State laying plans to put new criminal justice laws to work

By LAINA STEBBINS

Capital News Service

LANSING — For the 18 criminal justice revamp bills signed by Gov. Rick Snyder last month, the next step is making the changes necessary throughout Michigan’s criminal justice system to spur them into action.

The updates to the state’s criminal justice system as a whole are meant to signal an emphasis on prisoner rehabilitation, as well as reducing recidivism and streamlining the system. This mostly involves incorporating more evidence-driven programs, or initiatives that have proved successful elsewhere.

Most of the bills will take effect on June 28.  Several of the bills will take effect starting Jan. 1, 2018.

Chris Gautz, a communications officer for the Department of Corrections, said the framework is being laid for a number of the new changes – especially those involving more complex issues and systems. Continue reading

Local governments applaud Legislature’s proposed revenue-sharing boost

By LAINA STEBBINS

Capital News Service

LANSING — Proposed increases to Gov. Rick Snyder’s recommended budget for revenue sharing marks a welcome shift for cities, villages, townships and counties, which say they have not seen this part of their funding change for years despite great need for additional money.

Despite numerous cuts elsewhere to Snyder’s budget, Republicans in the House and Senate want the numbers for revenue sharing to local governments to be higher. They have proposed increases in the overall revenue-sharing budget of 5 percent and 1 percent, respectively, which has been met with praise from Michigan associations of local government units.

The revenue sharing program takes a portion of sales tax revenues collected by the Treasury and distributes those funds to local governments. The sales tax currently stands at 6 percent. Continue reading

Try 17-year-olds as juveniles, report suggests

By LAURA BOHANNON

Capital News Service

LANSING — Raising the age of juvenile offenders by a year could reduce crime, cost little, and lead to better lives for thousands of young people, a recent report concludes.

In Michigan, 17-year-olds can be tried as adults in court. Washington, D.C.-based Justice Policy Institute Executive Director Marc Schindler said placing juveniles in adult detention centers can create problems, like kids committing more serious crimes more often after being incarcerated with adults.

Seven other states have recently raised the age for juveniles to be tried as adults to 18, and Schindler said those states have seen some benefits already.

Kids incarcerated in juvenile centers are less likely to continue committing crimes when they’re released, unlike kids incarcerated with adults, Schindler said. Continue reading

Midwives must be licensed under new law

By CAITLIN TAYLOR

Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan midwife associations were pleased when Gov. Rick Snyder signed new midwife licensing legislation into law at the beginning of the year.

Midwives are trained to assist women in childbirth. They help with delivery as well as provide prenatal and postpartum care. Michigan has 31 certified professional midwives currently registered with the state, according to the North American Registry of Midwives.

To further protect the safety of mothers, some midwifery advocates lobbied for such a licensing law for nearly six years, according to Stacia Proefrock, president of the Michigan Midwives Association and a certified professional midwife at Trillium Midwifery in Ypsilanti. Continue reading

Old dams threaten downstream life

By LAINA STEBBINS
Capital News Service

LANSING — Since Michiganders drive on them every day, roads and bridges are often the first things that come to mind when it comes to the condition of Michigan’s infrastructure. Less visible – but just as hazardous if not properly maintained – are the state’s 2,500 dams.

Just as deteriorating roads and bridges can cause significant damage, aging dams in high-hazard locations have the potential to do great harm to the environment and to human life.

The Otsego Township Dam on the Kalamazoo River is one such dam. It’s in poor condition and located in an area that would see serious consequences if the dam were to collapse. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Keith Creagh said his department is removing the dam in conjunction with the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Continue reading

Giving new life to road kill

By KAREN HOPPER USHER

Capital News Service

LANSING — Taxidermy is about movement.

Dead animals will never again do so much as twitch a tail feather. But it’s up to the taxidermist to make it look like an animal is suspended in action, frozen as it turns or soars or strikes.

Jonathan Wright is pretty good at it.

The 32-year-old native of Mesick is a past world champion of taxidermy and is the go-to taxidermist for the Lakeshore Museum Center in Muskegon.

“I can’t say enough good things about Jonathan Wright,” said Krista Menacher, the museum’s exhibit curator.

That relationship between Wright and the museum started in 2014 with a snowy owl road kill.

Wings of Wonder, a raptor sanctuary and rehabilitation program in Empire, and the museum sprang into action to extend the dead bird’s life in another way: through taxidermy. Continue reading

Cows and deer that share salt might also share disease

By BEN MUIR

Capital News Service

LANSING — A popular source of nutrition for cattle is a potential site for transferring disease, according to a recent study.

Salt blocks are potential transmitters of tuberculosis from cow to deer and vice versa, said John Kaneene, the lead researcher of a study by Michigan State University’s Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health.

The blocks are commonly placed in pastures for cattle to lick. At night, deer can enter the field and lick the same salt.

The study found that if a deer or cow is infected, it can leave that disease on the salt block for the next animal to eat.

“It’s a big finding,” said Kaneene, who is an epidemiology professor at MSU. “We kept on saying, ‘Despite all these efforts, why are we having repeated infections on these cattle farms?’ That’s how we came to salt blocks.” Continue reading

Do Michigan lawmakers know enough about the law?

By LAURA BOHANNON

Capital News Service

LANSING — Legislators work every day to make and amend laws, but how many have a background in the field

Thirteen lawmakers — of 148 in both House and Senate — have worked as lawyers, according to the State Bar of Michigan. That accounts for less than 10 percent of the Legislature. It’s a slight drop from 17 lawyer-legislators in 2013-14, and 22 a decade ago.

Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, is one of the 13 lawyers currently serving, and he said he believes more lawyers should be roaming the Capitol.

“You don’t need a prerequisite to be a lawmaker,” Lucido said. “There is no formal education, there is no formal training. There is no expectation other than to come up to the State House, attend your committees and to vote out bills from committee to the floor.” Continue reading

Public child support calculator can reduce conflict

By ISAAC CONSTANS

Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan has launched a free child support calculator to help parents determine what their unique child care responsibilities are.

The public online tool, which existed earlier through several private websites, lets parents enter a number of variables into the state formula for child support and returns a payment estimate. The result is the same as would be determined by Department of Health and Human Services staff although missing or misentered figures could lead to variations.

State officials said they hoped the calculator would help reduce the conflict between parents that can come from child support settlements, helping both parents understand how support payments are determined and improving the chance for dependable and prompt payments. Continue reading