2016 accomplishments – First 6 months

As June comes to a close, it’s a great time to look back at the achievements we’ve made so far in 2016.

For starters, let’s remember how far we’ve come. Under Republican leadership, Michigan has added more than 450,000 private sector jobs and our state unemployment rate dropped below the national average for the first time since August 2000.

In fact, at 4.7 percent, Michigan’s unemployment rate has been cut in half since January 2011, is at its lowest rate in 15 years, and is more than 10 points lower than it was in June 2009.

It’s no surprise then, that the PEW Charitable Trusts declared Michigan as “maybe the biggest success story” in the nation.

Let’s look at what we’ve accomplished in the first six months of 2016…

For the sixth year in the row, the Senate Republicans passed a fiscally responsible budget months ahead of schedule that maintains our positive momentum, ensures we live within our means and continues our unwavering support of public education.

We have always led the fight for greater funding for our local schools and more choice in education.

In fact, Michigan is investing more this year on K-12 education than ever in state history. The finalized Fiscal Year 2017 budget directs more than $14 billion to education — increasing support by more than $260 million and paying down more than $1 billion in school retirement costs, which will help schools put additional dollars into the classroom.

Senate Republicans acted promptly to the Flint water crisis and appropriated more than $211 million in much needed emergency relief to address the immediate health needs of the people of Flint, as well as putting another $74.6 million in the new budget.

We believe in the sanctity of life. It’s a tragedy when a child dies, and no one should profit from the trafficking of human fetal remains. We put an end to that horrific practice in 2016 with the signing of Senate Bills 564 and 565.

In 2016, we stood up for our heroes — securing more funding to assist homeless veterans and create a new Veterans Home Ombudsman to ensure our veterans receive the proper care they earned serving our nation.

We also helped encourage more parents to take their children outdoors, by guaranteeing free access to state boating access sites and certain state parks during the state’s two free fishing weekends.

While we accomplished much already in 2016, the Michigan Senate Republicans remain committed to working tirelessly to build upon these successes and continue to improve our state for future generations.

Keeping Michigan families safe online

As technology continues to advance, it is having an ever-increasing impact on our daily lives. The way we access and share information is becoming more streamlined and instantaneous than ever.

While these advances, especially in mobile devices, allow us to significantly improve efficiency and organization throughout the day, it is important to be aware of the various security breaches that could compromise our privacy.

Each year, June is recognized as National Internet Safety Month as a means to spread awareness of the various ways you can keep yourself and your family safe online. As kids will be more active on their phones and social media making plans to enjoy the warm weather, it is the perfect time to talk to your family about staying safe online and learning new ways to protect your identity and information.

One of the best ways to stay safe online is by simply exercising good judgment. Keep your password updated regularly, and do not share it with anyone. Don’t click on links that are unfamiliar or open emails from an unknown sender. Scammers often create official-looking emails to persuade people to click a link that will download harmful software.

Having security software on all internet-connected devices and keeping it up to date is also of the utmost importance. These programs can prevent, contain and even eliminate malware, spyware and other malicious software that infects your device and tries to access your personal information.

Another way to keep your young children safe online is by using the state-operated child protection registry. The Michigan Child Protection Registry is a service that families can sign up for at no cost. It blocks adult-oriented material from reaching a child’s email inbox, cell phone or instant messenger ID. To sign up or see more information on this service, visit www.ProtectMiChild.com.

The internet has allowed society to advance more rapidly than ever imaginable. Humanity has an infinite amount of wisdom right at the end of their fingertips. We can now sync calendars and photo albums to multiple devices, pay bills and do a virtually unlimited amount of other things via an internet connection. This month, help older family members set up safety measures on their computers, and take the time to ensure your children are safe when using social media.

The internet is an invaluable asset. When used safely, it can be enjoyed by everyone.

Anniversary of the Mighty Mac

The Mackinac Bridge is Michigan’s most iconic landmark, and on June 25 we will celebrate the 58th anniversary of its dedication.

The Mighty Mac holds a special place in the hearts of Michiganders as the literal and symbolic connection between our state’s wonderful peninsulas. The bridge began construction in 1954 and opened on Nov. 1, 1957 — although it was not formally dedicated until the next summer.

The Mackinac Bridge Dedication Festival was held over four days in Mackinaw City and St. Ignace, with surrounding communities also celebrating the dedication of the Western Hemisphere’s longest suspension bridge between anchorages. In addition to a large parade, other events marked the dedication — including fireworks displays, a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony and even the release of a special U.S. postage stamp.

The Mackinac Bridge took decades from its inception to completion, but it has become a defining monument to both human innovation and to Michigan’s landscape.

What started as an idea now welcomes about 11,600 residents, tourists and industries each day to cross the Straits of Mackinac.

