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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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.

click / morgueFile

The state’s top health official says Michigan could be more transparent about how many people get infections while at hospitals.

A recent MLive.com series suggests the state has withheld that information from the public. That includes infection rates at specific hospitals.

Jim Haveman, director of the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH), says that information is becoming more important for many patients.

Jake Neher / MPRN

Michigan veterans and active duty military families now have new resources to help handle legal issues. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette released two new legal guides Thursday.

“Sometimes trying to help veterans in transition coming back from a deployment, it can get a bit complicated,” said Schuette.

“It could be anything from child custody to divorce to employment issues, what have you. And so what we’re trying to do is put out a practical guide to try to help veterans across Michigan.”

Marijuana plant
bobdoran / Flickr

The state attorney general is not saying why he opposes bills that would ease restrictions on medical marijuana in Michigan. Some top lawmakers are now urging Bill Schuette to detail his concerns.

user elioja / Flickr

Two bills that would ease restrictions on medical marijuana in Michigan are one step closer to becoming law. A state Senate panel approved the legislation Wednesday.

But it is not clear what will happen to the bills now that they are going to the full Senate.

House Bill 4271 would let communities decide to allow and regulate medical marijuana dispensaries. House Bill 5104 would allow patients to use edible and other non-smokable forms of cannabis.

user cedarbenddrive / Flickr

The state Legislature returns briefly from its summer break Wednesday for its only scheduled session day in July.

No full floor votes are expected in either the House or the Senate. But a number of legislative panels will meet to discuss a wide variety of issues.

The state Senate Government Operations Committee is expected to approve two high-profile medical marijuana bills. House Bill 4271 would allow medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in Michigan. House Bill 5104 would allow patients to use edible and other non-smokable forms of marijuana.

Joy Weese Moll / Flickr

The Michigan Department of Treasury is going after the CIA for unpaid taxes. At least, that’s what newly uncovered documents would suggest.

Three tax liens were evidently filed by the Michigan Department of Treasury against the CIA between February 2012 and March of this year. They claim the agency did not pay state income taxes on behalf of an undisclosed number of CIA employees working in the state.

The documents were first reported by the Lansing State Journal.

Many questions still surround the tax assessments. Under state law, treasury officials cannot speak publicly about individual tax cases. The CIA would not talk on the record about the liens.

user Laura4Smith / Flickr

In less than four months, Michigan has already hit its 2014 enrollment goal for the state’s expanded Medicaid program.

More than 322,000 low-income Michiganders now have government sponsored healthcare through the Healthy Michigan program.

Officials with the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) say the dramatic jump in enrollment will help boost the state’s economy.

“We’ve heard stories about people who are now addressing some really serious health problems that prevented them from working,” said Angela Minicuci, a spokesperson for MDCH.

James Marvin Phelps

New computer modeling from the University of Michigan shows the possible effects of an oil spill under the Straits of Mackinac. It shows oil would spread widely across Northern Michigan shorelines.

The National Wildlife Federation  says twin pipelines under the Straits are in poor condition and could rupture.

“To have an oil spill of the magnitude that’s potential … with the reach, the scope, and the travel that would occur from such a spill – it would be a deathblow for Great Lakes ecology and economy,” said Andy Buchsbaum, executive director the NWF’s Great Lakes Natural Resources Center.

“Everybody recognizes that that spill would be devastating,” he said. “And I think that this report actually puts a scientific point on how devastating it would be.”

The pipelines are operated by Enbridge, the company responsible for the 2010 oil spill in the Kalamazoo River. Enbridge says the pipelines are operating safely.

Below are videos of U of M's Straits of Mackinac contaminant release scenarios:

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.”

Thetoad / Flickr

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.”

user cedarbenddrive / Flickr

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.

User Eljoja / Flickr

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.

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