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

Governor Rick Snyder says he’s staying out of the presidential race this year, but he’s not staying out of politics.

This past week, Snyder’s political operation picked more than a dozen Republicans to support in state races.

a guy doing something with a tool
American Panel

Michigan’s monthly job rate has dropped slightly, to 4.6%. But it’s not because more people are working. The one-tenth of a percentage point is because of a shrinking number of people competing for jobs.

The shift in the jobless rate is slight. But it is the second month in a row that the unemployment rate has dropped because the workforce got smaller.

There’s a new chief for the embattled state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) but the effort to restore confidence to the agency that was a huge part of the Flint water crisis is off to a rocky start.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Governor Rick Snyder has asked the Michigan Supreme Court to offer an opinion on whether it’s ever possible for the state to give money to a private or parochial school.

There’s a question over a $2.5 million budget in the new state budget. It’s set aside to reimburse private and religious schools for immunization reports, safety drills, and other state mandates that are not related to curriculum.

Troy Holden / flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The state has asked a court to dismiss a legal challenge filed by the campaign to legalize marijuana in Michigan.

The MILegalize campaign wants a court to order state elections officials to count petition signatures regardless of how long ago they were collected. The state is defending a rule that says signatures more than 180 days old can’t be counted, unless a campaign goes through the onerous process of making sure each signer is a registered voter.

 

The sultry days of summer are no break from politics. In fact, the state Legislature’s summer recess is becoming a political wedge itself.

U.S. Supreme Court
U.S. Supreme Court

A federal judge in Detroit says more than 360 Michigan inmates convicted as juveniles and serving sentences of mandatory life without parole must get a chance at freedom.

This the latest chapter in a drama that’s played out over the past four years since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down mandatory life without parole for juveniles as unconstitutional.

U.S. District Court Judge John O’Meara issued a temporary restraining order telling prosecutors they cannot seek the sentences again at new hearings granted under the ruling.

Soo Locks
Jim Newsome / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Governor Rick Snyder wants Congress to go to work now on finding money to upgrade the Soo locks – even though no one knows yet how much it’s going to cost.

Governor Snyder sent a letter to all 16 of Michigan’s members of Congress asking them to start laying the groundwork for the case to fund a renovation that includes adding a new lock that can fit large, modern freighters.

From the letter:

Attorney General Bill Schuette
Courtesy of Bill Schuette

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says it will be up to Governor Rick Snyder to hire his own attorney if the administration pursues an appeal of a court decision. It says the state owes roughly $550 million dollars to teachers for illegally withholding 3% of their paychecks to fund retirement health benefits.

  

Schuette’s spokeswoman, Andrea Bitely, says the attorney general doesn’t think the state can win the case. 

Thetoad / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A federal judge says a Michigan law that takes aim at political fundraising by unions violates the constitution.

The law says unions cannot use payroll deductions to collect donations to a union political action committee. The law still allows businesses to use payroll deductions for donations to corporate political committees.

  

Andrew Nickelhoff is a union attorney. He says that goes against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

Attorney General Bill Schuette
Bill Schuette

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says lawyers hired by Governor Rick Snyder at public expense are delaying progress in the criminal investigation of the Flint water crisis.

Legal troubles are piling for a Detroit-area state lawmaker. Representative Brian Banks, D-Harper Woods, faces new felony charges that he submitted fake paycheck records to get a loan.

Banks has eight prior felonies, and settled a sexual harassment lawsuit earlier this year. These newest charges date back to 2010. The charges filed in the Wayne County Circuit Court by the state Attorney General’s office include uttering and publishing and obtaining money under false pretenses.

Kids at a public school in Flint.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder traveled to a middle school in Oakland County to sign a $16 billion education budget for the coming fiscal year. He approved it despite questions over a provision that sends money to private and religious schools.

The latest re-invention of public schools in Detroit is underway with the state trying yet again to overhaul the district facing huge financial and academic difficulties.

But it’s still too early to declare victory.

This new plan out of Lansing is without the support of legislative Democrats, the Detroit delegation and Mayor Mike Duggan. But it does return the Detroit public schools back to the control of a locally elected school board. This is coming after many state appointed emergency managers over seven years have tried but failed to turn around the district.

Kevin Rosseel / morguefile

A Republican state legislator leading the effort to overhaul criminal justice in Michigan says rehabilitation is as important as punishment.

State Senator John Proos says the public is safer and taxpayers save money when released felons don’t re-offend – and when juveniles don’t become permanent clients of the criminal justice system.

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.”

Marijuana plants.
user A7nubis / flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

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.

A new charter school in Whitmore Lake offers a "classical education" and a Hillsdale College connection
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.

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