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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The Michigan House of Representatives.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

State lawmakers are moving forward with a plan to expand Medicaid in Michigan after months of debate. A state House panel approved the measure yesterday, and the full House is expected to vote on it today.

Republicans on the committee were split on the legislation. Many said they were not willing to support legislation that would further entrench the federal Affordable Care Act in Michigan. 

The federal government says it’ll foot the entire bill for Medicaid expansion through 2016, and at least 90 percent after that.

Photo courtesy of the University of Michigan

Michigan’s three biggest universities are producing young entrepreneurs twice as fast as the national average.

That’s according to a report by East Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group released today at a conference of business leaders and politicians on Mackinac Island.

Debbie Dingell is chair of the Wayne State University Board of Governors.

“What’s clear is that we in Michigan have young people with ideas, and we’re giving them a university system that’s giving them the tools that they need to actually go out and start that business,” said Debbie Dingell, chair of the Wayne State University Board of Governors.

The report says almost half of the new businesses started by college grads have been started or acquired in Michigan.

University officials say they’ve revamped their curriculum in recent years to encourage entrepreneurship among students.

Christopher Webb / Flickr

The Michigan Senate has passed a budget bill that would boost state funding to public schools by about 3%. Universities and colleges would also get a roughly 2% increase.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R- Monroe) praised the schools budget, saying it addresses issues like teacher retirement costs while giving more money to districts.

“The education budget this year may be the best that I’ve seen since I’ve been up here,” said Richardville.

But many Democrats say the plan does not do enough to make up for cuts to education over the past couple of years.

State lawmakers are getting close to wrapping next year’s budget. The state House has passed bills to fund schools and state government through next fiscal year.

Public School Funding

Every school would see at least a five-dollar per-pupil boost. Schools getting the minimum amount from the state could receive up to $60 more per student.
Democratic state Representative Brandon Dillon says he’s happy no schools will see cuts in state support, but he says it still doesn’t come close to adequately funding public schools.

"You know, it’s better than last year," he said. "But our standards for excellence in school funding have diminished significantly. And it’s still not enough to educate kids, especially kids in high poverty, high needs districts, and our urban districts."

Democrats are also criticizing the bill for cutting funds that would go toward implementing the federal Common Core curriculum standards in schools.

They say those funding cuts put Michigan schools at risk of losing federal dollars.

Foreclosed house in Ypsilanti Township
Rebecca Williams / The Environment Report

Opponents of a plan to change the foreclosure process in Michigan say it would put more people out of their homes and hurt property values.

They were in Lansing today to protest a package of bills in the state Legislature.

The legislation would shorten the amount of time homeowners have to stop a bank foreclosure from six months to two months.

Ingham County Register of Deeds Curtis Hertel Jr. says banks have wrongly foreclosed on thousands of properties across the state.

He says it often takes months for people to prove they don’t deserve to lose their home.

Jane M Sawyer / morgue file

Michigan public schools would get a three-percent overall funding boost under a plan in the state Legislature.

It comes up for final votes next week.

No school would get less money per student than it did last year under a plan approved by a state budget panel.

Lawmakers added language that would guarantee every school gets at least five dollars more per student than last year. Without that provision, some schools could have seen cuts because of reduced payments to cover teacher retirement costs. 

Schools that get the minimum amount of state funding right now could see up to $60 more per student next fiscal year. That total amount is right around $7,000 per student.

The bill now goes to the floors of the state House and Senate.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A state House panel has approved a plan to tie teachers’ pay to student performance. But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say they’re worried the bill would strip away local control.

Bill supporters say just because someone has been teaching for a long time, that doesn’t mean they’re a great teacher. They say educators should be paid more if their students are making progress, and less if they’re not.

Gray wolves.
USFWS / Flickr

A referendum to let voters decide the fate of a law that allows wolf hunts in northern Michigan will appear on the November 2014 ballot.

The campaign’s petitions to get on the ballot were certified today by a state elections board.

Jill Fritz leads the campaign Keep Michigan Wolves Protected.

"We’re going to start our educational campaign to get the issue out there and educate the voters about the issue, and look forward to seeing the people of Michigan speak out against wolf hunting and trapping in the November-2014 election," Fritz said.

The ballot campaign still has to make a decision on what to do about a second law that allows the state to establish wolf hunts, including one to be held in November of this year.

It was passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor Rick Snyder after the petition drive was launched earlier this year.

Fritz says a lawsuit is not out of the question.

The law was passed as a way to help control wolves that have moved into populated parts of the western U.P.

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.


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.

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.


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.