A roundup of recent Michigan newspaper editorials

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Associated Press

Posted on September 16, 2013 at 7:00 AM

Livingston County Daily Press & Argus (Howell). Sept. 10.

Dillon must clean up discrepancies

When you're one of the folks entrusted to jingle the change in Michigan's pocketbook, there's not much leeway for being in a situation where you look like you're all thumbs.

State Treasurer Andy Dillon is in such a scenario right now. According to Gannett Michigan reports, Dillon's campaign fund has a six-figure differential in its balance between what the Department of State says it has on file and what Dillon said was in the account — $27 — in a 2012 affidavit in which he asked the state to close the account. Dillon, whom Gov. Rick Snyder appointed head of the state treasury, ran for governor in 2010 and apparently still has his team sorting out three-year-old campaign issues this summer.

Dillon's campaign treasurer told Paul Egan of the Detroit Free Press that his camp has fingered the root of the problem: It's a software incompatibility between what the state uses and what his team uses. Glitch happens, in other words.

Fair enough. Anybody who has used computers knows that they are fickle entities. They only do the best they can with the information they're given. No questions; no follow-up; no analysis. Not their job.

But it's the job of the state treasurer to handle money, and Dillon's efforts with his campaign funds leave something to be desired.

To resolve all doubt, Dillon ought to take the lead in resolving the matter by delivering the Department of State his campaign bank information and leave no question as to the standing of his campaign account. At this late juncture, no other resolution seems sensible for the guy the governor tapped to be his wallet wizard.

This is not the first issue with Dillon's political accounts. According to the Free Press, the treasurer of Dillon's political action committee missed routine filing deadlines this summer. The state issued fines in that matter. The state also allowed Dillon to close out his state representative fund in April despite an $8,900 discrepancy between its balance sheet and what its treasurer said was in the fund.

Snyder, who campaigned for the state's highest office as a self-styled "tough nerd," is a certified public accountant and well-established business authority as the former CEO of Gateway Inc. In office, in the interest of transparency about the route in which this state is headed, he has pledged he would maintain an online "dashboard" about the status of vital state measures.

Following that lead, his administration has rightly called on Dillon to rectify his campaign finance situation. There ought to be no further delays or issues in balancing the books for years-old political funds maintained on behalf of a key state financial official.

Dillon has his hands on millions and millions of state dollars in the form of investments and other entities. He seems to have a firm grasp on his responsibilities as a handler of the public dough, though he needs to show he has a grasp on his own campaign money as well. The public deserves nothing less from one of its chief money handlers.

Michiganders ought to expect that they have leaders who are focused on tackling the challenges of the present and seizing the opportunities of the future — not on resolving questions about an unsuccessful run for office three summers ago.

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Grand Haven Tribune. Sept. 10.

Specialty courts make good sense

Veterans courts, mental health courts, drug courts and sobriety courts.

These and other specialty courts are debuting all around the country, much to the benefit of our citizenry.

Such courts focus on the real issues behind crimes, and tackling the core problems of society and the cycle of crime.

In Ottawa County, we're lucky to have an established and successful sobriety treatment program in Holland. A similar program may open here in Grand Haven, and we would certainly support such an initiative because it seems to make a real impact on real families.

Each of these specialty courts has one philosophy in common — helping people help themselves toward a better, law-abiding life. They help people identify the problems they have, and teach them better ways of coping and handling situations.

For combat veterans who have issues with aggression, for instance, the treatment could include counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder, or volunteer work that promotes teamwork and positive missions. For alcoholics, these programs include regular and random testing, mandatory AA meetings, and intensive counseling and supervision. For those with mental health conditions, sentences could include regular doctor or psychiatry visits and therapy.

These courts make sense. And they work for a good number of people.

The alternative in many cases is to jail the person, which costs taxpayers a considerable sum of money, and really does little to address the issue that led to criminal behavior in the first place.

As Judge Brad Knoll down in Holland said: When you jail an alcoholic for drunken driving, the thing the person feels most upon release is how thirsty they are.

