07-18-19 Columns

Conservatism and conservation go hand-in-hand

Last week, I was proud to join my colleagues from both the United States House and Senate to announce the formation of a new group in Congress – the Roosevelt Conservation Caucus. This group – named after President Theodore Roosevelt – will embrace and promote constructive efforts to resolve conservation and environmental problems that align with market-based approaches and promote American ingenuity.

Make no mistake: preserving and protecting our environment should not be a partisan issue. Climate change is real. We must act, and this group demonstrates our commitment to tackling some of the biggest environmental challenges in a bipartisan way.

Growing up on the shorelines of Lake Michigan, this is an issue deeply personal to me. I believe we can protect our environment in a way without threatening jobs or destroying the economy. As we move forward, I’m excited to continue working with my colleagues and doing everything we can to ensure safe drinking water, support our national parks, and preserve our environment for generations to come.

To learn more about other important legislative issues, follow me on Twitter at @RepFredUpton or visit my website: upton.house.gov. You can also call my offices in Kalamazoo (269-385-0039), St. Joseph/Benton Harbor (269-982-1986), or Washington, D.C. (202-225-3761).

Estate plans can help you answer questions about the future

The word “estate” conjures images of great wealth, which may be one of the reasons so many people don’t develop estate plans – after all, they’re not rich, so why make the effort? In reality, though, if you have a family, you can probably benefit from estate planning, whatever your asset level. And you may well find that a comprehensive estate plan can help you answer some questions you may find unsettling – or even worrisome. Here are a few of these questions: What will happen to my children? With luck, you (and your co-parent, if you have one) will be alive and well at least until your children reach the age of majority (either 18 or 21, depending on where you live). Nonetheless, you don’t want to take any chances, so, as part of your estate plans, you may want to name a guardian to take care of your children if you are not around. You also might want to name a conservator – sometimes called a “guardian of the estate” – to manage any assets your minor children might inherit. Will there be a fight over my assets? Without a solid estate plan in place, your assets could be subject to the time-consuming, expensive – and very public – probate process. During probate, your relatives and creditors can gain access to your records, and possibly even challenge your will. But with proper planning, you can maintain your privacy. As one possible element of an estate plan, a living trust allows your property to avoid probate and pass quickly to the beneficiaries you’ve named. Who will oversee my finances and my living situation if I become incapacitated? You can build various forms of protection into your estate planning, such as a durable power of attorney, which allows you to designate someone to manage your financial affairs if you become physically or mentally incapacitated. You could also create a medical power of attorney, which allows someone to handle health care decisions on your behalf if you become unable to do so yourself. Will I shortchange my family if I leave significant assets to charities? Unless you have unlimited resources, you’ll have to make some choices about charitable gifts and money for your family. But as part of your estate plans, you do have some appealing options. For example, you could establish a charitable lead trust, which provides financial support to your chosen charities for a period of time, with the remaining assets eventually going to your family members. A charitable remainder trust, by contrast, can provide a stream of income for your family members for the term of the trust, before the remaining assets are transferred to one or more charitable organizations. As you can see, careful estate planning can help you answer many of the questions that may be worrying you. Be aware, though, that certain aspects of estate planning, especially those related to living trusts and charitable trusts, can be complex, so you should consult your estate-planning attorney or qualified tax advisor about your situation. But once you’ve got your plans in place, you should be able to face the future with greater clarity and confidence. This article was written by Edward Jones for use by your local Edward Jones Financial Advisor. Edward Jones, its employees and financial advisors are not estate planners and cannot provide tax or legal advice.

