License plates, fireworks on tap for Mich. in 2012

By Tim Martin

Associated Press

LANSING (AP) -- Starting with the new year, it will be easier for Michigan residents to raise money and show support for the Boy Scouts of America.

A broader range of fireworks will be legally available in plenty of time for the Fourth of July. Licenses allowing children under 10 to hunt turkey, deer and other wildlife with an adult mentor should be available in March. And many school districts will start to change when they hold their school board elections.

Those changes are among the scores that started Sunday through laws passed by the Michigan Legislature.

The Republican-led Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder's administration combined to approve 323 new laws in 2011, well above average for the first year of a two-year legislative cycle in Michigan. Most of the new laws have already taken effect, but some were delayed until Jan. 1 or later.

The most significant changes Jan. 1 deal with the state's business and income tax structure (see "Michigan tax changes" on Page Two). Overall business taxes will be lowered; some forms of retirement income will be taxed. Other big changes include a reduction in state unemployment benefits -- from the current 26 weeks down to 20 weeks -- for new filers starting in mid-January.

But not all of the bills passed in 2011 had to do with tax rates, public employees or worker benefit changes designed to save money for employers.

A new fundraising plate for the Boy Scouts will be available starting Jan. 3. The Boy Scouts plate joins a lineup of two dozen fundraising plates, including 15 for the state's public universities.

The fundraising plates typically cost an additional $35 when first bought. Annual renewal fees for fundraising plates cost motorists an extra $10.

The Boy Scouts could use the money for programs, but the vehicle license plates also will act as a statewide advertising tool, supporters say.

"If you have thousands of those mini-billboards around, that will raise the awareness of scouting," said Steve Bakker, a Boy Scouts volunteer from Alma who helped start the work on establishing a fundraising plate in 2007.

Another new state law will allow more powerful fireworks such as firecrackers and some consumer-grade devices that shoot into the air, such as bottle rockets and Roman candles, in Michigan. The state's previous list of legal fireworks for residents without special permits was generally limited to ground-based or novelty items such as sparklers, smoke devices, toy snakes and toy noisemakers.

The law that technically took effect Sunday is designed to keep business in the state that now goes to retailers in Indiana, Ohio or Wisconsin. Businesses will have to pay for the right to sell the fireworks, but that process should be worked out in plenty of time for the Fourth of July.

Laws related to youth hunting also change in 2012. A new law eliminates the minimum hunting age and allows kids under 10 to hunt turkey, deer and other wildlife with an adult who's at least 21 years old.

State wildlife officials could approve regulations for the program early this year, allowing licenses to be sold as early as March.

Michigan's school board elections will be held in November of even-numbered years through a new law that took effect Sunday. Supporters of the requirement say it will ensure that school board elections are held when voter turnout is highest, during general elections.

Also Sunday, a state ban on a late-term abortion procedure opponents call "partial birth" abortion began. The procedure already is prohibited under federal law. Supporters of a Michigan ban say it would make it easier to prosecute cases in the state.

Other significant laws will formally take effect later in the year. A bill that will allow more public charter schools in Michigan takes effect in about three months, allowing time for some new schools to open with the 2012-13 academic year.

Published: Wed, Jan 4, 2012