New Law Will Ensure Vulnerable Families Will Stay Warm this Winter

Michigan winters can be harsh and the assistance to low-income families to help them heat their homes often saves lives.

Legislation was recently signed that will ensure that thousands of low-income Southwest Michigan residents who may have faced heating utility shutoffs will be able to keep their homes and families warm this winter.

Due to a recent court decision, an estimated 130,000 eligible Michiganresidents faced losing this heating assistance.

The long-standing Low Income Energy Efficiency Funding program was created by a surcharge on utility bills that the courts struck down due to language inadvertently deleted during a 2008 update of the law.

The loss of this aid would have forced residents to choose between risking freezing or using alternative means for heat, like grills or the car, which have led to accidental fires and deaths.

Public Acts 274 and 275 of 2011 continue an existing charge on electric and natural gas bills to raise $48 million for a new Vulnerable Household Warmth Fund.

The charge is approximately a 50-percent reduction in the cost currently born by rate payers and will ensure that vulnerable Southwest Michigan parents will not have to worry over the holiday season about how they are going to keep their children warm.

I applaud the governor for helping solve the immediate problem of low-income heating during the winter, and I look forward to working with him to create a comprehensive, fair and long-term solution.

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Merry Christman to All in Michigan’s Great Southwest

I would like to wish each of you a Merry Christmas. I hope you all are able to spend the holiday season with family and friends, as you reflect on the year and look forward to a new year full of possibilities.

I am truly blessed to be able to gather with my loving family, without whose support and encouragement, I would not be your senator today.

As I look back at 2011, I am proud of all we accomplished this year. We stood up against the status quo that failed Southwest Michigan families for more than a decade. We passed a truly balanced budget, reformed the tax system to encourage growth and cut punitive regulations to attract entrepreneurs and innovation to Michigan.

Revitalizing our state’s economy and creating jobs required tough decisions. It is rewarding to see the positive results of our proactive approach, and I look forward to working with you to develop new ideas that will help us build Michigan’s Great Southwest.

As we trim the tree and exchange gifts, my heart is drawn to those who cannot be with their families this holiday season. The holidays are anespecially hard time for those men and women who are serving our country overseas and can’t be with their families. I encourage you to send a letter to our brave servicemen and women, thanking them for their sacrifice and wishing them a safe return.

I look forward to starting 2012 with renewed energy to continue the efforts to reenergize Michigan’s economic engine.

I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year. God Bless you all.

Protect Yourself this Holiday Season

The holiday season is upon us.  Unfortunately, with it come scam artists looking to take advantage of your Christmas spirit.

Many people shop online. It offers the world at a keystroke, but also invites risk. Southwest Michigan families can reduce their risk by following a few tips:

• Never give out your Social Security number. It is the most important thing to protect, since it can be used to steal your identity;

• Only shop secure websites of reputable merchants you are familiar with, or check them on the Better Business Bureau’s site at www.bbb.org;

• Print and keep all receipts; and

• Watch for high shipping charges.

Shopping online can be a convenient way to save time and money. But remember the old advice: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Gift cards are another item to keep your eye on. Thankfully Michigan enacted laws to protect gift card buyers and recipients. I am proud we acted to ensure customers what they paid for from their gift cards.

I still recommend a few guidelines for gift cards.

First, buy cards from a reliable source for a financially sound retailer.

Read the fine print, especially concerning restrictions, expiration dates and fees.

And ask for an extra receipt for you to include with the card – in case there is an error when the recipient uses it.

Have a safe and secure holiday shopping season. Maybe I’ll see you as I finish up my own Christmas shopping.

Federal Government Must Act to Maintain Harbors

Properly maintaining a harbor is critical to the port’s economic viability and the financial bottom line of shippers and importers. A lack of dredging in Southwest Michigan harbors is forcing ship operators to carry lighter loads, costing them millions of dollars.

That is why I co-sponsored Senate Resolution 97, calling on the U.S. Congress to ensure funds collected from shippers are used exclusively as intended: to maintain and dredge our nation’s harbors. It has been referred to the Senate Natural Resources, Environment and Great Lakes Committee for consideration.

Congress established a federal harbor maintenance tax on shippers in 1986 to fund harbor operations and maintenance at U.S. ports.

However, even though the federal Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund has a balance of nearly $6 billion, the critical dredging needs of Great Lakes harbors have not been met.

In fact, despite collecting almost $1.5 billion in maintenance taxes from shippers last year, only $758 million was actually spent to dredge harbors in Michigan and other coastal states.

That is unacceptable.

Sustaining a healthy harbor is important on several fronts: It supports Southwest Michigan jobs in an increasingly global economy, fosters entrepreneurship and protects our state’s great natural resources.

Our shippers have fulfilled their obligations to support harbor maintenance; it is now time for the federal government to do their job.

This resolution will send a message to Washington that their failure to act is hurting our economic recovery and costing us jobs.

Michigan Soon to Launch Fireworks

Michigan’s skies could be especially bright this coming July 4th, because legislation allowing consumers to buy certain, previously banned fireworks in Michigan is on its way to the governor to be signed.

Southwest Michigan retailers know that this isn’t about bringing these fireworks to our state. Many residents currently drive to Indiana or Ohio to purchase these types of fireworks, resulting in lost economic activity and revenue for our state.

House Bill 4293 will allow for the sale, transportation and use of consumer-grade fireworks under certain conditions. Retailers wanting to sell these fireworks, typically described as fireworks that shoot up into the air, will pay annual application fees of $1,000 to sell from a building and $600 to sell from a tent as well as a six percent fireworks safety fee on retail sales.

The reform also provides for an inspection and permitting process, requires liability insurance, and calls for the creation of a website listing every entity issued a consumer-grade firework certificate, to promote public safety and accountability.

A companion bill, Senate Bill 194, outlines criminal penalties for violators. Both proposals were supported by the Michigan Fire Service Coalition which consists of many firefighter groups, including the Michigan State Firemen’s Association.

I supported the bipartisan reforms because they will put Southwest Michigan small businesses on an even playing field with fireworks sellers across the border. That means more revenue for our schools and roads while responsibly balancing public safety and job creation.