Yorko boycotts forum
Lansing city Councilwoman Jessica Yorko created a mini-storm by boycotting a meet-the-candidates forum over the weekend at Grace Lutheran Church. Yorko had a campaign volunteer deliver a hand-written note explaining her decision.

Yorko said in her note: “Unfortunately, the last forum I participated in that involved questions driven by one of our at-large councilmembers was not, in my view, helpful for voters because rather than questions focused on the issues and my positions and priorities, the questions were all framed as personal attacks.”

Others identified the Council member as Carol Wood and the earlier forum as one at Grace United Methodist Church sponsored by the Colonial Village Neighborhood Association. Wood, a member, lives across the street from Grace Lutheran.

Yorko instead sent campaign information, including her response to a League of Women Voters questionnaire, and also referring voters to her responses to questionnaires from City Pulse and the State Journal.

Early voting
With hotly contested City Council races in both Lansing and East Lansing, the two city clerks will offer on-site absentee voting on Saturday. Lansing voters can cast their ballots at the South Washington Office Complex, 2500 S. Washington Ave., from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. East Lansing voters can cast their ballots at the clerk’s office at city hall from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Voters can also vote at the clerk’s office in either city during business hours on weekdays through Monday. Anyone who states he expects to be outside his home city all of election day can cast an absentee ballot. Other valid reasons include: persons 60 years or older, unable to vote without the physical assistance of another person, a precinct worker in a precinct other than their own, cannot attend the polls for religious reasons, or confined to jail awaiting arraignment or trial.

Chairing the board
Ingham County Commissioner Deb Nolan has decided against seeking reelection as commission chairwoman because of the time demands of the job. Jockeying is underway for her successor. Commission vice chairwoman Rebecca Bahar-Cook has told colleagues she will not run for the top spot.

Victor Celentino, D-Lansing, has tossed his hat into the ring; Brian McGrain, D-Lansing, told commissioners he’d like to become vice chairman.

Medicaid coverage
Michigan’s Legislature created all sorts of unintended complications by delaying Medicaid expansion until next spring, but a clarification by the Obama administration removes at least one of them.

Under the law, families with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level will become Medicaid-eligible in late March (the exact date depends on when the Legislature adjourns at the end of this year). From January until the expansion, families at 100-to-138 percent of FPL can get subsidized coverage through the insurance exchange.

Families under 100 percent of the poverty level are not eligible for insurance premium subsidies, and paying full price for coverage is financially impossible for them. The lack of coverage could have meant federal tax penalties.

The administration has ended that possibility by clarifying that the deadline for obtaining coverage is March 31.

Administration officials said that the clarification of the deadline is unrelated to the many technical problems that have emerged with the website, HealthCare. gov, in its first three weeks. Instead, they said, it is designed to clear up a timing confusion about the requirement that most Americans buy health coverage or face a penalty.

Supporters of the health care law are privately grumbling about the Legislature’s refusal to set up a state-run health care exchange (which would have been paid for by the federal government). States with their own exchanges are all reporting few problems with enrollments, and seeing robust applications for insurance. Seventeen states have state-run exchanges.

Drug testing the unemployed
A bill now on Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk for signature is more about 2014 campaign brochures than public policy, according to critics.

HB 4952 strips unemployment benefits from people who refuse to take drug tests as part of a job screening, or who fail an employer drug screen. The legislation does not require employer reports to the state.

The bill has an exception for doctorprescribed drugs (such as Vicodin or Oxycontin), but does not extend the exception to medical marijuana. Medical marijuana is not prescribed, but is allowed for patients “certified” by a physician as having a medical condition for which marijuana is considered appropriate. The legislation will likely face court challenges.

Opponents say the law is designed pri marily to give the appearance of cracking down on drug abuse by poor people but will have no real impact. Instead, they say, the bill’s primary benefit will be in providing material for 2014 campaign brochures of supporters.

Amendments offered to the bill requiring drug testing of legislators were rejected.

Expanding smoking ban
East Lansing Rep. Sam Singh has introduced a bill extending no-smoking areas to automobiles that have minors as passengers. The rationale is protecting children from the effect of secondhand smoke, just as seatbelt and carseat requirements for children protect them from injury in collisions. The bill provides a $500 fine for violations, but delays penalties for one year. Singh has also introduced legislation prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.

“Nothing should be off the table when it comes to a child’s well-being,” Singh said. “This is simple, commonsense legislation that works to promote the health and safety of minors in Michigan.”

The prohibition would apply to under-18 drivers, even if they had no passengers. Singh notes that it is already illegal for a minor to possess and use tobacco, although that law is rarely enforced.