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State Briefs

By The Associated Press • Mar 30, 2018 at 9:00 AM

Michigan auto fee rising to $192 per vehicle in July

LANSING (AP) — Michigan drivers with auto insurance will pay more money than ever — $192 annually per vehicle — to cover unlimited medical benefits for severely injured motorists.

The fee was announced Thursday by the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association, a state-created entity that reimburses insurers for personal injury benefits exceeding $555,000 per claim. It is a $22, or 13 percent, increase above the current $170 assessment and will cover policies issued or renewed from this July through June 2019.

The fee fluctuates each year but will reach an all-time high, surpassing the $186 assessments imposed from mid-2013 through mid-2015. Of the $192, $161 will cover anticipated new claims and expenses, and $31 will address a $2.3 billion deficit related to existing claims.

The Livonia-based association, whose board is comprised of insurance company officials, said the pending fee increase is due to higher-than-expected claim costs, partially offset by better-than-expected investment returns. It reported 16,510 open claims and $1.2 billion in spending in the last fiscal year, or $100 million a month. Nearly 56 percent of loss payments were for residential or attendant care.

Michigan is the only state to require unlimited lifetime coverage for medical expenses resulting from car crashes.

Regulators cut Consumers Energy power rate increase

LANSING (AP) — Michigan regulators have approved a nearly $66 million electric rate increase for Consumers Energy Co. that takes effect Sunday and is about 38 percent of what the Jackson-based utility originally sought.

The Michigan Public Service Commission said the increase approved Thursday means a residential customer using 500 kilowatt hours of electricity per month will see their monthly bills increase by $1.87 compared to previously approved rates. Since the utility self-implemented a $2.46 monthly increase in October 2017, customers will see their bills decrease by 59 cents.

The approved rate increase compared with the original $173 million that Consumers sought on March 31. Consumers later lowered its request to $148 million and, on Oct. 1, 2017, self-implemented a $130 million rate increase.

West Michigan couple convicted in 4-year-old girl's death

KALAMAZOO (AP) — A woman and her boyfriend have been convicted in the death of her 4-year-old daughter, who was found wrapped in blankets and duct tape at their Kalamazoo home.

A jury convicted Matthew Longenecker on Wednesday of first-degree murder and first-degree child abuse in the asphyxiation death of Desaray Thompson. A separate jury found Kelly Ballinger guilty of involuntary manslaughter and first-degree child abuse in her daughter's July 9 death.

Longenecker and Ballinger were also both convicted of possession of meth.

Authorities said the couple restrained Desaray with blankets and duct tape the night she died, including a blanket placed over her face.

A medical examiner said evidence revealed past abuse, such as bruising, cuts and likely a skull fracture.

Ballinger's sentencing is scheduled for April 30. She faces up to life in prison. 

Longenecker faces life in prison without parole when he is sentenced May 7.

Man charged after threatening mid-Michigan courthouse shooting

GLADWIN (AP) — Authorities used social media to help capture a man charged with threatening a shooting at a mid-Michigan courthouse.

Anthony Ostrander, 19, was arraigned Thursday on a terrorism charge. He's being held on a $1 million cash bond.

The Gladwin County Sheriff's Office said Ostrander phoned in what officials considered credible threats Wednesday after a personal protection order was issued against him. The Gladwin County Courthouse was locked down for several hours afterward.

The Bay City Times reported authorities urged Ostrander on social media to visit the Sheriff's Office to make a complaint about the order. Sheriff Michael Shea said Ostrander went to the Sheriff's Office and deputies arrested him before he went inside.

Shea said Ostrander didn't have a gun on him at the time.

Michigan business group wins dispute over 'Perchville' name

EAST TAWAS (AP) — "Perchville" belongs to a business group in northern Michigan.

A federal judge has ruled in favor of the Tawas Area Chamber of Commerce in a dispute over a trademark related to a popular winter festival called Perchville.

A business, Au Sable River Trading Post, sued the Tawas chamber over the trademark, saying it was generic and doesn't deserve legal protection. The Trading Post makes T-shirts and other merchandise.

But federal Judge Thomas Ludington said Perchville is a "fanciful" trademark and the Tawas chamber clearly has the authority to enforce it. The chamber charges $750 for nonmembers to use Perchville.

The judge said any remaining issues will be handled in state court.

Michigan EOC monitoring re-entry of Chinese space station

LANSING (AP) — Gov. Rick Snyder has activated the state's Emergency Operations Center to monitor the re-entry of China's Tiangong-1 space station into the Earth's atmosphere.

Most of the space station is expected to burn up during re-entry, but some debris could make landfall. The Aerospace Corp. said it could land along a strip of the U.S. that includes the southern Lower Peninsula of Michigan.

The Chinese space agency's latest estimate puts re-entry between Saturday and Wednesday.

Capt. Chris A. Kelenske, Michigan's deputy director of emergency management and homeland security, said "the chances are slim that any of the debris will land in Michigan, but the state is monitoring the situation and is prepared to respond quickly if it does."

The EOC says any suspected space debris should be considered hazardous.

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