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

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Politics
7:08 am
Mon October 3, 2011

Supreme Court won’t hear drugmaker immunity challenge

Michigan Supreme Court Building
Subterranean Wikimedia Commons

Michigan will be not able to recover millions of dollars by spent by the Medicaid program on the drug Vioxx. The Michigan Supreme Court has refused to hear the appeal of a lower court ruling that said the lawsuit is barred by the state’s drug company immunity law.

Michigan has a one-of-a-kind law that shields drug manufacturers from product liability lawsuits as long as the medication was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The law was enacted in the 1990s to help make Michigan more attractive to drug makers. Vioxx was a controversial medication used to treat asthma, but it was pulled from the market in 2004 after it was linked to an increased risk of heart attacks and complaints that Merck tried to cover up the dangers posed by the drug.

Michigan’s lawsuit claims Merck failed to warn the state of the potential dangers when the drug was approved for use by Medicaid patients. The Supreme Court’s rejection lets stand a lower court decision tossing the case.

Politics
6:02 pm
Fri September 30, 2011

New welfare limits in Michigan take effect Saturday, lawsuit seeks to stop them

A group of families on welfare has filed a class-action lawsuit in an effort to block a new limit on benefits that takes effect tomorrow. The rule sets a 48-month cap on cash assistance payments.

Thousands of families will lose cash assistance payments because they have hit the four-year maximum on collecting benefits.

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Politics
4:18 pm
Fri September 30, 2011

Michigan Film Office suspends incentive applications

The Michigan Film Office is suspending applications for film incentives in the state until the guidelines for new incentives are more clear.
user reinistraidas Flickr

Update 4:18 p.m.

Carrie Jones, director of the Michigan Film Office posted a letter on their website explaining their decision to suspend film incentive applications.

The letter explains that they are waiting for direction from Michigan legislators. She says Senate Bill 569 lays out the parameters of the new $25 million incentive program, but it has not been acted on. From her letter:

Recognizing there are many projects currently planning to submit applications on October 1, we feel this is the best course of action for several reasons – the primary of which are ensuring certainty and consistency within the Michigan film incentive program. With everything in SB 569 subject to change at this stage in the process, we simply do not yet have answers to many of the most basic questions projects have when applying for the film incentives. We also want to ensure all projects approved under the new funding are approved using the same set of criteria regardless of when in the fiscal year they apply.

Jones writes that she knows the legislature plans to take up SB 569, but she does not know when. SB 569 was referred to the Senate Committee on Economic Development last July.

3:56 p.m.

The Michigan Film Office says it is not taking any more applications for movie incentives because there are no guidelines for the program.

The director of the film office released a statement today saying all applications are on hold, and will likely have to be re-submitted after the Legislature passes a new law outlining new incentive guidelines.

Governor Rick Snyder's administration is backing away from Michigan's old program of generous tax breaks for filmmakers. The state has set aside $25 million to support filmmaking in the fiscal year that begins tomorrow (Saturday, October 1), but film office director Carrie Jones says she needs guidance on how that money is to be spent.

Politics
5:30 pm
Wed September 28, 2011

Abortion bill heads to Governor Snyder

A bill to enact a state ban on a controversial abortion procedure is on its way to Governor Rick Snyder for his signature. The procedure is already illegal under federal law, and the governor has gone on record saying he’d rather avoid controversial social questions while he focuses on a jobs-creation strategy.

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Politics
5:12 pm
Tue September 27, 2011

No-fault insurance coverage could not cover medical marijuna under Michigan bill

People injured in auto crashes would not be allowed to use their no-fault coverage to pay for medical marijuana to treat chronic pain under a bill approved by a legislative committee.

The measure is one of several proposed new restrictions to Michigan’s medical marijuana law.

The law was enacted by voters in 2008.

Peter Kuhnmuench is with the Insurance Institute of Michigan, which supports the measure. He says insurance coverage was not supposed to be part of the medical marijuana law.

"So I think it’s pretty clear, yes, they want to utilize this is as a medical procedure, but at the same hand, not force any carrier to cover it as a covered service."

Kuhnmuench  says the bill would not prohibit someone from buying additional coverage that might pay for medical marijuana.

Medical marijuana patients say the law should not specifically ban one treatment for people facing chronic pain from an injury.

