Lansing State Journal. April 5.
Michigan must lead on LGBT rights
Gov. Rick Snyder's direct statement that he will not sign a religious freedom bill in Michigan unless it is accompanied by civil rights protections for sexual orientation and gender identity should have Michiganders sighing in relief.
It's past time for statesman-like leadership on this important issue.
After watching Indiana politicians bumbling through their own fiasco, Michigan lawmakers should think very hard about what they do next.
To recap Indiana's events: Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a bill he and other conservatives said was needed to protect people with sincerely held religious beliefs. But Indiana has no civil rights protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and wording of its new law raised alarm that businesses would be able to deny service to LGBT patrons.
Pence and others tried to calm concerns and reassure Hoosiers and others that the law was being misunderstood. That didn't hold back the rapid reaction of business leaders. Major employers and organizations that generate huge economic activity in the state (the NCAA, for one), immediately expressed doubts about their future activities in Indiana. Significant national conventions canceled bookings. Performers canceled concerts. And on it went.
Within a day, Pence and GOP legislative leaders brought in business leaders to negotiate a revised bill and raced to enact it on Thursday. Still, concern lingers about the environment that produced the first bill and whether the revisions offer enough protection.
That's what Michigan's politicians must avoid — that long-term, intangible cost of a ruined reputation. The Great Lakes State already is at the center of the national debate about LGBT civil rights, with a case from here headed to the Supreme Court likely to settle key questions about same-sex marriage and adoption rights.
And last year, a group of prominent business leaders called for expansion of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include LGBT people. The effort fell apart when conservatives paired an RFRA with it. The religious protections did pass in the House, but the Senate failed to take it up and the bill died.
A new version was introduced in January, however. That's why it was vital that Snyder spoke up, signaling to Michigan lawmakers that he won't let them gambol down Indiana's path of missteps and stumbles.
Expand Elliott-Larsen, and do it soon. And be cautious about using "religious freedom" to undermine the rights of others.
The Detroit News. April 7.
Clarify medical marijuana
Bills to legalize marijuana dispensaries and products that serve the state's medical marijuana patients have been lingering in the Legislature. They should be a priority for lawmakers this year.
The bills would provide clarity and protection for the state's 96,000 legal medical marijuana patients.
Michigan's 2008 Medical Marijuana Act legalized use of the drug for medical patients by a large margin, with 63 percent of voters approving. But despite the law — and growing tolerance statewide for even broader marijuana use — Michigan ambiguously regulates the industry.
That's unfair to the patients in the state seeking safe, legal ways to obtain different forms of the drug, and in protected locations. It's also a challenge for law enforcement officials, who are unsure how to proceed under the state's confusing rules.
The bills were reintroduced in February after stalling out during last year's lame-duck session. Similar forms of the bills have been introduced since 2012.
Currently, Michigan law only protects smoking forms of the drug, but not edibles or topical applications, such as oils. Additionally, dispensaries that sell marijuana products — also called "provisioning centers" — are legally unprotected. This leaves patients who need those forms of the drug, including children, with few legal options.
All forms of the medicine should be equally protected, particularly as non-smoking forms of the drug are safer than many smokable forms, which are fully legal. And patients rely on these forms of the drug to treat serious and debilitating diseases.
Legalizing dispensaries would also clarify safe access points for those who need the medicine. Currently, patients are supposed to obtain medicine only from a qualified caregiver, who is restricted to working with no more than five patients.
Caregivers can be hard to find, and that system provides less regulation and fewer safety precautions than would a system of regulated, legal dispensaries.
Despite their foggy legal status, dispensaries are scattered around the state. Already 13 Michigan cities whose residents have approved local ordinances allowing recreational marijuana use have them, and in Detroit there are 180 centers.
These centers should first and foremost serve the needs of medical marijuana patients, who have a legal right to the drug. And if a community decides it doesn't want a dispensary, the legislation rightly allows for it to opt out.
The Michigan Sheriffs Association came out strongly against the bills last year, citing a "profit motive" as a reason to prevent their passage, and also argued there isn't enough personnel to properly enforce new regulations and keep it away from children.
Surely the drug should be kept out of the hands of children, and fully regulating provisioning centers would go a long way to ensuring patients, not kids, have access.
