A roundup of recent Michigan newspaper editorials

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Lansing State Journal. April 15.

Marching toward future of Facility for Rare Isotope Beams

Michigan State University and the region's business community got good news when President Barack Obama's budget proposal for 2014 included $55 million toward the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams at the East Lansing campus.

The FRIB, a project of the U.S. Department of Energy, is a $680 million development that will keep the university at the forefront of international research in nuclear physics and spark an anticipated $1 billion in economic impact over its first decade. It is the most significant economic development prospect since the region successfully convinced General Motors to keep making vehicles here a decade ago.

With the promise of some 400 affiliated scientists and the eventual growth of an "accelerator sector" in the local economy, the FRIB project is poised to increase the region's reputation as a center for scientific research while providing the stimulus of related businesses. At the same time, it is likely to increase interest in the study of science and, long term, may well raise expectations about educational attainment and career choices for area youngsters. Those are the local implications. Scientifically, its impact would be immense. The facility is expected to expand understanding of the origins of the stars and planets, advance medical technologies and strengthen research related to defense and the life sciences. In other words, by every measure, the FRIB is brimming with positive possibilities.

Getting the funding to see the FRIB successfully developed will be a challenge until it is up and running, which could happen by 2019 if all goes well.

Last year's rather anemic proposal from President Obama came in at $22 million; Michigan's U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin and U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Howell, whose district includes Greater Lansing, advocated for more. Fiscal politics kept Congress for formally adopting a budget, thus 2012 funding continued. And a recent decision by an advisory committee of nuclear scientists to rank the FRIB as the nation's second-most critical project prompted some concern. Still, university officials and community leaders can take hope from the more generous proposal suggested last week.

While the university has kept the project moving despite this year's limited funding, it has not yet won approval to start construction. That could still happen this summer — and would be a welcome development indeed.

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Times Herald (Port Huron). April 15.

Helmet law proves it's a bad idea

Michigan's new helmet law saw more motorcycle fatalities in its first year on the books. That shouldn't come as any surprise.

The mandatory helmet requirement the Legislature repealed was a good statute with sound common sense. Its premise was riding a motorcycle without a helmet unnecessarily courts danger. Making helmets optional is verifying the value of the former law.

Michigan's motorcycle fatalities increased by 18 percent last year. Office of Highway Safety Planning's data shows deaths rose from 109 in 2011 to 129 in 2012.

Some attribute the spike to Michigan's abnormally warm weather. March's balmy temperatures brought motorcycles out on the roads in numbers usually seen in late spring and summer, a factor that might account for the rise in fatal accidents.

A University of Michigan researcher has a different take. She blames the new helmet law.

An assistant research scientist with the U-M Transportation Research Institute's Biosciences Group and co-manager of the Transportation Data Center, Carol Flannagan studied motorcycle crash statistics from April 13, when the mandatory helmet law's repeal went into effect, through the end of 2012.

When Flannagan compared the data to the same period in previous years, she concluded Michigan's optional helmet law contributed to the increase in motorcycle deaths. She estimated 26 fewer motorcycle deaths and 49 fewer serious injuries would have occurred last year if helmets still were mandatory.

In comparing the periods, Flannagan said her research shows 76 percent of motorcycle accident victims wore helmets after helmets no longer were required. In the same period in each of the three years before the helmet law was changed, 98 percent wore helmets.

The fatality rate, she said was nearly three times higher for motorcycle accident victims without helmets than for those who wore them.

None of that was lost on opponents of the new law. They predicted it would result in greater fatalities.

Armed with Flannagan's findings, insurance and health-care leaders told state lawmakers last week to restore the mandatory helmet law. But don't expect that to happen.

Legislators tried for years to repeal the old law. But Gov. Jennifer Granholm always vetoed the legislation. When the latest attempt reached the desk of Gov. Rick Snyder, he signed it into law. Despite common sense, it is here to stay.

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Traverse City Record-Eagle. April 16.

Quash anti-referendum dodge

The debate over whether Michigan should allow hunters to kill wolves in the Upper Peninsula is certainly worth having.

Opponents who say the state rushed to establish a hunt just weeks after the wolf was taken off the endangered species list are right that the state must take more time and hear from a lot more people before establishing a hunt.

