Maxwell Evans is a journalism major at Michigan State University. He enjoys telling stories about everyday people and their experiences in the cities they live in. He wants to work for a news outlet in Chicago to establish his career, before eventually breaking off and starting his own website.
LANSING — A proposal to ban people high on marijuana from possessing firearms is pending in the House, but some law enforcement experts say there are too many questions around how marijuana affects the body to make such a move. Bills sponsored by Rep. Jim Lilly, R-Park Township, would criminalize possessing a firearm if a person has more than two nanograms of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) per milliliter in their blood. THC is the chemical in marijuana that makes you high. Six states and Canada have set impaired driving thresholds for THC blood levels. None have set such limits on firearm possession, although the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2016 that a federal ban on gun sales to medical marijuana patients does not violate the Second Amendment.
LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s 2020 budget proposal would increase school funding by more than a half-billion dollars. The boost to the School Aid Fund would come from a proposed transfer of all higher education funding — which has in part relied on K-12 education dollars for almost a decade — back to the General Fund. The increase would provide an additional $235 million to foundation allowances, which is the state’s funding of basic classroom needs and daily operations. That amounts to $120 to $180 per student, with the largest increases going to districts with the lowest foundation allowances. Whitmer’s budget proposal also calls for an additional $120 million in special education funding, $102 million for at-risk students and $50 million for career and technical education.
LANSING — The state shortfall in funding a tuition waiver program for Native American students has more than doubled over the past decade, leaving universities to make up the growing difference. The North American Indian Tuition Waiver Program waives tuition and fees for eligible students attending public universities, community colleges and tribal colleges. Participants must be at least one-fourth Native American, enrolled in a federally recognized tribe and have been a Michigan resident for at least a year. The program is “imperative for our students to move forward” in their careers and lives, said Kerstine Bennington, the higher education specialist for the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. She would know — she’s a former program participant who used her waiver to attend Michigan State University.
LANSING — Lawmakers are weighing whether to exempt feminine hygiene products from sales and use taxes starting June 30. The “tampon tax” unjustly burdens people who menstruate, supporters say. Critics point to the possibility of $6.5 million in lost annual revenue, just to save approximately $5 per person in annual taxes if they used a box of tampons per month. In the House, bills to exempt taxes on these basic health necessities are sponsored by Reps. Brian Elder, D-Bay City, and Tenisha Yancey, D-Harper Woods.
LANSING — Fifteen years ago, “way before anyone knew” about the dangers of the PFAS chemicals within, the Walker Fire Department purchased a stash of firefighting foam from the Gerald R. Ford Airport in Grand Rapids to be used during training. Now, roughly 100 gallons of foam purchased from the airport — stored in plastic in an unused building — have nowhere to go, said Walker Fire Chief Bob Walker. That makes it crucial that a bill package to limit the use of PFAS-containing firefighting foams sets up a clear disposal mechanism for the materials, some fire chiefs say. PFAS chemicals are linked to cancer, immune system dysfunction and issues with child development, according to the National Institutes of Health. They were included in firefighting foams used on fuel or petroleum fires, said Pat Parker, the fire chief of the Grand Traverse Metro Emergency Services Authority.
LANSING — All Michigan public schools would be required to maintain a library and hire a certified librarian under three bills introduced just ahead of School Library Month in April. The bills — sponsored by Reps. Matt Koleszar, D-Plymouth; Darrin Camilleri, D-Brownstown Township; and Kristy Pagan, D-Canton — would also require schools to have a supervisor to monitor students in the librarian’s absence. They mirror a package introduced in 2018 that never made it out of the House Education Reform Committee. The proposal doesn’t allocate any money to bring schools into compliance, and every co-sponsor is a Democrat.
LANSING — Libraries must be protected from lawsuits if their employees administer opioid overdose-reversing drugs, say proponents of legislation that would do so. Naloxone — commonly known in nasal spray form as Narcan — is non-addictive and can completely reverse the effects of an overdose, said Larry Wagenknecht, the chief executive officer of the Michigan Pharmacists Association. The drug displaces the opioid from receptor sites on cells, meaning the opioid is still in the body but will no longer have an effect. The bill package, sponsored by Rep. Jason Sheppard, R-Temperance, would extend “Good Samaritan” legal protection to libraries when a staff member administers naloxone to someone they believe to be overdosing. Individual staff members are protected under the Good Samaritan laws, but not libraries as an institution.
LANSING — President Donald Trump’s proposed gutting of Great Lakes protection and cleanup funds for a third straight year has drawn frustration and eye-rolling from Michigan environmentalists. Trump proposed a $270 million cut to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative on March 11 for the 2020 fiscal year, a 90 percent decrease over current levels. That’s a little better than his 2018 budget proposal to eliminate it completely before proposing an identical 90 percent cut the following year. Organizations relying on that funding take the continued threats seriously, said Sean Hammond, the deputy policy director of the Michigan Environmental Council. But after two years of congressional pushback and a failure to make the cuts, the attacks on the initiative are getting old.
LANSING — For Michiganders struggling with food insecurity, mobile food pantries are just one way to increase access to healthy foods, as a network of agencies works to bolster education and expand food services in hard-to-reach regions. Mobile pantries are a logical step in the fight against hunger in rural Michigan, said Lauren Spangler, the grants and communication manager for Feeding America West Michigan, a nonprofit food bank based in Comstock Park. Fixed-location pantries account for about 60 percent of the organization’s annual distribution. But mobile pantries increase access by bringing food to the people who need it, rather than the other way around, Spangler said. “Certainly fixed pantries are useful,” she said.
LANSING — An ongoing state push to save money and increase efficiency by closing or reorganizing district courts has some legal experts questioning if now is the time to cut services for underserved populations. Michigan has seen a net reduction of 34 judgeships for a savings of $29.3 million to the state since the State Court Administrative Office recommended “right-sizing” the judiciary eight years ago. Next up for closure: The 95A District Court in Menominee County, if Judge Jeffrey Barstow retires as planned on March 31. A 2012 law required the closure whenever the court’s judgeship became vacant. Whether the Menominee court, facing a caseload unforeseen in 2012, will close is uncertain.