Senate OKs Safe Families legislation

LANSING, Mich. — The state Senate passed a package of bills on Thursday that would allow parents to place children with a safe family for a short period of time while the parents are away, said Sen. Mike Shirkey, co-sponsor of two of the bills.

The Safe Families legislation — Senate Bills 489, 490, 797 and 798 — would provide an alternative to the foster care system and save the state money.

“Safe Families is a proven, effective program in which families provide free help to parents who are in severe need of someone to care for their children,” said Shirkey, R-Clarklake. “These bills will help ensure these arrangements can continue.”

The legislation would enable parents to work with a nonprofit family service agency to find a host family that they could leave their children with, for free, for up to 180 days.

Safe Families is a nationwide, nonprofit program begun in 2002 that uses a volunteer network of host families to connect parents in crisis with families willing to open their homes to help children and families in need.

Unlike the national child welfare system, which is designed to get involved only after something has already happened to a family, the Safe Families program allows a parent who knows in advance that they will be away from home for a period of time to place their child in the home of someone they can trust.

The program started operating in west Michigan in 2011. It has since spread throughout the state, including Allegan, Benzie, Charlevoix, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Kalamazoo, Kent, Leelanau, Ottawa, and Wayne counties. Safe Families has several hundred volunteers throughout Michigan that come from many different faith communities.

Under the legislation, a family interested in hosting for the Safe Families program must undergo training provided by the family service agency involved in the placement. The legislation requires the training to be based on a national model for preparing, developing, training, and supporting resource families for the temporary care of minor children.

In addition, the training must include identifying child maltreatment, understanding grief and loss, behavior management strategies, environmental safety, universal precautions and unique, child-specific, needs-based training.

Shirkey said the bills would put a number of checks in place to ensure safety.

“Before becoming a host family, the family service agency must ensure that the Michigan State Police have performed a criminal history check and criminal records check through the FBI on every person living in the potential host home aged 18 or older,” Shirkey said. “The family service agency also must check the state of Michigan’s Internet Criminal History Access Tool for each of the individuals over 18 living in a potential host home.

“On top of that, there are home inspections, reference requirements, financial and safety assessments, periodic inspections and other safeguards in place. Safety is a top priority.”

Shirkey said the bills were introduced in response to concerns over undue government interference in the program.

“As is the case with so many successful private enterprises, some bureaucrats in Lansing seem bent on trying to license these types of arrangements,” Shirkey said. “That would be a mistake that could have a disastrous effect on the program.”

SBs 489, 490, 797 and 798 now head to the state House for further consideration.

Shirkey offering useful guide for tax season

LANSING, Mich. — Residents of Branch, Hillsdale and Jackson counties who are getting ready to file their taxes and want current information can contact Sen. Mike Shirkey’s office for a free taxpayer’s guide or can download the booklet from the senator’s website.

The Michigan Taxpayer’s Guide 2018 is a reference for the 2017 tax year and is designed to help residents prepare their state tax returns. The federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act went into effect on Jan. 1, 2018 and does not affect individual income taxes for 2017.

“Tax law can be complex and can change from year to year, so it is important to stay up to date,” said Shirkey, R-Clarklake. “This free guide will be useful to residents when completing their taxes.”

The booklet contains information on Michigan’s income tax, property taxes and tax credits. Included is a year-long listing of important property tax dates and deadlines as well as copies of the most commonly used tax forms. It also features addresses, phone numbers and email information for obtaining state agency tax assistance.

Shirkey said the guide is meant as a helpful resource and not as a substitute for Michigan Department of Treasury tax instruction booklets.

Free copies of the Michigan Taxpayer’s Guide 2018 may be downloaded by clicking the Publications link at right.

Residents can also reserve a free copy by contacting Shirkey’s office at 517-373-5932.

Shirkey supports tax relief bills, elimination of driver responsibility fees

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Mike Shirkey on Wednesday voted for legislation to preserve the personal exemption on the state income tax, provide additional relief for Michigan taxpayers and eliminate the state’s driver responsibility fees (DRFs).

