News, Notes and a Few Comments from the State Capitol
An effort is under way to do something about the rising number of mental health cases among prison inmates. This has been a longtime problem in the eyes of some lawmakers.
In the meantime, Gov. Jennifer Granholm has proposed nearly $3.5 million for five pilot mental health courts, something mental health officials are pushing hard for.
The Mental Health Association of Michigan, a statewide advocacy group, said scores of mental health cases continue to wind up in prisons instead of some type of mental health treatment. A mental health court system, they have said, will find those cases and steer them toward treatment and hopefully will save taxpayers money in the long run.
Lawmakers patted themselves on the back when they approved the Driver’s Responsibility Act several years ago. It was put on the books to promote safe driving by charging a responsibility fee for potentially dangerous behavior on the road, including drunken driving.
And violators can rack up some hefty fees. Too hefty, according to critics.
To be sure, approving the law was to make sure the state did not lose nearly $100 million in federal highway construction dollars. But critics who said the amount was “only” $91.8 million over four years, have said the law does little more than impose a new tax on Michigan motorists, many of whom don’t have the money to pay those “taxes.”
The flip side of this, of course, one which the critics don’t talk much about, is that drunken drivers pose a huge danger to innocent lives, and they take those lives every day.
But the critics have support in the Legislature, and legislation has been introduced to phase out the driver responsibility fees entirely by 2012. A second bill would delete the fees for senior citizens immediately.
When the price of copper started going up, we started to notice a new crime: copper theft. It’s getting worse, and thieves are getting bolder.
Utility companies say some thieves are simply climbing poles and cutting lines, holding stretches of copper line as they run from the scene.
There have already been deaths reported that have been linked with the dangerous copper wire theft. Lawmakers are considering bills to crack down on copper theft.
It hasn’t been talked about much compared to the way it was in the ‘80s but lawmakers at the Capitol are being told by law enforcement to do something about the nagging, and growing, gang problem in the state.
One package of bills makes it a felony for someone to try to entice someone into joining a gang. It threatens a five-year prison term for anyone caught trying to entice or coerce someone into joining a gang, or if anyone tries to prevent someone from leaving a gang. Prosecutors in Michigan have asked for the bills because they often find it difficult to charge a gang member with a crime.
Gangs have plagued Michigan for years, but now they’ve been fully settled outside of Detroit and in small communities. Sen. Mark Jansen (R-Kent County) said it’s a real problem in his area, including the Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming. And Sen. Roger Kahn (R-Saginaw Township) said 60 percent of the murders in Saginaw in 2006 were gang related.
Nurses in Michigan are asking state lawmakers to mandate better working conditions for nurses.
A special subcommittee on Michigan’s nursing shortage took testimony recently on three bills that would improve staffing levels, among other things. The package includes mandating minimum staffing levels and controls on overtime. Many nurses say they’re understaffed and overworked.
Hospitals have opposed the legislation, saying it will drive up the cost of health care.
Michigan Nurses Association lobbyist Ken Fletcher said current policies of hospitals are driving nurses out of the business, and something should be done to keep them in.
By the way, watch for the MNA to continue efforts to unionize more healthcare workers in the state.
Michigan and other states continue to spend billions more on corrections, but crime rates still go up, or in Michigan’s case, crime has not gone down. But why?
It’s a question that isn’t asked enough, although the state is popping in $50,000 to help fund a study now under way with the help of the Council of State Governments, which will issue a report early next year. It will likely outline ways to turn those numbers in opposite directions.
Rob Baykian is director of news and operations at the 67-station Michigan Radio Network. He has been covering the Capitol since 1981.
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