Jake Neher

MPRN Capitol Reporter

Jake Neher is a state Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network. 

He joined MPRN in September of 2012. Before that he served as a reporter and anchor for WFUV Public Radio in the Bronx, New York, and as News Director for KBRW Public Radio in Barrow, Alaska. He has been working in radio in some capacity since he was 15 years old.

A native of southeast Michigan, Jake graduated from Central Michigan University in 2010. He has a master's degree in public communications from Fordham University.

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State Capitol
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

It looks like a decision about whether to ease restrictions on medical marijuana will come down to the final days of the state Legislature’s 2014 session.

The state Senate has been debating for almost a year whether to allow dispensaries and edible forms of medical marijuana in Michigan.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, says he wants to pass House Bills 4271 and 5104 in December. But he says some groups are still concerned the legislation could lead to more illegal pot sales.

  

Reinis Traidas / Flickr

The state House is expected to take up legislation next month that could decide the future of Michigan’s film credit program.

The credits will go away in 2017 if lawmakers do not act to extend them. The state Senate passed a bill last month that would keep them alive. Senate Bill 1103 got wide bipartisan support.

Blue Ocean Faith is an all-inclusive Christian community in Ann Arbor
user Marlith / Flickr

Supporters of adding LGBT protections to Michigan’s civil rights law say they have enough votes in the Legislature to pass a bill before the end of the year. But they say that’s only if Republican leaders take up a version of the bill that includes protections for gender identity.

Activists say a bill that leaves out protections for transgender people would cause more harm than good.

Kevin Rosseel / morguefile

Bills that seek to reduce prison spending in Michigan seem to have momentum going into the last weeks of the Legislature’s 2014 session.

Michigan spends about $2 billion every year on prisons. The legislation seeks to reduce the length of some prison stays and provide more supervision for people after they are released from prison.

The most widely supported proposal would create a commission to oversee sentencing guidelines and discuss other corrections policies.

“It creates a forum for exploring all this. And it’s something Michigan badly needs,” said Barbara Levine with the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending.

WCN 24/7 / Flickr

State education officials are preparing to implement new science standards in schools. The state Board of Education could adopt the standards as soon as next month.

The board hopes to avoid another battle with state lawmakers over the standards. The Legislature last year threatened to stop funding new standards for math and English known as the Common Core State Standards.

“This is the role and the authority of the state Board of Education to adopt state standards,” said Martin Ackley, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Education (MDE). “What we plan on doing and will do is inform the Legislature on these proposed standards.”

“We plan on sending a report to the Legislature on these proposed new standards for science in the state of Michigan,” he said.

Critics of both the Common Core and these current standards claim they take away local control of what is taught in schools.

State education officials hope the Next Generation standards will boost achievement in science. Less than 20 percent of Michigan students passed the state science exam last year.

Ed. note: This post has been updated to delete references to “Next Generation” standards. It's not clear if the standards will be presented as Michigan-specific standards that borrow heavily from NG.

How much does your vote count? Thanks to gerrymandering, it depends on where you live.
Theresa Thompson / Flickr

A plan to change the way Michigan awards its electoral votes for president got largely panned at a state House hearing on Monday.

The legislation would award up to seven of the state’s 16 Electoral College votes to the presidential runner-up in Michigan. The number of votes they get would depend on how close the popular vote is.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A state House panel is scheduled to meet Monday to consider changing the way Michigan awards its Electoral College votes for president.

Right now, the state assigns all of its 16 electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote. A new Republican proposal would allow the runner-up to get up to seven of those votes – depending on how close the vote is.

“What this does is it says, if you want to do well in Michigan, you got to actually come here and talk about our issues,” said bill sponsor state Rep. Pete Lund, R-Shelby Twp.

Inside the Michigan Senate
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

State lawmakers are considering multiple plans that would significantly increase state road funding. The state Senate on Thursday approved legislation that would raise the state’s gas tax to pay for road improvements.

But state Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, says they could still try to pass a plan that would raise the state’s sales tax.

“We may look to change the sales tax. And that may be a better way to fix the structural problem that we know exists at the pump already,” Richardville told reporters on Thursday.

Wikimedia Commons

Legislation that is expected to raise up to $1.5 billion a year to fix Michigan’s roads has cleared the state Senate.

Depending on how the price of gas fluctuates, the legislation would effectively double the amount of tax people pay at the pump. Instead of paying cents on the gallon, drivers would pay a percentage of the wholesale price of fuel. That percentage would gradually rise to 15.5 percent between next year and 2018. Drivers currently pay 19 cents per gallon for gasoline.

House bill 5477 passed on a 23-14 vote.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Legislation that would make changes to Michigan’s regulations on non-profit organizations is stirring controversy at the state Capitol.

