State Senate: Make February about taking care of you


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.

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Michigan lags in solitary confinement reform


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

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.
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Bill would repeal abortion insurance restriction

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.
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Former city attorney loses appeal in Inkster discrimination case


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.
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No immediate action planned on sexual orientation bill


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.

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Food benefits program to get new fraud detection system


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.

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Tooth decay widespread, but so is the war against it


Capital News Service

LANSING – One of the greatest health risks for Michigan children is right under their noses.

Photo from the Michigan League for Public Policy

Photo from the Michigan League for Public Policy

Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease for children, said Angela Minicuci, public information officer of the Michigan Department of Community Health.

More than half of all third graders—58 percent—have some tooth decay, according to the Department of Community Health, and 25 percent of those problems are left untreated.

Dentists are distributing toothbrushes and educational materials in schools to students and teachers during February, said Tom Kochheiser, director of public affairs for the Michigan Dental Association, because it is National Children’s Oral Health month. Tooth decay is a big issue afflicting children, even though it is preventable through regular brushing, flossing and a healthy diet, Kochheiser said.

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Racial disparities in adoption raise concerns


Capital News Service

LANSING – Decades later, Rhonda Roorda still becomes emotional.

“Sometimes I still feel the trauma of knowing that but for the grace of God, I could have aged out of the foster care system,” said Roorda, an African-American woman who was adopted by a white couple in 1971. “I could have fallen through the cracks.”

Adoption table

As of 2010, an African-American child in Michigan was more likely to be waiting for adoption than to become adopted. Source: North American Council on Adoptable Children.

The most recent national data by the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System suggests that many of these cracks in the foster care system are shrinking. The total number of children entering foster care has decreased by 18 percent since 2007. Fewer children are waiting for adoption placement. The average length of stay in the foster care system is decreasing.

But statistics also show that Roorda’s old fears are many children’s realities: The system can still be a struggle, particularly for older children and African-American children of any age.

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Removing barriers for gays could boost state economy


Capital News Service

LANSING – Discrimination against gays and lesbians hurts Michigan’s economy, according to a new report by the Department of Civil Rights.

Emily Dievendorf, director of policy for Equality Michigan, said that reducing widespread discrimination will improve the economy because more people are likely to live and work in a state that promotes tolerance.

“Bright, skilled workers no longer flock to a location just because a business puts down roots,” Dievendorf said. “The best and the brightest are most attracted to communities that are also safe and open to all families.
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