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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Governor Rick Snyder's administration is "encouraged" by a House Republican plan to overhaul Medicaid in the state. 

But it's concerned about language that would kick able-bodied adults off the program after four years.

Department of community Health director Jim Haveman says the House plan is "a good starting point" for negotiations.

"I'm really cautiously optimistic that, by the time this is done over the next two weeks, we'll have a bill that we all can be very supportive of and we can collectively go sell and get the waiver from the federal government."

The federal government is offering to pay for an expansion of Medicaid that would add hundreds of thousands of Michiganders to the program. But Republican leaders in the state Legislature say they're not willing to expand the system without major changes.

Washington would have to approve the state's alternative to the plan.

gophouse.com

Republicans in the state House have introduced a bill to overhaul and expand Medicaid in Michigan.

Among other things, it would limit able-bodied adults to four years in the program.

The Republican-led state Legislature has balked at the idea of accepting money from the federal government to add hundreds of thousands of people to Medicaid.

House Speaker Jase Bolger says this is an alternative to that plan.

“If we are going to say ‘no’ to something, we must offer an alternative. We ask that all of the time from our colleagues across the aisle, and therefore we’re going to continue to live by that ourselves,” said Bolger.

The bill would also require the federal government to fund 100 percent of the expansion.

World Resources Institute

Opponents of hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking” – are blasting Michigan officials for opening more state lands to oil and gas companies. They held a rally in Lansing today as state officials auctioned the mineral rights for tens of thousands of acres of state land.

Fracking is a controversial process of extracting natural gas from deep underground.

Jim Nash is Oakland County’s water resources commissioner. He says the state needs to do more to protect against possible spills from fracking wells.

"We have fairly strict laws in Michigan, but we only have 22 people that actually do inspections," said Nash. "So it’s mostly self-reporting of incidents. That’s great if you have an honest company. But if you have a dishonest company that’s cutting corners already, they’re not going to report a bad accident."

The state Department of Environmental Quality says companies have been fracking in Michigan for decades without any significant environmental incidents.

clarita / MorgueFile

New teachers in Michigan would be paid based primarily on student growth under a bill in Lansing.

But some lawmakers question whether now is the right time to take up the issue.

The state Legislature is still waiting on a report that will recommend a state-wide teacher evaluation system.

Lawmakers like Rep. David Knezek (D-Dearborn Heights) say they should wait to see what the report says before they switch to a merit-pay system for teachers.

“I don’t know why we’re jumping the gun on this. We should be waiting for what the commission comes back and says to us is the proper course of action," Knezek says.  “I don’t think the two necessarily, one has to be before the other.”

Bill sponsor Pete Lund (R-Shelby Township) says the commission’s recommendation could be more useful if they already have a system in place. Lund says tying educators’ pay to their performance in the classroom would promote student growth and weed out bad teachers.

“We no longer say you are a better teacher just because you’ve been teaching for a long time," Lund says. "If teaching a long time has helped you, your students will grow, they will be better students, they will learn more, and you’ll be properly compensated properly for it.”

Jake Neher / MPRN

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says public schools in Detroit have improved in the last four years. Duncan was in Detroit today with Governor Rick Snyder. They toured a traditional public school and a school in the state’s Education Achievement Authority.

The EAA is a controversial state-run authority meant to turn around failing schools. Based on his tour today, Duncan says the EAA shows promise.

“Obviously, long long way to go, and there’ll be bumps in the road and hurdles. But my only goal is to see every child be successful,” said Duncan. “I think the only way we get there is if, again, the EAA is successful, the Detroit public schools are successful, charters are successful. We just need great public schools across the state and across the country.”

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A proposed overhaul of Michigan’s no-fault auto insurance system has cleared its first legislative hurdle. A state House panel passed the bill on a party-line vote, with Democrats all voting "no."

Right now, people who are severely injured in an auto accident can get unlimited lifetime medical benefits.

The legislation would cap those benefits at a million dollars.

Many people who testified against the bill said people who are already injured would lose benefits they were promised.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A pair of bills that would revoke welfare benefits from some Michigan families has cleared the state House. The legislation has support on both sides of the aisle.

