Rick Pluta

Reporter / Producer - Michigan Public Radio Network

Rick Pluta has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.

Rick was one of the first Michigan political reporters to write about “pay-to-play” fundraising, and the controversies surrounding recognition of same-sex relationships. He broke the news that Gov. John Engler was planning a huge juvenile justice overhaul that included adult-time-for-adult-crime sentencing, and has continued to report since then on the effects of that policy decision.

He co-hosts the weekly segment “It’s Just Politics” on Michigan Radio with Zoe Clark.

Rick is fascinated by the game of politics, and the grand plans and human foibles that go into policy-making. You will never find him ice-fishing.

Follow him on Twitter at @rickpluta

DPS website

Governor Rick Snyder has signed a $617 million bailout of the Detroit Public Schools – which he says represents a fresh start for the financially and academically struggling district.

The plan creates a new debt-free Detroit school district, which will focus on educating the district’s 46,000 students while the old district pays down the old debt. 

The bills signed by the governor also return control of the district to a locally elected school board following seven years of state control that saw it sink deeper into debt.

Flint River and water plant
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency says Flint’s water system still faces major problems. EPA chief Gina McCarthy sent a warning to Governor Rick Snyder and Flint Mayor Karen Weaver.

The letter says the city’s water treatment plant is understaffed – and the water distribution network is too large and sprawling.

Marijuana plant.
USFWS

The campaign trying to legalize marijuana in Michigan has filed a lawsuit challenging the state's six-month time limit to gather petition signatures.

The MI Legalize drive is still trying to either get the Legislature to adopt a law or place the question on the November ballot after its petitions were rejected by a state elections board last week because too many signatures were too old under the 180-day rule. 

M-I Legalize attorney Jeff Hank says what the state’s doing is not allowed.

Travis / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Michigan’s monthly unemployment rate has dropped to 4.7%. That’s the lowest it’s been in 15 years. 

 

The drop in the monthly rate was not due to more hiring, but to 6,000 people who gave up looking for work. Fewer people competing for job reduces the jobless rate.

 

But Governor Rick Snyder says the overall hiring trend for the state is good. He says the state’s workforce has grown by roughly 100,000 people since the beginning of the year in hopes of finding a job. 

 

Jim Wallace / Flickr

Michigan and the Canadian province of Ontario are negotiating a strategy for improving and managing waterways.

 

Governor Rick Snyder and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne met in Detroit to announce the beginnings of the joint plan. Wynne says the goal is to double maritime trade in the region and reduce pollution and invasive species. 

           

“We want Michigan to do well as we want Toronto to do well, and, really, collectively, we are competing with other jurisdictions,” said Wynne.  

 

Former state representatives Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat.
images from Courser/Gamrat offices

Former state Representative Todd Courser will face trial on perjury and misconduct charges. At the same time, a judge dismissed criminal charges against former state Representative Cindy Gamrat.

The judge said the state’s case against Gamrat was simply too weak to go to trial.

The state has 21 days to appeal the decision, but Gamrat says she hopes this is the final word on the matter.

“I think I have a lot of mixed emotions,” Gamrat said after the hearing. “It’s been a really hard journey.”

Kevin Rosseel / morguefile

The Michigan Department of Corrections faces a U.S. Justice Department lawsuit that alleges sex discrimination against female guards at the state’s only prison for women.

The lawsuit is based on 28 complaints filed by female officers who work, or once worked, at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility near Ypsilanti. The lawsuit says the corrections department is stretching its female workforce too thin by assigning women to jobs that can be handled by male guards because they don’t involve direct or private contact with inmates.

The group that’s trying to legalize marijuana in Michigan is telling the state: See you in court.

And the outcome of the challenge could have a huge impact on politics, law-making, and future elections in Michigan.

Ella Marx cries at a candelight vigil in Ann Arbor for the victims of the Orlando nightclub shootings. She says her LGBT sister lives in Florida. “It’s really close to home for me,” she says.
Rick Pluta / MPRN

Members of Metro Detroit’s LGBT community and allies are mourning the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting.

A group held a vigil for them at Ferndale City Hall tonight.

Julia Music is the chair of Ferndale Pride.

She called the attack an act of “hate, terrorism, and ignorance.”

