundred individuals with disabilities, said David Szydlowski, its chief executive officer.

Employees are trained on site by job coaches and receive training to operate forklifts, pay loaders and industrial saws. The program also contracts out employees to provide custodial services to local businesses.

Szydlowski said the problem is the Michigan Department of Community Health’s interpretation of federal law. If the program gets a contract for a local cement plant for two people to move tables, or to paint a room, it cannot assign two disabled individuals to be on that job together.

“In order to comply to the regulations, I’ll have to take away those jobs for disabled workers,” Szydlowski said.

Determination of compliance can vary by local health departments, he said.

“There are community rehab programs across the state and across the nation that are saying that this isn’t an issue and those two people can continue to work together because they are working in the community for a local business,” Szydlowski said.

Todd Culver, the chief executive officer for the Michigan Association of Rehabilitation Organizations, said, “If these rules and regulations are implemented in a way that is not fair to the individuals receiving services, then it can impact the quality of their life.”  

According to Culver, Health and Human Services developed a test for a thousand different environmental settings that facilities may operate in and is determining which ones qualify for Medicaid funding.

“We’re right in the middle of going through that data,” he said

According to Culver, if a program fails the test, there’s an opportunity to follow a corrective action plan.

Rehabilitation facilities argue that the law shouldn’t restrict a participant’s choice in where to go for services.

Another facility which was cited for non-compliance is Grand Traverse Industries in Traverse City. It’s now following a corrective action plan.

“This is a regulatory nightmare,” said Steve Perdue, the facility’s president.

“We’re working through the Home and Community Based Services waiver with our Northern Michigan entity and thus far are optimistic that we are in compliance,” Perdue said. “They’ve gotten back to us on certain issues and we made changes that we believe will have us in compliance.”

The nonprofit’s annual report said 31 percent of its services were conducted outside of its main facility.

More alternatives needed for criminal suspects with mental health problems, advocates say

BY COLTON WOOD
Capital News Service

LANSING — As more communities in Michigan join the fight for jail diversion programs for inmates with special needs, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said he hopes it will soon become a mainstream program.

The Snyder administration created a diversion program to reduce the number of people with  special needs entering Michigan’s corrections system.

“It was informal in the beginning, and then we formalized it part way through our first term,” Calley said. “I served as a chair of the diversion council, and its mental health diversion. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”

The program works with pilot committees from counties across the state that want mental health-related changes in corrections facilities

“Our system in the past has been a one-size-fits-all approach,” Calley said. “So a person has a negative interaction with the law, they go through the system. If they’re found guilty, they go to jail or go to prison.

“But if a person committed a crime because they have a mental illness that was untreated, I think the criminal justice response needs to be different. It has to include evaluation of what the root cause of the problem was and treat them. That still might some include some jail or prison, but maybe it doesn’t have to,” he said.

Now five years after establishment of the initiative, Calley said he hopes diversion programs will become more mainstream.  

“Right now, it’s in about a dozen communities in the state — trying to prove out the concepts that treating mental illness is better than throwing people in jail who have mental illness,” he said. “It has the same potential that treating addiction has.”

Rich Thiemkey, the chief executive officer of the Barry County Community Mental Health Authority, one of the agencies that maintain a diversion program, foresees diversion programs increasing.

But he said changes to funding and stigmas are needed to further help those with mental illnesses.

“Number one is just stigma, or how people view people with a mental illness,” he said. “And then the second part would be funding of individuals that are in the jail.”

With funding an issue, his agency is constantly looking for grants to help fund the treatment of mental health patients.

One such grant enables the agency to screen individuals for substance abuse and mental health disorders, he said. Some receive services in the jail and some who are diverted will be treated at the agency’s facility.

Thiemkey said that’s called “post-booking because the diversions happen after they walk into the jail. So what we’re trying to focus on this upcoming year is pre-booking.”

Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services is one of the biggest diversion programs in the state.

