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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State lawmakers are moving forward with a bill they hope would make public information requests easier and cheaper.

A state House panel unanimously approved House Bill 4001 Tuesday. It would put limits on how much government offices could charge for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The measure would also increase penalties for public agencies that don’t respond to requests in a timely manner.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

People planning to take part in Michigan’s historic wolf hunt this year are likely to come home empty-handed.

State wildlife officials say they designed the hunt expecting only around 4% of hunters to kill a wolf.

“If we had any other game species, or deer hunting, or rabbit hunting, or squirrel hunting where you’d have 4% success rates, the hunters would be quite upset with us,” said Brian Roell, a wildlife biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

“So I think some folks are probably overestimating their ability to harvest a wolf.”

metassus / Flickr

Michigan wildlife officials are dismissing claims that bad information led to the state’s upcoming wolf hunt.

Opponents of the hunt are asking Governor Rick Snyder to suspend it based on a recent MLive report.   It raised questions about a number of alleged wolf encounters with humans, pets, and livestock in the U.P.

Indiana Public Media / Flickr

Michigan is one step closer to banning bridge card holders from using ATMs inside liquor stores, casinos, and strip clubs.

The state House passed the legislation Thursday with overwhelming bipartisan support.

“The use of the bridge card should be used as it is for the intent originally, making sure that families and children can have food on their table and providing for the necessities of life,” said bill sponsor Rep. Dale Zorn (R-Ida).

Thomas Hawk / Flickr

Starting next month, Michiganders who trade in old cars, boats, and RVs for new ones will get a tax cut. Gov. Rick Snyder signed bills today that would deduct the trade-in value of old vehicles from the taxable value of the new ones. Right now, people have to pay sales tax on the full price of the vehicle they’re buying. That’s regardless of whether they’re trading in an old one.

Jake Neher / MPRN

Advocates for early childhood education say recent policy changes in Lansing are undermining the state’s attempts to help Michigan kids.

This year’s state budget increases spending on preschool for low-income families by $65 million a year. But advocates say that alone does not guarantee better results for children.

The Real Estreya / Flickr

A state House panel could vote this week on a bill that would require schools to hold back 3rd graders who do not pass a state reading test.

Supporters of House Bill 5111 cite what’s known as “social promotion” – or allowing students to move to the next grade regardless of whether they have learned all the necessary material. They say students learn to read from grades one-through-three. After that, they’re reading to learn.  

kconnors / Morgue File

Legislation that would assign letter grades to schools based on student performance could move forward this week in Lansing.

The Michigan Department of Education recently released its new school accountability system, which uses color-codes to rate schools. But many state lawmakers say that system is too confusing for most parents and educators.

ChrisGoldNY / Flickr

Legislation to crack down on scrap metal theft in Michigan has cleared the state House.

Among other things, the legislation would require scrap dealers to wait three days before paying for certain items that are commonly stolen, such as copper wire and air conditioners. It would also require more paper work for scrap metal sales.

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Michigan schools would have to be more transparent about how they conduct emergency safety drills under a bill approved Wednesday in the state House.

House Bill 4713 would require schools to post on their websites when and how they do things like fire, tornado, and lock-down drills.

“So rather than fill out a two page report that sits in a desk drawer that nobody ever sees, just post it on the website for five days, and mom and dad and grandma and grandpa know that the drills are being conducted,” said bill sponsor Rep. Joe Graves (R-Argentine Township).

Tim Pearce, Los Gatos / Flickr

Bills meant to expand craft brewing in Michigan are one step closer to becoming law.

A state House panel unanimously approved the legislation Tuesday. Among other things, it would double the amount of beer microbreweries could produce every year.

“I think it’s a big step for craft brewing,” said House Regulatory Reform Committee Chair Hugh Crawford (R-Novi) after the vote. “It’s going to allow some to expand, some to do some other things that they’ve needed to do, which is going to provide jobs. So it’s going to be very beneficial to craft brewers.”

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State lawmakers have agreed to move forward with a new set of school standards in Michigan.

