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

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.         

Michigan House Republicans

A proposed overhaul to Michigan’s public defense system is on its way to the state Senate.

Lawmakers in the House passed the bill today with bipartisan support. The bill passed with 71 “yes”votes.

Most of the 36 votes against it came from Republicans.

The state’s system for appointing attorneys to those who can’t afford one is ranked among the worst in the country.

Republican Representative Tom McMillin sponsored the bill. He said he hopes conservatives will be on board in the Senate.

gophouse.com

Despite losing a handful of seats in Tuesday’s election, Republicans have hung on to a small majority in the state House.

Democrats look to have picked up five seats, narrowing GOP control to eight.

Inside Michigan Politics Editor Bill Ballenger said Democrats had a chance to take control of the House.

“But apparently they squandered three-quarters of a million dollars trying to beat the speaker in a 57% Republican district out of some, I guess, personal vendetta about the Roy Schmidt party switch,” Ballenger said.

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

Former state Attorney General Mike Cox says Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan illegally denies seniors access to certain plans.

Cox filed a class action lawsuit Wednesday against the state’s largest health insurer.

It claims Blue Cross denies access to its most popular Medigap plan to anyone with a retiree health savings account. Medigap is a program that covers healthcare costs that Medicare does not.

Cox said the policy unfairly forces some customers to buy more expensive plans.

Republican state Representative Bob Genetski
Photo courtesy of Rep. Genetski's office

State Representative Bob Genetski will serve no jail time for his drunken driving conviction handed down last month.

The Republican from Saugatuck will have to complete 40 hours of community service. He’ll also have to pay fines and court fees.

Genetski was pulled over for driving while intoxicated in January by a Michigan State Police officer. His blood alcohol level was .08 an hour and a half after his arrest.

A jury found him guilty last month.

The maximum penalty would have been 93 days in jail. It could also come with up to 360 hours of community service, and a maximum $500 fine.

Jail time is unusual for first-time offenders.

New legislation attempts to reduce the number of sports-related concussions in kids.
YMCA of Western North Carolina / flickr

Governor Rick Snyder has signed legislation to help schools reduce the number and severity of sports-related student concussions.

The bills require coaches to immediately remove a player from a game if they suspect a concussion.

Coaches, players, and parents will also have access to new information and training materials about serious head injuries.

Senator John Proos sponsored one of the bills. He says the state needs to be in position to provide the best and most up-to-date information to schools and parents.

“Every time we answer a question about traumatic brain injury or concussions, we learn that there are ten more questions that come up,” he said.

The bills easily made their way through the state Legislature last month.

Michigan is now one of many states that have passed anti-concussion legislation.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder is focused on the Michigan ballot with two weeks to go before Election Day.

On Monday, Snyder appeared alongside Canadian consul general Roy Norton at a Canada-United States Business Association meeting town hall in Detroit.

Both men asked Michigan and Canadian business leaders to support the proposed New International Trade Crossing. And both urged a “no” vote on Proposal 6, which would require a statewide referendum on any new international crossings. He says he’s in “campaign mode.”

A group of young CCC enrollees at Chittenden Nursery in Manistee National Forest.
The Forest Historical Society / flickr

Some Michigan lawmakers hope to restore a program that would put young adults to work on public works projects—but without costing taxpayers any money.

The state Senate recently approved legislation to resurrect the Michigan Civilian Conservation Corps.   

The legislation would fund the MCCC through a public-private partnership. Bill sponsors say no taxpayer dollars would be involved.

The bills were supported by commanding bi-partisan majorities in the Senate.

A bill before a Michigan Senate panel would reform the state's public defender system.
Bill Ledbetter / flickr

A Senate panel has begun hearing arguments on a bill to fix the way Michigan counties provide defense attorneys to the poor.

The chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee says he’s still skeptical about the legislation.

Senator Rick Jones says it’s clear a handful of counties are having problems appointing competent public defenders. But he says he still doesn’t see it as a statewide issue that requires sweeping changes.

Nancy Diehl is the former president of the State Bar of Michigan, which supports the bill.

A new TV ad for Senator Debbie Stabenow.
screen grab

Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow are both far outspending their opponents on TV ads in Michigan.

That’s according to a report released Monday by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

The report says groups supporting Romney have spent about $13 million for ads in Michigan since the February primary.

The Obama campaign and supporters haven’t spent as much in Michigan, but Obama still has a lead among likely voters, according to most polls.

Rich Robinson is with the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

Ruth Johnson has faced criticism over the citizenship question on Michigan ballots this year.
user jdurham / MorgueFile.com

DETROIT (AP) - A judge has told Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson to remove citizenship check-off boxes from November ballot applications.

U.S. District Judge Paul Borman made the ruling Friday during a hearing in Detroit. A written decision is expected Tuesday.

