Nick is a journalism student at Michigan State University concentrating in public affairs. He is a fall 2018 correspondent for Capital News Service, serving Mining Journal (Marquette), Sault Ste. Marie Evening News, St. Ignace News, Bay Mills, Herald Review and Petoskey News-Review.
LANSING — Before the end of the year, Michigan lawmakers will take up some of the most controversial bills that would:
Delay the minimum wage hike of $12 per hour until 2030 instead of 2022. Exempt employers with less than 50 employees from having to provide paid sick leave. Make provisions to the anti-gerrymandering constitutional amendment that passed in November
Move oversight responsibilities on a proposed tunnel to house the Line 5 oil pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac
Bar state agencies from disclosing information about nonprofit supporters and donors. Remove regulations from 70,000 wetlands statewide. Alter same-day and automatic voting registration standards that passed in November.
LANSING — More veterans are working as correctional officers in Michigan prisons, thanks to a recent state program designed to recruit them. Of the 13,500 employees in the Department of Corrections, nearly 20 percent are military veterans, including 150 who were hired since the program began last year, said Darrick Alvarez, the veterans liaison for the department.
All applicants must complete at least 30 college credit hours in a relevant field, such as psychology, criminal justice, social work or law enforcement to be eligible for employment. However, veterans who have completed basic training and two years of military service are required to complete only 15 credits. The change was made last year to boost military applicants to a department that already has many of them.
LANSING — A trio of bills that would legalize and regulate online gambling from a smartphone or computer is awaiting a vote in the Senate before year’s end.
If the Senate approves, the state’s three commercial casinos and 24 tribal casinos could set up online platforms for players to gamble through. That includes sports betting, poker, blackjack and any online version of games offered at the casinos. Michiganders would be able to gamble on college and even high school sports, if a casino chooses. Supporters say it could boost state revenues.
LANSING — A statewide jobs training program that links community colleges with local employers is in danger of ending if is funding mechanism is not renewed by the end of the year
The Michigan New Jobs Training Program is used by 21 of the state’s 28 community colleges and has served 193 employers since its creation in 2008. Supporters of what many view as a successful program are puzzled by what they see as a mixed message from lawmakers. Extending the program should not have any significant fiscal impact to the state, according to the House Fiscal Agency. “Everything at the state level is about the urgency of job creation and job training,” said Marguerite Cotto, the vice president for lifelong and professional learning at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City. “If the need is so great, why take a relatively simple tool and close it out?”
The way the program works is that a company sends new employees to be trained at a participating community college at no cost to the company.
LANSING — Small manufacturers in the Upper Peninsula are getting state help to attack some of the highest electric rates in the nation. The Michigan Agency for Energy is offering rebates of up to $10,000 to U.P. manufacturers with fewer than 50 employees for energy waste reduction. The application process remains open until the $75,000 for the program is awarded. Facility repairs, insulation installation, leak detection and energy efficiency training are among the things companies can apply to do, said Nick Assendelft, a public information and media relations specialist for the agency. “It’s a quick and relatively easy way to save on your utility bills and that of course helps your bottom line,” Assendelft said.
LANSING — All of the roadside parks in the Upper Peninsula and most in the northernmost region of the Lower Peninsula closed for the winter at the end of October, with state officials citing budget constraints and harsh weather as the reasons. The state has 85 roadside parks located primarily along rural highways, including 32 in the U.P. and 15 in the northern Lower Peninsula. The roadside parks double as rest areas, catering primarily to long-distance travelers by offering a safe space to pull over and view or explore scenic spots. Every park is also equipped with a bathroom and water fountain. “They provide convenience spots to stop, get out and stretch your legs, see some nice scenery and take advantage of the amenities,” said Dan Weingarten, the communications representative for the Department of Transportation (MDOT) Superior Region.
LANSING — An overhaul of the state’s bail system to focus more on a person’s individual case and legal history rather than the ability to pay is being pushed by legislators and criminal justice reform advocates. People charged with crimes must pay their bail directly to the court. If they are unable to afford the bail set, they are detained in county jail, possibly until trial. The bail system has been used historically to ensure defendants show up for their court date. “That’s a period of time where you’re not going to your job, not earning money, not able to care for your kids,” said John Cooper, the associate director of policy and research at Safe & Just Michigan, a nonprofit organization that focuses on criminal justice reform.
LANSING — Michigan electric utilities in 2016 generated nearly 1.5 million tons of coal ash, a waste material that can threaten water with arsenic, lead and mercury, according to a recent report. The toxic ash is often placed in landfills and waste ponds next to power plants and can contaminate nearby groundwater, according to a Michigan Environmental Council study of data reported for the first time this fall by the state’s 13 coal-fired power plants. Federal air quality standards in 2015 required utilities to monitor groundwater near their coal ash ponds and publicly post the data. That data was released by individual utilities last January. “For decades, utilities were essentially allowed to dump this toxic coal ash sludge — which has mercury, arsenic, lead and a whole host of other toxic metals in it — next to coal plants,” said Charlotte Jameson, the author of the report.
LANSING — Hundreds of school districts across the state have applied for a school safety grant to reinforce buildings and improve security systems — so many that the funding requested is almost triple what the state is offering. The Legislature approved $25 million for the Competitive School Safety Grant Program in June. Schools have applied for almost $70 million from the program administered by the State Police, said Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell Township, who had pushed for the funding. More than 400 schools applied for grants before the Sept. 13 deadline.