Senate’s 22nd Annual Memorial Day Service honors Michigan’s fallen soldiers

On Thursday, May 26, the Michigan Senate joined with the families of fallen soldiers from across the state and other guests to remember and pay tribute to those who gave their lives defending our country.

Sen. Patrick Colbeck hosted the Senate’s 22nd Annual Memorial Day Service.

“It was a privilege and a distinct honor to join my colleagues in honoring the brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country,” said Colbeck. “There is no greater love than to lay one’s life down on behalf of a friend. Whether we know them personally or not, our freedom is a tribute to many such friends throughout the history of this great nation.”

The Memorial Day Service was held in the Michigan Senate chamber and featured current and former military personnel, representatives from military posts, and families of fallen soldiers throughout the state.

The keynote speaker for the event was a recent inductee to the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame and former World War II B-17 pilot, Dr. John A. Clark, who served in the 100th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force, where he completed 32 missions over Germany during 1944-45.

As part of the ceremony, lawmakers placed folded American flags in a special basket for the two U.S. soldiers from Michigan who lost their lives in the last year.

The service also included several performances, including “Amazing Grace,” by the Kalamazoo Pipe Band; the singing of the National Anthem by Ms. Deborah Drick; the reading of the names of the fallen Michigan soldiers by Sen. Jim Stamas, a U.S. Army veteran; the retirement of colors and the playing of taps by the Department of Michigan Veterans of Foreign Wars’ State Honor Guard; and closing remarks by Sen. Colbeck.

The Michigan Senate held its first Memorial Day Service in 1995 at the initiative of former U.S. Congressman Mike Rogers, who was then a state senator.

Cracking down on human trafficking

May 25 marks 10 years since Public Act 162 of 2006, sponsored by then-Rep. Phil Pavlov, was signed into law — making human trafficking a crime in Michigan.

Our children are especially vulnerable to this heinous act, which is still clouded in shadow.

Human trafficking graphicThe Michigan Senate Republicans are continuing the effort to shine the light on human trafficking and crack down on a criminal industry that is second only to illegal drugs.

Sen. Judy Emmons led the effort to enact 21 comprehensive and landmark reforms in 2014 to end this modern-day slavery and support its survivors.

Emmons met with survivors of human trafficking and anti-trafficking activists across Michigan to develop solutions to help end this horrible crime, which devastates the lives of thousands of women and children every year.

Michigan now has some of the country’s strongest human trafficking laws.

Public Acts 324-344 of 2014 punish traffickers, support survivors and increase awareness and training. Among the 2014 laws were provisions to increase penalties for soliciting a minor prostitute, add those who solicit minor prostitutes to the sex offender registry, create a safe harbor for minor survivors of trafficking and establish a permanent Human Trafficking Commission.

As a result of the Senate’s efforts, the Protected Innocence Challenge (a report on the state of child sex trafficking laws in the U.S.) found that Michigan raised its grade to a “B” in 2015 – making it the most improved state.

Starting 10 years ago with PA 162 and adding 21 new laws in 2014, Michigan is sending a loud and clear statement that we are serious about protecting women and children, prosecuting traffickers and rescuing and assisting survivors.

Older Americans Month

Michigan is home to more than 1.8 million senior citizens — all of whom have a wealth of life experience and knowledge to impart to younger generations. Every spring, we acknowledge this wisdom and life experience during Older Americans Month. Here in Michigan, senior organizations from around the state choose a day to gather on the Capitol lawn during Older Americans Month to celebrate Older Michiganians Day.

The annual event draws hundreds of seniors, service providers and advocates to raise awareness for issues facing senior citizens. It also gives participants an opportunity to speak with elected officials about concerns specific to their respective communities.

Older Americans Month celebrations are not limited to the state Capitol however. Some lawmakers have celebrations back in their districts as well.

Every spring during Older Americans Month, Sens. Margaret O’Brien and Tonya Schuitmaker co-host the annual Mattawan Lions Club Senior and Veteran Expo along with Rep. Aric Nesbitt. The legislators partner with the Lions Club to connect seniors and veterans with organizations and businesses that can provide products and services that are important to them.

This year’s celebration brought nearly 1,000 seniors and veterans from Southwest Michigan to the Antwerp Township Activity Center where more than 100 local businesses and organizations shared services they offer that might interest or be beneficial to senior and veteran populations. Bronson Lakeview Hospital had employees on hand to provide free health and wellness screenings and attendees received a free lunch and goodie bag.

This event has continued to grow since it started ten years ago and is now one of the biggest events of its kind in Southwest Michigan. For more information, please visit:

National Police Week

Law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day to keep our communities safe and respond in times of crisis. They help keep our neighborhoods safe so we can go to school, work and enjoy time with our families. They also spend long hours away from their own loved ones in often dangerous places and situations. Sadly, many of them never return home.

To salute the dedication and sacrifice of law enforcement officers and their families, in 1962 Congress established May 15 as National Peace Officers Memorial Day and the week on which it falls as National Police Week.

It is a time for communities across the country to honor and remember the officers who were killed in the line of duty. It is also a time to reflect on how blessed we are to have such amazing and selfless officers here in Michigan.

The Senate Republicans have worked to increase support for our state and local law enforcement. The Senate’s approved 2016-2017 budget plan dedicates additional funding for public safety and more state troopers.

The debt we owe to fallen officers cannot be fully repaid, but National Police Week offers us a chance to honor their service and sacrifice.

In observation of police week, we encourage you to take a moment to thank our outstanding law enforcement officers for all they do to make our state and communities safe.

