- Associated Press - Monday, June 16, 2014

The Detroit News. June 12.

Yes vote is best choice for retirees

There’s little mystery in the choice facing Detroit city retirees. If they vote to accept the pension restructuring deal offered by Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr as part of the city’s bankruptcy plan, they know exactly what will happen.

For general service retirees, pensions will be cut 4.5 percent, and, even with other possible reductions in benefits, the total loss will be no more than 20 percent of their monthly check.

If they vote no, their pensions will be cut at least 27 percent, and when other reductions are factored, their entire monthly pension could disappear, at least for a while.

Either outcome is painful, particularly for older retirees with no other source of income. And it’s not as if the pensioners did anything to deserve any reduction.

But a no vote brings far more pain than a yes vote. That should be the persuasive fact as retirees fill out their ballots, which are due back to the bankruptcy court by July 11.

For retired police and firefighters, who face no trimming of their base pensions but will lose half of their annual step increase, the choice is even more clear. If they reject the plan, they face the possibility that other creditors will convince the court retirees are getting too much, and everything will go back on the table.

Orr has warned that rejection of his plan will take negotiations with retirees even further back than to square one.

It will put at risk most if not all of the $816 million committed by the state and private foundations, corporations and individuals to mitigate pension loss and save the collections of the Detroit Institute of Arts.

If the foundation funding disappears, pension cuts might yet live up to the Draconian projections made when the bankruptcy process began.

A no vote would also delay settlement of the bankruptcy case, setting back Detroit’s efforts to become a growing, viable city.

Even retirees who no longer live in Detroit should care about the health of the city. If Detroit thrives and its coffers are replenished, most of the benefit reductions will be restored.

Some retirees may believe that a fire sale of DIA assets would reap more than the $816 million raised by the so-called grand bargain.

And it might. But it is highly unlikely that the bankruptcy judge will order a sale of the art. And even if he did, the money raised would be split among all of the creditors, including the financial institutions. In that case, retirees may end up with far less than the $816 million that is promised solely for the protection of pensions and art.

A very favorable deal has been crafted on behalf of the retirees, thanks to chief federal Judge Gerald R. Rosen, Gov. Rick Snyder and the Legislature, and concerned citizens and institutions.

It is extraordinary that so much outside money has been pledged to ease the sacrifice of pensioners.

Several groups are lobbying retirees to reject the plan. Some unions believe they can leverage a no vote to get a better labor contract. Some financial institutions hope defeat of the plan will open the doors of the DIA.

They do not have the best interests of retirees at heart.

Pensioners should protect themselves. The best way to do that is to vote yes and mail back their ballot.

_____

Grand Haven Tribune. June 12.

Minimum wage hike could have consequences

Gov. Rick Snyder and Lansing’s lawmakers recently made the decision to hike Michigan’s minimum wage.

Snyder signed the legislation last week to raise the state’s minimum wage by 25 percent gradually over the next four years, with the goal of reaching $9.25 an hour.

Reports out of Lansing say Republicans - who control the state government - made the move to prevent a November ballot measure that could have increased the minimum wage even more.

While on the surface this might seem like a win for Michigan’s workers, we have concerns with its prospects. Who’s to say this might lead to more automation?

Walk into any Meijer store and the “Did you find everything you’re looking for?” from a friendly cashier has been replaced with a touchscreen.

Those friendly baggers who used to pack your groceries and carry them out to your car? They’ve been replaced by a carousel system of sterile plastic bags.

Part-time labor for teens and young adults is slowly getting shoved to the side. With grocers and other retailers forced to pay more for their employees, who’s to say this won’t become more common?

And what happens to the small mom-and-pop restaurants that exist in Michigan that are already fighting to stay afloat? A minimum wage increase could cut into these places’ profits, which could cause layoffs and even closures. Those are in addition to the possible increases in the price of food and other goods just to keep up with the increase in employees’ pay.

While the law has already been signed, we can only hope the effects aren’t too extreme and a move to benefit our state’s laborers ends up causing more harm than good.

_____

Battle Creek Enquirer. June 10.

Kids don’t belong in adult criminal justice system

Every state allows juveniles to be tried as adults for some criminal offenses, this in spite research that suggests that it does little to deter crime or reduce recidivism. Michigan goes a step further and prosecutes all offenders 17 and older as adults. It’s a counterproductive practice that cannot end soon enough.

A new report by the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency is but the latest in a long series of studies that illustrate the tough-on-juvenile-crime policies so popular 20 years ago are at best both expensive and ineffective.

