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A roundup of recent Michigan newspaper editorials

March 5, 2018

The Detroit News. February 27, 2018

Fix no-fault, don’t scrap it

Some lawmakers want to give up on fixing Michigan’s no-fault insurance law and instead scrap it and return to a tort system in which motorists sue each other to recover damages.

The frustration by these Republican legislators is understandable. They spent nearly all of 2017 trying to forge an agreement on no-fault reform, and walked away empty handed.

Meanwhile, insurance rates in Michigan continue to soar. With an average annual policy cost of $2,610, auto insurance premiums are the highest in the nation, according to industry surveys, almost double the national average of $1,427.

The reason is simple: Michigan is the only one of 18 no-fault states that provides unlimited lifetime medical benefits for those injured in automobile accidents.

A proposal offered last year by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, whose residents pay rates that are often double the statewide average, would have allowed motorists to choose lower cost policies with caps on medical coverage.

Providing unlimited benefits with no fee schedule for the services provided and very little oversight of claims has created a hugely expensive system rife with fraud and mismanagement.

Even so, the best option is still to fix no-fault — not jettison it altogether.

The most effective fix is the one proposed by Duggan — capping lifetime benefits. Opponents of limiting the payouts argue that doing so will deny accident victims the treatment they deserve and hamper their recovery.

But all of the other no-fault states have caps, without that doomsday scenario playing out. Once the auto insurance benefits are expended, health insurance benefits kick in.

Most other states also have fee schedules to set rates for services provided to accident victims, and restrictions on what treatments are covered. Michigan has neither, meaning victims can demand payment for just about anything they feel is necessary for their recovery.

While no-fault was supposed to keep the settlement of auto accident claims out of the courts, lawsuits have climbed, thanks to rulings by the state Supreme Court expanding the types of personal injury claims that could be filed.

Returning to a pure tort system will drive up the cost of claims and work against the goal of reducing insurance premiums.

Lawmakers should keep trying for fair and effective reform of Michigan’s no-fault system.

A fix is possible that places reasonable limits and cost controls on the benefits for accident victims, without denying them the essential services they need.

No-fault as currently structured has not worked in Michigan. In fact, based on the cost of policies, it has been a disaster.

Lawmakers need to step up.

Putting the right fixes in place would make no-fault live up to its original promise in Michigan, as it has in the other states where it is the law.

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Traverse City Record-Eagle. February 28, 2018

Great Lakes funding must survive process

The White House’s disregard for funding for Great Lakes restoration and preservation projects is becoming a recurring nightmare.

About a year after the Trump administration announced a first attempt to gut funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative — a move that failed to gain support from lawmakers who must approve budget proposals — the Office of Management and Budget came back for another bite.

This time the proposed budget would slash GLRI funding by 90 percent — from $300 million to $30 million per year — effectively demolishing a program that funds both local and regional efforts to restore or preserve our lakes. The cut would be part of a proposed $2.8 billion cut from the Environmental Protection Agency for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

The repeated swipes at the GLRI should send a clear, alarming message to everyone who enjoys our state’s most important natural resource.

Apparently some of our country’s political elite believe the same level of cleanliness attained in the Hudson River where it flows around Manhattan should be good enough for lakes in the middle of “flyover country.”

But the standard of cleanliness met by the Hudson, the 24th most polluted river in the U.S. according to a 2012 study, simply isn’t good enough for the Great Lakes.

The GLRI has provided more than $2 billion in funding for cleanup efforts and invasive species mitigation, including programs intended to keep Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes.

On the local level the GLRI has funneled millions of dollars into the Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay, the Boardman River Restoration Project and the Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network. The latter works to stop invasive plants from entering the region and funds programs that plant native species in the region.

“We’re able to put a lot of boots on the ground, hire seasonal workers and hire local businesses all because we have this Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding,” said Invasive Species Network program coordinator Katie Grzesiak.

The health of the Great Lakes, which represent about 20 percent of the world’s surface freshwater, probably is one of the most important issues facing our state. It’s particularly important when considering about 20 percent of jobs in our region are somehow tied to the lakes.

Thankfully lawmakers from every state bordering the Great Lakes signed onto a successful effort last year to circumvent the cut.

Many, including both Rep. Jack Bergman and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, have again pledged to use their budget-approval powers to ensure the GLRI remains intact for at least one more year.

Those who represent the Great Lakes are ready to fight for GLRI funding once again, a brawl that appears set to become an unnecessary annual occurrence.

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Times Herald (Port Huron). February 27, 2018

Overdue bills aim to stop next Nassar

Statutes of limitations on criminal prosecutions are a peculiarly American thing. In Great Britain, for instance, the time never expires for arresting and prosecuting a person for a crime he has committed.

Here, though, an offender can be off the hook if all he does is avoid prosecution long enough. In Michigan, the statute of limitations for most crimes is six years, 10 years for kidnapping and no limit on bringing murder or first-degree rape cases. Criminal sexual conduct with a minor is 10 years or when the victim turns 21 years old, whichever comes later.

