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Cheyna Roth

Capitol Reporter

Cheyna Roth

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR.

Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN.

Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker.

Ways to Connect

bottom of chalkboard, with an eraser and chalk sitting on the ledge
User alkruse24 / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A controversial item in the current budget is the focus of a lawsuit filed today.

 

When the budget was approved last October, the state allocated $2.5 million to reimburse private schools for state requirements like fire drills, background checks, and keeping inhalers in the buildings. 

Government records revealed under the Freedom of Information Act.
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The governor and legislature would be subject to public records requests, under bills approved by the state House today.

“When you exempt the governor and you exempt the state legislature from the Freedom of Information Act, it’s not true transparency,” said state Rep. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, a bill sponsor. “So this is a victory for citizens of the state of Michigan and journalists alike to learn a little more about how their government works.”

Mark K. / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

It’s Sunshine Week – a time of year when issues of transparency and open government are put front and center.

 

Democrats in the state House and Senate celebrated the week Tuesday by announcing a package of bills they say will make Michigan government more transparent and accountable.

 

The red lines show where Enbridge's Line 5 crosses Lake Michigan.
screenshot from Enbridge report to the state

It was standing room only at a relatively obscure state board meeting today.

The Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board heard a presentation from the oil and gas company that owns Line 5 – an oil and gas pipeline that runs along the bottom of Lake Michigan near the Mackinac Bridge.

“This pipeline is in as good a condition as it was the day it was installed. Our corrosion prevention system is doing its job," Kurt Baraniecki, director for Integrity Programs for Enbridge, told the board. "Our monitoring efforts are effective.”

Government records revealed under the Freedom of Information Act.
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A battle is brewing in the state legislature over government transparency for the governor and legislature.

 

A large package of Freedom of Information bills that passed a House committee Thursday will likely be halted in the state Senate. 

 

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

Michigan is on its way toward sweeping changes in its criminal justice system. The state House passed a large package of legislation Wednesday. 

The bills would, among other things, provide more data collection on recidivism, allow reduction in probation time in some cases, and programming for youth rehabilitation.

 

bottom of chalkboard, with an eraser and chalk sitting on the ledge
User alkruse24 / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

There are fewer school districts in severe financial peril, according to a quarterly report compiled by the Michigan Department of Education.

 

Last year, there were 41 school districts and charter schools with deficits. That number is down to 27 this year. And Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Whiston says that number could be down to 18 districts by June.

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

If you’re expelled or resign from your seat in the legislature, you shouldn’t get to run for the seat you vacated.

That’s the idea behind a bill making progress in Lansing.

The legislation – which failed to make it through last year’s session – was crafted in the wake of a sex and cover-up scandal.

Explaining the partial inspiration for the bill, sponsor Republican Aaron Miller said, “You learn from things that happen today what legislation needs to be changed for tomorrow.”

Cheyna Roth / MPRN

Supporters and critics of President Donald Trump held dueling rallies at the State Capitol today.

As part of the so-called “March 4 Trump” events taking place across Michigan, Trump fans gathered to hear speeches and show their support for the president.

President Trump has been in office for a little over a month and a half.  But the supporters who gathered on the lawn of the Capital want him to know they think he is already doing a good job.

Inside the Michigan Senate
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Plans to overhaul how Michigan deals with struggling schools will see continued discussion this week in a state Senate committee.

 

State lawmakers have been working for weeks to overhaul how Michigan deals with struggling schools. The committee is currently trying to find the best ways to judge student performance, and grade schools.

 

Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

Formerly nicknamed the “Dan Gilbert bills” after the prominent Detroit businessman and developer, legislation to give developers a tax incentive for building on blighted land sailed through a full Senate vote and is now awaiting a hearing in the House.  

The same kind of incentives came up in Lansing last year. But they didn’t go anywhere, because some lawmakers were worried it would only help big cities like Detroit.

This time, supporters on both sides of the aisle say the legislation is for cities big and small.

income tax
ccPixs.com / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

In the first vote of the session, Republican leaders in the state House came up short.

In the wee hours of Thursday morning, the House took a roll call vote on legislation that would roll back the state income tax.

It was significantly different from its first iteration, but Republican leaders still couldn’t shore up enough votes to gain the majority.

ACLU of Michigan

A girl and her dog, Wonder, are one step closer to victory in their lawsuit against her former school.

The U.S. Supreme Court said Wednesday 13-year-old Ehlena Fry can move forward with a lawsuit her family filed when officials would not let her use her goldendoodle as an aid during school.

Fry has cerebral palsy and has had Wonder since kindergarten.

When her family filed the lawsuit, the school argued Fry would have to go through an administrative process first.

income tax
ccPixs.com / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Lawmakers in Lansing might not try to do away with the state income tax after all; but, they are still looking to reduce it.

A new version of the bill would gradually cut the tax from 4 point 25 percent to 3 point 9 percent.

Bill sponsor Representative Lee Chatfield says he is happy with the changes.

“Our goal all along has been to deliver on the promise made to the people back in 2007, and we think the legislation in its current form with the substitute accomplishes that goal,” he said.

The Michigan House of Representatives in Lansing
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio file photo

An income tax rollback, a more transparent government and reducing auto insurance rates - those are some of the main priorities for House Republicans during this session. 

They rolled out the plan Thursday.

Passing a high priority piece of legislation is already underway. The income tax phase-out is moving forward quickly – over Governor Snyder’s objections.

Tax forms
flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

State House Republicans are aggressively pushing through an income tax cut and rollback, despite numerous questions raised during a committee hearing about what funding cuts could happen in other areas if the bill passes.

