Detroit Free Press. May 28.
A minimum-wage compromise worth cheering about
For a few hours Tuesday, it looked like retrograde Republicans in the state House had figured out how to kill a bipartisan compromise designed to improve the lot of Michigan's working families.
But cooler heads prevailed, and the result was a minimum-wage bill that gives both parties something to cheer about.
We didn't think much of Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville's proposal to boost Michigan's $7.40-an-hour minimum wage when he unveiled it a couple of weeks ago. Combining a paltry three-year, 75-cent hike with some procedural sleight-of-hand calculated to knock a more generous minimum-wage proposal off the November ballot, Richardville's opening gambit struck us as a cynical power play, one that effectively stripped voters of their constitutional right to bypass legislators insensitive to their constituents' priorities.
But we were pleasantly surprised when the Senate disgorged a compromise bill that would raise the minimum wage to $9.20 by 2017 — two-thirds of the $2.70 hike sought by champions of the ballot proposal. The compromise captured the support of 10 Democratic state senators, enough to guarantee its passage by an unusual 24-12 bipartisan majority.
For once, the Senate was doing what voters have repeatedly implored their elected representatives in Lansing to do: rise above partisan gridlock to deliver progress on important economic issues.
Then, on Tuesday, the Republican-led House Government Operations Committee weighed in with its own minimum-wage bill, a deal-buster calculated to nip the Senate's bipartisan initiative in the bud.
Like the Senate-passed bill, the Government Operations Committee's version would have replaced, rather than amended, Michigan's existing minimum-wage statute — a strategy whose only purpose is to render Raise Michigan's $10.10 ballot initiative moot by repealing the law that the initiative seeks to amend. But instead of ameliorating that insult to voters with a substantial minimum-wage hike, the committee bill would have slashed the increase to just $1.10 an hour over three years. It also stripped out the annual inflation adjustment that state senators had preserved in their compromise bill.
But the hyper-partisan Government Operations bill was flying in the face of poll results suggesting that a majority of the electorate still saw the more-generous Senate bill as a subterfuge designed to disenfranchise voters. When it became obvious that Senate Democrats wouldn't support the stingier House version, the Legislature's grown-ups took charge, substituting a bill that boosts the minimum wage to $9.25 by 2018 and assures periodic adjustments for inflation. It passed the full House with bipartisan support, and was headed for Gov. Rick Snyder's signature by Tuesday evening.
We remain disturbed by the Legislature's end-run around the initiative process. If lawmakers want to diminish the authority that the Michigan Constitution invests in the state's voters, it should do so openly by amending the constitution, not through parliamentary tricks.
Still, the minimum-wage compromise is a reasonable won that respects the tens of thousands of voters who supported Raise Michigan's ballot proposal. It's also an encouraging sign that more moderate GOP lawmakers can occasionally prevail over the tea party zealots who too often call the Legislature's tune.
The Alpena News. May 28.
Time for president to give Keystone the go-ahead
Oil prices are back above $100 a barrel, and that will hit U.S. motorists at the gasoline pumps.
The most recent price increase, to $103.04 a barrel for benchmark U.S. crude oil, came after energy analysts released a report showing American oil stockpiles have dropped by a whopping 10.3 million barrels.
In other words, we need all the oil we can get.
A very substantial supply of it could come from Canada, through the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. But President Barack Obama continues to block construction of the petroleum artery.
Recent news should prompt him to give Keystone XL the go-ahead. If he will not, Congress should overrule him.
Livingston County Daily Press & Argus. May 28.
VA secretary has plenty to explain
Barry Coates, a 44-year-old Army veteran, visited VA hospitals and clinics in South Carolina seven times starting in 2010, complaining of severe stomach pain and rectal bleeding and practically begging for a routine cancer screening test.
When Coates finally got the colonoscopy, more than a year after his first visit, it was too late. Doctors found a huge tumor and diagnosed him with late-stage colon cancer, which has since spread to his liver and lungs. "I stand before you terminally ill," Coates told a House hearing last month, adding, "Someone should be held accountable."
So far, no one has been, although that might be about to change.
At a hearing this month, senators from both parties expressed outrage over a string of reports from across the country of treatment delays, deaths of patients waiting for care, cover-ups and alleged document destruction at a VA facility in Phoenix. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki declared himself "mad as hell."
More than anger is needed, however. It's action to identify and fix what appear to be longstanding, systemic problems. Reports and investigations going back years show a VA system overwhelmed by a surge of veterans needing care, often unable to give them timely treatment and plagued by some workers cooking the books to hide unacceptable delays. Among the most disturbing reports:
— The deaths of 23 veterans were linked to delayed cancer screenings dating back four years at 13 facilities in nine states. Six veterans died after delays at a hospital in South Carolina.
— Veterans in Fort Collins, Colorado, waited months to be seen, and clerks were taught how to falsify appointment records to make it appear the small staff of doctors was meeting performance goals. Similar games were played at a VA center in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
— At the VA hospital in Phoenix, a retired doctor charged that some patients facing lengthy waits for appointments were omitted from electronic files and placed on a "secret" paper waiting list. Forty died, he said, but it is unclear whether their deaths were linked to the delays. This month, a high-ranking physician at the Phoenix hospital told The Arizona Republic that there was an attempt to destroy evidence of the waiting list manipulations.
For VA leaders — including Shinseki, who has been on the job since 2009 — these problems should come as no shock. In April 2010, an internal VA inquiry found systematic "gaming strategies" at regional clinics to hide delays. The report cited about two dozen gaming techniques, some involving falsifying records.
There is no evidence of effective follow-up.
Bipartisan concern over Shinseki's leadership is increasing, and one major veterans' group has called for his ouster. Firing at this point might be premature, but the VA chief has a lot to explain.
At the hearing, Shinseki said he's awaiting results from an investigation of the Phoenix VA and his own nationwide audit. To save his job, he'll need to act more decisively than he has if the needless parade of negligence and death is to be stopped.
The Mining Journal (Marquette). May 28.
Duck family tale a fine example of why we live in U.P.
It may seem a small thing but really, it was a huge example of why people choose to live in an area like the central Upper Peninsula.
The small thing was a flock of ducklings trapped in a storm drain. The huge example was set by concerned citizen Deb Cook and four city of Marquette employees who came to the ducks' rescue.
That people would go out of their way to help wildlife in distress is heart-warming, but not unusual for this area. People go the extra mile for each other — and for animals — all the time.
For those who missed it, the lucky duck family was rescued Sunday in Marquette. When Cook was playing tennis with friends at the Marquette Senior High School tennis courts, they saw a female duck walking in circles and heard her squawking in distress.
Trying to find out what the problem was, Cook walked over to where the duck was and heard the hen's babies peeping in the storm drain. She called for help.
Marquette City Police Department officer Cindi Acocks responded to the scene but could not lift the top of the drain. Acocks called the city's Park and Recreation Department and three workers from that department — Jon Cieslinki, Dalton Just and Vito Giannola — arrived and were able to remove the lid and lift the grate off the drain.
The workers dropped in a bucket, Cook reported, and were able to pull out eight baby ducks at once. One of the men put his head into the drain and pulled out four more ducklings.
The reunited family then waddled on its way, together.
"I was impressed with the city's employees being willing to help on a Sunday afternoon of a holiday weekend," Cook said.
We join in thanking the four who responded to the situation and took care of a mother and her offspring.
The story of people reaching out to help some of Mother Nature's cutest creatures brought a lot of smiles on a back-to-work Tuesday, but not a lot of surprise.
After all, helping one another is what Yoopers do.