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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

The Michigan State Capitol
user aunt owwee / Flickr

Pay rates for workers on publicly funded construction projects could be an issue this year in the Legislature. Bills to repeal Michigan’s 50-year-old law that requires contractors to pay union-scale wages on public projects were among the first to be introduced this year.

Republican leaders in the Legislature support the repeal. But Governor Rick Snyder does not. He says prevailing wage encourages people to consider careers in the building trades. 

Rick Snyder / michigan.gov

Governor Rick Snyder has set a goal of getting Michigan’s population above 10 million people before the next U.S. Census. It was part of the governor’s seventh State of the State address delivered at the state Capitol.      

It’s been 10 years since more than 10 million people called Michigan home. Thousands fled the state through two recessions, and the near-collapse of the auto industry.

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

Attorney General Bill Schuette says the state should have to deliver water to every household in Flint that doesn’t have water filters properly installed.

That position puts him at odds with Governor Rick Snyder’s administration, which is trying to have a court order requiring the deliveries dismissed. 

Noah Hall is Schuette’s attorney in the case. He says the state caused the problem, so it has a responsibility to Flint residents.

Congressman Dan Kildee
Photo courtesy of the Office of Congressman Dan Kildee

As Governor Rick Snyder prepares to deliver his seventh State of the State address, a potential candidate to replace him has called for ethics rules that would align Michigan with what the federal government requires.

Congressman Dan Kildee (D-Flint) has proposed a federal law to require state lawmakers to disclose their sources of income and possible conflicts of interest. That’s the same standard applied to members of Congress.

Betsy DeVos
betsydevos.com

Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos faces questions this week on her work to advance school choice and charters. She is to appear at a Senate confirmation hearing as President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to be the next U.S. Education Secretary.

The hearing was originally scheduled for last week, but was postponed because DeVos' ethics review had not been finalized and there were possibly scheduling conflicts with other hearings.

The former state Republican Chairwoman is an advocate for school choice and charter schools in Michigan, which will be an issue in the hearings.

We used to be a pretty big deal in Congress but, now, Michigan’s House delegation is in a re-building season.

A new session of Congress has been sworn in in D.C. and for the first time in generations none of our Michigan Representatives are committee chairs.

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Michigan Sen. Gary Peters.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to be the next transportation secretary faced a U.S. Senate panel. Senator Gary Peters, D-MI, sits on the Senate Transportation Committee and says he likes a lot of what he heard from Secretary-designate Elaine Chao – especially when it comes to the auto industry and next-generation autonomous vehicles, an important issue for the Detroit car makers.

The U.S. Capitol.
Crazy George / Flickr

The Affordable Care Act is shaping up to be one of the first big battles of the new congressional session. Republicans have promised to repeal it. Democrats are girded to defend it. And there’s a lot at stake for Michigan.

Republicans have still not agreed on what will replace Obamacare. But they say something needs to be done to make healthcare more affordable, and the law has not solved that problem.

The new president, Congress and state Legislature still haven’t been sworn in but Campaign 2018 is already underway.

Former state Senator Gretchen Whitmer is the “first” candidate to launch a 2018 campaign for governor of Michigan. Whitmer is a Democrat who spent more than a dozen years in the state Legislature before being term-limited out in 2014.

http://whitmer.senatedems.com/

Former state Senator Gretchen Whitmer is the first candidate to formally announce that she will run for governor of Michigan in 2018. The former Senate Democratic leader sent an e-mail today declaring her plans.

The job will be open because Michigan’s term limits do not allow Republican Governor Rick Snyder to run again.

Whitmer may have competition for the Democratic nomination as Congressman Dan Kildee weighs a bid. On the Republican side, Attorney General Bill Schuette and Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley are potential candidates. 

user cedarbenddrive/Flickr / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Governor Rick Snyder says he’s ready to work with President-elect Donald Trump once he takes office later this month.

      

Governor Snyder says Trump has not responded to his congratulations messages, but he has heard from the transition team.  Snyder and Trump both share the experience of being business people without prior experience running for office.

Snyder says Trump needs to understand that governing is different than campaigning. And, Snyder says the chief executive needs to respect that most government workers know what they’re doing.

Matthileo / Flickr - http://bit.ly/1rFrzRK

A new state law bans the use of restraint or isolation to discipline students.

  

The law was recommended by a task force looking at reforms in special education. Students with physical or developmental disabilities are more likely to face the use of restraint or seclusion.

  

Advocates for special education students say harsh disciplinary measures have been used by teachers and administrators who did not know how to handle students with disabilities. Calley says the new law shows times are changing.

Plastic bag caught in a tree.
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley is signing bills into law while Governor Rick Snyder is out of the state for the winter holidays. One of the laws he signed preempts local ordinances that ban or restrict plastic bags used by retailers.

Business groups say a patchwork of local rules on plastic bags would place a burden on retailers.

But local government officials say it should be up to them to decide how to handle litter and other problems with the common use of plastic bags. 

A lot of attention is being paid today to the usually almost-anonymous job of being a presidential elector.

This afternoon at the state Capitol, in the state Senate chamber, Michigan’s 16 votes for president will be cast by presidential electors - one vote for every congressional district in the state, plus two at-large electors.

It’s a little-noted honor to be an elector. Typically, it’s held for party stalwarts looking to be a footnote to history.

