Senate panel votes to ban felons from dispensing medical marijuana

LANSING — Legislation designed to crack down on the lax regulation of medical marijuana was approved by a Senate panel Tuesday, said Sens. Rick Jones and Tonya Schuitmaker.

“Under federal law, schools are ‘Drug Free Zones’ and it’s only logical that we would clarify in state law that medical marijuana cannot be distributed close to where our children attend classes,” said Jones, R-Grand Ledge, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Similarly, it makes sense to extend the ban to churches, since many run drug rehab programs.”

Senate Bill 504 prohibits the selling of medical marijuana at facilities often known as “dispensaries” within 1,000 feet of a church/place of worship or school zone. SB 505 would prohibit convicted felons from registering to be caregivers and selling medical marijuana at dispensaries.

Under current law, individuals convicted of a felony involving illegal drugs are not allowed to become primary caregivers for medical marijuana patients.

“Marijuana was approved by voters strictly for medicinal use,” said Schuitmaker, R-Lawton. “Therefore we need to make sure real doctors are the ones prescribing it, that no convicted criminal is distributing it, and that pot shops aren’t set up near schools or places of worship.”

The Michigan State Police have reported the arrests of two convicted felons during a recent drug raid on a Lansing marijuana clinic. Both employees of the Evolve Medical Marijuana Services were jailed on charges.

After investigating the matter, Jones learned that one of the felons was convicted of homicide. Previously, Jones debated the owner of the Williamston medical marijuana club on public television. The owner stated he was convicted of distributing cocaine. He was later arrested and is currently facing charges.

Jones and Schuitmaker will continue to work with Attorney General Bill Schuette this summer to clarify the medical marijuana laws and protect Michigan residents.

SBs 504 and 505 will now go before the full Senate for further consideration. A three-fourths vote of the Legislature is required to amend a voter referendum.

Schuitmaker: Reforms to protect the Great Lakes from invasive species introduced in Senate


LANSING―A comprehensive package of bills designed to protect Michigan from increased ecological catastrophe and millions of dollars in lost revenue was introduced in the Michigan Senate today. The reforms establish a council to determine how to protect the state from continued invasions of aquatic invasive species.

“The invasive aquatic species that have infiltrated Michigan’s waterways present a serious ecological and economic threat to our state,” said Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, who cosponsored the legislation. “By forming an advisory council, we are putting together great minds to develop a long-term strategy that will help eliminate aquatic invasive species from the Great Lakes region.”

Under the new legislation, the Great Lakes Basin Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Advisory Council will work with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Office of the Great Lakes to update and implement the state’s existing AIS management plan. The measures would also require the council to review all existing state laws on aquatic invasive species and make recommendations for strengthening protections against further invasions.

Senate Bills 508–510 were sent to the Senate Committee on Outdoor Recreation and Tourism for consideration.

Nurse-Family Partnership Program supporting underprivileged families to receive much needed funding


LANSING—The Nurse-Family Partnership program is set to receive $1.5 million to help serve vulnerable families in Michigan as part of the Department of Community Health budget that is expected to be signed by Gov. Rick Snyder this week.

State Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker today lauded the funding that will help support and expand the partnership, as dollars are critical for the continued operation of the program. It is currently implemented by health departments in Calhoun, Oakland, Kent, Kalamazoo and Berrien counties.

“This program is uniquely poised to help Michigan achieve its goals in health and education, and economic strength and public safety,” said Schuitmaker, R-Lawton. “It’s about changing lives, and this funding will help fuel that success.”

Both policymakers and administrators have recognized the NFP program as a stellar example of cost-effective prevention. The program utilizes registered nurses, who are invited into the homes of first-time, low-income mothers for weekly or biweekly visits from early in pregnancy until the child is two years old.

Findings from three randomized, controlled trials conducted in varied settings over 30 years demonstrate that this voluntary effort helps vulnerable families overcome challenges. These include health and educational disparities, child abuse and neglect, poverty, adult criminality, juvenile delinquency and government dependence.

This level of care results in positive life choices that yield economic benefits to taxpayers. A study by the RAND Corporation found that up to $5.70 is returned in the form of societal cost savings for every dollar spent on NFP in government investment.