But Music urged the group to keep welcoming Muslims, who she says have just started to join Detroit’s LGBT community “in visible numbers.”

user A7nubis / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

A state elections board has rejected petitions filed by the campaign to legalize marijuana in Michigan. The action by the Board of State Canvassers tees up a court battle over time limits for petition drives to gather signatures.

  

Thomas Lavigne is an attorney with MI Legalize. He says a requirement that petition campaigns collect signatures within a 180-day period violates the state constitution. He says the framers did not envision this sort of barrier.

Shayan Sanyal / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Legislation up for a vote in the state Senate tomorrow would compensate felons who are exonerated for the time they were wrongfully imprisoned. It would allow $50,000 for every year of wrongful incarceration. It would also offer aftercare services to freed inmates.    

State Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, says Michigan is one just a handful of states that does not compensate people for wrongful imprisonment. He says it offers a measure of justice.

Jake Neher / Michigan Public Radio Network

The state Elections Bureau says the petition drive to legalize marijuana in Michigan has failed to gather enough signatures needed to qualify for the ballot.

The bureau rejected many of the signatures because they were gathered outside a 180-day window for collecting names of registered voters. The bureau’s recommendation will be voted on Thursday by the Michigan Board of State Canvassers.

Fred Woodhams  is spokesman for the elections bureau. He says many of the signatures turned in were gathered outside the 180-day window for collecting names of registered voters.

Governor Rick Snyder is trying to make the best of it as a plan he endorsed to try and save the Detroit Public Schools is starting to look like it isn’t going to happen.

The Detroit Public Schools are in financial crisis. The district could go into default - bankruptcy is even an option - if the the state Legislature doesn’t adopt a bailout plan this month. If that happens, it’s possible tens of thousands of students in the city could be without a school to go to come fall.

Eighteen Michigan school districts project deficit-free operations by the end of June, and another 15 are operating at reduced deficits in 2016.
Brett Levin / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The state Senate could vote this week on a Detroit Public Schools bailout plan, even though it’s a departure from the bipartisan compromise already adopted by the chamber.        

This new plan is a Republican-only proposal that cleared the state House last week with no support from Democrats. Their main complaint is there’s no control over the location of new charter schools in the city.

The earlier Senate version had the backing of Democrats, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, and Governor Rick Snyder.

The week after Memorial Day is when Michigan’s political and business leaders pack up and head north to Mackinac Island for the annual Detroit Regional Chamber Policy Conference.

Mackinac is a major political event where political fundraisers are as ubiquitous as horse-drawn carriages, bicycles, and complimentary cocktails.

Local governments say the "dark store" approach to valuing big-box stores has cost them dearly.
Daniel Incandela / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Local governments are cheering a state Court of Appeals decision that could mean millions of dollars in property taxes. Big box retailers like Lowes, Menards, and Meijer have successfully argued that assessors should look at vacant stores to determine their value. The strategy has led to dramatically lower taxes. 

Critics say it’s a tax dodge that’s not fair to other taxpayers who have to pay more in fees and tax millages.

A panhandler.
C Tanti / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A state House committee could vote tomorrow on a bill to create a crime of “aggressive panhandling.” The legislation would forbid begging for money near banks and ATMs. It would also forbid threatening or offensive language and gestures. And it would require a panhandler to stop asking if someone communicates it’s not welcome.

State Rep. Mike McCready, R-Bloomfield Hills, sponsored the bill. He says the goal is rein in the growing number of panhandlers.

Help wanted sign
flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Michigan’s monthly jobless rate remains unchanged at 4.8%. There was an increase in hiring, but that was accompanied by roughly the same number of people joining the workforce.

Governor Rick Snyder says the steady jobless rate is good news because it shows more people are optimistic about finding work.

“It means people are staying here, people are coming back into the workforce. So when you look at an unemployment number staying steady, if the reason it stayed steady is because you’re increasing your workforce and those people are finding work, that’s a good answer.”  

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

It’s official. Governor Rick Snyder and the Legislature have less money to work with than it appeared earlier in the year. Drops in corporate and sales tax revenues mean a budget hit of about $150 million in this fiscal year. The forecast also projects a $160 million drop for the coming fiscal year budget the governor and the Legislature are putting together right now.

