Wild rice, once common, may return to Michigan

By KAREN HOPPER USHER

Capital News Service

Wild rice, or manoomin, is a traditional food for many Native Americans. Image: Barb Barton

Wild rice, or manoomin, is a traditional food for many Native Americans. Image: Barb Barton

LANSING — After decades of leaving wild rice management to Native American tribes, state officials are gearing up to track how some government agencies handle wild rice issues.

Wild rice, or manoomin, is a seed that is a traditional food for many Native Americans. The plant grows in shallow water, and wild rice stands are peppered in various, often hush-hush, locations throughout the state.

A misconception exists that wild rice was never important in Michigan, said Barb Barton, an endangered species consultant from Lansing who is writing a book about wild rice in Michigan. Continue reading

State works to improve payments to county child care programs

By ALEXANDER SMITH

Capital News Service

LANSING — Delays in paying for programs that help troubled youth are prompting an overhaul of how the state reimburses county courts for the services.

The Child Care Fund reimburses half of county court expenses for programs that support abused, neglected and delinquent youth.

A recent state audit disclosed slow payments but also said some of them may be ineligible for reimbursement — even though counties’ budgets had previous approval.

“If the state can’t uphold a budget it approved, kids and courts suffer,” said Eric Stevens, administrator of the Muskegon County Circuit Court. Continue reading

Old voting machines come with a cost

By RAY WILBUR

Capital News Service

LANSING — When Michigan voters cast ballots Nov. 8, they’ll be lining up at voting machines that may be 15 years old in some places.

County clerks and election officials say they hope for updated equipment by 2017, or at least by the time voters decide on Michigan’s new governor in 2018. But they say voters this November could face machine crashes and long wait times caused by the aging equipment.

Already Michigan ranks 46th in the nation for how much time the average voter will take to cast a ballot, according to a Massachussetts Institute of Technology study.

Old machines don’t threaten the security and safety of elections, said Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum. Because they are so old, someone would have to physically break into a voting machine to steal the votes. Continue reading

Park, shop and nest in new downtown buildings

By BRIDGET BUSH

Capital News Service

LANSING—Medium-sized cities looking for ways to expand parking in cramped downtowns are turning to mixed-use structures that combine retail and housing with parking.

The Holland City Council is considering a proposal from Burton Katzman, an Ann Arbor developer, and Rockford Construction of Grand Rapids, to buy a surface parking lot and replace it with a parking ramp wrapped by apartments. The council agreed to take the proposal under advisement.

The city council hosted an open house recently for 10 to 15 developers, residents and merchants to gauge the public’s reaction, said Joel Dye, the director of community and neighborhood services. Continue reading

Michigan towns trying to catch up on broadband expansion

By RAY WILBUR

Capital News Service

LANSING — Small towns across the state are eyeing ways to build their own utilities that boast high-speed internet reliability and better access for residents than traditional internet providers.

They face one challenge: the cost.

Fiber optic internet is faster than normal cable internet. It is less likely to crash during a power outage and isn’t affected by geography such as sand dunes or hills.

Counties, cities and townships, especially where cable internet is inadequate, have begun to implement such systems, said Eric Frederick, executive director of Connect Michigan, a nonprofit organization that promotes broadband expansion across the state. Continue reading

Good Samaritan bill expected to be signed into law

By RAY WILBUR

Capital News Service

LANSING — Two pills and a night in December of 2014 changed the lives of one Michigan family and in turn spawned an effort to help families affected by drug overdose deaths across the state.

Mason Mizwicki, 16, of Watervliet, died of a methadone overdose on New Year’s Day of 2015 after a party with friends. Mizwicki took two methadone pills that had been provided by a woman hosting the party.

Methadone is an opioid medication administered to reduce withdrawal symptoms in people addicted to heroin.

When he began having a seizure, his friends did nothing. They were too afraid to call the police for fear of criminal charges.

Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to sign into law a bill that would address tragic scenarios like Mizwicki’s by exempting people who call law enforcement agencies for help in an overdose situation from facing criminal charges. Continue reading

Bill to reduce zero-tolerance policies in schools has bipartisan support

BY CAITLIN DeLUCA

Capital News Service

LANSING — A bill aimed at reducing the number of suspensions and expulsions of students in Michigan schools could move to the Senate floor soon.

In Michigan, a zero-tolerance policy covers a plethora of situations in schools, including physical violence, possession of any weapon, tobacco, alcohol and bomb or similar threats.

That means that a student who commits any of those behaviors must be suspended or expelled for at least a year. The mandatory punishment leaves the schools’ hands tied.

The bill would remove mandatory suspensions or expulsions for some of these misbehaviors. It would exclude firearms, which are included in a zero-tolerance policy mandated by the federal government.

The bill would leave the decision up to the district, where administrators would have to consider factors such as age, history of discipline, disability and intent of the action. Continue reading

Rescued food feeds the poor

By KAREN HOPPER USHER

Capital News Service

LANSING — Trucks carrying some 40,000 tons of cherries will drop them off this month in Cadillac to fill food bank shelves in West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

It’s part of a statewide effort to reduce food waste and put it to use feeding poor people.

“The state is one of the winners when hunger comes off the table,” said Phil Knight, executive director of the Food Bank Council of Michigan.

Flawed and ideal vegetables are held back from the grocer’s shelves and your dinner plate. Industry marketing agreements among growers mean some ideal or “type one” fruits and vegetables are not sold during years where the harvest is strong. Doing so, growers say, stabilizes the price of the crop and makes it easier to survive the lean years when the harvest isn’t as bountiful. Continue reading

Waters rise, gas prices drop and boats boom in summer 2016

By BRIDGET BUSH

Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan boating boomed this summer as water levels reached near-record highs, gas prices stayed low and the weather invited people to cruise, said boating experts across the state.

New models helped increase boat shop traffic, said Nick Polan, executive director of the Michigan Boating Industries Association. Low interest rates made financing more feasible than in years following the 2008 recession.

That spurred sales in an industry known for owners who hold onto their boats for decades, Polan said. It was “the seventh consecutive year of expansion for the state’s marine economy.”
And it’s not just sales that are up. “Looper” traffic at his marina is up 200 percent compared to previous years, according to Mike Thoma, the harbor master of the Grand Haven Municipal Marina. A looper is a boater who embarks on the “Great Loop,” a 6,000 to 7,500 mile inland water trek that can take a year to complete. “The last week of August through the third week of September marks the usual timeframe for looper season in Western Michigan,” Thoma said. Continue reading

Pesticide levels in rivers may threaten fish, insects

By ERIC FREEDMAN

Capital News Service

LANSING — Pesticides, mostly from agricultural runoff and yard use, remain a concern for fish and insects in many of the country’s streams and rivers, warns a national study based in part on research done in Michigan.

Although levels of pesticides usually didn’t exceed benchmarks for human health, their potential to harm aquatic life is likely underestimated, according to a recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey, part of the U.S. Interior Department.

That’s because the agency can afford to monitor “less than half of the more than 400 pesticides currently used in agriculture, and monitoring focused only on pesticides dissolved in water.”
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