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 State University could risk losing $500,000 if it does not stop offering courses that allegedly promote unionization.

A state Senate panel approved a measure Thursday banning courses at public universities that promote or discourage organizing efforts. It’s a reaction to MSU’s recent decision to take over some programs from the National Labor College.

Republicans say those courses violate the proposed rule.

“I believe in academic freedom, and you’re going to have difficult subjects that you’re going to cover at any university,” said state Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, who chairs the panel that directs higher education funding in the House. 

“But this is a case where I think we’re almost encouraging labor disputes, and I don’t think that’s appropriate.”

The only Democrat that sits on the Senate panel that approved the penalty says it’s unusual for lawmakers to scrutinize university programs this intensely.

“Why just this program?” asked state Sen. Morris Hood III, D-Detroit. “And I would guess to believe that this is a hot topic item and it ruffles a lot of feathers.”

An MSU official says the university’s curriculum is balanced. He says it also offers classes that educate businesses on labor issues.

Pscholka says lawmakers will probably decide whether to move forward with the $500,000 penalty when they return from a three-week break in April.

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Michigan is joining at least 17 other states in calling for a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

On Wednesday, the state Senate gave final approval to a resolution formally asking Congress to call a constitutional convention to consider the amendment. It would take 34 total states to compel Congress to call a constitutional convention.

Jake Neher / MPRN

A widely unpopular tax on business equipment in Michigan is one step closer to being permanently repealed.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say the industrial portion of Michigan’s Personal Property Tax (PPT) is a job killer and keeps companies from investing in new equipment.

Marijuana plant.
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Michiganders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder can now get a card to use medical marijuana.

The state’s director of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, Steve Arwood, gave final approval to add PTSD to the state’s medical marijuana program about a week after it was recommended by a state review panel.

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There’s a new push in Lansing to pass legislation meant to fight scrap metal theft in Michigan. Votes in the House and Senate could come as soon as this week.

Supporters of House Bills 4593 and 4595 say the state must require a paper trail whenever someone sells commonly stolen items to a scrap yard.

State Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, says there has been disagreement over how best to do that. But she says she is confident lawmakers will reach a deal soon.

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A controversial law banning elective abortion coverage in standard health insurance plans is now in effect. It requires people who want abortion coverage to buy it as a separate, optional insurance policy.

The initiated law was championed by Right to Life of Michigan and passed by the state Legislature late last year.

Since then, seven insurance companies have decided to offer separate, optional abortion policies, or “riders,” for employers to offer their workers. Those plans cost between a penny and 32 cents extra every month for each employee.

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Michigan craft breweries are cheering the state Legislature for passing bills to ease some state regulations.

The state House sent the bill package to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk Thursday.

One bill would double the amount of beer Michigan microbreweries could produce every year.  

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

It could soon be easier for phone companies to end traditional landline service in Michigan.

The state Senate gave final legislative approval to the measure Thursday. Senate Bill 636, which was championed by AT&T, now goes to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk.

Jake Neher/ MPRN

State lawmakers are about to dive into the process of crafting a budget for next fiscal year. But they have to fix some problems with the current year’s budget first.

One of the biggest concerns is a hole in the state’s Medicaid budget of more than $100 million. Everyone agrees that shortfall needs to be addressed. But the state House and Senate have not been able to agree on how to fix it or where that money should come from.

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The debate over reviving medical marijuana dispensaries in Michigan starts up again in Lansing this week.

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Dakota Serna served in the Marines during the Iraq War. He says memories of seeing friends and children killed left him suicidal after he came home. Serna says the only thing that has helped him get his life back on track is using marijuana.  

But that puts him on the wrong side of the law as it is currently written.

“Somebody on paper can say that I’m a criminal,” said Serna. “Somebody can come to my house and try to put me in handcuffs. But I’m not a criminal.”

Lauri Rantala / Wikimedia Commons

It could soon be illegal to sell electronic cigarettes to children in Michigan. The state Senate unanimously passed legislation Thursday meant to keep the smokeless devices out of the hands of minors.

So-called “e-cigarettes” deliver a nicotine-laced vapor, but don’t contain tobacco. That means the state cannot currently regulate them along with regular cigarettes and other tobacco products.

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Lawmakers in the state House have approved a $2 million pilot program to encourage schools to go year-round.

Schools in mostly low-income areas could get money from the state to add air-conditioning and other things allowing them to operate in the summer. The measure was introduced by Rep. Andy Schor, D-Lansing, and Gov. Rick Snyder called on lawmaker to pass it in his budget address last month.

Supporters say students lose too much of what they learn after long summer breaks.

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Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan hopes to renew state lawmakers’ interest in curbing scrap metal theft across the state. Duggan met with Democrats and Republicans in the state House on Wednesday.  

He wants to make sure the House does not approve a Senate version of legislation that he says does not go far enough to crack down on illegal scrap metal sales.

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The state House and Senate have not been able to agree on a mid-year budget bill.

The legislation could address emergency money for Michigan roads being torn apart by severe winter weather. But the House and Senate disagree about how much is needed to address the problem. They also don’t agree about whether to patch a $100 million-plus hole in the state’s Medicaid budget.

Lawmakers formed a conference committee Wednesday to iron out those differences.

Senate Appropriations Chair Roger Kahn says addressing the Medicaid shortfall should be a no-brainer.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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