One bill would let the state cut cash assistance payments to families with kids who persistently miss school.

The state Department of Human Services is already doing this – the bill would make the policy state law.

Many Republicans and Democrats say it’s a good way to promote school attendance in poor areas.

But Democratic Representative Jeff Irwin is worried some abusive parents might be keeping their kids out of school to avoid getting turned in to the authorities.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Republicans in the state Senate are demanding changes to a bill that would facilitate state takeovers of struggling schools. Legislation to expand the state’s Education Achievement Authority passed in the state House last month.

But Senate Education Committee Chair Phil Pavlov says lawmakers made several changes that undermine the original intent of the bill.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

There’s a plan in Lansing to raise registration fees for electric and alternative fuel vehicles. That money would help pay for road repairs and construction.

Right now, that funding comes largely from fuel taxes and registration fees.

Republican state Representative Mike Shirkey says that means people who drive electric cars and hybrids don’t pay as much to maintain roads.

“In times past that made perfect sense. But now, times are changed, and technology’s advanced, and now the long-term sustainability of funding anything based on gasoline or fuel consumption must come into question.”

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

State officials are weighing in on the immigration debate. Democrats in the state House Tuesday introduced a package of bills to change the way the Michigan treats immigrants.

Under the legislation, the state would offer in-state college tuition to some undocumented students. It would also create an office to coordinate resources and services for people hoping to become U-S citizens.

Representative Jeff Irwin says the legislation includes language he thinks Republican leaders in Lansing could support.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

State lawmakers will start debating controversial changes to Michigan’s no-fault auto insurance system this week. State House Insurance Committee Chair Pete Lund introduced the legislation on Tuesday.

He says he expects to hold several committee hearings on the issue to give lawmakers time to understand and discuss it.

“I don’t know if in their time in Lansing they’re ever going to have an issue that’s quite as complicated as this. And there’s so many different pieces involved that it’s really going to take time for people to sit down, look it over, and figure it out.”

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Update April 23rd, 2013

State House Republicans have given up on efforts to punish school districts and other public employers that agreed to labor contracts that delayed the effects of Michigan’s right-to-work law.

The House Republican majority allowed budget bills to move forward without threatened reductions in state payments.
    
State Representative Joe Haveman (R-Holland) chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

"We decided this was the time to back off and say, 'let’s let it go.' We made our point. That’s as much as we can do right now," he said.

The effort did, however, dissuade some universities and schools from agreeing to the contracts.

"We wanted to limit or really restrict people from going into new contracts to circumvent right-to-work, and when you look at the number of colleges, schools, local jurisdictions, there were so few that did it, we think we accomplished what we needed to," Haveman said.

Haveman says, in some cases, the extended contracts resulted in savings to taxpayers.  Contracts in place before the law took effect on March 28th have to be honored.

There’s at least one lawsuit challenging a contract extension.

March 19th, 2013 - State lawmakers move to cut school and university funding over right-to-work debate

Some Michigan universities could lose 15 percent of their state funding over new union contracts. A state budget panel today voted to sanction schools that approve long-term contracts before the state’s new right-to-work law takes effect.

That’s unless the contracts include cost savings of at least 10 percent.

Representative Al Pscholka  chairs the subcommittee that passed the university cuts.

“What we are concerned about are these long-term contracts, really meant to kind of circumvent state law, that don’t give any savings to taxpayers, and just pass along more and more expenses to students, taxpayers, and parents.”

Representative Sam Singh is the top Democrat on the panel. He says the schools did not break any laws and should not be punished.

“The management has been negotiating with their employee groups and have actually been getting cost savings for the general public. And we should be allowing them to do that instead of meddling in their affairs.”

Wayne State University and the University of Michigan could each lose tens of millions of dollars in state funding if the cuts are passed.

The state’s right to work law does not take effect until the end of the month.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Lawmakers in Lansing have moved forward a bill to start drug testing welfare recipients. A state House panel today  sent the legislation to the full chamber.

