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 Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe.
Photo courtesy of Richardville's office

The Republican leader in the state Senate says he's not yet willing to commit to taking up a measure that would ban insurance companies from including abortion coverage in standard health plans.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville told reporters Tuesday that he doesn't consider it a top priority. He says he still needs time to speak with his caucus about the issue.

The group Right to Life of Michigan turned in more than 315,000 signatures last week to send the measure to the Legislature. Those signatures still need to be certified by a state board. If that happens and lawmakers fail to pass the measure, it will go on the ballot.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The state House has voted to reinstate funding for the Common Core state school standards.

More than 40 other states have chosen to adopt the standards, which set yearly expectations for what students should learn at every grade level in math and language arts.

But earlier this year, Michigan lawmakers temporarily barred the state from spending money to implement Common Core. A legislative panel was formed to study the issue over the summer, and its chair, Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Saginaw Twp.) crafted a resolution based on more than 17 hours of public testimony.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

State lawmakers have been debating the Common Core State Standards for months. The nationwide school standards lay out specific things that students should know after each grade level. The goal is to set expectations for students no matter where they live in the United States.

But opponents say Common Core would strip local control of school curriculum and could compromise the security of students’ personal information through data collection.

Now, the state House Education Committee is set to take up House Concurrent Resolution 11 Thursday morning.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Union officials say a set of bills in Lansing are an attack on employees’ ability to strike and protest.

The state House Oversight Committee approved the legislation Tuesday. It now goes to the full state House.

House Bill 4643 would increase penalties for protesters who violate current picketing laws. It would also allow business owners to get a court order banning a demonstration without first having to prove picketers were doing something wrong.

Rep. Jim Townsend (D-Royal Oak) is the top Democrat on the panel. He called that language unconstitutional.

Morgue File

A new report suggests Michigan is well-positioned to expand renewable energy production.

Morgue File

There’s a new idea floating around the state Capitol about how to boost funding for roads. Supporters call the plan “pot for potholes.”

Lawmakers like state Rep. Mike Callton (R-Nashville) would like to see the state legalize and tax marijuana and use that money to pay for road repairs.

“You can tax the heck out of marijuana,” Callton says, “put it into a separate fund for Michigan roads - because it doesn’t seem like that money is going to come from anywhere else at this point in time - and it’s a cute name, ‘pot for potholes.’”

housegop.org

The state House today gave overwhelming bi-partisan support to legislation meant to strengthen Michigan’s mental health courts.  

The measure would encourage the alternative court system to expand. But it wouldn’t provide state funding.

“We haven’t bound the state to anything today in the way of cost,” said State Rep. Kevin Cotter (R-Union Twp.) “But in the next appropriations cycle, we may take a look at that.”

Right now, Michigan’s mental health courts rely on local communities to finance their efforts.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

There’s a new idea floating around the state Capitol about how to boost funding for roads. Supporters call the plan “pot for potholes.”

Lawmakers like state Rep. Mike Callton (R-Nashville) would like to see the state legalize and tax marijuana and use that money to pay for road repairs.

“You can tax the heck out of marijuana,” Callton says, “put it into a separate fund for Michigan roads - because it doesn’t seem like that money is going to come from anywhere else at this point in time - and it’s a cute name, ‘pot for potholes.’”

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A bill to cut off unemployment benefits from people who fail drug tests has cleared a state House committee. The bill passed largely along party lines.

House Bill 4952 would cut off unemployment benefits from people who fail a drug test as part of a job search. It would treat them as if they had turned down a suitable job while receiving unemployment checks.

State Rep. Frank Foster (R-Petoskey) chairs the House Commerce Committee.

Jake Neher/MPRN

Medical marijuana activists rallied in Lansing Tuesday to protest the removal of six-month-old Bree Green from her family last week. The activists say the state Department of Human Services (DHS) has targeted a number of medical marijuana users by taking away their kids.

Bree’s mother, Maria Green, is a state licensed medical marijuana caregiver. Her father is a patient and outspoken advocate.

Steve Green says he was elated that dozens of people showed up in support.

Michigan House Republicans / gophouse.org

A plan to expand mental health courts in Michigan seems to be gaining momentum in the state Legislature. A state House panel unanimously approved the bill Thursday.

People diagnosed with conditions like severe depression and schizophrenia can avoid jail time and have certain charges erased from public records if they participate in mental health treatment programs under the supervision of a judge.

At the same time, they can get help finding jobs, education opportunities, and housing.

State Rep. Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) chairs the state House Judiciary Committee. He says alternative courts get results and could save the state money in the long-term.

Harold Haugh / Housedems.com

Legislation to enforce a 6% sales tax on internet purchases has cleared a state House committee. 

Supporters say Michigan businesses have a competitive disadvantage against large online retailers like Amazon, which don’t have to collect sales tax.

Any business with a physical presence in Michigan is required to collect sales tax on internet sales. This would expand the definition of “physical presence” to include things like warehouses and distribution centers – not just retail stores.

Rep. Harold Haugh (D-Roseville) and many other Democrats like the measure. Haugh says it could raise up to $30 million a year for schools and local governments.

