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

Severe impact predicted in Michigan if new health care bill passes

By ISAAC CONSTANS

Capital News Service

LANSING — About 2.5 million Michiganders could lose health care coverage under the Republican-proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act, according to the Michigan League for Public Policy.

The study comes on the heels of a Congressional Budget Office projection that the recently introduced American Health Care Act(AHCA)  would cause 24 million people to lose their insurance over 10 years, while reducing the federal deficit by about $337 billion.

The Republican proposal jeopardizes the Healthy Michigan Plan, the Michigan Medicaid expansion that has insured 650,000 residents under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. The ACA would be repealed and replaced with the AHCA. 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

New Adrian representative is working for her community

By CAITLIN TAYLOR
Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

Optimism in urban communities over new brownfield legislation

By ISAAC CONSTANS
Capital News Service

LANSING– After passing through the Senate, legislation to help cities rebuild from urban decay has been met with enthusiasm, but also questions, in local communities.

The bills would provide tax relief for developers building on previously contaminated and blighted land, known as brownfields. Such projects have clean-up costs, and developers would not ordinarily undertake them without financial assistance, according to proponents.

Sen. Ken Horn, R-Frankenmuth, the primary sponsor for the package, said that communities could benefit greatly from the investments.

“When you develop economically in a community, you get people moving back in again,” Horn said. “So now you have a tax base, and you have people with higher expectations, so you have growth on that site and all around. You kind of regrow your city from the inside out.” Continue reading

Bill would “level playing field” in human trafficking cases

By LAURA BOHANNON
Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan ranks seventh nationally in reports of human trafficking, and a lawmaker wants to give prosecutors more tools to combat those crimes.

Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, has introduced a bill that would allow certified experts to testify about telltale signs of deviant social behavior demonstrated by human trafficking victims.

Bringing in experts to testify about a victim’s behavior allows judges and juries to receive informed opinion that the victim has, in fact, been subject to human trafficking.

Human trafficking is defined as forcing or deceiving a person to perform labor or a commercial sex act, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline website, which is run by Polaris, a nonprofit group fighting slavery. Continue reading

Educators debate Snyder’s proposed cyber school cuts

By ISAAC CONSTANS

Capital News Service

LANSING — Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed budget pledged more state money to education, but that doesn’t apply to all schools.

Under Snyder’s proposal, online charter school funding would be reduced to 80 percent of the per-pupil subsidy that physical schools receive.

About $22 million would be transferred from publicly funded cyber schools to conventional brick-and-mortar institutes, a foundation grant exchange that has created controversy among Michigan educators.  

“The notion is, does it cost the same when someone is taking a class virtually compared to someone who is taking a class in a brick-and-mortar school?” Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Whiston said in explaining the rationale for the funding differences. 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.
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