“We have a strict definition of diversion, which is when a mental health worker intervenes, usually with a judge, to come to an alternative disposition, which usually means a bond reduction,” said Robert Butkiewicz, the supervisor of programs at the agency. “Sometimes that means sending someone to a psychiatric hospital. Sometimes it is coordinating care with an adult foster care provider so the person can be safe.”

According to Butkiewicz, people can be eligible for these diversion programs if they are being charged with a misdemeanor.

“When we talk about mental health diversion, we have to separate that from legal diversion,” he said. “Mental health diversion relates to alternatives to incarceration. A legal diversion relates to alternatives to criminal prosecution.

Butkiewicz said the diversion system needs improvements.

For example, he said laws “should be more focused on treatment. If you’re poor and are roped in the legal system, you can hardly pay next month’s rent. You have a $25 oversight fee. You have a $300 legal fee. You have a $100 this and that. And for those who are really poor, you get locked in.”

 

New census question threatens Michigan’s federal funds, voice in Congress

By RILEY MURDOCK
Capital News Service

LANSING — If a “citizenship question” is added to the 2020 U.S. Census, an undercount of noncitizens and communities with immigrant-heavy populations might worsen the negative impacts of Michigan’s population decline, immigration experts say.

Critics of the question, announced in March by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, claim that asking if someone is a citizen means fewer people will complete the census. And that will lead to underreported local governments receiving less federal aid and other resources and could threaten the size of Michigan’s representation in Congress.

The Commerce Department said it’s adding the question to more accurately enforce the Voting Rights Act by learning more about the percentage of the population eligible to vote.

But a question about citizenship could drive some people away from the census. Undocumented immigrants or their families might fear deportation, while those with legal immigration status might worry that their status doesn’t protect them from other consequences, said Susan Reed, the managing attorney of the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. U.S. Customs and Border Protection data shows nearly eight out of every 10 travelers stopped when President Donald Trump’s travel ban was in effect were legal permanent residents.

An undercount could further reduce Michigan’s congressional delegation, Reed said. And if populations are undercounted, local governments could lose portions of $675 billion in federal funds for public programs, which is divided among communities across the nation based on census data.

“That funding is there, and the question is whether or not a community will get its fair share,” said Reed, whose center has offices in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor. “Representation and resources really are the question, and really are at stake.”

Reed said the question was proposed during a period of harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric from the Trump administration, which is also running the census. That context means non-citizens might not feel safe disclosing their status.

“The (citizenship) question has not been asked since the 1950s, and the reason why is because it’s been shown to depress participation by non-citizens,” Reed said.

People with legal immigration status, non-citizens and members of households that include non-citizens are reluctant to have contact with the government involving questions of their citizenship, Reed said.

Few people have a good handle on the language of citizenship, so many people don’t understand what it means to admit they’re non-citizens, Reed said.

People who would classify themselves as  “non-citizens” can be undocumented immigrants, those with a student or other temporary visa or legal permanent residents — someone with a  green card who isn’t yet a citizen, said Victoria Crouse, a senior policy fellow at the Michigan League for Public Policy, a nonpartisan policy institute that focuses on social issues.

Immigrants made up 6.3 percent of Michigan’s population in 2015, compared to 5.3 percent in 2000, according to the league. Michigan had an immigrant population of 622,875 in 2015.

“That’s something to keep in mind,” Crouse said. “We’re talking about this group of non-citizens, but it’s people with all sorts of different immigration statuses.”

The state’s population growth has slowed since 1970, shrinking by roughly 55,000 between 2000 and 2010, according to census data.

The reluctance of immigrants to answer the proposed citizenship question can be magnified by a lack of a visible benefits to people responding to the survey, Reed said.

Families might disclose their citizenship to receive benefits they’re entitled to based on immigration status, but in the context of the census, it might be difficult for them to see benefits that would offset potentially negative consequences, Reed said.

