- Associated Press - Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Battle Creek Enquirer. Dec. 30, 2015

Tell Snyder to veto majority’s election ‘reforms’.

We wrote in November that a bill to strip Michigan voters of the ability to vote straight ticket was beneath the dignity of the Legislature. In hindsight, we over-estimated the Legislature.

The Republicans in control of that once august body seem to draw from a bottomless well of contempt for the democratic process and the people they are supposed to serve.

The audacious passage of Senate Bill 13 - subversively decoupled from a compromise bill that would have allowed no-reason absentee voting - was just one side of the majority’s double-barreled assault.

The other was Senate Bill 571, throttled through both chambers in similarly treacherous fashion. In the Senate, the Republican majority took a page from the playbook of their colleagues in the House and voted to clear the chamber of Democratic staffers in an effort to silence dissent.

This steaming, hot mess of a bill passed with no public hearing. It includes amendments to 10 sections of Michigan’s Campaign Finance Act. It makes it easier for campaign contributors to donate anonymously to PACs and Super PACs while it makes it more difficult for labor unions to collect from members for the same purpose.

Particularly egregious, however, is a provision that would prohibit school districts and local governments from providing information to constituents about ballot issues within 60 days of the election. The bill’s backers say it’s aimed at preventing government entities from using taxpayer dollars to influence voters. That’s pretense. Such activity is already illegal, and where those abuses occur (rare at best), they are easily and effectively handled through existing enforcement mechanisms.

Chris Wigent, the former superintendent of the Calhoun Intermediate School District and now executive director of the Michigan Association of School Administrators, called it “censorship, plain and simple.”

The Petoskey News-Review put it more colorfully: “In a bill that reeks of partisan advantage, the most foul, fetid section makes it illegal for local governments and school districts to explain to voters what is on an upcoming ballot.”

There’s is absolutely no benefit to Michigan citizens in either of these bills, but that’s not the point. This is a Republican majority led by ethically bankrupt individuals who are determined to keep their party in control at any cost, even if that means making it more difficult for voters to exercise their rights.

Gov. Rick Snyder has both bills on his desk. Although he hasn’t indicated whether he will sign them into law, most observers expect he will.

We hold out hope, however, that those observers have underestimated the Battle Creek native, who rose to office pledging a commitment to transparency and honest government. He can renew that pledge with his veto pen. We hope he does.

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The Lansing State Journal. Dec. 27, 2015

Look back, a 2015 year in review.

It’s become tradition for the LSJ Editorial Board to offer an annual look back at progress achieved. The year 2015 gave the region reason for pride in reaching several milestones and making significant progress.

The Editorial Board weighed in on four key areas last December, ranging from education to equality. On every front, Greater Lansing took solid steps - and in some cases bold strides - toward a more prosperous future.

Let’s recap:

Progress for Lansing Schools

The region’s largest and most economically diverse school district is essential to the health of the core city, which ultimately impacts the prosperity of the entire region. We saw evidence for optimism last year, and it has borne fruit. Results of the state’s new, tougher assessment test came out this week showing the long beleaguered Eastern High School scored better than both Sexton and Everett. Let’s be clear, the district still has far to go; beating state averages must be a goal. That said: Bravo! Keep the momentum - especially in the classrooms.

Capitol Corridor advancement

The $77 million SkyVue project on Michigan Avenue broke ground this month; when it is done, 359 new apartments will tower nine stories above the long vacant Story Oldsmobile property. Further along, Feldman Chevrolet is doing a $3.5 million upgrade; and at Michigan Avenue and Clemons Street, developer Scott Gillespie plans the $6 million East Town Flats. Still to come: Construction of Red Cedar Renaissance, a $276 million project to transform the closed Red Cedar Golf Course.

General Motors in Lansing

Not only did the long anticipated production of the Camaro gear up at the Lansing Grand River Assembly plant, but the latest Lansing-built GM vehicle was honored as Motor Trend’s Car of the Year scant weeks after full production commenced. There’s been significant investments announced at both Lansing Grand River and the Lansing Delta Township Assembly Plant, giving reason for optimism about the future.

Civil rights for LGBT

When a Michigan lawsuit key to the legal campaign ended with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing marriage for all couples, including those of the same sex, Michigan promptly saw hundreds of happy couples tie the knot. There’s still work to be done here, though, as the state failed to apply protections of its Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act for LGBT people. Citizens who care about equality should continue demanding it of their Legislature.

It’s been a year of robust progress, adding extra joy to the wishes for a Happy New Year. Greater Lansing enjoyed a fine year in 2015; keep the momentum for 2016.

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The Port Huron Times Herald. Dec. 29, 2015

State must pay for justice, not defendants.

We thought we were making progress when Lansing moved to eliminate one of the state’s most outrageous taxes.

Beginning Oct. 1, Michigan began phasing out the “driver responsibility fees” that the Granholm administration invented in 2003 to plug a hole in the state budget. Driver responsibility fees are a tax on those convicted of reckless driving, drunken driving or driving without a valid license.

“The driver responsibility fee is a tax on the poorest people in our state,” Kentwood District Court Judge William Kelly told lawmakers in 2014. “It’s a second punishment for the same crime - double jeopardy. It’s costly for locals to collect and has no connection to driver safety.”

But it did generate about $100 million a year for the state treasury. And that’s although almost $600 million has been uncollectable since the unfair extrajudicial punishment was imposed.

Kelly helped persuade lawmakers to eliminate the fees. They’ll be phased out by 2018.

But it turns out that driver responsibility fees aren’t the only tax on people who end up in court. County courts have been assessing people convicted of crimes a tax on their misfortunes. Allegan County, for instance, charges a defendant up to $1,000 if he’s convicted in circuit court, but only half that if he brings his own lawyer. The money collected goes to operate the courthouse - including its fitness center.

The trouble with the practice is in America we expect the punishment to fit the crime. Court operating taxes punish arbitrarily and unfairly.

The state Supreme Court ordered the practice stopped, saying state law does not allow counties to tax defendants.

So the same lawmakers who fixed the driver responsibility fee then fixed the court fees. They quickly drafted and passed, and the governor signed, a bill allowing courts such as Allegan County’s to continuing taxing defendants to pay for its fitness center.

That’s not a fit idea, Thomas Boyd, a district judge in Ingham County told the Associated Press.

“The market forces that work for the butcher and the baker are inconsistent with the core principles of justice,” Boyd said. “To put courts in a position to create revenue to pay their bills isn’t a good idea.”

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The Midland Daily News. Dec. 30, 2015

A unique challenge.

The site of 4D is clear and ready for a new use but what that could be is still up in the air.

City officials and other organizations are working to come up with a long-term use plan.

Given the size of the site (10 acres) and the cost that went into clearing it ($1 million-plus in grants), and its unique configuration, there is a lot of potential. There is property adjacent to the Tridge and several trails that span both sides of the river.

However, there are issues with the site itself. It is in a flood plain. There were more than $872,000 in insurance payments for flood damage on the property, which has flooded nine times in the past 16 years. The federal grant prohibits construction of buildings on the site.

Plus, the demolition process found some oddities. There is several feet (up to 12) of rubble under the surface of the former 4D site.

City officials and several groups will spend the winter coming up with a long-term restoration plan. Those groups include the city’s parks and recreation and public works departments; The Dow Chemical Co., which owns the adjacent property; Chippewa Nature Center and Momentum Midland.

This site presents a unique challenge to planners and community groups, but we think they are up to the challenge.

We are interested to see what comes out of this planning and encourage leaders to keep an open dialogue with the public about plans and any additional challenges.

In the future, this could be a real gem.

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