12-20-18 Columns

Michigan children safer following passage of needed reforms As we approach the end of the year, the Legislature has been in “lame duck” session wrapping up important policy items before we officially adjourn. House Bill 5539, legislation I sponsored that would expand the capacity of the OK2SAY hotline to accept reports on sexual abuse, assault and rape, was recently passed unanimously in the Senate and presented to the Governor. In light of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal at Michigan State University it was clear more needed to be done to protect our young women and men from future assault. I was proud to work with many colleagues on a large package of bills designed to increase protections for Michigan’s children and young adults in our schools and on our college campuses. Additionally, I assisted a legislative inquiry into MSU’s handling of the Nassar scandal. OK2SAY was originally established in 2014 as a method of reporting criminal activity at school anonymously. The 24-hour system has been expanded to include other crimes and received 10,734 reports as of December 2017. The OK2SAY program has been an effective tool to examine potential crimes and expanding its capability to include other forms of harm committed against children was a commonsense next step. The confidential nature of the reporting system also takes into account the sensitivity surrounding these situations for victims and assures their privacy to feel comfortable coming forward about their abuse. It is critical that our students feel protected. I am hopeful these reforms will create a safer environment for our kids for years to come. It has been a distinct honor to serve the 79th State House district and I am excited to continue serving you as State Senator of the 21st Senate district next year. I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and blessed holiday season.

Consider some New Year’s financial resolutions As the year winds down, you may want to look ahead to see which areas of your life you can improve in 2019. Perhaps you’ll decide to exercise more, eat healthier foods, reconnect with old friends or volunteer at a school or charitable organization. All these goals are certainly worthwhile – but you also may want to add some New Year’s financial resolutions to your list. Here are a few ideas to consider: Boost contributions to your employer-sponsored retirement plan. Good news! Contribution limits will be increasing for many employer-sponsored retirement plans. For 2019, you can contribute up to $19,000 (up from $18,500 in 2018), or $25,000 (up from $24,500 in 2018) if you’re 50 or older to your 401(k) or similar employer-sponsored retirement plan. It’s usually a good idea to contribute as much as you can afford to your employer’s plan, as your contributions may lower your taxable income, while any earnings growth is tax-deferred. (Keep in mind that taxes are due upon withdrawal, and withdrawals prior to age 59-1/2 may be subject to a 10% IRS penalty.) At a minimum, put in enough to earn your employer’s matching contribution, if one is offered. Try to “max out” on your IRA. Even if you have a 401(k) or similar plan, you can probably still invest in an IRA. For 2019, you can put in up to $6,000 in a traditional or Roth IRA (up from $5,500 in 2018), or $7,000 (up from $6,500) if you’re 50 or older. (Income restrictions apply to Roth IRAs.) Contributions to a traditional IRA may be tax-deductible, depending on your income, and any earnings growth is tax-deferred. Roth IRA contributions are not deductible, but earnings growth can be withdrawn tax-free, provided you don’t start taking withdrawals until you are 59-1/2 and you’ve had your account at least five years. You can put most types of investments – stocks, bonds, mutual funds, government securities and so on – into an IRA, so it can expand your options beyond those offered in your 401(k) or similar plan. Build an emergency fund. Try to build an emergency fund containing three to six months’ worth of living expenses, with the money held in a low-risk, liquid account. This fund can help you avoid dipping in to your long-term investments to pay for unexpected costs, such as a major car repair. Control your debts. Do what you can to keep your debts under control. Ultimately, the less you have to spend on debt payments, the more you can invest for your future. Don’t overreact to financial market volatility. In 2018 – especially the last few months of the year – we saw considerable market volatility, with huge drops and big gains in rapid succession. What will 2019 bring? It’s always difficult – and usually futile – trying to forecast the market’s performance over the course of an entire year. But, in any case, try not to overreact to whatever ups and downs we may experience. Instead, continue pursuing an investment strategy that’s appropriate for your goals, risk tolerance and time horizon. Following these suggestions can help you become a better investor in 2019 – and beyond. This article was written by Edward Jones for use by your local Edward Jones Financial Advisor.

Safe disposal of Rx drugs During a time when many people will be welcoming friends and family into their homes for the holidays, Berrien County residents are reminded to sort through their medicine cabinets and properly dispose of old or unwanted medications. Sadly, more than 70% of young people abusing prescription pain relievers get them through friends or family, a statistic that includes raiding the family medicine cabinet. Berrien County residents are encouraged to dispose of their unused, expired, and unwanted medications properly by using the MedReturn drug collection drop off locations around Berrien County. In addition to MedReturn drug collection drop off boxes within Lakeland Health Pharmacies in St. Joseph and Niles, Walgreens has also installed safe medication disposal kiosks at their St. Joseph and Niles locations. There are also safe and secure drug collection drop off boxes in Niles, Coloma, Harbert, Buchanan, Watervliet, Berrien Springs, and New Buffalo. This makes properly disposing of excess and expired drugs everyone’s responsibility as well as a matter of public and environmental safety. Within the past year, more than 2,500 pounds of unwanted and expired medications were collected from the various drop off locations in Berrien County. It is one of the best things our community can do to reduce the supply of drugs that can potentially harm teens and adults. The Berrien County Health Department is committed to providing a safe, secure and environmentally friendly way to help law enforcement agencies and Berrien County communities collect unwanted or expired household medication, including prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs and unused pharmaceuticals. The collection sites are open during normal business hours. Medications can be dropped off with no questions asked. The medications can be placed in a sealable plastic bag or can be disposed of in their original containers. A full list of the drug collection locations is available at www.bchdmi.org.

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone in Southwest Michigan. I hope you are all able to gather with family and friends, reflect on the year and look forward to a new year full of possibilities. Indeed, the holidays present many with a moment to spend quality time with loved ones and celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. I am truly blessed to be able to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ with my family, whose love and support give me strength. Being with them is the greatest gift I could ask for. We each have the ability to lift the spirits of those around us. During the Christmas season, my thoughts are drawn to those who cannot be with their families. The holidays are an especially hard time for those men and women who are serving overseas. I encourage you to help make a soldier’s holiday a little brighter by sending them a letter or card, thanking them for their sacrifice and wishing them a safe return home. You can send mail to: Blue Star Mothers; P.O. Box 76; Stevensville, MI 49127. You can also make the season brighter for a child by joining my family and me in making a donation of an unwrapped toy at one of several U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program locations. This Christmas is bittersweet for me, as it is my last as your state senator. It has been an honor to serve you, and I wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas. God bless you all. 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.

Health care innovation Last Thursday, my partner in health care innovation – U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colorado – and I marked the second anniversary of the 21st Century Cures Act being signed into law by President Obama. The 21st Century Cures Act began with the spark of hope and continues today – pushing health care and medical research in new and innovative ways.

We’re seeing the results in action already: The Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot is working to accelerate progress in cancer prevention and screening, the All of Us Research Program has more than 100,000 people signed up to help advance precision medicine and develop more effective ways to treat disease, the BRAIN Initiative is revolutionizing how we understand the human brain, and the Regenerative Medicine Innovation Project is supporting clinical research on adult stem cells.

Needed reforms to our mental health system and at the FDA are coming about due to 21st Century Cures. We’re now able to get drugs and devices to market more efficiently – helping to address drug prices. Finally, 21st Century Cures has played a pivotal role in addressing the opioid epidemic by funding the fight at the state level – with more than $1 billion in grants to states in need. This act, 21st Century Cures, was truly a bipartisan effort from start to finish. Today we can reflect on how far we have come, but also it is a reminder of all the work that remains. Patients and families are counting on us. To learn more about this 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).