“The Nurse-Family Partnership is cost effective and a proven way to help strengthen families and transform communities,” said Schuitmaker.

“It's a pleasure to salute Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker and Rep. Matt Lori for their leadership to secure state funding this year for the Nurse-Family Partnership program,” said Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Fink, an executive committee member of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids. “NFP is one of the best tools that we have to combat child abuse and neglect in Kalamazoo County, and other areas around the region.

“The research is clear; being abused or neglected multiplies the risk that a child enters the criminal justice system as an adult defendant. It is imperative that we continue this proven parent-coaching and family support program to prevent children from being abused and neglected, reduce future delinquency, and improve outcomes for children. When that happens, everyone wins.”

Senators announce 16-bill package targeting elder abuse in Michigan


LANSING—Legislation that will help increase the reporting of elder abuse in Michigan and strengthen penalties for those convicted of abuse was unveiled at a press conference this morning, said Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker.

“There are tens of thousands of Michigan seniors who have been criminally abused yet their pain and suffering is rarely reported and has largely gone unnoticed,” said Schuitmaker, R-Lawton. “In many ways, the system has failed them and we are intent on fixing that.”

Elder abuse is a problem affecting nearly 80,000 senior citizens in Michigan, with many enduring unspeakable acts of physical, emotional and financial abuse. Schuitmaker said the measures introduced today seek to better protect the elderly and harshen penalties for abusers.

Schuitmaker sponsored Senate Bills 461, 464 and 466 in the package. SB 461 further protects those that are at risk of being exploited without placing an unmanageable burden on their guardians, while SBs 464 and 466 will increase coordination between state and local authorities by developing protocols for investigating vulnerable adult abuse, expediting the process.

Other bills in the package were sponsored by Sens. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart; Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek; Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge; and Steve Bieda, D-Warren, who all spoke at the event.

Judy Sivak, president of the Area Agencies on Aging Association of Kalamazoo, said reforming Michigan law to protect the elderly is vital.

“Legislation is needed to reinvent Michigan because the physical and financial abuse of older adults imposes significant social and economic costs to the state,” said Sivak. “We are here today for Older Michiganians Day, to celebrate and acknowledge the tremendous gifts that older adults give our state each and every day, but we are also here to be advocates for elder abuse legislation.”

Mary Ablan, executive director of the Area Agencies on Aging Association of Michigan, said. “It would be the best Christmas present to have the bills signed by Gov. Snyder this December. This is the year to end the abuse.”

Additional guests included Ron Tatro, director of Elder Abuse Prevention Services for Elder Law of Michigan; and Rep. Holly Hughes, R-Montague.

Senate Bills 454 – 468 were referred to the Senate Committee on Families, Seniors and Human Services.

For video and photos from today’s press conference, and for more information on the legislation, please visit Schuitmaker’s website at 

Senate to unveil elder abuse legislation at Wednesday press conference

LANSING—State Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker and a bipartisan group of Senate colleagues will introduce reforms Wednesday to help increase the reporting of elder abuse in Michigan and strengthen penalties for those convicted of abuse.

The event will be held Wednesday, June 15 at 9:15 a.m. in the Speaker’s Library on the second floor of the Michigan Capitol.

Elder abuse is serious and often goes unrecognized. Nearly 80,000 Michigan residents are victims of abuse.

The legislation is being unveiled in conjunction with the observance of Older Michiganians Day.

What:  A press conference to unveil legislation addressing the grave and growing threat of elder abuse in Michigan.

Who:   State Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, and Senate colleagues.

When: 9:15 a.m.
Wednesday, June 15

Where:Speaker’s Library
Second floor
Michigan Capitol

Schuitmaker fights to cut bureaucracy, improve efficiency with health care reform bill

LANSING—State Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker introduced legislation this week to improve efficiencies at the doctor’s office by streamlining the process used by Michigan physicians to verify that a patient’s health care insurance provider covers prescription drugs.

Senate Bills 429 and 430 call on Michigan’s insurance commissioner to create a single universal prior authorization form and bring uniformity in the authorization process. This will replace more than 1,000 pages of paperwork physicians are currently forced to sort through for the same simple task.