Bills cleared a state House panel Wednesday that Democrats say they would make it easier for political organizations to hide information about their donors.

(Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A new plan to fix Michigan’s crumbling roads could emerge in the state Senate as soon as this week.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, failed in the summer to pass legislation that would boost state road funding by more than $1 billion a year. But he says a group of lawmakers has been working on the issue for months – and he thinks this time will be different.

“We’ve decided as a caucus this is a priority,” said Richardville. “It’s not just me, but I think everybody there. And now we’ve got our sleeves rolled up. We want to get it done.”

Sen. Arlan Meekhof, Michigan's next Senate Majority Leader.
Jake Neher / MPRN

Sen. Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, will be the new state Senate majority leader in 2015.

Republican senators chose Meekhof to replace term-limited Sen. Randy Richardville to lead their caucus.

Republicans will likely add one seat to their 26-12 majority in the Senate next year, although Democrats are considering a recount in one race.

Senate Democrats selected Sen. Jim Ananich of Flint as the next state Senate minority leader. He will replace term-limited Sen. Gretchen Whitmer.

Republican state Representatives will choose a new state House Speaker this afternoon.

The Michigan House of Representatives.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

As election results come in – Michigan Democrats are keeping a close eye on state House races. They believe they take control of the state House in 2015.

Democrat Mark Schauer hopes if he’s elected governor tonight that he’ll have a Democratic House to work with.

“I think it would reflect a new set of priorities for Michigan and a different set of values and a different approach, one that really does put people first, realizing that we have to rebuild our middle class.”

Democrats would need to gain control of seven seats currently held by Republicans to have a majority. According to the Gongwer news service, Democrats are within reach in ten state House races.

Jake Neher / MPRN

Both major candidates for governor say they are confident they will win as voters head to the polls in Tuesday’s election.

Recent polling suggests the race is close. But incumbent Gov. Rick Snyder’s campaign spokesperson Emily Benavides expects a happy election viewing party.

“That’ll be our celebration,” said Benavides at one of two campaign stops this morning in Ann Arbor.

“We’re feeling great. The governor has all the momentum going into Election Day today. And we’re looking forward to the results this evening.”

Jake Neher / MPRN

Candidates have just a few more days to convince people to show up to the polls next week and vote for them. That means campaigns are beginning their final push.

Democratic nominee for governor Mark Schauer is embarking on a statewide campaign tour. He kicked it off by greeting auto workers in Lansing as they got off their shift.  

Schauer says he is confident in his chances, especially after recent reports show strong numbers in his favor with absentee voters who have already cast their ballots.

The Michigan Republican Party is trying to energize its conservative base ahead of next week’s election. On Wednesday, Republicans brought in U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to speak with GOP supporters and volunteers in and around Detroit.

During a rally in Livonia, Paul reiterated his belief that conservative principles would turn the city around.

“You want to help Detroit? You want Detroit to grow and be a great and proud city again like it once was? Leave more money in Detroit. It’s as simple as that. Don’t send it to Washington,” he said.

Rick Pluta / Michigan Public Radio Network

Michiganders age 50 and over are expected to represent well over half of the voters that show up to the polls on November 4.

That is pretty typical of a non-presidential election. But seniors and retirees are already playing an especially important role in this year’s election.

Perry Seavitt, a 70 year old retired teacher from Freemont, considers himself a Republican. But he is not sure which candidate for governor will get his vote. He says he is leaning toward Democrat Mark Schauer because incumbent Gov. Rick Snyder decided to start taxing retiree pensions.

wikimedia commons

Groups advocating for the elderly are organizing an effort to lobby Michigan lawmakers for new protections for caregivers.

“We’re going to be pushing hard in 2015 for something called the CARE Act,” said Mark Hornbeck with AARP Michigan. “That will help people have some rights when they’re taking care of elder parents or an older aunt and uncle or even an older friend.”

The proposed legislation would require health care workers to notify caregivers when a patient is admitted, transferred, or discharged from a hospital. It would also require them to give clear instructions on how to care for the patient when they come home from the hospital.

“A lot or caregivers out there are working full time and trying to take care of elder parents at the same time. And it’s just overwhelming,” said Hornbeck.

AARP has been lobbying state Legislatures across the country to pass versions of the CARE Act. Oklahoma has already adopted the law.

In-home care workers in Michigan used to be automatically represented by a union, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). In 2012, Governor Rick Snyder signed a law ending automatic union membership for caregivers.

Thousands have since left the SEIU.

Jake Neher / MPRN

Another Clinton was in Michigan on Wednesday urging Democrats to show up to the polls on November 4th. Last week it was former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This time it was her husband rallying Democrats to try to get out the vote.

“We don’t win these races and we get this gridlock because too many people don’t vote at midterm,” said former President Bill Clinton in front of a crowd of hundreds of Democrats.

