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

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

The Michigan Supreme Court has let stand an amendment to the Grand Rapids city charter that decriminalizes marijuana.

The amendment was approved by Grand Rapids voters in 2012. It makes possession of or sharing marijuana a civil infraction punishable by fines ranging from $25 to $100 with no jail time.

It also makes marijuana cases a low police priority, and forbids city law enforcement officials from referring marijuana cases to the Kent County prosecutor’s office.

Michigan Supreme Court
Michigan Supreme Court / court.mi.gov

The Michigan Supreme Court will decide whether courts may step into resolve a dispute between dueling factions of a Baptist congregation without violating the separation of church and state.

The court agreed today to decide whether it will take the case or allow a lower court decision to stand.

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

A state House committee has adopted a bill to eliminate the straight ticket voting option on election ballots. And the committee linked the measure’s future to a bill to make it easier to vote absentee.

Republicans say it’s a compromise that will require voters to educate themselves about candidates.

There are just two more weeks before the Legislature’s done for the year and House and Senate Republicans are spending them setting things up for election season 2016.

There’s a very partisan debate underway at the state Capitol about eliminating the straight-ticket voting option on the ballot. Straight-ticket voting is what allows voters to make just one mark on the ballot to cast all their votes for candidates of one party or the other.

rock478 / morgueFile

A deaf high school wrestler is suing the Michigan High School Athletic Association for the right to have a sign language interpreter alongside the mat during tournaments.

Ellis Kempf, 18, is the wrestling squad captain at Royal Oak High School. He’s been deaf since the age of two due to meningitis, and can’t wear his hearing aids during matches. Kempf used a sign language interpreter alongside the mat until the Michigan High School Athletic Association said that’s not allowed.

Alex Cheek / flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

There’s a collection of tax breaks rapidly moving through the Legislature to lure a center that stores massive amounts of data. Supporters say the incentives would help build a new industry in the state.

  

The Las Vegas-based company Switch says without the tax breaks – and they must be approved by the end of the year – it will take its server farm to another state that will offer the incentives.

People moving from Syria into Turkey.
European Commission DG ECHO

Governor Rick Snyder says the federally created, bipartisan Council of Governors is the right forum to answer concerns about vetting refugees fleeing violence in the Middle East.

Gov. Rick Snyder in a file photo.
Michigan Municipal League / Flickr - http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Governor Rick Snyder is calling for more discussions between state and federal officials regarding security surrounding the relocation of refugees from the Middle East in the US.

The governor sent a letter on Tuesday to Secretary of State John Kerry and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. The governor says he asked the topic to be added to a meeting later this month of the bipartisan Council of Governors. The council was created under federal law to advise the federal government on security and homeland defense matters.

As we head into the final month of 2015, campaigns in Michigan are already ramping up for Election 2016.

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

The Michigan Court of Appeals says having a medical marijuana card does not give someone the right to smoke pot in a parked car in a public place.

Medical marijuana cardholder Robert Carlton was busted and charged with a misdemeanor for smoking pot in the parking lot of a casino in Mount Pleasant. Michigan’s medical marijuana law specifically bans smoking pot in public places.

UNHCR / flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Federal officials say they’re answering the concerns of governors like Michigan’s Rick Snyder about how they vet refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries.

Lawmakers are continuing their autumn recess, but they’ll soon be back in Lansing to focus on Governor Rick Snyder’s plan for Detroit schools.

UNHCR / flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Governor Rick Snyder was the first governor in the nation to speak out on refugees following last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut. And he may have come to regret it as he tries to clarify his position vis a vis what a lot of the nation’s other Republican governors are saying about refugees and immigration.

Inside the doctor's office.
Jennifer Morrow / Flickr

Patient advocates, doctors, and hospital-affiliated insurance companies are asking the state to reconsider a decision to reduce the number of HMOs that are part the Medicaid program that serves low-income families.

“This is a disruption of the most-vulnerable population that you can disrupt,” said James Connelly, CEO of the Health Alliance Plan of Michigan. He says his customers are low-income African-Americans and immigrants from the Middle East who are not fluent in English. 

A big economic development project in Grand Rapids seems to have Republican lawmakers rethinking their opposition to industry-specific tax breaks.

Gov. Snyder is taking heat regarding decisions made by his Emergency Managers that lead to the Flint water crisis
Gov. Rick Snyder / screengrab

A state elections board has rejected a petition seeking to recall Governor Rick Snyder over the Flint water crisis.