“Some people scoff at that,” said Haugh Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t. I think that’s a large sum of money. Any of that type of money that can get to the local municipalities and the schools, I want it to happen.”

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A state House panel kicked off debate Tuesday about easing restrictions on Michigan’s craft brewers. It’s considering legislation that would double the amount of beer micro-breweries could produce each year.

The plan would also loosen regulations on brew pubs and larger producers such as Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo.

But Bell’s founder Larry Bell says some of the measures would hurt his company’s ability to compete with smaller brewers in Michigan. For example, they would let more restaurants brew their own beer, instead of buying it from others.

If there's one thing that can bring state House Republicans and Democrats together, it's a batch of Michigan craft beer. 

The bi-partisan legislation would also allow larger brewers such as Bell's and Founders to open more than one location in the state.

Among other things, the House Bills 4709, 4710, 4711 would double the number of barrels that microbrewers could produce each year. 

Democratic state Representative Andy Schor says the economic impact of Michigan's craft brewers should not be underestimated. And he says the legislation would only enhance that impact.

"Right now, they're bumping up against a cap that was created 20 years ago. The industry has just lit on fire and is expanding, so we're going to allow for that expansion."

Beer and wine distributors in Michigan have long been opposed to easing restrictions on craft brewers. But after months of negotiations, they have decided to support this legislation.

*This post has been updated.

Jake Neher/MPRN

Melody Karr says doctors have told her cannabis might not be helpful for the posttraumatic stress she’s suffered since her husband’s grisly suicide. She says they’re wrong in assuming side-effects such as forgetfulness could interfere with talk-therapy.

“The problem is not that I can’t think or talk about my post-traumatic stress and the issues related to it. The problem is that I can’t stop thinking or talking about it.”

Jake Neher/MPRN

A state board is considering adding post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of conditions that can be treated under the state’s medical marijuana law. It will hold a public hearing on the issue Thursday in Lansing.

But many advocates say the board is a good example of why they’re frustrated with the state’s handling of the law.

A similar board already approved adding PTSD to the list of acceptable ailments earlier this year. But that panel was disbanded and its work mostly thrown out because the state said it improperly selected its members.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

It’s now up to the state House to decide whether to send a bill to expand Medicaid in Michigan to Governor Rick Snyder’s desk.

That’s after the state Senate narrowly approved the bill yesterday.  

But the Senate may have also delayed when the expansion could actually take effect.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A bill to expand Medicaid in Michigan could get a vote in the state Senate as early as tomorrow.   So could two other alternative plans to extend health insurance to low-income Michiganders.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says whichever route he and his colleagues decide to take, they have to address the issue this week.

Flickr user taberandrew / Flickr

The Michigan State Police and some lawmakers say it’s time to boost speed limits across the state. Many limits have not been adjusted for decades.

Republican state Senator Rick Jones plans to introduce legislation next month to increase the limits. The former county sheriff says the measure would also reduce speed traps.

“We have had some artificially lower speed limits posted. I believe many of them are posted for revenue, and it simply is not needed.”

The legislation would require local governments to set speed limits based on scientific studies.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A plan to improve Michigan’s roads and infrastructure will probably not be on the November ballot. That’s according to leaders of both parties in the state Senate.

Governor Rick Snyder wants the state Legislature to boost road funding by more than a billion dollars a year. But lawmakers have not embraced his plan to raise registration fees and the state’s gas tax to pay for it.

Instead, multiple plans have surfaced that would include asking voters to increase the state’s sales tax.

user frank juarez / Flickr

National education activist Diane Ravitch is expected tomorrow to urge state lawmakers not to adopt a set of nation-wide school standards. A state House panel is holding several hearings over the summer on the Common Core State Standards.

The committee will also hear testimony from supporters, including business leaders and state education officials.

Democratic state Representative Adam Zemke sits on the panel.

“If you look at the list of presenters that we have coming to talk, it’s really a wide range of positions on the Common Core. And they all have significant credibility to their standing.”

Ravitch and other opponents say the Common Core standards take away local control and are not proven to improve student performance.

Supporters say the standards are necessary to make sure Michigan students are ready for college and careers.

Village hopes a private prison brings jobs, money
Flickr user Still Burning / Creative Commons

Michigan’s inmates stay in prison longer than those in any of the 35 states Pew Research Center studied in 2012.

For Monica Jahner, that meant spending 28 years of her life behind bars. She was sentenced to life in prison for conspiracy to commit murder in 1978. No one died in her case.

But Jahner doesn’t see herself as a victim. She says she spent those 28 years in prison trying to improve her life and the lives of fellow inmates.

“I got my degree and, you know, I did a lot while I was there. I didn’t just sit around. I fought and helped to get education for the women,” Jahner said. “My journey was a good one because I made a lot of impact on the system, I think.”

Jahner got her first chance at parole ten years into her sentence. But right around that same time, a Michigan convict on parole confessed to killing four teenage girls. Jahner says that made it nearly impossible for people like her to get in front of the parole board.

It was another 18 years before she walked out the front door of Scott Correctional Facility in Plymouth after a string of parole battles.