For many Flint residents, trips to a nearby water distribution center is a regular part of life.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals says the state must start delivering bottled water to households in Flint that don’t have working filters.

A coal-fired power plant
Holland BPW

A major rewrite of Michigan’s energy policy is on its way to Governor Rick Snyder.

The main focus of the bills is helping utilities replace coal-fired plants that are shutting down. That’s expensive, and utilities demanded guarantees they won’t lose too many customers to alternative energy suppliers.

The compromise still preserves much of the state’s program that allows a percentage of customers to choose their energy company.

State Rep. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, chairs the House Energy Committee. He says finding common ground wasn’t easy.

user eyspahn / flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The attorney for Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein says a state inquiry into ballot irregularities shouldn’t focus strictly on problems in Detroit.

The recount last week turned up large discrepancies in 20 Detroit precincts between the number of votes counted and the number of ballots that were stored. That was before the recount was stopped by a court order.

There’s one more week of “lame duck” in Lansing as the Michigan Legislature wraps up its 2015-2016 session.

Lame duck - the period between the November election and the end of the year - is when the going gets weird in Lansing.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

There are 363 Michigan inmates in state prisons closely watching how the state of Michigan and local prosecutors implement two U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

The decisions struck down mandatory life sentences for juveniles. The lifers were convicted of murder and sentenced in the late 1980s and 1990s under a get-tough approach to juvenile crime.

The laws were a response to a wave of violent crime that swept the state and the country.

Derek Key / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A bill on its way to Governor Rick Snyder would compensate people who were wrongly convicted of a crime and imprisoned. The legislation would allow former felons to collect $50,000 for every year spent in prison. They would also have to agree not to sue the state.

State Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, says it’s only fair that the state compensate people who did not belong in prison.

Ballots
flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

More courtroom drama tomorrow is expected as Michigan Republicans and the campaign of President-elect Donald Trump continue try to shut down the statewide ballot recount.

The recount was requested by Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. But Republicans say, with one percent of the vote, Stein has no chance of winning in the end, and so has no right to demand a recount.

The Michigan Court of Appeals agreed.

But state Elections Director Chris Thomas says he won’t stop the recount without the OK from the federal judge who said it should go forward.

The largest vote recount in Michigan’s history has been ordered to begin this afternoon at noon.

Very early this morning, federal judge Mark Goldsmith ordered the state to, “cease any delay in the commencement of the recount of the presidential vote cast in Michigan as of noon…”

Voters in Midland cast ballots for Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians on Tuesday.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith issued his ruling regarding the presidential recount a little after midnight, following a rare Sunday hearing in his Detroit courtroom.

Goldsmith heard arguments over the logistics of the recount and how much the state would have to spend, but in his written opinion, he said what’s most important is the integrity of the presidential election in Michigan.

Green Party candidate Jill Stein's lawyers argued that waiting until Wednesday to start a recount would cut too close to the Dec. 13 deadline to have it finished.

Ballots
flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Plans to move ahead with a ballot recount in Michigan are on hold. The state Republican Party and President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign have filed an objection to the recount request by Green Party nominee Jill Stein. A state elections board meets tomorrow morning to consider the objection.

Cheyna Roth / MPRN

The estimated cost of recounting all the votes in Michigan’s presidential election continues to rise. State officials plan to charge Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein almost $1 million to conduct the recount. But Secretary of State Ruth Johnson guessed as much as $2 million.  Republican Party attorney Eric Doster thinks it will be closer to the $10 million cost of running a statewide election.

user Gage Skidmore / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Republican Donald Trump is officially the winner of the presidential race in Michigan. A state elections board certified the results today, but now a recount looms.

This afternoon, the Michigan Board of State Canvassers will, in all likelihood, certify the results of the November 8th election - bringing Campaign 2016 to an official close and opening the door to Recount 2016.

Unprecedented

Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania are about to become the center of the U.S. political universe as the Green Party and its presidential candidate, Dr. Jill Stein, try to upset the order of things and make elections officials in those three states go back and check their work.

After Tuesday’s historic election, Republicans will continue their firm control of Lansing.

Going into last week, predictions, even among Republicans, were that the GOP would lose at least some seats in the state House of Representatives. There were times, in fact, during the campaign, that some even wondered whether Democrats might take control of the House.

A cyanobacteria bloom on Lake Erie in 2013.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder and state environmental officials have declared western Lake Erie is an “impaired” waterway that needs to be cleaned up.       

The problem is algae blooms that threaten plants and wildlife. The blooms are caused largely by phosphorous runoff from agricultural fertilizers. Two years ago, the algae blooms forced Toledo to declare a drinking water emergency.

Mike Alexander is with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. He says Michigan and other states and Canadian provinces that border western Lake Erie are already working on the problem.

Consumers Energy / Flickr/user

The state Senate has adopted an overhaul of Michigan’s energy policy. It’s designed to ensure reliability as the state’s big utilities replace aging coal-fired plants that have to shut down.

The plan is supported by utilities, but opposed by smaller suppliers that compete with utilities for customers like large factories and school districts. 

State Senator Mike Nofs (R-Battle Creek) is the plan’s primary architect. He says it requires the smaller suppliers to answer some questions if they want to compete:

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