The state House on Tuesday gave final approval to a resolution which would pay for putting the Common Core State Standards in place.

Earlier this year, the Legislature barred the Michigan Department of Education from spending money to implement the standards while lawmakers debated the merits of Common Core. A state House panel heard more than 17 hours of testimony on the issue over the summer.

taliesen / Morgue File

Michiganders who illegally hunt trophy bucks would have to pay higher penalties under legislation in Lansing.

A state House panel is expected to take up Senate Bills 171 and 172 Tuesday.

larryfarr / Morgue File

People serving mandatory life sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles would not get a chance at re-sentencing, under a bill approved today by the state Senate.

It’s been more than a year since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled automatic life sentences without parole for minors cruel and unusual. This legislation would bring the state in compliance with that decision.

But state Sen. Bert Johnson (D-Detroit) says the state should hold re-sentencing hearings for those offenders. He says it’s important for judges to consider the details of each case.

TheToad / Flickr

The state Legislature is a step closer to reinstating funding for a new set of school standards.  Earlier this year, lawmakers barred Michigan education officials from spending money to implement the Common Core State Standards.

Today, the state Senate passed a resolution that would continue the funding under certain conditions.

“School districts all around the state have implemented Common Core or have been in the implementation stages … of implementing something that was agreed to and supported by the Board of Education, I think, in 2010,” said state Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe). “So it’s been around for three years.”

Among other things, the resolution says the standards cannot dictate curriculum to local schools.

“That’s something, I believe, needs to be addressed in the longer-term in a more forceful action by the Legislature, along with the governor, to ensure that Michigan is in charge of its own destiny,” said state Sen. John Moolenaar (R-Midland), one of the opponents of Common Core.

The resolution would allow state education officials to continue support for local schools that are already implementing Common Core.

The state House could give the measure final approval as early as next week. Superintendent Mike Flanagan has already told education officials to resume work on Common Core.

Pothole in a road.
Wikimedia Commons

Michigan’s top transportation official says the state Legislature cannot wait much longer to boost funding for roads.

Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) Director Kirk  Steudle says the state’s infrastructure continues to crumble while lawmakers debate the issue. He testified Wednesday in front of a joint House committee studying the issue.

“They’re going to continue to get worse every year,” Steudle told reporters after the hearing. “So the worst part is, the longer we wait, the more it’s going to cost us to go forward.”

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Anti-corruption protesters shouted from the state House gallery today as they showered Michigan lawmakers with fake $1 million bills. The group Represent Us says Michigan has one of the worst records of government corruption in the nation.

Republican state Rep. Pete Lund (R-Shelby Twp.) says the protest was out of line.

petitshoo / Flickr

State lawmakers have approved a plan to cut off unemployment benefits if a person fails or refuses to take a drug test as part of a job search.

“They know what the rules are,” said bill sponsor state Rep. Ken Goike (R-Ray Township). “And they have to be willing and able to work. And if you’re going to be doing that, and drug testing is required for your job, and you know it… So, it’s just common sense.”

But opponents of the bill say it’s nothing more than a political statement that serves to stigmatize people on unemployment.

Thomas Hawk / Flickr

State lawmakers have reached a deal to give a tax break to car buyers who trade in old vehicles.

Both the state House and Senate passed bills Tuesday that would deduct the trade-in value of the old vehicle from the taxable value of the new one.

For example, say you’re trading in a car worth $10,000 to buy a $30,000 dollar car. Right now, you have to pay sales tax on the full price of the new vehicle. Under this legislation, you would only pay sales tax on $20,000.

senatedems.com

A bill that would tie drug testing to unemployment benefits is a step closer to clearing the state Legislature. The state Senate approved the plan Thursday.

People who fail or refuse to take a drug test as part of a job search would not be eligible for unemployment under the bill.

Many Democrats in Lansing take issue with the concept.

“It’s about demonizing a group of Michigan citizens and starting a witch-hunt to score political points,” said Sen. Coleman Young II (D-Detroit) on the floor of the state Senate Thursday.

