Detroit News. April 9, 2019
Court rightly revives false fraud case
After falsely accusing thousands of Michiganians of fraud, the state's Unemployment Insurance Agency is still dealing with the legal repercussions. A recent Michigan Supreme Court decision offers some hope for these citizens who still feel the state hasn't properly compensated them for its indefensible errors.
The state's high court found that two of three plaintiffs in the case — which has the potential to turn into a class-action suit — filed their claims against the Unemployment Agency in the proper six-month time frame under Michigan law.
In his majority opinion, Justice Stephen Markman wrote: "We hold that the 'happening of the event giving rise to the cause of action' for a claim seeking monetary relief is when the claim accrues, and a procedural-due-process claim seeking monetary relief accrues when the deprivation of life, liberty, or property has occurred. In the instant case, plaintiffs were deprived of their property when their tax refunds were seized or their wages garnished."
The case now returns to the Court of Appeals, which had formerly dismissed the lawsuit on the technicality of when the plaintiffs filed their claims. That court had ruled the six-month window for suits seeking financial damages from the government started when the falsely accused received the first notice of fraud.
The Supreme Court, however, unanimously agreed that clock started when the state seized the plaintiffs' property — in the form of wages and tax refunds.
The Unemployment Agency's actions caused serious problems for more than 40,000 individuals who were already facing a tough time in their lives.
From 2013 to 2015, the agency used a computer system to root out suspected fraud, without human review, and it's that faulty program that led to the thousands of false determinations.
The Unemployment Agency has made changes in recent years, and in 2017 it said it was refunding falsely accused claimants more than $20.8 million. By last fall, most of the refunds had been processed, although earlier this year Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel sought help in finding 500 additional residents who still had not claimed refunds the state owed them.
So that's progress, but as the plaintiffs in this case say, the damages they suffered went beyond the refunds.
Although she agreed with the majority, in a separate opinion Chief Justice Bridget McCormack raised questions about the law requiring plaintiffs seeking financial damages to sue within a limited time frame, when dealing with constitutionally protected rights such as due process.
McCormack wrote: "The Legislature may place whatever conditions it wishes on rights of its own creation, including a notice requirement. And courts shouldn't undermine those legislatively created conditions. But it is the Constitution that forbids the government from depriving a person of his property without due process of law ... Is the six-month, no-exceptions notice provision reasonable when the government has taken a person's property without due process?"
Those are important points.
As the case makes its way through the courts, the state must do what it can to right this wrong, and ensure nothing like it can happen again.
The Mining Journal (Marquette). April 10, 2019
Green burials a good alternative for city of Marquette
The Marquette City Commission on Monday OK'd an updated version of the rules and regulations at the cemetery, and this includes allowing green burials and mausoleums.
At Park Cemetery, an area for green burials will be located in the Prairie Mount plat at the cemetery near the community gardens on the west end.
Green burials don't involve embalming, caskets or concrete vaults. Instead, a biodegradable shroud or coffin is used. The process is not only cheaper, it's more environmentally friendly, especially when complemented with landscaping involving native trees, shrubs and wildflowers.
The idea has caught on in at least one part of the Upper Peninsula.
The Keweenaw Green Burial Alliance's mission is to support the development of green burial practices in the Keweenaw Peninsula and surrounding areas.
The alliance has acknowledged the belief that cremation is the most environmentally responsible way to dispose of a body. Although it's more economical and convenient than a conventional or even a green burial, the group noted cremation involves the burning of fossil fuels and the generation of carbon dioxide emissions that might contain various pollutants.
The idea of green burials has caught on locally.
A group called Marquette Green Burial has been formed to bring ecologically responsible burial alternatives to Marquette.
There could be some drawbacks or possible problems with green burial sites. According to an Oct. 18 story in The Mining Journal, it was stated that some people have shared concerns about animals interacting with green burial sites. However, the Keweenaw Green Burial Alliance has researched the matter and discovered it's highly unlikely wild animals would disturb a human grave.
Biodegradable caskets, the alliance said, can be made from cardboard, softwoods like pine or poplar, or wicker baskets. A shroud can be made of any natural fibers such as cotton, hemp, linen, silk or wool. Green embalming fluid that does not contain formaldehyde is acceptable, and memorial markers that meet a cemetery's regulations for size and placement should be natural stone or wood.
Would green burials cut into a funeral home's bottom line? Commissioner Paul Schloegel said at Monday's meeting that several local funeral directors and undertakers have indicated they're in favor of green burials.
In a way, green burials are repeating history since typically most burials before the mid-19th century were conducted this way.
Green burials might not be for everybody, but it's good to know people with a particular concern for the environment have a new option to help the planet, even after they're gone.
Lansing State Journal. April 7, 2019
Why Michigan's AG is right to stop LGBTQ discrimination in state-funded adoptions
Michigan will no longer spend taxpayer dollars to fund adoption agencies that discriminate against LGBTQ parents.
Attorney General Dana Nessel announced the change in policy last month as part of the settlement to a lawsuit initiated in 2017 by two same sex couples, one from Lansing and one from Detroit.
The state is ready for this change.
Gay marriage has been legal in the U.S. since 2015, the result of a Supreme Court decision Nessel helped initiate in a previous role working with a lesbian couple in Madison Heights.
That same year, Michigan's Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill to uphold the right of adoption agencies to refuse working with same-sex couples due to religious conviction.
Now, it's time for that to change.
Nessel's decision last month follows on her 2018 campaign promises to fight for LGBTQ equality, made during her bid for state attorney general that she won by a narrow margin.
And it won't be a simple change: Of 59 private agencies the state contracts with, at least 20 are closely affiliated with religious organizations - and their work has been, and should continue to be a vital part of the process to find families for children who need homes.
The decision is not meant to diminish the role of religious agencies; contracting with them is simply part of how it's always been done in Michigan and the number of children placed by these groups each year is laudable, and absolutely should continue.
But not with state funding.
Some 13,000 Michigan children are currently in foster care - around 300 currently waiting for an adoptive family according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Having a larger pool of families to choose from will only benefit the system and the children who find themselves in it, and will outweigh any short-term impacts felt by shifts in funding structure.
And the state must not be permitted to sanction discrimination against qualified parents, even though religious agencies have the right to do so in private adoptions.
LGBTQ parents must be allowed to adopt and foster children from any state-funded agency.
In a statement following last month's settlement, Nessel said, "Limiting the opportunity for a child to be adopted or fostered by a loving home not only goes against the state's goal of finding a home for every child, it is a direct violation of the contract every child-placing agency enters into with the state."
The push for equal rights for LGBTQ people is happening across the U.S. - over 20 states have laws against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and Michigan seems on the cusp of updating the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
It's time for Michigan to take this next step.