“The benefits for the community of a complete count are tremendous,” Reed said. “But the benefit of an individual filling out the census form is almost impossible to detect.”

If Michigan population trends continue, the Census Bureau predicts the state will lose a congressional representative following the 2020 census, dropping from 14 to 13 seats, according to Carolina Population Center, a population research group at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.

Michigan has lost five House seats since the 1970 census, when it had 19.

Police body cameras have friends and foes

By CRYSTAL CHEN
Capital News Service

LANSING – Although a privacy law that regulates police body cameras took effect in January, some departments around the state remain skeptical of what they say is an expensive tool not worth the money.

About 40 to 50 law enforcement departments in the state have adopted body cameras, estimated Robert Stevenson, the executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, although no one keeps statistics.  

Many law enforcement officials have expressed concerns about adopting cameras.

One problem is the tremendous cost, said Dave Hiller, the executive director of the Michigan Fraternal Order of Police, the union that represents many police officers.

He said police do welcome the body camera as another tool that is beneficial in doing their jobs,  

but it’s not cheap, and storing video from the cameras is expensive.

“When you start to multiply that by the number of officers in your department, you can see the cost goes up,” Hiller said.

No guidelines for the use of body cameras have been issued on a statewide level, he said. “We encourage and suggest that any department equipped with body cameras develop a use policy, absolutely.”

The Macomb County Sheriff’s Department implemented body cameras last April.

Lt. Tina Old said cameras cost about $1,100 each and are used to support deputies’ written reports, help collect evidence, facilitate investigations and provide feedback for training.  

“The sheriff’s office wanted to be transparent with the public,” Old said. Recordings could provide “objective evidentiary value in investigations” and serve to reinforce the public’s trust by preserving factual accounts of interactions.

The recordings can be used to maximize the safety of officers and improve service to the community, she said. She said the department hasn’t hired any additional staff to assist with the storage.

The Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office doesn’t have body cameras and hasn’t heard a demand from the citizenry to buy and use them, said Lt. Tom Goerge.

And the department doesn’t expect to obtain any soon because of the cost, he said.

“The initial cost is a huge hindrance, as well as replacement costs,” Goerge said. “I’m told that a body camera’s life is about two years.”

Goerge said he has a number of concerns about body cameras, including the privacy of citizens, the cost of storing video and, perhaps, less cooperation from witnesses and victims when they know they’re being recorded.

And it adds to the workload for officers who must remove some of the footage when it is legally required.

Also, some officers are unconvinced that a body camera shows the full picture of an event.

“It’s not necessarily going to tell you what you think it is going to tell you,” said George Basar, the chief of the Howell Police Department and a past president of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police.

It’s a tool, Basar said, but police officers wear their body cameras on the middle of their chest,  so the picture they record isn’t the whole picture of what they see.

Referring to a recent case in California when police officers muted their body cameras during a shooting, Blaine Koops, the executive director of Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, said he sees that type of situation as the major problem.

And Basar said malfunctions are also a problem.

“Technology breaks for a variety of reasons. As soon as you have something happen where a body camera malfunctions, you’ll get accused, so the police officers are immediately put in a position to defend themselves,” he said, adding that there’s still a place for them.

Grand Valley State University police don’t have body cameras and there are no plans to adapt them, said Brandon DeHaan, the director of public safety at the university.

“I continue to ask members of our community, including faculty, staff and students, about body cameras,” DeHaan said. “The answer received from all groups continues to be that they do not see a need, nor do they wish for officers of the Grand Valley State University Police to wear body cameras.”

According to Montcalm County’s Goerge, it’s difficult to say whether the body camera helps build community trust. “Cameras may play a role.”

He  said police departments with community outreach projects and interaction with the community on more than just ‘investigative contacts’ can build trust that way.

“My belief is that trust goes way beyond a small piece of electronic equipment. It is developed over time and is accomplished by law enforcement officials working hard to protect the community, sharing information with the community and keeping them informed,” he said.

