- Associated Press - Monday, February 20, 2017

Detroit News. February 14, 2017

More reform needed on property seizures

Gov. Rick Snyder began the new year by signing legislation to make it easier and cheaper for Michigan citizens to get back property seized by police. It was an important step, but the state still must do more to fix its civil asset forfeiture law.

The new law prohibits the state from charging bonds to challenge forfeitures in court. Previously, Michigan required those whose property had been grabbed to pay 10 percent of its value before mounting a challenge.

The requirement particularly kept the poor, who couldn’t afford bond, from recovering property wrongfully taken from them by the police. Even if a case against then never resulted in charges or criminal convictions, their property still wasn’t returned.

The repeal of the bond requirement represents some progress in civil asset forfeiture reform. Still, the Institute for Justice’s “Policing for Profit” study gives Michigan a D-minus grade for its asset forfeiture laws.

The best solution is simple: End civil asset forfeiture altogether.

Michigan police departments have used civil asset forfeiture to seize more than $244 million in the past 13 years.

The practice lets police departments take property they believe was gained from or was involved in criminal activity. It’s a very subjective assessment, based entirely on the officers’ suspicions. Police don’t have to prove in court that property is connected to criminal activity before they take it, effectively eliminating due process.

In Michigan, law enforcement agencies can keep 100 percent of the profits from asset seizures. States like Indiana make police departments send forfeiture profits to the state school fund. If Michigan keeps civil asset forfeiture at all, then police departments should not be allowed to retain profits. This provides an incentive to grab property to fatten police budgets.

The Michigan Legislature also made it more difficult last year for the police to seize property by raising the burden of proof from “a preponderance” to “clear and convincing.” The Legislature needs to raise the standard even more and demand criminal convictions before property can be taken. Any bar lower than a criminal conviction amounts to government-authorized theft.

Only two states, Nebraska and New Mexico, currently demand criminal convictions before police can take property.

Michigan should become the third by passing a law introduced last week by Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, requiring a criminal conviction before property is seized.

New laws do require police departments to keep records of asset forfeitures and report them to the state. These restrictions are wins for transparency, but the same problems still remain: Police can take and keep property from innocent people.

Civil asset forfeiture reform has not been a partisan issue. In a joint press release, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and the Mackinac Center praised lawmakers for Michigan’s recent criminal justice reforms. But both institutions agree there is more to be done.

The Legislature should put an end to this abusive government power and allow the police only to seize property after a criminal conviction has been reached and a court decides taking the assets is appropriate.

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Lansing State Journal. February 14, 2017

Land easements a sticky subject for county

While cities and municipalities celebrate new development and upward growth along the corridors between them, the Ingham County Board of Commissioners is working with farmers and landowners to also preserve the open spaces through land easements.

Land easements are used to preserve open space for aesthetic or agricultural purposes in perpetuity: They allow for reasonable controls on development, but could become problematic if and when land use needs change.

Ingham County’s Farmland and Open Space Preservation program is currently supported by a millage of .14 mills - approximately $14 per year from the owner of a home with a taxable value of $100,000 - which brings in just under $1 million per year since its approval in 2008.

According to LSJ reporting, around $6.6 million has been spent on easements to protect nearly 5,500 acres across the county.

Ingham County pays millions to secure farming future

This includes land directly adjacent to the still-growing Jackson National Life headquarters on Okemos Road near Interstate 96.

But what happens when the millage sunsets in 2018? Without a millage renewal, addition of land would be halted and contested lands could be left unprotected with litigation virtually a certainty.

“We have not encountered that yet (in Ingham County),” said Stacy Byers, director of the program. “In my opinion, I think it’s just a matter of time.”

Other areas around the state are undertaking similar protection efforts. However it takes a continuous source of money to protect land - including maintenance and possible legal defense - not just a one-time purchase of the easement.

Land easements near fast developing communities from Grand Rapids to Detroit are likely to be called into question as urban areas continue growth. Over the next 3-5 years, some of the millages supporting programs across the state could go away.

The Ingham County board would be wise to examine these other areas’ programs and develop more strategy. To consider an endowment fund is already on the table and should be made a priority.

