Around Michigan & State Government

Coverage from across Michigan and  the state Capitol with the Michigan Public Radio Network and Interlochen Public Radio.

Lindsey Smith, Michigan Radio

A campaign to add LGBT and gender protections to the Michigan Constitution plans to start gathering signatures in January if a state elections board gives it the go-ahead.

The Board of State Canvassers is being asked to approve the petition form to be circulated by the Fair Michigan ballot campaign. It would add protections against LGBT and gender discrimination to the equal protection clause of the Michigan Constitution. It currently offers anti-discrimination protections based on religion, race, color, or national origin.

Food inspectors used a warrant signed by a judge to visit a farm near Cadillac last week. State police troopers were also on hand for the inspection of Bakers Green Acres last Thursday.

A spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Jennifer Holton, called the inspection “routine.”

But the farmer, Mark Baker, characterized it on his YouTube channel as a “raid.”

“They pulled in like it was a raid,” he says. “Like we were going to run the other way or flush drugs down the toilet.”

David Cassleman

Kids struggle to learn to read in Michigan. Nearly 70 percent of students reach fourth grade without being proficient in reading, according to national standards.

Governor Rick Snyder has said that fixing this problem will be an "overwhelming task." But state Republicans have a solution in mind that includes holding back more third graders.

Teachers call that retention.

Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy

Petobego Pond was a big winner at the Natural Resources Trust Fund board meeting this week. The fund board recommended spending almost $2.5 million to help preserve 43 acres at the south end of the pond along East Grand Traverse Bay near Elk Rapids. The land is privately owned and forms a peninsula between the bay and the pond.

Peter Payette

The founder of a charter school in Traverse City is back in federal court next week. A judge will sentence Steven Ingersoll for up to five years for his recent convictions of tax evasion and conspiracy to defraud the federal government. Those crimes had to do with his financial dealings in Bay City.

The hearing is also raising questions about whether Ingersoll abused his power when he was running Grand Traverse Academy. When he cut ties with the school, he owed the public academy $1.6 million dollars.

Russ Climie / Tiberius Image

Governor Rick Snyder was the first governor in the nation to speak out on refugees following last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut. And he may have come to regret it as he tries to clarify his position vis a vis what a lot of the nation’s other Republican governors are saying about refugees and immigration.

Following the attacks, Governor Snyder said he was hitting the “pause” button on efforts to get more visas for Middle Eastern refugees to settle in Michigan.

Paul Maritinez/Flickr

Last week Governor Rick Snyder signed off on a long-awaited roads funding deal. The laws will raise more than $1 billion a year by 2021. The money will go towards repairing the roads and bridges in Michigan that have been neglected for years.

"This is the largest investment in transportation in Michigan in the last 50 years," Snyder said this month.

But many in the state are not happy with the final product, which includes a gas tax hike and higher car registration fees.

Michigan Public Radio's Rick Pluta explains the mechanics of the deal:


Jim Carruthers is Traverse City’s new mayor. Carruthers won the seat in yesterday’s election, defeating Ian Winklemann and city commissioner Jeanine Easterday.

Carruthers says he became involved in city issues shortly after moving to Traverse City in 1989.

“I got involved mainly because I don’t own a TV," he says. "And I went down to city commission meetings and sat in the audience and watched and listened and made public comment because I was raised to be involved and care about my community and I was.”

Rusty Blazenhoff/Flickr

Marijuana activists say a Michigan State Police policy is leading to unfair felony drug charges in the state. The policy involves the distinction between natural and synthetic THC. That's the active chemical ingredient in marijuana.

The source of THC determines whether someone will be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, if they are caught with an extract of marijuana. A State Police crime laboratory is accused of classifying extracts of marijuana as "synthetic," even when the source is unknown.

Michigan Public Radio's Jake Neher explains the case of a medical marijuana cardholder from Spring Lake, who was charged with a felony – and had his young son placed in a foster home. The man says he should have been charged with a misdemeanor.


