OPINION

Saturday shorts: Do your job, lawmakers

DetroitNews

Michigan legislators missed a combined 1,626 votes in 2014, according to the Missed Votes Report compiled by Jack McHugh, editor of MichiganVotes.org.

While the figure may seem high, it is significantly down from the 2001-02 session when there were 21,162 missed votes. That was the first year MichiganVotes.org began tabulating bills and keeping track of the voting records of legislators.

The website, sponsored by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, has provided the transparency necessary to make legislators more accountable.

As noted by Ted O'Neil, media relations manager for the center, many legislators used to sign into a session and then skip the actual proceedings. Now, under the public eye, lawmakers are less likely to be so blatant.

There are legitimate reasons for a legislator to miss a vote but the more transparency that exists, the less likely a lawmaker will frivolously skip a session.

Michigan voters should check on their local legislators regularly.

Let chickens roost in Bloomfield Hills

The Bloomfield Hills City Commission plans to discuss on Tuesday amending its zoning ordinance to allow homeowners to own up to five chickens.

Resident Caroline Baxter, 10, appeared last month before the commission giving cogent reasons why the birds would make good pets.

Michigan's regulations on farm animals are convoluted. The 1981 Michigan Right to Farm Act states local ordinances can't trump the right to farm, unless pressing health or environmental threats exist.

Yet the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development voted in 2014 to strip its protection over farm animals raised in primarily residential areas by setting stricter limits, although the guidelines deal with commercial farming.

Michigan residents have the right to grow food and house certain farm animals safely on their property.

The situation isn't that complicated in Bloomfield Hills. City Manager Jay Cravens says the commission could vote at its meeting to allow the chickens. Commissioners should approve the zoning change.

Offenders get shot at education

Part of the sentencing plan of Wayne County Circuit Judge Deborah Thomas is to order those who have not completed high school to do so. Those who can't read are referred to a local literacy program.

Thomas says a lack of education is part of the problem that turns some offenders into repeat criminals.

Without proper schooling, the judge notes, job prospects are limited and people have lower self-esteem. However, a diploma gives people confidence and a sense of pride.

Thomas' logic is sound. Those who don't have their high school diplomas and come before her for minor crimes are headed down the wrong road — one that could easily bring them back into court on more serious charges.

A diploma certainly doesn't guarantee people won't find the wrong path to follow, but an education increases the chances individuals will choose a more productive route.

Thomas' program is commendable and should be adopted by other courts in the metro area and throughout the state.