Jake Neher

MPRN Capitol Reporter

Jake Neher is a state Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network. 

He joined MPRN in September of 2012. Before that he served as a reporter and anchor for WFUV Public Radio in the Bronx, New York, and as News Director for KBRW Public Radio in Barrow, Alaska. He has been working in radio in some capacity since he was 15 years old.

A native of southeast Michigan, Jake graduated from Central Michigan University in 2010. He has a master's degree in public communications from Fordham University.

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Education
3:21 pm
Mon September 15, 2014

Legislation would force new Michigan teachers into a 401(k)-style plan

Senator Mark Jansen, R-Gaines Twp, introduced Senate Bill 727.
Credit Michigan Senate Republicans

New legislation in the state Senate would close Michigan’s teacher retirement system to new teachers. Instead, all new teachers would get a “defined contribution” 401(k)-style plan.

Under a partial overhaul of teacher retirement approved by state lawmakers in 2012, new teachers can choose between that or a “hybrid” plan, which combines elements of a defined contribution plan and a traditional pension. The new legislation would end that choice, giving new teachers only the 401(k)-style defined contribution plan.

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Families & Community
3:13 pm
Mon September 15, 2014

Michigan refugee services in danger of losing $800,000

May Anayi is an Iraqi refugee now working for St. Vincent Catholic Charities, a Lansing refugee service organization that stands to lose $165,000 this year.
Credit St. Vincent Catholic Charities

May Anayi was forced to flee her home in Baghdad after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. She’s a teacher. But her certificate is not valid in the United States.

She says finding a new career in Michigan seemed almost impossible. She had trouble just figuring out how to cross the street. She says she once stood for 15 minutes waiting for the crossing signal to change, not realizing she had to push a button first.

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Education
4:35 pm
Thu September 11, 2014

State superintendent backs “early warning system” for districts in financial trouble

Credit Sharon Drummond / Flickr

Michigan’s top education official says he supports legislation designed to prevent schools from getting into financial trouble.

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan today released a report showing the number of districts with budget deficits has not improved in recent months. He says the legislation would create an “early warning system” so the state can intervene before districts fall into deficit.

But Flanagan says the legislation should not be so broad that hundreds of schools get flagged.

“I think right now they have to reduce the number of factors so that you don’t have 250 on call. You want a reasonable number that you’re watching that are potentially deficit, not so many that you can’t really do justice to it.”

The bills would free up money in state loans and bonds for schools that show signs of budget problems.

Republican state Senator Howard Walker is sponsoring the legislation. He says it would also make it easier for the state to appoint an emergency manager if districts don’t cooperate.

“Let’s identify them early. Let’s help them. And if districts are willing to blow through those red flags, well, then there’s going to be consequences. And I think those consequences being out there will serve as a deterrent.”

Schools groups worry it would be too easy for the state to put districts under an emergency manager. They also say hundreds of districts would be flagged the way the legislation is currently written.

Politics & Government
5:43 pm
Tue September 9, 2014

State House approves fix to court decision that could cost state more than $1B

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

State lawmakers are working to fix a situation caused by a Michigan Supreme Court decision that could end up costing the state more than $1 billion this year.

The court ruled in July that certain out-of-state companies can calculate their tax liabilities using an old tax system that would cost them less. The state House approved legislation Tuesday that would reverse that decision.  

Lawmakers say the Supreme Court’s ruling was wrong.

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Politics & Government
5:39 pm
Tue September 9, 2014

Vote on LGBT rights not likely before November election

Credit user Tyrone Warner / Flickr

Legislation that would add LGBT protections to Michigan’s anti-discrimination law will probably have to wait until after the November election.

Some supporters of the measure hoped lawmakers would take it up before voters go to the polls in November. But the bill has not even been introduced yet.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, says he wants to take up the issue. Be he does not expect to hold a vote until the Legislature’s “lame duck” session.

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Politics & Government
3:38 pm
Tue September 9, 2014

Michigan Senate leader wants to fix roads and ease term limits

Michigan Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe.
Credit senate.michigan.gov

The state Legislature is scheduled to meet about 20 more days between now and the end of the year.

State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, says he has two top priorities he’d like to accomplish before then. The first is to find a way to fix Michigan’s crumbling roads. The second is to ease term limits on Michigan lawmakers.

Richardville says there’s too little experience in the Legislature, thanks to current limits.

“People in general say, ‘I like the idea of term limits.’ But I don’t think they’d like it to be as restrictive as they are. If they knew how quickly and how much turnover there was here, I think they would rethink it,” said Richardville.

Richardville says he’s considering a plan that would allow term-limited lawmakers to collect a certain number of petition signatures allowing them to run again. He did not say exactly how long lawmakers should be allowed to serve.

