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


Governor Rick Snyder has signed a budget bill that accelerates spending on road repairs in time to help with the spring and summer construction season.

The bill shifts $175 million from next year’s construction season to use this coming spring and summer to fix roads.

“You’re going to see a lot of (orange) barrels in every corner of Michigan,” he said.

But this spending on repairs is still not expected to keep pace with the rate at which roads are crumbling following a freeze-and-thaw winter’s that’s been brutal on pavement.

People who remember, remember Republican John Engler as a blunt, pugnacious governor. And, before that, the same as state Senate majority leader.

Michigan State University interim President John Engler scolded lawmakers today over bills that would make it easier for sexual abuse victims to file lawsuits.

He says the debate is affecting settlement negotiations with victims of former sports doctor Larry Nassar.

Engler appeared before a Senate universities budget subcommittee. He told the committee chair the bills could also drive up tuition. 

“Your legislation would certainly probably do that," he said. "I don’t know if it would force bankruptcy or not. I hope not.”

Michigan superintendent Brian Whiston
Michigan Department of Education

State schools superintendent Brian Whiston is stepping down and taking long-term disability leave so he can focus on fighting cancer.

Whiston made the announcement today at a meeting of the Michigan State Board of Education.

Whiston set a goal of making Michigan one of the nation’s top 10 states when it comes to the quality of schools. He says plans that have been put in place to turn around struggling schools make that possible.

“They’re just now in progress, and it’s just very sad to me that I won’t be part of seeing whether they all worked or not,” Whiston said.

Michigan Supreme Court
Michigan Supreme Court / court.mi.gov

The Michigan Supreme Court will decide whether it’s legal for judges to order defendants to pay fees and court costs.

One defendant is challenging the practice, which he says violates the state constitution.

Shawn Cameron Junior was ordered to pay more than $1,600 in court costs after he was convicted of assault. He says that amounts to a tax, and only the legislature can enact taxes. Cameron says courts can also be arbitrary in how they set the charges.

The legalization of marijuana in Michigan is emerging as an issue in the race for the state's next attorney general.

Attorney General candidate Patrick Miles, an Obama-appointed official who served six and a half years as the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, has taken a position on legalization of marijuana in Michigan. He said last week, upon further reflection, he’s for it.

Michigan Legislature
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The state House has sent a bill to Governor Rick Snyder that forbids local governments from adopting ordinances dealing with questions employers may ask in job interviews.

The bill would expand an existing ban on local regulations that limit the information employers can ask for. It’s an effort to preempt local rules that bar asking about salary histories and criminal backgrounds. There are no such local regulations in Michigan, but they have been adopted in other states.

Razor wire on top of chain-link fence.
Robert Hickerson / Unsplash

The state House has adopted bills that would allow prisoners in advanced stages of illness including cancer and dementia to be paroled for medical reasons.

The House split on the bills with Republicans and Democrats voting on both sides of the issue.

Gun laws across the country are under the microscope at state capitols. And Michigan is no exception. But the reality is, we’re not seeing a re-thinking of gun policy. Instead, everyone’s just returned to their corners.

There’s increasing pressure for Lansing to do something following the school shootings in Parkland, Florida.

Michael Tapp / Flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Democrats at the state Capitol are calling for background checks on everyone who buys a firearm. That would include in-store purchases and person-to-person sales.

They say that would help ensure that people prone to violence won’t be able to legally get hold of a firearm.

State Rep. Tim Griemel, D-Auburn Hills, says the state should require checks for in-store and person-to-person gun sales.

“This is the best, most common-sense way to ensure that guns are not in the hands of those who are prone to violence,” he said. 

Republicans are not on board.

Why are Michigan roads so bad? Because we don’t put enough money into fixing them.

Why is that? Because lawmakers don’t fear underfunding the state’s roads will cost them on Election Day.

State capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers will roll out bills today designed to combat sexual misconduct on college campuses. It’s part of the Legislature’s initial response to issues at Michigan State University.

The measures would require coaches and trainers to report suspicions of abuse. They would also ban the governmental immunity defense Michigan State University has tried to use to fend off sexual assault lawsuits filed by victims of former sports doctor Larry Nassar.

artist rendering of proposed bridge
Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority

One of the ways that the state of Michigan takes action is by passing legislation. The state House and Senate pass bills, send them on to the governor and if he signs them, they become law. However, the governor has an end-around option that doesn't involve the Legislature and doesn't get much attention.

Michigan Legislature
Michigan Municipal League

There was a fierce debate today leading up to a state House vote to adopt English as Michigan’s official language. The bill cleared the House on a mostly party-line vote.

Republicans say it would reflect what’s already the practice in state government.

State Rep. Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, said the bill is a waste of time.

“We have roads to fix, schools to improve, mental health services to fix," she said. "Any reasonable observer would conclude this bill is only meant to be inflammatory and divisive."

Tulane Public Relations / Creative Commons

Gov. Rick Snyder says he wants to spend his last year in office focused on creating a workforce to fill more than 800,000 current and future openings.

He calls it a “Marshall Plan” for developing talent, borrowing the name of the massive effort to rebuild Europe after World War II.  It aims to invest in training for jobs in skilled trades, information technology, and health care.

Snyder said he’s made filling positions in sought-after high-tech fields a priority already.