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Politics
4:56 pm
Tue September 27, 2011

Bill would circumvent light bulb efficiency standards

Federal policies will begin the phase out of the energy inefficient incandescent bulb in 2012.
user whizzer's place creative commons

The state House could vote soon to let Michigan companies ignore new federal efficiency standards for incandescent light bulbs. But they could ignore the law only if they sell the bulbs exclusively to Michigan customers.

That’s because the federal government regulates interstate commerce.

The new federal standards for incandescent bulbs will start to phase in next year.

State Representative Tom McMillan says if his bill passes, it might mean Michigan manufacturers will jump into the incandescent bulb business.

"So I think there's a chance. There's no chance if we don’t pass this. If we do, I think there's a very legitimate chance."

There are currently no factories making incandescent bulbs in Michigan. There is at least one making the new energy-efficient bulbs.

*Correction - This story has been corrected to clarify that the new federal efficiency standards do not ban the sale of incandescent bulbs. The new standards will, however, phase out the common incandescent bulb as we know it.

Education
8:19 pm
Mon September 26, 2011

Senate committee to look at lifting the state limit on the number of charter schools

Students arrive for the first day of school in Lansing
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The state Senate Education Committee will launch two days of hearings Tuesday focused on school choice and ways to encourage more charter academies. A Senate Republican education package would lift the statewide cap on the number of charter schools academies that can be sponsored by public universities. 

The Senate GOP package would also allow more online charter schools and make it easier for parents or teachers to ask a school district to convert a traditional school to a charter.  

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Politics
5:00 am
Mon September 26, 2011

Jennifer Granholm looks back at her years as Michigan's Governor

Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm recounts her time in Lansing.

Former Governor Jennifer Granholm’s book, “A Governor’s Story: The Fight for Jobs and America’s Economic Future,” is on bookstore shelves. It offers her perspective on eight years in the job she described as the toughest facing any governor in the U.S.

She battled budget shortfalls, Republicans in the Legislature, and skeptics of federal efforts to bail out the Detroit auto industry.

Granholm and her co-author, former First Gentleman Dan Mulhern, spoke with me about the book and her legacy.

Jennifer Granholm says she wrote “A Governor’s Story” to offer her  prescription for the nation’s economy to lower taxes and smaller government. She says it’s based on her experience, and an often trial-and-error road to an economic strategy that can work for the entire nation.

“We’ve got a story to tell. So for everybody who cares about how to crack the code to create advanced manufacturing jobs in the American economy, we’ve got the story to tell.”

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Politics
5:05 pm
Fri September 23, 2011

Opponents of Michigan's emergency manager law hope to collect enough signatures for challenge

The city of Benton Harbor is under the control of an emergency manager.
Flickr

The legislative sponsor of the state’s six-month-old emergency manager law says it has cleared the way for the decisive actions needed to help severely stressed cities.

State Representative Al Psholka’s district includes the city of Benton Harbor.

He says Benton Harbor’s emergency manager did not have the authority he needed to fix the city’s finances before the new law took effect in March.

 “We’ve seen some rapid progress in Benton Harbor. There's challenges there, but if you look at the budget, the budget is balanced. There is a projected surplus next year of $400,000. Yes, they had to make some tough choices, but Benton Harbor is in a much better position: a position to go back to local control with a balanced budget," said Psholka.

Psholka was on the Michigan Public TV show “Off the Record.”

Opponents of the law say it robs citizens in takeover communities of their right to choose their local officials.

Organizers of a petition drive say they are close to collecting enough signatures to put a challenge to the emergency manager law the ballot.

A referendum on the law requires opponents to gather more than 161,000 signatures.

Amy Kerr Hardin is with the “Stand Up for Democracy,” the coalition trying to repeal the law. She says the state-appointed emergency managers are given too much power.

 "It takes away our elected officials. It’s crazy the stuff an emergency manager can do just by fiat," said Hardin. "They don’t have to ask any public opinion, and they don’t have to tell the public until after the fact – when they’ve done whatever it is they’ve done."

 Hardin says the campaign expects to turn in sufficient signatures by the end of October. That would put the question on the February 2012 ballot.

It would also suspend the law until the election.

The cities of Benton Harbor, Ecorse, Pontiac and the Detroit school district are being run by emergency managers.