Under the bill, the state would have to have reasonable suspicion before requiring a test. Cash assistance benefits could be terminated for people who test positive.

Republican Representative Jeff Farrington introduced the legislation. He says the government should not pay for people’s drug habits.

Official portrait

State House Democrats spent “tax day” pushing a plan to repeal several state tax policies.
 

photo of Students in class at Waterford Mott High School.
courtesy: Mott High School

There’s a proposal in Lansing to change the state’s mandated high school graduation requirements. A state House education panel today heard testimony on bills to adjust the Michigan Merit Curriculum.

Republican Representative Ed McBroom says it’s designed to prepare students for traditional four-year universities. He says that means Michigan’s losing skilled trade workers.

“If you’re really interested in welding or in nursing or aviation, why should you be boxed out of taking that because you – like everybody else – must have this exact same cookie cutter education.”

Supporters of the curriculum say it already allows schools to design alternative graduation requirements for individual students.

They say it promotes skills that are necessary for all jobs – including those that don’t require a four-year degree.

State capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A state House budget panel is recommending cutting more than a thousand human service workers. The Michigan Department of Human Services handles things like child welfare and food assistance.

The subcommittee’s plan would also close the state’s three juvenile justice facilities.

Rashida Tlaib is the top Democrat on the panel. She says the proposed cuts are extreme.

Michael Tam / Flickr

Lawmakers hoping to change the state’s public defense system say the plan is gaining momentum, thanks to a state Court of Appeals decision.

The court this week said a class action lawsuit against three Michigan counties can go forward. The suit says the counties failed to offer adequate legal counsel to people who could not afford lawyers.

State Representative Ellen Lipton is working on legislation to overhaul the state’s public defense system.

“This, I think, will actually focus the issue, not ‘this is a legislative priority,’ but now we’ve got a Court of Appeals decision saying, ‘this is now a priority for our courts.”

The state House passed similar legislation last year, but it stalled in the Senate. Lipton says she hopes new bills will be introduced this month.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

An Ingham County judge says groups hoping to repeal Michigan’s new right-to-work law can move forward with their lawsuit. Judge William Collette today rejected the state’s request to dismiss the case.

Collette had tough questions for state officials at the hearing. But he also told the ACLU of Michigan and union groups they have an “uphill battle” going forward in the case.

ACLU Attorney Michael Pitt says that doesn’t worry him a bit.

“I’ve heard that from judges for 39 years as a lawyer, and somehow I’ve been able to climb uphill and win the cases.”

Jake Neher / MPRN

Update 11:45 a.m:

An Ingham County judge says a lawsuit aimed at repealing the state’s new right-to-work law can proceed. This morning, Judge William Collette rejected a motion by the state to have the lawsuit immediately dismissed.

The lawsuit says the Legislature violated the state’s Open Meetings Act when it shut members of the public out of the Capitol as right-to-work bills were debated and passed.

ACLU of Michigan Attorney Michael Pitt says the ruling means they can now gather more information to build a case.

"So that the public will understand once and for all what happened, and how the Legislature conducted itself in a highly inappropriate way on December 6."

State Attorney General Bill Schuette says hundreds of citizens were in the House and Senate chambers as lawmakers took up the bills.

Joy Yearout is a spokesperson for Schuette. She says the judge’s decision is not a major setback.

"He has every right to lay out the parameters as to what evidence he needs before he can make a decision. That being said, we’re fully confident that after he reviews the evidence, which at this point we don’t expect there is much evidence to suggest violation, that he’ll uphold the law."

Judge Collette did dismiss from the case the Michigan State Police Captain who ordered the doors of the Capitol closed.

There are at least two other lawsuits seeking to repeal the new law in state and federal court.

10:50 a.m.

An Ingham County Circuit Court judge has denied the state attorney general's request to immediately dismiss a lawsuit to repeal the state's new right-to-work law.

The ACLU of Michigan says the new state law should be tossed out because it was passed in violation of the Open Meetings Act. The suit says lawmakers deliberately locked members of the public out of the state Capitol as the legislation was introduced and passed in December.