Inside the Senate Chamber: The Portraits

The Michigan Senate is surrounded by many wonderful portraits of people who made important contributions to our state. However, did you know that the oldest portrait in the Senate’s collection is of a Frenchman who never stepped foot in Michigan?

In the first part of the “Inside the Senate Chamber” series, we take an exclusive look at the portraits that hang in the Michigan Senate chamber.

Among the featured portraits are ones of Gov. Austin Blair and Gov. Henry Crapo.

Blair is known as Michigan’s wartime governor, serving during the Civil War, and is honored with a statue in front of the Capitol. Crapo followed Blair, but his greatest legacy might be that his grandson founded the General Motors Corporation.

Summer in Michigan’s Great Outdoors

Summer officially begins on Monday, June 20. With the summer solstice around the corner — and most children already out on summer break — the Michigan Senate Republicans encourage residents to get outdoors this summer and enjoy Michigan’s natural wonders.

June is National Great Outdoors Month, and Michigan offers residents the chance to celebrate our great outdoors to the fullest extent.

In our great state, you can bike on more than 1,300 miles of dedicated trails, kayak over 36,000 miles of streams and rivers or explore all 3,288 miles of Michigan’s Great Lakes coastline. Michigan is also home to the second most number of campgrounds in the nation, over 11,000 inland lakes and more than 80 state and national parks.

It’s easy to see that there is something in Michigan for everyone to enjoy this summer!

We are blessed to have amazing natural resources in Michigan. We are surrounded and defined by the Great Lakes — the largest surface freshwater system in the world. How much water is that? Well, the five Great Lakes and their connecting waters hold six quadrillion gallons of water — enough to cover the entire U.S. with water more than seven feet deep.

We don’t have to travel far to see the largest concentration of freshwater sand dunes in the world along Lake Michigan, with some dunes reaching 250 feet in high and up to one mile wide.

Michigan’s more than 19 million acres of forests cover more than half the land area of the state and contain more than 75 different types of trees. Our forests are home to an abundance of plants and animals, including moose, bear, wolves, deer, and one of the rarest birds in the world, the Kirtland’s warbler.

For any Michigan family heading outdoors to splash in the water, camp in the woods or simply to have fun in the sun, one thing is clear: Nothing beats a Pure Michigan summer!

For a list of ideas on how you can enjoy Michigan’s natural beauty, please visit: www.Michigan.org/Outdoors.

Senate finalizes FY 2017 state budget

In 2011, Michigan produced a balanced budget months ahead of schedule. At the time, it was virtually unprecedented. Today, it is the norm.

On June 2, the Legislature finalized the state’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget well ahead of the Oct. 1 deadline — for the sixth year in a row. The budget plan — once again — builds upon the economic and financial foundation that the Michigan Senate Republicans established in 2011 — and have strengthened since then — to make Michigan the best place to live and work.

It is a responsible and balanced budget that makes further investments in priority areas, such as education, public safety and economic development. It also keeps government spending in line and does not burden hardworking families with new taxes.

We have included a more than $260 million increase for K-12 schools — amounting in a foundation allowance increase of $60- to $120-per-pupil — while also paying down more than $1 billion in school retirement costs to help put additional resources into the classroom. An additional $39 million has been directed to our state universities.

The budget will also expand the successful Healthy Kids Dental program to cover all Michigan residents under the age of 21, increase funding to further support private foster care agencies and dedicate funding to help homeless veterans.

To help keep our state and communities safe, we have provided funding to hire 65 new state police troopers and expand the Secure Cities program to cover six more communities.

More jobs and better jobs are always goals. As our economy continues to grow, the budget plan adds more than $5 million to the Skilled Trades Training Fund to help job providers train workers for in-demand career opportunities.

The Fiscal Year 2017 budget is another fiscally responsible plan that helps meet our highest priorities. It supports vital services, invests in the next generation, makes state government more efficient, and continues our commitment to making Michigan more attractive to job creators and top talent.

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Free fishing this weekend!

Michigan’s annual Summer Free Fishing Weekend is this Saturday and Sunday, June 11-12.

It offers an outstanding opportunity for families to get together and enjoy some of the world’s best fishing on both inland and Great Lakes waters — at no charge.

With more than 3,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, 36,000 miles of rivers and 11,000 inland lakes, Michigan and fishing go hand in hand.

For 30 years, Michigan has celebrated the free weekend as a way to promote awareness of the state’s vast aquatic resources and the sheer fun of fishing.

Michigan Senate Republicans encourage all area anglers — and those who have never gone fishing — to get out and take part in one of our state’s premier outdoor activities during the free weekend.

It is a wonderful chance to pass along the joy of fishing to the next generation or to just get away from the stress of life and relax in the Michigan great outdoors.

