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

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

A national education advocacy group ranks Michigan sixth in the country for education policy.

The group Students First says the state gets high marks for bills passed in recent years by the Republican-led state Legislature.     

They include measures making it tougher for teachers to be tenured, and teacher evaluations that depend more on student achievement.     

But Andy Solon with Students First said the state can do better in some areas.

beingmyself / flickr

Bills to ease restrictions on owning and breeding large carnivores in Michigan are likely to come up again in 2013.

Governor Rick Snyder recently vetoed the legislation because of language he said would compromise public safety.       

Republican state Senator Joe Hune said the measure has attracted unfair criticism. He said many opponents cite an incident in Ohio a year ago, when a man deliberately freed a number of dangerous exotic animals he owned.

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley
Brian Calley / Facebook.com

It will soon be illegal in Michigan to discover a dead body and not report it.

It’s one of more than 50 bills signed this week by Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley.

Failing to report a corpse will be a misdemeanor, which can come with up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. It will be a felony to fail to report the body if the intention is to hide the death or its cause.

Republican state Senator Tonya Schuitmaker sponsored the bill.

Michigan’s top budget official is praising Congress for averting the so-called “fiscal cliff.”

Budget Director John Nixon said sweeping tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts could have seriously hurt the state’s finances.

“The good news is that I think as far as the whole economy is concerned, what they did yesterday was big for the state of Michigan,” said Nixon.

Nixon said he was most worried going over “the cliff” would have led to another recession.

That could have affected the state’s ability to pay for many basic programs and projects.

State officials say they’re keeping close watch on upcoming negotiations in Washington. They could include proposed cuts to state-administered programs like Medicaid and food stamps.

User Motown31 / Creative Commons

Governor Rick Snyder says expanding a state-run district for struggling schools is one of his top priorities for 2013.         

The Education Achievement Authority is designed to turn around schools with persistently low student test scores. Right now, the authority oversees 15 public schools in Detroit.      

Snyder wants to expand the district across the state. The EAA would be able to take over schools that fall in the bottom 5 percent.

Bills to expand the system did not move in the final weeks of the legislative session.        

Snyder says more lawmakers would come around to the idea if they saw the state-run schools firsthand.          

The EAA has been operating for just four months. Opponents of the expansion say it’s too early to tell if the system is working.


Michigan natural resources officials will start the new year considering a possible wolf hunt in the state.

Governor Rick Snyder recently signed a bill that establishes the gray wolf as a game species.

But that doesn’t mean there will be a wolf hunt in the state. That will be up to the state wildlife commission.

Department of Natural Resources spokesperson Ed Golder said the commission will start looking into the issue in January.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

In their “lame duck” session, state lawmakers passed a number of measures that would change state gun laws.    Governor Rick Snyder vetoed one of those bills last week.

But others are set to become state law.

The governor rejected a bill that would have let people with special permits carry concealed weapons into places like schools, daycares, and churches.

But Snyder signed a measure that would streamline the permitting process for handguns.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A proposed overhaul to Michigan’s public defense system will have to wait until next year for action by the state Legislature.

State lawmakers passed a flurry of bills in their “lame duck” session. But there were a number of high-profile bills that didn’t move at all.

One of those would change the way the state appoints lawyers to people who can’t afford one.

Michigan’s public defense system is considered one of the worst in the country.

Livingston County Sheriff's Department

The man suspected of firing shots at more than 20 vehicles along I-96 and nearby roads faces a charge of terrorism and other felonies.

State Attorney General Bill Schuette filed the charges Thursday.

43-year-old Raulie Casteel could face life in prison if convicted. He also faces 60 counts in Oakland County related to the shooting spree.

Joy Yearout is a spokesperson for the attorney general. She said the charges are meant to send a message.

“Certainly terrorism is an unusual charge, but the facts of this case warrant it,” Yearout said.

The attorney general is consolidating cases related to shootings in Ingham, Livingston, and Shiawassee counties.

One person was injured in the shootings.

