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

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration is again taking heat for failing to protect vulnerable adults.

A state audit released Wednesday shows the Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS) has mismanaged its Adult Protective Services (APS) program since 2010. Among other things, it says DHS did not adequately train caseworkers and supervisors and failed to investigate complaints of abuse.

It’s the second report in less than a month that suggests the administration has mismanaged services for vulnerable adults.

A classroom.
user LizMarie_AK / Wikimedia Commons

The statement comes a day after state Superintendent of Schools Mike Flanagan said he’s ready to use his authority to revoke that ability from charter school authorizers. That’s if they fail to meet new standards for transparency set by state education officials.

Flanagan says he met with authorizers in February about issues involving charters. He says he’s not convinced all of them will be able to meet the new, tougher standards.

“If I had to guess, just because of the candor at the February meeting, there’s probably some that we won’t extend their ability,” Flanagan said Tuesday. “But I don’t want to pre-judge that too much. That’s only hearing the anecdotal stuff.”

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As Michigan schools begin their new budget year this week, some local superintendents are urging lawmakers to return from their summer break to boost education funding.

Gov. Rick Snyder signed a new education budget last week that boosts funding for all public schools by at least $50 per student. But Forest Hills Schools Superintendent Dan Behm says districts face new costs that wipe out that minimum increase.

Michigan cannot ban all felons from being caregivers in the state’s Medicaid in-home care program. That’s according to state officials who outlined an upcoming background check system on Monday.

People convicted of patient abuse or neglect, health-care fraud, or drug-related crimes will be barred from working with in-home Medicaid patients. But state officials say federal law prevents them from excluding people based on crimes that are not related to in-home care.

Off the Record

One of Michigan’s top charter school advocates is blasting the Detroit Free Press’ recent investigation into charters.

Reporter Jennifer Dixon and others uncovered incidents suggesting conflicts of interest, a lack of transparency, and mixed academic results in charters.

How accurate are current polls that show Snyder and Schauer neck and neck?
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Former Congressman Mark Schauer says he would put tougher regulations on charter schools if he’s elected governor. The Battle Creek Democrat says Gov. Rick Snyder has given bad charter operators a “free pass.”

“We need to write into law the oversight that was left out when Rick Snyder lifted the cap on the number of charter schools,” said Schauer. “It’s the Wild West right now, and these schools see kids with dollar signs on their foreheads.”

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Some economists say Michigan failed to consider the consequences of ending pension plans for public workers.

The state stopped offering pensions to new employees in 1997. Budget officials say that decision has cut Michigan’s long-term debt by about $5 billion.

A new report from Great Lakes Economic Consulting says the new 401(k) style plans may be cheaper. But it says it’s not fair to compare them to traditional pensions, which provide better protections for both workers and employers.

michigan.gov

Highly skilled immigrants in Michigan now have a new resource to help them find jobs. The national nonprofit organization Upwardly Global opened a new office in Detroit on Monday.

Upwardly Global says immigrants and refugees often have valuable job skills that are in high demand in the United States. But the group says they often still have trouble finding work because of cultural differences.

The new office is meant to help polish immigrants’ job searching skills and connect them with local employers.

MDCH / MDCH

Michigan Health Director Jim Haveman says a Medicaid program that pays for in-home care is being revamped.

A recent state audit showed the program allowed some convicted felons to work with patients.

Haveman says the changes will protect taxpayers and patients.

Gov. Rick Snyder has cemented a formal relationship between Michigan and Israel to collaborate on industrial research and development.

The governor and Israeli Consul General to the Midwest Roey Gilad signed a memorandum of understanding Monday in Dearborn.  

Snyder says the deal was reached after more than a year of talks with Israeli officials.

“I look forward to seeing this not be the end of something, but merely a stopping point on a journey of strengthened relationships,” said Snyder.

The formal relationship is partly the result of the governor’s trade mission to Israel this time last year. That trip was cut short by negotiations in Lansing over expanding Medicaid.

Gov. Rick Snyder
Michigan Municipal League / Flickr

The number of refugees who have settled in Michigan has grown in recent years – and Governor Rick Snyder says more should be done to help them.

At a town hall meeting at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Snyder called on community leaders to help the state find ways to help refugees.

“It’s important that we find ways to help these people - they’ve gone through terrible circumstances – about making them feel welcome in our country,” Snyder told reporters after the town hall.

“We want to be more proactive. So, that’s where I actually want to work with groups to really make sure we’ve identified the various issues. I think there’s more work that we can do to improve.”

The governor stopped short of offering any specific policy proposals to address the issue.

Immigration groups say the number of refugees in Michigan has been climbing due in part to conflicts in the Middle East.

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The top lawmaker in the state Senate says he’s now on board with legislation to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in Michigan.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, is now also embracing a bill that would allow state-certified patients to use edible and other non-smokable forms of marijuana.