Politics & Government
5:29 pm
Mon September 8, 2014

Roads, pot, civil rights on agenda as state lawmakers return from summer break

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The state Legislature returns Tuesday after a two month summer break.

Republican leaders still have some big priorities to accomplish before the end of the year. None is bigger than finding a way to fix Michigan’s crumbling roads.

But it looks like that and other major bills will have to wait until the Legislature’s “lame duck” session in December. Top lawmakers say they do not expect many major votes between now and the November election.

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Politics & Government
3:39 pm
Fri September 5, 2014

Gov. Snyder defends his record on statewide call-in program

Gov. Rick Snyder spent an hour answering questions from Michiganders on Friday on Michigan Public Radio’s call-in program, "Michigan Calling."
Credit Courtney Hurtt / WDET

Gov. Rick Snyder spent an hour fielding questions from Michiganders on Friday. The questions spanned a broad range of topics, including education, the economy, the environment, and social issues.

During his appearance on Michigan Public Radio’s statewide call-in program "Michigan Calling," the governor pushed back against claims that his policies favor big businesses. He gave arguably his most detailed defense of sweeping tax changes made in his first year as governor.

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Courts
5:37 pm
Thu September 4, 2014

Judge says Michigan’s largest teachers’ union must let member leave any time

Union workers protest Michigan's right-to-work law.
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A Michigan labor judge says the state’s largest teachers’ union must let members leave at any time.

The Michigan Education Association (MEA) only allows teachers to quit the union during a one-month period in August. But conservative groups say that is a violation of Michigan’s right-to-work law. They are applauding administrative law judge Julia Stern’s decision this week.

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Courts
8:47 pm
Wed September 3, 2014

No-fault auto insurance rates case to be appealed to Michigan Supreme Court

Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A group that wants more information on how auto insurance rates are set in Michigan plans to take its case to the state Supreme Court.

The Coalition Protecting Auto No-Fault (CPAN) is suing a private fund that reimburses people who are seriously injured in auto accidents. The Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association (MCCA) tacks a fee onto auto insurance policies to pay for the reimbursements. But it has refused to make documents public that could show how it sets its rates.

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Politics & Government
5:44 pm
Tue September 2, 2014

State House Dems call for higher minimum school funding

Credit Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

As many Michigan students return to school, the debate over education funding is starting up again at the state Capitol in Lansing.

Democrats in the state House plan to introduce a bill that would increase minimum payments to districts. Gov. Rick Snyder and lawmakers this year set that amount at an additional $50 per student.

But the Democrats say that could effectively mean a cut for some schools when you factor in higher costs for retirement and other things. They want to raise the minimum increase to $83 per student.

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Economy
3:49 pm
Fri August 29, 2014

Charter school authorizers propose their own system for oversight, closures

Credit User: Thomas Favre-Bulle / Flickr

A group of Michigan charter school authorizers has come up with a system it says will lead to better oversight.

It’s a voluntary accreditation system for institutions that open and oversee charter schools. It will judge authorizers based on things like transparency and efforts to intervene in failing schools.

Jared Burkhart directs the Michigan Council of Charter School Authorizers.

“This process will ensure that all Michigan authorizers are following and adapting standards that are the strongest in the nation," Burkhart says. "This will lead to the best authorizing practices, we feel, throughout the United States.”

Earlier this month, state superintendent Mike Flanagan warned 11 authorizers he might stop them from overseeing new charters schools. That’s if they don’t improve the oversight of their existing schools.

A spokesperson for Flanagan says he’s interested in working with authorizers on the new oversight system, but he’s concerned the proposed standards aren’t detailed enough.

Environment & Science
3:28 pm
Wed August 27, 2014

Lawmakers vote to allow wolf hunts in UP

A wolf on Isle Royale. The wolves on this island are protected from any kind of hunt.
IsleRoyaleWolf.org

Wolf hunts in the Upper Peninsula will be able to continue under a new law passed by the state House today. Groups that oppose wolf hunting say state lawmakers are trying to thwart the will of voters.

To the chants of “Let us vote! It’s our right!” anti-wolf hunting groups rallied outside the state Capitol before the House took up the bill.

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Law
6:09 pm
Tue August 26, 2014

Education groups join calls for LGBT rights in Michigan

Credit user Marlith / Flickr

The list of groups calling on state lawmakers to pass protections for LGBT people is growing. Organizations representing Michigan college, university, and school officials now say they support the measure.

They join more than 50 business and non-profit groups urging lawmakers to pass the legislation, which the coalition expects to be introduced next month.

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Politics & Government
4:28 pm
Fri August 22, 2014

Peters asks Obama for answers on Iraq, defends health care law on "Michigan Calling"

Rick Pluta sat down with U.S. Senate Candidates Gary Peters

In a wide-ranging interview on Friday, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Gary Peters said he does not support sending ground troops to Iraq.