Unemployment line in California
Michael Raphael / Flickr

Applicants for cash assistance in Michigan will have to go through a new 21-day assessment.

The state Department of Human Services Wednesday said the program is meant to bolster applicants’ job prospects.

The PATH program will replace a less intensive job training program.

DHS spokesman Dave Akerly said many people can’t find or keep a job because they have trouble finding child care and transportation.

Jake Neher / MPRN

Michigan’s 16 delegates to the Electoral College have officially cast their votes for President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

The President netted 54 percent of the popular vote in Michigan during last month’s general election.       

Monday’s gathering of Electoral College delegates in the state Senate chambers also included a resolution condemning state lawmakers’ actions in recent weeks.

State Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer presided over the meeting.

“To cast all 16 votes for President Barack Obama, we know that Michigan is a state that believes in opportunity and embraces a vision for our state and for our nation that looks forward. Not one that focuses on an extreme ideological agenda,” Whitmer said.

The resolution criticized the Republican-controlled state legislature for swiftly passing a number of controversial bills in the final weeks of its session.

Rick Pluta / Michigan Public Radio Network

Governor Rick Snyder will have the final say on a measure to add restrictions for abortion providers.

State lawmakers approved the legislation Thursday.         

Among other things, it requires physicians to screen women to make sure they’re not being forced or coerced to have an abortion.      

Opponents of the bill like state Rep. Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield) say it’s designed to restrict access to abortions.

“I guess I can hope that the governor will veto it and make a stance to say, ‘this isn’t what I want to do, we need to work on jobs, we need to work on quality education for our kids, protect our natural resources,’ things like that,” Brown said.

Lawmakers did not take up a measure that would let doctors, healthcare facilities, and insurers deny care based on moral objections.

That bill could be reintroduced in the new legislative session that begins next month.

Joel Dinda / flickr

The state’s tax on industrial and business equipment is a step closer to being phased out. State lawmakers Thursday sent the measure to Governor Rick Snyder’s desk. 

The personal property tax repeal was one of Governor Snyder and Republican state leaders’ top priorities for the lame duck session.

They say it discourages investment in the state and kills jobs.

Supporters of the plan say it will reimburse local communities for most or all of the revenue they would lose for services like schools, police, and fire.

Ari Adler is a spokesperson for state House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall).

“Many communities rely on the revenue that comes from this tax, and we did not want to leave them in a lurch,” Adler said.

Opponents like state Rep. Vicki Barnett (D-Farmington Hills) say the bills do not do enough to make up for those losses.

“It’s clear locals are going to lose money. Schools are going to lose money. The question is, just how much? And it could be anywhere from $250 million to – what I believe, when fully implemented – closer to $800 million, if there’s no replacement,” Barnett said.

Michigan voters will be asked to approve the reimbursement plan in August of 2014. If it’s rejected, the state will stop phasing out the tax.

Michigan House Republicans

The state House has approved a measure that would replace the emergency manager law that voters rejected last month.

Supporters of the measure say it gives local governments and schools more choices than Public Act Four. That law was rejected by voters last month.

The options now would include coming to a consent agreement with the state, mediation, an emergency manager, or bankruptcy.

Republican state Representative Al Pscholka sponsored the original emergency manager law.

“It is a significant difference from Public Act 4, because it allows the local elected officials to have a choice,” Pscholka said.

Democratic state Representative David Nathan of Detroit said he doesn’t see a real difference between the proposal and the original law.

“I think that both of those – (Public Act) 4 and this legislation – is imposing its will on communities and not allowing the communities to be a part of the decision-making process to get them out of the struggles that they have,” Nathan said.

A provision in the bill would make the measure immune to a voter referendum, like the one that repealed the original emergency manager law.

The bill now goes to the state Senate, where a vote is likely Thursday.

Steve Rhodes / Flickr

The Michigan Senate has passed legislation that would add restrictions for abortion providers.

Any facility that provides abortions would have to meet new licensing and insurance requirements. The legislation also mandates a screening process to make sure women aren’t forced to have an abortion.        

