Welcome to my latest e-newsletter! In addition to the usual information on state news, things to do and other community information. This week’s issue overview is a recognition of Black History Month.
I will be hosting Coffee Hours on Monday, Feb.26 from 10-11 a.m. at the Genesee Township Hall, 7244 N. Genesee Road in Genesee. I will also have special guest Sen. Jim Ananich joining me. I look forward to seeing you there!
I have been working with my fellow members of the Progressive Women’s Caucus’ Women’s Health Task Force to introduce legislation to protect access to contraceptive methods, free of interference from elected officials or employers. My bill in our Contraceptive Access package is House Bill 4019, which would create a requirement for insurance companies for pay for a 365-day supply of covered prescription contraception. Protecting a woman’s freedom to choose if, when and how to have a family is not only in the best interest of the woman herself, but also reaps widespread economic benefits as well. Government has no place in a woman’s ability to access contraception, nor is it appropriate for an employer to regulate whether their employee can have access to birth control. Women make up more than half of the entire country’s population. Over the years, we have risen in the ranks to become business leaders, doctors, university professors, lawyers and elected officials. It is time that our voices are heard and our choices are respected. If we decide it is best for us — and for our families — to use contraception, neither the government nor our employer should be able to tell us otherwise.
I have also been working with the Progressive Women’s Caucus on principles for legislative solutions on how to address sexual assault on college campuses. These principles include prevention, protection and accountability. The PWC’s Campus Sexual Assault principles focus on solutions for legislative reforms to strengthen university, community and state responses to incidents of sexual assault on campuses, as well as to reinforce protections for students on campus and in health facilities. Initiatives would include comprehensive education for students on the importance of consent and what constitutes sexual assault, as well as their rights during sensitive medical procedures.
I have recently co-sponsored House Bill 5534 that amends Michigan election law to require that the governor call for a special election no earlier than sixty days after a seat has been vacated, but no later than the next regularly scheduled election date (May, August or November). This legislation is in response to the concerns many have had about the lack of representation in the state Legislature and in Congress due to vacancies in office. This legislation would allow vacancies to be filled sooner, ensuring voters have their voices heard on important issues that are facing our state and country.
Michigan DNR seeking Conservation Officer Candidates
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is seeking people who want to become conservation officers.
The 23-week training academy starts July 15 in Dimondale, near Lansing. Applications are due March 1.
The academy is the first step to becoming a Michigan conservation officer. During the academy, recruits become paid state employees. After graduating, they become probationary officers and spend several more months training throughout the state before being assigned to one of Michigan’s 83 counties. DNR officers are certified police officers with authority to enforce all state laws. They also have unique training in areas related to the outdoors, such as off-road driving, survival tactics and first aid.
Early Enrollment for Flint Registry Now Open
Residents of Flint who were exposed to lead-contaminated water from the city’s water system can now pre-enroll for the Flint Registry, an effort to connect residents to programs and other resources that serve to minimize the effects of lead on their health, while promoting wellness and recovery. During the pre-enrollment process, those interested in being part of the effort can submit their name and contact information and receive updates on when the formal enrollment begins, which is projected to be this fall.
The registry is part of the Centers for Disease Control’s ongoing efforts across the country to reduce and prevent exposure to lead as part of its Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention program. The registry is voluntary and will link registrants’ data on exposure, health and key childhood developmental milestones with their participation in services through a referral network. People of all ages can participate including individuals outside the area who went to school, daycare or worked in Flint during the crisis.
For more information and to pre-register, visit flintregistry.org.
Treasury: Taxpayers Can Check State Refund Status Online
As the state of Michigan enters individual income tax season, the Michigan Department of Treasury reminds taxpayers who filed a 2017 state return to check the status of their refund online by going to www.michigan.gov/wheresmyrefund.
Individuals who e-filed can check their refund status two weeks from the date confirmation was received that the state return was accepted. The status of paper-filed tax returns can be viewed from six to eight weeks after postmarking.
To ensure taxpayer privacy and security, the following information is required when checking the status of a refund at www.michigan.gov/wheresmyrefund:
- Social Security Number
- Tax Year
- Filing Status
- Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) or Total Household Resources (THR)
Individuals can find their AGI on line 10 of the MI-1040. Total Household Resources are found on line 33 on the MI-1040CR or line 34 on the MI-1040CR-7. For more information, please visit: www.Michigan.gov/taxes.
Treasury: Resolve to Be Ready for Tax Scams in 2018
The Michigan Department of Treasury is asking taxpayers to be ready for tax scams in 2018. Cybercriminals typically increase their activity in the first part of the year through phone scams and email phishing schemes. These scammers try to obtain personal information using different tricks and tactics so they can file income tax returns and claim refunds on behalf of unsuspecting taxpayers. Some scammers may also allege a taxpayer owes taxes and aggressively demand payment for a quick payout.
Treasury will never:
- Initiate a phone call or email to ask for personal information.
- Call or email to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, Treasury will first send a bill through the U.S. mail to any taxpayer who owes taxes.
- Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.
- Demand that taxes be paid without giving the taxpayer the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
- Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
Cybercriminals often alter caller ID numbers and emails to make it look like the state Treasury Department, the Internal Revenue Service or another official agency is contacting a taxpayer. Scammers may use employee titles, a person’s name, address and other personal information to sound official.
