Advocates say state needs more discretion with youth offenders

By Brooke Kansier


LANSING – Michigan’s tough approach to youth crime is under scrutiny.

It’s the result of a bigger problem, says Kathleen Bailey, a professor and director of the School of Criminal Justice at Grand Valley State University.

The problem boils down to “get tough” policies Michigan and many other states passed in the 1980s and 1990s on juvenile crime, she said. Those laws created policies like “adult time for adult crime,” which encouraged charging youth as adults ¬– often with stricter sentencing and more jail time – in the wake of what many people feared was a massive juvenile crime wave.

“What happened is you got these unforgiving sentences and policies against youth offenders that were kind of built by a lie – the Armageddon never came,” Bailey said.

The problem is the slew of ramifications the policies caused.

Regulations included truth in sentencing, strict sentencing guidelines and changes that eased the process of charging youth as adults by removing a judge’s discretion and giving prosecutors power to try any child of any age in adult courts.

“It takes that discretion away from the juvenile court to determine whether that individual can be rehabilitated or not in that system,” said Jennifer Pilette, a former referee for the Wayne County Juvenile Court in Detroit. Pilette is now an adjunct professor at the University of Detroit Mercy Law School and the Wayne State University Law School.

Other issues revolve around a decision to automatically charge 17-year-olds as adults –today, Michigan is one of only nine states that do so.

“They can’t buy tobacco, they can’t do things that are adult-like, but they charge them adult-like,” said Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, who spent 30 years as a defense lawyer. “Michigan is a leader in some things, and a follower in others.”


Opponents say energy bills would benefit utility companies



LANSING – A pair of Senate bills would shift the state’s focus away from renewable energy to the benefit of large utility companies – and Michigan’s budding renewable market could be left out in the cold, according to opponents like the Sierra Club.

“Essentially, these bills would destroy our current system of supporting renewables, efficiency and all the things that make our energy portfolio cleaner and more sustainable,” said Mike Berkowitz, the staff political director of the Michigan Sierra Club’s Political Committee. “The bills would eliminate Michigan’s renewable energy standard, sunset our energy efficiency standard and gut our net metering program, which would essentially destroy the solar industry in Michigan.”

But the chair of the Senate Energy and Technology Committee, Sen. Mike Nofs, R–Battle Creek, said the plan would instead make Michigan’s energy market more competitive and fair, without the state giving certain types of generation preferential treatment. He and the committee’s vice chair, Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, sponsored the bills.

“We don’t want to pick what fuels are going to work, which fuels are most cost-effective and all that,” Nofs said. “When you have mandates, you’re tied to that energy source no matter what it costs, and as we’ve seen with wind, and with solar, they’ve had some downfalls. But we did what the 2008 legislation wanted to do – get that economy of renewables going.”

The plan would alter a 2008 law that introduced a mandate requiring utilities to generate at least 10 percent of their electric load from renewable sources by the end of this year, and remain at a minimum 10 percent in years that follow. It includes another mandate for efficiency.

Introduced in July, the bill is undergoing hearings in the committee.

Meanwhile, the House Energy Policy Committee has approved different legislation that would provide incentives for utilities that hit annual waste reduction benchmarks and introduce a goal of 30 percent renewable energy production by 2025. That measure now goes to the full House for a vote.

The Senate proposal would eliminate renewable and efficiency mandates. Incentives to utilities exceeding renewable and emission requirements would also be significantly reduced.

Nofs said, “Now, let everybody compete.”



New tax, regulations proposed for medical marijuana



LANSING – Medical marijuana patients might have a bit harder time paying for their pot if tax legislation that recently passed the House becomes law.

Current medical marijuana regulations don’t include any tax on the drug, but that could change under a three-bill package that passed the House in a landslide vote.

One sponsor, Rep. Mike Callton, R-Nashville, also a chiropractor, said the legislation is an important move for Michigan as the possibility of legalization looms.

“We need to address this before it addresses us,” Callton said. “What happens in some places that legalize is you have no laws, no regulatory structure. It was really hard for them to get Pandora back in the box.

“It’s really not if, but when.”

The proposal would make medical marijuana the only taxed “prescription” medication in Michigan, said Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor.

“I just don’t think that medicine should be taxed,” he said.

Technically, patients don’t get prescriptions, but they need a doctor’s recommendation to qualify for Michigan’s program, Callton said.

“I know you hear this beef – other prescription drugs aren’t taxed,” he said. “But it’s not really a prescription drug.”