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Economy
4:29 pm
Fri September 23, 2011

Snyder to promote Michigan agricultural products on Asian trip

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder
Michigan Radio

Gov. Rick Snyder departs Saturday on a week-long Asian trade mission with stops in Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai and Seoul.

The governor will attend a meeting of the Japan Midwest U-S Association early next week. His itinerary also includes lots of private meetings with business executives in Japan, China, and Korea.

But the governor says he does not anticipate many big announcements. 

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Law
5:29 pm
Thu September 22, 2011

Michigan Supreme Court to hear challenge to sex offender's plea deal

The Michigan Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether a convicted child molester should be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea because he did not know it would subject him to a lifetime of electronic monitoring.

The state Supreme Court is being asked to decide whether David M. Cole entered a “knowing, intelligent, and understanding” plea.

Cole plead “no contest,” which is essentially a guilty plea, to two counts of having sexual contact with a child younger than 13 when he was in his late 20s. His plea deal included an agreement that he would eligible for release from prison within five years.

But Cole says that he was never told his conviction on second-degree criminal sexual conduct charges requires that he wear an electronic monitoring device for the rest of his life.

Cole was denied permission to withdraw his plea to try and make a new deal.

Prosecutors say their deal was only on prison time, everything else was not part of the negotiation.

Election 2012
4:44 pm
Thu September 22, 2011

Clark Durant to formally launch Senate bid

Clark Durant will officially announce his candidacy for U.S. Senate tomorrow.
Clark Durant Facebook page

Former Michigan State Board of Education President Clark Durant says he will formally launch his bid for the U.S. Senate tomorrow in Detroit.

Durant is seeking the Republican nomination to face Democratic incumbent Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) on the November 2012 ballot.

Durant is a former president of the state Board of Education. He made a failed attempt to win his party’s U.S. Senate nomination 20 years ago.

He also ran unsuccessfully for the state Supreme Court. 

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Law
4:26 pm
Thu September 22, 2011

Michigan Supreme Court agrees to hear no-fault insurance cases

The Michigan Hall of Justice.
Michigan Supreme Court

The Michigan Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases on whether people who use a family vehicle without permission are covered by no-fault benefits if they are injured in a crash.

In one case, Ryan DeYoung was excluded from his wife’s insurance policy.

In September of 2008, he got drunk, took his wife’s car without permission and crashed the vehicle.

The hospital and recovery center billed the insurance company, which denied the claim.

The insurance company is challenging an appeals court ruling that says DeYoung was covered under “joyriding” clause that typically covers teen-aged drivers who take their parents’ vehicles without permission.

In a separate case, an insurer is challenging a ruling that Craig Smith Junior was covered for injuries he sustained when he crashed his father’s SUV into a tree while driving drunk.

Smith did not have a valid license, and had been told not to drive the vehicle. The insurance company tried to deny coverage because Smith broke the law when he took the wheel of his parent’s car.

Politics
5:34 pm
Wed September 21, 2011

Snyder: Anti-obesity effort not government overreach

snowpea&bokchoi flickr

Governor Rick Snyder says it is critical to Michigan’s economy and its quality of life that the state reduce the number of people who are obese or overweight.

Almost a third of Michigan’s children and adults are considered obese. Two thirds are either obese or overweight.

The governor says obesity is a factor in diabetes and other chronic conditions that add $3 billion to the total costs of medical care in Michigan.

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Politics
6:31 am
Wed September 21, 2011

Snyder signs Medicaid claims tax

Photo courtesy of the Snyder administration

Governor Snyder has approved a one percent tax on health insurance claims to ensure that medical coverage for low-income families is not slashed by almost a billion dollars.

Everyone who files a claim for a treatment or a checkup will now pay the one percent tax. It will not apply to co-pays or deductibles.

It replaces a six percent tax on Medicaid HMOs. Michigan’s system for financing the Medicaid program for covering low-income families was on the cusp of being thrown out by federal authorities because it did not spread the burden wide enough.

Governor Snyder had a difficult time winning the votes for the health claims tax in the Republican-led Legislature. But he said he was committed to not rolling back health coverage for the poor during tough economic times. The Snyder administration has come under fire by human services advocates for rollbacks in other types of aid for low-income people, including new limits on cash assistance and food stamps.

Politics
10:42 am
Mon September 19, 2011

Michigan roads need billions more to remain "useable"

A bipartisan legislative workgroup has determined that keeping Michigan's roads useable will require an additional $1.4 billion a year.