Taxpayers who have received a call or email from a scammer should report the case to the IRS through the web or by calling (800) 366-4484. To learn more about tax-related identity theft, go to www.michigan.gov/identitytheft.
Genesee County Tax Assistance & Financial Services Coalition returns more than $600,000 to Genesee County
United Way of Genesee County supports the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. This is a volunteer run program in partnership with the IRS that prepares and e-files tax returns for low to moderate income wage earners for free.
To view the schedule and locations of the 2018 tax preparation sites, please visit: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1kCTKJkcoyuafipWHGhiRiIN0IWi1BGU0/view
Free Tax Help
Seniors and individuals with special needs may qualify for free tax preparation help from IRS-trained volunteers or Tax Counseling for the qualified preparers. For information about free tax help, dial 2-1-1.
To learn more about Michigan’s individual income tax or to download forms, go to www.michigan.gov/taxes. For more information about e-filing, go to www.mifastfile.org.
DNR has new online form for reporting fish kills
To simplify the public’s ability to report fish kills, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently developed an online form for reporting fish kills in quantities larger than 25 fish. A fish kill of this size could have more factors involved that need further DNR investigation. The new Sick or Dead Aquatic Species form can be found in the DNR’s Eyes in the Field application at www.michigan.gov/eyesinthefield.
Information requested in the form includes waterbody and location (both descriptive and latitude-longitude coordinates), observation details, and any available photos showing the fish kill. Close-up photos showing any external disease signs such as bloody patches, unusual wounds or odd coloration are particularly helpful to DNR staff as they try to determine the cause of the issue and its seriousness. Entered reports and associated images automatically are forwarded to fish health staff for quicker evaluation and action. The DNR reminds everyone that after the ice and snow cover melts on Michigan's lakes this winter, it may be common to discover dead fish or other aquatic creatures. Severe winter weather can create conditions that cause fish and other creatures such as turtles, frogs, toads and crayfish to die.
Experience #MiFreeFishingWeekend Feb. 17-18 and enjoy the outdoors
Grab a fishing rod and enjoy some of the finest fishing Michigan has to offer during the 2018 Winter Free Fishing Weekend Saturday, Feb. 17, and Sunday, Feb. 18. On those two days, everyone — residents and non-residents alike — can fish without a license, though all other fishing regulations still apply.
In addition, during #MiFreeFishingWeekend, the Department of Natural Resources will waive the regular Recreation Passport entry fee that grants vehicle access to Michigan’s 103 state parks and recreation areas. Several locations also may be hosting official 2018 Winter Free Fishing Weekend events that are perfect for the whole family.
Michigan has been celebrating winter’s #MiFreeFishingWeekend every year since 1994 as a way to promote awareness of the state's vast aquatic resources. With more than 3,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, tens of thousands of miles of rivers and streams, and 11,000 inland lakes, Michigan and fishing are a perfect match.
Official winter #MiFreeFishingWeekend activities are being scheduled in communities across the state to assist with public participation. These activities are coordinated by a variety of organizations, including constituent groups, schools, local and state parks, businesses and others. A full list of these events can be found online at michigan.gov/freefishing.
Black History Month
The month of February commemorates Black History Month in the United States. This is an annual celebration of the amazing contributions that African-Americans have contributed to the local front, as well as the national context. Black History Month is an especially important time to reflect on the value and positive change African-Americans have provided, from science to politics, art to literature, as well as social progress to law.
The story of Black History Month begins in 1915, half a century after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. The celebration of Black History Month began as “Negro History Week,” which was created in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, a noted African American historian, scholar, educator, and publisher. It became a month-long celebration in 1976. The month of February was chosen to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.
Michigan was an active participant of the Underground Railroad even before it became a state. In 1836, 13 former slaves organized the Second Baptist Church in Detroit. Besides allowing African-Americans to worship without discrimination, the church also opened Michigan’s first school for black children and was a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Michigan’s black population grew slowly but steadily during the years before the Civil War, with Sojourner Truth making Battle Creek her home in 1857. At a time when women — especially black women — did not give speeches, Truth used her remarkable speaking skills to promote equality and the need to end slavery.
As automobiles became Michigan’s central focus, tens of thousands of African-Americans moved north, seeking employment in the auto factories like the ones in Flint. There was also a long history of unionism and advocacy for social justice pioneered by African-Americans in these plants. People like Ruben Burks, who began working as an assembler at the former General Motors Fisher Body Plant 2 in Flint, joined UAW Local 59. In 1998, he became the first African-American International UAW Secretary-Treasurer, a post he held until 2002. He also used his skills to help the Flint community, including holding a leadership post in Flint Genesee County Economic Development, and becoming the first labor leader to chair the Board of Trustees of the United Way of Genesee and Lapeer counties in 1991.
The National Black History Month 2018 theme, “African Americans in Times of War,” marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I and honors the roles that black Americans have played in warfare, from the American Revolution to the present day.
I encourage you to participate in local events to learn more about the rich history Black History Month has to offer. For more information on Black History Month, please visit https://africanamericanhistorymonth.gov.
State Representative Pam Faris
48th House District