There are reasons why criminal statutes of limitations are popular with state legislatures. Intertwining arguments, for instance, suggest that law enforcement agencies should focus on more recent crimes because those perpetrators are more imminently dangerous, whereas someone who last committed a crime a decade ago is essentially rehabilitated.

Further, bringing years-old cases to trial is difficult, costly and unpredictable because time erodes both evidence and memories. Civil rights activists argue that time particularly fades evidence of innocence, although legal authorities suggest it helps neither side in a criminal case.

Victims, reasonably, don’t care about the exigencies and efficiencies of putting a criminal case together for a jury. They prefer justice.

Michigan lawmakers appear ready to give it to them.

A bipartisan, 10-bill package of bills prompted by the Larry Nassar-Michigan State University sex abuse scandal would eliminate or lengthen the statute of limitations for second- and third-degree criminal sexual conduct.

The bills also would all but eliminate any time limits on suing in civil court. Instead of their 19th birthdays, survivors of sexual assaults minors would have until their 48th birthdays to file a lawsuit. Adult victims would have 30 years to pursue a civil claim.

The bills are expected to get quick approval in the Legislature.

Other bills in the package promise to better protect women and children from predators. Perhaps the most important provision would add college employees and youth sports coaches, trainers and volunteers to those required to report suspicions of abuse. It would also increase criminal penalties for those who look the other way.

If one thing is clear from the Nassar disaster it is that too many people knew for it to continue as long as it did. Those who knew, regardless of their role, should be held accountable.

Other provisions would eliminate any claim of governmental immunity for people and institutions and would remove any time limit for suing state agencies or employees that allow sexual assaults to happen. Perhaps they will protect the children next time and not the institution.

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Petoskey News-Review. March 2, 2018

City, county need to keep downtown parking conversation going

Parking restrictions aren’t always a popular policy action, particularly not in busy neighborhoods where the availability of spaces is often tight.

However, we see valid reasoning behind Emmet County’s recent move to enforce parking-permit requirements in some of its downtown Petoskey lots near the county building during business hours. From 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, the new ordinance limits use of certain lots to vehicles with county-issued stickers — available for Emmet County employees, elected officials and some others who regularly visit the county building for official duties — while allowing for public use of the parking spaces outside of those hours. Violations of the permit requirements could result in a fine of $100 for the first offense, $250 for the second or $500 for the third.

In the lead-up to county commissioners’ mid-February approval of the ordinance, new Emmet County administrator John Calabrese said he supported the proposal because he wanted county employees to have free parking available nearby. The ordinance also notes an objective to make side streets safer, since county employees and vehicles will be less likely to park along these and narrow the space available for motorists to travel.

These are legitimate goals. But, while Calabrese expects the daytime lot restrictions will help resolve the parking crunch for county employees, he noted there would still not be enough spots for all county employees in the lots even with the new rules. To us, this underscores the need for county leaders, along with Petoskey’s Downtown Management Board, its staff and other city officials, to maintain effective lines of communication on shared downtown parking concerns going forward.

Through the years, the notion of adding a parking structure to county-owned lots near the corner of Lake and Division streets occasionally has surfaced at local meetings. Working on county officials’ behalf, in the 1990s Walker Parking Consultants developed potential concepts for this structure, and the firm in recent years provided Petoskey officials with updated cost projections for these, which would involve adding one elevated level of parking and take advantage of that area’s sloped terrain for construction. The concepts offered each would provide net gains of more than 100 spaces from those currently in place at ground level, and carried projected price tags just shy of $4 million.

The project at the Lake/Division corner likely would be less pricey than a structure concept which has been discussed for another publicly owned parking area downtown, the city’s Darling Lot at Michigan and Petoskey streets. But funding would likely present a significant hurdle in both cases.

Proposals to develop the now-vacant block at Lake Street and U.S. 31 occasionally have boosted downtown officials’ hopes for expanding on parking, perhaps through a new garage on that site as well as a capture of new tax dollars to help fund structure projects elsewhere in the business district. But so far, none of the ideas for that block have shown signs of coming to fruition. And with the perennial community debate about the use of metered parking downtown, raising parking fees to help fund new spaces likely would meet some level of community resistance.

Teaming up on a parking structure project might not immediately be a feasible option, but we don’t see that as a reason for city and county officials to let conversations about parking fall by the wayside. We’d encourage them to stay in contact about any updated calculations concerning their parking needs, to share any other ideas which may emerge for parking collaboration and position themselves to take advantage of any significant structure funding opportunities which may present themselves.

Convenient parking is a help for those who work at the county building, along with those who visit for court proceedings, clerk’s office matters, board and committee meetings and countless other happenings around the complex. It’s also of interest to downtown businesspeople, their employees and customers. We’re hopeful that intergovernmental cooperation eventually can play a part in expanding on its availability.

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