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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

Actor Melissa Gilbert has won a prize she no longer wants. Gilbert was the only candidate in Michigan’s 8th Congressional District primary. Now she’s going work to get her name off the November ballot. Gilbert says she’s not healthy enough to campaign and to serve, if elected. But her campaign to unseat incumbent Republican Mike Bishop has also struggled. The child star of "Little House on the Prairie” avoided media interviews and community events, and ran into criticism over comments she...

LucasTheExperience / Flickr

Employers in Michigan would have to let workers earn paid sick days under a petition drive that got the OK to start collecting signatures. A state elections board says the petition meets all the technical requirements of Michigan campaign laws. A similar drive to put paid sick time on the November ballot folded this past spring. “We didn’t have enough signatures,” said Danielle Atkinson, one of the organizers with Raise Michigan. “Unfortunately, it takes a lot of money to get an issue on the...

After tomorrow's congressional and legislative primaries, just 97 days remain until Election Day 2016. Of course, it's never too early to look ahead to the 2018 elections and, at least one petition campaign is already making plans in that direction.

A Flint resident holds a jug of tainted Flint water.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The state official once in charge of keeping drinking water safe to drink in Michigan faces criminal charges. The charges allege Liane Shekter-Smith covered up information that could have averted the Flint water crisis. Smith is one of six state employees charged today with misconduct and neglect, among other things. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says workers at the state Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Health and Human Services suppressed information that...

Open Books

A state panel will be named soon to look into improving Michigan’s dismal literacy rate. Governor Rick Snyder signed an executive order Wednesday creating the new PreK-12 Literacy Commission. Michigan has one of the nation’s worst literacy rates. It’s ranked 40 th when it comes to student literacy in the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Nearly half of all third graders in the state don’t read at grade level, according to last year’s standardized student tests. Anna Heaton is the...

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. “Michigan’s slight jobless rate decline in June was primarily due to a reduction in the number of persons active in the state’s workforce,”...

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. The Michigan Constitution has a very broad ban on direct or indirect state financial assistance...

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 state says the marijuana campaign...

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...

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: A 2015 analysis by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) found that an unexpected closure of...

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. “In this case, we’ve not only reviewed the ruling, but we’ve also spoken...

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. “If the Legislature doesn’t allow unions to have the...

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. Banks is also...

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 $2.5 million provision reimburses schools for state mandates such as fire drills. But it could run afoul of a section of the state constitution that says no public money can be used to directly or indirectly support private or parochial schools. The...

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...

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...

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. The letter says that means the city is not ready to switch to a new system that would withdraw untreated water from Lake Huron. City officials are still deciding whether...

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. “There...

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. “That’s adding roughly another...

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. Snyder says the state...

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...

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.” “Please open your arms wide to them,” Music said. “I’ve heard their...

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. “Only huge-money interests would ever...

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