Released on Monday (June 9), the “Youth Behind Bars” report examines 10 years of incarceration data involving youth. The report found that 60 percent of the 17-year-olds charged as adults in Michigan were tried for nonviolent offenses and that 58 percent of those entering the criminal justice system had no prior juvenile record.

This follows similar trends in the juvenile system, where about three-quarters of incarcerated youth in Michigan committed nonviolent crimes that post no threat to public safety.

The nonviolent status of their crimes, and the lack of a prior criminal record, should matter, because it suggests lost opportunities to reintegrate young offenders as productive and contributing members of their communities, literally throwing away young lives while further burdening the criminal justice system and society.

We’ve long argued that jailing nonviolent, juvenile offenders - be it in adult or juvenile facilities - simply makes no sense for either the individual or society.

National research has shown for years that youth incarceration actually increases violent crime. The report cites data that reveals that youth exiting the adult system are 34 percent more likely to reoffend and will reoffend sooner. Typically, their crimes escalate in severity.

The reasons for that are clear enough. Most 17-year-olds entering the criminal justice system carry with them a lifetime of trauma and severe behavioral health needs that corrections facilities are simply ill-equipped to meet.

Among the facts in Monday’s report:

- Prior to entering prison, 78 percent had a friend who was killed; 48 percent had a family member that was killed.

- 81 percent had a parent with substance abuse issues.

- 44 percent spent time in foster care and were placed out of home an average of 11 times.

- 45 percent had a father in prison; 25 percent had a mother in prison; 19 percent had a sibling in prison.

Piling trauma upon trauma is not an effective strategy to rehabilitate troubled youth, and incarceration almost always does more harm than good. Set aside the psychological scars, the implications for the individuals and their home communities are long-lasting.

Noted in Monday’s report is that nearly half of the 17-year-olds convicted as adults lack a high school education, and their convictions impose significant barriers to educational and employment opportunities. In effect, those convictions represent life sentences for which we all pay.

The state Department of Corrections faults some of the report’s findings, noting that teenage inmates - there are currently 77 serving time - are already separated from the general population.

We believe, however, that the report underscores one component of a broader policy issue about how we respond to juvenile crime. Getting tough may sound good, but it’s getting us nowhere.

We’re all better served when juvenile justice leans heavily toward compassion. Putting juveniles into an adult correction system is the furthest thing from compassion, and Michigan should end the practice.

_____

Times Herald (Port Huron). June 9

Roads must be safer for bicyclists

There’s an ongoing discussion about the safety of bicycle riders in our community. Some argue the responsibility lies with the cyclists. They should be on the sidewalks or bike paths, not the roads.

But Michigan law refutes that view. It affirms the roads and streets are not the exclusive domain of motor vehicles. Bicycles also have a right to use them.

The recent deaths of two cyclists are tragic reminders that motorists should do more to respect the safety of bicycle riders.

Port Huron Township residents Timothy Tacie, 41, and Kevin Collins, 59, lost their lives to motor vehicles. The accidents occurred in the span of 10 days on West Water Street in Port Huron Township within a mile of each other. Both bicyclists were struck from behind and killed.

These fatalities aren’t unique. From 2004 to 2013, six bicyclists died in motor vehicle accidents in St. Clair County. In 2013 alone, 27 bicyclists were killed in Michigan.

Bicyclists always are at risk in encounters with motor vehicles. But there are steps state lawmakers can take to give them greater protection.

Motorists face strong criminal penalties if they injure or kill construction workers, children in designated school zones or drivers of slow-moving farm vehicles. The same ought to apply to motorists who hurt bicyclists.

House Bills 4792 and 5080 provide stronger penalties to motorists who injure bicyclists. They include community service, driver-improvement education, fines and prison. Although the bills received committee support last year, House members still haven’t voted on them.

House Bill 5438 would mandate that driver’s training include state road regulations for bicyclists and motorcyclists and stress the importance of drivers thoroughly looking out for bicycle riders. The legislation passed the House last week and is under Senate consideration.

Lawmakers have viable legislative reforms to make the roads safer for bicyclists. Their challenge is to make them priorities.

Bicyclists are using Michigan roads in greater numbers, but they are doing so at their peril. State laws uphold their right to use the roads, but they don’t do enough to protect bicyclists’ safety.

More people likely would take to the roads and streets with their bicycles if motorists were required to treat them with greater respect. It’s past time for Lansing to take the lead.


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