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
10:29 am
Wed May 22, 2013

New student safety hotline aims to stop school violence before it happens

user BES Photos Flickr

State officials say students need new and better ways to report threats of school violence. Officials plan to create a new anonymous tip-line that would include a mobile app for tech-savvy teens.

The program would let students send in tips by phone, text message, email, or the mobile app - which accepts photos and videos.

They call “OK-2-SAY”.

Michigan State Police Director Kriste Etue says it’s crucial to remove as many barriers as possible for teens with possibly life-saving information.

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Politics & Government
4:48 pm
Mon May 20, 2013

Advocates for the poor: Restore Earned Income Tax Credit with tax windfall

The Capitol in Lansing.
CedarBendDrive/flickr

A group that advocates for working poor families in Michigan says the state should use a recent tax windfall to restore low income tax credits. Last week, the state announced it expects to receive close to half-a-billion dollars more than originally thought this year.

Gilda Jacobs, with the Michigan League for Public Policy, says it makes sense to give some of that money back to low-income taxpayers.

“In part, one of the reasons that there are greater revenues is because the tax burden, the tax shift, was shifted back to low- and middle-income people and seniors,” she said.

She says working poor families have been negatively affected.

“And there is an opportunity through restoration, or partial restoration of the Earned Income Tax Credit to help make whole some of that tax increase,” said Jacobs.

Governor Rick Snyder and state lawmakers have scaled back the Earned Income Tax Credit in recent years. They say the same credit at the federal level does enough to help the state’s working poor.

Democrats in the state Legislature have introduced bills to at least partially restore the credit.

Gov. Snyder says the money from the tax windfall should go toward fixing roads.

Politics & Government
10:22 am
Sat May 11, 2013

Snyder administration has concerns about Medicaid plan, but says it's a good start

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.

Politics & Government
5:30 pm
Thu May 9, 2013

State lawmakers introduce bill to overhaul, expand Medicaid

Jase Bolger says they're offering an alternative to Medicaid expansion.
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.

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Energy
5:05 pm
Thu May 9, 2013

State auctions mineral rights as 'anti-fracking' groups gather

A natural gas well.
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.

Education
5:43 pm
Wed May 8, 2013

Bill would link Michigan teachers' pay to student growth

Credit 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.”

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Education
5:05 pm
Mon May 6, 2013

U.S. education secretary, Snyder tour EAA and DPS schools

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Governor Rick Snyder read to preschoolers at Thirkell Elementary School in Detroit Monday.
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.”

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Politics & Government
10:19 am
Fri May 3, 2013

State House panel set to move forward no-fault overhaul

Michigan's no fault auto insurance may soon face changes.
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.

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Politics & Government
5:46 pm
Wed May 1, 2013

Bills to revoke welfare based on drug testing and school absences clear state House

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.

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Politics & Government
3:30 pm
Mon April 29, 2013

State school takeover bill stalls in Senate, Republicans want changes

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.

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Politics & Government
3:35 pm
Wed April 24, 2013

Bill in Lansing would create fee for electric cars to fund roads

The Lansing Capitol
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.”

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Politics & Government
1:46 pm
Wed April 24, 2013

Michigan lawmakers look to address immigration issues at state level

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.

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Politics & Government
1:33 pm
Wed April 24, 2013

Lawmakers introduce controversial no-fault changes

Lawmakers introduce controversial no-fault changes
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.”

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Politics & Government
5:10 pm
Tue April 23, 2013

Effort to punish schools and local governments over right-to-work law dropped

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.

Politics & Government
3:50 pm
Wed April 17, 2013

Welfare drug testing bill moves forward in state House

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.

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Politics & Government
8:26 pm
Mon April 15, 2013

Democrats call for repealing some state taxes

House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel
Official portrait

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

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Politics & Government
4:06 pm
Wed April 10, 2013

Lawmakers consider changes to Michigan Merit Curriculum

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.

Politics & Government
4:06 pm
Tue April 9, 2013

House budget panel approves cutting 1,000-plus human service workers

The legislature will vote on changes to health care benefits for public employees tomorrow.
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.

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Politics & Government
3:33 pm
Thu April 4, 2013

Plan to overhaul public defense gets boost from state Court of Appeals

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.

Law
4:02 pm
Wed April 3, 2013

Judge says anti-right-to-work lawsuit can proceed

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.”

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