“But we need a capstone accelerator. That’s what the Marshall Plan is – to accelerate this.”

Michigan AG Bill Schuette
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

State Attorney General Bill Schuette says the special prosecutor looking into MSU’s handling of abuse allegations is independent of his office.

That's not what the contract says, though.

The agreement with special prosecutor William Forsyth says he reports directly to and must clear major decisions with Schuette.

Schuette says that’s just standard contract language for special attorneys retained by his office. Schuette says the highly respected former Kent County prosecutor has no specific orders from his office.

As part of the state Legislature’s response to Michigan State University’s handling of Larry Nassar, lawmakers are asking the state’s 15 public universities to explain their policies on sexual misconduct.

But, the questions are not stopping there.

Medical Marijuana
Dank Depot / Creative Commons / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Existing medical marijuana dispensaries had until Thursday to turn their applications in to a state licensing board with proof that their local governments are allowing them to operate.

The dispensaries have been allowed to continue to sell marijuana to licensed card-holders for the past two months. That’s while the state ramps up a new licensing system.

Dispensaries that have not turned in applications are likely to be denied future requests for a license.

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

State universities might face budget reductions for failing to meet benchmarks to address and prevent campus sexual assault and harassment. That’s part of a proposal rolled out by the Senate higher education budget subcommittee. It would hold back funding for universities that don’t meet all the requirements of Title Nine and other programs to prevent campus sexual misconduct.

The plan has bipartisan support.

sign that says "vote here"
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A ballot campaign will begin collecting signatures to add a voting rights amendment to the state constitution.

The effort is backed by the ACLU, the League of Women Voters, and the Detroit branch of the NAACP.

The ACLU’s Kary Moss says the proposal would allow early voting and make it easier for people to vote absentee.

“If somebody wants to vote absentee, they have to be over 60 years old, they have to have an excuse," Moss said. "This proposal would allow for no-excuse absentee voting.”

Did Governor Rick Snyder intend to name an anti-gay activist to the state civil rights commission? Or is this one that just slipped past him?

Democrats and Republicans are asking, “What was he thinking?”

Snyder seems to have rekindled the fight over LGBT rights in Michigan with his appointment of Ira Combs to the Michigan Civil Rights Commission.

Abdul El-Sayed’s did not have a good week. And it’s not looking like it’s going to get better any time soon.

El-Sayed has captured the imagination of progressives who think he can bring a liberal agenda to Lansing and become the nation’s first Muslim-American governor. This past weekend, at a Democratic forum for Michigan’s gubernatorial candidates in Washtenaw County, there was a throng of excited folks all waiting to talk to him.

Michigan State University
John M. Quick / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Many survivors of Larry Nassar’s abuse don’t just blame him. They also blame MSU officials for failing to act even after multiple complaints.

The scandal forced MSU President Lou Anna Simon to step down last week, followed by Athletic Director Mark Hollis, and there could be more resignations coming.

The school’s Board of Trustees has also come under withering attack for actions that seemed to focus more on limiting the school’s culpability than on supporting victims.

“My voice should have been louder much sooner..." says MSU Trustee Dianne Byrum. She adds that she’s learned from this horrible experience.

The Larry Nassar trials are over and the final round of sentencing hearings begin this week in Eaton County. More and more attention now is turning to East Lansing and how the top echelons at Michigan State University allowed an environment for this abuse to happen and continue.

And because the MSU Board of Trustees is elected statewide, the university’s handling of the situation is going to be a political issue in the 2018 elections.

Gov. Rick Snyder

Governor Rick Snyder declared victory over the state’s economic hardships last night, in his eighth and final State of the State address. The governor says choices made over the last seven years leave room now for more investment in schools and infrastructure.

But it’s not clear that he can win support for his plans in the Legislature.

Snyder spent most of the hour long speech reviewing his years as governor, and compared Michigan today to the days of the Great Recession, when the unemployment rate was double what it is now.

Vote Here sign
Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

A petition drive hopes to put a voters’ rights amendment to the state constitution on the November ballot.

The amendment would let people vote absentee without giving a reason. It would allow early voting. And it would guarantee the right to vote a party-line ticket with one mark on the ballot. 

“We need to make sure that voting is accessible to all citizens and that everyone’s vote gets counted,” said Judy Karendjeff with the League of Women Voters.

Governor Rick Snyder brings his sound fiscal-management-show to the stage one last time tomorrow at the Capitol.

But, he’s delivering his final State of the State address to an audience of lawmakers who just dealt him a rare veto override.

Snyder could be celebrating eight years of Republican control in Lansing while he’s been in office. Except Snyder has often found himself on the other side of the Republican majorities in the House and Senate.

Larry Nassar
Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

The Michigan State University Board of Trustees and President Lou Anna Simon have asked Attorney General Bill Schuette to open an independent review of how MSU handled complaints against disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar.

MSU President Lou Anna Simon
File photo / MSU

The entire leadership of the state Legislature has now called for Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon to resign or be removed in the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal.

creative commons

A report pegs the cost of properly educating a student in Michigan at no less than $9,550. That’s almost $2,000 more than the current minimum.

The report also puts numbers to the costs of transportation, special education, and educating students in small, rural districts. The goal is to create an individualized per-student school funding formula.