In 10 years, that number grows to an estimated $2.6 billion.

Business and infrastructure groups have been pressuring the Michigan Legislature for years without success to come up with a way to raise more money for fixing and maintaining roads and bridges.

Representative Rick Olson says Michigan needs to more than double what it spends to maintain streets and highways:

“Well I think the bottom line of this study is, unless we spend this kind of money we’re either going to need to reconcile ourselves to poorer roads, or we’re going to need to be willing to pay even more in the future.”

 Olson says raising the gas tax would not go far enough in raising revenue to pay for roads. He says a larger and more permanent solution will need to be found to generate revenue. Olson and his Democratic counterpart have submitted their report to state House leadership.

 

State Legislature
6:27 am
Mon September 19, 2011

Snyder health reform bills to go to Legislature this week

Draft versions of Governor Rick Snyder’s health care reform plan are to be presented this week to state lawmakers. Governor Snyder has asked lawmakers to adopt major portions of  his health reform plans before their Thanksgiving break.

The governor faces a lot of skepticism from GOP leaders because there are so many mandates in the plan. House Speaker Jase Bolger says he’s going to carefully examine the details.

“But I think the time to enact something is still quite a ways off.”

Bolger and other Republicans are wary of requiring insurance companies to cover childhood autism treatments, a government database of children’s health statistics, as well as adopting mandates in the federal Affordable Care Act, such as health coverage exchanges.

“The reason I would look at exchanges is with what the federal government has done and it would be reluctantly and it would only be if we have to.”

The fact that many Republicans are skeptical of the mandates in the Snyder health agenda could force the Republican governor to turn to Democrats for support. Representative Rick Hammel is the state House Democratic leader.

“In general, I think the message was very good, you know, pro-action, positive stuff, intervention, I like all those things – and investment in seniors and veterans programs, I like all those things, but let’s look at the legislation to see where it is.”

House Speaker Bolger says he wants to wait for courts to rule on the challenges to the federal law. The governor says an exchange that would allow people and businesses to comparison shop for health coverage is a good idea no matter the fate of the federal health reforms.

Education
6:38 am
Fri September 16, 2011

House panel to consider cuts to MSU, WSU over tuition hikes

A Republican lawmaker wants to dock Michigan State and Wayne State universities millions of dollars in state aid for skirting the intent of a law meant to hold down tuition increases.    

State Representative Bob Genetski chairs the House higher education budget subcommittee. He says Michigan State and Wayne State used a calendar trick to exceed a seven percent cap on tuition increases. Governor Rick Snyder’s budget director ruled – grudgingly – that the two universities are in technical compliance with the law, but Genetski says that’s not good enough.

“The spirit of what we wanted to protect people from has been violated.”

Genetski has submitted an amended higher education budget that would dock MSU $18 million dollars and Wayne State $17 million dollars. Genetski says every other state university complied with both the letter and the spirit of the tuition restraint law. 

A Michigan State spokesman says the Legislature should not continue a pattern of disinvestment that’s cost the university a quarter of its public funding since 2001.

Politics
5:08 pm
Wed September 14, 2011

Legislative leaders react to Snyder's health care speech

Governor Rick Snyder’s health care agenda is receiving a cool reception from Republicans in the Legislature.

One of Snyder’s proposals is to require doctors to report to the state the body mass indexes of children they treat. The move would track a growing problem of childhood obesity.

House Speaker Jase Bolger says he is not interested in tracking that kind of personal information.

"I have very strong concerns about that. Again, we need to encourage personal responsibility, I among many, and maybe first among many, who need to lose weight. So I’m willing to try to lead by example," said Bolger. "But the government recording that information causes me great concern and discomfort."

Bolger also says he has no plans to take up the governor's proposal to require insurance companies to offer health care coverage for treatment of children with autism.

Health
4:53 pm
Wed September 14, 2011

Snyder calls health care in Michigan "a broken system"

Gov. Rick Snyder wants people to adopt healthier lifestyles  

Snyder says people need to take more responsibility for their own health if Michigan is going to reverse some dismal trends and save money on health care. That was part of a health care message he delivered at a Grand Rapids clinic.

Snyder says too many Michiganders smoke, are overweight, and don’t exercise.

Michigan ranks 10th in the country in people who are overweight or obese. Nearly two in 10 people still smoke.

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