It’s time to prioritize Michigan roads, transportation chair says

By LAURA BOHANNON

Capital News Service

LANSING — In light of a recent study detailing Michigan’s road needs, some legislators say they’re hoping to see roads become a bigger priority for the state.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, said transportation is his main focus, and roads are a major issue.

“The two things that my constituents bring up the most are insurance and roads,” Cole said.

A recent study by TRIP, a Washington, D.C.-based transportation research group, concluded that Michigan’s roads require more than the increased funding they’re getting, or else they may deteriorate further. Continue reading

Assisted suicide bill introduced — again

By CHAO YAN

Capital News Service

LANSING — Earlier this month, Rep. Tom Cochran recalls, a Michigan resident approached him during a coffee hour to tell him her family was moving to Oregon.

The woman’s father suffers from cancer, and when the time is right, he wants to be able to choose to die painlessly using lethal drugs with the aid of a doctor, Cochran said.

That’s a right the man will have in Oregon that he doesn’t have in Michigan.

“Her story is tragic,” said Cochran, a Mason Democrat. “It’s a topic we need to have discussion on, and it has been around for a long time.” Continue reading

Book reveals history of Detroit’s forgotten streetcars

By IAN WENDROW

Capital News Service

LANSING — Detroit once was home to the world’s largest municipally owned streetcar enterprise, an industry with a history stretching from the city’s early founding through the 1950s.

Now a new book, “The Thirty-Year War: The History of Detroit Streetcars, 1892-1922” by Neil Lehto, provides an in-depth look at the origins and development of that public transportation system.

Lehto is an attorney representing Michigan townships and villages in cases involving public utilities, with a focus on telecommunications. Before he was a lawyer, Lehto cut his teeth working for a Royal Oak newspaper while attending Wayne State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

The combination of municipal law and journalism fueled his desire to write the book.

“I had the occasion to write an article about the renewal of the Detroit Edison franchise in the city of Berkeley,” said Lehto, who lives there. “And I became curious about public utility franchises and their regulation because it seems to be kind of peculiar.” Continue reading

State Senate: Make February about taking care of you

By CAITLIN TAYLOR

Capital News Service

LANSING — If taking time for yourself often feels like an impossible task, now you have a reason to be a little more selfish.

A  Senate resolution promoting healthy lifestyle choices was adopted at the end of January. Introduced by Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, the resolution recognizes February 2017 as Self Care Month.

The resolution’s sponsors include Sens. Darwin Booher, R-Evart; Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage; John Proos, R-St. Joseph; and Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City.

According to the resolution, self-care is a lifelong commitment to good hygiene practices, monitoring changes in health, knowing when to consult a healthcare practitioner and preventing infection and illness.

While there are many types of self-care, the resolution highlights knowing when it is appropriate to self-treat physical health conditions with over-the-counter medications.

Schuitmaker said Perrigo, an over-the-counter pharmaceutical company in Allegan, asked her to propose Self Care Month.

Continue reading

Michigan lags in solitary confinement reform

By RAY WILBUR

Capital News Service

LANSING — Prison reform advocates worry that the lack of policies for solitary confinement in Michigan prisons has exacerbated violence and mental health problems among inmates.

Michigan has no age or time limits for putting inmates in administrative segregation,  commonly known as solitary confinement. And while almost half the states ban solitary confinement for juveniles, Michigan does not.

“We need to have some sort of blanket reform here,” said Kristen Staley, deputy director of the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency. “This is a big fight, but it has to happen.”

Some prisons have tried to reduce the use of solitary, said Staley. But that patchwork change is slow and that makes it ineffective. Continue reading

Michigan prepares for Syrian refugees

By ROHITHA EDARA
Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan nonprofit organizations are preparing for an influx of Syrian refugees after the U.S. Senate rejected a bill that would stop them from entering the country.

“We are expecting a new wave of refugees, especially that of Syrians,” said Ken Fouty, community outreach coordinator at Lutheran Social Services of Michigan based in Detroit. “We anticipate that it will happen in the summer.”

About 100 Syrian refugees were resettled by his organization in 2015. It is prepared to take about 300 more in response to the refugee crisis in Syria, he said.
Continue reading

Bill would repeal abortion insurance restriction

By BROOKE KANSIER
Capital News Service

LANSING — A controversial Michigan abortion law could be repealed if a Democrat-led measure succeeds in the state Senate.

The Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act of 2013 requires women and employers to purchase an additional insurance rider — an add-on to their current plan — to be covered for abortions.

Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., the East Lansing Democrat who introduced the legislation earlier this year, said the law is an unfair burden on women.
Continue reading

Former city attorney loses appeal in Inkster discrimination case

By ERIC FREEDMAN

Capital News Service

LANSING — A federal appeals court has rejected a racial discrimination suit by the former Inkster city attorney who claims officials in the predominantly African-American city replaced him because he’s white.

The 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that Milton Spokojny — who upset city council members by falling asleep at their meetings — failed to produce sufficient evidence that race was the reason he lost his long-time contract to provide legal services to Inkster, a city with a 73 percent black population.

He was city attorney for 29 years until 2011 when Inkster solicited bids and chose Allen Brothers Law Firm, a Detroit firm with an African-American attorney who became the city attorney.
Continue reading

No immediate action planned on sexual orientation bill

By JORDAN BRADLEY

Capital News Service

LANSING—While leaders of the Republican majority in the Legislature say there will be no vote on the issue before the Nov. 3 election, Democrats have introduced a proposal to add sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.

The law already applies to discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on race, religion, sex, age, marital status, height and weight.

Sponsors of the Democrats’ bill include Sens. Rebekah Warren of Ann Arbor, Glenn Anderson of Westland, Steven Bieda of Warren, Virgil Smith of Detroit and Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing.

Continue reading

Food benefits program to get new fraud detection system

By ERIC FREEDMAN

Capital News Service

LANSING – Anti-fraud efforts by Michigan and other states should be ramped up to improve the integrity of the $73-billion-a-year Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP, a new federal report says.

The ability of states to detect, minimize and punish fraud has failed to keep up with the rapid expansion of the food benefits program for low-income individuals and households, according to the General Accountability Office (GAO), a nonpartisan investigatory arm of Congress.

At the same time, GAO said, “technology has provided new opportunities to commit as well as combat such fraud” in what was previously known as the food stamp program.
“For example, e-commerce and social media websites have emerged as new venues for trafficking benefits. Conversely, monitoring recipient transaction data may provide clues to potential SNAP fraud,” the report said.

Continue reading