She now works with former inmates and parolees to get their lives on track, and advocates for prisoners who are still inside.

“I go door to door to go out there and let people see you can give people a second chance,” Jahner. “When they find out I go to prison, I mean, literally heads spin around.”

user aMichiganMom / Flickr

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says he’s prepared to defend the Detroit Institute of Arts collection in federal bankruptcy court. Schuette recently released an opinion that the artwork cannot be sold to satisfy the city’s creditors because it is held in a public trust.


Schuette spokesperson Joy Yearout says he’ll take that position in front of Judge Steven Rhodes if the city puts the collection on the table.

“If and when the issue of how the DIA’s charitable trusts are treated in bankruptcy comes up in court before Judge Rhodes, the attorney general will be prepared to defend the position that they should be protected,” Yearout said.

user eljoja / Flickr

A state review board has voted to keep autism and asthma off the list of health conditions that can be legally treated using medical marijuana.

But activists say the panel is acting in violation of the state’s medical marijuana law. They say the votes were taken without proper public comment and that the board lacks adequate representation from the medical community.

Panel chair Matthew Davis says public comment was not necessary because the ailments had already been considered by a previous board.

“The public hearings therefore occurred as part of our process, specified under law,” Davis said. And then today, our review panel took another look at these diagnoses and the remarks of the public regarding autism and asthma.”

That previous board was dissolved by the state because its make-up also violated the medical marijuana law. The state says it’s working to fix the problem.

user r0bz / Flickr

A state panel will meet this week to consider whether new health conditions should be covered under Michigan’s Medical Marijuana Act, but there’s a question over whether the board’s make-up violates that law.

The state dissolved a similar panel earlier this year. That board had already voted to allow patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and Parkinson’s disease to use medical pot, but those conditions were never officially added to the list of acceptable ailments.

Now some advocates question whether the new board risks the same fate because it doesn’t include proper representation from the medical community.

Attorney and medical marijuana advocate Michael Komorn says it could be a setback for patients.

“It just seems to be more bureaucratic nonsense that has impeded the proper implementation of this law. And it’s uncalled for.”

Komorn says it’s critical to put a board in place that complies with the voter-approved law.

“I don’t know why the government can’t get it together to allow these other conditions - that people can receive benefits from - from moving forward,” said Komorn.

State officials say they’re working to fix the make-up of the panel.

House Democrats / Michigan.gov

Many Michigan students would pay little to no money for in-state college tuition under a proposal in Lansing. State Representative Vicki Barnett (D-Farmington Hills) wants to raise the state’s sales tax by one percent to pay for the plan.

Barnett talked about the proposal on the Michigan Public Television program “Off the Record.”

“People are recognizing that we need to find a way to make sure that all of our kids who graduate high school who want to go on and get a higher educational degree have the opportunity to do so without having the weight and burden of student loans carrying them down,” Barnett said.

Besides helping students gain access to higher education, she says it would also help attract employers.

Governor Rick Snyder is applauding a state Senate panel for advancing a bill to expand Medicaid in Michigan. For weeks, Snyder has been trying to put pressure on lawmakers to vote to extend Medicaid benefits to hundreds of thousands of residents.

But the committee also approved two alternative proposals that also seek to extend coverage to low-income Michiganders. Those plans would not expand Medicaid.

Snyder says he’s not worried that the competing bills will peel votes away from the legislation he supports.

“That’s yet to be seen. In many respects, I’m not sure you have to say you can only vote for one bill. If you actually see value in more than one bill, why does that mean you can only vote for one?”

All three proposals now go to the full Senate. A vote on the issue is expected at the end of this month.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A state Senate panel has approved legislation to expand Medicaid in Michigan. The bill would extend coverage to hundreds of thousands of residents through the Affordable Care Act.

The panel also advanced two alternative Medicaid proposals. Neither would expand Medicaid. But proponents say they would expand health care coverage – either through other state programs or the free market.

Senator Bruce Caswell  is sponsoring legislation that would create a state-run health care program for low-income residents who are not currently eligible for Medicaid.

Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
Matthileo / Flickr

A state Senate panel is expected to vote tomorrow on legislation to expand Medicaid in Michigan. It would extend Medicaid coverage to hundreds of thousands of residents under the Affordable Care Act.
 
State Senate Republicans refused to vote on the Medicaid expansion bill last month before their summer recess. Since then, a legislative work group has made relatively small changes to the proposal.

But Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says he thinks the changes will be enough to win over some of his GOP colleagues.

“I think that there will be a lot more support. It’ll be broader support than the one that was put in front of us, when I don’t believe the votes were there.”

The panel will also consider two alternative proposals, which would not expand Medicaid under the federal health care law.

HouseDems.com / Michigan.gov

Some state lawmakers want to make it a felony for police officers to track people using GPS without a warrant.

The legislation in Lansing has bipartisan support.

Democratic state Representative Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) is teaming up with Republican Representative Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills) on the issue.

Irwin says it’s a violation of the Fourth Amendment – which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

“Warrantless surveillance of where we are and what we’re doing, certainly in my mind falls underneath that definition,” Irwin said.

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