The Detroit News. Jan. 15.
Give felons a chance to work
Those convicted of felonies often face difficulties finding work after being released from prison. The unfortunate result is that many return to a life of crime. A package of three bills in the Michigan Legislature has been crafted to improve the employment opportunities available to state prison parolees.
The current figures aren't good. According to the Pew Center on the States, based in Washington, D.C., one in three Michigan parolees commits a crime that sends them back to prison. Also, of those who are out of prison, about 75 percent are unemployed.
House Bills 5216-5218 attack these problems on two fronts.
Bill 5216, whose primary sponsor is Rep. Rep. Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Township, and Bill 5218, sponsored by Rep. Harvey Santana, D-Detroit, focus on improving a prisoner's behavior while behind bars and developing the skills needed to adjust to freedom.
"We know that a lot of people while incarcerated obtain a variety of (work) skills, from carpentry and welding to food service," says Santana.
But they often find it hard to use those skills because employers are afraid to hire them.
Santana's proposal would allow inmates who show an inclination for working and staying out of trouble to earn a certificate of employability, which would be given to them when they are released and could be shown to prospective employers.
"What good is it to put people in prison, have them pick up skills at taxpayer's expense but then they can't use them when they get out," Santana said.
Kesto added "we're working in Michigan to get everyone back to work. We're seeing Michigan coming back. With these bills, we're removing barriers to felons and giving them a chance to be successful and contributing members of society."
A third measure, Bill 5217 sponsored by Rep. John Walsh, R-Livonia, helps employers get past the issue of liability for hiring an ex-convict.
Currently, if a parolee commits another crime while on the job, that individual's boss could be sued.
That risk often puts a red flag on the resumes of parolees and is a reason for employers not to hire the applicants.
Walsh's bill would limit the responsibility of the employer and hopefully reduce the disincentive to hire a released prisoners.
"The goal," explains Walsh, "is to create a prison system that administers punishment but also recognizes that people will be released and so we try to provide them with skills they may need."
The bills are in the House Commerce Committee.
A hearing may be conducted on them next week.
At $2 billion, Michigan's Department of Correction's budget is one of the highest in the nation.
Dropping the recidivism rate can only have positive effects on the state's bottom line. There are many other areas where funds could be used if the budget were trimmed — schools and roads are just two.
The legislation makes sense and should become law.
Detroit Free Press. Jan. 17.
Gov. Rick Snyder talks sense in State of State
When Michigan voters hired Gov. Rick Snyder, it was largely on the basis of his financial acumen. Snyder is an accountant, a self-proclaimed nerd. And when it comes to his ability to balance the books, Snyder has rarely disappointed.
It was the prudent CPA at the podium Thursday night, as Snyder delivered his fourth State of the State address.
We were particularly heartened to hear that Snyder is in no rush to cut taxes. The state expects a $1.3-billion surplus over the next three years, and leaders in the state House have championed tax relief for Michiganders. It's a worthy idea when one considers that Snyder's substantial tax cuts for business were paid for by increasing taxes or cutting tax exemptions for individuals. But Snyder sold those business tax cuts by promising that he would balance the state's budget, that these measures were necessary to make Michigan healthy. The theory, our then-newly elected governor explained, was that we would cut now, and reinvest in important programs when the state was financially healthy again.
Well, the state is financially healthy, and it's time for reinvestment. Snyder didn't rule out a tax cut, but his team says he will focus on tax relief in the context of the year's budget. This is the smart play. With the state on solid footing, it's time to consider what aid local governments, school districts and programs might need.
Snyder is also right to focus on early childhood education, saying he will ask for another $65 million for the Great Start early childhood education program. Pre-K is a success story for Michigan. Thanks to a $65-million boost to the program last year (about half of what education advocates said was necessary) and a $51-million federal grant, Michigan's pre-K system is now admirably funded. The new funding, Snyder says, would ensure a spot for all the low-income kids currently on the state's pre-K waiting list.
The case for pre-K is clear: There is a direct return on investment for every pre-K dollar spent. At the same time, Snyder shouldn't ignore K-12 or higher education; both got short shrift in this year's speech.
Snyder proposed the creation of a Michigan Office for New Americans, to attract educated, talented immigrants. He's also seeking federal approval to make Michigan a center for a program that offers a path to citizenship for entrepreneurial immigrants with at least $500,000 to invest in certain designated areas.