A bill that would cut the state income tax and eventually phase it out altogether over 40 years was voted out of committee Wednesday. This happened after an hour and a half of testimony and over requests to hold off on a vote from some Democratic members.

Michigan's Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) has wrongly accused tens of thousands of people of cheating on their unemployment claims.
Bytemarks / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A group of experts will try to figure out how a state computer glitch wrongly accused thousands of people of fraud.

 

Between October of 2013 and August of 2015, the agency’s processing system wrongfully accused tens of thousands of people of unemployment fraud. The agency had been almost exclusively relying on a computer program to determine unemployment fraud with very little human verification.

Flickr user Frank Juarez / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

As the state School Reform Office moves closer to potentially closing multiple schools across Michigan, a bill ending the law is being hotly debated in the Legislature.

Republican Senator and chair of the Senate Education Committee, Phil Pavlov, is sponsoring a bill that would repeal the law allowing the SRO to close consistently low performing schools.

During last week’s meeting about the new bill, the School Reform Office was criticized by school administrators and parents. They said there is not a consistent method for measuring school progress and quality.

michigan state capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Education, public safety, and paying down the long term debt will be Governor Rick Snyder’s top priorities when he unveils his 2018 budget Wednesday.

Some Republicans in Lansing are really hoping to make some aggressive tax cuts this year. Especially since Michigan has a $330 million surplus in the budget.

But as Governor Rick Snyder gets ready to roll out his budget plan, he’s shying away from major tax cuts.

State Budget Office spokesperson Kurt Weiss said tax cuts need to be balanced with replacement revenue, even though there is a hefty surplus.

Flickr user lanier67 / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Cities cannot refuse to sell tobacco products to people between the ages of 18 and 20. That’s coming from state Attorney General Bill Schuette who issued an opinion today.

State Senator Rick Jones asked the Attorney General for the opinion. He says he got a lot of calls about the ordinance from concerned constituents.

An empty big box store - a former K-Mart in Grand Blanc Michigan
Michigan Municipal League

The city of Escanaba is taking on big box stores in the Michigan Supreme Court. The city says the home improvement store Menards is dodging taxes.

It’s called the “dark store” loophole, and it’s been used more often in recent years by the Michigan Tax Tribunal when assessing property taxes. It determines property taxes for fully-functioning retailers like Target and Wal-Mart based on nearby empty stores.

Tampons.
user m.p.3. / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The so-called “tampon tax” has got to go. That’s the message of lawmakers in both chambers of the state Legislature.

Democrats and a couple Republicans are teaming up to get rid of Michigan’s use tax and sales tax on feminine hygiene products.

Michigan exempts food, medication and other necessities from taxes, and lawmakers argue feminine hygiene products are just as essential. 

bottom of chalkboard, with an eraser and chalk sitting on the ledge
User alkruse24 / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Lawmakers are considering a repeal of a law that allows the state to shut down low-performing schools.

The so-called “failing schools law” determines Michigan’s worst-performing schools based on their test scores. Schools on the list for too long could be closed for good.

Although many were in favor of getting rid of the “failing schools law,” some lawmakers say they’re concerned about how schools would be held accountable without the law.

Kevin Rosseel / morguefile

Michigan senators are making a big push for prison and parole reform this year.

Over 20 of the 52 bills introduced during session last week were about criminal justice changes.

Several of the bills focus on probation and parole violations. They would change penalties for probationers that commit technical probation violation and discontinue services to parole absconders.

Republican Senator Rick Jones is the main sponsor of a couple of the bills and a former sheriff. He said they have been working on the package for a while.

Cheyna Roth / MPRN

From Detroit to Kalamazoo, thousands of people have turned out at rallies for women's rights, social causes and peace.   The marches were in response to the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

An estimated 7,000 men, women, and children were at the State Capitol Saturday for the Women’s March on Lansing. It was a sister rally to the Women’s March in Washington D.C.

bottom of chalkboard, with an eraser and chalk sitting on the ledge
User alkruse24 / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The Michigan Department of Education released the state’s School Score Cards and the “Top to Bottom” list today. The Top to Bottom list is used by the School Reform Office to identify low-performing schools.

The “Priority List” is made up of the lowest-performing five percent of schools in the state, and schools that were previously in the five percent and haven’t improved enough to get off the list.  Schools on the list for three years could be subject to closure.

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

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has filed a brief against the American Bar Association. A discrimination case was filed last month in the United States Supreme Court.

This is the third brief Attorney General Bill Schuette has filed in the case going back to 2011.

Angelo Binno of Michigan is legally blind. He is suing the American Bar Association for disability discrimination. Binno says he was rejected from every law school he applied to because he couldn’t draw diagrams for the “logic games” portion of the L-SAT and scored too low on the test.

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Bottled water.
John McDonnell / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A Michigan department needs to do more to follow its own regulations on bottled water inspection.

That was the message of an audit released today by the Office of the Auditor General. The report found that the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development did not always perform timely inspections of water bottles and places with water dispensing machines.

Governor Rick Snyder
Rick Snyder for Michigan / Facebook Page

Governor Snyder focused much of the annual address on his achievements as governor, while also, insisting there is more work to be done.

Unlike last year, when the Flint water crisis took center stage, this year, Snyder did not address Flint until halfway thru his speech.

During the short time he did spend on Flint, he spoke about the work that has been done.

Senator Debbie Stabenow
USDAgov / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

With President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration just days away, some Michigan Congress members are speaking out about his latest Twitter feud.

Georgia Congressman John Lewis called Trump an illegitimate president during an interview with NBC News. Then, days before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Trump fired back at the civil rights hero on Twitter saying he was “all talk”.

Now Lewis and over twenty members of Congress are speaking out against Trump by boycotting his inauguration.

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