The Oakland Press (Pontiac). Jan. 6.
Michigan should have a part-time Legislature
We're sure it was unintentional, but the speed in which the lame-duck Michigan Legislature passed hundreds of bills last month has proved what many have been saying for years: Michigan should have a part-time Legislature.
In the last few days of 2012, state lawmakers sent 282 bills to Gov. Rick Snyder. And while Snyder rejected a few — most notably the proposal to allow concealed weapons in schools and at many public functions — it was obvious that prolonged debate is not always necessary.
Of course, in this case, Republicans rushed to judgment mostly because the votes needed to pass many of the bills might not be there at the start of 2013 when the November-elected lawmakers take office.
That, we think, is beside the point when giving consideration to a part-time Legislature.
In comparison to many other states, Michigan's Legislature is grossly overpaid.
Our Legislature is in session for about 90 to 110 days, and lawmakers are paid $82,450, which includes $10,800 for expenses but does not include the cost of a complete package of fringe benefits.
In comparison, Florida pays its lawmakers, who are scheduled to work 60 days, only $35,556.
And in Texas, which has a population more than twice that of Michigan, state lawmakers earn only $16,930 for 70 days of work.
Past initiative efforts, which were supported by only a handful of lawmakers from Oakland and Macomb counties, have not made it on the ballot.
It's time to renew that effort.
If anything, the recent actions of the lame-duck Legislature show Michigan does not need full-time lawmakers making more than $80,000 for what is less than full-time work.
Battle Creek Enquirer. Jan. 4.
Expanding Medicaid is the right move for Michigan
The case against the expansion of Medicaid is a weak one, the case for it a no-brainer. It will save lives, and ultimately it will save money. Making it happen should be at the top of Gov. Rick Snyder's to-do list in 2013.
When the Supreme Court ruled to uphold the Affordable Care Act last summer, it made Medicaid expansion optional for the states, creating yet another wedge issue in legislatures across the country.
Under the legislation, Medicaid — the joint state-federal government health insurance program for lower-income Americans — would be expanded to cover those making 133 percent of the poverty level.
For the first time, low-income adults without children would be guaranteed coverage through Medicaid. In Michigan, it would add an estimated 500,000 people to the Medicaid rolls on Jan. 1, 2014.
Although the cost-benefit analysis can be complex based on current enrollment levels in each state, the debate has followed partisan lines.
Strong Republican states such as Texas declared early on they weren't interested. In all, nine have decided against participating while five are leaning that way. Fourteen have decided to expand coverage while four are seen as likely participants.
Michigan is among 17 states that are officially "undecided," although Snyder has already said that expanding Medicaid would likely save the state money.
There's plenty of evidence to back that up. A report released in October by the nonprofit Center for Healthcare Research & Transformation and several economists at the University of Michigan concluded that the state could save hundreds of millions over a decade even while increasing enrollment by more than 600,000 people.
The Congressional Budget Office released a report back in July that estimated the additional cost to states from the expansion to be a 2.8 percent increase over what they would have spent on Medicaid from 2014 to 2022 without health reform. But that report doesn't take into account the savings under the expansion.
States already shoulder billions of dollars annually to care for uninsured residents in hospitals, and billions more for uninsured mental health patients who would be covered under this provision of the act.
The October report projected that the total number of uninsured in the state would drop from 1.1 million in 2010 to 290,000 in 2020 if Medicaid eligibility were expanded in Michigan.
The federal government has pledged to pay the full tab the first two years and ultimately 90 percent of all costs after that, so it's hard to see how this wouldn't make sense for Michigan.
Ultimately, though, the expansion is designed to improve the health and lives of people with limited means. There's evidence for that, too. Results of a study by doctors at the Harvard School of Public Health, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed a correlation between improved health care and Medicaid expansion since 2000.
The study compared three states (New York, Maine and Arizona) with expansions with neighboring states that had not expanded. It found "State Medicaid expansions to cover low-income adults were significantly associated with reduced mortality as well as improved coverage, access to care, and self-reported health.
Expanding Medicaid is a sound economic decision in Michigan, and it's the right thing to do for Michigan's citizens. Let's hope that's enough for state Republicans who have opposed the Affordable Care Act in the past.
Midland Daily News. Jan. 4.
Jail dollars evidence of regional cooperation
For years now, leaders from all over the mid-Michigan area have been talking about the positives of regional cooperation, but none is more successful than the partnerships between law enforcement officials.
Evidence of this was published this week when the Midland County sheriff's office reported that it will have brought in nearly $2 million in revenue from housing inmates from the surrounding areas.
Officials promised when the new 274-bed jail was completed in 2010 that they would use the portion of the jail not set aside for Midland County inmates to house inmates from the surrounding area, and they have kept their promise, increasing the amount of money that goes to the Midland County general fund each year the jail has been open.
Plans were put into place to house the inmates by then Sheriff Jerry Nielsen and then jail administrator and now Sheriff Scott Stephenson. The inmates are coming from the Midland Department of Corrections, U.S. Marshals office, and Genesee, Isabella and Tuscola counties.
While kudos for the success of the jail go to more than Nielsen and Stephenson, without their vigilance we don't believe these partnerships would be so successful.
"We've been running right about 140 to 150 (inmates housed in from elsewhere), somewhere in that range," Nielsen said. "It's a lot of work, a lot of cooperation and a lot of working with other agencies. If it wasn't for the partnership that we developed, it wouldn't happen."
We believe that to be true, and we tip our hat to them.
Traverse City Record-Eagle. Jan. 4.
Ranch gives vets nontraditional therapy
For military veterans, particularly those who have been injured or wounded in combat, coming home has not always been the end of their war. Local vets will soon have help finding a peace they can live with.
Untold thousands of men and women from every war have fought their own battles over and over again in the form of nightmares, flashbacks, depression, paranoia, anxiety or an inability to sleep. We now recognize what is commonly known as post-traumatic stress disorder, a catch-all diagnosis that covers a huge range of problems for veterans and others who have suffered severe trauma.
Recognition of what PTSD really is and how widely it has affected veterans is still relatively new, however, and people who brought their wartime experiences home from other wars — Vietnam, Korea and the World Wars — often went the rest of their life suffering in silence or with the support of only their family and closest friends.
Finding understanding and help from the wider community — and even from the Veterans Administration and the federal government — was pretty much unknown to those men and women.
Today, there's more and more help for vets, some from non-traditional sources, like Reining Liberty Ranch southwest of Traverse City, where veterans and their families will be able to tap into some unusual kinds of help — like therapeutic horseback riding, a veteran's garden and educational programming — or just be able to connect with other veterans.
The ranch is the brainchild of Traverse City residents Becky and Dennis Bigelow, who spent their own money to purchase property and a farmhouse for the ranch. During what she called a "rough period" in her life, Becky had seen firsthand the therapeutic benefits of spending time with a horse.
"I was able to form a relationship with that horse when I could not form one with anyone else," she said.
Horse therapy has been widely recognized as an effective alternative for children with Asperger's syndrome, autism, and emotional and behavioral problems. While the "why" — as in why it works — still seems unclear, the results have been noted for helping many children cope.
Making that kind of therapy available to local vets, in a calm and supportive setting where they can talk with fellow veterans facing similar problems, could be a godsend.
Becky Bigelow and dozens of volunteers, including active-duty Coast Guard members, are working to get Reining Liberty Ranch fully operational by March or April. While the aim includes honoring veterans for their military service, it's also about "helping them move back to society," she said.
That's better and more lasting than any parade.