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

West McGowan / Flickr

State lawmakers are considering legislation that would decide who can access a person’s online accounts after they die or become incapacitated. A state House panel approved the bills today.

In the case of social media accounts, the rules would kick in if a site does not already address the issue in its terms and conditions. The legislation would allow family members to manage those accounts.  Supporters say families sometimes want to retrieve pictures, create memorial accounts, or delete posts.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Bills meant to fight human trafficking in Michigan are on track to clear the state Legislature before the end of this week.

The bipartisan legislation would make it easier to prosecute human trafficking cases, increase penalties, and provide more services for victims. The state House passed several bills in the package on Wednesday.

Photo courtesy of Michigan's Attorney General office / michigan.gov

State Attorney General Bill Schuette says his office will investigate a possible murder-for-hire plot involving a prison food service worker.

Michigan State Police suspects an Aramark employee of approaching an inmate of an Upper Peninsula prison about having another inmate killed.

The Detroit Free Press first reported the story last week. Now the attorney general’s office says it will launch its own investigation into the incident. It says the local State Police post in Sault Ste. Marie requested the investigation.

Lame ducks?
Simone Walsh / Flickr

This is the last week the state Legislature is scheduled to meet before the November election. Lawmakers probably won’t take up any controversial bills until their “lame duck” session in December.

Supporters of legislation to add LGBT protections to Michigan’s civil rights law are still optimistic lawmakers will pass it before the end of the year.

“I’m pretty heartened by the openness that [state House Speaker Jase Bolger] has shown to us in having those discussions,” said Shelli Weisberg with the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union .

“But it’s going to be tough.”

Weisberg admits it would be a setback if the bill has to wait until 2015.

“I think it does make it harder to go into a new legislative session because we’ve got new members and we have to really put forth a whole new, kind of fresh education effort,” she said.

Gov. Rick Snyder says his top legislative priority before the end of the year is boosting funding for roads and infrastructure.

State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, says he wants to relax term limits on state lawmakers.

Lawmakers could also approve bills to relax restrictions on medical marijuana in Michigan during their lame duck session.

Governor Rick Snyder
Rick Snyder for Michigan / Facebook Page

Gov. Rick Snyder is staying silent on the latest scandal related to the state’s prison food service contract. That’s while the matter is under investigation.

Last year, Michigan privatized its prison food services and hired Philadelphia-based Aramark to handle them.

The Detroit Free Press reports Michigan State Police suspects an Aramark food service worker of trying to conspire with an inmate to have another inmate killed.

Gov. Rick Snyder
Michigan Municipal League / Flickr

Gov. Rick Snyder says the city of Allen Park’s financial emergency has been resolved and its emergency manager is leaving.

The Detroit suburb has been overseen by a state-appointed emergency manager since October of 2012. Snyder says it is another example that shows state takeovers of cash-strapped cities work.

“I think that’s a good illustration of the system working right,” Snyder told reporters Thursday in Detroit.

Michigan Legislature
Michigan Municipal League

Democrats in the state Legislature want to require insurance companies to offer coverage for abortions.

The Republican-controlled Legislature passed a petition-initiated law last year banning abortion coverage in standard health insurance plans. Under that law, people can only buy coverage for abortions as a separate insurance plan, known as a “rider.”

Democrats say just seven of Michigan’s 42 health insurers offer those riders and none of them offers the plans to individuals buying insurance on their own.

Jake Neher / MPRN

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley says the state needs to do more to help people with disabilities get good jobs.

A new report released on Monday shows many Michiganders with disabilities are all but forced into menial jobs, some of which pay less than the minimum wage. That is legal if an employer gets a waiver from the federal government, and advocates say only Washington can change that practice.

Senator Mark Jansen, R-Gaines Twp, introduced Senate Bill 727.
Michigan Senate Republicans

New legislation in the state Senate would close Michigan’s teacher retirement system to new teachers. Instead, all new teachers would get a “defined contribution” 401(k)-style plan.

Under a partial overhaul of teacher retirement approved by state lawmakers in 2012, new teachers can choose between that or a “hybrid” plan, which combines elements of a defined contribution plan and a traditional pension. The new legislation would end that choice, giving new teachers only the 401(k)-style defined contribution plan.

May Anayi is an Iraqi refugee now working for St. Vincent Catholic Charities, a Lansing refugee
St. Vincent Catholic Charities

May Anayi was forced to flee her home in Baghdad after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. She’s a teacher. But her certificate is not valid in the United States.

She says finding a new career in Michigan seemed almost impossible. She had trouble just figuring out how to cross the street. She says she once stood for 15 minutes waiting for the crossing signal to change, not realizing she had to push a button first.

Sharon Drummond / Flickr

Michigan’s top education official says he supports legislation designed to prevent schools from getting into financial trouble.

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan today released a report showing the number of districts with budget deficits has not improved in recent months. He says the legislation would create an “early warning system” so the state can intervene before districts fall into deficit.