John Roberts, Snyder’s budget director, says the administration will look for targeted spending cuts to meet the shortfall. And he thinks it can be done without jeopardizing money to address the Flint water crisis and the looming financial collapse of the Detroit Public Schools.

Gov. Snyder delivers his opening statement in the congressional hearing.
YouTube - screenshot

Governor Rick Snyder now says it’s possible he deleted some e-mails related to Flint, even though he earlier told a congressional committee that he had not. The governor still insists it’s unlikely he deleted any Flint-related e-mails, it’s just not impossible.

Donald Trump is now the presumptive GOP presidential nominee so, what does that portend for Republicans further down the ballot?

For Donald Trump to win the presidency, he’ll have to change the Electoral College map to win states Republicans don’t usually win. And, based on Trump’s apparent appeal to blue collar voters in old Rust Belt states, Michigan is high on that list.

Michigan Republican Congresswoman Candice Miller endorsed Trump last week.

flickr user Eljoja / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

There could be a legal showdown looming between state elections officials and the ballot campaign to legalize marijuana.

The MI Legalize campaign wants the state to count signatures that are more than 180 days old. Right now, those signatures are presumed to be outdated and invalid unless the campaign can prove the signer is still a registered voter. But that’s very hard to do without access to the state’s electronic voter database. It requires getting an affidavit from every voter, or looking at records kept by local clerks.

prison windows
Derek Key / flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

A federal appeals court says Michigan is not complying with a U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down prison sentences of automatic life without parole for juveniles.

The Supreme Court ruled four years ago that the practice amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Attorney Deborah LaBelle says the state is still not allowing juvenile lifers a meaningful chance at parole.

Flint River and water plant
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The legislative committee looking into the Flint water crisis is done with hearings and is going to work on a set of recommendations. The hearings wrapped up without appearances by Gov. Rick Snyder, senior aides, or former emergency managers.

Democratic State Rep. Jeff Irwin says they should have been called to testify.

"I think for this committee to have credibility, we needed to hear from the governor, we needed to hear from the emergency managers, we needed to hear from the people who were central to this crisis, and we haven’t,” Irwin said.

american flag and lgbt flag
Flickr user Praveen / flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Michigan State Board of Education holds its final public session Tuesday on controversial guidelines to help schools come up with plans to deal with gay and transgender students.

If adopted, the voluntary guidelines for schools cover allowing students to choose how they are gender-identified, which bathrooms they can use, and what their names and pronouns are.

Board President John Austin says LGBT kids are more likely to skip school, struggle academically, and attempt suicide than other students. He says that’s a reality schools have to address. 

There is no agreement at the state Capitol about how to fix Detroit’s schools and time is growing short as the possibility of a default looms. But, it’s not Republicans versus Democrats on this one. This is a showdown between Republicans.

Michigan state Capitol
User: mattileo / flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

A set of Republican-sponsored bills to fund and overhaul the Detroit Public Schools is being met with skepticism in the state Senate. The state House adopted the legislation in a marathon session that lasted until early this morning.

Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
Matthileo / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

This week's Detroit teacher sickout protests have renewed pressure on state lawmakers to lead the struggling Detroit Public Schools out of its financial hole.

GOP lawmakers in the House expressed frustration with the labor stoppage, which started after teachers were informed the district might not be able to cover their paychecks after June 30.

The House plan would allocate $500 million to help the school district pay off its debts. It would also erode the power of the teachers’ union.

President Obama is planning to fly into Flint later this week to check in on the response to the city’s drinking water crisis and Governor Rick Snyder doesn’t plan to follow along on the presidential visit.

So, the question becomes: can the governor of Michigan really altogether snub the president of the United States?

Snyder has certainly tried to lay an equal share of the blame for what went wrong in Flint on problems caused by the federal government and its layers of bureaucracy.

time card
M Sullivan / Flickr https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/legalcode

Supporters of requiring employers to offer paid sick leave to their workers were at the state Capitol lobbying lawmakers to adopt a bill if and when it’s presented to them.

A petition campaign is gathering signatures to put the question to the Legislature, or on the November ballot. 

Danielle Atkinson is an organizer of the campaign. She says a lot of workers have a stake in the outcome.

“Over 40 percent of the (privately employed) Michigan workforce doesn’t have a single hour of earned sick time,” she said.  

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