Co-sponsors of his bill include Reps. John Kivela, D-Marquette; Peter Pettalia, R-Presque Isle; Scott Dianda, D-Calumet; Jon Bumstead, R-Newaygo; Phil Potvin, R-Cadillac; and Sam Singh, D-East Lansing.

Callton said the tax would go toward the cost of enforcing the new regulations, including health department and police inspections.

Marijuana is most often recommended as a palliative, or pain reliever, for ailments like glaucoma, nerve pain, Crohn’s disease and cancer. It’s undergoing testing trials for multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and autoimmune diseases like HIV/AIDS, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.



Campus food banks expand to feed hungry students



LANSING – Food banks are a growing sight on Michigan campuses as many students struggle with higher tuition, costly rent – and sometimes, hunger.

“I think institutions are beginning to realize that there has been a food insecure population on campuses all along, and we need to serve it,” said Nathaniel Smith-Tyge, director of the Michigan State University Food Bank.

Prior to the Great Recession, Michigan institutions had only four on-campus food pantries, according to the MSU Food Bank. Today, Thirteen institutes have programs supported by the College and University Food Bank Alliance.

Eastern Michigan is the latest school to follow this trend, opening a campus food pantry this fall. Others include the University of Michigan and Saginaw Valley State, Western Michigan, Finlandia, Grand Valley State and Michigan State universities. Among the others are Kirktand and Bay de Noc community colleges, and Lake Michigan College.

Most campus-based food banks in the state rely on donations from students, alumni and the surrounding community.

Karen Lamons, the Western Michigan University residential life supervisor who worked to open the university’s food pantry last fall, said the support the program has received over the last year has been staggering.

“It’s beyond our expectation – not just that people are coming, but that people want to support it,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s our administration, our faculty, our staff, our student organizations, they all want to support it.”

She said that a lot of donations come from food drives held by local businesses and organizations, as well as students themselves, who work as volunteers and drop off donations at the campus’ 30 collection sites.

During its first year, there were more than 400 visits to the pantry. Lamons said that the program doesn’t require individuals to prove their need – to visit the pantry, they just have to be enrolled WMU students.

Nationally, one in 10 adults in need of emergency food assistance is a student, according to Feeding America, a Chicago-based national network of food banks. It is hard to calculate how those numbers stack up for Michigan – the Department of Health and Human Services does not compile student-specific data.

Smith-Tyge said Michigan State’s program helps around 4,000 students and their families each year.

“At an institution like MSU with an enrollment of 50,000, when we’re talking about even a small percentage, we’re still talking about a good number of people,” he said. “It goes beyond that general perception of students, having to buy ramen and those kinds of things – these really are people who do not know where their next meal’s going to come from.”


Shrinking number of teachers signals end of a dream career



LANSING — Many children aspiring to be teachers when they grow up could end up having a change of heart.

In the face of increased pressures due to standardized testing, new college entry tests, and a lack of societal respect for the profession, fewer students are pursuing teaching careers, education advocates say.

“Nationally and in Michigan, there are fewer students going into education,” said Corey Drake, director of teacher preparation at Michigan State University.

Enrollment in university education programs fell 10 percent nationally from 2004 to 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The number of initial certificates issued by the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) has also been declining annually, according to Leah Breen, interim director of the department’s Office of Professional Preparation Services.

Drake said some smaller Michigan universities have seen enrollment in teaching programs dropping as much as 30 to 50 percent.

Standardized tests and national Common Core standards have garnered a much larger focus in the state in past years. Michigan Education Association President Steve Cook said these testing goals have altered how teaching is conducted and lowered the amount of input teachers have.

“Not one of them got involved because they thought they were going to be rich,” Cook said. “They want to teach. And they get there and find out, I’m not doing that much teaching, I’m a professional test proctor.”


State officials unconcerned about failing water grade

By Brooke Kansier


LANSING — In a state surrounded by 20 percent of the world’s fresh water, overuse and sustainability might not be the first thing on the minds of Michiganders.

And according to a study that graded states on their water policies and conservation, these concerns may not be very common in state government, either.

The Alliance for Water Efficiency’s most recent scorecard gave Michigan a mere 3 points out of the possible 40 for water efficiency and policy. Compare that to places such as fellow Great Lakes state Wisconsin with 15.5, Rhode Island’s 20, or California’s 29.

With a D grade and the lowest score among Great Lakes states, Michigan failed in categories such as state policies regarding toilet and shower head efficiency, water-efficient building or plumbing codes, or even guidelines for conservation among water utility companies — and was given a passing grade in only one category. In fact, Michigan has no guidelines that exceed federal standards when it comes to appliances, plumbing or water utility efficiency.