ICYMI: 4 die at Faster Horses festival, the cost to weather-proof Michigan’s infrastructure, and other stories you may have missed

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click to enlarge The Faster Horses country music festival in 2016. - Mike Ferdinande
Mike Ferdinande
The Faster Horses country music festival in 2016.

The return of the summer concert season got off to a tragic start when four people died during last weekend's Faster Horses country music festival at Michigan International Speedway, the state's first major music fest since 2019. Five men in their early 20s were found unconscious in a travel trailer due to suspected carbon monoxide poisoning; three were pronounced dead at the scene. Meanwhile, authorities are investigating the death of festivalgoer Melissa Havens, a 30-year-old woman from Croswell, while they await toxicology test results.

To add insult to injury, some of the 648,100 Michigan residents notified last month that they were possibly erroneously awarded pandemic benefits might have to pay them back — with interest. Under Michigan law, the Unemployment Insurance Agency can charge 1% interest a month on overpayment. However, the law also bars the state from charging interest on improperly paid benefits, creating a paradox. The SNAFU was caused when Michigan issued its own eligibility guidelines early in the pandemic that wound up being different from the federal government's.

What will it cost to weather-proof Michigan's infrastructure to accommodate the next big rainstorm? The Michigan Department of Transportation plans to spend about $27 million over the next four years to renovate its pump stations, and is also considering an extra $50 million to install generators to prevent the power failures that officials blamed for last month's floods, which came after a record 6.5 inches of rainfall. That followed the flooding that resulted from the record 4.57 inches of rainfall in August 2014, supposedly a once-in-a-century storm. Unaddressed by the proposed infrastructure spending is how to reverse the climate change that is leading to the warming that is causing these record storms in the first place.

It looks like Governor Gretchen Whitmer's big bet that a lottery with $5 million in cash prizes could help spur more people to get COVID-19 shots might not pay off. While Whitmer said more than 1 million Michiganders have registered for the lottery, the majority of those had already received at least one dose of the vaccines. The nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency estimates that at this rate, 70% of the state's eligible population won't be vaccinated until July 4, 2022 — a year after President Joe Biden's proposed benchmark. Only 48% of the state is now fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times COVID-19 tracker. Meanwhile, 99% of the nation's rising COVID-19 deaths are among the unvaccinated. (You can schedule a free vaccination appointment at vaccinefinder.org.)

Could 2021 be the year the federal government finally ends marijuana prohibition? Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, says legalizing weed is now the Senate's top priority. Last week, Schumer introduced the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, which would legalize marijuana by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act, allowing for it to be taxed and regulated. The legislation would also allow financial services such as bank accounts and loans for legal cannabis businesses and immediately expunge the criminal records of people with low-level marijuana offenses. While Michigan voters approved weed legalization in 2018, the legislation would remove the conflict with federal law.

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