Renee Chelian is with Northland Family Planning Clinics. She said the bills are a backhanded attempt to limit access to abortions.

“This is a way to make abortions more expensive by causing clinics to do all kinds of construction that’s not necessary. If you raise the cost of abortion, you make it inaccessible to women, and that’s really what they’re whole point is,” Chelian said.       

Supporters of the measure say it’s meant to protect women. Republican state Senator Rick Jones is one of the most outspoken advocates of the measures.

“This bill provides that abortion clinics will be safe, they will be inspected, they will be licensed. This is so important to the safety of women in the state of Michigan,” Jones said.

The state House passed the legislation in June. It will have to approve changes made by the Senate.

Jake Neher / MPRN

Governor Rick Snyder will have the final say as to whether Michigan will become a so-called “right-to-work” state.

The state House approved legislation Tuesday that would end the practice of requiring workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment.

Representative Tim Greimel is the new leader of the state House Democrats. He said the fight over “right-to-work” is not over.

david_shane / flickr

Dozens of State Police have gathered in a hallway in the Capitol’s lower level, cordoned off by blue curtains. This is their base of operations in the building this week as hundreds – maybe thousands - of protesters are expected to fill the upper levels.

In one closet, police have stashed helmets and other riot gear.

Capitol Facilities Director Steve Benkovsky hopes the demonstrations will stay peaceful.

"Everybody has a right to come in here and voice their opinion. And we'll deal with it the best we can and let them voice their opinion," said Benkovsky.

State and local police plan to close a number of streets around the state Capitol.

They will also limit the number of people allowed in the building.

user clarita / morguefile

A bill in the state Legislature would let health care providers, facilities, or insurers deny service based on religious, moral or ethical objections. The state Senate passed the bill Thursday.

Republican state Senator John Moolenaar is sponsoring the bill.   

“This legislation before you today will establish a solid, yet workable framework for protecting the fundamental rights for all Michigan citizens,” Moolenaar said.

Critics of the bill say it would let entire health systems deny care.

Jake Neher / MPRN

State lawmakers are mulling over a number of bills that would overhaul public education in Michigan.

One measure would expand a new state-run district meant to turn-around schools with test scores in the bottom five-percent.

The idea has many public school officials pitted against each other.

Schools like Detroit's Denby High school are at the center of the debate.

Last year, it was one of the lowest-performing schools in the Detroit Public Schools system. Now, it’s one of 15 Detroit schools the state oversees through its Education Achievement Authority.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Republican state lawmakers say they are committed to passing an overhaul to public education in the “lame duck” session.

Opponents of the bills have been ramping up pressure to hold off until next year.

The bills include the expansion of a state-run district for struggling schools and a measure seeking to increase school choice.

House Education Committee Chair Lisa Lyons said the legislation can’t wait.

“We need to allow these schools and parents and students all the time, as much as possible, to transition and to plan for the education that they are going to receive next fall,” Lyons said.

A coalition of Michigan public school officials says the legislation would strip local control of schools.

Supporters say too many schools are failing to provide quality education. They say the measures are the best way to turn that around.

user elioja / Flickr

Bills in the state House would let insurance companies deny coverage for medical marijuana.

Employers could also refuse to reimburse medical marijuana expenses through workers compensation.

Opponents of the legislation say it discriminates against a legal form of patient care.

Republican state Senator Rick Jones said many opponents of the bills simply want to abuse the system.

US Supreme Court

State Attorney General Bill Schuette is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold Michigan’s ban on affirmative action.

Schuette filed to submit the case to the land’s highest court Thursday.

Last month, a lower court threw out a voter-approved state ban on affirmative action.

Joy Yearout is a spokesperson for the attorney general.

Mysid / Wikipedia

Legislation to create a regional transit authority for southeast Michigan won approval from the state Senate Tuesday.

It passed the Senate by ten votes. A number of opponents have voiced concerns about how the authority would be governed, and the amount of power it would have.

