Pols want to power up pepper spray

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

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

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

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?

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.”

Debate continues over whether 17 is an adult or a juvenile

Capital News Service

LANSING — Public policy advocates say it’s common sense to raise the age for a person to be tried in Michigan criminal courts as an adult from 17 to 18 years old.

The reason is, young people in adult prisons are at higher risk for sexual assault, restraint, solitary confinement and suicide, they say.

“We are a super-minority in the nation when it comes to the age of criminal responsibility for kids,” said Alicia Guevara Warren, the Kids Count project director at the Michigan League for Public Policy.

Placing them in juvenile facilities also gives them a better chance to rehabilitate, advocates say.

“In contrast, young people in the juvenile justice system have opportunities for education, rehabilitative programs and interventions that may help them to succeed,” said Jessica Feierman, associate director of the Juvenile Law Center, a national public interest law firm.

But county officials are unsure who will pay for the hundreds of 17-year-olds and younger in the adult system who would move to juvenile facilities.

Lowering the age would create a lot of changes to the juvenile justice system, and the counties could be unprepared for those changes, said Deena Bosworth, director of governmental affairs for the Michigan Association of Counties.

Currently, the state and the counties are responsible for the upkeep and care of prisons. Counties pay for juvenile facilities.

Bills passed the  House in 2016 to raise the age from 17-years-old to 18-years-old but the Senate is waiting for a cost study commissioned by the Legislature before moving the bills.

The Association of Counties has been worried about the pending bills in the past for monetary reasons. County funding has been down since the 2008 recession, and the state is underfunding county programs, it says.

Furthermore, the  association says the proposed legislation does not require the state to cover additional local costs.

Costs are expected to go up for counties but the actual amount is unknown and will depend on the results of the cost study that was commissioned by the Legislature, Bosworth said.

The cost study is expected to be released within months. The study will look to see if there are savings for treating 17-year-olds as adults.

Since potential costs are unknown, the impact on counties financially is unknown but rural and more northern counties could feel a larger burden, Bosworth said.

The Human Impact Partners, a national public policy research and advocacy group, studied juvenile facilities, adult facilities and community-based programming in Michigan. To house a youth in a juvenile facility costs nearly $179,000 a year while to house a youth in an adult facility it costs just over $40,000 per year.

The counties are worried they won’t be able to adequately fund the transition of prisoners from the adult system to the juvenile system and afford the higher costs of the juvenile system.

Advocates are adamant that the age for adult prisons needs to be raised. Michigan is one of only five states in which the age to be tried as an adult is not 18..

Kids who commit crimes need rehabilitation at a facility equipped to handle their developmental status and recognizes they are not adults, Guevara-Warren said.

“In other parts of our laws, 17-year-olds aren’t old enough to vote, they’re not legally old enough to drop out of school, they’re not old enough to buy fireworks,” Guevara Warren said.

Other reasons to raise the age stem from the more supportive treatment of young people in juvenile systems, which allows them to stay in touch with families and communities.

“It’s designed to help young people with their education and to provide treatment and rehabilitation,” Feierman said. “When the juvenile justice system is really working well, it is an intervention that helps young people. The criminal justice system just isn’t designed to fulfill those goals.”

The battle over raising the age, however, is not about the policy implications but over how to pay for it.

Feierman and Guevara Warren said states are recognizing the age raise is better policy and better financially in the long run.

“Youth prosecuted as adults earn 40 percent less over their lifetime than youth in the juvenile justice system which translates in a loss of state tax revenue and economic productivity,” Guevara Warren said.

Fantasy sports websites may have to pay for state license

Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan could join 16 states in regulating fantasy sports that offer cash prizes.

Bills that have been approved in committee seek to clarify fantasy sports as a dominantly skill-based game exempt from gambling laws. Right now they are unregulated in Michigan — anyone can sponsor a league and anyone can play.

The bills would bar anyone under 18 from playing the games and bar contests from being based on youth sports, high school sports or college sports. They also would  require operators of the games, including FanDuel and DraftKings, to apply for a license to operate in the state.

A license would cost $5,000 and have an annual $1,000 renewal fee.

The attorney general has not labeled fantasy sports gambling.

The bills, put forward by Sens. Curtis Hertel Jr., D-East Lansing, and Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, label fantasy sports as a game of skill, not gambling. They passed the Senate Regulatory Reform Committee 7-0 and were recommended to the Senate floor without amendment.

Hertel testified before the  committee on Oct. 11, saying he felt the games needed regulation to avoid a ruling by the attorney general and to avoid potentially having more than a million residents breaking the law. If the attorney general decides the games are gambling, they would be regulated by the gambling laws.

Players select fake teams of real life athletes and compete against each other. Points are awarded based on the real-life athletes’ statistics collected in the game that day or week. Winners of the leagues often receive monetary prizes.