Pols want to power up pepper spray

By CRYSTAL CHEN
Capital News Service

LANSING – Personal protection entrepreneur Rochelle Morton of Detroit has been advocating a change in the self-defense pepper spray law for the past three years.

“I have always wanted to protect myself after having been robbed years ago,” said Morton, who sells self-defense products for a company called Damsel in Defense.

A bill to allow the purchase of stronger pepper spray in Michigan has won House approval and is awaiting action in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill would increase the maximum amount of oleoresin capsicum (OC) allowed in self-defense spray and foam devices from 10 percent to 18 percent and allow the devices to contain an ultraviolet dye to help identify attackers.

“The stronger pepper spray will allow the victim to flee to safety and allows an aggressor to be accurately identified by the victim if the spray contains an ultraviolet dye,” Morton said. The dye would be visible under ultraviolet light for about a week.

Michigan is one of seven states that restrict the amount of OC in self-defense spray. Forty-five states allow 18 percent OC, which is derived from chili peppers.

An analysis of the proposal by the House Fiscal Agency said the limitation “has hindered many Michiganders from purchasing pepper spray online because many companies will not ship pepper spray to Michigan if it contains over 10 percent OC.”

Current law prohibits the use of pepper spray containing more than 10 percent OC. “The amount allowed in self-defense spray was last changed in 2010, when it rose from 2 percent to 10 percent for both police and personal protection,” according to the House Fiscal Agency.

Morton said that she learned about a pepper spray that includes an ultraviolet dye and wanted it, but the state currently doesn’t allow it.

Robert Stevenson, the executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, said the organization remains neutral on  the bill. So does the State Police.

Stevenson said the biggest concern is about pepper spray being used against a police officer. “We do not want it to get so strong that it could incapacitate an officer, which could lead to them being disarmed.”

Bill sponsor Rep. Michele Hoitenga, R-Manton, said that although she’s comfortable carrying a pistol for self-defense, not all women are.

Among the co-sponsors are Reps. Mary Whiteford, R-Casco Township; Holly Hughes, R-Montague, and Sue Allor, R-Wolverine.

Critics of the proposal argue that an increase in OC could cause serious injuries, “not only to an intended target, but to an untrained user as well,” the bill analysis said. They’ve called for research about the specific effects of 18 percent OC on human bodies.

Studies show that exposure to OC spray may lead to multiple risks, which respiratory problems and other “health effects that can range from mild irritation to death,” the bill analysis said.

Morton said many women want the law changed to enhance their protection.

“Residents in our state deserve to have what the federal government and most other states are allowed to possess,” Morton said. “We deserve the ability to layer our protection with the most effective options allowed.”

Law would make it tougher to terminate some parents’ rights

By GLORIA NZEKA
Capital News Service

LANSING — It’s now up to Gov. Rick Snyder to approve a set of bills that would make it more difficult for child protective officials to terminate the rights of some parents who previously had a child taken from them.

Legislative action on the flagship bill, sponsored by Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, came after the Michigan Court of Appeals struck down a provision dealing with termination of parental rights. Previously, courts could take away a parent’s rights based solely on a previous TPR (Termination of Parental Rights)without considering the parent’s efforts to improve.

Janet Reynolds Snyder, the executive director of the nonprofit Michigan Federation for Children and Families, said that the priority for judges, state agencies and “any authority that might be involved in solving a parental dispute simply got to be the safety and the well-being of children.”

If a court ends someone’s parental rights, the matter will come up again if there are other children involved.

Under the legislation, parents in such cases would “have the rights to have information reviewed that will show a change of circumstance, that will show that efforts have been made and allow the assessment of the current situation,” Snyder said.

“Parental rights are critically important,” she said.

The House and Senate overwhelmingly passed the bills. Among the four lawmakers  who voted against the change was Democratic Rep. Tim Greimel of Auburn Hills.

