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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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.

user frank juarez / Flickr

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.”

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.

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