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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Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
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Legislation to repeal and replace a tax on business equipment has cleared the state Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support. The bills seek to make sure local governments are not hit hard by a repeal of Michigan's Personal Property Tax (PPT).

The tax is widely unpopular. But cities, towns, and counties rely on it to provide basic services to residents such as police, fire, and snow plowing.

Jake Neher / MPRN

Gov. Rick Snyder says the state could do a better job protecting foster children if it changed the way it paid for the service.

The governor unveiled a report Thursday that says the state should pay foster care agencies based on their performance. Right now, those agencies all get paid the same regardless of their track records or the needs of individual foster children.

User Motown31 / Creative Commons

Legislation that would encourage schools in Michigan to go year-round has cleared a state House panel.

The bill would create a $2 million pilot program to help schools add air conditioning and other things that would allow them to operate in the summer. It would affect schools in mostly low-income areas of the state.

Salt trucks
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Lawmakers in the state House want to more than double the amount of emergency money for Michigan roads being ripped apart by nasty winter weather.

Last week, the state Senate approved $100 million to help fix potholes and plow roads. On Wednesday, a state House panel added another $115 million dollars for roads to the bill.  

“I think people are going to look at that and say that’s the way we’re giving back to the public – better roads as quickly as possible, a lot of it going to locals,” said Rep. Joe Haveman, R-Holland, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

Jake Neher / MPRN

Michigan lawmakers want to make sure local governments do not take a hit if voters decide to repeal an unpopular tax on business equipment.

State officials are urging voters to repeal the tax. They say it is outdated and kills jobs. But local governments depend on that tax to provide basic services to residents.

On Tuesday, lawmakers introduced bipartisan legislation that would fully compensate cities, towns, and counties if the tax is phased out.

Michigan’s Medicaid program faces a budget shortfall this year of more than $100 million. That’s because a new tax on health insurance claims is not producing as much revenue as state officials expected.

This week, the state Senate passed a mid-year budget bill that would patch that hole in the Medicaid budget. That’s the same bill that includes $100 million dollars to help fix and maintain roads being torn apart by nasty winter weather.

LisaW123 / Flickr

The state Senate has approved a plan to fix and maintain roads being ripped apart by brutal winter weather. The Senate passed a mid-year budget bill Thursday that includes $100 million of emergency money for roads.

The state Department of Transportation and local governments have been constantly running snow plows, spreading salt, and patching potholes. That means they’re looking at huge winter budget overages.

User Motown31 / Creative Commons

The Michigan Department of Education will end its exclusive contract with the Education Achievement Authority to oversee some of the state's lowest-performing schools.

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan has sent a letter to the EAA notifying it that the contract will be terminated a year from now.

The MDE says it still intends to use the EAA to turn around struggling schools. It says ending the contract will simply open up more options to other entities that can oversee the schools.

The EAA currently runs 15 schools in Detroit. 

Martin Ackley is a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Education.

"There are situations where a struggling school may be better served by a neighboring school district or the local intermediate school district as opposed to the EAA."

Ackley says the state still intends to use the EAA to help oversee struggling schools. He says ending the contract will simply give state education officials more options.

"Now, this is in no way a statement or an indication of alack of confidence in the EAA or its academic strategies. This is just an action that needed to be taken in order to provide flexibility and to provide options other than the EAA in which to place these most struggling schools."

Critics of the EAA say it's struggling with declining enrollment, finances, and school safety. Lawmakers are considering legislation that would bolster the authority and allow it to expand it statewide. 

Pothole in a road.
Wikimedia Commons

A monster pothole season is upon us – and state lawmakers say they want to help.

A state Senate panel on Tuesday added $100 million for road repairs and maintenance to a mid-year budget bill to help communities fix potholes and plow roads.

Lawmakers say local governments need the help to offset the costs of constant snow removal and efforts to fix potholes caused by the nasty winter weather.

User Motown31 / Creative Commons

Some at-risk schools in Michigan could soon get more state funding if they agree to go year-round. A state House panel heard testimony on the idea Tuesday.

In his budget address this month, Gov. Rick Snyder called for a state pilot program to encourage year-round schooling. School districts could get money to add air conditioning and other upgrades to old buildings so they could operate during the summer.

Supporters of the measure say students lose a lot of what they learn during the school year after long summer breaks.

