Latest Michigan news, sports, business and entertainment at 6:20 a.m. EST

WINTER WEATHER

Midwest awaits spring-like thaw just days after bitter cold

CHICAGO (AP) — Many of the same Midwestern commuters who bundled up like polar explorers this week might soon get by with a light jacket.

Forecasts say the region will see a rapid thaw over the next few days, with temperatures climbing by as much as 80 degrees. Experts say it’s unprecedented, and it could create problems of its own such as bursting pipes, flooding rivers and crumbling roads.

Jeff Masters is meteorology director of the Weather Underground firm. He says past cold waves have not dissipated this quickly.

Rockford, Illinois, saw a record-breaking minus 31 (minus 35 Celsius) on Thursday but should be around 50 (10 Celsius) on Monday. Other previously frozen areas can expect temperatures of 55 (13 Celsius) or higher.

LGBT DISCRIMINATION-MICHIGAN

AG Nessel to address civil rights board on LGBT protections

DETROIT (AP) — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel plans to speak at a meeting in which civil rights officials could ask her to reconsider her predecessor’s opinion that state law doesn’t protect LGBT people from discrimination .

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission will decide Friday whether to make the request to Nessel at its scheduled meeting in Detroit. The commission says she’s expected to discuss the issue.

The commission in July directed the Michigan Department of Civil Rights to continue investigating complaints based on sexual orientation and gender identity, despite then-Attorney General Bill Schuette’s opinion. He said last year the board overstepped when it said the state’s civil rights law covered those categories.

Department director Agustin Arbulu said last year the commission wasn’t bound by Schuette’s opinion. Schuette’s office said it was binding on state agencies.

The meeting originally set for Monday was postponed because of severe weather .

HEALTH OVERHAUL-MICHIGAN

AGs in Michigan, 3 other states seek to defend health law

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is seeking to intervene in a lawsuit to defend the federal health care law after a judge declared it unconstitutional.

The Democrat announced Thursday her motion to intervene. Joining her were three other Democratic attorneys general — Phil Weiser of Colorado, Aaron Ford of Nevada and Thomas Miller of Iowa.

The federal judge in Texas last month declared the Affordable Care Act to be unconstitutional, but its provisions remain in effect while the case is appealed.

The four states want to join 16 others already opposing the ruling.

Also Thursday, Nessel directed her office to withdraw from eight federal cases in which her Republican predecessor, Bill Schuette, filed amicus briefs. The cases relate to reproductive rights, LGBT discrimination and the separation of church and state.

MILITARY VEHICLES CRASH-FLAGS LOWERED

Michigan governor orders flags lowered for Army corporal

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has ordered U.S. and state flags to be lowered to honor a soldier from western Michigan who died during a training exercise in southern New Mexico.

Whitmer said in a release that flags should be lowered to half-staff Saturday within the State Capitol Complex and state government buildings for 24-year-old Army Cpl. Cole Wixom. The infantryman from Bloomingdale died Jan. 22 along with 21-year-old Pfc. Jamie Riley in a collision between two Stryker vehicles at McGregor Range.

The flag lowering is planned to coincide with Wixom’s military funeral.

Wixom graduated from Bloomingdale High School in 2013 and joined the Army in 2016. He was stationed in western Texas at Fort Bliss and completed a tour of Iraq.

INDIAN ICE SCULPTURE

Ice sculpture of American Indian removed from festival in UP

(Information from: The Evening News, http://www.sooeveningnews.com)

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. (AP) — An ice sculpture of an American Indian in headdress has been removed from the front of a hotel in the Upper Peninsula.

The sculpture was created as part of Sault Ste. Marie’s Ice Festival. Aaron Payment, chairman of the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians, said it could be considered offensive.

Mary Lou Kreig, co-owner of Ramada Plaza Ojibway Hotel, says she believed the sculpture would honor American Indian culture. She says it’s “very sad” that the Ice Festival Committee voted Wednesday to remove it.

Payment tells The Evening News that he’s willing to contribute to another ice sculpture for the hotel. Ice Festival organizers say more than 30 sculptures are being displayed in the area.

___

FUEL TAXES

Ex-legislative leaders: Hike fuel taxes 47 cents for roads

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A bipartisan group of former legislative leaders says Michigan’s gasoline tax should be increased by 47 cents a gallon over nine years to fix deteriorating roads.

The proposal unveiled Thursday calls for boosting the 26-cents-a-gallon tax by 7 cents in 2020, followed by annual 5-cent hikes through 2028.

Republican Ken Sikkema and Democrat Bob Emerson — former Senate leaders — say there is no question more must be spent on roads, and raising fuel taxes is the simplest way to do it. Tax hikes would face resistance in the Republican-controlled Legislature. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who made fixing the roads a campaign issue, is expected to unveil a road-funding plan in March.

Michigan’s gas tax went up 7 cents a gallon in 2017, but critics say that plan is inadequate.

WINTER WEATHER-MICHIGAN-THE LATEST

The Latest: Utility OKs regular use of heat at midnight

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Consumers Energy says Michigan residents can stop voluntarily lowering their thermostat at midnight Thursday.

The utility is still asking people to help reduce natural gas use until then after a Wednesday fire at one of its plants — combined with record demand amid bitterly cold weather — led to concerns over the utility’s ability to keep gas flowing.

CEO Patti Poppe says the appeal to set thermostats at 65 degrees or lower led to a 10 percent reduction in use. The facility is partially open while repairs continue.

The fire remains under investigation.

Poppe credits residential customers and large industrial users that stopped operations with stepping up to help ensure people have heat.

WINTER WEATHER-BROKEN INFRASTRUCTURE

Rapid thaw could wreak havoc on pipes, roadways in Midwest

DETROIT (AP) — Much of the Midwest was preparing for a rapid thaw after this week’s polar vortex sent wind chill temperatures plummeting below minus-50 in some places. But the transition to warmer conditions threatens a new set of problems.

Ruptured water mains, leaky pipes and gutters, an influx of potholes and flooding of roads and bridges are among the potential repercussions of such a sudden temperature swing.

Two dozen busted water mains being patched Wednesday in Detroit swelled to 44 on Thursday and likely will rise following an expected 60-degree temperature swing.

Water department Deputy Director Palencia Mobley says soil around mains has water in it. That contracts and expands, making the ground and pipes shift which causes breaks.

WINTER WEATHER-MICHIGAN-WOOD

Michigan opens forests to people who burn wood to heat homes

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The state of Michigan says people who heat their homes with wood can collect it in publicly managed forests through the weekend.

The state typically requires $20 for a 90-day permit that’s good between April and the end of December. But no permit is required through Sunday as Michigan residents cope with extremely cold weather .

The rules for collecting wood can be found at www.Michigan.gov/fuelwood . The collection of wood is limited to within 200 feet of a state forest road. Live trees must be left alone, and no wood can be collected in state parks.

Ed Golder of the Department of Natural Resources says wood for fuel is most plentiful in the Upper Peninsula and the northern Lower Peninsula.

The Census Bureau says 3 percent of Michigan households burn wood for heat, compared to 76 percent with natural gas.