Let's face it, for more than a decade there's been a regrettable tendency by a minority of MSU students and young people from the region to congregate on or near campus, joining in behavior that often resembles a riot, although most university and city officials prefer to label these events "disturbances." Presumably such efforts to downplay the description are meant to limit the notoriety achieved by participants, thereby discouraging repeat behavior.
LSJ reporter Kevin Grasha recently reported on the status of the 27 — mostly MSU students this time — arrested in connection with December's "disturbance" that followed the football team's Big Ten championship victory.
So far, seven have pleaded guilty to a charge of being within 300 feet of an open fire. An attorney involved in some of the cases believes plea bargains are likely that will allow the defendants to avoid a permanent criminal record and also allow them to avoid punishment under a state law that would forbid them from attending a state college or university if convicted of participating in such a disturbance.
Only three of those arrested were charged with kindling or maintaining an open fire; several were charged with assembling for a riot.
In a recent meeting with the LSJ Editorial Board, City Manager George Lahanas said it's likely that some defendants will end up with jail time. Officials expect the reality of such penalties may do more to prevent future disturbances than past efforts that focused on the message that most Spartans don't participate in violent demonstrations after major sports victories (or after disappointing losses, for that matter).
Yet East Lansing's arguably strict ordinances did little to deter the December disturbance. And while city officials strongly urge students and other young people to avoid such gatherings, suggesting their presence worsens a bad situation, they still must be cautious about abridging civil rights in their effort to promote safety.
Urging good behavior and penalizing the bad hasn't yet ended the problem. It's time to create some alternate strategies. As men's basketball head coach Tom Izzo has suggested, Spartans must learn to celebrate victories and manage defeats without fire in the streets.
The Mining Journal (Marquette). Feb. 16.
State response to propane shortage more than adequate
As Michigan has joined many of its neighboring states in struggling through a difficult propane shortage this winter, the administration of Gov. Rick Snyder seems to have been particularly responsive.
Snyder has combined several state agencies into a collaborative responding to the situation on several fronts, producing effective results. Representatives from the collaborative recently traveled to the centrally-located Escanaba area to assess the progress of the response. Snyder contacted local media to discuss the measures he's taken with the help of the collaborative or the state Legislature to address the problem. Snyder also urged federal officials, including President Barack Obama, to take action on the issue.
Snyder and members of the collaborative provided information for the public to make sure residents knew about available funding to aid low-income residents, veterans and propane suppliers in purchasing propane. They have also worked to increase supplies to the area from other parts of the country and the state attorney general's office was promptly investigating reports of propane price gouging.
The clear message the Snyder administration was trying to convey, especially in an election year, was that the governor was on the job. That's great. When a crisis occurs that's exactly where the state's chief executive should be, as close to what's occurring as possible. About the only thing we didn't see was Snyder filling a propane tank in the backyard of a thankful homeowner.
This effort is especially welcomed considering the area most prominently affected by the skyrocketing prices resulting from the low supplies is the Upper Peninsula, an area with a relatively small number of constituents and a place situated a considerable distance from Lansing. About 9 percent, or 300,000 households, in Michigan heat their homes primarily with propane.
Snyder has responded favorably in previous perilous situations in the region involving floods and fire. However this situation — perhaps because it is occurring during the deep dead of one of the coldest winters in our recent past — appears to be more demanding of a thorough response, especially given the potential ability for the shortage to affect a large number of the U.P.'s most vulnerable citizens.
A confluence of several factors -ranging from the cold winter to foreign sales of propane cutting domestic supply to propane used to dry corn last fall to low stockpiles heading into winter and facility shutdowns- combined to produce the propane shortage. State officials said the crisis was now easing on the supply side, with hopes retail prices would soon follow wholesale prices in their downward trajectory.
We think the Snyder administration has responded admirably to the propane shortage and we hope the governor and state officials will continue to deliver this type of action until the crisis has fully abated and to all of Michigan's citizens whatever the call, wherever they are. That's what being governor is all about.
The Detroit News. Feb. 18.
No special deal for Congress
The Obama administration continues to implement the Affordable Care Act in ways that defy the language of the law. The Office of Personnel Management is giving Congress and its staffers' health care premium payments that other Americans in the Obamacare exchanges can't get, and that aren't allowed for by statute.
The pre-tax payments cover about 75 percent of the premium costs. The issue isn't that the federal government, like most large employers, is covering a portion of employees' health premiums. It's that in crafting the bill, Congress specifically approved a Republican-sponsored amendment that required lawmakers and their staffs to leave their old federal insurance behind and go onto the exchanges created under the health care law.
Additionally, Congress debated and then rejected allowing the federal government to continue offering premium support. Just like all other Americans under Obamacare, members of Congress and their staffs could only qualify for subsidies if their incomes were low enough.
Democrats signed off on the amendment but later regretted the decision. Rather than accept accountability for amending the law, Congress turned to the Office of Personnel Management, which approved an exemption that the president signed off on.
If Congress has changed its mind about its own insurance benefits, it should also have changed the law.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., has filed a lawsuit to overturn the decision. The case is in U.S. District Court in Green Bay. Johnson stresses he's not against an employer providing health care contributions, but he doesn't want members of Congress to get special favors. Under Obamacare, individuals who buy plans on the health care exchange are responsible for their premiums.
Taxpayer-funded subsidies for plans on the exchanges are designed for low-income Americans, not those, like Congress, who earn good salaries.
These special subsidy payments are not only unfair but also illegal, Johnson contends. "If Congress doesn't like the law as written, it should pass a new law," he says.
That's true of the many changes that have been made to Obamacare by executive fiat instead of the legislative process.
Times Herald (Port Huron). Feb. 17.
Medical pot statute still needs work
If more tolerance for marijuana use and even its limited legalization in some states are becoming a trend, Michigan's experience has been much more problematic. Marijuana use in the state has been a disputed practice lawmakers must clarify.
When voters approved the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act in 2008, the state became a forerunner. The law made the drug available under physicians' authorization to patients who need it to relieve pain and other medical conditions.
But the law encountered a range of obstacles from legal disputes about who could grow medical marijuana and where it could be sold. A Michigan Supreme Court decision has provided some clarity, but the law is far from clear.
The court unanimously ruled this month that municipalities cannot ban medical marijuana within their boundaries, a victory for supporters of the law who have battled efforts to circumvent it.
A year ago, the state's highest court ruled that dispensaries that permit patient-to-patient medical marijuana sales are not protected by the medical pot law, a decision the law's opponents interpreted as grounds to shut them down.
"Dispensaries will have to close their doors. Sales or transfers between patients or between caregivers and patients other than their own are not permitted under the Medical Marijuana Act," Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a written statement.
The attorney general's assertion came despite the court's clarification that direct sales of medical marijuana between patients and caregivers is legal. Justices said a previous appeals court decision was wrong to assert the medical marijuana law prohibits such sales.
Although many dispensaries continue to operate, they do so with some uncertainty about the medical marijuana law's provisions.
The Supreme Court's latest decision affirms the dispensaries' right to operate. The ban some municipalities imposed said that because marijuana is illegal under federal law, that medical marijuana was illegal, too. Last year, the Justice Department said it would not block states from relaxing laws on marijuana's medical and recreational use.
Michigan's law still faces a problem that has plagued it from the start: clarification from the state Legislature. The law should be clear about who can sell the drug and where — and that's up to our lawmakers.