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Rick Pluta

Reporter / Producer - Michigan Public Radio Network

Rick Pluta has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.

Rick was one of the first Michigan political reporters to write about “pay-to-play” fundraising, and the controversies surrounding recognition of same-sex relationships. He broke the news that Gov. John Engler was planning a huge juvenile justice overhaul that included adult-time-for-adult-crime sentencing, and has continued to report since then on the effects of that policy decision.

He co-hosts the weekly segment “It’s Just Politics” on Michigan Radio with Zoe Clark.

Rick is fascinated by the game of politics, and the grand plans and human foibles that go into policy-making. You will never find him ice-fishing.

Follow him on Twitter at @rickpluta

LGBT flag
antiochla.edu / Antioch University

The state Department of Civil Rights has started accepting complaints from people who say they face discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. That’s after a state commission voted this week to change its interpretation of Michigan’s civil rights law.

David Kallman is an attorney who says he will defend people accused of LGBT discrimination. He says the commission has no right to suddenly change the rules.

pixabay

A question to boost Michigan’s minimum wage to $12 an hour could be headed to the November ballot. A petition drive says it’s gathered enough signatures to force the Legislature to adopt the initiative, or it goes to voters.

Michigan’s minimum wage rose to $9.25 an hour in January.

Campaign chair Alicia Farris says the initiative will not only increase the minimum wage again, it will also end the lower minimum wage for workers who earn tips.

This year, Libertarians will join Republicans and Democrats with candidates on the August primary ballot in Michigan. This is something that doesn’t happen very often. In fact, the last time a third party qualified to hold a primary in Michigan was 1998.

Troy Holden / flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The state Senate voted today to outlaw the sale of THC-laced beer, wine, and spirits in the event recreational marijuana becomes legal in Michigan. Legalizing marijuana will be on the November ballot, unless the Legislature adopts the question by early June.

State Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, says he expects voters will approve the question. But Jones wants to keep out marijuana-infused alcohol products that are appearing in other places. 

Looking up into the rotunda of the Michigan Capitol.
user cedarbenddrive/Flickr / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Governor Rick Snyder and state lawmakers just got a windfall of $315 million to spend in the new state budget. It’s the result of better-than-expected economic growth that yielded more tax revenue.

skeeze / Pixabay

A petition campaign to repeal wage protections for workers on government construction projects has been halted. That leaves time for the Michigan Supreme Court to hear a challenge to the question filed by construction worker unions.

Patrick Devlin is with the Michigan Construction and Building Trades Council. The Supreme Court order came less than an hour before a state board was going to certify the petition campaign and send the question to the Legislature.

Construction area with hard hat sign
benjamin sTone / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM / cropped from original

A group of unions plans to file an emergency motion this morning with the Michigan Supreme Court. The construction worker unions want to block a state elections board from sending a question to the Legislature to outlaw state and local prevailing wage rules. The prevailing wage requires builders to pay workers union-level wages on taxpayer funded projects.

Democrats like their chances in Election 2018 as they hope President Trump’s unfavorables will help them win the House in November.

But Republicans have their own emblematic figure they are using to paint a dark picture of the ramifications of a “blue wave.”

As much as Democrats expect and hope people are ready to get out and vote against Donald Trump, Republicans think and hope the same may be true for the House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

Christopher Peplin / Flickr http://bit.ly/1xMszCg

A court says the Legislature gets to vote on a petition-initiated bill that would outlaw rules for how workers are paid on publicly funded projects.

Prevailing wage rules adopted by the state and some local governments in Michigan require contractors to pay union-level wages on taxpayer-funded projects. 

A group led by non-union builders turned in almost 270,000 signatures of registered voters to put the question of banning prevailing wage rules to the Legislature.

Rick Pluta / MPRN

The four Republicans and three Democrats running for governor appeared on a stage together for the first time today.

The biggest flashpoint came when Republican state Senator Patrick Colbeck said one of the Democrats has connections to Muslim terrorist groups. Abdul El-Sayed fired back that other Republicans should join him in condemning the allegation.

Do you have a right to have your name counted when you sign a petition? Or, can it be thrown out on a technicality that has nothing to do with you?

There are two recent instances in Michigan where, although signatures on a petition were collected, it’s unclear whether those signatures will actually be counted.

"Vote here" sign
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

A new law makes it tougher and more expensive for losing candidates to demand a recount of election results.

Governor Rick Snyder signed the new law Thursday. It's a response to Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein calling a recount of Michigan’s 2016 election results. She demanded the recount even though she got less than 1 percent of the vote.

rawpixel / pixabay

The state House opened hearings today on a bill that would require many able-bodied adults on Medicaid to find work, or be in school. If the bill is adopted, Michigan would have one of the toughest Medicaid work requirements in the nation.

The Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.
USACOE

Michigan members of Congress hope that President Trump’s promise to upgrade the Soo Locks will get the long-stalled project moving.

Trump made the announcement in a speech Saturday in Macomb County.

“You know what the Soo Locks are?" Trump said to cheers from the audience. "Well, the Soo Locks are going to hell. You know that, right? And we’re going to get them fixed up. We’re going to get them fixed up.”

Republican gubernatorial candidates wanted to get next to President Donald Trump this weekend but only one got the presidential shout-out in Washington Township, MI.