But Flanagan says the legislation should not be so broad that hundreds of schools get flagged.

“I think right now they have to reduce the number of factors so that you don’t have 250 on call. You want a reasonable number that you’re watching that are potentially deficit, not so many that you can’t really do justice to it.”

The bills would free up money in state loans and bonds for schools that show signs of budget problems.

Republican state Senator Howard Walker is sponsoring the legislation. He says it would also make it easier for the state to appoint an emergency manager if districts don’t cooperate.

“Let’s identify them early. Let’s help them. And if districts are willing to blow through those red flags, well, then there’s going to be consequences. And I think those consequences being out there will serve as a deterrent.”

Schools groups worry it would be too easy for the state to put districts under an emergency manager. They also say hundreds of districts would be flagged the way the legislation is currently written.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

State lawmakers are working to fix a situation caused by a Michigan Supreme Court decision that could end up costing the state more than $1 billion this year.

The court ruled in July that certain out-of-state companies can calculate their tax liabilities using an old tax system that would cost them less. The state House approved legislation Tuesday that would reverse that decision.  

Lawmakers say the Supreme Court’s ruling was wrong.

user Tyrone Warner / Flickr

Legislation that would add LGBT protections to Michigan’s anti-discrimination law will probably have to wait until after the November election.

Some supporters of the measure hoped lawmakers would take it up before voters go to the polls in November. But the bill has not even been introduced yet.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, says he wants to take up the issue. Be he does not expect to hold a vote until the Legislature’s “lame duck” session.

Michigan Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe.
senate.michigan.gov

The state Legislature is scheduled to meet about 20 more days between now and the end of the year.

State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, says he has two top priorities he’d like to accomplish before then. The first is to find a way to fix Michigan’s crumbling roads. The second is to ease term limits on Michigan lawmakers.

Richardville says there’s too little experience in the Legislature, thanks to current limits.

“People in general say, ‘I like the idea of term limits.’ But I don’t think they’d like it to be as restrictive as they are. If they knew how quickly and how much turnover there was here, I think they would rethink it,” said Richardville.

Richardville says he’s considering a plan that would allow term-limited lawmakers to collect a certain number of petition signatures allowing them to run again. He did not say exactly how long lawmakers should be allowed to serve.

Inside the Michigan Senate
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The state Legislature returns Tuesday after a two month summer break.

Republican leaders still have some big priorities to accomplish before the end of the year. None is bigger than finding a way to fix Michigan’s crumbling roads.

But it looks like that and other major bills will have to wait until the Legislature’s “lame duck” session in December. Top lawmakers say they do not expect many major votes between now and the November election.

Courtney Hurtt / WDET

Gov. Rick Snyder spent an hour fielding questions from Michiganders on Friday. The questions spanned a broad range of topics, including education, the economy, the environment, and social issues.

During his appearance on Michigan Public Radio’s statewide call-in program "Michigan Calling," the governor pushed back against claims that his policies favor big businesses. He gave arguably his most detailed defense of sweeping tax changes made in his first year as governor.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A Michigan labor judge says the state’s largest teachers’ union must let members leave at any time.

The Michigan Education Association (MEA) only allows teachers to quit the union during a one-month period in August. But conservative groups say that is a violation of Michigan’s right-to-work law. They are applauding administrative law judge Julia Stern’s decision this week.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A group that wants more information on how auto insurance rates are set in Michigan plans to take its case to the state Supreme Court.

The Coalition Protecting Auto No-Fault (CPAN) is suing a private fund that reimburses people who are seriously injured in auto accidents. The Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association (MCCA) tacks a fee onto auto insurance policies to pay for the reimbursements. But it has refused to make documents public that could show how it sets its rates.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

As many Michigan students return to school, the debate over education funding is starting up again at the state Capitol in Lansing.

Democrats in the state House plan to introduce a bill that would increase minimum payments to districts. Gov. Rick Snyder and lawmakers this year set that amount at an additional $50 per student.

But the Democrats say that could effectively mean a cut for some schools when you factor in higher costs for retirement and other things. They want to raise the minimum increase to $83 per student.

User: Thomas Favre-Bulle / Flickr

A group of Michigan charter school authorizers has come up with a system it says will lead to better oversight.

It’s a voluntary accreditation system for institutions that open and oversee charter schools. It will judge authorizers based on things like transparency and efforts to intervene in failing schools.

Jared Burkhart directs the Michigan Council of Charter School Authorizers.

“This process will ensure that all Michigan authorizers are following and adapting standards that are the strongest in the nation," Burkhart says. "This will lead to the best authorizing practices, we feel, throughout the United States.”

Earlier this month, state superintendent Mike Flanagan warned 11 authorizers he might stop them from overseeing new charters schools. That’s if they don’t improve the oversight of their existing schools.

A spokesperson for Flanagan says he’s interested in working with authorizers on the new oversight system, but he’s concerned the proposed standards aren’t detailed enough.

