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A roundup of recent Michigan newspaper editorials

May 14, 2018

The Detroit News. May 10, 2018

Get cops out of fencing racket

A bill moving through the state Legislature would get police out of the petty theft racket, but would leave the door open for them to continue engaging in grand larceny. Still, it’s an important step, and the measure should be adopted.

Civil asset forfeiture is an affront to constitutionally protected property rights and the fundamental legal concept of innocent until proven guilty. And yet it is practiced by nearly all of Michigan’s law enforcement agencies and protected by state law.

The House bill pushed by Speaker Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt, would drastically restrict this legalized theft.

The bill, HB 4158, would require a conviction before most private property could be seized from individuals and transferred to the government.

That may seem like a common sense condition, and certainly a fair one, but that is not the current practice in Michigan.

Here, police are able to grab property on the mere suspicion that it was gained from or helped facilitate criminal activity. In fact, 10 percent of those who have their assets seized are never criminally charged.

Getting the property back is a cumbersome and expensive process, and many of those whose possessions were taken find the effort to recover them not worth the time and money.

Property that is seized is most often sold and the proceeds used to fund police operations. That provides a perverse incentive for cops to find a connection between the assets and a suspected crime.

In a number of cases, cash and other items have been taken from houses and automobiles even when no trace of drugs or other illegal contraband is found inside.

In 2016, $15.3 million in private property was seized under the civil asset forfeiture law. Some years, the value has reached $25 million.

Three years ago the Legislature reformed the law to raise the standard of evidence required before property can be taken, and also demanded better accounting from police agencies about why assets were confiscated.

That has cut into the total amount taken, but the practice of grabbing private property without a conviction has continued. It would end under the House bill, at least for smaller seizures.

The proposed bill would still permit seizures of assets valued above $50,000, on the theory that such big-ticket items are a likely indication of drug activity. That reasoning is obviously flawed. There are a lot of non-criminal reasons someone may possess that much cash or other property.

Police should not be operating on assumptions. No property should be taken and held without enough evidence for a criminal conviction.

Law enforcement agencies are lobbying the Legislature hard to scrap the bill, arguing forfeiture is an important tool in combating the drug trade. In reality, it has become a vital piece of their operating budgets.

If police need more money, raise taxes, but don’t steal the property of citizens.

Lawmakers should get police out of this sordid business by ending civil asset forfeiture in cases where no one has been convicted of a crime.

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Times Herald (Port Huron). May 8, 2018

Term limits not working in Michigan

If you’ve ever wondered what is wrong with the Michigan Legislature, the Citizens Research Council of Michigan has bad news for you. Michigan voters prefer it that way.

A quarter of a century ago, Michigan voters enacted term limits. Despite evidence that the experiment has been a failure, Michiganders both in and out of government continue to resist any attempt at reform. Voters like the system exactly the way it is.

States that enacted term limits similar to Michigan — everyone was doing it in the 1990s — have since changed laws to correct the worst of what term limits are doing to Michigan. Don’t expect it to happen here. The people running Michigan because we mandated an amateur legislature like it just the way it is.

The Citizens Research Council calls Michigan term limits a dismal failure in a new report. The timing of the report probably is not a coincidence; this is one of the years when term limits will replace just about every elected official in Lansing with someone less qualified to do the job.

Term limits have not lived up their Reagan-era promises. They were supposed to improve diversity in elected offices, disrupt the influence of lobbyists, prevent lawmakers from forgetting their constituents, end partisan gridlock, and get rid of self-interested career politicians. The CRC says it hasn’t done any of those things.

Instead of diversity, the Legislature has fewer women and minorities than before term limits went into effect.

Instead of reducing the influence of lobbyists and special interests, lobbyists and special interests are now effectively running the Legislature because short-term lawmakers don’t have the knowledge, experience or skill to do their jobs themselves.

Instead of holding officials more accountable to constituents, lawmakers have become more remote. Their futures and their performance are no longer tied to how well they serve local officials or voters back home. They’re more out of touch than ever.

Instead of ending gridlock, term limits institutionalized it. If term-limited lawmakers have a constituency, it is the party bureaucracy that will find them their next jobs. Pandering to the base is rewarded with a future in politics, leading and governing are not.

And instead of getting rid of career politicians, it has created a new breed of them. Instead of looking forward to a long career amassing power in the influence in the House, they are marking the calendar for the day they can move to a seat in the Senate.

There are ways to make it work better without eliminating term limits. Limited politicians to total time in office instead of limits for each job to end churn. Enact real lobbying reforms. Vote yes for the anti-gerrymander issue on the November ballot. Vote for better candidates.

