We've Got Issues

Linda Stephan

Kids in Michigan are struggling to read, compared to students in other states. Nearly 70 percent of students are not proficient in reading when they begin fourth grade, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Michigan State Police

Police can make a lot of money off crime and criminals. Law enforcement might seize a drug dealer’s house, cars or cash through a process called civil forfeiture.

But sometimes police take things from people in Michigan without even charging them with a crime.

Bills that have moved through the state Capitol will make it easier for these people to get their assets back from law enforcement. But the legislation stops short of eliminating civil forfeiture entirely, which some groups in Michigan advocate.

Rick Pluta, Capitol bureau chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network, says the origins of civil forfeiture go back to the War on Drugs:


The boundaries of legislative districts can sometimes look like jigsaw puzzles in Michigan. That's because politicians draw those lines. It happens in the Michigan legislature every ten years after the census.

Opponents say legislative redistricting leads to gerrymandering, where lines are drawn to favor one political party against another.

"The fox is guarding the henhouse in essence," Judy Karandjeff says, "where the elected officials are choosing their voters instead of voters choosing elected officials."

Karandjeff is president of the League of Women Voters of Michigan, a group which is hosting town halls across the state on redistricting and possible reforms.

She says almost every district in the state is clearly dominated by a political party.


Michigan's U.S. senators have unveiled legislation they say will protect the Great Lakes from oil spills.

The bill would require a review of all pipelines in the Great Lakes region, plus it would ban transporting crude oil on tanker ships. That's something that doesn't happen at all right now, but Sen. Gary Peters says it could be a threat in the future.

"This has been a possibility that's being discussed," Peters says. "It has not been done up to this point because people frankly believe that it's just unacceptable."

U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek surprised voters in northern Michigan last week when he announced he's retiring at the end of this term. That decision has also piqued interest among possible Republican candidates for the 1st Congressional District.

"We don't know for sure who is definitely going to run just because the filing deadline is a while away and this news was unexpected," says Rick Pluta, the Capitol bureau chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network.

But Pluta does have the names of some Republicans who are interested in making a run for U.S. Congress:

David Cassleman

A new report in Bridge Magazine this month questions how much state and federal officials know about the condition of an oil pipeline that crosses the Straits of Mackinac.

Reporter Ted Roelofs also details the inspection process governing oil and gas pipelines in the United States.

“The pipeline network in this country, which is about 2.5 million miles, it’s essentially self-regulated by the industry," Roelofs says.

"The federal agency that oversees it [Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA] essentially outsources the inspection to the industry itself.”


An affair, cover up and alleged blackmail have shaken up what had been a quiet summer in Lansing. The Detroit News was the first news outlet to report an affair between two state lawmakers, and an alleged cover up attempt by at least one of them.

Todd Courser, a Republican state representative from Lapeer, has now admitted to trying to cover up his affair with fellow Republican Cindy Gamrat, who's from Plainwell. But Courser says he was blackmailed.

Rick Pluta, Capitol bureau chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network, explains:


Bob Allen

Michigan, like every other state, is trying to figure out how to keep the lights on in the future. One answer could be more homeowners producing energy for themselves using wind or solar power.

Right now, fewer than 1,800 people in Michigan participate in a program called "net metering." That's where homeowners produce electricity for themselves, and then sell surplus energy to utility companies.

The small group of energy producers faces an uncertain future under a Senate plan (Bill 438) that would rewrite the rules governing net metering.

U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City

Ten thousand people partied on Torch Lake over July 4th weekend this year. The sandbar on the lake has become one of northern Michigan's prime summer party destinations.

But many neighbors on the lake are upset about the trash, the trespassing and the noise.

State Representative Triston Cole (R-105th District) put together a roundtable on the issue last week, seeking a solution.

"This is a public body of water," Rep. Cole says, "and people have a right to have a great time and enjoy places like the sandbar on Torch Lake."

Gerrymandering is a term you hear a lot about every ten years or so, when state legislatures across the country start to redraw legislative districts after the census. It happens when districts are drawn in a way that favors one political party against another.

In Michigan, Republicans have controlled the redistricting process during the past two censuses, and Democrats have accused them of gerrymandering. Now some Democrats are pushing to change how redistricting is done, which they say would make it less political.

Baldwin Community Schools

In schools throughout Michigan, students aren't the only ones who get grades. Teachers get a report card, too, and the way that teachers are evaluated could be changing in Michigan.

A bill passed the state Senate this past spring that would reform how evaluations are done, giving local school districts more power to decide how they want to grade teachers. The bill would also reduce the importance of standardized testing to teacher evaluations.

Jake Neher, Capitol bureau reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, explains the bill:

Peter Payette

Michigan residents have a new potential roads fix to consider, after the state Senate passed a series of bills last week. State lawmakers have been debating how to pay for fixing Michigan's crumbling roads for years. The initial plan, Proposal 1, was voted down by voters last May.

The Senate plan promises to raise $1.5 billion using a combination of tax increases and budget cuts. But as the Michigan Public Radio Network's Rick Pluta explains, the bills are controversial for both Republicans and Democrats.

Brett Levin / Flickr

In the last presidential election, voters in Colorado and Washington both said 'yes' to legalizing recreational marijuana. Those were the first two states to do so in the United States. Now, three groups in Michigan are trying to do the same in the 2016 presidential election.  Two of those groups have already started collecting signatures to put the issue on the ballot. 

Jake Neher, Capitol bureau reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, says support for legalizing marijuana has been growing over the years and many see the 'writing on the wall' for approval in the 2016 election.


Paul Maritinez/Flickr

State lawmakers passed a budget of $13.9 billion for schools last week. The headlines say funding per student is going up across the state between $70 and $140. But Rick Pluta, the Capitol bureau chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network, says the story is more complicated when you get beyond the headlines.


Prison fence.
WFIU Public Radio/Flickr

There's a new plan to reopen the so-called 'punk prison' near Baldwin, and to bring 300 high-security inmates from Vermont to northern Michigan. The prison used to house juvenile offenders, until it was closed in the mid-2000s.

Supporters of the move say it would lead to 300 new jobs in Lake County, but opponents say it's a dangerous idea.

If you're worried about the oil pipeline that runs under the Straits of Mackinac, you may have a tough time finding detailed information about it. Much of the oversight is handled by the federal government, and the records are often kept secret.

A bill that's in the state house right now would go even further to exempt oil and gas pipelines from Freedom of Information Act requests.

svadilfari/Flickr

Last week Governor Rick Snyder rolled out a plan to turn around the state's largest school district – Detroit Public Schools – which is deep in debt and has been under state oversight for years.

The governor wants a fresh start for Detroit students by creating a new district for them, and he's suggesting diverting money from all the other students in the state to pay for the spinoff.

Michigan Public Radio's Rick Pluta breaks down the plan:

Paul Maritinez/Flickr

Many adoptions in Michigan are handled by private agencies – and many of those agencies are religiously affiliated, such as Catholic Charities. State lawmakers are considering a bill that would give these agencies the right to deny service to couples based on its own religious beliefs.

Supporters say the bill would protect these agencies' first amendment rights. But critics say the bill would lead to discrimination against same-sex couples.

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