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Backlash over home-school registry bill

Republicans are lambasting Democratic state Rep. Stephanie Chang’s proposal to require parents who home school their children to register with a local school district and check in twice annually with medical, government or law enforcement authorities.

Chang, D-Detroit, is sponsoring legislation in response to the March 24 discovery of the bodies of 13-year-old Stoni Blair and her 9-year-old brother Stephen Berry inside a freezer of a townhouse on Detroit’s east side.

The children’s mother, Mitchelle Blair, stands accused of murdering the children and reportedly told police that she home-schooled her other two kids.

Michigan is one of 11 states that does not require parents to register their children with a government agency as being educated at home — prompting Chang to question whether the alleged abuse of Blair’s other children could have been averted if Stoni and Stephen had been checked on by authorities or a physician.

Chang also has suggested regular checkups on the home-schooled children could have prevented Stoni’s May 25, 2013 death, which occurred nine months before her brother Stephen was killed and buried in the freezer.

Chang’s bill has prompted outcries from conservative Republicans who say the legislation amounts to harassing law-abiding, loving parents.

“Parents who choose to homeschool their children deserve Lansing’s support and admiration, not bullying from lawmakers and threats to send the police to their front doors twice a year,” Tony Daunt, a GOP political operative at the conservative Michigan Freedom Fund group, wrote in a Tuesday email to supporters.

The Republican author of the West Michigan Politics blog labeled Chang’s bill a “WAR on HomeSchoolers.”

State Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township, wrote an open letter Monday to all “Michigan parents” vowing to make sure Chang’s bill never sees “the light of day” in his Senate Education Committee.

Pavlov, who is running for Congress next year, accused Chang of trying to “exploit Stoni and Stephen’s tragic deaths as an excuse to impose new regulations on loving, committed, and law-abiding Michigan families”

“Let’s be clear – this legislation would not have stopped Ms. Blair from killing her children,” Pavlov wrote. “Blair was willing to break every law on the books, and routinely and effectively lied for years to hide her crimes.”

Chang got some support this week from the Rachel Coleman, executive director of the Canton, Mass.-based Coalition for Responsible Home Education.

“Our preliminary research suggests that home-schooled children are at a greater risk of dying from child abuse than traditionally schooled children are,” Coleman said in a statement.

Trott joining Obama delegation

The White House said Tuesday Republican Rep. David Trott of Birmingham would join the delegation representing President Barack Obama at this week’s commemoration of the Armenian genocide.

Friday is the 100th anniversary of the onset of the massacre of more than 1 million Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks in 1915. The delegation, led by Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, includes U.S. Ambassador to Armennia Richard Mills Jr., and Reps. Jackie “Kanchelian” Speier, D-Calif.; Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J.; and Anna Eshoo, D-Calif.

“It is humbling to be part of this important remembrance of the Armenian genocide,” Trott said in a statement. “Representing such a vibrant community of Armenians in Southeast Michigan, I believe this commemoration is a sad but significant tribute to the millions of lives lost a century ago. We stand with the Armenian people and we will never forget this tragedy.”

Trott, who sits on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, has urged the Obama administration to describe the 1915 killings as “genocide.” The Turkish government has strongly opposed that designation, saying the massacre doesn’t fit the legal definition of genocide.

Peters pushes foreign aid

Meetings with presidents and military generals during a recent trip to Africa underscored the importance of the U.S. providing continued aid to nations there to reduce the reach of terrorist organizations, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters says.

“Generally, it’s clear that there’s significant, growing threats in Africa, and we need to continue working with these governments facing this challenge,” said Peters, who recently returned from a trip to Tunisia, Chad, Djibouti, Senegal and Kenya with five other Democratic members of Congress.

The members were in Kenya around the time of an attack by militants that killed 147 people at a Kenyan university – underscoring the gravity of the situation there, said Peters, a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

The members heard two common requests from African leaders for equipment such as helicopters and for intelligence support, Peters said.

While in Djibouti, Peters met with about 20 service members from Michigan serving at the permanent U.S. military base, Camp Lemmonier.

Slow responses

Politicians and political parties are usually quick to release statements to the media commenting on the deaths of major figures in their party or communities.

But the Michigan Republican Party and Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters’ office were a bit slow this past week.

On Sunday afternoon, Peters’ office released a statement on the passing of mall magnet A. Alfred Taubman, whose Friday night death had been widely reported all day Saturday. The email subject line of the first press release from Peters’ office misspelled the businessman’s last name as “Tubman,” but was later corrected.

“Al’s dedication and passion for Michigan and its citizens will be missed,” Peters said.

On Monday evening, the GOP issued a statement from chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel about the passing of former U.S. Sen. Robert Griffin, a fellow Republican whose Thursday death was reported three days earlier.

McDaniel noted her grandfather, former Gov. George Romney, appointed Griffin to a vacant Senate seat in 1966.

“We would not be the Republican Party we are today without his unwavering years of service,” McDaniel said.

Later Monday night, the Michigan Republican Party issued another statement from the chairwoman mourning the passing of Taubman, catching up with Peters.

“On Friday, Michigan lost a great businessman and a wonderful philanthropist,” McDaniel said.

Contributors: Chad Livengood and Melissa Nann Burke

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