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Articles of Interest - Michigan News

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Bridges4Kids LogoSenate Proposes Direct Appointment of State Superintendent
Gongwer News Service, February 4, 2004
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The governor could directly appoint Michigan's superintendent of public instruction under a proposed constitutional amendment that will be introduced in the Senate Thursday.

If approved by two-thirds of both the Senate and House, it could go before the voters in November. But getting to that point may depend on Governor Jennifer Granholm supporting the proposal.

So far the governor is saying she will not back the proposal if it requires the Senate to approve the superintendent choice through the advice and consent process.

The same authority to directly appoint the state's school superintendent had been sought by former Governor John Engler. Sen. Wayne Kuipers (R-Holland), chair of the Senate Education Committee, said the reason the proposal is being introduced now is because Republicans feel they can get the two-thirds majority-26 votes in the Senate, 73 in the now 109-member House-to put the proposal on the ballot.

However, a spokesperson for Senate Democrats said it is likely the caucus will follow Ms. Granholm's lead on the issue.

Ms. Granholm opposes the advice and consent provision, saying it would undercut the constitutional independence of the superintendent by involving the Legislature in the selection process. "I 'm not interested in that," she said, adding the approach, if it were taken, should apply to direct appointment of other constitutional officers.

Liz Boyd, Ms. Granholm's press spokesperson, said the proposal was not originated by the executive office. If Ms. Granholm were to have the responsibility to appoint the superintendent then she should also have the accountability of the person's performance without advice and consent.

In addition, if she should appoint one additional department director, why not then also appoint the Natural Resources director and the Agriculture director.

Mr. Kuipers said those directors are named by boards already appointed by the governor, and those board members must go through the advice and consent process.

"To me, it's sort of government 101," Mr. Kuipers said of the advice and consent provision.

The proposal is being introduced jointly in the Senate and House by Mr. Kuipers and Re. John Moolenaar (R-Midland).

SUPREME COURT: Sen. Mickey Swiltawski (D-Roseville) introduced a gubernatorial appointment proposal of his own, Wednesday, when he introduced SJR G that would call for the governor to appoint all members of the Supreme Court. The justices are now elected on a non-partisan ballot after being nominated at partisan conventions.

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Udow Planning Restructuring of FIA
Gongwer News Service, February 4, 2004

Marianne Udow is already planning some restructuring in the Department of Human Services, which she took over as director last month. Ms. Udow told the House Family and Children Services Committee that she would be able to provide members new organizational charts of the department in the coming weeks.

A key goal, Ms. Udow said, is trying to remove some of the stress from caseworkers' jobs. She noted that in most cases complaints from residents about caseworkers being rude could be traced back to stress and frustration on the job.

She argued the problem was not a lack of commitment on the part of employees. "I was told state employees work 8-5 and leave issues at work. It's a very laid back life," she said. "That's not true. They're dedicated, committed, passionate for what they do even though every year their resources get cut back."

Part of that stress reduction effort, she said, will be a realignment of the department. But she said she is also working on customer service and leadership training programs, simplifying policy, as well as improving technology available to caseworkers, a goal championed by her predecessor.

Ms. Udow is also hoping to bring some additional financial resources into the department. "We need to partner with foundations to bring more money in," she said, though not specifying yet where those funds might go.

Ms. Udow told the committee the directorship was not something she sought but was the perfect opportunity when it came up. "It is one of the few things that could make me leave Blue Cross," she said. Prior to taking the FIA helm, she was senior vice president of Health Care Products and Provider Services for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

But she said now that she has the reins, she said she is in charge-and in the line of fire. "I hope you hold me accountable because I hold myself accountable for improving," she said.

She said, however, that the agency also must be freer to discuss its shortcomings. "Many employees of the department feel very beaten up and beleaguered by the press and the public," she said. "I will be open and will admit when we made mistakes, and we will make mistakes. We are an agency of 11,000 people."

C.P.S. REPORTING: The FIA would have until September 30 to begin submitting reports on services provided to category III child protective services cases under HB 4445 reported from the committee Wednesday. But department officials said the information would not actually become available until March 2005.

Though local child protective services offices track the services provided to these lowest risk cases, CPS Manager Ted Forest told the committee the department's computer system cannot currently handle the tracking of these cases beyond some basic information.

The CPS system current ranks cases in categories I-V. Category I cases are the most serious where court action is required. In category III cases potential abuse or neglect has been found, but the risk to the child is low and the family is referred for community services.

Mr. Forest said in most of those cases it is not important that the family even participate in the services as long as future checks show that the situation in the home has improved. If it has not improved, the case could be re-categorized.