Skill games are based on strategy and knowledge of the game. Fantasy sports could be considered skill-based because players have to research the athletes, the team they play for and allocate money properly to craft the right team.

Supporters of daily fantasy sports say the games are skill-based as it takes a certain level of knowledge to consistently craft winning teams.

“It is a difficult skill to allocate assets and choose which players have the best chance of success, similar to how a pro sports team general manager does the same thing,” said Marc LaVorgna, a press representative for DraftKings and FanDuel, the two main daily for-profit fantasy sports websites.

LaVorgna also provided real-world sports as an example of skill-based decisions, as real sports executives must make decisions on which players will be beneficial to team goals.

“It’s about making decisions on a consistent basis that give you the best chance at success,” he said.

Gambling-based games have to meet the criteria of prize, consideration and uncertain outcome in Michigan, said David Murley, deputy director of the Michigan Gaming Control Board. Prize is the reward given out to winners. Consideration is buying into the game, such as putting a dollar into a slot machine or buying a lottery ticket.

“What if something is a game of skill? Well, if there’s an uncertain outcome and it meets the other two things, then at least it would seem to fall in the broad definition of gambling,” Murley said.

Supporters of fantasy games argue that it’s a skill because its based on their knowledge of the sport, its players and the strategy of creating teams capable of scoring a lot of points.

The popularity of fantasy games has grown into daily fantasy sports in which players pay into the league that day. They construct teams under a salary cap where each real athlete costs a certain amount of money to be placed on a team.

Cash prizes are awarded to the winner based on the fees paid by the players that day. Two of the most popular websites for daily fantasy are FanDuel and DraftKings.

The Gaming Control Board hasn’t taken a position on whether fantasy sports are gambling or skill based.

But it’s not clear-cut, as elements of both skill and chance are at play.

“Sometimes it’s not easy to draw the line between where the skill ends and the chance begins,” Murley said.

According to Hertel’s testimony, approximately 1.6 million Michigan residents partake in some form of fantasy sports for cash. These bills would mean exemption from gambling laws, clarification over just where the games fall and regulation of the fantasy sports sites.

The bills call for the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs to conduct licensing.

The Gaming Control Board argues that it’s the best fit to manage the operation, however.

“This is our business,” Murley said. “We’re in this world. We know things about consumer protection, we know things about gaming payouts, we know about licensing these people and some of the issues we’re likely to see. We know about entities that are part of a larger enterprise.”

Murley said the gaming board is familiar with larger companies that own gaming divisions such as Dan Gilbert’s Greektown Casino in Detroit and the Ilitch family’s MotorCity Casino. With this knowledge, it argues it can better serve consumers.

“If we’re going to have this, then really this should go to the gaming control board,” Murley said.

Lawmakers want to shoot down Chinese lanterns


Capital News Service

LANSING — Americans celebrate holidays by sending things up.

But popular Chinese sky lanterns can kill livestock, strangle wildlife and cause fires, experts say.

Sky lanterns are made of paper, cloth and string. They use wires or bamboo for support. So-called fuel cells made of cardboard and wax allow them to float when lit.

They can soar more than a thousand feet and travel for more than a mile, depending on winds.

And that makes them dangerous, said Rep. Henry Yanez, D-Sterling Heights.

Yanez, a former firefighter, has proposed legislation to roll back the state’s fireworks law and prohibit the lanterns. They’re already illegal in 29 states, including Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. Continue reading

Bill package aimed at bridging gender wage gap


Capital News Service

LANSING — When a Michigan woman asked why she didn’t get promoted over her male counterpart, her employer told her she didn’t need the raise, according to Rep. Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, who was told this story by a constituent.

Her less-experienced male colleague had a family to support, the employer said, while the woman employee’s husband made enough money for both of them.

This is a common sentiment among some of the state’s employers, said Mary Pollock, the government relations coordinator for the American Association of University Women of Michigan.

“Still, employers say a married woman doesn’t need to be paid what a married man gets paid,” Pollock said. “But that’s just not true anymore. Both are supporting families, and there are many single-parent households now.” Continue reading

Another legal lap ahead in horse pulling doping dispute?


Capital News Service

LANSING — It has taken five years, four judges and three rounds in a lawsuit to decide a doping scandal between a state horse pulling association and one of its members.

And it’s still not over. A fourth round is possible.

Many thought it was over after a three-judge Michigan Court of Appeals panel ruled in favor of a Chippewa County man accused of breaking competition rules.

The case started in 2012 when a horse owned by David Esslin of Goetzville, then a member of the Bear Lake-based Michigan Horse Pulling Association, tested positive for an illegal substance. Esslin was fined and suspended from the association.

Esslin fought the drugging allegations by suing the association, successfully, for thousands of dollars.

The association banned Esslin after the lawsuit. Esslin wanted back in, so he took the group to court, where a Clare County Circuit Court judge ordered his reinstatement. The group appealed the reinstatement but lost that battle as well, according to court documents. Continue reading