Charges against officials dropped

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. (AP) — A prosecutor has dropped charges of failing to report child abuse against two school officials in a case where an art teacher threw a chair in his southwestern Michigan classroom , hitting and injuring an 11-year-old student.
Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic announced Tuesday the decision comes after Benton Harbor Charter School Academy’s governing body, Choice Schools Associates, took steps educate those at its schools about reporting child abuse. The principal and assistant principal who were charged participated in the training. Sepic says a delay in reporting the alleged abuse Nov. 6 “in this case ultimately did not hamper the investigation.”
The teacher, Thomas Barnes, was fired. He pleaded guilty in November to misdemeanor assault and received a 30-day suspended jail sentence, nine months of probation and 50 hours community service.

Chain drops ‘crack fries’ label

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — A Michigan-based bar and restaurant chain plans to change the name of its “Crack Fries” in January to distance itself from a word associated with the drug epidemic.
A post on HopCat’s website by BarFly Ventures CEO Mark Gray says the recipe and ingredients of its seasoned fries will stay the same. He notes, however, the company’s “vision for creating an inclusive company … is not compatible” with the old name. A new name will be announced later.

Michelle Obama surprises students at Motown Museum

Associated Press
DETROIT — Michelle Obama surprised a group of Detroit college students on Tuesday afternoon, walking into the Motown Museum as the young men of color took part in a roundtable discussion on education.
The former first lady was greeted with smiles, looks of astonishment and applause after entering the second floor of the building where Berry Gordy created sonic history more than a half-century ago. She hugged her brother Craig Robinson and Keegan-Michael Key, an actor and native Detroiter who moderated the discussion that was organized by Obama’s Reach Higher initiative.
“This was supposed to be for boys only,” Robinson said after they sat down, eliciting laughter from his sister and the more than a dozen students from nearby Wayne State University.
“What’s going on,” Obama then asked, echoing the title of Marvin Gaye’s classic Motown tune.
“We’re just talking about education,” Key answered, before mock-asking if it would be OK with them if Obama sat in on their chat.
Obama listened as the students spoke about their experiences in life and school and encouraged them to practice “discomfort” and not be afraid to try new things.
“Universities are looking for and should be looking for a diverse array of experiences,” she said. “People who come from different backgrounds, because if everybody looked the same and experienced life the same way what would these conversations be like? Just a bunch of people agreeing with each other.”
Obama was in Detroit as part of her book tour, which had a nighttime stop planned at Little Caesars Arena, home to the NBA’s Pistons and the NHL’s Red Wings. The tour is in support of Obama’s best-selling memoir, “Becoming.”
The museum is located where company founder Gordy launched his music empire. The label started in 1959, and scores of stars and hits were created before Motown relocated to California in 1972. The label will mark its 60th anniversary next year.

Michigan Legislature OKs bill to limit tougher regulations

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer and other future governors would have a tougher time adopting stricter environmental and other state regulations under a Republican-backed bill sent to Gov. Rick Snyder on Tuesday.
He vetoed similar legislation in 2011, but this measure — unlike that one — includes an exception that would let regulators still impose rules tougher than federal standards if there is a “clear and convincing” need. The bill cleared the GOP-controlled House on a narrow 57-51 vote in the lame-duck session, with Democrats and some Republicans in opposition.
Democrats said Michigan should be free to impose more stringent water and air pollution regulations than the federal government. They pointed to the need to strengthen the limit for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS — industrial compounds that have been found in high levels in communities across the state.
“We would be unable to do what we know is right for Michigan and would be at the mercy of an often slow and unresponsive federal government,” said Rep. Winnie Brinks of Grand Rapids. She said the legislation would tie the hands of Whitmer, “stopping her from taking action to do what is right for Michigan families and continuing the current lame-duck playbook of stripping authority away from duly elected Democrats and subverting the will of the people.”
Republicans countered that the bill would stabilize the regulatory environment, particularly for businesses, and allow department directors to put stricter regulations in place as long as they justify them.
“Right now we have unelected bureaucrats that place rules that have the power of law that circumvent elected officials like myself and the rest of my colleagues,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Triston Cole of Mancelona. “This offers some transparency into why they’re making these rules, which would take us introducing legislation to undo.”
He said efforts to more tightly regulate PFAS would not be limited by the legislation because it would only apply in situations where the federal government has a standard, and there is not one for the contaminants that were used in products like firefighting foams and carpets.
Under the measure, a state agency could not adopt or promulgate a non-emergency rule more stringent than the applicable federal standard unless specifically authorized by state law or unless the agency director determines there is a clear and convincing need to exceed the applicable federal standard. The agency would have to explain the “exceptional circumstances” necessitating the tougher standard.
Seven years ago, Snyder — a Republican — vetoed a bill that would have prohibited stricter rules unless allowed by state law. He expressed concern that it would have hampered the ability to protect the environment and agriculture, and he said he could not support an across-the-board prohibition against any regulation more stringent than federal minimum standards.
He specifically cited Michigan’s ballast water treatment standards that are tighter than federal rules that he says failed to protect against invasive species. He also pointed to Michigan’s cattle-tracking system to stem bovine tuberculosis.
Cole said he worked “very closely” with the Snyder administration to make sure the governor’s concerns were alleviated. Snyder spokesman Ari Adler did not say if he will sign the legislation, only that he needs to review it. He said Snyder will look at a number of factors, “including whether the Legislature addressed the concerns that led to his veto last time.”
House Bill 4205:

Toyota US chief says car sales are close to bottoming out

AP Auto Writer
DETROIT — Toyota’s top U.S. executive says car sales nationwide have nearly bottomed out and his company will keep making them despite a dramatic shift to trucks and SUVs.
U.S. CEO Jim Lentz told the Detroit Economic Club Wednesday that car sales fell below 30 percent of sales last month, and he thinks that’s close to the bottom.
While Fiat Chrysler, Ford and General Motors are canceling many car models, Lentz doesn’t see that happening with Toyota. Consumers are still buying more than 4 million compact, midsize and near-luxury cars each year, he said. “There’s no way I’m going to walk away from that,” Lentz said. “We are always going to have a bias toward passenger cars.”
Nationwide, passenger car sales are on pace to be 800,000 vehicles below 2017, while truck and SUV sales should increase by the same amount.
Low fuel prices, ease of entry and exit, and ample storage space have fueled an SUV sales boom that has accelerated during the past two years.
Toyota’s car sales are down nearly 12 percent through October while truck and SUV sales are up 8 percent.
Lentz said that U.S. car sales this year probably will fall below what they were in 2010 during the financial crisis.
“There is a depression on the passenger car side,” he said.
Still, Toyota will stay in the market with its midsize Camry, a new compact Corolla and other models. It even plans to add a model next year when it revives the Supra sports car, he said.
Toyota made the high-performance Supra from 1978 to 2002, according to its website. The company plans to unveil the new Supra next month at the North American International Auto show in Detroit.

Michigan GOP moves to strip Democratic officeholders’ power

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Republicans who control Michigan’s Legislature voted Wednesday to advance a measure that strips campaign-finance oversight power from the Democratic secretary of state-elect, and they moved to give lawmakers authority to stand up for GOP-backed laws if they think the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general are not adequately defending the state’s interests.
The lame-duck moves followed within hours of similar efforts in Wisconsin , where lawmakers voted earlier Wednesday to shift clout to the Republican-controlled Legislature and weaken the Democrat replacing the GOP governor.
Michigan Democrats in January will jointly hold the governor, attorney general and secretary offices for the first time in 28 years, but the Legislature will continue to be controlled by Republicans.
A day after GOP lawmakers finalized an unprecedented maneuver to gut minimum wage and paid sick leave laws , a Senate panel passed legislation that would create the Fair Political Practices Commission to enforce the campaign-finance law rather than Secretary of State-elect Jocelyn Benson, who ran in part on a pledge to advocate for election transparency.
Democrats called the bill, which is expected to clear the full Senate today, a blatant power grab that would fly in the face of voters. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has not taken a position on the measure or others that could win final legislative approval as soon as next week.
“At no point did voters say they wanted the rules manipulated. At no point did they say they wanted bills rushed through a hasty lame-duck session,” said Patrick Schuh, state director for the liberal group America Votes. He questioned the timing, saying such a commission was not proposed until a Democrat is on the verge of leading the secretary of state office for the first time in two-dozen years.
Republicans defended the legislation, saying the six-member panel of three Democrats and three Republicans would initially be appointed by Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer. Eric Doster, a former long-time lawyer for the state GOP, testified that the commission would operate similarly to those in other states and said “now the time is right.”
Other critics of the bill, however, contended that the commission would be ineffectual, saying its members would deadlock and be accountable to political parties that would submit a list of possible appointees to the governor.
Also Wednesday, the House voted 58-50 for legislation that would empower the Legislature, House or Senate to intervene in any suit at any stage, a right already granted to the attorney general. A bill that won Senate approval on a 25-12 vote over Democrats’ objections would influence how Benson implements a new voter-approved constitutional amendment that establishes an independent redistricting commission to draw congressional and legislative maps instead of the partisan Legislature.
The former measure is seen as a maneuver to ensure that Republicans could support laws if Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer and Democratic Attorney General-elect Nessel are lukewarm about GOP-passed measures.