State Attorney General Bill Schuette says police stopped letting more people into the building due to safety concerns.

Jake Neher will have more on this story soon.

Andrew McFarlane / Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder has approved funding for almost 60 harbor dredging projects across the state.

Ships and recreational boaters are struggling to get in and out of harbors because of low water levels in the Great Lakes.

Snyder says almost everyone in Lansing recognizes the need for emergency dredging.

“In some ways we asked people to delay projects a year so we could do these projects. And I appreciate their understanding and cooperation in that, because I think this was a case where there was very little opposition to the work we’ve done on this project.”

The federal government is often responsible for dredging projects in the Great Lakes. But with water levels at historic lows, Snyder says the state couldn’t afford to wait for Washington to act.

“I think this is a case where we’re going to go faster than what they would normally do. So we hope to get potentially reimbursed in some capacity, theoretically, for some of the places that the Army Corps (of Engineers) might do. But we’re not going to wait.”

The governor asked for more than $20 million dollars for emergency dredging in his proposed budget. State lawmakers approved the plan last week.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The Flint City Council has taken a first step toward taking back control of the city’s finances.

The council last night unanimously passed a resolution asking Governor Rick Snyder to remove the city’s emergency manager.
 

Flint city officials want the governor to replace the emergency manager with a transition team to phase out state control of the city’s finances over two years.

Jane M Sawyer / morgue file

Lawmakers in the state House have approved an expansion of a state-run authority to run struggling schools.      

The Education Achievement Authority already oversees 15 schools in Detroit.  Under the measure, the EAA would be able to take over schools with state test scores persistently in the bottom five percent.

It could oversee up to 50 schools at a time. 

Opponents of the expansion say the EAA has not been proven to work in Detroit. They say it would strip control from parents and communities.

USEPA

The lower water levels in the Great Lakes are taking a bite out of the state's pocketbook.

Today, the Legislature sent a budget bill to Gov. Snyder that includes $20.9 million in funding for dredging harbors and marinas suffering from low water levels in Lakes Huron and Michigan.

Update 2:00 p.m.

Here's more on the $20.9 million approved for harbor dredging.

MLive's Tim Martin has a list of the 49 harbors and marinas to be dredged with the funds.

The bill had bi-partisan support, but State Senator Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor) voted against a bill to fund dredging of public harbors and marinas with money from the state's Waterways Fund.

"The Waterways Fund pays for things like maintaining our public marinas so that the public can have access to clean restrooms and great park locations at public marinas around the state - and they depleted that to do dredging. And to me, I just think it’s the wrong priority,” said Warren.

Supporters said it's more important to provide access to the harbors and marinas now. They say they plan to put money back into the Waterways Fund later on.

State Senator Geoff Hansen (R-Hart) said passage of the legislation today (before legislators take a two week spring break) will allow dredging to start in time for the summer boating season.

“With this emergency situation, we needed the money now. We didn’t need to wait, because it won’t do any good once we get into July and August to try and do the dredging then. We needed to put the money up front, get the bids out, get the work done,” said Hansen.

Gov. Snyder is expected to sign the bill quickly to free up the money for dredging contracts.

11:01 a.m.

The state Senate has sent Governor Rick Snyder a budget bill that includes almost $21 million to dredge Great Lakes harbors suffering from record low water levels.

We'll have more soon.

*An earlier headline read "$21 million for Great Lakes harbor dredging." $20.9 million was approved. We changed the headline.

Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
Matthileo / Flickr

Some state lawmakers say it’s time to drop a set standards meant to evaluate schools across the country.

A House panel heard testimony today on a bill to opt out of the Common Core Standards Initiative.

Republican Representative Tom McMillin says it’s a federal takeover of school curriculum.

“We don’t want our kids to be common. We want our kids in Michigan to be exceptional. And this certainly lowers the bar, and makes it so that we have no ability to raise the bar.”

Kelley Cawthorne / Facebook

Hundreds of people came to the state Capitol today to voice their support for pro-gun legislation.