July 18 Town Hall to discuss road funding & auto insurance

After talking with Berrien County residents on their doorsteps, at my coffee hours, or over the phone, they most often tell me they expect better roads, and lower auto insurance rates. I’m proud to say I’ve taken action to address these priorities during my first six months serving as the voice of Southwest Michigan in Lansing. I have driven thousands of miles across Michigan, and I know first-hand how terrible our roads are compared to the other states. Adequately funding our roads has always been a concern shared with me by the residents of our community. The proposed House budget plan will direct every cent you pay at the pump to go towards repairing our roads. This will bring in an additional $850 million for road repairs without the 45-cent gas tax hike proposed by the governor. This change will be made without sacrificing money for schools, local government revenue sharing, or other essential public services. The most significant accomplishment of my first six months in office has by far been passing the historic auto no-fault reform bill. This bill guarantees lower rates by giving drivers more choice on personal injury protection coverage, prohibiting the use of non-driving factors in rate setting, and combating fraudulent claims to help lower costs. For decades, politicians have argued while special interest groups have drained the wallets of the hard-working people of our State. After years of debate, we finally passed a reform bill that will lower rates for all Michigan drivers. Because of the importance of these two issues, I am hosting a town hall to talk directly to the people of Berrien County. The event will take place on Thursday, July 18 at Kinexus, 499 W. Main St. in Benton Harbor from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. RSVPs are not required, but are appreciated. For more information, you may contact my office at 517-373-1403 or via email at PaulineWendzel@house.mi.gov.

Farming is a force in Southwest Michigan

The limited legislative session schedule in the summer affords me a great opportunity to spend more time in the district to visit with the wonderful people who call Southwest Michigan their home. As I have been crisscrossing Berrien, Cass and St. Joseph counties, I have taken particular interest in visiting with our farmers and agricultural workers, including stopping by the numerous roadside farm stands, meeting with local family-owned farms, and attending farm bureau meetings. Many take for granted the hard work and dedication of our farming families, but they are an economic force. Our state is second only to California in terms of crop diversity, and it leads the nation in the production of several crops, including asparagus; black and small red dried beans; cucumbers; tart cherries; Niagara grapes; and squash. Locally, Berrien County ranks in the top ten of all Michigan counties when it comes to producing several crops, including melons, potatoes, tree nuts, berries, short rotation woody crops and several others. Cass County produces the third-most hogs and pigs in the state, while St. Joseph County ranks fourth in the state for poultry and egg production. This top-class production could not happen without the talented people who drive Michigan’s food and agriculture industry. The industry is responsible for more than one-fifth of Michigan’s entire workforce and contributes more than $101 billion to the state economy each year. Together, these hardworking men and women work more than 10 million acres of land on over 52,000 farms. In Southwest Michigan, the industry continues to grow — since 2012, the average farm size has risen by 13% in Berrien County, 5% in Cass County, and 10% in St. Joseph County. And it employs more than 4,200 people throughout the three counties. I am honored to serve those who serve us in the food and agriculture industry and will continue to support legislation and initiatives that strengthen farming communities and help make them more competitive. For more information on Michigan agriculture, check out Michigan.gov/MDARD. As always, residents can contact my office with any state or local issues by calling (517) 373-6960 or emailing senklasata@senate.michigan.gov.

The Power of Positive Parenting

Every family is different, yet families all over the world face problems that are surprisingly similar. Toddler tantrums, fighting at home or at school, the child who won’t go to bed or never seems to listen. The issues you deal with in your home affect families everywhere. That’s where Triple P can help! The Berrien County Health Department’s Triple P program – a Positive Parenting Program – can help you: Raise happy, confident kids; manage kids’ behavior so everyone enjoys life more; set family routines and rules that everyone respects and follows; get along with your kids and argue less; balance work and family without constant stress and worry; use everyday situations to help children learn. The great thing is that Triple P is not a “one-size-fits-all”. You choose how much positive parenting help you need and how you get it. With Triple P, you can do as much, or as little, as you like. At the Berrien County Health Department, parents can find the support they need that is right for their family: One-on-One consultations about specific parenting concerns such as disobedience, fighting with siblings, whining, or tantrums. Seminars or group discussions that offer solutions to common parenting issues like encouraging good behavior, developing good bedtime routines, setting realistic expectations, and managing misbehavior. Group classes that meet multiple times to help parents tackle on-going issues, set goals for change, and improve parent-child relationships. To find the Triple P program that’s right for you, call 269-926-7121.