The Detroit News. June 16, 2016
End unfair local road match levy.
Troy does not want to pay the tab for making commuting easier for its Oakland County neighbors. And who can blame it? The suburb has its own road needs, and not enough money to meet them.
But under an archaic and extremely unfair state cost-sharing law, Troy is in line to kick in $9.6 million to help fund the reconstruction and widening of Interstate 75. Meanwhile it's neighbor, Bloomfield Township, will pay nothing.
The discrepancy stems from a provision in a 1951 law that requires "cities and villages" with at least 25,000 residents to pay a portion of the state's cost for highway construction projects within their borders.
Troy — population 81,000 — is a city. Bloomfield — population 41,000 — is a township, and since townships are not mentioned in the law, it gets off free.
The inequity of the formula is obvious. That's why the Legislature passed a bill sponsored by Sen. Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy, to repeal that provision of the law and end the cost sharing altogether.
The repeal is headed to Gov. Rick Snyder's desk, and he ought to sign it without delay. In the name of fairness alone, the bill is justified.
But there's a catch. Snyder's transportation department is objecting to the legislation for reasons that are purely financial.
Without the local matches, the state will lose $22 million a year in road funding dollars.
Too bad, so sad. Keeping a law on the books that treats taxpayers in different communities unequally cannot be defended, no matter what the cost to the state.
Consider how the current law would impact Troy if it's not repealed.
The city gets about $3.9 million from the state for "major streets" work, and spends about $2.8 million of that on maintenance. If forced to pay the I-75 match, it would have to return $1.2 million, or nearly one-third of its state grant.
And its residents would benefit no more from the freeway work than those in other communities along the route who will be saved from the matching payment.
Municipal leaders have complained for years about the match and its impact on their budgets. Local match funding for state trunk-line projects has ranged from $2 million to $7 million annually for the past five years.
Local budgets are already strained, and should not have to absorb costs they have no say in levying.
Snyder should sign this bill. And if the state decides it needs local matches for road projects, the Legislature should consider a measure that would spread the costs more equitably.
Battle Creek Enquirer. June 17, 2016
What to do about assault weapons.
The gun lobby and its shills in Congress argue that no amount of gun control can prevent the kind of carnage the nation witnessed in Orlando, and they're right — so long we continue to let them write legislation.
Take gunman Omar Mateen's primary weapon of choice in the June 12 massacre: a SIG Sauer MCX semi-automatic rifle.
It's known in military circles as "the black mamba" and was developed at the request of the U.S. Army's special forces. The National Rifle Association and industry execs, of course, don't market it as an assault weapon, preferring the label "modern sporting rifle."
Similar to the better-known AR-15, this weapon was designed expressly to kill people quickly and efficiently, and early Sunday, a heavily armed Mateen took full advantage, taking 49 lives and wounding 53 before losing his own life in a shootout with police
As horrific as his work was, the gunman's choice of weapon was unexceptional. Seven out of the eight most recent mass shootings have been committed with an assault weapon, according to a database of these shootings maintained by Mother Jones magazine.
The reason has nothing to do with the weapon's name, but with firepower. The SIG Sauer MCX comes stock with a magazine capacity of 30 rounds. In some states, similarly styled weapons can have even larger capacities, giving madmen like Mateen maximum opportunity to kill with minimum interruption.
High-capacity magazines are a common thread in America's epidemic of mass shootings. Jason Dalton, the suspect in the rampage in Kalamazoo that killed six people and wounded two others, had in his vehicle a 9mm semiautomatic pistol with an extended magazine.
All of these weapons and their magazines are legal, although some states, such as New Jersey, have greater restrictions and among the lowest gun-death rates in the country. As the Boston Globe noted in a searing editorial Thursday, we offer waterfowl greater protection in this nation, limiting hunters to three shells.
It's not even clear that Mateen's killing machine would have been illegal when the nation's assault weapons ban was in force from 1994 to 2004. The reason is that the assault weapons ban, signed into law by President Bill Clinton as part of a sweeping crime bill, was riddled with loopholes. The compromise legislation focused on the names of popular assault weapons of the day — the AR-15, the AK-47, the Uzi — rather than the military specs that made such weapons so lethal. The law was easy to skirt, and manufacturers were all too willing to do so.
In the aftermath of last Saturday's spree, public support for a nationwide ban on assault spiked 13 points since December to 57 percent, according to a CBS News poll. If that's a tipping point in public opinion, lawmakers should seize the moment. We can't get rid of these weapons soon enough.