The militant group calling itself the Islamic State has taken control of large sections of Iraq. But the Michigan congressman says he’s not interested in sending troops back into the country to fight the group.

“At this point, I see no reason to be back in Iraq with boots on the ground,” Peters told host Rick Pluta on the Michigan Public Radio statewide call-in program Michigan Calling.

“And even with airstrikes, you need to have a longer-term plan to go forward, and I’d like to get a better sense of what that is.”

Peters then urged the Obama administration to brief Congress on the situation in Iraq. He says members have not been kept up to speed with what’s happening on the ground.

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Courts
5:04 pm
Thu August 21, 2014

Judge hears arguments over recognizing 300 same-sex marriages in Michigan

Lead plaintiffs Glenna DeJong (l) and Marsha Caspar (center) join Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum (r) outside the federal court building in Detroit on Thursday. DeJong and Caspar were the first same-sex couple to get married in Michigan. Byrum officiated their wedding.
Credit Jake Neher / MPRN

Some 300 same-sex couples in Michigan are waiting to hear whether a federal judge will force the state to recognize their marriages. Judge Mark Goldsmith heard arguments on Thursday from attorneys for the state and for the same-sex couples.

The couples got married on a single day in March after another federal judge struck down Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional. But that ruling is now on hold while it’s being appealed. Gov. Rick Snyder says the state will not recognize the marriages in the meantime, although he admits they were performed legally.

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Education
5:37 pm
Wed August 20, 2014

State approves loan for Detroit Public Schools requested by emergency manager

Credit Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

A state emergency loan board  agreed to lend the Detroit Public Schools $111 million to make up for a funding shortfall, on the same day state schools superintendent Mike Flanagan approved the district's new deficit elimination plan.

The state expects to lend about 200 school districts money to help them start the school year. That is normal in Michigan, which doesn’t send its first school aid payments until October.

But in Detroit, the process has pitted the school board in the state’s largest district against its emergency manager.

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Politics & Government
9:19 pm
Tue August 19, 2014

Audit finds problems with prisoner education programs in Michigan

Prison bars
Credit Ken Mayer / Flickr

A new audit shows problems in Michigan’s prisoner education program.

The state auditor general’s office says the Michigan Department of Corrections failed to identify prisoners who qualify for federal assistance to take classes. It also shows the department failed to make sure the programs were effective.

Russ Marlan is a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Corrections. He says the department agrees with the report’s findings and is working to fix those problems.

“Having a third party come in and look at your operations and give you recommendations about how to improve I think is a good thing. And so, we’re going to take these recommendations and move forward and hopefully improve our prison education and vocational education,” says Marlan.

Marlan says the department has already taken steps to improve the programs over the last three years. 

Transportation
9:31 pm
Fri August 15, 2014

Gov. Snyder says Metro Detroit flood underpins need for more road funding

Snyder has spent much of his first term as governor urging lawmakers to boost state infrastructure spending by more than a billion dollars a year.
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Gov. Rick Snyder says massive flooding this week in and around Detroit reinforces the need to boost state spending on roads. Snyder says Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure may have played a role in the floods, although it’s too early to tell for sure.

“I don’t want to be premature, but you would imagine it would have some consequences in terms of magnifying the effect on the freeway flooding,” Snyder told reporters as he surveyed damage at homes and schools in Royal Oak on Friday. “That wouldn’t have affected the homes, but in terms of the freeway challenges.”

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Transportation
5:29 pm
Thu August 14, 2014

Michigan Senate leader wants ideas, "anything from anyone," to fix Michigan's roads

Pothole in a road.
Pothole in a road. Wikimedia Commons

Democrats in the state Senate say talks over how to pay to fix Michigan’s roads are “back to square one.”

A legislative work group met for the first time today to find a way to boost state road funding.

The Senate left Lansing in June for its summer break after failing to pass a number of plans to fix the roads.

State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says this is a new starting point.

“We’ve come close to getting the votes necessary to fix this longstanding problem. But quite frankly, we’re looking at all ideas now – newer ideas,” said Richardville. “And we’re not afraid to entertain anything from anyone.”

Senate Democrats want to revisit a plan that would raise the state’s gas tax to increase funding for roads. That plan came closest to winning approval in the Senate in June. But Richardville says that plan is “all but off the table now.”

Robert McCann is a spokesperson for the state Senate Democrats.

“The unfortunate reality of that is that it means we’re still further behind than we were three months ago, really, when there was a plan on the table that our side of the aisle put up votes for,” said McCann. “And, unfortunately, it was the Republicans that couldn’t get their own caucus in place to get that passed.”

Most estimates say Michigan needs to boost infrastructure spending by between $1 billion and $2 billion a year to keep the roads from getting worse. 

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