Flickr

The state Senate today unveiled its plan to move forward with a set of state school standards. State lawmakers have been debating the Common Core State Standards for months.

Opponents of the standards say they threaten local control of school curriculum. But supporters say Common Core will help make sure Michigan students are ready for college and careers.

A state Senate panel has approved a bill that would revoke unemployment benefits if a person fails a drug test as part of a job search.

State Sen. Mark Jansen (R- Gaines Township) chairs the committee. He says failing or refusing to take a drug test is the same as turning down suitable employment. 

“They know better, and they shouldn’t be able to collect that unemployment based on testing positive for drugs,” said Jansen. If you want to do drugs, guess what? A, it’s illegal, and B, there’s a lot of ramifications, societal and, now, in the job market.”

misenategop.com

One of the top lawmakers in charge of Michigan’s budget is blasting the state’s plan to lease Belle Isle and turn it into a state park. On the Senate floor today, Appropriations Chair Roger Kahn (R-Saginaw Twp.) said the Michigan Department of Natural Resources budget is already spread too thin.

The Michigan House of Representatives.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

With the federal shutdown in its third week, the state is taking its first step toward laying off thousands of public employees.

Michigan budget officials are asking state departments to determine which programs need to be shut down if federal funding isn’t restored before November.
 
“We really didn’t think we would be at this point,” said Kurt Weiss, a spokesperson for the state budget office. “And neither did the rest of the states. They’re all in the same boat we are, across the country, which is putting together contingency plans to start shutting programs down – which is certainly not something that I would call commonplace.”

Weiss estimates 15,000 to 20,000 state workers would probably be affected.

“We do anticipate a pretty widespread impact across all state agencies that are going to have some employees that are either partially or fully federally funded,” said Weiss. “So these contingency plans are going to tell us which of those folks need to stay home come November 1st.”

Weiss says programs and workers that help Michigan’s poorest residents receive a disproportionate amount of federal dollars. He says agencies such as the state Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) will be hardest hit if the shutdown lasts much longer.

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Lawmakers in the state Senate hope to move forward this week on a plan to fund the implementation of new school standards.

Republican leaders in the Senate had hoped to introduce a resolution last week to fund the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. But Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) says it was a good idea to wait because there were so many concerns that had to be addressed.

“I want people to have a good look at it and hear from some other experts before we do anything,” said Richardville. “It’s always on our radar screen because it’s an important issue. We’re not going to let that one drag out forever.

courtesy of Richardville's office

State lawmakers are not quite done with work related to expanding Michigan’s Medicaid program. Last month, Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill into law that will extend government-sponsored health care to hundreds of thousands of low-income residents.

But a procedural vote in the state Legislature delayed the expansion by more than three months. According to the non-partisan House Fiscal Agency, that means the state will lose more than $70 million in expected savings.

michigan.gov

Governor Rick Snyder says he doesn’t know who donates to his New Energy to Reinvest and Diversify (NERD) Fund. Among other things, the fund pays Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr’s travel and living expenses.

Snyder made the claim under oath during his deposition this week in Detroit’s bankruptcy case, an early transcript of which was made public Thursday.

mich.gov / Michigan Government

Unions representing Detroit city workers and retirees got a chance to question Gov. Rick Snyder under oath Tuesday about the city’s historic bankruptcy filing.

A federal judge is set to begin hearings on whether the governor and Kevyn Orr — the emergency manager he appointed — properly filed for the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.

senatedems.com

Michigan lawmakers are considering a bill meant to crack down on cyber-bullying. A state Senate panel unanimously approved the measure today.

Right now, students who bully others through the Internet or on electronic devices are not covered under the state’s anti-bullying laws. The bill would also require schools to report all bullying incidents to the state.

GOP / gophouse.org

A state lawmaker wants to ban school exams that require students’ personal information other than their name and student identification number.

Republican state Representative Tim Kelly’s bill would also ban collecting biometric data — like students’ heart rates and eye movements.

“There’s kind of some creepy aspects to some of the technology that’s being introduced today,” Kelly said. “And this is kind of an effort to ward against some of the things that may or may not be the best thing for students.”

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