- Associated Press - Monday, March 24, 2014

The Flint Journal. March 14.

First use of Dominick’s Law sad, but necessary penalty for child abuse

It’s difficult to celebrate the first use of Dominick’s Law, which stiffened penalties for child abuse in Michigan, because it means another child suffered horrible abuse while a parent failed to protect him.

But the inaugural use of the law, as tragic as it is, does deserve noting. After all, it is because of the tireless efforts of Dominick Calhoun’s family that the mother of a 3-year-old boy and her boyfriend both will spend several years behind bars for their actions or, in the case of the mother, her inaction.

May this serve a reminder to all parents that they have a moral obligation as well as a legal duty to protect their children from harm.

Dominick Calhoun, 4, of Argentine Township died as a result of his abuse at the hands of his mother’s boyfriend. Afterward, his paternal grandfather, Rick Calhoun, and other relatives channeled their grief into changing state law to strengthen penalties for child abuse.

Thanks to their tireless efforts, Aleesha Ann Wyatt, 24, and Robert L. Martin, 35, both of Flint have become the first people in the state to be charged, convicted and sentenced under the law.

On March 3, Wyatt was sentenced for five years, 10 months to 21 years in prison after pleading guilty to first degree child abuse in the case of her 3-year-old son. Martin was sentenced in January to 14-21 years after pleading no contest to first-degree child abuse and assault with intent to murder.

Wyatt’s son was taken to the hospital on Nov. 1, 2012, with bruises covering his entire body, court records show. In addition to cracked ribs, the boy underwent surgery to relieve pressure on his brain.

This tragedy didn’t have to happen. Indeed, records show that in June 2012, Child Protective Services told Wyatt not to let Martin care for her children.

Rick Calhoun said he hopes the tougher sentences will help persuade mothers to take more care about who they allow around their children. We couldn’t agree more.

In the meantime, for children who are victimized and abused, at least now stiffer penalties now exist to punish those who harmed them or who let the abuse happen.

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Traverse City Record-Eagle. March 14.

A perfect time for Snyder to order fracking analysis

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder deserves a lot of credit for proposing to spend more than $100 million on a year-long effort to protect and restore Michigan’s vast water resource, the greatest in the nation.

The “water strategy” initiative will focus on dealing with invasive species, toxic pollution, large-scale water withdrawals for irrigation and manufacturing, beach monitoring and upgrading sewage infrastructure. It will also address conflicts between users.

A key goal will be to recognize how important water will be to Michigan’s economic future.

“Water will be the key reason why people will come to Michigan to live, work and play,” said Dan Wyant, director of the Department of Environmental Quality. “It’s going to be a catalyst for new technology and job creation.”

That’s all true, and it has never been more appropriate for the state to formally address the state’s water future and lay the groundwork for the decades of work it will take to protect our water and our future. For as much as water holds the key to economic success, squandering the resource could also spell our ruin.

As smart and timely as Snyder’s water strategy is, however, there is a gaping hole that could, unless it is adequately addressed, dwarf all other water-related efforts - the short- and long-term effects of massive water withdrawals linked to hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, and in particular horizontal fracking.

In layman’s terms, fracking is the process of pumping a mix of water, chemicals and sand under high pressure into oil and gas formations to break up underground structures and free more oil and gas.

Vertical fracking, which has been around for a very long time, typically uses a couple million gallons of fresh water. But horizontal fracking, a variation on the process that has been in much greater use since the 1990s, uses much more water - as much as 10 million gallons or much more per well.

Critics of the process point out that those millions of gallons of fresh water are contaminated during the fracking process and can ever be used again.

The debate over fracking in Michigan is notable for not only its volume and passion but the conflicting claims made by both sides, all of it backed by “science,” good and bad. Snyder could do much to advance the debate by ordering a reliable, fact-based analysis of the long-term implications of fracking for Michigan.

