04-04-2018 Columns

Ending sexual assault April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. It is a time to bring awareness to the problem and what each of us can do to prevent it, such as speaking up if we believe someone we know has been a victim of sexual assault. Sexual violence affects women and men across every demographic. One out of four women and one out of 10 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. In addition, about 85 percent of sexual assaults are committed by someone known by the victim. With education, awareness and community involvement, we can help prevent sexual assault and create a safer environment for everyone. The Legislature is working to protect college students, who are one of the more vulnerable populations when it comes to sexual assaults. Going to college should be an enjoyable time that helps prepare the next generation of leaders for success. Every student and athlete in our state deserves a safe place to learn and compete, and no victim of sexual abuse should ever feel threatened or ashamed about coming forward. Among the many reforms in Senate Bills 871-880 is making college employees and youth sports coaches, assistant coaches, athletic trainers, bus drivers and youth sports volunteers mandatory reporters of child abuse, including sexual assault. Sexual assault can emotionally and physically scar a victim, and the ultimate goal is to prevent all sexual assaults. As we aim for that goal, we must create an environment where survivors feel free to speak up, tell their stories and start the healing process. Victims of sexual assault are encouraged to call 911 or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE. As always, I look forward to hearing your comments and feedback on the important issues facing Michigan. You can contact me at 517-373-6960.

Should you make extra mortgage payments or boost your investments? Every month, you pay your mortgage. And, depending on your circumstances, you may be able to afford to put in additional payments – perhaps sizable ones. But should you? Or, if you really have the extra money, should you invest it? Initially, you might think it would be quite nice to rid yourself of that mortgage sooner, rather than later. But is it really the burden it seems? Actually, you get some real benefits from a mortgage. It certainly provides something of great value to you – your home. If you got your mortgage – or re

financed your home – within the past decade or so, you are borrowing money at a pretty favorable interest rate, by historical standards. And even assuming a mild rate of inflation, such as we’ve had for the past several years, you’ll essentially be paying off your mortgage with cheaper and cheaper dollars over time. Plus, your interest payments may well be tax deductible. (The new tax laws limit deductions on new mortgages of $750,000 or more. For questions on your specific situation, consult your tax professional.) So, given these advantages, an argument could be made that you should be in no hurry to pay off your mortgage. Still, you might be tempted to make the extra payments because you’ll be building home equity. After all, isn’t this equity valuable? It is – to a degree. The larger your home equity, the more money you’ll get to keep when you eventually sell your home. But in the meantime, that home equity may be less useful than you might imagine. For one thing, just building more equity won’t make your home more valuable – it will rise (or fall) in value along with whatever’s happening in the housing market. By contrast, you could take the extra money and buy more shares in an investment such as stocks – and the more shares you own, the more valuable your investment will be if the price per share rises. Also, if you were to experience a temporary job loss or some other financial emergency, your home equity might not help you much; if you’re not working, you could even have trouble getting a home equity loan. Conversely, your investment portfolio can offer you greater liquidity, depending on your specific investments. Most investment vehicles, such as stocks and bonds, generally can be sold quickly, without much difficulty. (Keep in mind, though, that if you were forced to sell investments when their price was down, you could take a loss on the sale.) Clearly, you could gain some advantages by using any extra money to invest, rather than paying down your mortgage. Nonetheless, you may simply get emotional and psychological satisfaction by speeding your progress toward the day when your house is paid off – and that type of satisfaction certainly has value. You’ll need to weigh these intangible factors carefully in deciding whether to increase your investments or make extra mortgage payments – because, ultimately, you need to feel that you’re doing the right thing, for the right reasons. This article is written by Edward Jones for use by your local Edward Jones Financial Advisor.

Here at home Last week, as with this week, I was able to spend time in almost every corner of Southwest Michigan. It’s always great to be here at home, meeting with folks, discussing the issues, touring small businesses, and being able to participate in local events. Here are some of my highlights: I sat down with the Berrien County school superintendents, met with students from the Gull Lake High School Student Senate, met with students at Kalamazoo Central High School, and participated in a community forum at Niles High School to hear from parents and teachers on school safety. As parents, we shouldn’t have to worry about our kids’ safety when we put them on the bus in the morning. And students need to feel safe while in the classroom so they can focus on learning. I’m committed to finding real solutions. Listening is the most important piece when crafting meaningful legislation. We have already made great strides, but please do not hesitate to reach out with your feelings on this issue. I was also able to catch up with some of our local small businesses during the West Coast Chamber Luncheon in Holland, our farmers at the Berrien County Farm Bureau Legislative Breakfast, and toured Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services’ most recent facility, and the new Holland Energy Park, to just name a few. To learn more about these and other important legislative issues, please visit my website: upton.house.gov or call my offices in Kalamazoo (269-385-0039), St. Joseph/ Benton Harbor (269-982-1986), or Washington, D.C. (202-225-3761).

Preparing teachers to succeed As a teacher, I know what it is like to be in front of a classroom, it is a truly wonderful experience, but also presents many challenges. That’s why we must ensure that our new teachers are prepared to handle the challenges of today’s classroom. For that reason, I was proud to recently join a bipartisan group of my colleagues on the House Education Reform Committee in advancing important improvements to Michigan’s teacher prep programs. Having good standards for all of Michigan’s teacher prep programs will not only help new educators succeed in the classroom, but it will help drive student growth. Highlights of the package include: Requiring student teaching experience in multiple environments, such as rural and urban districts, while also familiarizing student teachers with their district’s evaluation methods and local data to help craft instruction and classroom management; ensuring teacher prep programs include instruction on classroom management and teaching students in rural and urban areas, as well as working with students from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, English language learners, or those having special needs; setting a standard that student teachers complete a minimum of 400 hours of clinical experience during their program, in addition to coursework; providing that teacher prep institutions extend a $1,000 stipend to mentor teachers for working with a student teacher in their classroom; creating a master teacher unit through the Michigan Department of Education to help provide professional development, assist low-performing schools, and provide input for new educational programs or issues. This package not only focuses on teacher preparation, but also educational outcomes for students. Ensuring new teachers are prepared for the classrooms of today should be a priority for all education stakeholders. This plan will help drive improvement, not only in our college education programs, but in local school districts across Michigan. As always, please do not hesitate to contact my office with any questions or concerns. You can reach me at 1-800-577-6212, via email at BethGriffin@house.mi.gov and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ RepBethGriffin.

National Public Health Week Health starts where we live, learn, work, and play. Our community environment impacts our health long before we ever visit a doctor. Medical doctors are able to treat you once you’re ill, but public health exists to prevent you from ever getting sick in the first place. This week, National Public Health Week, communities across the nation are celebrating the power of prevention and the critical role that public health plays in keeping people safe and healthy year after year. In our community, the Berrien County Health Department and their dedicated staff work to prevent disease, prolong life, protect the health of our community, and promote an optimal quality of life for the citizens of Berrien County. Through vaccination programs for children and adults, reproductive health clinic services, restaurant inspections, and a variety of other health promotion programs, the Berrien County Health Department keeps us, our children, our seniors, our environment, and our communities healthy and safe. A healthy public gets sick less frequently and spends less money on health care; this means better economic productivity and an improved quality of life for everyone. This week, as you enjoy a meal in a restaurant without getting sick and your children or grandchildren stay healthy because of immunizations, pause to remember that it is because of the efforts of public health. To learn more about how the Berrien County Health Department supports your health, visit their website at www.bchdmi.org or Facebook page at www.facebook.com/bchdmi.