USFWS

Some Michigan medical marijuana patients and caregivers could soon be banned from smoking or growing cannabis where they live.

A state Senate panel approved a bill on Tuesday that would let landlords decide whether to allow tenants to grow or smoke medical marijuana.

“We’ve had a lot of apartment owners that have people smoking marijuana or growing marijuana, doing damage to the apartments, creating danger for other residents,” said state Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, who introduced the legislation.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

State lawmakers want to know whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is inflating the cost and time it would take to keep invasive species out of the Great Lakes.

Army Corp officials will face questions from legislators Tuesday about a report it released last month.

It says separating the lakes from the Mississippi River would take more than two decades and up to $18 billion to complete.

Many state officials and environmental groups say separating the two watersheds is the best way to prevent Asian carp and other species from moving into the Great Lakes.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

State lawmakers are holding off on a bill that would allow attorneys to end their membership with the State Bar of Michigan. That’s happening while a state Supreme Court task force reviews whether mandatory State Bar membership is appropriate.

Some are calling Senate Bill 743 a “right to work” bill for lawyers.

The sponsor of the legislation is applauding the court’s decision to weigh in.

“Because it’s better suited to be handled by the Supreme Court – the Bar is underneath their jurisdiction – they should look at those questions,” said Sen. Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive. “I’m glad that I prompted them to ask the question, but that’s why I did it.”

Jake Neher / MPRN

The head of the state’s prison system blames a murderer’s recent escape from an Ionia prison largely on human error. That prisoner escaped earlier this month, and was caught in Indiana the next day.

Democrats want to know whether budget cuts had a role in the escape.  

Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) Director Dan Heyns told a state Senate budget panel Thursday that the prison had all the resources, equipment, and procedures it needed to prevent the escape.

Heyns says the blame falls on him and his department – not on the governor and state lawmakers.

Thomas Favre-Bulle / Flickr

The Michigan State Board of Education hopes public school funding will be a top priority for voters when they head to the polls in November.

The board on Tuesday kicked off a series of discussions meant to publicly critique the way the state pays for public education. The talks will continue at its monthly meetings until November.

Gary Kramer / USFWS

A group hoping to end wolf hunting in Michigan says a law banning out-of-state petition circulators is unconstitutional. It filed a lawsuit Monday in federal court challenging the law.

Right now, only Michigan residents are allowed to collect signatures for ballot campaigns and voter initiatives.

Rick Pluta / MPRN

About 500 people packed a Michigan State University campus hall Friday to witness President Barack Obama sign the new federal farm bill.

The event capped years of negotiations and some tough compromises with Congress on the complex legislation. President Obama said he’s always glad to return to Michigan to cheer the auto industry recovery. Now, he says, it’s time to do the same for agriculture and rural America.

morguefile

Legislation meant to crack down on animal abuse in Michigan is one step closer to becoming law.

A state House panel approved bills Thursday that would ban convicted animal abusers from adopting an animal for five years. The legislation would also give animal shelters free access to a state database they could use to run background checks.

State Rep. Harvey Santana, D-Detroit, is spearheading the effort in the House.

“It just says, for the state of Michigan, we are a leader in the nation when it comes to how we approach the humanity of dealing with animals,” said Santana.

The legislation now goes to the full state House.

Thetoad / Flickr

Debate over the state budget is underway in Lansing.

State lawmakers held their first budget hearings Thursday, a day after Governor Rick Snyder laid out his plan to fund state government into next year.

One of the first issues being discussed comes from a Democrat. The proposal from state Sen. Glenn Anderson, D-Westland, would give recent college graduates a tax break for staying in Michigan.

Rick Pluta / MPRN

Governor Rick Snyder’s budget proposal calls for more money for schools, universities, and local governments. The governor presented his budget proposal Wednesday before a joint hearing of the state House and Senate appropriations committees. He says the plan is a frugal budget, but it makes badly needed investments.

“The investments are working that we’ve made over the past few years,” said Snyder. “They’ve been strong investments, good investments, but let’s finish the job we’ve started.” 

The governor also called for an election year tax break.

A homestead property tax credit – that could be claimed against last year’s taxes – would target more than a million low- and middle-income families. The governor says it would send help to taxpayers that need it the most. 

He also asked for more money for roads, healthcare, early childhood education, and law enforcement – as well as a large deposit in the state’s “rainy day” savings.

