Criminal justice bills would define problems to help solve them

By LAINA STEBBINS

Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan’s recidivism rate is significantly higher than the national average. Or is it?

No one knows for sure, supporters of a criminal justice revamp package say, thanks to a lack of agreement among state agencies about which measurements to use in defining how often convicted criminals go on to commit future crimes. And that’s just one part of the problem.

A piece of legislation defining recidivism and how to calculate a rate is one of 20 bills in a package that supporters say would enhance the efficiency of Michigan’s criminal justice system. The package awaits approval from Gov. Rick Snyder after clearing the House and Senate with bipartisan support.

The bills would institute changes throughout the system: Reforms to data tracking, prison time, probation and parole policies, and reentry approaches are included. Continue reading

Bills would allow citizens to dine out with their dog

By CAITLIN TAYLOR

Capital News Service

LANSING — When dining out for dinner, who always seems to be missing? The lonely four-legged friend at home.

Bills proposed in the House and Senate are aiming to change this. Dogs would be allowed to dine with their owners at restaurants with outdoor patios.

As a pet owner, Sen. Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage, who re-introduced the bill in the Senate, said she understands the desire to spend time with your dog after working all day.

She also said there are people who like to travel in Michigan with their pets, but find it difficult when it comes time for a meal. Continue reading

Bill would extend domestic violence protections to pets

By CAITLIN TAYLOR
Capital News Service

LANSING — Americans take pride in treating their pets like members of the family, animal advocate Beatrice Friedlander says.

Usually this means lounging on the couch with the cat or slipping the dog scraps of food from the dinner table. But in dysfunctional or violent families, Friedlander said, animals that are treated like members of the family can become victims too.

Between 71 and 83 percent of women entering domestic violence shelters reported that their partners also abused or killed the family pet, according to the Humane Society of the U.S.

To increase protections for pets in abusive homes, Rep. Robert Kosowski, D-Westland, introduced an amendment to the state’s domestic violence law. The bill would classify harm or attempted harm to a household animal as domestic violence, and it would use state funding for further animal protections. Continue reading

Environmentalists wonder about impact of brownfield bills

By ISAAC CONSTANS
Capital News Service

LANSING– For once, many environmental advocates would rather that investors not go green.

Rather than developing new properties, environmentalists prefer brownfields sites that are contaminated and require clean-up. They say legislation that passed the Senate might encourage more urban redevelopment and less expansion outwards.

Under the proposal, five brownfield transformation projects would be eligible for tax benefits for decontaminating and preparing new structures on polluted land.

Whether in the form of grants or tax relief, such incentives are imperative to facilitate purchasing of brownfields, said Carrie Geyer, a supervisor of the Brownfield Redevelopment Unit of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Continue reading

Transgender youths defend their rights against bathroom bill

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

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

By CHAO YAN
Capital News Service

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

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

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

Bills would create 5-foot buffer for bicyclists

BY ISAAC CONSTANS

Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan roads could become slightly safer for bicyclists in the upcoming year.

Bills in the House and Senate would require drivers to give cyclists more breathing room and set specific standards for bicycle safety instruction in driver’s education courses.

Under one provision, cars would be required to give cyclists a 5-foot cushion when passing — a standard already enforced in many states and some Michigan localities. The second bill would require that driver’s education courses dedicate an hour to learning how to share the road with “vulnerable roadway users.”

Bicycling safety has been especially salient since a pickup truck plowed into a group of cyclists outside of Kalamazoo last June, killing five and seriously injuring four. The incident motivated Sen. Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage, to introduce the bills, which are cosponsored by Sen. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights.
Continue reading

Senate amendment would add LGBT to state hate crime law

By CAITLIN TAYLOR
Capital News Service

LANSING — Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, said he has felt compelled to include sexual orientation and gender identification in Michigan’s hate crime law since 2015, when eight gay men, including a friend of his, were targeted in Lansing.

“Two thugs found out eight different men were gay by going onto computer dating sites,” Jones said. “They beat these men bloody, tied and chained them up and robbed them. When they were captured, they made a confession to the police department that they hated gays and hope they die.”

A year later, Sen. Steven Bieda, D-Warren, introduced an amendment to Michigan’s hate crime law — cosponsored by Jones — to include additional penalties for crimes motivated by a victim’s sexual orientation and gender identification. It never got a hearing.

On Feb. 8, Bieda re-introduced the amendment, cosponsored by Jones, Sen. Tory Rocca, R-Sterling Heights, and seven Democrats. State and local LGBT advocates are praising the bipartisan group of senators who support the legislation.   Continue reading

Michigan universities offer help for undocumented students

By CHAO YAN

Capital News Service

LANSING — Several public university officials in Michigan said they will continue to work to keep tuition rates lower and campuses friendly for undocumented students, even as the federal government launches policies that are viewed as unfriendly to many immigrants.

President Donald Trump ordered the construction of a Mexican border wall on Jan. 25 and is expected to curtail immigration, which has caused stress among undocumented students.

In 2012, President Barack Obama launched the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which granted undocumented immigrants work permits and temporary residency, a status that must be renewed every two years.

As of September 2016, Michigan had nearly 11,000 approved DACA recipients and was ranked 24th in the nation, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Continue reading

Judge rejects challenge to Leelanau trail

By ERIC FREEDMAN

Capital News Service

LANSING — Opponents of a segment of the 27-mile non-motorized Leelanau Scenic Heritage Route Trailway have lost a court challenge to the planned route.

U.S. District Judge Gordon Quist rejected a suit by the Little Traverse Lake Property Owners Association, which claimed the National Park Service failed to fully disclose and analyze environmental impacts of the segment along the north side of Traverse Lake Road in Cleveland and Centerville townships.

The challengers, who own land on the south side of the road, also claim the National Park Service didn’t adequately analyze alternative routes and used incomplete or misleading data. Continue reading

Bill would define drone misdemeanors

By RAY WILBUR

Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan drone operators are split on how a Senate bill aimed at regulating the use of their unmanned aerial vehicles could impact their work.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Pete MacGregor, R-Rockford, would clarify that commercial and recreational drone flight is subject to federal rules, enforced by the Federal Aviation Administration. It would also authorize the use of state misdemeanor penalties for things like privacy violations and establish a task force to recommend whether other state restrictions are needed.

The legislation is co-sponsored by Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City.

While some drone operators see the bill as clarifying guidelines for hobbyists and other operators, others say it creates unneeded regulation, interrupting the work they do. Continue reading