Green Guide

A roundup of recent Michigan newspaper editorials

Posted November 28

The Detroit News. November 24, 2016

Leave literacy fight out of court.

All children should have access to a good education that will provide them with the tools they need to succeed. Yet too many do not. That's a real problem that school districts in Michigan and other states must address. Trying to force better outcomes through the courts, however, isn't the way to do this.

A California-based law firm, Public Counsel, filed a lawsuit in federal court in September on behalf of seven students in Detroit. The suit claims these students, who attend both traditional public and charter schools in the city, are being denied their right of access to literacy. The lawsuit also blames bad building conditions for poor academic outcomes for students.

Gov. Rick Snyder, the members of the State Board of Education, Superintendent Brian Whiston and other state officials are named as defendants.

Snyder and others filed a 62-page motion that spells out there is no fundamental right to literacy. The motion asks the judge to reject the suit, which the attorneys say is "an attempt to destroy the American tradition of democratic control of schools."

There is already federal precedent regarding this issue.

This lawsuit is trying to force a different outcome, with the intent the case will land before the United States Supreme Court. A 1973 Supreme Court decision, San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, found there is no constitutional right to an education.

That was the last time the Supreme Court decided a major school funding lawsuit.

Similar cases have been brought in state courts around the country, including Michigan. In 2012, the ACLU of Michigan filed a lawsuit on behalf of Highland Park students, saying the children were being denied their right to read. But the state Court of Appeals dismissed the lawsuit, finding the Michigan Constitution specifies the state provide only the infrastructure for education.

Lawyers with Public Counsel were clearly hoping for another Democrat in the White House who would change the makeup of the Supreme Court and boost the chances the court would reverse Rodriguez.

With Republican Donald Trump making the appointments, it's much less likely the court would look favorably on this case — assuming it makes it that far.

The state is in the awkward position of arguing that students don't have a right to literacy. But that doesn't mean Snyder and education officials are indifferent to the quality of students' education. The Legislature this summer passed a $617 million bailout for Detroit Public Schools, offering it the funds to combat the financial ills and past debts that have held it back.

Similarly, lawmakers in September passed bills that would end social promotion of students if they aren't proficient in reading by third grade. The legislation also lays out a framework for intervention in early grades. And the two most recent budgets have included $63 million for early literacy.

Detroit's education problems go well beyond money, which is the remedy most favored by the courts. The schools have been poorly run — recall that earlier this year, 13 district employees, mostly principals, were charged in a bribery scheme that robbed students of nearly $3 million in resources.

Federal courts are not the place to dictate school budgets and local decisions. The federal judge should dismiss this suit.

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Times Herald (Port Huron). November 25, 2016

Bait and switch bites wolf hunting proponents.

For once, Michigan Legislators' maneuvers to advance their agenda and satisfy special interests despite public opposition has backfired on them.

In 2014, Michigan voters rejected, by large margins, two proposals that would have legalized wolf hunting in the state. Despite voters' opposition, the Legislature soon after passed a law allowing the Natural Resources Commission to designate gray wolves as game animals and Gov. Rick Snyder signed it.

To reinforce their disdain for voters, the law included a $1 million appropriation that blocked wolf-hunt opponents from taking it back to voters for another referendum. The conniving didn't end there. First, the law makes no mention of hunting wolves, although everyone — politicians, lobbyists, opponents and critics — knew that was its point.

Second, just to make sure nobody could call it the classless, cynical ploy that it was, they wrapped the flag around it. The law includes a provision for free hunting and fishing licenses for members of the military.

Fortunately for wolves, bait-and-switch legislation isn't legal. The state Court of Appeals ruled the law unconstitutional this week.

The "title-object clause" of the Michigan constitution requires lawmakers to be honest and transparent. Lawmakers may not adopt a bill titled "scientific wildlife management," for instance, when the contents of the bill are something else entirely. A bill named "Legalizing wolf hunting despite voter opposition" would have passed the test, though.

The clause also requires a law to serve a single purpose. A bill that legalizes wolf hunting and also gives away free fishing licenses violates that standard.

The Court of Appeals gives a victory to Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, the group that sued over the 2014 law, and helps it slap lawmakers.

Keep Michigan Wolves Protected called the bill as a Trojan horse, with legalizing wolf-hunting "cleverly hidden" among the law's meandering provisions. There was nothing clever about it; everyone knew. Now the court has made explicit the Legislature's perfidy.

The fight has moved to Washington, D.C., where lobbyists seek to overturn a federal court ruling that wolves were removed illegally from the Endangered Species List. Let's hope Congress acts with honesty and transparency.

