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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

sign that says "vote here"
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Some Michigan House Democrats are making voter reform a primary goal for the new session.

With only two session days of the year under their belt, several lawmakers have introduced legislation that would, among other things, allow no reason absentee voting and automatic voter registration.

State Rep. Abdullah Hammoud, D-Dearborn, is a bill sponsor. He said these bills packages are long overdue.

michigan state capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Michigan legislature is back in session yesterday. The House of Representatives formally welcomed 42 new state representatives, chose their seats, and formally elected new Speaker of the House Tom Leonard. 

Bipartisanism was Leonard’s main message, and the session started in that spirit with Leonard’s nomination. Democratic Leader Sam Singh seconded Leonard’s nomination also urging bipartisanism during the term.

Looking up into the rotunda of the Michigan Capitol.
user cedarbenddrive/Flickr / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Lawmakers, business experts, and school superintendents are tackling Michigan’s schools from multiple angles in the first weeks of the New Year.

On the first day of session, Senator Phil Pavlov plans to introduce a bill to get rid of Michigan’s so-called “failing schools” law. The law determines Michigan’s worst-performing schools and puts them under the supervision of a state school reform officer.   

Sen Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Twp., is the bill’s sponsor. He says the current law was passed with good intentions, but has not worked.

 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

In the days leading up to president-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration, Michigan doctors and parents are speaking out against one of his biggest promises.

Trump and many Republicans in Congress are promising to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act.

Those against “Obamacare” say its premiums are too high and it doesn’t provide enough choice. But at a press conference on Monday, several Michigan doctors and patients spoke out in favor of the Act, particularly how it helps children with cancer.

Drinking water fountain.
Gabrielle Emanuel / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder signed a bipartisan bill Friday that will require public water supply systems to tell customers about elevated lead levels. The law would require notification within three days of discovering lead levels are above the federal action level. Notification is already required – but the three-day rule is new.

Governor Rick Snyder said the bill is an important first step.

 

I-94 in Michigan
Corey Seeman / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Gov. Rick Snyder is letting Michigan drivers go a little faster.

Snyder signed a package of bills Thursday that will, among other things, raise the speed limit on certain roads to 75-miles per hour.

The legislation also calls for lower speed limits on certain gravel roads and allows school district superintendents to adjust when speed zones are in effect around the schools. 

Speed limit increases on certain freeways will only happen after a speed safety study is done by the Michigan State Police and Michigan Department of Transportation.

Marijuana plants
Flickr user A7nubis / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Governor Rick Snyder has just a few bills from last session left to consider.

Among them is a bill that would allow landlords to include a provision in their leases preventing tenants from smoking or growing medical marijuana.

Bill sponsor Republican Senator Rick Jones said the legislation protects fellow tenants and landlords from smoke and damage to buildings.

“No one needs to use medical marijuana in a smoking form,” he said. “If they have a prescription, they can use it in many other ways – edibles, creams, oils, and even vaporizers.”

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Changes are coming to a tribal agreement with the state and Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi that would help schools change their mascots. 

The amendment will put money into a new Michigan Native American Heritage Fund. The fund is run by a board that will send the money to private and public schools that want to, “promote positive relationships with and understanding of the history and role of Michigan’s Indian tribes,” the tribe said in a press release. 

NHBP Tribal Chair Jamie Stuck says there is a cost barrier associated with changing a school’s mascot.

military veterans
John M. Cropper / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Governor Rick Snyder is expected to make a decision soon on changes to Michigan’s veterans’ homes.  

Before the end of session, the Legislature sent him a package of bills that would create a new Veterans Authority. It could create more veterans homes in the state – currently there are only two. The authority would be run by a board and they would be required to give annual reports to the governor and Legislature. 

Bill sponsor Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, said the legislation creates a modern authority with people who understand healthcare. 

House Democrats

“Well, that was fast.”

That’s how twenty-two year-old Lauren Plawecki began her farewell speech a few weeks ago.

Plawecki took over for her mother after she passed away suddenly in June. Plawecki says she took the position in part to finish some of the work her mother started.

“I knew that she had a lot of things in the works,” she said. “I mean I was there when she was working on them, I wanted to be the person that could see them across the finish line.”