This is a policy discussion Michigan must have now, not 10 years and potentially hundreds of wells from now. Our “water strategy” demands it.

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The Mining Journal (Marquette). March 16.

DNR land swap deal provides rare win-win situation

A 160-acre land swap approved Thursday (March 13) by Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh provides a great win-win situation for the public and Dean Oswald, the owner of the popular Oswald’s Bear Ranch, the largest bear ranch in the country.

The deal will allow Oswald to expand his ranch, which has been growing and improving since he first opened the facility to the public in 1997. The ranch has 29 bears, viewable to the public via raised platforms.

The DNR acquired the land being provided to Oswald in 1939 through tax reversion. The property is adjacent to Oswald’s private ranch. In exchange, the DNR will receive land located a few miles east, off M-123. The state’s Land Exchange Review Committee reviewed the exchange and recommended its approval in May 2013.

“This exchange will provide legal, public and management access to (a) large area of state land which has been nearly inaccessible,” a DNR information brief on the transaction stated. “In addition, the offered property will connect public lands northerly and southerly of the tract, consolidating state ownership and increasing conservation and recreation opportunities.”

The land the state is acquiring contains a high degree of species diversity and contains good habitat for white-tailed deer, black bear, woodcock, snowshoe hare and ruffed grouse, the brief said.

DNR officials said the exchange meets goals and objectives of the agency’s Managed Public Land Strategy by increasing access to DNR-managed public lands, will foster regional economic prosperity and will assist in increasing tourism in an area of large public land holdings, enhancing the local economy, consolidating public and private ownership.

The land the DNR will acquire will assume the tax reversion status of the parcel being provided to Oswald.

The land deal provides one of those opportunities where both sides get great benefits. The public benefits by gaining greater access to state lands and also by receiving the benefit of a larger tourist attraction in Oswald’s ranch - an increased opportunity to safely see and photograph bears at close range in clear view.

The deal also constitutes a smart move on the part of the DNR.

We applaud those working behind the scenes to craft the deal, Creagh for approving it and Oswald for giving the region a great family fun attraction with what will now be expanded capabilities.

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Times Herald (Port Huron). March 17.

Year-round classes are worth a try

Year-round schooling might not be so popular with school children, and that’s understandable. Many dislike the prospect of spending most of their traditional summer vacation in class.

It might not sit well with a lot of teachers, either. With the school-year pressures they face, the summer break’s opportunity to relax and recharge could be more valuable to them than to their pupils.

Public schools in Michigan and much of the nation schedule their classes with a summer break of at least two months. The practice represents decades, even a century, of tradition. But that doesn’t mean that it’s the best way to educate our children.

There is evidence that changing the way classes are scheduled might improve the quality of education. Given the challenges of raising test scores and strengthening the value of high school diplomas, year-round schooling is worth a try.

The promise of year-round schooling is that it reduces or eliminates the learning loss students often experience after their two-month summer break. The problem - “summer slide” - makes education inefficient because teachers must help students recover the learning they forgot before learning new information.

A 2013 National Summer Learning Association survey of 500 teachers found 66 percent said it takes three to four weeks to re-teach the previous year’s skills at the beginning of the next year; 24 percent said it takes five or more weeks.

Michigan’s schools can’t afford summer slide. State reforms to improve educational quality and the demands of the public for graduates with the requisite skills to succeed make that clear.

Some Blue Water Area school districts have opted for year-round schooling. Classes at Cleveland Elementary School in Port Huron will change to a year-round schedule in July. At Croswell-Lexington Community Schools, the schedule is an option for students in kindergarten through sixth grade. The district also plans to make it available to seventh- and eighth-graders.

The East China, Marysville and Algonac school districts are exploring year-round schooling.

There is no guarantee year-round classes will improve educational quality. As of yet, no research shows they enhance academic achievement.

State law requires 180 days of classes. If school districts get a waiver to meet that standard without a two-month summer break, let’s see if the schedule works.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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