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Traverse City Record-Eagle. May 10, 2018

Ill. shouldn’t steer Asian carp prevention efforts

Illinois just took a dive into planning efforts to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. Gov. Bruce Rauner said his state is willing to help pay for a proposed $275 million project on the Des Plaines River near Chicago. The offer could bring results — or it may bog them down.

Federal law requires in this U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project that a state or local partner share costs and chores such as securing rights of way. Illinois can fill that legal need and help move the project forward. But Rauner said his state has some problems with the project in its current form. Ironing out those issues could slow the entire initiative.

Delayed response could give the invasive species time to establish a foothold in Lake Michigan.

The Asian carp is an aggressive species that has quickly spread through rivers and lakes, putting immense pressure on native fish in the Mississippi River basin. If Asian carp reach Lake Michigan and begin spreading across all the Great Lakes, the long-term effect on existing fish populations could be devastating.

Some varieties of Asian carp are aggressive fish, in terms both of individuals’ behavior and of habitat dominance. The Great Lakes states need to craft a quick and aggressive response to the threat of invasion.

Illinois officials’ offer to take part in the planning effort, hopefully, will speed action. The state’s lieutenant governor said, while Illinois considers existing efforts to be effective, state officials understand the concerns of other states.

Michigan has more than 3,200 miles of Great Lakes shoreline. Illinois has just 63. Both states value their shores — but the numbers suggest Michigan may have a little more to lose if the marine ecosystem is hit with another invasive species jolt.

Great Lakes advocacy groups and several Great Lakes states aren’t completely on board with Illinois’ contention that Asian carp haven’t advanced any closer to Lake Michigan since 1990. Illinois claims commercial fishing efforts in a section of the Illinois River 50 miles from Lake Michigan have significantly reduced the Asian carp advance toward the big lake.

But one was caught last summer in Chicago’s Little Calumet River, only 9 miles from Lake Michigan. That’s far too close for comfort.

The saga of an invading species has been repeated many times in the Great Lakes. Longtime residents remember the headaches caused by sea lamprey, then by alewife.

More recently, invasive zebra mussels and quagga mussels have swept through the Great Lakes.

Asian carp may present the region’s greatest invasive species threat yet.

Officials in Illinois fear that the federal plan to install noisemakers, water jets and another electric barrier near Joliet might bog down cargo shipping traffic on the river. That is a viable economic worry.

That fear needs to be balanced against the potential harm to the Great Lake ecosystem if Asian carp sneak past existing barriers. Illinois cannot alone decide the fate of the Asian carp invasion. All eight of the states that border the Great Lakes — and Ontario — have a vested interest in the health of the freshwater seas.

All the affected states, along with the federal government, must work together to find a speedy and effective answer to the question of how to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

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The Mining Journal (Marquette). May 9, 2018

Green is good at Iron Mountain VA medical center

The Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center in Iron Mountain has earned the Greenhealth Emerald Award from Practice Greenhealth.

Practice Greenhealth is a national nonprofit based in Reston, Virginia.

Its goal is to promote sustainable health care that’s good for the environment, good for patients and staff, and good for the bottom line, which it said means action plans to eliminate mercury, reduce and recycle solid waste, reduce regulated and chemical waste, reduce energy and water consumption, create healing environments, and establish green purchasing policies.

Regarding health care, that means efforts like reducing water usage, increasing recycling programs and phasing out hazardous substances and toxic chemicals.

The Greenhealth Emerald Award is one of many Environmental Excellence Awards given to facilities in the health care sector. This particular award designation is given to hospitals that demonstrate strong sustainability program implementation and cross-functional excellence.

Green is good, but emerald is everything.

The Veterans Administration facility in Iron Mountain has undertaken major environmental initiatives, which include recycling 59 percent of its solid waste, reducing overall hazardous waste disposal by 35 percent and recycling 45 percent of its construction and demolition waste.

It also diverted 1.33 tons of plastic annually from the local landfill by switching to reusable Sharps containers.

Jim Rice, director at the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center, said a clean and sustainable health care facility has a positive impact on the health and well-being of patients, employees and the community.

Of course, veteran well-being as a whole is of utmost importance, and it appears the Johnson Medical Center is succeeding in this regard, having ranked 10th best nationwide in fiscal year 2017 in overall quality.

However, having an environmentally healthy facility is crucial. Providing games for recreation and nutritious meals are important, but their appeal diminishes greatly in the presence of too many hazardous materials, for example.

What’s even more commendable about the center’s recognition is that over 96 percent of its patients are considered rural or highly rural, making it the most rural facility in the VA health care system.

So, that goes to show that a VA center doesn’t have to be highly urbane to be environmentally responsible.

We hope this can be an example, then, to all “rural” facilities in the Upper Peninsula.

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