Senate committee to start voting on reforms

BY LAURA WEBER

The reform package includes the elimination of lifetime benefits for future lawmakers, more cuts to Medicaid, and a pay cut for all public employees. That would require a constitutional amendment, which would have to be approved by voters. House Speaker Andy Dillon says he thinks the Senate Republican plan will still come up short when lawmakers work to balance the budget. But Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop says he doesn’t think Democrats will come up with a credible plan for resolving the deficit.

“The Speaker’s going to roll out his own numbers, but I think it is intended to just justify whatever tax increase they’re going to propose.”

One proposal floating around the Capitol would expand the sales tax to services at a reduced rate. Speaker Dillon and fellow Democrats are expected to unveil their plans for the budget when they return from a retreat this week.

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Court won’t remove GOP justices from Feiger case

BY RICK PLUTA

Before this, justices decided on their own whether there was a conflict that required them to remove themselves from cases. Geoffrey Fieger was the 1998 Democratic candidate for governor and has been sharply critical of Republicans on the court. Two GOP justices have used Fieger as a foil in campaign speeches.
    
But Republican Justice Stephen Markman says that was a decade ago and since then, he has ruled both for and against Fieger. Markman says that proves he can rule objectively on Fieger’s cases. Markman’s colleagues agreed on a bipartisan vote, and applied the same reasoning to requests that Justices Robert Young and Maura Corrigan be removed from hearing a Fieger lawsuit. Two of the justices said that was all before the new recusal rule was adopted, and similar statements made today would disqualify a justice.
 

Michigan gets $40 M for train stations, $0 for high-speed rail

BY RICK PLUTA

Track improvements in Indiana and Illinois are expected to cut the travel time between Detroit and Chicago. But Michigan’s share — $40 million dollars – will only go toward improving and constructing buildings, and will generate relatively few jobs.
    
“This is economic stimulus? You gotta be kidding me.”

Michigan Congresswoman Candace Miller says the state with the nation’s highest unemployment rate should have gotten more when some states got hundreds of millions of dollars.

“I’m not asking for all of it. I’m just saying, couldn’t we at least have parity with     some of these states like California and Florida. Certainly, we deserve that.”

President Obama’s home state of Illinois was also a big winner.

Governor Granholm says Michigan will benefit from faster speeds and reduced congestion on the Detroit-to-Chicago line, and she will be seeking more money for Michigan in the future.   
 

Lawmakers would like to find text messaging agreement in February

BY LAURA WEBER

Democratic state Senator Buzz Thomas and Republican state Senator Roger Kahn met briefly outside of the Senate chamber to discuss what happens next with the texting ban. The Senate approved Thomas and Kahn’s bills earlier this week. Now, Thomas says, they must reach a deal with House members who have also approved a similar measure.

“What we’re going to try and do is call the offices together and figure out how we can’t make this happen. Let’s do this by February, I’d like to do it by February.”

There are a few differences between the Senate and House versions of the bills – the Senate approved stronger penalties and fees. But the final version should reflect what both chambers approved – that is a person texting while driving could only be ticketed if they were pulled over for something else as well. Many lawmakers say they hope it will become a more serious crime in a few years.

Asian Carp impacts could be felt well inland from Great Lakes

Some are suggesting that Asian Carp could have a significant impact well inland from the Great Lakes.
According to Lance Weyeneth, a real estate broker specializing in waterfront properties, many people purchase properties along northern Michigan’s lakes and rivers because of the area’s numerous fishing opportunities.
He says if Asian Carp make it to the Great Lakes, they will almost certainly enter the state’s rivers too. And that could affect property values.
“There’s no doubt that the value of the area would be perceived differently if we were talking about Asian Carp, and not wild brown trout or Brook Trout or Steelhead,” said Weyeneth.
It isn’t just fishing opportunities that are in danger, said Weyeneth. So too are people’s jobs, and thier way of life.
“As ridiculous as this might sound, it’s about more than just our livelihood,” said Weyeneth. “It’s about more than just our money. It’s about a lifestyle, and it’s about a quality outdoor experience.”
Many of Weyeneth’s customers come from out of state, and look at northern Michigan solely for it’s outdoor opportunities, including fishing.
“Our customers won’t necessarily be coming north, or to Michigan, to pursue one of the four species of Asian Carp that are currently at the doorstep of invading Lake Michigan,” he said. “I just don’t see that happening.”
Weyeneth wants the government to close a shipping canal in Chicago that is providing the carp a route to the Great Lakes.
Otherwise, he believes the carp will almost certainly enter the Great Lakes, and Michigan’s pristine trout streams.
“To look at how quickly they’ve moved throughout the Mississippi River basin,” said Weyeneth, “and to imagine that they could move almost unimpeded to the Great Lakes, and eventually into these rivers that we find here in the headwaters region that feed the Great Lakes, it’s unimaginable, quite frankly.”

Police skeptical about enforcement on texting bill

Police around the state are trying to figure out how they will enforce the law if the bill on texting goes through.
 
Police across the state say that while the bill is a step in a right direction, enforcing the law will be a hard thing to do.  The bill would make texting while driving a secondary offense which also has police skeptical about enforcement.  Police would have to pull someone over for something like speeding or a broken taillight and then ask them if they were using text messaging on their cell phone.



“I guess if they’re honest, you can say; where you text messaging?  Some are gonna tell you yes and some are gonna tell you ” says Sheriff Jim Walin of the Emmet County Police.

Other police officers say they’re not sure how the law would be enforced.  Trooper Micheal Sisco with the Petoskey branch of the Michigan State Police says he hopes there will be compliance with the law, but it’s very hard to deterrmine if someone is texting and driving if they don’t admit to it.

“I’m not sure how that’s gonna work.  You would actually have to see somebody texting which is going to be hard in a moving vehicle” says sisco.

 
Some police in the state are comparing the proposed bill to the seatbelt law, which started out as a secondary offense as well.

Photo Credit: Johnathon Cohen www.flickr.com

Northern Michigan wind farm begins operations

The first utility-scale wind farm built under Michigan’s new renewable energy law has begun operations near McBain in Missaukee county.
 
The new wind farm is owned by Traverse City-based Heritage Sustainable Energy, and its power will be purchased by Detroit Edison.
 
According to Rick Wilson, Heritage’s Vice President of Operations, the wind farm was the first built under a state law that requires energy companies to get 10 percent of their power from renewables by 2015.
 
“It was a milestone, I think, in the state’s development of its home based, state based renewable energy generation,” Wilson said.
 
The nine turbines on the site are producing 19 mega-watts of power. That’s enough to power about 2,000 homes, according to Detroit Edison.
 
“We have another 20 MW to be installed at that project this year,” Wilson said. That means 10 additional turbines will be installed. The company also has several projects in the development stage across the state.