Jeremy Wahr is a fall 2018 correspondent for Capital News Service, primarily serving Holland Sentinel, Crawford County Avalanche, Grand Rapids Business Journal, (Greenville) Daily News, Ludington Daily News and Manistee News Advocate.
LANSING — Prisoners are better behaved and more of them get high school equivalency diplomas when they use computer tablets, according to the Department of Corrections. Prisoners tend to behave better to avoid having their tablet privileges revoked and because they are occupied by their contents, said Heidi Washington, director for the Michigan Department of Corrections. “These tablets also serve as a great way to manage prisoners,” Washington said. “Overall, the use of the tablets has led to a drop in misbehavior.”
And they have significant educational value which can reduce the likelihood of a return to prison. The program targets young prisoners, women and prisoners in maximum security, Washington said.
LANSING — Veterans using food stamps in Michigan may lose them under the proposed federal Farm Bill, experts say. The legislation, renewed every 5 years, regulates national forestry, agriculture and nutrition policy — including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP or food stamps. The most recent version of the Farm Bill expired in September. Congress is set to take up the update soon. Under the proposed updated work requirements, some veterans who use food stamps would not qualify for them, said Julie Cassidy, a senior policy analyst for the Michigan League for Public Policy.
LANSING — A bill that would require funding for outside tutors in elementary and middle schools is unlikely to pass, but the group will continue to receive funding from the state on a year-by-year basis. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, would have guaranteed an unspecified amount of funding to reading and mathematics instructors from the Michigan Education Corps, an initiative that uses tutors to help struggling students. The bill passed without opposition by the Senate, but it is unlikely to see further action, said Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw, who chairs the House Education Reform Committee where it was sent. The program already receives appropriations and it doesn’t need to be put into law, Kelly said. The Education Corps is a group of trained professionals who assist teachers, Hansen said.
LANSING — High school students who train for the tech industry gain improved computer literacy and higher wages, state officials say. They are also likely to pass advanced placement computer exams, according to the Talent and Economic Development Department. The agency promotes the Technology Education and Literacy in Schools program that pairs tech industry professionals with high school teachers to prepare students for technology careers. The program has 21 schools, 59 volunteers and 33 tech companies participating this year in Michigan. The four classes offered under the program are: Introduction to Computer Sciences, AP Computer Sciences A, AP Computer Science Principles and Advanced Topics and Projects in Computer Science.
LANSING– Want to determine the future of Michigan’s representation in Lansing and Washington? You have until June of 2020 to volunteer to serve on the state’s new redistricting commission that voters approved Nov. 6. The commission members will be selected randomly, said Elizabeth Battiste, an account executive at Martin Waymire, a public relations firm that represented the group that pushed for Proposal 2. Applications will be sent to 10,000 registered voters from diverse geographic and ethnic backgrounds.
LANSING — An annual update to state agriculture practices could allow for farms to be built anywhere, critics say. But supporters of the update say that is untrue and that the proposal simplifies building procedures for many existing farms and that could lead to more agricultural business. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is expected to approve changes to the practices that protect farmers from lawsuits, said Catherine Mullhaupt, staff attorney for the Michigan Townships Association. The practices, known as Generally Accepted Agricultural Management Practices, are rules that farmers must follow to receive protection under Michigan’s Right to Farm Act, Mullhaupt said. They are voluntary, but if farmers do not follow them, they are vulnerable to lawsuits.
LANSING — A proposal that would change how the federal government categorizes immigrants receiving public assistance could hurt the Michigan economy, advocates say. The Department of Homeland Security wants to expand its definition of immigrants considered “public charges,” or those likely to receive their subsistence from government programs. The department can deny immigrants legal status if they are considered public charges. The Michigan League for Public Policy estimates that at least $92 million will be cut from federal aid to the state, at least $175 million will be lost from the economy and that 1,193 jobs will be lost because of this rule. Michigan has 632,482 immigrants, according to the League. The only benefits that cause an immigrant to be a public charge right now are cash assistance and long-term government health care.
LANSING — Childhood poverty in Michigan has decreased in recent years, but people living near the poverty line still face many hardships. About 444,100 children, or 20 percent of the children in Michigan, still live in poverty, according to the Kids Count in Michigan 2018 Data Book. The numbers are down from 2010, when 537,003 children lived in poverty. But, simply living above the poverty line doesn’t mean children won’t face challenges. Child development requires safe housing, reliable transportation, nutritious food, quality child care and education, said Terri Legg, executive director of the United Way Montcalm-Ionia Counties.
LANSING –Residents pay less for electricity from the grid when they produce some energy themselves from solar, wind and other alternative sources, according to a recent report. But their efforts still don’t make up much of the state’s energy needs. The energy from alternative sources produced in Michigan by energy users increased from 21,888 kilowatts in 2016 to 29,571 kilowatts in 2017, according to the report by the Public Services Commission. That’s a 35 percent increase, but it makes up only 0.032 percent of Michigan’s retail electricity sales. Residents can receive a credit whenever they produce their own electricity, said Nick Assendelft, a public information officer for the Michigan Public Services Commission, based in Lansing.
LANSING — Companies would be able to create their own private police forces if a bill stalled in committee is somehow resurrected and passed during this year’s post-election lame-duck session.
“Under this law, the KKK would be able to create their own private police force,” said Robert Stevenson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. But supporters say that the law would allow for private police to serve as additional police on the street and give more security options to business groups. The Enhanced Security and Public Safety Act would allow privately funded police forces. The bill, introduced in 2017, is in the Senate Government Operations Committee.