It's an interesting idea, and we support efforts to make Michigan a destination for immigrants. But focusing on well-heeled new arrivals doesn't fulfill the American promise. Immigrants from all walks of life seek U.S. citizenship; we don't recall any lines about a half-million in investment dollars in the famous poem on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.
Overall, Snyder's speech Thursday hit on a few policy points that we believe are important for Michigan's future. Now, the hard part: Convincing the Legislature to go along.
Battle Creek Enquirer. Jan. 16.
Don't mess with the flu
Influenza — the real deal, not the viruses that people mistakenly call the flu — is nothing to trifle with. It's beyond miserable, potentially deadly and, in most cases, preventable.
Still, most Americans won't receive a flu vaccine, even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that influenza vaccines, on average, are about 62 percent effective.
That's less than the 70 percent to 90 percent efficacy rate the CDC estimated just a year ago, but still a far sight better than taking your chances in what is turning out to be a particularly bad flu season. So why do so many people take the risk?
The reasons are varied, complicated and differ from person to person, experts say. Some fear that the vaccine carries risks. Others are lazy. Some think the flu shot is unnecessary or won't do any good.
Candidly, the science is complicated, which is why urban legends about risks or exposure get so much traction in the public and turn off otherwise sensible, health-conscious individuals from getting vaccinated.
Even public health officials are increasingly vocal about the need for a better flu vaccine.
Today, people need to be revaccinated every year against the flu. That's because the influenza virus is constantly changing. Virologists try to predict which viruses will be in circulation in the coming season, hoping to get a good "match" between the viruses in the community and the viral strains used in the vaccine.
To their credit, they're pretty good at it, but it's still a hard sell to people skeptical of vaccinations and the drug industry in general. A "game-changing" vaccine would be very different.
Such a vaccine would produce immunity by including parts of the influenza virus that don't change from year to year and which are common among many strains of virus. Such a vaccine would protect people for a decade or more.
Such a vaccine would also be far more effective in producing "herd" or community immunity, where enough people are immunized that the community's viral load drops, protecting even the unvaccinated.The longer-term challenge, then, is to pressure drug companies to create these improved vaccines, which will only come about as the health community comes to consensus about the current science, which in spite of advances in techniques is grounded in research of the 1950s.
In the shorter term, however, convincing more Americans to get vaccinated is our best hope in combating a flu season that is proving particularly virulent this year, even killing healthy teenagers.
Even Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy who is leading efforts to improve the efficacy of influenza vaccines, strongly believes people should get yearly flu vaccines.
In spite of what you might hear, flu vaccines have a very good safety record and serve an important public health function.
Each year, influenza viruses sicken hundreds of thousands of Americans and kill between 3,000 and 49,000 of them, according to the CDC .
About half of the children who died because of influenza were previously healthy. Influenza is the eighth leading cause of death in the United States among people of all ages.
Haven't had the flu for a while? You've just been lucky, and your luck will run out.
Forget the urban legends. Look at the data, the history and the science — never perfect but always evolving — and get your shot.
Even if you're healthy and not in a risk group, your getting the vaccine contributes to a more resilient community. And that saves lives.
The Mining Journal (Marquette). Jan. 15.
Great Lakes worth protecting in compromise budget
It appears likely that funding will be restored to an environmental spending bill that has enjoyed bipartisan support since President George Bush initially backed it.
According to a story from The Associated Press, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is a program dealing with some of the lakes' most serious environmental problems such as invasive species, loss of wetlands and other wildlife habitat, toxic pollution and runoff that causes algae blooms.
The effort has received about $300 million annually since funding was first initiated in 2010. But at least one proposal last year during the big budget battles in Washington, D.C., would have reduced funding to about $60 million, an 80-percent reduction that proponents said would have rendered the program all but ineffective.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle protested when the House Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee proposed the deep cut in July, AP reported.
It was a show of bipartisan unity that starkly contrasted with the ideological warfare that caused a partial government shutdown in October, said AP.
Now, in the federal budget compromise that is gaining support this week, funding has been restored in a move, we believe, that's well founded.
The budget is a long way from being finalized and anything is still possible. That said, key Democrats and Republicans appear ready to line up behind the bill that puts the money back in.
Given the economic importance of the Great Lakes, it's a common sense approach we support.