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ENVIRONMENTAL ORDER

Michigan lawmakers block Whitmer order in rare move

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Republican-led Michigan Senate has rejected Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s order to restructure the state environmental department — the first time lawmakers have outright blocked a governor’s move in more than 40 years.

The chamber voted 22-16 Thursday, more than a week after the GOP-controlled House voted.

Republicans oppose portions of the order that would abolish new oversight panels that were given a regulatory role under 2018 laws and create a new office to investigate “environmental justice” complaints. Whitmer says the commissions add too much bureaucracy to environmental rule-making and permitting. Democrats and environmentalist also contend they give businesses too much sway.

Republicans counter that the panels have not had a chance to get going, and they give landowners, farmers and businesses an “equal footing” with overzealous regulators.

MISSING SNOWMOBILER-LAKE

Snowmobiler missing at west Michigan lake, another rescued

SPENCER TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — Authorities say a snowmobiler is missing at a lake in western Michigan and another snowmobiler was rescued from unstable ice at the lake.

The Kent County sheriff’s office responded Wednesday night to Lincoln Lake in Spencer Township following a 911 call from a person who reported he was riding with a man who apparently went into open water. The caller was rescued by a hovercraft and crews searched the lake for the missing man.

The search was suspended after several hours but was to continue Thursday morning. The missing man is identified as a 29-year-old from the area.

CIVILIAN OFFICERS-MICHIGAN

Reserve officer resigned amid newspaper’s investigation

(Information from: Detroit Free Press, http://www.freep.com)

DETROIT (AP) — A newspaper’s investigation found that a leader of the Wayne County sheriff’s reserve unit once served jail time in a sexual assault case and for years had been listed on Michigan’s sex offender registry.

The Detroit Free Press reports that as a deputy chief of a civilian volunteer force, Mark Zarkin carried a gun and wore a badge and uniform. He resigned Feb. 4 after being interviewed by the newspaper.

Zarkin said he has no other criminal history and the case shouldn’t matter when it comes to his reserve officer post. His attorney noted that Zarkin no longer has a criminal record related to the alleged 1996 sexual assault.

Last fall, the newspaper documented how Michigan lags in its regulation of reserve officers . It has continued reporting on the issue.

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JOHN DINGELL

Late Rep. John Dingell hailed at service as ‘Mr. Michigan’

WASHINGTON (AP) — John Dingell, the record-long serving congressman who died last week, is being remembered at his funeral service in Washington as “Mr. Michigan” and a fierce defender of the state.

Former President Bill Clinton and former House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio are among the scheduled speakers paying tribute to the Michigan Democrat.

The 92-year-old Dingell served 59 years in Congress, longer than anyone else in U.S. history.

Rep. Fred Upton followed Dingell as chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. Upton, a Michigan Republican, recalled Dingell’s famous remark about the committee: “If it moves, it’s energy. If it doesn’t it’s commerce. We had the world.”

About 800 people attended a separate funeral Tuesday in Dearborn, Michigan, where Dingell lived.

SECRETARY OF STATE-COMPUTERS

SOS services suspended for weekend during computer upgrade

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Secretary of State offices and online services will go dark during a major weekend computer upgrade.

All branches and online sites will be closed from 5 p.m. Friday until 9 a.m. Tuesday. A new computer system is replacing decades-old technology. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson calls it a “vital project.” It was in the works before she took office on Jan. 1.

Benson says office services may take longer as employees get familiar with the new system. Late fees will be waived if someone has an expiration date between Feb. 11 and March 2.

After the upgrade, electronic records will eliminate paperwork. Vehicle owners will be able to order a license plate, renew a snowmobile registration or order a state park passport at www.Michigan.gov/sos . Auto dealers and repair shops will find online options, too.

ELECTIONS DIRECTOR-FRAUD

Feds: Ex-elections director funneled cash to husband

OAK PARK, Mich. (AP) — A former elections director in a Detroit suburb is accused of paying her husband more than $430,000 in a scheme to steal money.

Stephanie Sumner was Oak Park’s elections director from 2012 to 2015. She and husband Michael Sumner are charged with conspiracy and other crimes.

An indictment accuses Stephanie Sumner of creating fraudulent invoices and listing her husband as a vendor. The government says the scheme started early in 2013 after they filed for bankruptcy in 2012. Not-guilty pleas were entered Monday by a judge in Detroit federal court.

The charges include tax crimes. The government says the money wasn’t reported on tax returns for 2013, 2014 and 2015.

MEDICARE BILL

Bill would give those 50-plus option to buy into Medicare

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan have introduced a bill to give people between the ages of 50 and 64 the option of buying into Medicare.

The senators, both Democrats, said in a statement Thursday that millions of Americans who are approaching retirement or are being forced to retire early due to layoffs or mandatory retirement face increasing health care needs and rising costs.

They say allowing more people to buy into Medicare has the potential to lower their costs, reinforce the existing Medicare program, and strengthen the existing health insurance marketplace.

A companion bill has been introduced in the House.

WINTER WEATHER-MICHIGAN

Whitmer declares state of emergency in Ionia County

DETROIT (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has declared a state of emergency for Ionia County to help it recover from recent flooding in Portland and other winter weather effects.

The declaration Wednesday also noted recent ice storm damage in the city of Belding and authorizes the Michigan State Police, Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division to coordinate state efforts “above and beyond” what it already was doing in conjunction with local agencies in Ionia County.

Meanwhile, the state received more snow whipped by high winds. The National Weather Service says 8.1 inches (20.6 centimeters) of snow fell in the Saginaw area over 36 hours ending at 4 p.m. Wednesday. Ingham County reported numerous vehicle slide-offs.

DTE Energy says service has been restored to 58,000 of the utility’s 61,000 customers who lost power Monday and Tuesday.

FOREVER CHEMICALS-THE LATEST

The Latest: Senate to hold hearings on toxic chemical plan

WASHINGTON (AP) — The chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee says a plan outlined by the Environmental Protection Agency is only a first step toward protecting the public from highly toxic chemicals in drinking water.

GOP Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming says the panel will conduct a hearing this spring on the blueprint announced Thursday by Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

Barrasso says the agency must “speak clearly” about risks posed by a class of chemicals known as PFAS and must be willing to take “decisive action” where warranted.

Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire says the plan “falls short of delivering the certainty” that people exposed to PFAS contamination deserve. She says it lacks a commitment to develop enforceable drinking water standards.

The Environmental Protection Agency says it will move ahead this year with a process that could lead to setting a safety threshold for a group of highly toxic chemicals in drinking water.

MUSLIM DONOR NETWORK-GRANTS

Foundation funded by Muslim donors gives $650,000 in grants

CHICAGO (AP) — A Chicago-based foundation funded by a network of U.S. Muslim donors has given a total of $625,000 to roughly two dozen organizations nationwide it recognizes for improving Islamic life.

Pillars Fund on Tuesday announced the 26 grants to nonprofit groups in nine states and the District of Columbia. Officials say in a release recipients are “elevating American Muslims through political advocacy, health and wellness, research and the arts.”

Recipients include a Chicago project that aims to raise awareness about companies profiting from or promoting anti-Muslim policies, a New York-based effort to create an in-depth television documentary series on the entire history of U.S. Muslims, and an Ann Arbor, Michigan, organization working to create understandings of black American Muslims.

Pillars Fund says it has awarded $3.5 million since its inception in 2010. Funding comes from 25 Muslim professionals.