“Michigan families deserve the absolute best possible health care, but unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy often stand in the way,” said Schuitmaker, R-Lawton. “My legislation lets doctors and their staffs focus on saving lives and improving their patients’ health instead of dealing with mountains of redundant paperwork.”

While most prior authorization forms are very similar, more than 150 different insurance providers operating in Michigan each use their own unique forms, creating significant paperwork and bureaucratic red tape. This delays the delivery of quality health care and limits the time physicians and their staffs can spend directly with patients, addressing their health care needs.

Kalamazoo area physician and Michigan State Medical Society member Stephen Dallas, M.D. agrees with Schuitmaker.

“Michigan physicians prefer to be in the exam rooms and operating suites working on their patients’ behalf. We prefer to see our staff delivering care directly to patients and not confined to desks shuffling paper,” said Dallas. “A universal prior authorization form would reduce the amount of time spent filling out forms. It would streamline the referral process and it would enhance efficiency.”

Health care insurance providers use prior authorization forms to verify that drugs being prescribed by a physician are covered by a patient’s health care plan for the symptoms or ailment being treated. SB 429 and 430 maintain an insurance company’s right to choose which drugs it covers under each plan but calls on the insurance commissioner to create a universal form each must accept from physicians seeking prior authorization.

Michigan’s largest physician and patient advocacy organizations, representing tens of thousands of Michigan doctors, their staffs and their patients this year have formally called for the creation of a universal prior authorization form to improve patient access to care, including the Michigan State Medical Society; the Michigan Osteopathic Association; the Michigan Academy of Family Physicians; and the Michigan Health and Hospital Association.

Two Kalamazoo schools awarded millions for improvement projects

LANSING—Two Kalamazoo area public schools were awarded federal School Improvement Grant funds to help them increase student achievement and improve teaching and learning, said state Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker.

The Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts and Milwood Middle School were included in the group of 24 Michigan schools according to the Michigan Department of Education.

“The education of our youth is essential to Michigan’s future, and this federal funding will give these schools added resources to help improve student achievement,” said Schuitmaker, R-Lawton. “The two Kalamazoo schools were given this opportunity by developing a turnaround plan that will help increase academic success, and I have high expectations that it will.”

Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts and Milwood Middle School will each have three years to use the respective $4,066,968 and $4,412,160 they were awarded. The money comes as part of the second round of federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) awards.

As with the first round of recipients last year, current schools receiving grants earned them based on meeting the federal grant requirements and having the highest quality applications. The four federally-required school improvement models, from which the schools had to select, were a transformational model, turnaround model, restart model or close/consolidate model.

The eligible schools were identified by student achievement and academic growth based on state testing data from the 2007-10 school years. Districts with eligible schools had to submit a detailed school improvement plan using one of four improvement models. SIG funds must be used to provide federal Title I allowable school programming and activities.

Schools will begin implementation of their plans this fall and will have three years to use their federal School Improvement Grant funds.

Senate makes not reporting a dead body a crime

LANSING—Michigan residents who fail to report the discovery of a deceased person could face a misdemeanor and a year in prison and a $1,000 fine, and a felony of up to 5 years and a $5,000 fine for not reporting one with the intent to hide or conceal that death or cause thereof under legislation passed today by the state Senate.

“It has shocked the public’s conscience that there is no crime for failing to report a dead body. It is important that we fix that,” said Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, who sponsored the Senate Bill 231. “These measures would make it a misdemeanor to fail to report a death, and a felony if the person not reporting it did so to conceal the death while committing another crime, for example, like cashing the deceased's checks.”

The legislation stems in part from a case in Grand Rapids where, after being unable to contact her mother for several days, a claimant arrived at her mother’s residence to discover the woman’s boyfriend at the premises. The man had locked the mother’s dead body in an adjacent room and concealed the knowledge of her death for many days.

Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, who represents the district where the incident occurred, introduced Senate Bill 380, which establishes the sentencing guidelines for those convicted.

“It is illegal in Michigan to hide or dispose of a dead body, but it isn’t illegal to not report one,” said Hildenbrand, R-Lowell. “This legislation corrects that oversight by making those who fail to report a dead body criminally responsible.”

Kent County Assistant Prosecutor Timothy McMorrow testified in support of the measures during last month’s committee hearing.

SBs 231 and 380 now go to the state House for consideration.