Sen. Jones visits local vineyard

LANSING — State Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, visits with Doug Welsch, owner and winemaker of Fenn Valley Vineyards and Wine Cellar in Fennville. It is tradition for senators to buy lunch for their colleagues after their first bill is approved. Jones provided a taste of the 24th Senate District with sandwiches from Eaton County, a dessert from Barry County and a bottle of Fenn Valley wine from Allegan County in celebration of the passage of Senate Bill 19.

Editor’s note: The above photograph of Sen. Jones and Doug Welsch is available by clicking on the image or by visiting the senator’s photowire.

The Michigan Senate recently approved legislation to crack down on unemployment fraud and help ensure that benefits will be there for state residents who depend on it while looking for work.

After a decade-long recession and double-digit unemployment figures, Michigan’s unemployment trust fund (which is supported by state and federal unemployment taxes paid by job providers) is in the hole $3.9 billion.

That’s why the Michigan Senate recently approved legislation to crack down on unemployment fraud and help ensure that benefits will be there for state residents who depend on it while looking for work.

According to a recent report from the state auditor general (which cites overpayments, uncollected penalties and millions paid to illegal aliens), Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency did not collect up to $38.5 million in overpayments. Unemployment fraud by individuals collecting benefits while working costs Michigan an estimated $100 million to $150 million a year.

House Bill 4408 requires the Michigan UIA to be more proactive in collecting overpayments of benefits by contracting for use of state-of-the-art anti-fraud software.

As approved by the Senate, the legislation also retroactively extends an additional 20 weeks of benefits to 150,000 long-term unemployed individuals whose benefits ran out at the end of last year.

With unemployment still in the double digits, we must do everything we can to safeguard these vital benefits for Michigan residents who really need them and are depending on them while looking for work. This proposal will also help ensure that the system is not bogged down by fraud, which costs the state’s job providers hundreds of millions of dollars.

HB 4408 has been approved by both chambers of the Legislature and sent to Gov. Rick Snyder for his signature. I look forward to this key measure becoming law.

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Sen. Rick Jones is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and vice chair of the Senate Regulatory Reform Committee. He represents the 24th state Senate District, which includes Allegan, Barry and Eaton counties.

Changes to states sex registry approved, sent to governor

LANSING — Legislation to bring Michigan into compliance with the national Adam Walsh Child Safety and Protection Act is one step closer to becoming law, said sponsors Sens. Rick Jones and Phil Pavlov.

“I’m very excited to have these vital proposals approved way ahead of the July 1 deadline,” said Jones, R-Grand Ledge, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Having these new laws in place will prevent the state from losing $1.2 million in federal funding for our law enforcement agencies. I look forward to the governor signing these measures into law.”

Senate Bills 188, 189 and 206 create a three-tiered system to differentiate between levels of offenders. The new tiered system will more adequately inform concerned residents which individuals in their community are a real threat.

Under the proposed laws, offenders convicted of tier three offenses, the most serious, would have to report four times a year and remain on the registry for life. Michigan’s current system groups all offenders together on the same list.

The measures also include a change for so-called “Romeo and Juliet” offenses that was not required by federal law.

As an example, Jones said a 17-year-old boy consensually involved with a 15-year-old girl would no longer be placed on the registry, and those who were can appeal to a judge to have their name removed.

“This very important legislation dramatically improves Michigan’s sex offender registry and public website,” said Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township. “These measures establish a new tier system that groups offenders based on the severity of their offense. It allows dangerous individuals to be identified in their communities, while giving law enforcement the tools to track them.”

According to Jones and Pavlov, work on the legislation was a collaborative effort between many groups, notably the Michigan State Police and Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan.

SB 188, 189 and 206 have been approved by both chambers of the Legislature and now await the governor’s signature.

Sen. Jones bill to require legislators to pay 20 percent of health insurance cost

LANSING — State Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, said Wednesday that he has introduced Senate Bill 304, which would require all senators and state representatives to pay 20 percent of their health insurance cost.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget director has stated that all schools should require teachers to pay 20 percent of their health insurance cost to help with budget problems. Jones checked and found that legislators pay between 5 to 7.6 percent, depending on the plan they choose.

“Before we require teachers to pay 20 percent, senators and representatives should set an example,” Jones said. “My bill will require that to happen.”

In the governor’s budget proposal huge cuts to per-pupil foundation grants were recommended. Jones, however, feels that is unfair. Teachers at some schools already pay 20 percent or more of their health insurance cost.

Jones has also introduced Senate Bill 305, which would guarantee that schools requiring teachers to pay 20 percent or more of their health insurance cost would not receive a funding cut.

“It is obvious to me that the governor has a goal of educators paying 20 percent of their health insurance cost,” Jones said. “We must not just use a ‘stick approach’ by cutting funding. We must reward the schools that make the right decisions.”
 

Sen. Jones ban on ergonomic mandates signed into law

State Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, (left) joined Gov. Rick Snyder at the Capitol Tuesday as he signed Public Act 10 of 2011 (Senate Bill 20) into law. Sponsored by Jones, the new law bans administrative rules mandating workplace ergonomics rules in Michigan. PA 10 prohibits the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Association from enacting mandatory ergonomics rules. Voluntary guidelines are allowed, but can be no more stringent than federal guidelines.