Many openly carried firearms, which is allowed in and around the Capitol building.

Jim Gulliksen is with the Michigan Militia Corps of Wolverines.

He says he’s happy that state lawmakers have taken up a number of pro-gun bills recently.

“Lansing has shown some trends lately to reduce some of the restrictions, as far as like the pistol purchase permit and some of the controls on where you can carry weapons. We do like to see that.”

There are several gun-related bills in the Michigan Legislature. Very few have moved out of committee so far this year.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says things like road funding and other budget issues are more pressing.

beingmyself / flickr

Governor Rick Snyder will have final say on a bill that would let tourists handle and take pictures with bear cubs. The state Senate today approved changes made by the House last week.

The bill would let the public handle cubs up to 36 weeks old or less than 90 pounds.

Some lawmakers worried the measure would lead to a surge of new bear petting zoos across the state looking to cash in on the experience.

But lawmakers in the state House last week limited the bill so it would only apply to businesses already offering bear petting.

Bill sponsor Senator Tom Casperson had opposed the change, but says it was necessary to get enough votes in the House.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s Budget Stabilization Fund – more commonly known as the “Rainy Day Fund” is getting a lot of attention in Lansing.

The Budget Stabilization Fund is more simply known as the state’s savings account.  

When Governor Rick Snyder took office, Michigan's savings account was nearly empty and only held about $2 million.

Now, there’s about half a billion dollars in the fund, and Snyder wants to add $75 million more this year.

While Snyder has been in office, he has been trying to build up the fund, which he says would help improve the state’s credit rating and allow Michigan to get better interest rates. Additionally, there would be money available to protect against huge budget cuts in emergency situations.

What's the significance of Snyder’s efforts, and how might the sequester affect the Budget Stabilization Fund?

Listen to the audio above to hear the story.

Andrew McFarlane / Flickr

A battle over how to pay for emergency harbor dredging is brewing in Lansing. State Senator John Moolenaar (R-Midland) is sponsoring a bill that would explicitly identify harbor dredging as a proper use of  funding from the state's National Resources Trust Fund.

He says, “when it comes to recreational access to use our tremendous assets that we have in Michigan, we believe this is consistent, but we wanted to spell it out in state law.”

Environmental groups are criticizing the plan.  They say it would threaten the state’s ability to buy and improve parks and public land.

Hugh McDiarmid of the Michigan Environmental Council admits record-low water levels in the Great Lakes mean emergency dredging is necessary. But he says there are better ways to pay for it than raiding the Natural Resources Trust Fund. 

“Diverting money to dredge harbors,” he says, “would hurt communities around the state who wouldn’t have that money available for their parks and their recreational facilities.”

McDiarmid adds long-term harbor maintenance costs could drain the fund completely.  “Maybe purchasing land to create a new harbor would be a more appropriate use of the trust fund”, he says. “You know, some big investment like that rather than routine maintenance that would bleed the trust fund every year, and really should come from another source.”

Governor Rick Snyder is asking for more than $20 million for emergency harbor dredging in his proposed budget. That money would not come out of the Natural Resources Trust Fund.

State capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A bill to set up a healthcare exchange in Michigan has passed its first hurdle in the state Legislature. A House panel today voted to accept more than $30 million from Washington to set up the exchange.

It would be a partnership between the state and the federal government under the Affordable Care Act.

House Appropriations Chair Joe Haveman says the alternative would be a federal exchange with no state control.

“Although it may appear like it was a step in the wrong direction or endorsing Obamacare, this was the conservative vote. The other vote was the liberal vote to say ‘we want the federal government to take us over.’”

Governor Rick Snyder wanted an exchange run entirely by the state. But lawmakers did not act in time, and that’s now off the table.

The bill now goes to the floor of the state House.

gophouse.com

Michigan Republicans said this weekend they want to change the course of future presidential races by changing how the state allocates its electoral votes.

Delegates to the state Republican convention voted overwhelmingly to support the proposal.

Michigan Republicans want to join Nebraska and Maine to become the third state to portion out electoral votes by congressional district.

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