But lawmakers need to be smart, do their research and expect no good-faith effort from the gun lobby, whose sole purpose is to advance the financial interests of gun manufacturers.
When opponents criticize gun control as ineffective, it's in truth an indictment of their own role in the process. Ample research shows that limits on the types of weapons and magazine capacities reduces gun deaths, just as empirical evidence demonstrates more restrictive background checks would prevent most mass shooters from purchasing their weapons.
None of these measures are incompatible with the Second Amendment in any but the most extreme interpretation. Congress — as well as our state Legislature — can protect lives and our rights with common-sense gun regulation. They should do both.
Lansing State Journal. June 13, 2016
Victims deserve transparency.
Agencies that work with victims of sexual assault should have a singular mission: provide support and services these victims need. Every interaction, policy and decision must take into account first how it will affect the victims.
The Listening Ear lost sight of that mission when it allowed three convicted sex offenders to work at the all-volunteer nonprofit in roles that allowed for direct contact with victims.
Some on the nonprofit's board of directors were aware of these men's backgrounds; others were unaware because the agency, at the time, did not conduct background checks for volunteers. That policy changed on June 5, in swift response to public outcry after LSJ broke the story. All current and future volunteers must now undergo a background check.
The Listening Ear also fired the three sex offenders, an appropriate move considering the mission of the organization. Some may argue these offenders have paid their debt to society and should be allowed to give back to their community.
They should - just not at a nonprofit charged with providing support and services to sexual assault victims.
Both actions from the Listening Ear make sense, albeit too little, too late. The damage has been done. Trust has been breached.
Other organizations that interact with assault victims, including Michigan State University, Small Talk Children's Assessment Center and the Firecracker Foundation, have distanced themselves from the Listening Ear. They're rightfully concerned.
So is the Legislature.
In the wake of the news last week, State Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. introduced a bill that would prohibit registered sex offenders from working or volunteering for any organization that serves sexual assault victims or children. Common sense would tell us this shouldn't be an issue; yet, the Listening Ear situation tells us differently.
Pass the legislation.
The Listening Ear, no doubt, has been a tremendous resource in Greater Lansing for the better part of five decades. The 24-hour-crisis line receives more than 1,000 calls per month. Yet the agency is also a cautionary tale for when best practices are disregarded.
Victims of sexual assault deserve peace of mind in knowing the Greater Lansing agencies they reach out to for help employ trained staff and volunteers who have passed background checks. The Listening Ear, and other local agencies, should be transparent about how they ensure the safety and well-being of all the people they serve.
Times Herald (Port Huron). June 13, 2016
Kalamazoo bikers must not be forgotten.
After an erratic pickup driver killed five Kalamazoo area bicycle riders last week, Michigan lawmakers introduced bills to make it a crime to bicyclists. Timing is everything.
State Sens. Margaret O'Brien, R-Portage, and David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, did the right thing in introducing legislation that would protect vulnerable roadway users such as pedestrians, bicyclists or people in wheelchairs. The bill, if passed, would extend the same sort of protection that road workers, emergency responders, children in school zones and farm workers share.
Similar to laws in other states, it would make it a 15-year felony to cause a motor vehicle crash that seriously injures or kills a bicyclist or pedestrian.
We worry O'Brien and Knezek's legislation will change things only as much as the perennial outrage over America's gun culture. The anger and concern ebb and flow with the headlines, and elected officials both demand and promise reforms after each atrocity. But the Orlando massacre will fall off the front pages in a few days, and so will the notion that not everyone should have an AR-15.
Debra A. Bradley, Melissa A. Fevig-Hughes, Fred Anton (Tony) Nelson, Lorenz J. (Larry) Paulik and Suzanne J. Sippel were last week's headline. Police say Charlie Pickett, of Battle Creek, deliberately hit them with his pickup and killed them.
They aren't the only Michigan bicyclists killed by motor vehicles.
Likewise, O'Brien and Knezek are not the first Michigan lawmakers to propose a vulnerable roadway user bill. Similar bills have been introduced in the Legislature since at least 2013, and have gone nowhere.
Even if this current bill is a priority, those Kalamazoo riders will have faded from lawmakers' memories before they do anything about it. The Legislature adjourned for its long summer vacation last week, and doesn't return to anything that looks like a regular schedule until September. Even then, there are barely a dozen sessions scheduled for September, October and November.
Perhaps we should mark it on our calendars. On Nov. 29, call or write lawmakers and remind them that Bradley, Fevig-Hughes, Nelson, Paulik and Sippel died June 7 and that we're still outraged that nothing has been done to protect vulnerable roadway users.