Grey wolf.
IsleRoyaleWolf.org

Wolf hunts in the Upper Peninsula will be able to continue under a new law passed by the state House today. Groups that oppose wolf hunting say state lawmakers are trying to thwart the will of voters.

To the chants of “Let us vote! It’s our right!” anti-wolf hunting groups rallied outside the state Capitol before the House took up the bill.

user Marlith / Flickr

The list of groups calling on state lawmakers to pass protections for LGBT people is growing. Organizations representing Michigan college, university, and school officials now say they support the measure.

They join more than 50 business and non-profit groups urging lawmakers to pass the legislation, which the coalition expects to be introduced next month.

In a wide-ranging interview on Friday, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Gary Peters said he does not support sending ground troops to Iraq.

The militant group calling itself the Islamic State has taken control of large sections of Iraq. But the Michigan congressman says he’s not interested in sending troops back into the country to fight the group.

“At this point, I see no reason to be back in Iraq with boots on the ground,” Peters told host Rick Pluta on the Michigan Public Radio statewide call-in program Michigan Calling.

“And even with airstrikes, you need to have a longer-term plan to go forward, and I’d like to get a better sense of what that is.”

Peters then urged the Obama administration to brief Congress on the situation in Iraq. He says members have not been kept up to speed with what’s happening on the ground.

Jake Neher / MPRN

Some 300 same-sex couples in Michigan are waiting to hear whether a federal judge will force the state to recognize their marriages. Judge Mark Goldsmith heard arguments on Thursday from attorneys for the state and for the same-sex couples.

The couples got married on a single day in March after another federal judge struck down Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional. But that ruling is now on hold while it’s being appealed. Gov. Rick Snyder says the state will not recognize the marriages in the meantime, although he admits they were performed legally.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

A state emergency loan board  agreed to lend the Detroit Public Schools $111 million to make up for a funding shortfall, on the same day state schools superintendent Mike Flanagan approved the district's new deficit elimination plan.

The state expects to lend about 200 school districts money to help them start the school year. That is normal in Michigan, which doesn’t send its first school aid payments until October.

But in Detroit, the process has pitted the school board in the state’s largest district against its emergency manager.

Prison bars
Ken Mayer / Flickr

A new audit shows problems in Michigan’s prisoner education program.

The state auditor general’s office says the Michigan Department of Corrections failed to identify prisoners who qualify for federal assistance to take classes. It also shows the department failed to make sure the programs were effective.

Russ Marlan is a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Corrections. He says the department agrees with the report’s findings and is working to fix those problems.

“Having a third party come in and look at your operations and give you recommendations about how to improve I think is a good thing. And so, we’re going to take these recommendations and move forward and hopefully improve our prison education and vocational education,” says Marlan.

Marlan says the department has already taken steps to improve the programs over the last three years. 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Gov. Rick Snyder says massive flooding this week in and around Detroit reinforces the need to boost state spending on roads. Snyder says Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure may have played a role in the floods, although it’s too early to tell for sure.

“I don’t want to be premature, but you would imagine it would have some consequences in terms of magnifying the effect on the freeway flooding,” Snyder told reporters as he surveyed damage at homes and schools in Royal Oak on Friday. “That wouldn’t have affected the homes, but in terms of the freeway challenges.”

Pothole in a road.
Wikimedia Commons

Democrats in the state Senate say talks over how to pay to fix Michigan’s roads are “back to square one.”

A legislative work group met for the first time today to find a way to boost state road funding.

The Senate left Lansing in June for its summer break after failing to pass a number of plans to fix the roads.

State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says this is a new starting point.

“We’ve come close to getting the votes necessary to fix this longstanding problem. But quite frankly, we’re looking at all ideas now – newer ideas,” said Richardville. “And we’re not afraid to entertain anything from anyone.”

Senate Democrats want to revisit a plan that would raise the state’s gas tax to increase funding for roads. That plan came closest to winning approval in the Senate in June. But Richardville says that plan is “all but off the table now.”

Robert McCann is a spokesperson for the state Senate Democrats.

“The unfortunate reality of that is that it means we’re still further behind than we were three months ago, really, when there was a plan on the table that our side of the aisle put up votes for,” said McCann. “And, unfortunately, it was the Republicans that couldn’t get their own caucus in place to get that passed.”

Most estimates say Michigan needs to boost infrastructure spending by between $1 billion and $2 billion a year to keep the roads from getting worse. 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

More Michigan schools are meeting goals in areas such as student performance on standardized tests and graduation rates. That’s according to the state’s annual school accountability report, which was released Wednesday.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Gov. Rick Snyder says numerous state agencies are helping Detroit and surrounding communities deal with massive floods.

Snyder flew to Metro Detroit to survey the damage himself.

Snyder flew back from a trip to the Upper Peninsula to see the flood damage firsthand from a Michigan State Police helicopter. Many freeways and major roads were closed in Metro Detroit; some sections of roads were swept away in flood waters.

Snyder there’s only so much public officials can do to prevent that kind of damage.

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