Richardville was not a fan of the legislation when the state House approved it late last year. But he says that has changed as he’s heard more from supporters of the bills.

“This is for well-meaning people and it’s all for medical purposes. And [patients and caregivers] came and gave some moving testimony,” said Richardville.

“There’s so much to learn about that topic, and I didn’t know a lot about it. And I didn’t realize how difficult smoking is for some people and the different ingestion techniques that are important to them.”

Supporters of House Bill 4271 say dispensaries allow people to get treatment right away, instead of having to wait for a caregiver to grow and cultivate marijuana. They say that process can take months. Patients with certain diseases, such as cancer, sometimes don’t live long enough to get the benefits of medical marijuana.

A number of state Supreme Court rulings in recent years have made it impossible for dispensaries to operate the way they did when Michigan voters first approved the state’s Medical Marijuana Act in 2008.

Advocates say House Bill 5104 is also necessary because a recent Michigan Court of Appeals ruling limited legal medical marijuana use to smokable forms. They say children and people with respiratory illnesses should not be forced to smoke cannabis. Products like candies, lotions, and oils can produce unique benefits and some don’t produce a “high” effect, according to patients and caregivers.

Richardville chairs the Senate Government Operations Committee, where the bills sit now. He expects to move the bills to the Senate floor over the summer. He says a vote in the full state Senate could come as early as September.

William Mu / Flickr

State lawmakers have backed down from penalizing Michigan State University over controversial courses about organized labor. The $500,000 fine was taken out of a budget bill approved this week in the Legislature.

“As we’ve made the rounds and talked to a number of members, I think as we give them all information, I think there’s fewer concerns than were originally raised,” said David Bertram, MSU’s assistant vice president for state affairs.

Bertram says no taxpayer money is used to support the program.

“As a matter of fact, we actually make a small profit off of this that goes into the graduate program at our school of human resources and labor relations,” he said.

The program is offered to groups hoping to learn more about union organizing. It is not open to regular undergraduate or graduate students.

The state budget for the fiscal year starting in October is on its way to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk.

Researchers are going to find out how well rubberized asphalt will resist potholes.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Legislation to fix Michigan’s crumbling roads will have to wait until lawmakers return from their summer break.

The state Senate failed multiple times this week to pass comprehensive road spending plans – and even rejected legislation that would make structural changes to the system, but keep funding at or near current levels.

Now, lawmakers have left Lansing and probably won’t hold any more votes until August or September.

Peter Ito / flickr

A plan to ask voters to approve a 1% sales tax hike to help fix Michigan's roads has been defeated in the state Senate.

The proposal was expected to raise about $1.3 billion a year if approved by lawmakers and voters.

The resolution failed by a wide margin, 14-24. It would have needed 26 'yes' votes to pass.

The Senate is expected to take up a number of other road funding bills this afternoon. A plan to increase the state's gas tax to raise more than $1.4 billion a year is expected to come up for a vote later today.

Ariel Dovas

The top Republican in the state Senate says he’s not satisfied with the amount of money lawmakers have set aside for film and TV productions.

The Legislature is expected to wrap up a state budget this week. It will include $50 million in film incentives. That’s the same as last year, but half of that money is now slated to continue into future budgets.

Gov. Rick Snyder has sought to cut the film incentives since he took office in 2011. He says the state can make better investments that create more of an economic return.

James Marvin Phelps / Flickr

Gov. Rick Snyder wants a road funding solution on his desk by the end of this week.

Lawmakers will meet three days this week before they’re expected to go on their summer break.

One of the governor’s biggest priorities in his first term has been to boost infrastructure spending by more than $1 billion a year. But with political campaigns about to heat up over the summer, a legislative deal still hasn’t materialized.

The governor does not want the issue to stay unresolved until the fall - or later.

User: Nic Redhead / Flickr

Silverio Lopez and his son Antonio run their Tequila Cabresto brand out of their house in Southwest Detroit. They say about 60 restaurants in and around the city carry their brand of small batch, craft tequila. They also own a rim and tire shop just down the street. In total, they employ close to 10 people.

Silverio emigrated from Mexico in the early '80s. He says there were many reasons for settling down and starting a business in Detroit.

“The properties were cheap, the rent was cheaper, plus we had family here already,” he said through Antonio, who translated from Spanish.

The Lopez family exemplifies the kind of people Gov. Rick Snyder hopes to attract to Michigan – people with an entrepreneurial spirit who can create jobs.

But some critics of the governor’s new EB-5 visa program say it’s a slap in the face to immigrants like Silverio Lopez, who came here with nothing.

flickr/Schlüsselbein2007

Michigan is doing a better job calculating high school dropout and graduation rates. That’s according a new report from the state auditor general’s office.