“A really great friend of mine, a great attorney general, the next governor of Michigan, Bill Schuette. Where’s Bill? Bill? Where? Alright, wherever the hell he is…”

An excavator.
dimitrisvetsikas1969 / pixabay

A partisan split on a state election board has stalled a petition drive to outlaw prevailing wage rules in Michigan. Rules adopted by the state and many local governments require contractors to pay union-scale wages on publicly funded projects.

marijuana bud
Pixabay

The Michigan Board of Canvassers approved a petition Thursday to place an initiative on the state’s November ballot that would legalize marijuana possession and consumption for all adults 21 years and older.

The board ruled that the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol collected 277,370 valid signatures, more than the 252,523 signatures needed to make the ballot.

Students sitting at desks in a classroom with a teacher at the front of the room
NeONBRAND / pixabay

The Legislature opened hearings today  on plans to make schools safer from guns and violence. It’s the first actions in Lansing since the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

But there’s little agreement on what to do. School and law enforcement officials opposed plans to put metal detectors in schools. Michigan State Police Lt. Amy Dehner testified before a state House committee. She said grading schools on their security arrangements, and making the grades public is a bad idea.

The Chevrolet Bolt, a long-range electric car
GM

US carmakers are preparing for the possibility that some regions may eventually outlaw the internal combustion engine.

Britta Gross is with General Motors. She says more than a dozen cities, countries, and the state of California are talking about a phase-out of gas or diesel cars and trucks.“So, we’re talking some of the 2050, some of them 2040. Some of them more near-term. Some are not getting any traction. But it’s something that’s out there on the horizon. It’s a conversation that some communities are having,” Gross said.

Shri Thanedar
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Millionaire businessman Shri Thanedar filed petition signatures Monday to appear as a candidate for governor on the Democratic primary ballot in August.

Thanedar is a PhD who made his fortune in the chemical testing industry after immigrating from India.

“In 1984, I got my green card, which made the way for me to become a U.S. citizen. So, I owe tremendously to Michigan," he says. "I want to give back. And this is my chance, so I am really excited today to make that happen.”

There is a legal question about whether Democrat Abdul El-Sayed is eligible to run for governor. But one thing that is not a question is the fact that the question is not settled, no matter how much the El-Sayed campaign might want to believe that’s the case.

marijuana
flickr user Dank Depot / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The state is looking for ways to help medical marijuana businesses that are having trouble finding a bank or a credit union.

Rick Johnson chairs the state medical marijuana licensing board. He says most financial institutions won’t work with marijuana-related businesses because the drug remains illegal at the federal level. He says that means the businesses don’t have checking accounts and can’t easily handle electronic transfers.

Abdul El-Sayed
Bridge Magazine

The state says now is not the time to rule on whether a candidate for governor is eligible to run.  

That could mean the question will wait until after Democratic voters make their choice in the primary.

The state constitution says a candidate for governor must have been a registered voter in Michigan for at least four years before the election.

Democratic hopeful Abdul El-Sayed voted in New York in 2012, and the question is whether that invalidated his Michigan voter registration until he re-registered here in 2016.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley
Michigan House Republicans

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley filed petition signatures Tuesday to appear on the Republican primary ballot in August. He’s running to replace Governor Rick Snyder, who cannot run again due to term limits.

Calley says he wants to keep up the work started by Snyder over the past seven years. He says that’s fueled Michigan’s recovery from the Great Recession.

“I’m running to continue this comeback. I’m running to add the next half a million jobs. I’m running to hit new lows in unemployment, and new highs in income growth.”

School desks
Flickr user Frank Juarez/Flickr / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Governor Rick Snyder released a plan Monday to improve school safety following the Parkland, Florida shootings.

The plan calls for boosting security at hundreds of schools, and expanding an anti-bullying tip line. A task force would also come up with more ways to improve school safety between now and the end of the year, when Governor Snyder steps down.

Snyder says these are things he believes could result in a consensus in Lansing.

The proposal also includes more active-shooter training for law enforcement, but does not include any plans directly related to guns.

Update, Friday, April 27 at 10:40 a.m.:

On Thursday, Michigan Board of Canvassers approved the petition to place the marijuana legalization initiative on the November ballot.

House Speaker Tom Leonard says he doesn't foresee the Legislature adopting the measure in the next 40 days. 

"There is not much support it in the caucus," he said. "I do not personally support it, so I think this something that ultimately voters are going to have to decide.”

Original story from Monday, April 23:

profile shot of Gretchen Whitmer
Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Former state Senate Democratic leader Gretchen Whitmer filed petition signatures today to get her name on the August primary ballot as a candidate for governor.

Whitmer is running on her experience as a legislator in the House and Senate. She also says she’s not happy with the cutthroat turn political campaigns in both parties have taken.

guns in holsters on two people
Lucio Eastman - Free State Project - PorcFest 2009 / CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27373086

The Michigan Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday about two school districts' policies that ban guns from school property.

flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The debate over firearms and school safety found its way Wednesday to the Michigan Supreme Court.

The court must decide whether schools can ban firearms, or if that’s preempted by state law. The court heard more than an hour of arguments from both sides.

At issue is a state law says cities, townships, villages and counties cannot adopt their own firearms ordinances. But the law is silent on school districts.

School officials say that means they can adopt policies that don’t permit firearms in schools. Gun rights groups say schools are skirting the intent of the law.

The fight for the Democratic nod for state attorney general has gotten nasty with less than a week to go before Michigan Democrats decide on a candidate.

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