“The most important thing in deciding policy is to protect people from harm, and I’m concerned that this bill will result in more children being kept in households where they are neglected and not properly cared for,” Greimel said.

Snyder. of the Federation of Children and Families, said courts have an important role to play when deciding whether to terminate parental rights.

“The court takes very seriously the bonds of family, and they’re going to look at situations separately and be able to make an assessment,” Snyder said.

She added that courts should allow experts to be called in to assess a situation if needed but that the priority should be on the safety and best interests of the child, not on any adult involved.

“Anyone, in any situation is always capable of change. Change is part of human nature,” Snyder said.

Greimel, on the other hand, said though he understands both sides of the issue, he still thinks  “that if a parent has had one child taken away due to neglect, the parent is very likely to neglect other children as well.”

He also said,  however, “that there needs to be more support mechanisms for families and for parents who are trying to do the right thing. But at the same time, if a parent had a history of neglect, the most important priority needs to be protecting children from suffering from continued neglect.”

Do juveniles understand their rights? Maybe not

By GLORIA NZEKA
Capital News Service

LANSING — Through TV shows and movies, many Americans became familiar with Miranda rights for arrested suspects, but how well do juveniles understand those rights — to remain silent and to have a lawyer, even if they can’t afford to pay for one?

Not well at all, some experts say.

An American Academy for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry study concluded that the Miranda rights are too complex and advanced for juveniles to understand.

Its report prompted police departments across the nation to develop and employ a simplified explanation for juveniles in custody.

In Washington state, for instance, the sheriff’s office in King County worked with the public defender’s office and a community nonprofit group to come up with simplified warnings.

Miranda rights go back to 1966, when the U.S. Supreme Court mandated that law enforcement agencies advise suspects in custody about those rights before interrogation.

The Michigan Committee on Juvenile Justice found that 10,728 crimes by juveniles were reported in the state in 2016.

John McKaig, who chairs the children’s law section of the State Bar of Michigan, said that when a suspect is in custody, “the police have to give you your Miranda warnings and tell you what you’re being charged with.”

McKaig, a lawyer in Mancelona, said juveniles “watch television, but if understanding their rights is a problem, the judge will understand that immediately and appoint an attorney.”

Lisa Halushka, an assistant dean at the Western Michigan University – Cooley Law School campus in Auburn Hills, said, in Michigan, “There’s no written law or legislation that suggests that the police have to jump through extra hoops in order to get a juvenile confession admitted. However, law enforcement officers — to the extent that they can — ensure that juveniles understand their rights.”

There’s case law in Michigan suggesting that courts look at additional factors for juveniles than for adults, said Halushka.

That position was confirmed by Bill Vailliencourt, the Livingston County prosecutor.

“The court determines whether the rights were properly explained and waived. It looks at individual cases and the totality of circumstances,” he said.

Vailliencourt is vice president of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan.

Factors such as age, whether an adult or custodian was present during questioning, the juvenile’s background, education, prior experience with criminal law, mental and emotional health are all considered in determining whether the suspect fully understood his or her rights and knowingly waived them.

Vailliencourt explained that the state Supreme Court has expressed confidence in the language outlined in the Miranda rights and has repeatedly upheld it as adequate.

In the case of juveniles, the police have the flexibility to explain Miranda rights differently in different circumstances, he said.

Asked whether simplified warnings make it less likely that juveniles will confess to a crime as Miranda rights critics claim, Halushka  said, “That’s naïve.

“It’s human nature to want to talk ourselves out of a hole. Simplified Miranda warnings can help facilitate that process,” she said.

While simplified Miranda rights could be easier to understand,  Vailliencourt said that raises concerns.

“I can understand why the police may be reluctant to tailor how they present Miranda rights in specific cases. The court could question whether the language used was appropriate. If it’s found not to be, the court can suppress the juvenile’s confession,” he said.

Will the state consider adopting new Miranda rights for juveniles?