“Our economy is strong, and the residents of Branch, Hillsdale and Jackson counties deserve a break,” said Shirkey, R-Clarklake. “These reforms enable residents to continue claiming the personal exemption on their state and local income taxes while also keeping more of their own money.”

The federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act simplified the tax code, lowered tax rates, doubled the standard deduction and increased family tax credits. However, in streamlining the exemption process, it effectively ended the federal personal exemption. Since the state personal exemption is based on the federal return, a revision to state law is required.

Senate Bill 748 makes necessary changes to maintain the state personal exemption and also boost the exemption by an additional $600 to $4,900 by 2021. SB 750 would ensure that Michigan residents can continue claiming the personal exemption on their city income taxes.

Shirkey also supported legislation to eliminate assessment of new DRFs as of Oct. 1, 2018 and forgive any outstanding DRFs.

“Drivers shouldn’t be penalized twice for the same violation, but that is what driver responsibility fees do,” Shirkey said. “It was important to end this practice.”

House Bills 5040, 5041, 5043, 5044, 5046 and 5079 and SBs 613 and 625 also include a reform to enable drivers who cannot pay their fees to get their license back immediately by paying off the DRFs through a workforce training program.

Shirkey issues statement on civil rights appointment

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, on Tuesday issued the following statement on Gov. Rick Snyder’s appointment last week of Bishop Ira Combs, Jr. of Jackson to a seat on the Michigan Civil Rights Commission:

“Bishop Combs is a very thoughtful and appropriate choice for the Michigan Civil Rights Commission. His well-rounded background and experience suit him well for this position.

“He has consistently and personally fought discrimination on many fronts, while pastoring thousands of congregants of diverse backgrounds. He has been a community activist and has openly opposed discrimination in multiple areas, including bank lending and mental health services and housing access for the disabled and mentally ill.

“In addition, he founded a nonprofit organization that provides community staffing and housing for the less fortunate; he is chairman of Michigan’s Adult Foster Care Licensing Advisory Council; and he has served on numerous boards and committees, including the State Child Abuse and Prevention Board.

“Bishop Combs will be a trusted advocate for civil rights for all. He brings broad and much-needed experience and diversity to a commission where diversity is a critical element. I am grateful for his current and past service and appreciate his willingness to serve in such an important role.”

Shirkey announces funding to improve road safety in Jackson County

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Mike Shirkey announced on Friday that funding has been approved for a construction project next year to improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians on a section of Wamplers Lake Road (M-124) in Jackson County.

The $1.3 million Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) project will widen the paved shoulders on the road from four feet to eight feet from U.S. 12 to M-50, a 7.4-mile stretch.

“The Irish Hills, numerous lakes, Hayes State Park and Watkins Lake State Park — these are all along this route, which means it is popular with locals and tourists alike and it is very busy,” said Shirkey, R-Clarklake. “Expanding the paved bike and pedestrian lanes will increase safety for everyone on these shoulders.”

A 2017 Road Safety Audit recommended widening the shoulders by up to four feet to provide an additional buffer between vehicular traffic and bicyclists. Other improvements in the project include upgraded street signing, pavement markings and rumble strips to increase safety for all modes of transportation.

The project is a shared investment of $1,137,822 from three sources: $659,368 in federal Transportation Alternative Program funds, $455,129 from the Michigan Department of Transportation, and $23,325 from Norvell Township.

“The Michigan Department of Transportation is excited to partner with Norvell Township to improve safety and expand nonmotorized access along M-124,” said Kelby Wallace, manager of MDOT’s Jackson Transportation Service Center. “This project is a result of a strong partnership dedicated to the safety of all modes of transportation.”

Shirkey commended Norvell Township.

“Norvell Township stepped up to the plate and provided significant local matching funds for this important project,” Shirkey said. “The township’s contribution helped secure the Transportation Alternative Program funds, and we are grateful for it.”

The TAP is a competitive grant program that uses federal transportation funds designated by Congress for specific activities that enhance the intermodal transportation system and provide safe alternative transportation options.

Construction on the project is set to begin in the spring or summer of 2019.