Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 22, 2013

Michigan in Brief: 02/22/2013

FROM WIRE REPORTS

— Blue Cross changes OK’d without provision

LANSING — A House panel on Thursday overwhelmingly approved legislation to overhaul Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, leaving out anti-abortion provisions that torpedoed an earlier effort to change the status of the state’s largest health insurer.

The 11-0 votes signaled — at least for now — that one of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s top legislative priorities could reach his desk without language that led him to veto similar legislation in late December. The Senate OK’d the new Blue Cross bills in late January.

House Republicans last year tried to prevent insurance plans from covering elective abortions unless women bought a supplemental policy. Snyder was OK with doing that for health plans in a government-sponsored insurance marketplace required under the federal health care law, but he objected to extending it to private plans.

Park revises 2012 female wolf total

ISLE ROYALE — Isle Royale National Park’s gray wolves apparently don’t have a gender gap after all.

Scientists reported last year that only nine wolves remained on the Lake Superior island chain — the lowest total in more than 50 years. They said just one was known to be a female, raising doubts about the predator’s long-term prospects for survival in the wilderness park.

But Superintendent Phyllis Green said Thursday that genetic analysis of wolf excrement and additional observations suggest that four or five of the animals are females.

Even so, Green says the wolves’ situation remains tenuous and experts are studying how climate change may affect them.

Michigan Technological University biologists are conducting their annual winter study at Isle Royale and are expected to release updated wolf and moose numbers next month.

Senate passes change in school sex laws

LANSING — The Michigan Senate voted Thursday for tougher restrictions on sex between high school employees and students, approving a bill that would make it illegal if students were younger than 21.

While the age of consent in Michigan is 16 in most cases, it is a crime under current law for school employees to have sex with students under the age of 18 because the employee is considered to be in a position of power.

The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

Because some students turn 18 before they graduate from high school, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, said there have been multiple allegations of teachers having sexual relations with students once they reach that age.

He said in one case, a teacher in Ionia waited until the day after a female student turned 18, drove the student to a motel room and had sex with her. Jones said the current law has caused an “extreme problem.”

“When parents send their students to high school, they want to know they are safe from someone abusing them,” he said.

The Senate passed a similar bill last session, but it did not make it out of the House. Jones said the bill got tied up at the end of last session due to a flood of bills coming through the legislature, but it will likely be passed by the House this year.