- Associated Press - Monday, March 10, 2014

Battle Creek Enquirer. March 4.

Industry support of e-cig bans deserves skepticism

The sellers of addictive substances will try to convince you otherwise, but they’re in the business of getting people hooked on their products. If they say they support legislation that would restrict that business, it’s wise to be skeptical.

Such is the case for a pair of bipartisan bills in the Michigan Senate that would prohibit minors from buying and using e-cigarettes.

The bills, expected to be taken up in the Senate, have the support of the industry representatives but not from groups such as the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society and the Department of Community Health.

That’s a red flag, and lawmakers should pay attention.

The debate here isn’t whether states should restrict the use of e-cigarettes to adults - nobody, at least publicly, opposes that - but whether e-cigarettes should be regulated as a tobacco product.

Organizations such as the American Heart Association say they worry that language in the Michigan legislation, and in a number of other states, could exempt electronic cigarettes from tobacco regulations such as workplace restrictions or taxes on sales.

The association’s Shelly Kiser, reacting to similar legislation in Ohio, told the Toledo Blade that the tobacco industry is pushing similar bills nationwide. She said that research shows that high taxes and indoor smoking bans are the two most effective ways to steer kids away from using tobacco.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering whether to regulate e-cigarettes, but it’s been slow to respond. In the meantime, states and even some cities are forging their own regulatory responses.

Those responses include everything from age restrictions to bans on use in public similar to bans on smoking. It’s the latter that companies such as Altria, which is on record supporting the Michigan bill, are fighting tooth and nail as they battle for market share in this fast-growing segment.

Although Altria may support age restrictions, make no mistake: the company packages and markets its products in ways that appeal to young people. The liquid nicotine used in the devices comes in flavors such as bubblegum and cola, and even where age restrictions are in place, minors are finding access through dealers online.

A 2012 survey released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that recent use among high school students grew from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 2.8 percent in 2012 and from 0.6 to 1.1 percent for middle school students.

We support the instincts of lawmakers who want to protect minors from getting access to electronic cigarettes which, while likely safer than their tobacco counterparts, are indisputably a gateway to nicotine addiction.

With that said, legislators should carefully review the potential implications of these bills and adjust accordingly.

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The Detroit News. March 4.

Obama’s populist budget ignores deficit

President Barack Obama proposed a nearly $4 trillion budget Tuesday that prioritizes ideology and politics instead of tackling the country’s pressing fiscal issues.

This budget won’t stimulate the economy or help create more jobs. Instead, it props up spending already in place and allows the debt to continue to grow. It seems more designed to secure the Democratic base in the fall elections than to embrace financial responsibility.

It’s an election-year budget. Instead of taking on entitlement reform, Obama has proposed a budget that adds billions more in spending for education, infrastructure, job training and environmental research.

This budget would produce a $564 billion deficit for fiscal year 2015 - smaller than the past year, but still too high. And as with other major issues, this budget kicks the deficit can down the road (again) by forecasting the shortfall will only fall by about 1 percent through 2018, one year after Obama’s departure.

The revenue making up that 1 percent would come from some of the proposed $1 trillion in new taxes over 10 years. Most of the tax hikes are on estates and high-income earners, as well as American businesses of all sizes.

With such large tax hikes and no spending reform, this budget has little chance of passing the Republican-controlled House. But it will give Democrats talking points for their election campaign and another opportunity to paint the GOP as stingy and insensitive.

The budget extends unemployment insurance for almost 2 million Americans. It also increases funding for the U.S. Department of Education, including for a program that would provide universal preschool and day care for 100,000 infants and toddlers. Obama would also like to pay to teach 100,000 teachers how to use the Internet.

As the president promised, he’s also asking to raise to $10.10 an hour the federal minimum wage, which will further shrink the job market.

In all, spending on government projects will rise by $350 billion. That’s the wrong direction.

This is a Halloween bag of goodies that belies not only the current budget shortfall, but the building crisis in Medicare and Social Security, and the uncertainty of how much Obamacare will ultimately cost.

Rather than present Congress with a budget that would be a legitimate starting point for passage of a bipartisan spending plan, the president has chosen to offer up a blueprint designed to heighten the political divisions and spark a battle that can be exploited for votes this fall.

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Lansing State Journal. March 3.

Lawsuit aside, gay couples in Michigan have hope

Across the country, rulings are piling up:

In Texas last week, a federal judge ruled that the state’s ban on same sex marriages demeans the dignity of gay couples for no legitimate reason and is therefore unconstitutional. In Virginia, a federal judge ruled on Feb. 13 that the state’s gay marriage ban is unconstitutional. In Oklahoma, a federal judge ruled in January against a Tulsa County Court Clerk who refused to grant a marriage license to two women who wanted to marry. In Utah, a federal judge in December ruled that a same-sex marriage ban violated gay and lesbian couples’ 14th Amendment rights.

Will Michigan be next? The lawsuit that could decide is being heard in Detroit, as federal District Judge Bernard Friedman weighs a case involving a lesbian couple who are not permitted to marry and adopt each other’s children due to the state’s 2004 law that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

Last week, the couple’s attorneys presented their case. On Monday, Friedman dismissed the state’s first witness, a philosopher who has researched the debate surrounding the definition of marriage. The judge agreed with the plaintiff’s lawyers, who complained the witness lacked experience in child development, psychology or Michigan law.

Last fall, some same-sex couples hoped Friedman might rule in the case, but instead he scheduled the trial that began Feb. 25. That dashed hopes of couples who literally waited in county clerk’s offices with clergy members, hoping to procure marriage licenses and hold hasty ceremonies before an appeal.

Notably, judges in the states mentioned above also stayed their rulings to allow time for appeals. One supposes that could happen here as well. Yet that should not douse hopes indefinitely.

Public opinion has changed in the decade since Michigan voters passed the ban with 59 percent support. A new State of the State Survey from the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University showed 54 percent support same-sex marriage and 59 percent support adoption rights of gays and lesbians.

Numerous other polls have showed similar shifts and the group Equality Michigan has discussed a ballot proposal favoring same-sex marriage, possibly for 2016.

Public opinion is changing and it seems probable that eventually Michigan’s laws will follow, by court order or by the ballot.

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The Mining Journal (Marquette). March 4.

Flag law isn’t game changer but still important

It might be a small thing to most but we whole heartedly support a move made last week by Gov. Rick Snyder relating to flags put on the graves of veterans.

The governor signed into law a statute restricting local governments from buying American flags made outside the U.S. for veterans’ graves.

Michigan requires local governments to furnish a U.S. flag and holder for graves of local veterans upon the request of a veterans’ organization or five voters, according to a story filed on the topic by The Associated Press.

The law requires counties, cities, townships and villages to buy American-made U.S. flags unless they aren’t competitively priced and of comparable quality to U.S. flags made in foreign countries, AP reported

Local governments will have to post on their website if they buy foreign-made flags. Municipalities not in compliance may face up to $500 in fines, said AP.

We realize this probably isn’t a game changer for a lot of people but we still believe it’s important. There’s something about buying American flags made overseas that just doesn’t set well with us, and, we suspect, other people, too.

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