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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Law
9:32 pm
Mon December 24, 2012

Rethinking Michigan's public defender system

(file photo)
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.

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Law
2:32 pm
Fri December 21, 2012

Michigan Attorney General files terrorism charges against I-96 shooter

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.

Politics & Government
5:34 pm
Wed December 19, 2012

New program requires three-week assessment for cash assistance applicants

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.

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Politics & Government
5:30 pm
Mon December 17, 2012

Michigan’s 16 Electoral College votes officially cast for Obama/Biden

Michigan Electoral College delegates Marion Vanderveen and Toni Sessoms signing documents to cast the state's 16 electoral votes for President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
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.

Politics & Government
4:14 pm
Fri December 14, 2012

Controversial abortion bill headed to Gov. Snyder’s desk

Protesters turned out at the Capitol in June after Rep. Lisa Brown was banned from the House floor after using the word "vagina" during debate over the controversial abortion bill.
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.

Politics & Government
4:09 pm
Fri December 14, 2012

State Senate approves a plan to phase out tax on industrial and business equipment

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.

Politics & Government
11:19 pm
Wed December 12, 2012

State House approves emergency manager replacement bill

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

Politics & Government
5:21 pm
Wed December 12, 2012

Anti-abortion legislation a step closer to Gov. Snyder’s desk

Clinics that provide abortions would have to meet new licensing requirements under the new legislation.
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.

Politics & Government
4:04 pm
Tue December 11, 2012

Right-to-work bills headed to Gov. Snyder’s desk

House Democrats crowd around podium after the first "right-to-work" bill passes, demanding a motion to reconsider. Motion was denied.
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.

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Politics & Government
7:26 am
Tue December 11, 2012

Police prepare for large protests today in Lansing

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.

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Politics & Government
3:03 pm
Thu December 6, 2012

State Senate passes bill allowing doctors to refuse care for moral or ethical reasons

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.

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Education
5:29 pm
Wed December 5, 2012

Debate heating up over expansion of state's school 'turnaround' district

Civics teacher Jonathan Hui, like 25 percent of teachers at Denby, is from the Teach For America program.
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.

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Education
5:54 pm
Tue December 4, 2012

State lawmakers committed to passing education overhaul by end of the year

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.

Politics & Government
3:00 pm
Sun December 2, 2012

Medical marijuana bills go to floor of state House

The new bills would allow insurance companies to deny coverage for medical marijuana patients.
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.

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Politics & Government
7:04 am
Fri November 30, 2012

Michigan Attorney General asks U.S. Supreme Court to decide affirmative action ban

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette wants the U.S. Supreme Court to decide on the state's affirmative action ban.
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.

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Politics & Government
5:21 pm
Tue November 27, 2012

State Senate approves regional transit authority for southeast Michigan

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.

Breaking
2:45 pm
Tue November 27, 2012

Michigan Senate passes legislation to create regional transit authority

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.

Politics & Government
5:41 pm
Mon November 26, 2012

State lawmakers halt fetal tax exemption bills

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.

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Politics & Government
4:35 pm
Mon November 19, 2012

Schuette: Changes to Blue Cross overhaul bills not enough to protect seniors

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.

Politics & Government
5:23 pm
Wed November 14, 2012

State lawmakers introduce "juvenile lifers" bills

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.

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