More alarming, however, is that the Legislature is also taking aim at Michigan voters and their constitutional right to petition by sticking a phony-baloney appropriation onto a wolf hunt bill to make the issue referendum-proof.

It's an underhanded but legal tactic used by lawmakers to prevent voters from putting contentious issues on a future statewide ballot. The tactic is usually used in cases like this — issues that are likely to take a shellacking at the polls and by lawmakers who hold voters — and the referendum system — in contempt.

Under state law, appropriations bills can't be overturned by a referendum, so tying a $1 million appropriation to the wolf bill takes the decision out of voters' hands. The bill in question would give the state's Natural Resources Commission, along with the Legislature, final say on which species are open to hunting; the bill would also give the Legislature the sole authority to remove species from the list.

That's a total usurpation of the role of the outdoor professionals Michigan has long relied on to manage our resources and gives that power to state politicians, the absolutely last people we want making what should be science-based decisions.

Instead, lawmakers have opened the process to the lobbyists who seem to hold sway in Lansing these days.

A group called Keep Michigan Wolves Protected has already collected 254,000 signatures on petitions to put the issue to voters in 2014. That's more than enough to gain ballot status, so lawmakers decided to stoop to the appropriations ploy to keep them at bay. That stinks.

This isn't to say a limited wolf hunt in the Upper Peninsula isn't good science. The Department of Natural Resources has formally proposed a wolf hunt in three areas of the UP to let hunters kill up to 43 of the estimated 658 wolves there. But the Legislature should have no role in that decision or be the sole arbiter of which species should be taken off the hunting list.

If the bill makes it to his desk, Gov. Rick Snyder should veto it. In the meantime, the next statewide petition effort should be deep-six the appropriations ploy once and for all.

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The Detroit News. April 16.

Let experts manage Michigan's wildlife

Two Senate bills that would give the state Natural Resources Commission power to designate wildlife as game animals have opponents howling. Some are particularly upset because the legislation reinforces the current law allowing wolf hunting in the Upper Peninsula. But these bills are reasonable.

Over the years, the Department of Natural Resources has expertly managed deer, elk, turkey and other wild game. So much so that Michigan sportsmen now enjoy some of the best hunting in the Midwest. Its management has ensured a plentiful supply of game, while also guaranteeing that herd numbers remain stable. In some cases, the numbers of animals have increased, despite the harvest by hunters.

The bluster over the bills — especially the fervor over wolf hunting — led by groups such as the Human Society risks upsetting an effective system of wildlife management.

A law passed last year authorized hunting of wolves in Michigan, and the DNR has proposed allowing hunters to kill up to 47 wolves this fall in parts of the Upper Peninsula. The department's data show the animal is no longer an endangered species and has even become a threat to livestock and other wild species in some areas.

As noted by bill supporter Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake Township, evidence has grown that the wolves are attacking farm animals. Of even greater concern are reports that wolves are making their way closer to communities. In one case, Kowall says, a pack of wolves roamed near a playground crowded with children.

The legislation would pre-empt an effort by those who oppose wolf hunting to make an appeal to voters. The group Keep Michigan Wolves Protected has gathered and submitted more than 250,000 signatures in the hopes of placing the issue on the November ballot. Those signatures are awaiting certification. The group argues that with less than 700 wolves in Michigan, it's too soon to start killing them.

One of the Senate bills, however, contains a $1 million appropriation, meaning it could not be overturned by a citizen's referendum. So opponents to wolf hunting see the legislation as a runaround to the referendum process.

It may be, but in this case it's warranted. Decisions about wildlife management should not be subject to campaigns, often funded by out-of-staters, that play to the emotions of voters.

Currently, the power for designating game animals for hunting lies with the Legislature. The proposed bills would allow the Natural Resources Commission to decide which animals could be hunted.

The Legislature would retain supervision of the commission and could reverse decisions on hunting.

Concerns also have been expressed that the bills would potentially nullify the public vote's ban on dove hunting. The referendum was ill-advised, but voters did speak on the matter and their decision should be honored. It should not be tampered with by the Legislature.

Michigan has a rich tradition of hunting, and these bills would help preserve that heritage.

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