But Committee Chair Lauren Hager (R-Port Huron Township) said the tracking information was needed for the department to determine which services were being helpful to low-risk families. "We're extending the sunset but we're still not going to have any information until 2005. That for me is hard to take," he said.

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Michigan Democrats Unveil Mercury Initiative Package
Gongwer News Service, February 4, 2004

Manufacturers and consumers in the state could face tighter restrictions on mercury use and disposal, according to a group of Democrats who unveiled a mercury phase-out package Wednesday.

The package of 15 bills, set to be introduced at the end of February, were discussed at a press conference as part of a 40-state effort to find solutions to regional toxic mercury problems.

Mercury is a neurotoxin that attacks the body's central nervous system, damaging or destroying tissues, including those in the brain. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1 in 12 women of childbearing age have unsafe mercury levels resulting in roughly 400,000 babies born in the U.S. being at risk of contamination each year.

The initiative's bills will include a phase-out period, during which time manufacturers and wholesalers would be required to notify the Department of Environmental Quality of any mercury-added products produced, and eventually be required to end the sale of the products, unless exempted by the DEQ.

Blood pressure recording devices, thermostats, thermometers, toys and light switches are among the items to be targeted by the legislation.

A second aim of the package is to assure proper disposal of mercury-added items. Products containing the toxin would be required to be separated from other waste and labels on products containing mercury and dental offices would be required to use dental traps to collect filling materials under a few of the bills outlined at the press conference.

Rep. Alexander Lipsey (D-Kalamazoo), a sponsor of the initiative, said the effort to cut down on mercury levels in the state has been recognized by legislators and manufacturers.

"Automobile manufacturers have already found viable alternatives to start to eliminate the use of mercury," Mr. Lipsey said. He named relay devices, which use conductors other than mercury and the use of digital technology rather than mercury-added instruments as being among the changes.

However, Mike Johnston, director of regulatory affairs for the Michigan Manufacturers Association, said the package has a serious potential to create a freezing effect on manufacturing.

"Our first concern is not making Michigan's standards more burdensome than other states," he said. "It makes sense to look for other materials. It's prudent and reasonable for manufacturers to do so, but not from a regulatory standpoint that would hinder the creation of manufacturing jobs."

A report released by Environmental Defense, a nonprofit environmental organization, analyzed Environmental Protection Agency data to identify the location of potential mercury "hot spots." Michigan registered highest of the states, with annual mercury concentrations ranging from 125-127 grams per square kilometer.


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Michigan Senate to Look at Self-Grading Schools
MIRS, February 4, 2004

A Michigan Senate panel will look into the Department of Education's decision to base one-third of its school report card grade on a school's own self-evaluation after a Detroit News report revealed that several Detroit-area schools gave themselves As to prevent themselves from failing.

Sen. Wayne Kuipers (R-Holland), chair of the Senate Education Committee, said he would hold hearings on the situation as soon as next week, but his initial reaction to the situation is that self-grading should be eliminated.

Either the self-grading idea is completely ineffective or these school officials are out of touch with what's going on within their walls, he said.

"I'm all for giving schools more local control, but they also have to demonstrate that they're able to handle it," said Kuipers, who lead a multi-hearing investigation last year on the botched MEAP grading shake-down. "And that action demonstrates some concern."

The state's new report card bases one-third of a school's grade on its performance on the Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP) and another third based on how much these MEAP scores improved from the year before. The final third was a self-evaluation grade based on 11 factors.

As far as Kuipers' view on the fact that one out of every four Michigan schools didn't make annual yearly progress (AYP) as defined by the federal government, Kuipers said he considered the first-time marks to be more of a benchmark and that the key will be on whether schools improve from this point.

"Now that we have got these benchmarks set, we have to focus much closer on where we are next year," Kuipers said. "Are our kids learning at the level they should be learning?"

That's why Kuipers will be announcing "education renaissance zones" within the next couple of months, a plan similar to a Grand Rapids program in which communities take an active role in a high-risk school's performance. Kuipers said he doesn't know what this plan is going to look like, but the goal is for inner-city areas to "wrap their arms around" their troubled neighborhood school.

In other education news, Kuipers said the Senate Education Committee would take up a pair of bills that further stress in sexual education classes that abstinence is the only 100 percent way to avoid pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases.

The bills introduced Tuesday, SBs 943 and 944, lay out a fresh batch of new guidelines for sex ed teachers, including teaching kids how to "say no" to pre-martial sex and the legal implications of having a child or having sex with a person under 16.


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