Judge's gavel
Flickr user Joe Gratz / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

The Michigan Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on the rights of criminal defendants to have an attorney during their preliminary exam.

Gary Lewis was convicted of multiple arson charges in 2014. During his preliminary examination, Lewis’s attorney was taken off the case, but the preliminary exam continued anyway.

Now, the Michigan Supreme Court is going to hear arguments on whether Lewis’s conviction should be overturned. He was found guilty at trial.  

Wolf prints in the snow.
Rolf Peterson

Don’t grab your rifle just yet. Wolves are still on the federal endangered species list, so the law won’t take effect until they’re removed.

A 2014 state law allowing wolf hunting was recently struck down by the Michigan Court of Appeals on a technicality.

And at the polls, voters have said “no” to similar legislation multiple times.

Jill Fritz is the director of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected.

“We’re appalled at the open contempt for Michigan voters that Governor Snyder demonstrated by signing this third wolf hunting bill into law,” Fritz says.

michigan.gov

Governor Rick Snyder has increased his legal defense budget for one of his private attorneys to $3.5 million dollars.

Snyder hired Warner, Norcross & Judd LLP last spring to represent him in the investigations into the Flint water crisis.

The contract for their firm at the time was for 249-thousand dollars. Over time, that cap rose to 2 million dollars before its most recent increase.  

Spokesperson for Governor Snyder, Anna Heaton, said as long as the Attorney General’s investigation is ongoing, there is legal work to be done.

Protestors outside the Capitol in Lansing encouraging electors to not vote for Donald Trump.
Cheyna Roth / MPRN

Protestors are gathering outside the State Capitol today before the state's Electoral College electors meet there.

While traditionally the electors – who are chosen by the state’s winning party – vote for the state’s winner, some protestors are trying to urge them to break tradition.  

Jessica Prozinski is a founder of Stop Trump Ann Arbor. She says president-elect Donald Trump is unfit for the presidency. Prozinski says the electors have a “constitutional obligation” to prevent a Trump presidency.

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

Schools might get more freedom in how they discipline students in the future. Legislation that would alter Michigan’s zero-tolerance policy in schools is headed to Governor Rick Snyder’s desk.

The legislation would, in part, give schools options besides automatic expulsion or suspension when bringing potential weapons into schools. Proponents say it would help reduce the number of students out of school because of suspension or expulsion.

Gray wolf
Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians

Wolves are on the federal endangered species list. If they are ever taken off the list, the legislation would allow them to be hunted. 

Two years ago, voters rejected wolf hunting in a statewide referendum. Another effort to allow wolf hunting was struck down in court.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

With only two days left on the schedule, Republican leaders have added a surprise piece of legislation to their to-do list.

Some major changes to Michigan’s no-fault auto insurance could be voted on before the end of the session if Republican leaders have their way.

Republican leaders have restarted discussions on legislation to limit benefits under Michigan’s no fault law. The legislation would scale back the medical benefits provided to those who suffer catastrophic injuries in automobile wrecks.

Outside the U.S. Supreme Court during oral arguments in the juvenile lifer cases in March 2012.
courtesy of Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins / http://www.teenkillers.org/

In his office in downtown Grand Rapids, Kent County prosecutor Bill Forsyth has stacks of boxes up against a long wall. They’re labeled and stuffed with transcripts, police reports, autopsy reports. 

“That’s about half of what I had when we started,” he said, motioning toward them. 

About a year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court said states had to review the cases of juvenile lifers who were sentenced before automatic life was declared unconstitutional. The court said automatically sentencing juveniles to life without parole was cruel and unusual punishment. 

steve / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Some rural freeways and highways in Michigan might see a speed limit increase. That’s if Governor Rick Snyder signs a package of bills headed for his desk.

The legislation would raise the speed limit on certain roads to 75-miles per hour. Other roads could get an increase to 65-miles-per hour.

Republican Senator Tom Casperson is chair of the Senate Transportation committee. He said part of the method for deciding which roads will see an increase is figuring out how fast people are already driving on those roads.

Ballots
flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The presidential election recount in Michigan may be over, but state election officials aren't done yet. They are  planning an audit of about 20 Detroit polling places.

During the short-lived recount, the Michigan Bureau of Elections discovered a number of places where the number of ballots in the recount containers didn’t match the reported number of voters.

