The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan political organization encouraging informed and active participation in government. It influences public policy through education and advocacy.
Here is a brief synopsis: "A purposefully unsettling but ultimately encouraging global overview of efforts by activists to push back against corporate polluters and ameliorate climate change, 'This Changes Everything' plays very much like the cinematic equivalent of a pep rally. Working from the book of the same title by journalist Naomi Klein, who serves as narrator and onscreen interviewer, director Avi Lewis casts his net wide, from rural Montana to smog-choked Beijing, to illustrate that, yes, climate change is a demonstrably real and increasingly dire threat, and no, the situation isn't entirely hopeless. His documentary isn't likely to convert unbelievers -- assuming, of course, that any climate change deniers would ever watch this film in the first place -- but it could find receptive audiences in a variety of platforms, especially on the eve of a U.S. Presidential election, and eventually serve as a fund-raising tool for environmental groups." -- Variety
On October 5, LWVBCC sponsored a public forum by Berrien County Circuit Court Judge Charles LaSata on "Specialty Courts in Berrien County--Healing Victims and Offenders." The forum was held at Berrien RESA in Berrien Springs.
Berrien County has four specialty courts -- Drug Treatment Court, Drug Court, Domestic Violence Court, and "Swift and Sure." For the past three years, Judge LaSata has presided over all four.
Swift and Sure, in particular, has generated considerable interest. It targets felony offenders with a history of probation violations who are at high risk of winding up back behind bars because they fail to follow the rules of their probation. The program is designed to help probationers develop personal responsibility and accountability through additional monitoring and support.
This was a good opportunity to learn about innovative programs in our local court system, how they work, and how they are related to the broader legal system. An opportunity to ask questions followed Judge LaSata's presentation which can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9QAewbXpAY&list=PLNnlEE_tTzmQXEPBoITCn-nu22gUUGxKm&index=1&t=2s
The presumption of innocence is the bedrock of our criminal justice system. According to Carl Macpherson, it also is the guiding principle of Berrien County's new Public Defender's Office--a service that has been in place only since December 15, 2016. Mr. Macpherson, the county's Chief Public Defender, spoke at an LWVBCC luncheon at Coach's restaurant. His presentation may be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_vtStUeYf0.
A Michigan native, Mr. Macpherson has spent virtually his entire legal career in indigent defense--from one coast to the other, and now in between. The Berrien County Public Defender's Office is staffed with nine attorneys, two secretaries, an office manager, and a part-time investigator. Mr. Macpherson, who said the organizing principle of the office is collaboration and teamwork, hopes to add staff as funding becomes available. The case load now is heavy--partly because 77 percent of felony charges, he said, are against indigent individuals.
With the advent of our Public Defenders Office, an indigent client now may have access to an attorney at his or her initial court appearance, the arraignment, at which important decisions such as pleas and the setting of bond are made. This, according to Mr. Macpherson, is a particularly important component of his office's work. Without access to legal advice at an arraignment, a defendant can make decisions that prove disadvantageous in later proceedings--decisions that may have been avoided with timely access to legal advice.
Berrien County is one of only eight counties in Michigan that have offices for indigent defense. Elsewhere, legal services are provided, as they were here until last December 12, only by attorneys in private practice working under contracts with the court system to provide specified services. Because the cost of incarceration is high--about $28,000 per incarcerated person per year--improving outcomes for indigent defendants is not only just and fair; it also can be cost-effective in the long run.
More information about the Berrien County Public Defenders Office and principles and practices that gave rise to it can be found at https://www.berriencounty.org/PublicDefender.
Our Meeting on Michigan Taxation and Budget Explored Many Issues, Enlightened Details of Great Interest to Citizens. Both Treasurers from Berrien and Cass Counties were present. During discussion, everyone had an opportunity to express their viewpoints, and multiple issues were examined from all sides. Members discussed the pros and cons of 22 issues.
It is not uncommon for outsiders, and even some members, to question how the League can be nonpartisan yet advocate on positions that, in the slice of time that is now, appear to be partisan. In the highly partisan climate that has developed in recent years, the League is one of the very few political organizations that is not in either the liberal/Democratic camp or the conservative/Republican camp. And we have members of all political persuasions and encourage them to get involved in politics.
So, members may be partisan, but the organization is not. All this is hard for many to wrap their minds around. The League is nonpartisan in that we do not endorse or support any political party or candidate for office. We don't rate legislators, we don't track their votes, and we don't threaten them if they don't vote our way.
Voter service is one of our main missions, and we publish nonpartisan voter guides and hold candidate forums to help voters educate themselves beyond TV ads. Education is an important League function, and we try in our meetings and in this newsletter and on this website to inform our attendees/readers and stimulate them to think about issues in our world.
However, the League is also an advocacy group, and we have positions on issues that have been developed over the years since our founding in 1920 and are the result of study and consensus of the local Leagues nationwide. These positions are updated from time to time, but are basically consistent.
The positions and platforms of the political parties, on the other hand, do change and at times they resemble our League position, or not. But the League doesn't change or drop its positions because they are currently those of one party or the other.
And we do speak out! An example is healthcare. The League has a position on comprehensive healthcare for all Americans. President Truman liked that idea, too, and President Eisenhower delivered a special message to Congress on January 31, 1955, recommending a comprehensive healthcare program for Americans. Lyndon Johnson got Medicare passed and that took the pressure off for a while. But President Nixon encouraged HMOs as a way to rein in costs and provide healthcare for more people. Then President Reagan came along and decided the free market was the best way to manage health care, and the Republicans have basically supported this idea since.
But clearly both parties have been on both sides of the issue. The key is not to confuse politics with position advocacy.