The more they're jailed, the more their lives spiral down a whirlpool of despair. They lose their jobs, their support networks, their sources of income, and sometimes their families. When they get out of jail, they might owe a considerable sum in back child support, for instance, and could have difficulty in landing another job. That thirstiness will be stronger each time they face another hurdle, or loss.

Thus continues the cycle.

Let's break the cycle. Let's support alternative courts such as the sobriety and veterans courts.

Let's help our neighbors, friends and family members move past the despair and onto better paths in life.

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The Mining Journal (Marquette). Sept. 10.

Drones are like guns: It just depends on how they're used

The use of unmanned aerial vehicles — commonly referred to as drones — has become an emotional issue, closely bound up with people's feelings about foreign policy, war and personal privacy.

It's clear that those feelings are hovering over the recent news that local officials are backing a bid to make northern Michigan a hub for UAV development. Officials have high hopes for the Michigan Advanced Aerial System Consortium. If the state's bid is successful, an area including Sawyer International Airport could become a prime national test and industrial center for drones. If that happens, some of the projects, technological development and investments land at Sawyer.

The consortium, launched last month downstate, is involving elected officials, government agencies, academia and industry.

Our area boasts several advantages which may help in attracting the drone center. Advanced radar systems at some regional airports, along with proximity to Canada and international testing opportunities are positives. A diverse climate, a mix of rural and urban areas and large bodies of water are other reasons the area may be desirable.

We think the drone initiative could be an opportunity for the region to get in on the early stages of what could grow into an important industry. Officials noted the U.S. Department of Defense budget includes $6 billion for unmanned aerial systems.

With potential investments like that at stake, we need to separate the development of drone technology from the argument over how it is used.

Revelations of ever-increasing government surveillance and intrusion into our personal lives worry us, but we understand drone technology isn't inherently scary or evil. Among the potential Upper Peninsula uses of drones which shouldn't trigger concerns over privacy would be security monitoring for the mining industry and mapping or surveying applications for the timber industry.

If the consortium bid succeeds, it doesn't mean more drones will be used for surveillance in the U.P., only that research and development on a range of new technologies may be based in our area.

That research is bound to happen. Why not conduct it here?

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Traverse City Record-Eagle. Sept. 12.

State Must resolve mandatory-life issue

More than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles, Michigan lawmakers are still dithering, which means there is no progress on the fate of the 360 or so inmates who were under 18 when they committed crimes, mostly murder.

It must be clear from the start that this is not a get-out-of-jail card for individuals of any age who committed a serious crime, usually murder.

Instead, the court ruled that the Constitution's Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment should apply to very young criminals who were sentenced to mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole.

The ruling was aimed at the mandatory nature of the sentences, not the sentences themselves. Mandatory sentences for a variety of crimes, including many drug crimes, were much in vogue in the U.S. back in the 70s, 80s and 90s as politicians looked for ways to "get tough on crime."

Some mandatory minimums make perfect sense, but others do not. Hundreds of people convicted of possessing relatively small amounts of drugs, for instance, were given sentences well beyond what their crime called for, all in the name of getting tough on thugs and their drugs.

The argument against mandatory life sentences for juveniles and very young defendants is that many of them could not fairly conceptualize what they were doing. Others were influenced by peer pressure. Others were just plain stupid and did things an adult with more experience might never do.

Proposed legislation could give current inmates a chance at release in the future and eliminate mandatory no-parole sentences for juveniles in new cases. They could still get a no-parole life sentence, but it would not be mandated.

For current juvenile lifers, resentencing hearings would be created so prosecutors could still seek life with no parole. Bills may also allow prisoners to ask for minimum terms of 20 to 40 years with a maximum no lower than 60 years.

Michigan has the second-highest number of juvenile lifers in the U.S. and spends nearly $100 a day per prisoner, way more than the state spends to send kids to college. That's nuts.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that mandatory life sentences for juveniles violate the Eighth Amendment; so where are all the constitutionalists who demand strict, word-for-word adherence to that document?

Kids — particularly ones with guns — often do incredibly stupid things. To make them spend 70 or 80 years in prison, no matter the circumstances, for an act they committed as a child is extreme.

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