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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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.”

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.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

​Michigan’s top education official says he might stop 11 charter school authorizers from opening new schools. 

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan says they would be able to continue to operate the charters they already oversee. It’s a reaction to a recent Detroit Free Press series that suggested conflicts of interest, a lack of transparency, and mixed academic results in Michigan charters.

Gary Naeyaert directs the Great Lakes Education Project – a lobbying group which advocates for charter schools. He says Flanagan did not evaluate the authorizers fairly before putting them on the list.

“To take all of the students of an authorizer’s portfolio and lump them all together and treat them as if they’re one big school building, that’s just not the way that it is out there,” Naeyaert said.

Some charter school critics say Superintendent Flanagan’s warning does not go far enough. They say bad charter schools and their authorizers should be shut down right away.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

The state Board of Education will urge the state Legislature to revisit Michigan’s charter school law. It’s a reaction to a recent Detroit Free Press series that suggested conflicts of interest, a lack of transparency, and mixed academic results in Michigan charters.

John Austin is the president of the state Board of Education.

“We need clarity on who’s policing the system and when they pull the trigger and who’s responsible for shutting down schools or preventing authorizers from authorizing new schools.”

State Superintendent of Schools Mike Flanagan says he’s already considering using his authority to stop some institutions from authorizing charters. Charter school supporters say Michigan already has some of the toughest regulations on charters in the country.

Todd Walsh / Michigan Historic Preservation Office

The head of Michigan’s housing authority is resigning. That’s after public documents showed Scott Woosley racked up big bills while traveling on state business.

    

Woosley asked to be reimbursed for over $200,000 in expenses since 2012. That’s according to public records released this week by the Michigan Democratic Party, which obtained them through the Freedom of Information Act.

The documents show Woosley ate at pricey restaurants and stayed at luxury hotels while traveling on behalf of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA).

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Michigan Democrats are blasting the head of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) for racking up tens of thousands of dollars in expenses.

The Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) released public documents Thursday showing items expensed by MSHDA Director Scott Woosley since 2012. They include things like lavish meals and hotels costing between $400 and $500 a night.

Keith Ivey / Flickr

More than 82% of all registered voters sat out Michigan’s primary election this week. 

That’s not the all-time low some observers predicted before the election, but they say the number is still dismal. And many of them expect low voter turnout again for Michigan’s general election in November.

Michiganders have until the end of Thursday to tell state officials what they think of proposed new rules for fracking.

The rules would require oil and gas companies to do more water quality testing and provide more information to the public.

Jake Neher / MPRN

Michigan education officials are in the process of finding a new standardized test … again.

More than a hundred people were in Lansing Wednesday to tell the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) what they want out of a new assessment.

MDE had already chosen the Smarter Balanced assessment three years ago. But many lawmakers were not happy with that test because it’s aligned with the controversial Common Core school standards.

sushi ina / flickr

A state elections board has rejected a petition to raise Michigan’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour in a 3 to 1 vote.

The Board of State Canvassers says the campaign failed to collect enough valid signatures to move forward.

John Pirich is with the group opposing the minimum wage proposal. He praised the board for throwing out dozens of duplicate signatures.

“I’m 100% confident that what we’ve shown them in terms of duplication will be confirmed by any review of any of them.”

Groups that support raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour could challenge the decision in court. They say the elections board went out of its way to throw out petition signatures.

*This post has been updated.

Larry McGahey / Flickr

A petition that would allow future wolf hunts in the Upper Peninsula is headed to the state Legislature.

The initiative would allow the hunts regardless of how two anti-wolf hunting referendums turn out.

A state elections board approved almost 300,000 petition signatures for the proposal today.

State lawmakers have 40 days to pass the measure. Otherwise, it will go on the statewide ballot in November.

Bob LaBrant is with the group that gathered the signatures. He says it’s clear the Legislature supports wolf hunting and will approve the measure.

“We think the Legislature, who’s already dealt with this subject twice only to be frustrated by referendums, will prevail in the end.”

The petition could still be challenged in court. Opponents of wolf hunting say it deals with too many issues unrelated to wolf hunting.

*This post has been updated.

Detroit Institute of Arts
Maia C/Flickr

Gov. Rick Snyder is praising Detroit pensioners for approving the city’s bankruptcy restructuring plan.

The so-called “grand bargain” is designed to prevent deep cuts to retirement benefits and protect city-owned artwork at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Snyder says the vote this week makes it more likely the city will emerge from bankruptcy soon.

“I really appreciate retirees taking that positive vote because it was hard,” he told reporters Tuesday at an appearance in Detroit.

Jake Neher / MPRN

Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson says foreign investment and immigration will be critical to turning around Michigan’s economy.

The former aide to President George W. Bush spoke before the Detroit Economic Club Monday afternoon with Gov. Rick Snyder.

“Make Michigan attractive for investment, period. OK? Make it attractive,” said Paulson.

He says Michigan should especially look to China to help boost the state’s economy. He says many Chinese businesses are looking to expand overseas, and Michigan needs to make it clear they are welcome.

WKAR-TV

The top Democrat in the state House says a road funding solution will probably have to wait until after the November election.

State House Minority Leader Tim Greimel says too many lawmakers are not willing to make the tough vote until they’re past their reelection bids. That’s because boosting infrastructure spending by more than a billion dollars a year would likely mean raising taxes to pay for it.

“I think there’s a very high likelihood that it doesn’t occur until lame duck, unfortunately,” said Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, on an appearance over the weekend on the Michigan Public Television program Off the Record.

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