Editorial Roundup: Michigan

Detroit News. April 30, 2022.

Editorial: Benson should commit wholly to transparency

Two weeks ago, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said she was reviewing her office’s long-standing policy of releasing drivers’ records on request, but we have yet to see what changes she has in mind. The public deserves to know how she intends to handle the information that belongs to the public.

Benson caused a media uproar April 15 with an afternoon press release announcing her office would no longer release the vehicle information and driving records of “victims of violence,” including those of Patrick Lyoya, the 26-year-old Black man killed by a Grand Rapids police officer April 4.

This statement from Benson’s office maintained it wouldn’t release the information because it could be used in a manner “that wrongly suggests he is culpable for being shot in the back of the head.”

As we’ve noted previously, this was not Benson’s decision to make. Rather, it’s the government’s duty to provide the public with the facts and to allow citizens to make up their own minds.

Hours after Benson’s initial press release, her office issued another one, following intense pushback from media across the state.

Benson’s department changed course, saying it would release Lyoya’s records (even though that didn’t happen right away) but was still reviewing the policy.

“The department is currently reviewing the manner in which it provides the driver record of any Michigan resident to third parties to ensure we balance the critical importance of government transparency and access to information with the need to protect the privacy of Michiganders,” the second statement said. “While we conduct this review there will be no changes to our current policy, nor will there be any changes to media or public access to such data.”

Lisa McGraw, public affairs manager with the Michigan Press Association, says the MPA, along with the Michigan Association of Broadcasters and the Radio Television Digital News Association, sent a letter to Benson requesting a meeting about policy changes.

“Every day, journalists serve the people of Michigan by seeking information, then making responsible, ethical decisions about news coverage,” the letter states. “Conversely, a state agency denying access to information sets a dangerous precedent. Openness and transparency are core principles of government at the local, state, and federal level and preventing them hinders accountability and citizen engagement.”

The Secretary of State’s office responded Monday, a week after the letter was sent. Benson is planning to meet with members of the media May 16.

McGraw says the original change was “horrifying,” adding that Benson must avoid moving to a system of releasing information on a case-by-case basis. This could lead to government officials withholding data from reporters or outlets they don’t like — or withholding information if they don’t like where the facts are leading, as was the case with Lyoya’s records.

While it’s positive that Benson has agreed to meet with the media groups, she should also drop her review of the records policy and keep the transparent system already in place.

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Traverse City Record-Eagle. April 29, 2022.

Editorial: Finding fault in the no fault hole

How sweet. In a Michigan car crash, no one is officially at fault, except under certain rare circumstances.

But when it comes to the issues rising from no fault auto insurance reform, there is plenty of blame to go around.

We agreed with and understood the frustration felt by many Michigan residents who were tired of paying highest-in-the-nation car insurance rates for coverage, for most, that was middle of the road.

But there were potential problems with the reform bill that found resounding legislative and public support that the Record-Eagle flagged early.

What about the 6,000 Michigan or so families wrecked by catastrophic, lifelong injuries that depend on the personal injury protection they paid for? How can the rehabilitation centers that care for the injured withstand 45% cuts for therapy and home health care services not covered by Medicare? What guarantees are there that rates will lower?

What came to pass highlights the worst of our concerns.

A year has passed and those suffering from catastrophic medical conditions, like traumatic brain injury, continue to lose care and services. A year has passed, and the $25 million no-fault fund hasn’t stopped medical providers from closing their doors. A year has passed and insurance rates are still debilitatingly high, especially in Detroit.

Advocates claimed a win this month when a Washtenaw County circuit court judge declared the caps on payments to medical providers “unconstitutional” and ordered State Farm Insurance Co. to resume paying Stephen Gedda’s home health care bills. Gedda was severely injured in a 2011 car crash.

But lower court rulings won’t fix the cascade of trouble. It requires legislative action, and while several bills have been introduced, they linger. Our leaders must loosen the inertia on the bills and purse strings to the $25 million no-fault fund.

Crash survivors and their families and service providers can participate in a Michigan Public Health Institute (MPHI) survey on the impact of the reforms through May 15. The survey seeks those who didn’t participate in the fall 2021 study commissioned by the Brian Injury Association of Michigan, which found the reform led to the discharge of 1,500 patients and the loss of 3,000 jobs, according to The Detroit News.

For this crash was foretold in 2019, and while it was slow moving, we all saw it coming. No fault auto reform is a misnomer as the casualties mount.

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Iron Mountain Daily News. May 2, 2022.

Editorial: Volunteers sought for state foster care review board program

The state is looking for volunteers to serve on local foster care review boards.

During National Volunteer Month, the Foster Care Review Board program, administered by the State Court Administrative Office of the Michigan Supreme Court, encourages Michigan residents to apply for membership on statewide review boards that help connect children in foster care with needed services. Michigan’s foster care system currently has more than 10,000 children.

“I cannot overstate the importance of this program or the dedicated volunteers who make protecting vulnerable children their mission. Their efforts are truly making a difference for Michigan families every day,” said Justice Megan K. Cavanagh, MSC co-liaison on child welfare matters.

Each board includes five citizen volunteers who attend regularly scheduled case review meetings one day every month. Board members read case materials and feedback surveys, and interview interested parties regarding the case. Their recommendations are then reported to the court and child welfare agency.

In addition to facilitating services, these boards also work to ensure that children are placed in safe, permanent homes as quickly as possible and investigate appeals by foster parents who believe that children are being unnecessarily moved from their care. In 2021, the FCRB program handled 333 cases: 250 case reviews and 83 foster parent appeals.

Recruitment for board membership is year-round, but interested individuals are encouraged to submit applications by May 31. Interviews and background checks are required for everyone.

Applicants are welcome from around the state but are urgently needed in these areas: Northern Michigan; Upper Peninsula; Clinton, Eaton, Ingham, Isabella, Lapeer, Mecosta, Midland, Montcalm, Osceola, Saginaw, Sanilac, Shiawassee and St. Clair counties. Volunteers selected must reside within the region of their local board and are appointed to a three-year term.

Applicants should demonstrate an interest in child welfare and strengthening families. The FCRB program values diversity among board members to ensure various perspectives and life experiences that can positively inform decisions about the most vulnerable children in Michigan.

Cavanagh added, “We do have some board members with the ‘lived experience’ of having been in foster care as children, but it is not a requirement for serving. Most of all, we are looking for people who are passionate about making the system better for everyone who relies on it.”

More information is available at https://www.courts.michigan.gov/administration/court-programs/foster-care-review-board-program/fcrb-volunteers/?r=1.

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