The budget proposal was met with mixed reactions from school groups, local governments, and Democrats.

Many public school officials in Michigan say the 3% funding boost is helpful. But they say it’s not nearly enough to offset years of inadequate funding from the state. And they it’s not clear how much of that money will have to go to things like teacher retirement costs.

Still Burning / Flickr

So-called “juvenile lifers” in Michigan would not get a chance at parole under a bill approved Tuesday by the state House. That’s unless the Michigan Supreme Court or the U.S. Supreme Court rule otherwise.

Michigan’s top education official is panning legislation that would automatically hold back third graders who fail a state reading test.

“You don’t automatically retain kids. That’s just insane,” said state Superintendent Mike Flanagan. “This is up to teachers and parents together.”

Flanagan was speaking on the Michigan Public Television program “Off the Record.”

user cedarbenddrive / Flickr

Legislation to raise Michigan’s minimum wage is not likely to go anywhere in 2014.

Republican leaders in the state House and Senate are not eager to take up bills to raise it above $7.40 an hour.

“It’s a firm ‘no’ for me,” said Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe. “I think that individual CEOs of companies in Michigan should make those decisions based on the marketplace, not some arbitrary law.”

morguefile

Oil and gas companies in Michigan could soon get a tax break for better utilizing wells, and the proposed measure is causing a split among environmental groups in the state.

A state House panel held its first hearing Tuesday on a bill meant to encourage companies not to abandon oil and gas wells once they’re no longer profitable. Supporters of the legislation say it is meant to encourage an extraction method that pumps carbon dioxide into older or low-producing wells to get relatively small amounts of oil out.

The state House could vote soon on a measure to require political candidates to reveal felony convictions that occurred within the prior 10 years.   

The bill would require candidates to indicate the convictions when they file to run for office. Convictions that are expunged or sealed by a court order would be exempt.

State Rep. Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Twp., sponsored the bill. 

“We’re trying to make sure the electorate knows who we are, and we’re being transparent,” said Kesto, a former prosecutor. “Because when it comes to criminal activity, it comes to the integrity of certain individuals who are the candidates, and we should be held to a higher standard.”

Kesto says the measure is not aimed at anyone in particular. However, there is a House Democrat, state Rep. Brian Banks, D-Detroit, whose eight felonies for fraud remained a secret until late in his primary campaign.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Michigan voters could see a question on the November ballot this year asking them to make the state Legislature part-time.

The Committee to Restore Michigan’s Part-Time Legislature has turned in petition language to the state Bureau of Elections.

“This is about actually taking a Legislature that’s been pretty much dominated by lobbyists and getting them back into a citizen-driven ideology,” said the group’s chair, Norman Kammeraad, on the Michigan Public Television program “Off the Record.”

Thetoad / Flickr

Attorneys would no longer be required to pay membership dues to the State Bar of Michigan, under a new bill in Lansing.

In 2012, the state made it illegal to require workers to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment, making Michigan the 24th right-to-work state.

State Sen. Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, introduced a bill today that would extend that same idea to lawyers. He says the State Bar has become a political organization, and its members should also have the choice to leave.

Pothole in a road.
Wikimedia Commons

Michigan’s top transportation official is blasting state lawmakers for all but giving up on passing a long-term road funding fix this year.

Gov. Rick Snyder wants the Legislature to boost funding for roads and infrastructure by more than $1 billion a year. But lawmakers say Michigan voters are not ready to support raising taxes or fees to pay for it. Some say the roads may have to get worse before they can get better.

User Motown31 / Creative Commons

Michigan school groups are weighing Governor Rick Snyder’s proposal to help reduce the number of students who regularly miss school. In his State of the State speech Thursday night, the governor called for a state-wide definition of truancy.

He says it’s hard to address the problem when each school district has different standards for what that means.

Officials with the state’s largest teacher’s union, the Michigan Education Association (MEA), say a state-wide standard for truancy would be useful.

jdurham / mourgeFile

  Teachers unions say they liked at least one thing Governor Rick Snyder said during his State of the State address Thursday night. The governor called for state incentives to encourage school districts to go year-round.

Under the plan, schools that volunteer would still have the same number of vacation days. They would just be spread out more throughout the year.

“Let’s try it!” said American Federation of Teachers of Michigan President David Hecker.

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