Borman told Johnson the boxes that ask Michigan voters to confirm their U.S. citizenship slows the voting process, is confusing and is a burden on the right to vote.

Michigan Secretary of State, Ruth Johnson.
MI SOS

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson will be in federal court Friday to defend a citizenship checkbox she ordered on November ballot applications.

Election officials would ask voters to confirm their U.S. citizenship, but would not deny them a ballot if they decline to answer.

A number of county clerks say it’ll cause confusion and could scare off eligible voters.

Andrew Nickelhoff, an attorney for the coalition against the checkbox, questions its legitimacy.  

“We know from experience from the August primary and from information we’ve received afterward that many voters don’t think it’s appropriate, and many clerks who are administering these elections don’t think it’s appropriate,” he said.

The Secretary of State had filed a motion asking to have her election director speak on her behalf during the hearing.

The judge denied the request today, saying she had to be present in the courtroom.

Johnson says the citizenship question will help cut down on voter fraud and the number of non-citizens who receive ballots.

Some bikers have been riding without helmets since a law requiring them was repealed in April.
user ivandub / Flickr

The group that led the charge to repeal Michigan’s motorcycle helmet requirement says the state has not suffered a rash of biker deaths in the past six months.

That is how long it has been since the law was changed.

American Bikers Aiming Toward Education (ABATE) point to state data between January and the end of August.

But state officials say it is really too early to tell what the effect has been.

Anne Readett of the state’s Office of Highway Safety Planning (OHSP) said the data is provisional and incomplete.

“We, in our office, are not going to speculate one way or the other until we know that we have final data to look at,” she said.

The OHSP did release up-to-date numbers showing biker deaths slightly up since last year. The department also said there has been a 14 percent increase in incapacitating injuries.

Readett said they won’t be able to reach any good conclusions until at least spring, when they analyze the entire year.

House Speaker Jase Bolger.
Jase Bolger / Facebook.com

State House Speaker Jase Bolger is facing harsh criticism about his business record from a liberal advocacy group.

Progress Michigan released documents alleging Bolger’s company, Summit Credit Service, failed to pay more than $100,000 in taxes and fees between 1997 and 2000.

The papers include liens from the Michigan Treasury Department, the state Unemployment Agency, and the IRS.

Bolger’s spokesperson, Ari Adler, said all taxes and fees have been paid in full.

“All of these issues were addressed more than 10 years ago. And now Speaker Bolger and his partners have a successful small business that is employing people in Michigan,” Adler said.

The Speaker is currently under investigation by a grand jury for allegations of election fraud in a separate matter.

Governor Snyder is expected to sign legislation attempting to reduce the number of concussions in youth sports.
Reigh LeBlanc / flickr

Governor Rick Snyder said he expects to sign legislation to reduce the number and severity of concussions in youth sports. The Legislature easily passed the two bills last week.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association worked with lawmakers to craft the bills. The MHSAA’s John Johnson says many coaches may not know how to spot signs of concussions.

“It’s much, much more than a kid laying unconscious on the field. That happens only 1-in-10 times when a concussion has been sustained,” he said.

Johnson said the legislation would give coaches, players, and families the information they need to help limit the damage caused by head injuries. It would also require coaches to immediately take a player out of a game if they suspect a concussion.

The lone dissenter in the House, Representative Bob Genetski, said it’s not the state’s job to protect kids from every potentially unsafe situation.

Thousands of state employees are applauding a judge’s ruling that they shouldn't be forced to pay for their pension benefits.

An Ingham County Circuit Court judge said today that a rule requiring state employees cough up four-percent of their salaries to keep their pensions is unconstitutional.

She said it’s effectively a pay cut, something only the Michigan Civil Service Commission has the authority to enact.

Ray Holman is with UAW Local 6000, the largest state employee union in Michigan.

A DDOT bus in Detroit. People have been talking about the need for a regional transit authority for many years.
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Southeast Michigan county, business, and community leaders seem to agree; the region needs a transit authority to attract businesses and young talent.

Testimony at a House transportation committee hearing overwhelmingly supported bills to create an authority.

John Hertel is the general manager of the SMART transit system. He said this is the first time in four decades he’s seen this level of agreement between the city of Detroit and its suburbs.

"I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s wonderful to see. But while it’s there, we need to strike and move forward. This kind of thing obviously doesn’t come along very often," said Hertel.

Hertel said he’s not yet confident the Legislature will pass the plan.

Robert Daddow spoke on behalf of Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson. He’s confident the bills will pass.

"The governor has pressed this for some period of time, has been actively working in the coordination between the units – Detroit, Wayne, Oakland, Washtenaw - in trying to get an agreement together. And we’re very, very close, if not right there, right now," said Daddow.

State officials have tried many times to establish a regional transit authority in southeast Michigan.

Some supporters are skeptical it can get out of the legislature. Others worry about possible legal challenges if it does pass.

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