The fallout from the Flint water crisis is far from over.

Yes, the state’s top water official has been “reassigned.”  

And sure, the Department of Environment Quality director admits they bungled the testing of Flint’s water, and failed at setting up appropriate corrosion control measures. Those measures would have prevented lead from leaching from pipes in the Flint’s water.

But there is a deeper anger in Flint aimed at Governor Snyder, and the string of emergency managers he appointed to run the struggling city when it reached a financial crisis.

Linda Stephan

More eight and nine-year-olds would be held back in school as a result of legislation meant to boost the reading skills of kids before they reach fourth grade. House Bill 4822 passed the state House earlier this month, and largely split the chamber along party lines.

Democrats and other opponents argued that holding back more third-graders would create lasting social problems for kids.

But Republicans supported the bill, like co-sponsor Rep. Lee Chatfield. He is a former high school teacher who represents Emmet, Mackinac and Chippewa counties.

"The fundamental principle of this bill ultimately is that reading is a building block to learning," Chatfield says. "Studies show that children who are not proficient in reading by the fourth grade end up struggling for the rest of their lives in school."


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.

Morgan Springer

Juveniles serving life in prison with no chance for parole have a reason to hope. They might get a shot at resentencing.

Up until 2012, juveniles convicted of murder were given a life sentence without the possibility of parole. It was mandatory. Then the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this requirement was cruel and unusual. They said it should only happen in very rare circumstances.

But the court didn’t say whether the ruling should apply retroactively. Some states chose to resentence their juvenile lifers while others - like Michigan- did not.

 


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.


If you want to have sex with someone, it can't be presumed your potential partner shares your desire just because you're dating.

It can't be presumed based on someone's drunken actions.

It can't be presumed because that someone didn't say no.

Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

Many Michigan Republicans spent the weekend on Mackinac Island, where they enjoyed fine dining and cocktail receptions, listened to the campaign pitches of five presidential candidates, and plotted the future
of their party.

And it was done mostly without the rancor that’s marked other Republican gatherings in recent years.

Community Newspaper Holdings

The executive editor of northern Michigan’s largest newspaper has been ousted. The publisher of the Traverse City Record-Eagle, Paul Heidbreder, confirmed that Mike Tyree is no longer with the paper. Heidbreder would not discuss the situation further.

Last year, the Record-Eagle’s owner, Community Newspaper Holdings, had honored Tyree by naming him to its President’s Circle.

The effort to expel Todd Courser was first on the agenda. Many hours of floor debate, cajoling, and, finally, a standoff that lasted through the night ended with Courser walking to the front of the House chamber to hand the clerk a brief letter of resignation. Courser then walked back to his desk, collected his things and was escorted out of the chamber by three red-coated sergeants-at-arms, who confiscated his key cards that got him into the parking lot, the House Office Building, and the state Capitol.

A House Business Office investigation into Michigan Reps. Todd Courser, R-Lapeer, and Cindy Gamrat, R-Plainwell, alleges numerous instances of deceptive and "outright dishonest" conduct to cover up their extra-marital affair.

More sex crime charges for Native American leader

Aug 20, 2015
Peter Payette

UPDATE: Today, Grand Traverse County prosecutors charged Derek Bailey with two counts of first degree criminal sexual conduct and with being a sexually delinquent person.

Bob Cooney, prosecuting attorney for Grand Traverse County, says, "These are just allegations, but the idea of a sexually delinquent person is that it’s not just a one-time act. Because of repetitive behaviors, the statute is designed to give the court more discretion to fashion a sentence that is protective of the public." 

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."

A youth camp proposed for a small town east of Roscommon was denied. The Ogemaw County Planning Commission voted 4 to 3 against Muslim-American Nayef Salha's proposal.

Salha’s camp was denied for zoning reasons, but the decision is contentious in part because Islamophobic comments were made at another public meeting.

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