“This issue was my first veto by Governor Granholm,” Jones said. “This demonstrates the difference between the two administrations: Governor Granholm wanted more regulations, Governor Snyder wants more jobs. This excessive state regulation could have cost Michigan businesses $500 million and many more jobs.”

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Editor’s note: The above photograph of Sen. Jones and Gov. Snyder is available by clicking on the image or by visiting the senator’s photowire.

Money runs out to clean up toxic meth labs

LANSING – Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, is troubled by reports that federal funding for meth lab cleanups has run out. 

“With the federal funding gone to clean up this toxic material it could put the public in danger.  Meth labs leave a lot of toxic chemicals behind,” said Jones. “Who will pay to clean up the homes and apartments where the labs are found when the criminals are sent to prison?  Who will clean up the farmers’ fields, parks or state forest land where the stuff is dumped?  The funding was just stopped in the last few weeks and could lead to a crisis.  Today I have contacted members of Congress and asked that the funding be restored.”

When the sheriff or police find a working meth lab they have a very toxic problem that needs clean-up.  Meth labs are usually cleaned up by people in protective plastic suits and the toxic material must be disposed of properly.  As a former sheriff, Jones has worked with Michigan State Police Detective First Lieutenant Timothy Gill of the Tri-County Metro Narcotics Squad on this type of problem. 

Jones, AT&T deliver free phone cards to MI active duty military families

LANSING — Military families from the Lansing area will stay better connected with their loved ones stationed overseas thanks to 150 free phone cards made available by AT&T and announced by state Sen. Rick Jones to the Grand Ledge Armory.

The Grand Ledge Armory serves military families in Clinton, Eaton, Ingham, Livingston and Shiawassee counties.

“Every day members of our military put their lives on the line for us. Making these free AT&T calling cards available to their families will help them stay in touch,” said Jones, R-Grand Ledge. “I’m proud to work with AT&T on such an important and worthwhile project.”

In total, 1,000 phone cards were presented to active duty members of the military and their families today at armories across Michigan.

“Families across the state will stay better connected with their loved ones serving our nation overseas thanks to these phone cards,” said Family Assistance Coordinator Justin Dyess from Michigan’s Joint Forces Headquarters in Lansing. “We are grateful to lawmakers and companies like AT&T for their continuing support of our armed forces.”

AT&T President Jim Murray added: “For those of us at home, it’s impossible to imagine the reality faced by our troops each day. Helping them stay in touch with their families is just a small way of saying ‘thank you’ for all they do. These AT&T phone cards will keep them connected no matter where overseas they’re serving, from Kuwait to Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Since the onset of hostilities in the Middle East, AT&T has donated more than $6 million in prepaid phone cards to U.S. troops.

Calling cards were also presented this week to Camp Grayling as well as Michigan armories in Jackson, Ishpeming, Sault Ste. Marie, Taylor and Wyoming.

Senate panel approves ban of new synthetic drugs

LANSING — New and dangerous synthetic drugs nicknamed “bath salts” would be banned under a measure unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, said sponsor Sen. Rick Jones.

“We need to stop the sales of these dangerous drugs,” said Jones, R-Grand Ledge. “Greedy people are selling these synthetic drugs mostly to college students to make a quick buck. These so-called bath salts are extremely dangerous and need to be banned.”

The drugs produce a meth-like high and sometimes violent behavior in users. The packets of white powder come with names like “vanilla sky,” “ivory wave,” and “white rush.”

According to Jones, chair of Senate Judiciary Committee, the dangerous synthetic drug has caused suicides and even homicides in other states, as it fills people with paranoia and hallucinations.

Jones has been working with Sens. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Antwerp Township, and Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, to stop this new threat. The Michigan Department of Public Health is reporting that hospitals across the state are experiencing serious problems and have asked for a quick ban.

SB 259 will now go before the full Senate for further consideration.
 

Senate hearing to consider new synthetic drug ban

LANSING — State Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, reports that a measure to stop the sales of a new, dangerous drug has been drafted.

Nicknamed “bath salts,” the drug produces a meth-like high and sometimes violent behavior in users. The packets of white powder come with names like “Vanilla sky,” “Ivory Wave,” and “White Rush.”

According to Jones, the dangerous synthetic drug has caused suicides and even homicides in other states, as it fills people with paranoia and hallucinations.

“We must ban this new and dangerous chemical that greedy people are selling mainly to college students,” said Jones, chair of Senate Judiciary Committee.

Jones has been working with Sens. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Antwerp Township, and Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, to stop this new threat. The Michigan Department of Public Health is reporting that hospitals across the state are experiencing serious problems and have asked for a quick ban.

The Senate panel has scheduled a hearing on Senate Bill 259 for Tuesday, March 15 at 2:30 p.m. in room 110 of the Farnum Building, located at 125 W. Allegan St., Lansing.

Photo Advisory: Sen. Jones recognizes local leader

Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, (left) presents Jeana Rohrs of Charlotte with a special Senate tribute for receiving the 2011 Grand Ledge Chamber of Commerce Athena Award. They were joined on the Senate floor by Neal Rohrs and state Rep. Deb Shaughnessy, R-Charlotte (right). Jeana Rohrs is a member of the Lansing State journal sales team and has served as a board member with the Grand Ledge Chamber of Commerce.

The Athena Award is presented to individuals who demonstrate excellence, creativity and initiative in their business or profession; provide valuable service by contributing time and energy to improve the quality of life for others in the community; and actively mentor women in realizing their full leadership potential.