Republican state Senator Tom Casperson sponsored the legislation.      

“They were valid concerns. But I think there needs to be a regional transit authority set up, in my opinion, based on what I’ve seen down in Detroit. And I think there was plenty of support for it. You saw it today, and hopefully we see the same thing over in the House,” Casperson said.

Casperson is from the Upper Peninsula, but says improving transit in southeast Michigan is essential to the state’s economic recovery.

Democratic state Senator Coleman Young II was the only member from Detroit to vote against the measure. He said he supports creating a regional transit authority, but not one with the power to take away property.

“I think that when you have appointees making decisions about whether or not grandma’s going to keep her house or not, I think that’s wrong,” said Young.

The legislation now goes to the state House.

The state Senate has passed legislation to create a regional transit authority for southeast Michigan. The bill passed 24-to-14 with bipartisan support.

It now goes to the state House.

Jim Lynch / flickr

It appears legislation to allow people to claim a fetus as a dependent on their state taxes has stalled.

Plans to vote on the bills were scrapped, and they were removed from Monday’s state House Tax Policy Committee agenda.

Opponents of the measures called them a backhanded attack on access to abortions.

Committee Chairman Jud Gilbert said the issue has become too contentious.

Bill Schuette for Michigan Attorney General

Michigan’s attorney general says state lawmakers must add more safeguards for seniors to legislation that would overhaul Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

Bill Schuette testified Monday before the House Insurance Committee.

Schuette said bills passed last month by the Senate did not do enough to make sure Blue Cross continues to offer Medigap plans to seniors.

The program covers costs that Medicare doesn’t.

The attorney general said the proposal would drastically cut funding for Medigap, and only requires Blue Cross to offer it through 2016.

“I think the last thing we want is to have skyrocketing Medigap rates, or Medigap disappear altogether,” Schuette said.

Blue Cross officials say the measure gives seniors plenty of time to switch to more comprehensive and affordable plans.

The legislation would end Blue Cross’ tax exempt status. In return, the state would have less oversight of the Michigan’s largest health insurer.

A group of state lawmakers say it is time for Michigan to change the way it sentences juveniles convicted of murder.

This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it is unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to mandatory life sentences without the chance of parole.

Bills in the state House would strike that type of sentence from state law.

An important question is whether the ruling applies to people already serving mandatory life sentences. Democratic state Representative Mark Meadows said it does.

“If it’s a violation of the Constitution to sentence individuals in this manner, then it was unconstitutional prior to that time too,” said Meadows.

Sponsors of the legislation say they will push to apply the ruling retroactively. But they say they are willing to pass bills that only apply it to new cases.

State Attorney General Bill Schuette says re-sentencing convicted offenders would be too painful for victims’ families.

photo by Anna Strumillo Phuket - Thailand / www.fotopedia.com

Officials with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan say the state Legislature must pass bills to overhaul the health insurer by the end of the year. Under the measures, Blue Cross would become a customer-owned non-profit, and would have to pay state and local taxes.

The federal health care law would setup health exchanges in each state to help people shop for policies. Deadlines for states to set up those exchanges are coming up soon.

Mark Cook of Blue Cross testified Tuesday before the state House Insurance Committee. He said the bills need to pass soon for the state’s largest insurer to participate in the health care exchange.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Lawmakers in Lansing say they want to tackle some high-profile bills before this session wraps up at the end of the year.

The state House is set to hold its first hearing tomorrow on a proposed overhaul of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

The measure would turn the state’s largest health insurer into a customer-owned non-profit and end its tax-exempt status.

House Insurance Committee Chair Pete Lund expects the chamber to pass some version of the bill before the end of the year.

Ballot campaigns would no longer be allowed to pay petition circulators based on the number of signatures they collect if a state house bill becomes law.

The measure was introduced just days after Michigan voters rejected all six proposals on the November ballot.

Republican state Representative Ken Horn said paying for signatures is an incentive for circulators to mislead voters.         

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