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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Jake Neher/ MPRN

Thousands of state employees could see their health benefits reduced Wednesday. That’s if a state board votes to approve a new contract.

Public employee unions couldn’t reach a contract agreement with the state this year, so the Michigan Civil Service Commission will vote on a compromise plan drawn up by an independent panel. 

Unions say it includes too many concessions while, at the same time, state officials are expecting a budget surplus.

User Eljoja / Flickr

Medical marijuana patients in Michigan would have more ways to legally obtain and consume cannabis under three bills that cleared the state House today. One bill would allow medical marijuana dispensaries to operate again in Michigan.

State Rep. Mike Callton (R-Nashville) introduced the legislation. He says it’s critical for many patients to have safe access to marijuana right away.

“If either you grow your own or a caregiver grows your own, it takes four to six months before it’s medicine,” said Callton. “Many of these people – especially if they’re cancer patients that are trying to maintain appetite – many of them may be dead by the time their medicine is ready.”

The House also approved a bill that would let patients use edible or topical forms of medical marijuana, and another that could clear the way for pharmacies to sell medical marijuana in Michigan.

All three bills now go to the state Senate.

user eljoja / Flickr

Legislation that would give medical marijuana patients more ways to obtain and use cannabis is one step closer to becoming law. A state House panel unanimously approved House Bills 4271 and 5104 Tuesday.

Mumford High School is one Detroit school already under the EAA's control.

It appears a controversial state-run authority that oversees struggling schools in Michigan will be expanded.

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan announced Tuesday that he plans to add up to nine schools to the Education Achievement Authority.

Meanwhile, the state Senate could vote as early as Wednesday on legislation that would increase the EAA’s ability to expand statewide. Republicans in the Senate have been working through some concerns they have about expanding the district.

Marijuana plants
A7nubis / Creative Commons

Medical marijuana advocates are confident a state House panel will approve a pair of bills Tuesday that would significantly change the way patients can obtain and use cannabis.

State House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) says the House is close to a vote on legislation that would double the amount of money people can give to political campaigns.

The bill would also block a proposal that would require groups who pay for so-called “issue ads” to disclose their donors.

“I believe that we need to protect First Amendment rights, we need to protect free speech, and we need to have disclaimers on political ads,” said Bolger. “So, I expect us to wrap that up. My hope is that we wrap that up next week.”

Bolger says he supports requiring “disclaimers” that say which group paid for an issue ad, but not the names of the group’s donors.

Critics of the legislation say it would only benefit large campaign spenders, and that it threatens transparency.

Two high-profile public education bills seem to have stalled in the state Legislature. House Bill 5111 would require schools to hold back third graders who cannot read. House Bill 5112 would assign letter grades to all public schools based on student performance.

The state House was expected to vote on both bills Thursday. But House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) says lawmakers need more time to debate them.

“There are a lot of questions and a lot of concern that is based on old information,” said Bolger, who supports the bill. “And so we’re going to take some time to work through those questions and concerns, continue to listen to educators, and have our members work with their colleagues across the aisle.”

The state Legislature is expected to meet for one more week before the end of the year. 

C Simmons / Flickr

A bill that would make it easier for phone companies to end traditional landline service in Michigan has cleared the state Senate.

AARP of Michigan and other groups worry the measure threatens affordable and reliable phone service. They say it could put some Michiganders at risk if they lose emergency medical alert systems available with traditional landlines.

But Senate Bill 636 still got overwhelming bipartisan support in the state Senate.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The state Legislature is back in session after a two week break. Republican leaders have a long list of issues they want to address before they wrap up their work in 2013.

One of those issues was also a top priority this time last year. Many lawmakers want to expand a state-run school district meant to turn around struggling schools. Right now, the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) oversees 15 schools in Detroit. Governor Rick Snyder wants to expand it statewide. But the legislation has been stalled in the state Senate for months.

Jake Neher/ MPRN

A panel looking to end an impasse between the state and public employee unions is recommending a 2% pay increase for state workers. Under the proposal, many employees would likely have to pay more out-of-pocket for health insurance.

The panel released its recommendation after unions and the state failed to reach an agreement on a two-year contract.

Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
Matthileo / Flickr

A proposal that would put new restrictions on insurance coverage for abortions is headed to the state Legislature.

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers on Monday moved forward a proposal that would ban abortion coverage in standard health insurance plans. Women would only be able to purchase abortion coverage as a separate rider.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

It could be a busy December for state lawmakers after they return from their Thanksgiving break.