Ruth Johnson, Michigan Secretary of State
Ruth Johnson for Michigan

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and Gov. Rick Snyder both say the state should allow every voter who does not want to wait until Election Day to cast an absentee ballot. So does Johnson’s Democratic opponent in the November election.

Michigan is in the minority of states that does not currently allow no-reason absentee voting. Twenty-seven other states and Washington D.C. already allow it.

So what is getting in the way of Michigan joining that list?

According to a report from the Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation, a lack of autism specialists in Michigan is creating long wait times for children to be diagnosed and treated.

Marianne Udow-Phillips, the group's director, explains that average waiting times for appointments can range anywhere from a month to two years. She hopes  that lawmakers will extend a temporary fund they created to train new specialists.

user Samahiaka18 / wikimedia commons

State officials say too many infants experience psychological trauma when they are removed from their homes and put into foster care. The Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS) hopes to change that with a new set of policies.

Child Protective Services (CPS) employees will be encouraged to work with mental health experts in some cases. DHS says it will also try to place babies in homes that are likely to adopt them, when possible. That’s when they are not likely to be reunited with their parents.

Jake Neher / MPRN

The state superintendent of schools is refusing to weigh in on the debate over school funding ahead of the November election. That issue has been a central talking point in the governor’s race.

Gov. Rick Snyder says he has increased education funding every year he has been in office. He includes money that went to shore up teacher pension funds. Democratic nominee Mark Schauer says Snyder has cut funding by about $1 billion.

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan says he is not interested in getting involved in the debate this close to the election.

Jake Neher / MPRN

Democratic nominee for governor Mark Schauer rallied retirees a day after his first, and probably only, public joint appearance with Gov. Rick Snyder. He blasted Snyder’s decision to end income tax exemptions for pension income.

Schauer spoke in front of a friendly crowd at a UAW center in Warren.

“No bloc of voters votes more reliably than seniors and retirees,” said Schauer. “And I would argue that there is no group who has been more negatively impacted by the policies here in Michigan than retirees and seniors.”

Gov. Snyder says the so-called “pension tax” was part of an effort to make the state’s tax system more fair. He says he also created a new exemption for all retirees regardless of what kind of retirement plan they have, although that exemption is less generous.

Jake Neher / MPRN

Former Florida governor and possible 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush campaigned for GOP candidates across Michigan on Monday.

Bush spoke in front of hundreds of Republicans in Troy to cap off his visit to Michigan. He urged GOP faithful to show up to the polls in November for U.S. Senate nominee Terri Lynn Land and Governor Rick Snyder.

“This last three weeks, I hope you do everything you can to elect, reelect Rick Snyder as your new governor. Rick, we love you. We want you to win,” Bush said as he was Snyder, who later called Bush an “outstanding mentor” to him, specifically on education policy.

More big national political names are expected to visit Michigan in the coming weeks. Their goal will be to fire up the party base and get out the vote in November.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to campaign for Democrats Mark Schauer and Gary Peters later this week.

Morgue File

New legislation that would repeal Michigan’s renewable energy standard has been met with heavy opposition from environmentalists, and even some utilities.

In 2008, state lawmakers said electric utilities must generate at least ten percent of their energy using renewable sources by 2015. Recent studies show they are on track to meet that requirement.  

Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, introduced a bill last week that would repeal that part of Michigan’s energy law.

“Obviously, if it was not more costly, we wouldn’t have to mandate it,” said McMillin.

Christian Jansky / wikimedia commons

Groups trying to end wolf hunting in Michigan are criticizing an upcoming pro-hunting and fishing campaign by the state. They worry it could be used to oppose two anti-wolf hunting referenda on the November ballot.

The Michigan Wildlife Council, which will oversee the media campaign, met for the first time on Wednesday.

Jake Neher / MPRN

Gov. Rick Snyder says one of his budget priorities in his second term would be to expand a program that helps low-income kids get dental care.

Right now, the Healthy Kids Dental program is available to more than 500,000 children in 80 of Michigan’s 83 counties. But the program is not available in three of the state’s largest counties – Wayne, Oakland, and Kent.

West McGowan / Flickr

State lawmakers are considering legislation that would decide who can access a person’s online accounts after they die or become incapacitated. A state House panel approved the bills today.

In the case of social media accounts, the rules would kick in if a site does not already address the issue in its terms and conditions. The legislation would allow family members to manage those accounts.  Supporters say families sometimes want to retrieve pictures, create memorial accounts, or delete posts.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Bills meant to fight human trafficking in Michigan are on track to clear the state Legislature before the end of this week.

The bipartisan legislation would make it easier to prosecute human trafficking cases, increase penalties, and provide more services for victims. The state House passed several bills in the package on Wednesday.

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