If you would like to learn more, visit

Tulip Time: Celebrating Dutch heritage for 87 years


Back in 1929, the city of Holland welcomed visitors for its first Tulip Time Festival in celebration of the community’s Dutch heritage. The response was so great that they made it an annual event. This year, the festival marks 87 years of Dutch traditional costumes, wooden shoes, parades, Klompen dancing, and more than five million vibrant tulips.

In this video, Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof discusses visiting the festival growing up in West Michigan and the tremendous impact it has on the local economy.

In 2015, the Tulip Time Festival attracted an estimated 500,000 people who contributed $12.9 million to the West Michigan economy. Of the visitors surveyed last year, nearly 40 percent came from outside of Michigan and roughly two-thirds planned to return to the area for other recreational activities.

Readers Digest has named it the “Best Small Town Festival in America,” and USA Today readers recently voted Tulip Time as “America’s Best Flower Festival.”

One of the highlights of the festival each year is the Volksparade, in which thousands of locals in traditional Dutch costumes scrub the street. As has been the case for decades, several state officials — including Sen. Meekhof and Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker — donned traditional Dutch costumes and wooden shoes this year and joined in the street scrubbing festivities!

Michigan’s State Symbols: A Pure Identity

From the state wildflower (Dwarf Lake Iris) to the state motto, Michigan is rich with symbolic history dating back to the state’s beginning.

These include well-known symbols, like the state stone (Petoskey Stone), and the less-commonly known state song, My Michigan. They each serve as reminders to us all of our heritage and the common roots that helped shape our economy and define a unique way of life.

At the end of the day, we’re all Michiganders — with an innate ability to come together to meet challenges and persevere.

We recently celebrated the legislative anniversaries of both the American Robin and Apple Blossom as state symbols. The Michigan Senate Republicans encourage all residents to learn about our state symbols, their meanings and their importance.

For starters, here are a few of our favorite state symbols:

American Robin
Officially designated on April 3, 1931, the Robin Redbreast was chosen as the state bird for being “the best known and best loved of all the birds in the state of Michigan.”

Apple Blossom
In April of 1897, the Apple Blossom became the state flower. It’s native to Michigan, and legislative sponsors called it “one of the most fragrant and beautiful species of apple.”

Isle Royale Greenstone
Known as the Isle Royale Greenstone, chlorastrolite has been Michigan’s official state gem since 1973. Found mainly in the western Upper Peninsula, it is a bluish-green gemstone with a color pattern reminiscent of a turtleback. Once polished, the greenstone is often are used in rings, earrings, pendants and more.

Brook Trout
In 1965, “the trout” was designated at the state fish. More than two decade later, lawmakers specified the Brook Trout as the state fish. The native fish can only live in cool, clean water and is found in lakes, rivers and streams throughout the state.

White Pine
A symbol of Michigan’s rich logging history, the white pine was named the official state tree in 1955. The white pine was the focal point of Michigan’s lumber industry in the 19th Century. It helped Michigan lead the nation in lumber production from the 1860s to the late 1890s. Many of our state’s vibrant cities owe their start to the logging of white pine.

Celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week

Michigan residents of all ages have had teachers who have made a positive impact in their lives.

The overwhelming majority of teachers do it because of their love of education. They demand excellence from their students and challenge them to reach their full potential.

Not only do teachers teach us what to learn, they teach us how to learn. They open doors to new worlds and inspire us to achieve goals that we might not have thought possible. The job of a teacher is not easy, and it takes a special person to be one. Teachers are unsung heroes.

Teachers are unsung heroes, and Teacher Appreciation Week offers us a time to celebrate the impact they have had on all of our lives. It is a chance to recognize the hard work our teachers perform every day and to thank them for everything they do to help us prepare for a successful future.

We sat down with a few Senate Republicans as they talked about their favorite teachers. Above are the thoughts of Sen. Mike Kowall.

By clicking on the following senator’s names, you can also see teacher appreciation videos from Sen. Peter MacGregor, Sen. Patrick Colbeck and Sen. Mike Nofs.

May is National Foster Care Month

There are about 14,000 children in foster homes in Michigan and about 300 kids who are waiting to find one.

In each case, the goal and most common outcome is for foster youth to be reunited with their families. But sometimes foster kids find a permanent home with foster parents. There is always a need for good foster homes and Michigan offers resources for adults interested in providing safe, nurturing homes.

In the Senate, Republicans are working to improve the lives and outcomes for our foster youth.

Sen. Rick Jones, who is a foster grandparent, has legislation that would ensure the best care for foster children by placing a greater emphasis on sibling placement and visitation with siblings.

If siblings could not be placed together, then a priority of sibling visitations and ongoing interaction would be arranged to ensure a sibling bond. The bill would require frequent visitations between non-custodial, biological parents and their children unless the court determines that the parenting time would be harmful to the child.

“I know the positive impact of keeping siblings together,” Jones said. “A bond between siblings is one of the most cherished parts of a family.”

Foster youth often face disadvantages most others do not. For example, 70 percent of the teens who emancipate from foster care report that they want to attend college, but fewer than 10 percent who graduate from high school ever enroll in college. A growing number of Michigan youth are reaching adult age while in foster care and have no resources to attend college when they age out of the system.

Michigan taxpayers would be able to donate a portion of their tax return to the Fostering Futures Scholarship Trust Fund under a bill introduced by Sen. Peter MacGregor.

The fund provides eligible foster youth with scholarships to assist with tuition, room and board and other costs associated with enrollment. Scholarships are available for students enrolled in Michigan degree-granting colleges and universities.

“My bill would provide the scholarship trust fund with another source of much-needed revenue so more foster youth can attend college,” MacGregor said. “It would also make it easier for residents to show their support by donating a portion of their tax return with a simple checkbox.”

In celebration of National Foster Care Month and foster children through our state, we encourage residents to consider making a difference in the life of a child by becoming a foster parent.