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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

The South Oakland County Resource Recovery Authority (SOCRRA) and Madison Heights meet in court May 17.
User: steakpinball / flickr

Michigan’s method for charging defendants who go through the legal system has been officially declared constitutional by the state Court of Appeals. The issue has been argued for years, but this is the first published opinion by the court.  

Defense attorneys argue the court costs are unfair, especially for poor defendants.

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

A former Livingston County principal is getting her day in court.

The Michigan Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the Hartland school district to dismiss the case, so now the whistleblower suit is going to trial.

Tracy Sahouri says the school wrongly demoted her from principal to teacher because of several things she reported that were protected under the whistleblower act. Including, that the school asked her to improperly administer the MEAP test.

Motown31 / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Three school districts in the state are getting some extra help.

The state has approved grants totaling three million dollars. The money is for consolidating and merging schools and resources in the districts.

“The consolidation grants support strategic consolidation of districts where it makes sense,” said Michigan Department of Education spokesperson Bill DiSessa. “Streamlining their services and operations in other cases, the grants help defray the costs and increase efficiencies in these districts.

Creative Commons

Members of law enforcement are concerned about a bill waiting for a vote in a state House committee.

The bill would take away the penalty for drivers who refuses a roadside breathalyzer test.

Bill sponsor, Republican Representative Peter Lucido says the portable breath test, or PBT, is unreliable and shouldn’t be used.

Members of different branches of law enforcement disagree.

Fraser home falling into the sinkhole.
Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio

The state House and Senate are playing volleyball with money to fix a sinkhole in Macomb County.

A House bill originally gave the city a three million dollar grant. It also approved millions of dollars for Flint.

The Senate changed Fraser’s $3 million grant to a $5 million dollar loan.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) said they did this in part to encourage other communities to maintain their infrastructure – instead of waiting for a crisis to get a handout from the state. 

cash
Public Domain

Another tax incentive for Michigan businesses passed the state Senate Wednesday and is on its way to the House.

Tax cuts, be they for businesses or individuals, have been a hot topic in Lansing all session. The latest would let big businesses keep a portion of their employees’ income tax. So, some of the tax you would normally pay to the government would instead go to your employer.

Sen. Jim Stamas, R-Midland, is a bill sponsor. He says this would make Michigan more competitive with other states.

Cheyna Roth / MPRN

Michigan State University football coach Mark Dantonio is breaking his silence over controversy plaguing his team.

Dantonio held a press conference Tuesday. It was his first time speaking publicly, aside from an earlier, written, press release, since early February.

Three unidentified players were suspended in early February after a sexual assault investigation came to light. The director of college advancement and performance, Curtis Blackwell, has also been suspended, though Dantonio declined to explain why.

Jerome Vaughn / WDET

A state senator is involved in a joint investigation with the FBI and Michigan State Police.

Both departments executed search warrants on the Lansing office and Highland Park home of Democratic Senator Bert Johnson Monday.

Investigators did not give any details about the nature of the investigation. An unidentified man who was with the team of investigators leaving the Senate office building said, “We had investigative activity here in the Senate, but that’s all I’m going to say.”

Lead pipes
Mitch Barrie / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

State House and Senate leaders are uneasy about the governor’s proposed changes to the state Lead and Copper Rule.

Governor Rick Snyder is trying to make the state’s regulations stricter than the federal requirements. He wants to lower the safe limit from 15 parts per billion to 10.

Snyder previously called the federal Lead and Copper Rule, “dumb and dangerous.” Now Snyder spokesperson Ari Adler says the governor is working with the legislature to make sure Michigan’s form of the rule is safer than the federal rule.

a police squad car
Flickr user Scott Davidson/Flickr / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Legislation meant to improve law enforcement hiring practices made it through the state Senate Thursday.

Right now human resource units in police departments are reluctant to tell other departments anything about a former officer besides their name and when they worked for them out of fear of litigation if the officer doesn’t get the job.

Senator Jones says the legislation is meant to prevent bad officers from hopping from department to department. Jones said, “99.9 percent of all officers are the finest people in the world. But once in a while you get a bad apple.”

State capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Hundreds of nurses marched from the Lansing Center to the state Capitol Wednesday. They want to urge the legislature to introduce a Safe Patient Care Act.

Nurses from around the state chanted, “What do we want? Safe staffing! When do we want it? Now!” on the steps of the Capitol.

Sarah Hodges is in nursing school and works as a nursing assistant. She says nurses love their patients and want to be able to give them the care they need.

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.

 

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.

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