Here are some of the issues that could come up for debate before the end of the year.

Paying for the Medicaid expansion delay – In a procedural vote earlier this year, state lawmakers delayed by about two months the implementation of Michigan’s Medicaid expansion law. In doing so, they created a hole in the budget of more than $70 million.

Legislative leaders say passing a bill to fill that hole is one of their top priorities in the coming weeks.

Jake Neher/ MPRN

Warren Buffett was in Michigan Tuesday to help launch a program that will invest $20 million in small businesses in and around Detroit.

Buffett is an advisor to Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses initiative, which is committing $15 million of capital to support small businesses in and around the city. Another $5 million will go to business training for Detroit entrepreneurs.

Despite Detroit’s historic bankruptcy filing, Buffett says the city has a “huge potential” for economic growth.

Marijuana plant.

Medical marijuana could be a hot topic in the state Legislature before the end of the year.

House Judiciary Committee Chair Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) says his top priority next month is to take up three medical marijuana-related bills.

The first, House Bill 4271, would revive medical marijuana dispensaries in Michigan after recent court rulings effectively stopped the facilities from operating in the state.

The state will not award a $5 million grant to a firm run by the brother of Michigan’s top budget official. 

It was revealed this week that the company iSchool Campus had lobbied lawmakers to add the school technology grant to the state budget. Michigan Budget Director John Nixon’s brother is the company’s CEO.

The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) announced Friday the grant will instead go to the Genesee Intermediate School District.

The department says the decision had nothing to do with concerns over a possible conflict of interest.

Sandy Austin / Flickr

Thousands of Muslim inmates in Michigan will have access to meals that comply with their religious beliefs. That’s under a court-approved settlement announced Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

The settlement also requires the state to let prisoners celebrate religious holidays with group meals, and stop punishing them for attending religious services instead of scheduled work duties.

Morgue File

A year after calling for more research into the state’s energy policies, Governor Rick Snyder is expected to give an address next month on his new energy priorities.

Snyder’s administration recently released a report that said the state is well positioned to increase renewable energy production. It says Michigan is capable of producing up to 30% of its energy using renewables by 2035.

Mark Schauer

The likely Democratic candidate for governor in 2014 says raising Michigan’s minimum wage would be one of his top priorities in office, if elected.

Former Congressman Mark Schauer wants to increase the minimum wage to $9.25/hour. Right now, it’s $7.40/hour.

Schauer’s plan would be phased in over three years, and would also allow the minimum wage to increase automatically with inflation.

Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
Matthileo / Flickr

The chair of the Michigan Democratic Party maintains a recent overhaul of the state’s Court of Claims amounts to “court rigging” by the GOP. That’s despite the fact that an equal number of Republican and Democratic judicial appointments were recently made to the court.

MDP Chair Lon Johnson appeared this weekend on the Michigan Public Television program "Off the Record."

Idandersen / Morgue File

Michigan microbreweries would be able to produce twice as much beer every year under legislation that cleared the state House Thursday. The bills would also allow more brew pubs and tasting rooms.

State Rep. Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) sponsored one of the bills. He says current limits on brewers are “arbitrary” and out-of-date.

“I think we can all really be proud of the microbrewery industry we have in Michigan,” said Cotter. “And this will allow them to continue to grow, get the government out of the way.”

AcrylicArtist / Morgue File

Many property owners who break anti-blight laws would face tougher penalties under bills approved Thursday in the state House. Under the legislation, the worst offenders could spend up to a year behind bars.

State Rep. Amanda Price (R-Park Township) says a number of Michigan cities have good anti-blight laws on the books. But she says the consequences for breaking those laws aren’t tough enough to deter people.         

“So it puts the teeth into what those cities are trying to do in eliminating blight,” said Price.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Republican state lawmakers say they want to get to the bottom of alleged violations of Michigan’s new right to work law.

A newly-formed state Senate committee Wednesday heard testimony from three teachers who are part of a lawsuit against the Michigan Education Association (MEA). They say the union bullied and threatened them when they tried to leave.

Sen. Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) chairs the Senate Compliance and Accountability Committee. He says the MEA also failed to alert teachers about how and when they could leave the union.

Marijuana plant.

Pharmacies would be able to sell medical marijuana in Michigan under a measure approved by the state Senate today. But there’s no guarantee that will happen – even if it’s signed into law.

The legislation would only be implemented if the federal government decides to regulate marijuana as a prescription drug. And there’s no clear indication that’s in the cards.

Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
Matthileo / Flickr

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.