Further, there's no more profit motive for marijuana than there is for prescription drugs, which are generally abused to a greater extent, and more fatal.
The Legislature and Michigan Supreme Court have kept the state's medical marijuana program ambiguous for years, leaving those who need to use the system properly in limbo, and often in fear of being arrested.
It's time to clarify the legal rights of medical marijuana patients in the state by acting on these bills.
Detroit Free Press. April 3.
California's thirst should be nation's wakeup call
California Gov. Jerry Brown broke the bad news from a parched field bereft of greenery or moisture: "We should be standing on 5 feet of snow," he said. "We are in a historic drought."
For Californians, a fourth consecutive year of below-average rainfall and snowmelt will mean the first mandatory water restrictions in the state's history.
But those of us living in the other 49 states won't be exempt from the fallout. California farmers, who provide about half the country's fruits and vegetables, have already lost hundreds of thousands of acres of previously productive farmland. The impact on produce prices at your local grocery store will only intensify if the drought, already reckoned the worst in California's recorded history, persists.
As U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, noted, "the entire nation should take notice that the most productive agricultural state in the country has entered uncharted territory."
Californians have contended with water shortages for more than a century, and meteorologists and climate scientists disagree about the extent to which climate change is culpable for the current crisis.
Most say that natural variability accounts for the state's dramatically reduced rainfall, although a group of researchers at Stanford University blame greenhouse gas emissions.
But California's lack of rain has been exacerbated by a warming trend that is more conclusively linked to man-made climate change. Higher temperatures accelerate evaporation and reduce the snowpack that has historically served as a natural reservoir for California farmers. This year's snowpack measures just 6 percent of the historical average.
Brown's drought-fighting strategy has so far focused on a combination of long-term efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and conservation initiatives. The 25 percent reduction mandated for California's towns and cities this week was imposed only after the state fell far short of the 20 percent reduction that Brown sought when he issued voluntary conservation standards in January 2014.
Republican legislators skeptical that Californians can conserve or ration their way out of the current drought have called for new water projects that could boost the state's fresh water supply. They are the ideological brethren of the drill-baby-drill crowd that seeks to parry a looming energy shortage by increasing the domestic production of oil, coal and natural gas.
But many of these supply-side efforts are energy-intensive, threatening to deepen California's dependency on fossil fuels even as the drought reduces hydroelectric power.
The Mining Journal (Marquette). April 7.
Rolling Stone has no one to blame but itself
There is very little anyone can say in defense of Rolling Stone magazine's handling of the sexual assault story it published last year, which sent the University of Virginia campus and fraternity Phi Kappa Psi into turmoil.
"A Rape on Campus" by Sabrina Rubin Erdely was brimming with bad journalistic practices, according to a scathing review conducted by the Columbia School of Journalism published (April 5).
The review was requested by Rolling Stone Managing Editor Will Dana, who officially retracted the article Monday, reported The Associated Press.
Quickly, in review: The article, published in the magazine's November 2014 edition, detailed a culture of sexual assault on the Virginia campus and one young woman's terrifying experience with it.
Almost immediately, media sources started looking at the story more closely and asking tough questions, the same ones Rolling Stone editors should have been asking from the start.
This, according to the review, was a mess that absolutely did not have to happen.
The report, AP said, found three major flaws in the magazine's reporting methodology: Erdely did not try to contact key sources in the story, instead taking Jackie's (the alleged victim) word for it that one of them refused to talk; the reporter failed to give enough details of the alleged assault when she contacted the fraternity for comment, which made it difficult for the organization to investigate; and Rolling Stone did not try hard enough to find the person Jackie accused of orchestrating the assault.
Everyone with dirty hands is, of course, apologizing all over the place: Dana, for letting Erdely commit the journalistic sins that she did; and Erdely herself, for commiting the sins.
The people who battle sexual assault, meanwhile, are worrying aloud that this mess will discourage people from reporting actual assaults. Fraternity leaders were said to be lawyering up.
With so much information flowing into and out newsrooms each day, we understand how good-faith errors can happen.
What wasn't the case here, however. Rolling Stone was sloppy, which produced a very bad result.