Spinal Column: Wishing a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in Michigan’s Winter Wonderland

The holidays are here, and during this joyous season, it is my sincere hope that you are able to spend this time with those you cherish most.

For me, this is a time to look back on the past year and consider my many blessings, and to look forward to a new year full of possibilities.

Once again, I am blessed to be able to gather over the holidays with my family, whose love, support and encouragement enable me to make the difficult decisions that help build a better Michigan. One of the best parts of the holiday season is that we get to spend a good amount of quality time with loved ones.

This year, I am encouraging everyone to take the time to destress and enjoy Michigan’s Winter Wonderland. Get out in the backyard and build a snowman. Go for a walk in the woods. Get the adrenaline going by finding the nearest hill and getting on the toboggan!

If you need even more excitement and have the means, take advantage of Michigan’s abundance of snowmobile trails. Thankfully, Michigan is one of the nation’s top snowmobiling destinations, with more than 6,200 miles of groomed trails located throughout state and federal forests, and many acres of privately owned lands.

Michigan snowmobiling information is available at www.michigan.gov/snowmobiling.

The site includes links to Michigan’s snowmobile regulations and to online safety courses that satisfy the state’s safety education requirement for youth operators.

Cross country and downhill skiing also offer plenty of opportunities for fun in the snow. Michigan ranks second in the nation for number of skiing areas — 51 — found across the state. Those ski areas include more than 260 lifts and about 1,000 runs.

Cross country skiers can access more than 3,000 miles of trails in the state. For more information, visit www.michigan.org/skiing/cross-country.

Michigan also offers the best downhill skiing in the Midwest. For more information, visit www.michigan.org/skiing/downhill.

If you are the parent of a fourth- or fifth-grader, you’re in luck. Fourth- and fifth-graders have the chance to ski free under the “Cold is Cool” Fourth & Fifth Grade Ski & Ride Passport, one of the elements of the Michigan Snowsports Industries Association’s (MSIA) “Cold is Cool” program. This program is dedicated to improving the health of the children in the state by offering winter outdoor exercise activities for all Michigan kids and their families.

In order for fourth- and fifth-graders to use the free lift or trail pass coupons, a paying adult must accompany them. Up to two students can ski free with each paying adult. Although the skiing is free, MSIA charges a $20 printing and shipping fee for each passport ordered. The passport also includes additional discounts on the slopes and in Michigan ski shops.

Residents can download an interactive application form by visiting the MSIA website at www.goskimichigan.com. Click on “Cold is Cool – 4th and 5th Graders Ski Free!”

There are plenty of opportunities and no excuses not to get outside, get moving, and enjoy the beauty of our great state during the holidays.

This time of year presents a wonderful opportunity to enjoy Michigan with your family and reflect on your blessings.

I wish you and your family the very best this Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year. God Bless you all.

This column first appeared in the Spinal Column newsweekly. Senator Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, is the Michigan Senate majority floor leader. He serves the residents of the 15th Senate District, representing western Oakland County.

Reminder: Kowall and Robertson honoring Vietnam era veterans at second Holly event

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kowall and Sen. Dave Robertson on Wednesday reminded interested parties of a Vietnam veteran lapel-pinning ceremony this Friday, Dec. 16 in commemoration of the 50-year anniversary of the war.

Kowall, R-White Lake, and Robertson, R-Grand Blanc, are hosting the second “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Event to Thank and Honor Vietnam Veterans and Their Families” in Holly to give long-overdue recognition to Vietnam War era veterans and their families. They encourage all interested residents and veterans to join them to pay tribute to the men and women who were too often forgotten when they returned home. Staff for U.S. Congressman Mike Bishop (MI-08) will join Kowall and Robertson.

Kowall said the event, made possible in part by the United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration (VWC), will be held at 1 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 16, at the Holly Area Veterans Resource Center (HAVRC) in the Karl Richter Community Center, 300 East St., in Holly. For more information, contact HAVRC Chairman Joe Mishler at 810-348-9960.

The lawmakers will provide a Vietnam War Commemorative Lapel Pin to U.S. veterans who served on active duty at any time from Nov. 1, 1955 – May 15, 1975, regardless of location.

Speakers at the event will be Lt. Gary Huber, U.S. Army veteran, Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 175, Genesee County; Joe Cylkowski, U.S. Army veteran, Holly American Legion Post 149; and Ina Golden, U.S. Navy veteran, secretary — Holly Area Veterans Resource Center, American Legion Post 149. Two Gold Star Mothers will be honored and recognized; they each will receive a special “In Memory Of” commemorative pin.

In addition, the invocation will be given by the Rev. Dr. Jennifer L. Smith, state chaplain of Veterans of Foreign Wars, Department of Michigan, and Don Austin will pray for prisoners of war and those missing in action.

Finally, the American Legion 149 and VFW Post 5587, both of Holly, will post the colors; Mike Beauchamp will sing the national anthem; Sabrina Dudek will lead the Pledge of Allegiance; George Murray will play the bagpipes; and Bruce Freimark will perform the service medley.

Kowall has held numerous lapel-pinning ceremonies, both in Lansing and throughout the state. The ceremonies are held in a variety of locations, including Veterans of Foreign Wars/American Legion posts, veteran memorial parks and banquet halls. Kowall often partners with the senator of the district where the event is being held.

Information regarding the United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration can be found at www.vietnamwar50th.com.

Governor signs autonomous vehicle legislation

DEARBORN, Mich. — Governor Rick Snyder on Friday signed a package of bills that modernize guidelines for driverless vehicle research and operation and keep Michigan at the cutting edge of automobile technology innovation, growth and design.

Public Acts 332-335 of 2016 update Michigan’s current laws regarding autonomous vehicle testing to allow “real world” testing and operation to determine the technology needed to safely introduce these vehicles into the marketplace.

State Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kowall, sponsor of PAs 332 and 333, has remained at the forefront of legislative efforts pertaining to autonomous vehicles for some time.

“Autonomous vehicle technology is here, and with these new guidelines in place, Michigan, the home of the automobile, will remain the worldwide leader in automotive research and development,” said Kowall, R-White Lake. “The development of autonomous vehicles had the potential not only to bolster our state economy significantly, but to greatly reduce the number of auto accidents and make the nation’s roads safer.”

The new laws specify that as technology emerges, companies will be able to operate a driverless vehicle on public roads so long as an operator is able to supervise and control the vehicle. The measures also establish standards that these vehicles must adhere to. These include requirements for data collection and feedback from crashes from autonomous vehicles that are members of a fleet so that information can be used to further advance the technology and ensure that they are safe for consumer use.

In addition, the laws authorize the creation of the American Center for Mobility at the abandoned Willow Run facility. The repurposed 300-acre lot is expected to serve a vital role in Michigan’s research and development surrounding autonomous vehicles. The redevelopment is expected to be a boost for the economies of surrounding communities.

Leading technology and ridesharing companies are working with Michigan’s Big Three and other automakers to further develop driverless technology. Seven other states along with Washington D.C. have a policy or have introduced a policy regarding autonomous vehicles.

Photo caption: Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, (third from right) looks on as Gov. Rick Snyder signs a package of autonomous vehicle bills that will keep Michigan at the cutting edge of automobile technology innovation, growth and design. Kowall has remained at the forefront of legislative efforts pertaining to autonomous vehicles and sponsored two bills in the package, Public Acts 332 and 333.

Note: For a print-quality version of this photo and other Kowall photos, click the image or select the Photowire link under the Media Center tab, above.