The bipartisan Board of State Canvassers says the petition is premature since there are still inquiries underway into what happened in Flint, and the allegations are unproven. Democrats and Republicans on the board voted to reject the petition, which says Snyder is “culpable” for the contamination.

Jeb Bush
Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush says a slimmed-down tax code and fewer environmental regulations would boost the economies of manufacturing states – and promises to adopt that sort of “pro-growth” strategy should make the Republican ticket attractive to voters in industrial states like Michigan and Pennsylvania come November of 2016.

“The only way to grow income for the middle class and lift people out of poverty is to grow the economy, and I know how to do it,” he told a crowd gathered at the Kent County Republican headquarters in Grand Rapids.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Secretary of State has released the initial list of Republican and Democratic candidates who will appear on the March 8 presidential primary ballot.

The Republicans:

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder has signed legislation that will increase fuel taxes and registration fees and re-prioritize spending to raise more than $1 billion to fix roads.

These 14 states were in the bottom of the rankings. Michigan was ranked the worst.
Center for Public Integrity

Fiftieth out of fifty states.

That's where Michigan ranks in a report released today by the Center for Public Integrity.

The last time we wrote about this, Michigan ranked 43rd out of 50. 

 There’s been lots of debate over the past few days about the political wisdom of going ahead in Michigan with a couple of ballot campaigns after similar efforts suffered big defeats last week in Houston and Ohio.

OH to MI? Apples to oranges

Rick Pluta / MPRN

The legal journey for April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse wrapped up in an Oakland County courtroom, where they finalized adoptions for their children. DeBoer and Rowse are the couple who successfully challenged Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban.

Applause, tears, laughter, and cake were all part of the celebration presided over by Oakland County Circuit Judge Karen McDonald.

Former Michigan Representatives Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat.
From Courser/Gamrat websites

Former state Representatives Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat both lost bids to regain their seats after being forced out of the state House.

The two ex-lawmakers were very well known, but for the wrong reasons. Their efforts to cover up an extra-marital affair with wild rumors became the topic of national headlines and late-night jokes.

Gamrat lost to Mary Whiteford in her Republican primary. Courser lost his Republican primary to Gary Howell. Both seats are considered safely in the GOP column. The general election will be in March.

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

Several hundred demonstrators chanted “enough is enough” at a state Capitol rally opposing Governor Rick Snyder’s proposed reorganization of the Detroit Public Schools.

  

The rally was organized by the teachers union, which brought in members by the busload to protest and to lobby state lawmakers.

It’s the upstarts versus the Establishment. Again.

And, this time, we don’t mean the Tea Party versus the Republicans. Rather, we’re talking about the gay rights movement in Michigan.

morgueFile

Two state lawmakers have forged a bipartisan effort to take Michigan off Daylight Saving Time. If they get their way, Sunday would be the final time Michiganders have to re-set their clocks to accommodate the time change.

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

A bipartisan group is forming a ballot committee to put gay and transgender rights into the Michigan Constitution.

“Fair Michigan” wants to add protections based on gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation. The campaign filed as a ballot committee Friday with the Michigan Bureau of Elections.

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

The state Supreme Court has returned 85 criminal cases to lower courts for re-sentencing hearings. That’s because of a recent decision that changed the rules for sentencing defendants.

In August, the state Supreme Court struck down Michigan’s mandatory sentencing guidelines. It said the rules required judges to factor in crimes and evidence that were never proven in court, and that’s unconstitutional.

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

The emergency manager of the Detroit school district took a trip to Lansing today to ask state lawmakers for help. Darnell Earley was hoping to win support for Governor Rick Snyder’s plan to bail out the district.

  

Earley told the state House budget subcommittee on K-12 school spending that the district’s massive debt is standing in the way of improving academic performance and fixing the business side of the operation.

Heroin abuse in Michigan is on the rise.
United Nations Photo

A state task force says it should be more important to get medical care for people who overdose on illegal drugs than it is to prosecute them.

“This is a biology issue, not a willpower issue, so the more we can move the discussion into the world of healthcare, I think the better we’ll do in identifying, heading off, and the treating addiction,” says Michigan Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley, who led the panel. Its job was to recommend ways to combat the spiraling rates of prescription painkiller and heroin addiction and a surge in overdose deaths.

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