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Lansing State Journal. November 22, 2016

Dunnings deserves prison time.

Poor decisions have consequences.

No one should know that better than former Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III.

For nearly two decades, Dunnings and his office were responsible for meting out that judgment for people accused of crimes ranging from murder to sexual assault to embezzlement. As the county's chief law enforcement official, he was supposed to be setting the tone for the pursuit of justice.

Instead, according to court records, Dunnings was engaging in the services of prostitutes. In March, he was charged with 15 prostitution-related crimes, including one 20-year felony.

Dunnings used his position to improperly influence some cases, according to investigative reports the State Journal obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, including interfering with criminal and civil proceedings on behalf of the women he paid for sex.

An Attorney General's Office sentencing memorandum revealed Dunnings had sex in his county office, regularly left his office during business hours to engage with prostitutes and regularly told prostitutes he was the county prosecutor to intimidate them.

This is a severe betrayal of the public's trust. He must be held accountable.

Dunnings pleaded guilty in August to misconduct in office, a felony; and engaging in the services of a prostitute, a misdemeanor.

On Tuesday, he will be sentenced. The court must send a message to public officials and the community that no one is above the law, especially an official elected by the people to uphold the law.

The Attorney General's Office is requesting the maximum punishment - 40 months to five years in prison.

The state's probation department originally recommended a sentence of zero to three months. In a hearing earlier this month, Genesee County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Farah, who is presiding over the sentencing, increased the guideline range to zero to six months because he ruled one of the women was a vulnerable victim.

Some could argue leniency is in order because Dunnings is a first-time offender. They would be wrong.

Dunnings threw away the public's trust and tarnished the family legacy begun by his father, a prominent Lansing attorney whose three children all pursued legal careers.

Serving prison time is the logical conclusion to this sordid tale. Dunnings' gross negligence of power took advantage of some county's most vulnerable. That merits a consequence more severe than a slap on the wrist.

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Petoskey News-Review. November 25, 2016

Addiction response improving but needs to get better.

Northern Michigan hasn't been spared by the well-documented opioid crisis that is hitting all parts of the nation, albeit some harder than others.

You don't have to take our word for it, either. Local addiction experts are treating patients daily in a number of local residential and outpatient facilities, which we should be thankful exist in our rural communities for otherwise there would be no solution to a problem that could only get worse before it gets better.

Increasingly, people seem to be heeding the warnings. Our lawmakers, first responders and police officers have already made changes in their responses to addiction-related emergencies and policies. Most, if not all, medical responders now carry naloxone in their kits, which is a fast-acting drug to reverse the effects of an opiate overdose. Ask any first responder out there, it has saved lives multiple times in northwest Michigan and will continue to do so.

The Michigan State Police post in Gaylord is piloting a drug treatment strategy known as the "Angel Program." Any person may walk into the Gaylord state police station and ask for help without the threat of being arrested.

Once a person contacts a trooper at the desk, a volunteer "angel" will help evaluate the situation, find a treatment option and even transport that person to a facility in the surrounding area to begin treatment.

According to the state police, Northern Michigan has the highest rate of prescription drug use per capita than any other place in the state.

Legislators have slowly warmed to the idea of addiction as a public health issue that depending on the circumstances may not require law enforcement action.

Gov. Rick Snyder created a Michigan Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Commission in June and several policy recommendations have come out of the effort.

Earlier this month, for example, he signed a bill that expanded the state's Good Samaritan laws to allow people to call for help without fear of being arrested in the case of a person experiencing a drug overdose.

More can be done, though.

For one, naloxone is a life-saving drug that more people should be trained to administer and keep in case of emergency. Experts say it comes in nasal spray form and isn't difficult to use. Some school districts are beginning to keep naloxone in their buildings. To those who are considering it or decided not to, think of naloxone as a fire extinguisher — you hope you'll never have to use it, but in the event there's a fire lives can be saved because it's there.

Treatment options, too, need to be more accessible and affordable. Logically, many of those suffering from addiction have little money and no health insurance and cannot afford the options available.

This month, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a landmark report about opioid addiction, urging all to step up their efforts in combating the problem. Notably, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy emphasized that addiction is an illness and not a moral failing. But yet, only 1 in 10 addicts are receiving the necessary treatment for their addiction.

Would we stand for that type of response to other health problems like diabetes and cancer?

Problems with addiction have existed since humans started producing drugs and alcohol and they aren't going away. It benefits us all to help those who struggle with addiction get better.

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