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.

Ways To Connect

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.

State capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Bills to keep Michigan’s legal blood alcohol limit for drivers at point-zero-eight are getting little to no opposition in the state Legislature. A House panel today unanimously approved the legislation.

Without it, the state’s legal limit would revert to .10 in October. That’s when the law that sets it at .08 expires.

Republican state Representative Andrea LaFontaine says it’s common sense legislation.

Michigan State Police

People convicted of crimes such as possessing child pornography and indecent exposure might soon be added to the state’s public sex offender registry.

Lawmakers in the state House today voted overwhelmingly in favor of the legislation.

Democratic state Representative Jeff Irwin was one of only three votes against it. He admits it’s not a popular position to take.

The state Senate’s top Republican says he’ll once again try to ward off big cuts to Michigan’s film industry credits.

For the second year in a row, Governor Rick Snyder is proposing a budget that would cap the state’s film incentives at $25 million for the year.

And for the second year in a row, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says he’ll fight to give the industry at least twice that.

“To that particular industry and to the mostly blue collar workers that benefit from that in Michigan, it would be devastating to them,” says Richardville.

beingmyself / flickr

A bill to let people hold, pet, and take pictures with bear cubs has passed the state Senate. The measure would allow an Upper Peninsula bear ranch to continue to offer the experience. It would let the public handle bears up to 36 weeks old or less than 90 pounds.

Senator Rebekah Warren voted against the bill.

She says lawmakers should put residents’ safety ahead of the financial benefit of a single business.

Bert Johnson

A bill in the state Legislature would boost Michigan’s minimum wage from $7.40 an hour to $10 an hour.

It was introduced just a day after President Obama called for a federal minimum wage increase in his State of the Union address.

Under the proposal, higher wages would be phased in until 2016. After that, the state’s minimum wage would be tied to inflation.

State Senator Bert Johnson (D-Detroit) says Michiganders can’t get by on $7.40 an hour.

“It’s time that we support workers, support women, support people who are just making it so they can make more,” said Johnson.

“I had no advanced notice of what the President would talk about in his speech yesterday, so I didn’t know this was going to be a priority of his,” he said. “I’m glad that his speech dovetails an introduction so important like this, because it really crystalizes the issue at not just a state level but also the federal level.”

The bill isn’t likely to get far in the Republican-controlled state Senate. Majority Leader Randy Richardville says he’s not on board.

“Wages and who is going to get what wage is best determined in the marketplace,” said Richardville.

The last time the state increased its minimum wage was in 2008.

Andrew McFarlane / Flickr

Some lawmakers in Lansing want to tap the state’s “rainy day” fund to pay for emergency harbor dredging in the Great Lakes.

A group of Republican state Senators today endorsed opening up $30 million from the fund for projects around the state.

They also offered a number of ways to fund future dredging projects.

State Senator Geoff Hansen (R-Hart) says a short-term solution isn’t enough to address record-low water levels in the Great Lakes.

“These are designed to be long-term solutions. We have the one-time, right now fix. And in the end of the day we need to have enough dollars to make that this year we’re keeping our ports open,” said Hansen.

Governor Snyder set aside over $20 million in his proposed budget for emergency dredging. That money would not come out of the state’s savings.

The lawmakers say their plan is meant to supplement Snyder’s proposal, not replace it.

sentate.michigan.gov/gop

State lawmakers have re-introduced legislation that would limit the ability of insurance companies to cover abortions.

The measure would only allow insurers to cover elective abortions through optional rider plans.

Republican state Senator Mark Jansen says many people do not want that kind of coverage automatically included in their plans.

“If I’m an employee, and this is the big issue nationally, why should I be paying for something that seems to be something that many of us morally disagree with?”

The measure was included in legislation last year that sought to overhaul Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

Governor Rick Snyder vetoed that bill because he thought the abortion language went too far. He said it’s not the state’s job to decide what kinds of plans insurance companies can offer.

The Blue Cross legislation has also been reintroduced without the abortion language. It passed unanimously in the state Senate last week.

Adrian Clark / Flickr

Advocates for the uninsured are pressing Governor Rick Snyder to call for an expansion of Medicaid in Michigan. They delivered more than 4,000 petition signatures in favor of an expansion to the governor’s office yesterday.

Under the federal healthcare law, the state could let nearly 400,000 uninsured residents join the program. The federal government would cover the cost for three years. After that, the state would be responsible for up to ten percent. 

Liz Lamoste, with the group Medicaid Matters for Michigan, says the state should take advantage of the offer.

“If the offer’s on the table, we should be in a position to take advantage of it, especially because it makes financial sense for Michigan, and hundreds of thousands of people are relying on us to take prudent responsible action to provide people with more coverage," said Lamoste.

Many Republicans in the Legislature say they don’t trust the federal government to keep its promises. Governor Snyder will announce his plans for Medicaid on Thursday when he unveils his new proposed budget.

Blue Cross Blue Shield would undergo major changes under proposed legislation.
Wikipedia

The state Senate Thursday unanimously passed an overhaul of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

The measure was unexpectedly vetoed by Governor Rick Snyder last month because it included some controversial abortion language. Lawmakers recently reintroduced the legislation without the abortion measure.    

State Senator Joe Hune said he expects it to take longer for the bills to get through the House.

If Governor Rick Snyder decides he wants to expand Medicaid in Michigan, state House Republicans say they might not be on board.

State House Speaker Jase Bolger says he’s “cautiously skeptical” about the idea of expanding Medicaid.

Under the federal Affordable Care Act, the state has to decide whether to let more people into the program. If it does, Washington will pay for the expansion for the first three years.
    
Bolger says he’s not yet convinced.

“The federal government has quite a history of dangling carrots and abandoning states and leaving them to pay for those things.”

Governor Snyder says he wants to make sure health care providers in the state can handle an influx of hundreds-of-thousands of people into the program.
    
He’s expected to address his plans for a possible Medicaid expansion when he gives his budget proposal next week.

House Speaker Jase Bolger.
Jase Bolger / Facebook.com

State House Speaker Jase Bolger says lawmakers on both sides of the aisle should not overreact when it comes to the debate over gun control.    

Lawmakers have already introduced several gun-related bills since their new session started this month.

Many are reactions to recent massacres and the federal gun control proposals that followed.       

Bolger said he hopes discussions about guns will be civil as the bills make their way through committee.

Pages