More Nassar-inspired bills headed to Michigan governor

Associated Press
LANSING, Mich. — Michigan lawmakers on Tuesday advanced more bills inspired by the Larry Nassar sexual abuse case — voting to ease the prosecution of alleged abusers, stiffen child pornography penalties and let more people speak at sentencings under certain circumstances.
The legislation, which won unanimous Senate approval after clearing the House in June, will soon reach Gov. Rick Snyder for his expected signature.
Nearly 20 other bills remain pending, including at least one over which legislators are at odds — expanding who must report suspected child abuse to include paid coaches.
Under one measure moving toward Snyder’s desk in the lame-duck session, judges could admit evidence of a defendant’s prior commission of a sex assault. A similar option already exists in domestic violence prosecutions. Judges also would be given more flexibility to allow evidence of an assault committed more than 10 years before the charged offense.
Other bills given final passage Tuesday would allow stiffer prison terms for people convicted of child sexually abusive activity involving a prepubescent child, or if the material includes a video or more than 100 images. Senators also voted for legislation that would expand who can give a victim impact statement at a sentencing if the victim is dead, mentally incapacitated or consents to someone else being designated as a victim.
Those who could speak include family members of a victim.

Ink fumes sicken 20

ANN ARBOR TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — Authorities say that about 20 people were taken to hospitals after being sickened by fumes from spilled printer ink at an office park in southeastern Michigan.
The Ann Arbor Township Fire Department says the ink was found spilled atop a package that was delivered Tuesday to the Domino’s Farms complex.
Those exposed to the fumes reported headaches and what the department described as other minor ailments. They were expected to recover.

Sick leave advocates plan 2020 ballot drive if law gutted

Associated Press
LANSING, Mich. — Advocates said Monday they will launch a 2020 ballot drive if the Republican-led Legislature successfully guts a new law that made Michigan the 11th state to require employers to provide paid time off to workers who are sick or who have ill family members.
MI Time to Care organized the 2018 citizen initiative that lawmakers adopted three months ago and now are trying to significantly scale back in their lame-duck session — an unprecedented step. The ballot committee filed identical petition wording Monday, the first move in the initiative process.
Co-chair Danielle Atkinson said legislators who vote to water down the law “may delay Michiganders getting earned sick time rights, but they won’t stop us.”
Outgoing GOP Gov. Rick Snyder has not said if he would sign the bill and a separate one to delay a minimum wage increase. But if he did and legal challenges were unsuccessful, Republicans could not use a similar maneuver in 2020 because Democrat Gretchen Whitmer — a supporter of paid sick days and a higher minimum wage — will be governor.
“We are prepared to come to the table to negotiate with legislators about specific concerns they have, but we will not stand by while they gut the bill,” Atkinson said.
To prevent the citizen initiatives from going to electorate earlier this month, where they would be much harder to change if voters had passed them, GOP lawmakers preemptively approved them in September so that they could alter them after the election with simple majority votes in each chamber.
The Senate last week approved legislation that would exempt employers with fewer than 50 employees from having to provide paid sick time, limit the amount of annual mandatory leave at larger businesses to 36 hours, instead of 72 hours, and make other changes such as covering only those who have been on the job for at least a year. The House is poised to pass the bill Tuesday, over objections from Democrats that the tactic would be unconstitutional, spark lawsuits and thwart the voters’ will.
The legislation would exclude more than half of Michigan’s workforce from a benefit that is less likely to be offered by small- and medium-size companies, according to critics.
Business groups say the GOP-backed changes are needed because the “poorly written” ballot measure was funded by out-of-state interests that proposed a “one-size-fits-all” solution that will especially hurt small companies and nonprofits. A memo circulated to legislators says Michigan’s sick time law, it not revised, will be the “most egregious” in the country and will cost employees other benefits and potentially their jobs.

2 dead, 7 injured in fire

WHITE PIGEON, Mich. (AP) — Authorities say a pregnant woman and a child are dead and seven other people were taken to a hospital following an early-morning house fire in southwestern Michigan.
White Pigeon Fire Chief Troy Andrews says crews responding to a report of a fire shortly after 3 a.m. today found several residents outside and were told two were still on the home’s second floor. He says firefighters tried to get inside but were pushed back by intense flames.
Andrews says the woman and a 7-year-old boy were found dead. In all, he says 11 people were believed to be living at the home about 140 miles (225 kilometers) southwest of Detroit.
Andrews says a dog was found dead in the basement and another was found alive. The fire’s cause is under investigation.