They should also consider alternative options other than ‘in perpetuity’ - needs of residents and natural value of land changes over time.

Greater Lansing will need this flexibility to balance land preservation and development over time.

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Times Herald (Port Huron). February 16, 2017

Paramedics numbers rising; SC14’s should too

Sorry if this spoils your dreams, but we have a bit of career advice for you: Don’t become an actor.

You would starve.

There are tools available that can predict whether a given career choice will lead to full-time employment and a full-sized paycheck. The federal government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics maintains its Occupational Outlook Handbook, which predicts which jobs will be in demand nationwide. The state of Michigan maintains its list of the hottest 50 career choices. And third-party researchers, such as those at projectionscentral.com, maintain detailed databases of careers that are growing and those that are not.

Acting is not. About 300 people in Michigan make their livings as actors. That is expected to increase by about 10 through 2014. Not a wise career move.

Emergency medical technicians and paramedics, though, are in a growth industry. Employment of paramedics is expected to grow by about 230 a year from now until 2014, with a total increased employment of 17 percent. Michigan paramedics are paid an average of about $31,000 to $32,000 a year, which is also the national average.

Those sorts of numbers make the St. Clair County Community College numbers that much more surprising. The college has just five students enrolled in its paramedic program; the EMT program has 10. Consider also the declining number of schools training the state’s future paramedics and you can see why Ken Cummings, executive director of Tri-Hospital EMS, is worried about where his front-line first responders will be coming from in the future.

Paramedics have important, fulfilling careers, get decent pay and make a difference in their communities. And they can get their training at SC4 in two years and at reasonable tuition rates that won’t stack up insurmountable student debt. It seems like an obvious choice that should attract more than just a handful of students.

Certainly, nobody - or almost nobody - checks with the Bureau of Labor Statistics when they are dreaming about what will become their life’s work. Choosing a career is personal. And not everyone has the skills and traits and desire to be a mechanical, electrical or software engineer - some of the fastest growing careers. Some will want to be lumberjacks, even though the job outlook is scant.

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The Mining Journal. February 16, 2017

DNR officer’s quick action saved life of Gladstone boy

Although some - perhaps a great many - may not realize it, Michigan Department of Natural Resources conservation officers are actually sworn police officers who are responsible for enforcing federal and state laws while keeping an eye on wildlife.

Known as fish cops, 13 of these officers have fallen in the line of duty over the years in the state of Michigan. Innumerable others have been involved in saving lives and preventing property losses.

So when word arrived in The Mining Journal newsroom recently that an Upper Peninsula conservation officer had saved the life of a Gladstone boy, it was completely in keeping with the lengthy, honorable service these men and women give and have given to the state of Michigan, its residents and wildlife.

The Delta County drama involved Conservation Officer Patrick Hartsig, a two-year DNR veteran who was driving near Hunter’s Point on the Stonington Peninsula on a recent Sunday afternoon when his radio reported a missing 10-year-old special needs boy who had reportedly run away from family members from a home along Lake Michigan.

Hartsig, who had put in a shift on snowmobile patrol duty in Alger County earlier that day, knew he was near the reported location of the emergency. He immediately deployed his sled from the trailer he was towing and headed out onto the ice.

“I found him with no shoes on, wandering around about a mile away from shore,” Hartsig said in a press release distributed by the agency. “There was no one around him. There was one old ice shack. No one was in it.”

The boy was wearing jeans, a shirt and a jacket, but had no hat or gloves and his stocking feet were wet and cold.

“He was crying, he was scared . He said his feet hurt,” Hartsig said.

Hartsig bundled the boy up as best he could, warming his wet feet before heading back to shore to the Michigan State Police post in Gladstone, which is situated near the shoreline. With emergency services personnel standing by, the boy was quickly reunited with family.

Hartsig’s quick action, training and experience is credited with saving the boy’s life. To the chorus of congratulations, we’d add ours. Patrick Hartsig is a credit to the DNR and the entire state.

We are fortunate to have him on patrol in our neck of the woods.

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