Anglers do not need a license for the annual event. All fishing license fees will be waived during the weekend, although all fishing regulations still apply.

To encourage involvement in the Free Fishing Weekend, organized activities are being scheduled in communities across the state. These activities are coordinated by a variety of organizations, including local and state parks, constituent groups, schools, businesses and others.

For more information on the Free Fishing Weekend, including a list of activities across the state, visit www.michigan.gov/freefishing.

Revving up for Michigan International Speedway race weekend

The FireKeepers Casino 400 is this Sunday, June 12. It is the first of two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races that will take place this year at the Michigan International Speedway (MIS).

As we get ready for the race, the Michigan Senate Republicans would like to remind residents of the tremendous impact to the state economy and the local community that MIS makes every year.

The racing weekends are more than just about racing cars. They are about supporting Michigan jobs, attracting tourists, increasing the state’ visibility and giving a financial boost to the region and state.

MIS generates more than $414 million in economic activity each year. It also pays more than $10.5 million in state sales taxes, use taxes and local property taxes.

Roughly 385,000 people visit the track on an annual basis — with more than half of the attendees at NASCAR events coming from outside the state.

In addition to the FireKeepers Casino 400 on Sunday, the speedway will host the Pure Michigan 400 in August.

MIS has expanded beyond auto racing to become a year-round destination with the addition of automotive research and development programs and non-motorsports events, including a Tough Mudder obstacle course and the Faster Horses three-day-long country music festival.

MIS is also active in the community, such as hosting the state’s largest single-day blood drive. Recently, the track’s charitable arm MIS Cares, awarded scholarships to 14 local high school seniors and improvement grants to six area school districts.

As residents watch this weekend’s race at NASCAR’s fastest track, let’s remember that the cars revving up for a thrilling showdown are the latest of 48 years of racing action at MIS, which contributes a great amount to the state economy, its local community and our way of life.

For more information about MIS and its upcoming events, visit www.mispeedway.com.

Celebrating Boating and Fishing

As Michigan residents, we have access to countless rivers, streams, inland lakes and of course, the Great Lakes. We appreciate the outdoors and enjoy the state’s beautiful natural resources. Now that spring is turning to summer, more and more Michigan residents and tourists are heading out for a great time on the water.

Beginning June 4 and ending on June 12 is National Fishing and Boating Week — an annual celebration of these outdoor activities.

Since Michigan is home to 11,037 inland lakes, 36,350 miles of rivers and streams and 3,288 miles of Great Lakes coastline, recreational boaters in Michigan are never more than six miles from the water.

The week-long event encourages outdoor enthusiasts to get away from the stress of everyday life and take advantage of the numerous fishing and boating opportunities Michigan has to offer.

The celebration mostly coincides with Michigan Boating Week, June 4-11, and concludes with the Summer Free Fishing Weekend, June 11-12.

Boating week promotes boating throughout the state; and the free fishing weekend allows residents to fish without a license — although all fishing regulations still apply.

National Fishing and Boating Week and Michigan Boating Week offer the opportunities for everyone — from the experienced anglers and veteran boaters to the entry-level hobbyists — to get out on the water and have a fun time with family and friends. Grab a kayak, plan a canoe trip, or take a child fishing and help pass along the enjoyment of Michigan’s great outdoors to the next generation.

For a complete list of ideas for enjoying Michigan’s outdoors, explore www.michigan.org/outdoors.

For information on fishing spots, licensing and regulations, visit www.michigan.gov/fishing.

For details on boating safety, regulations, harbors and rentals, visit www.michigan.gov/boating.

It’s National Dairy Month!

Got milk? In Michigan, our milk is local. Our nearly 2,000 dairy farms produce more than enough milk to meet our needs and still export milk to other states.

In 2014, dairy cows in Michigan produced approximately 9.6 billion pounds of milk – or more than 1.1 billion gallons!

Michigan now ranks 6th in the nation for milk production and third in milk production per cow.

June is National Dairy Month and is a time to celebrate the contributions our dairy industry. It began in 1937 as National Milk Month, but soon changed its focus to honor all dairy products.

Michigan’s dairy industry is the top-ranking segment of the state’s food and agriculture industry, contributing $14.7 billion to the state’s economy each year.

The Michigan Senate Republicans encourage residents to salute our hard-working dairy farmers and processors for their dedication to building healthy lives and communities.

About 97 percent of Michigan’s dairy farms are family-owned. Each day our family farmers get up before dawn to help provide us with fresh and high-quality milk and other dairy products

Dairy products provide essential nutrients needed to build strong bones and a foundation for a healthy lifestyle. In addition, Michigan dairy farms and processors also provide jobs and contribute billions of dollars to our economy each year.