LGBT leaders welcome IRS tax ruling; say MI will need to address confusion

BY RICK PLUTA
Michigan Public Radio Network

The IRS said same-sex couples legally wed in a state that allows it will be recognized as married for federal tax purposes, even if they reside in a state like Michigan that does not allow same-sex marriage.

But it’s not clear yet how the state will deal with the ruling.

Michigan tax forms don’t ask about taxpayers’ gender. They don’t have anything that would distinguish same-sex couples from heterosexual couples. State tax forms simply allow a couple to claim their federal marital status.

Emily Dievendorf is with Equality Michigan. She said Michigan also refuses to recognize same-sex marriages.

“I think that, unfortunately, because of this inconsistency between state and federal law, these are questions that continue to come up and decisions that will have to be challenged,” Dievendorf said.

There is an October hearing scheduled in a federal court challenge to Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban.

LGBT rights groups are also getting ready to go the ballot in 2016 to reverse the same-sex marriage ban.

Copyright 2013, MPRN

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Report: Michigan workers have less spending power now than 30 years ago

BY JAKE NEHER
Michigan Public Radio Network

A new report shows some troubling trends for wages in Michigan.

The study shows most workers in the state have less spending power now than they did three decades ago.

When adjusted for inflation, the median wage in Michigan is seven percent lower than in 1982. That’s according to the report from the left-leaning Michigan League for Public Policy.

Spokesperson Judy Putnam said an increasing amount of people have had a tough time earning enough to support their families.

“We have a growing share of what we call ‘poverty wage;’ you can work full time, but you can’t get your family out of poverty,” Putnam said.

The report also shows that while white workers saw their spending power drop one percent over three decades, African American workers suffered a 24-percent decrease during the same time.

The Michigan League for Public Policy said better access to post-secondary education and a higher state minimum wage would help address the issue.

Copyright 2013, MPRN

Snyder administration says late start for Medicaid expansion would be costly

BY RICK PLUTA
Michigan Public Radio Network

The fight in the state Senate over expanding Medicaid in Michigan isn’t over yet. Governor Rick Snyder’s administration wants the Senate to deal with a procedural issue that could delay starting the program.

The Medicaid expansion cleared the state Senate by the slimmest of margins, while a separate motion that would allow the coverage to begin January first requires a super-majority. That vote failed, but the Senate could revisit the question as soon as Tuesday.

Angela Minicuci is with the state Department of Community Health. She said what’s at stake is health coverage for as many as 320 thousand working poor people, who otherwise might have to wait til spring to qualify.

“If we have the ability to provide coverage as of January 1 to improve these people’s lives, that truly is something that we think is beneficial for the state of Michigan,” Minicuci said.

Minicuci said a delay would also cost hundreds of millions of dollars in lost federal funds and savings by putting more prison inmates into Medicaid.

Copyright 2013, MPRN

State House panel wraps up testimony on Common Core school standards

BY JAKE NEHER
Michigan Public Radio Network

A state House panel is ready to make its recommendation on whether Michigan should continue to implement a set of nationwide standards.

Supporters of the Common Core state standards may have reason to be optimistic.

Lawmakers passed a budget earlier this year that blocked the state from spending any money to implement Common Core. The House panel has spent more than 15 hours this summer hearing testimony from both supporters and opponents of the standards. Now they’re ready to move forward.

Panel chair Tim Kelly said he won’t know what the recommendation will be until he has more discussions with other members.

“If a vote was taken today, I think there would be an affirmative action and I would be one of those votes,” Kelly said.

That’s an affirmative action to reinstate funding to implement Common Core.

Kelly said the standards would ensure more Michigan students would be ready for college and careers. Opponents said they would strip local control and have not been proven to be effective.

Copyright 2013, MPRN

Hearings open on fixing juvenile lifer law

BY RICK PLUTA
Michigan Public Radio Network

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The state Legislature held a hearing Tuesday on re-writing Michigan’s juvenile lifer law. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this summer that it is unconstitutional.

The state is appealing a federal court order to hold parole hearings for more than 350 inmates sentenced to automatic life without parole for first degree murder.

In the meantime, the Legislature must re-write the law.

State Representative Joe Haveman said action is overdue. And he said the new law should apply to people currently sentenced to life without parole as juveniles.

“I’m not suggesting that these men and women should be set free. I’m suggesting that a small number of them may someday deserve a second look,” Haveman said.

“I don’t think for a 16-year-old, he shouldn’t have to think too hard to say, kill or not-kill,” Cotaling said.

Jack Cotaling said he and his family thought his son’s killers’ fate was settled. He says parole hearings would force his family to re-live their tragedy.

State Senate passes Medicaid expansion, but implementation could be delayed

BY JAKE NEHER
Michigan Public Radio Network

It’s now up to the state House to decide whether to send a bill to expand Medicaid in Michigan to Governor Rick Snyder’s desk. That’s after the state Senate narrowly approved the bill Tuesday.

The Senate may have also delayed when the expansion could actually take effect.

Getting the bill through the state Senate wasn’t easy. In fact, it failed the first time the chamber took it up for a vote. But senators agreed to reconsider the vote. And after hours of deliberation, it passed.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said this was a particularly tough vote for many of his GOP colleagues.

“Up until last night, some people were still mulling over which way they wanted to go, because it’s a difficult decision for everyone involved,” Richarville said

But the Senate did not vote to give the bill immediate effect. It’s a procedural vote that determines when a law is actually enacted. In this case, no immediate effect could mean no Medicaid expansion in Michigan until April.

Governor Rick Snyder said the state would lose out on millions of federal dollars if that’s the case.

Copyright 2013, MPRN

Cherry crop in Northwest Lower Michigan on track for great harvest over last year

BY MARCY MISNER

Farmers in the northwest Michigan have begun harvesting sweet cherries this week. They say tarts will be ready next week.

Farmers say they’re happy to see a good crop this year after getting none last year. You may recall last year the early, warm March was followed by a late freeze that killed blossoms and ruined the crop.

Bill Johnson is a Benzie county cherry farmer.

“It’s a lot better than it was last year because we got wiped out with March 80 degree temperatures like that. It was one of the shortest crops we’ve ever had. This year is coming back a real good one. The sweets, as you can see, are not a real heavy crop, but they’re a good crop. And the sour cherry crop right through this area is real good. Real good,” Johnson said.

Johnson owns about 800 sweet cherry trees and 2,500 tart cherry trees. He said he prefers his right off the tree, when they’re in season.