A roundup of recent Michigan newspaper editorials

By By The Associated Press

Grand Haven Tribune. Dec. 16.

State crime lab case backlog is unacceptable

For years now, our police officials and neighbors have had to wait, wait longer, then wait even longer for lab results from criminal cases.

The most recent case to impact our community is the investigation into a baby boy's death at a local day care facility.

In September, a state investigation revealed that a care provider gave the "fussy" baby a painkiller before putting him down for a nap from which he never woke. But the criminal investigation, and final determination of the cause of death, still hangs in the balance. Did the little boy die of SIDS, a congenital defect, or was it the painkiller?

We don't know. Why? The toxicology and other results from the baby's autopsy are pending at one of three state labs that handle such specimens.

That's more than three months of waiting for the day care provider, for the baby's grieving family and for law enforcement.

But, wait, sayeth the director of the state lab — that's a better turnaround time than it was just a few years ago.

Whew. What a relief.

Now, instead of waiting 6-9 months, results are often back in three months — or longer — depending upon the situation. And, if we're willing to wait until 2016, there may only be a 30-day turnaround. Maybe.

This level of service is just not acceptable.

Because of this notorious backlog, some communities in Michigan are looking into the possibility of opening their own crime labs.

We urge our county officials to consider the possibility of creating its own county, or tri-county, lab that could service our needs more quickly and efficiently. Crimes would be solved more quickly, families would get more immediate answers and justice would be swifter.

While the upfront investment would be costly, that investment could pay off in time.

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Lansing State Journal. Dec. 16

Medical marijuana improvements are needed; abortion law builds opposition

The end of the legislative year is here again and, as is becoming custom in Michigan, controversy reigned as the majority GOP worked the rules to advance legislation that minority Democrats fought loudly against.

First, though, a word on good work done at the Capitol last week: Lawmakers at last made inroads to clarify medical marijuana services. While not yet through the Senate, a well-reasoned and widely supported package would enact changes in the spirit that voters intended when they approved medical marijuana in the first place.

The bills would allow dispensaries, called procurement centers, to be established in communities that want them. They also allow manufacturing of edible marijuana products, which some patients prefer to smoking. A third bill would allow pharmacies to handle marijuana, but only take place if federal marijuana laws are changed to allow prescriptions.

Rep. Mike Callton, R-Nashville, was a sponsor of the dispensary bill and advocated for the changes. A member of the Capital Caucus of mid-Michigan lawmakers, Callton has worked on issues with the marijuana law for some time. Strong support in the House was noteworthy. This legislation needs to become law.

For a word on the bad, turn to last week's ugly fight over legislation that requires insurance companies to separate abortion coverage from health care policies, requiring women wanting such coverage to purchase a separate rider. It becomes law 90 days after passage because Michigan allows the Legislature to pass statutes that have been initiated by petitions, thus eliminating the need for an election and also bypassing the governor.

The law allowed no exceptions for rape or incest, prompting critics to complain that Michigan women must now buy "rape insurance" to protect themselves. Given that only 3.3 percent of the 22,699 abortions in Michigan in 2012 were paid for by insurance, many wonder why such a bill was needed. Indeed, state insurance officials said only one of 12 companies offering plans in the insurance marketplace offers elective abortion coverage in small group plans and none offer it with individual plans.

Those disappointed by the Legislature have options. First, elect lawmakers who support abortion rights. Second, work to change the procedures that allow bypassing a statewide vote or a governor's veto. Neither will be easy.

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The Mining Journal (Marquette). Dec. 17.

Lower gas prices welcome as holiday driving increases

With many people getting ready to travel Michigan's roads leading up to the holidays, we're happy that Marquette-area gas prices seem to be holding close to the statewide average of about $3.14 a gallon.

Those of us looking to jump in our vehicles and travel either across the U.P., the state or the country to be with loved ones, lower gas prices mean we have that little bit of extra money in our pocket books that could make a big difference.

While the lowest gas prices are in downstate Flint at about $3.02 a gallon, Marquette is holding steady at right around $3.19 a gallon. Seeing the pumps rise to $3.29 near the end of last week made us cringe for a few days, but looking at the signs in town and seeing the numbers under $3.20 is a relief.

For a lot of last-minute holiday shoppers, getting any financial relief — even saving a few bucks at the gas pump — can make buying those holiday gifts a little easier. It can be difficult to spend a few hundred dollars on relatives and have enough money left to put gas in the tank to get the chance to actually deliver those gifts.

Gas prices prices today are about 12 cents less per gallon heading into the last stretch before Christmas than they were in 2012.

Those few cents a gallon can add up quickly if you think that the average vehicle holds 16 gallons of fuel and travels about 300 miles. If a person has to drive 500 miles, it's going to cost just over $100 round trip.

The cheaper the gas the better, and we're happy fuel isn't skyrocketing before the holidays.

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Detroit Free Press. Dec. 11

GM drives through the glass ceiling — finally

Alfred P. Sloan, General Motors' first CEO, once said: "There has to be this pioneer, the individual who has the courage, the ambition to overcome the obstacles that always develop when one tries to do something worthwhile, especially when it is new and different."

New. Different. First.

Sloan was most assuredly not talking about Mary Barra, the woman who would be named GM's 14th CEO 90 years later — but he could have been.

The very spirit that led GM to become the biggest automaker in the world (Sloan also once said: "a car for every purse, and purpose") now inspires the company to make Barra the first female head of a major automaker.

In some ways, it's a first whose arrival was inevitable. GM has women on its board of directors, and has had women as heads of nearly all its major divisions. Barra herself was senior vice president for product development, and has been with the company since 1980.

But it's also darned remarkable. The Detroit Three have long been male-dominated institutions, with their executive ranks nearly defining the smoky old boys' club stereotype through much of the middle of the last century.

And then there are the signature vehicles for GM: Corvette, GTO, Camaro, Trans Am and now all the trucks and SUVs that still dominate the lineup. Even the vaunted pink Cadillac, iconic first during the 1950s, was a masculine interpretation of elegance and power.

There is something especially notable, and pleasantly jarring, about a woman ascending to the top job at a company that has been so consumed with male ego and bravado.

Barra takes the reins at GM at a pivotal time, too. The federal government just sold the last bit of GM stock it held from the bailouts and bankruptcy reorganization in 2009; the company has reported some $26 billion in profits over the past 15 quarters.

GM is leaner and smarter now, and has solved the puzzle of increased margins on smaller vehicles, something that held the company back for years.

Barra's extensive experience in the company — she started as an intern at the old General Motors Institute in Flint — gives her a strong grounding in the business' fundamentals, and her work over recent years to align product development with purchasing puts her on the cutting edge of the company's challenges and opportunities.

In response to a question about the lack of "car guys" running big automakers these days, outgoing GM CEO Daniel Akerson joked recently that he thought one of the automakers might soon be run by a "car gal."

GM just made it happen. Sloan may not have predicted it, but Barra's ascension goes to the core of the GM ambition and spirit that he ignited back in the 1920s.

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