Halushka said, “I can’t speak into what Michigan will do, but I would rather see well redrafted Miranda rights in compliance with the current recommendations, read in court and approved by a judge rather than having protracted hearings.”

The question of whether Miranda rights are appropriate for juveniles comes at a time when Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, has introduced a bill seeking to change Michigans juvenile criminal justice laws by raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 17 to 18.

Supporters of  his legislation argue that 17-year-olds are still developing mentally and,  just as they can’t vote, rent a car or buy cigarettes, they shouldn’t be treated as adults in criminal proceedings.

The bill is pending in the House Law and Justice Committee.

Chinese ban forces improvements in recycling

By AGNES BAO
Capital News Service      

LANSING – Headlines like “Recycling Chaos in U.S. as China Bans ‘Foreign Waste,’” “China’s Waste Import Ban Upends Global Recycling Industry” and “China’s Foreign-Waste Ban Could Have Recycling Repercussions in America” showed up after China limited importation of solid waste from other countries last July.

The new policy took effect at the beginning of this year.

And while experts predict it will have less impact in Michigan than in some other places, recycling programs in the state are taking steps to deal with — and perhaps benefit from — the change.

The Chinese ban forbids importation of 24 categories of solid waste, including certain types of papers and plastics, according to the World Trade Organization.

The rationale offered is to protect Chinese people’s health and the environment from contamination from mixed and unsorted foreign solid waste, according to the country’s announcement.

The impacts of the ban in the U.S. vary by business and geographic area, said Marty Seaman, the executive vice president of the Resource Recycling Systems, an Ann Arbor company providing recycling services.

Overall, the ban “places somewhat of a chill” around the U.S. recycling industry, Seaman said. “It’s naturally had an effect.”

For almost two decades, China imported waste from other countries to meet its need for raw materials and became the top buyer of waste in the world market.

In terms of Michigan, Kerrin O’Brien, executive director of the Michigan Recycling Coalition, a statewide group based in Lansing, said the ban won’t have as significant an effect as it does for West Coast recyclers.

Chris Luchies, the coordinator for Recycle of Mecosta County, said people at a community level aren’t aware of its impact.

“I hope about the future that we can recycle by our own, not rely on China,” Luchies said.

And Matt Flechter, the recycling market development specialist at the Department of Environmental Quality, said, “Michigan has strong interior recycling markets for material, and we are less dependent on the export markets as places like Oregon, Florida and other [states on the] coasts.”

As for the West Coast, O’Brien said recyclers have depended on the Chinese market because exporting waste there by ship reduces the costs of transportation and creates cost-effective recycling.

Since the ban took effect, “offshore demand for recyclables decreased, West Coast recyclers are looking for markets in the interior of the country and the excess material drives down prices for recycled commodities in the interior,” she said.

In the short term, “those lower prices make it harder for recyclers to cover their costs or make their profit margin,” O’Brien said.

However, in the long run, she said lower prices of recycled material will attract the interest of manufacturers in Michigan and elsewhere in the U.S. to use recycled material and will eventually enhance existing domestic markets and create new ones.

Flechter said the ban also will provide U.S. recycling industries with more job opportunities.

For example, he said China often undertook the tasks of cleaning up and classifying mixed and unsorted recyclable material imported from foreign processing and recycling facilities.

With the ban in effect, he said, “we gather job opportunities because we can do that here, to make sure we clean up the recycling stream.”

Flechter and O’Brien said recycling programs in Michigan are responding to the export ban in several ways: Slowing down the recycled sorting line to remove more contamination, educating residents and businesses to correctly classify recyclable products, and encouraging local manufacturers to use recycled material.

And Seaman said communities should educate their residents to sort materials into the right recycling bins.

Currently, the recycling rate in Michigan is at the bottom of the Great Lake states’.

Sean Hammond, deputy policy director of waste/recycling issues at the Michigan Environmental Council, said only around 15 percent of waste produced in the state is recycled rather than going to landfills.