An audit in 2006 showed the state was not providing reliable data on graduations and dropouts. It made a list of recommendations for how the Center for Educational Performance and Information (CEPI) could do better.

Now, the auditor general says the department has met all those recommendations.

MichigansChildren / YouTube

Late last year, the state’s top education official had dire predictions for the finances of Michigan schools. He predicted the number of districts in deficit could reach 100 “before long.”

Now, state Superintendent Mike Flanagan says the situation is stabilizing, and he credits increased funding from the state.

“Debates aside about how much of an increase there is – there’s been improved funding the last couple years,” said Flanagan. “I think there could be more. But I think that’s helped.”

Flanagan gave his latest regular update to the state Legislature Thursday on school districts with budget deficits. He says the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) expects the number of deficit districts to have dropped from 52 to 45 over the course of this school year.

Flanagan says the state’s sluggish economy in recent years has made it difficult to help schools get their books in order.

“Now we’re coming out of it,” he said, “and we need to continue to invest in our kids. And I appreciate the start that this legislature and governor have made. I do think we can and will do more in the future.”

Flanagan is urging state lawmakers to create an “early warning system” for schools facing financial emergencies. Legislation in the state Senate would also make it easier for the state to assign an emergency manager if a district violates a deficit elimination plan.

Democrats say it’s not fair to say Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican-controlled Legislature have increased state education funding. Republicans include money that went into the teacher pension system.

WFIU Public Radio / Creative Commons

It looked like there might be a wave of bipartisan cooperation in Lansing. Lawmakers recently voted to raise the state’s minimum wage and contribute almost $200 million to help Detroit emerge from bankruptcy.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore with road funding negotiations in flux.

State lawmakers want to find a way to increase funding for roads in the next couple weeks. That’s when they leave Lansing for the summer.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

State lawmakers have committed to contributing $195 million to Detroit's bankruptcy settlement.

The state Senate gave final legislative approval to the bills to help protect retiree pensions and prevent the sale of city-owned artwork at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

“Today we are all Detroiters and we are all Michiganians,” said U.S District Court Judge Gerald Rosen following the vote. Rosen has been overseeing talks between Detroit and its creditors, and is considered the architect of the "grand bargain."

gophouse.com

Governor. Rick Snyder is firing back against critics of his so-called “pension tax.”

Snyder gave a special address on aging Monday in Rochester. He used part of the speech to defend his 2011 decision, which ended the practice of exempting pensions from state income tax.

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A bill to boost Michigan’s minimum wage would not be tied to inflation if a state House committee chair gets his way.

The legislation would gradually boost the wage from $7.40 to $9.20 an hour over three years. After 2017, it would index the minimum wage to inflation.

That last provision is something House Government Operations Committee Chair Pete Lund doesn’t want.

“I’ve never been a fan of that,” said Lund, R-Shelby Township. “And I don’t think that’s good economics. I don’t think that’s good for job creation in the long run.”

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

It looks like efforts to boost state road funding by about $1.4 billion may have stalled in the state Senate. That’s after Senate Democrats came out against the plan because it would significantly increase the state’s gas tax.

Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, says increasing the amount people pay at the pump would disproportionately hurt the poor.

State capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The debate over raising Michigan’s minimum wage moves to the state House Wednesday.

A legislative panel will hear testimony on a bill that cleared the state Senate last week. Senate Bill 934 would gradually increase the wage from $7.40 an hour to $9.20 an hour. After 2017, the minimum wage would rise with inflation.  

State Rep. Pete Lund, R-Shelby Township, chairs the panel. He says he’s open to the plan – but he has some concerns.

net_efekt / Flickr

The Michigan Senate could vote this week on bills that would increase state funding for roads by $1.3-1.4 billion a year. That’s almost triple the amount recently approved by the state House.

Under the Senate plan, people would gradually pay more taxes at the pump over the next few years.

The proposal was brought to light the same day the Michigan Chamber of Commerce unveiled a poll suggesting most Michiganders are ready to pay more for better roads.

Inside the Michigan Senate.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A bill to raise Michigan’s minimum wage from $7.40 to $9.20 an hour by 2017 has cleared the state Senate.

The bill is really an attempt by Republicans in Lansing to kill a petition drive that would raise the minimum wage to 10.10 an hour – including for tipped workers.

Light Brigade / Flickr

Leaders of the petition drive to raise Michigan’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour say a Republican attempt to derail their effort is nothing but a “dirty trick.” They also say it won’t stop them from turning in signatures to put their question in front of the Legislature, and, if necessary, voters.

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Legislation that would create a statewide teacher evaluation system has cleared its first hurdle in the Michigan Legislature. A state House panel approved the bills Tuesday with bipartisan support.

A diverse coalition of Michigan education groups recently came out in support of the legislation. Supporters say that could help clear the way for the Legislature to approve the bills before lawmakers leave Lansing in June for two months.

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