Now about 20 polling places in the city will be audited. 

WoodleyWonderWorks / Flickr

Legislation important to Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley is making its way through the legislature.

A package of bills banning the methods of restraint and seclusion on special education students in schools except in cases of emergency has passed through the state House.

Calley, who went on a special education listening tour across Michigan, said the passage is an example of the legislature giving a voice to people who don’t have one.

“It’s long overdue that we have some standards in schools with respect to how restraint and seclusion are used,” he said.

Tracy Brooks/Mission Wolf/USFWS

Wolf hunting is back on the agenda for Michigan’s legislature. The Senate passed a bill Thursday that would legalize wolf hunting in Michigan, if the animal is taken off the federal endangered species list.

Similar legislation was struck down by voters in the past. But Senator Tom Casperson said those statewide votes don’t really reflect the needs of those dealing with wolves in their backyard.

Two of the biggest topics of the week when it comes to Michigan politics involved the proposal to mandate employers to let workers earn paid sick time and the effort to put gerrymandering on the ballot in 2018.
Thetoad / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Police officers, fire fighters, and other municipal employees are planning what they are titling a “call to action” Tuesday at the state Capitol.

Lawmakers are holding a second hearing on a series of bills that would cut health benefits for municipal retirees like police officers and fire fighters. The bills would aggressively scale back retiree health benefits in cities with high unfunded liability costs. 

Lawmakers want to head off local laws regulating plastic shopping bags.
Flickr user Kate Ter Haar / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Changes could be coming for how retailers handle the use of plastic bags. That’s if Governor Rick Snyder signs a bill that won final approval in the legislature Thursday.

The bill would prevent cities from instituting fees or banning plastic bags and other containers at stores in Michigan.

Lawmakers in favor of the legislation argue that having a statewide ban prevents a confusing array of laws from city to city.

The Michigan State Capitol
Aunt owwee / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Stricter voting identification bills are on their way to the House floor for a full vote. The legislation passed through the House Elections committee Thursday.

The bills would require voters to prove their identity within 10 days of casting a provisional ballot if they don’t have a photo ID with them at the polls.

Democratic Representative Jeff Irwin is on the House Elections committee. He said the legislation disenfranchises voters, particularly the disabled and impoverished.

people in voting booths
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Changes to Michigan’s voter identification laws might go through in the legislature’s lame duck session. A House committee heard testimony on the bills Wednesday.

The bills would require voters to prove their identity within 10 days of voting if they do not have a photo ID on them at the polls.

The legislation comes in the wake of a state-wide recount and an election filled with unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud.

creative commons

Public school teachers could see changes to their retirement plans. That’s under changes getting pushed through in the state legislature’s lame duck session.

The bills were passed through the Senate Appropriations committee Wednesday by a narrow nine votes to eight. The committee met for several hours taking testimony and engaging in sometimes heated debate.

The current system is a combination pension and 401(k), but the legislation would put all new teachers under just a 401(k) plan.

Looking up into the rotunda of the Michigan Capitol.
user cedarbenddrive/Flickr / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Lawmakers could be making changes to Governor Rick Snyder’s mission to scale back the use of tax incentives to attract jobs and investment. Two packages of bills offering incentives to businesses passed in the Senate Tuesday.

Proponents of the packages say they will spur economic growth by providing incentives like tax abatements and redirecting tax revenues toward economic development projects.

Larry Nassar mug shot
Michigan Attorney General's office

A former USA Gymnastics doctor and Michigan State University professor has been charged with criminal sexual assault. Dr. Larry Nassar was arraigned today Tuesday on three counts of Criminal Sexual Conduct in the first degree for allegedly abusing a girl under 13 years old. If convicted, Nassar faces up to life in prison. 

Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office is prosecuting the case with the Michigan State Police Department handling the investigation. 

Kira Stewart-Watkins / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Lawmakers are working to help schools with the recent hike in the cost of EpiPens.

In 2013, a new law required schools to have two auto-injectors of epinephrine on site at all times. Epinephrine is the drug used to treat a variety of allergic reactions.

The newly introduced bill would allow schools to get a prescription for epinephrine and give out the drug with a syringe by a trained staff member.

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