Compared to the 30 percent average recycling rate in the nation, Michigan has a long way to go to catch up the rest of the country, he said.

As for the ban, he said, “It is all about developing recycling markets in-state now and hope to see opportunities in Michigan.”

Drones raise issue: Who controls prison airspace?

BY JACK NISSEN
Capital News Service

LANSING — Now that drones fly in the face of state prisons, someawmakers want to restrict the airspace over and near those facilities.

Recently, drones have been spotted flying over state prisons, making officials nervous. Exacerbating their worries is contraband dropped by the drones into a prison.

“We receive reports of drones flying over or nearby multiple times a month, sometimes multiple times a week,” said Chris Gautz, the Department of Corrections public information officer. “It creates a huge strain on the facility. So when people are dropping cell phones, guns or drugs, it’s a huge security concern.”

Although no guns have yet been reported as dropped into prisons, both prison officials and state politicians are worried it could happen. Last summer, a drone dropped razors, drugs and cellphones behind a  prison fence, prompting some lawmakers to introduce bills that would outlaw the craft above or near prisons.

It’s  a safety issue, said Rep. John Chirkun, D-Roseville, a primary sponsor of one of the bills. “I’ve heard from sheriffs from the three biggest counties in the state of Michigan concerned about this, so I decided to pick up the ball and run with it.”

His bill would outlaw the piloting of unmanned aircraft within 1,000 feet of state prisons, municipal police departments and state court buildings.  

The incident that prompted the legislation occurred last August at the Richard A. Handlon correctional facility in Ionia County. Three men were charged with smuggling weapons, drugs and cellphones into the prison.

Gautz said that because of the threat, when a drone is spotted near a prison and inmates are outside, sirens blare and prisoners are moved back to their cells. “We have to conduct a large-scale search of our entire prison grounds.”

A challenge for the state legislation is that regulating where drones can be flown flies into the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which regulates airspace.

“I don’t know where this is going to go,” said Robert Goodwin, a senior geospatial analyst/project manager with Michigan State University. “I understand the spirit of the law, but the FAA stepping in will open a huge can of worms.’”

Drone piloting, whether as a hobby or for commercial purposes, is new airspace for the FAA, said Goodwin, who pilots drones for university research. Because flying drones is new, the FAA is unlikely to support state restrictions on where they can be flown. Often state governments try to regulate where drones can be flown but don’t have authority to do so.

“Typically communities try establishing ordinances that say, ‘Listen, you can’t fly over a park,’ which they have no jurisdiction over,” he said. “Even if they make that statement saying someone can’t, it won’t hold water.”

But another lawmaker, Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville, says that because the FAA hasn’t restricted where drones can fly, the state can.

If the federal government decides it doesn’t want to regulate where drones can go, then sstates can,  Barrett said.

As Chirkun tackles drone restrictions, Barrett is sponsoring a bill to allow an agreement between the FAA and police agencies for local authorities to enforce regulations relating to operation of unmanned aircraft systems.

Other solutions besides outlawing drones above state prisons include making it difficult to fly them, Barrett said. But those technqiues are expensive and not perfected, like frequency jammers the military uses to block radio waves.

“I think in the absence of those solutions, we should at least regulate and make it a crime,’ he said. “I’m not the one that favors regulation, but one that likes public safety.”

Goodwin sees problems for both hobbyists and commercial drone pilots if the state’s airspace starts to get regulated.

“From my standpoint, if they are going to choose an area, put a circle around it and say you can’t fly here, that can limit you a lot,” he said. “There’s going to have be exceptions to the rule set in place.”

As soon as states or the FAA regulate where drones can go, more rules will follow, Goodwin said.

“What if prisons want to use drones themselves? Or maybe a farmer wants to do agriculture research on his dairy farm. There’s all sorts of crazy things that are going to happen over the next several years in terms of what will and will not be allowed.”