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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 Flint water treatment plant
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The state Legislature has finally approved a $100 million grant to help Flint replace lead pipes and other water infrastructure. The money originally came from the federal government, but had to be approved by the Legislature as part of a larger budget bill.

That got delayed for weeks as the House and Senate argued over the separate question of money to help Macomb County deal with a giant sinkhole.

State Senator Jim Ananich says he’s glad it all finally got resolved.

Two dogs fighting (or playing, it's hard to tell)
Alex Proimos / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A dog in Michigan is not considered legally dangerous until it bites or attacks someone. That’s the word from the state Court of Appeals.

An Eaton County couple was charged with knowingly owning a dangerous animal after their dog got through a fence and attacked a lawn care worker employed by a neighbor. The dog was shot to death by a police officer who said he felt threatened.

There was evidence presented at trial that some neighbors were nervous about the dog, and that it could sometimes behave aggressively, such as attacking a lawnmower and biting the tires.

Dzidzernagapert, Armenian genocide memorial in Armenia.
z@doune / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Michigan’s official ceremony commemorating the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide included 39 Jewish survivors who lit candles in the Rotunda of the state Capitol.

There was music, speeches, prayers to remember the millions of victims of genocide.

State officials were joined by Holocaust survivors on a candle-lighting ceremony that took place in the Capitol rotunda.

As a young girl, Esther Posner and members of her family hid during the German occupation of the Netherlands.

Flickr user David Drexler/Flickr / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A federal judge has thrown out the state’s challenge to a Traverse City business that trademarked a highway sign.

The company brands t-shirts, water bottles, wine, and other merchandise with the M-22 logo. Attorney General Bill Schuette said a company can’t do that because the sign belongs to the public. But a federal judge said the state couldn’t show how its interests are harmed by the trademark.

“It’s a major sigh of relief for us. Finally, there’s a decision in our favor. It’s what we’ve always believed,” said M-22 business owner Matt Meyers.

Lead pipes
Mitch Barrie / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Governor Rick Snyder plans to take executive action on tougher standards for lead in drinking water in the face of foot-dragging by the Legislature.

The Legislature’s Republican leaders have been cool to Governor Snyder’s proposed new lead-in-water rules, which would be tougher than federal standards. The governor says the federal rule is weak and confusing, and partially responsible for the Flint water crisis.

Fraser home falling into the sinkhole.
Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio

State lawmakers are back at the Capitol following their spring break. One job facing them is ending a standoff over money to help Macomb County deal with a giant sinkhole.

The sinkhole is as big as a football field and displaced two dozen families after an underground pipe collapsed on Christmas Eve in Fraser. Now, the disaster threatens to rupture sewer lines that could send a giant mess into Lake Saint Clair, which is part of the Great Lakes system.

The state House approved a $3 million dollar grant before the spring break. But the Senate wants the money to be a loan.

person using a computer
flickr user Christopher Schirner / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A Republican state lawmaker says Michigan should protect people’s internet privacy if the federal government won’t.

State Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, has asked for bills that would restore privacy protections for people in Michigan. That’s after Congress voted to block a rule that would have required internet service providers to get customers’ permission before selling their data.    

“So now, if you go on an internet service provider, or if you go on a search engine, anything you look at can be retained and it can be sold,” Jones said.

A third Snyder term?

Apr 17, 2017

Rick Snyder cannot run for governor again because he’s term-limited.

But that doesn’t mean Michigan’s CEO Governor isn’t working on a succession plan. Snyder’s Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley seems to be making moves toward a run for the top job.

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

Michigan’s longest-serving juvenile drug offender may have a chance at freedom after the state parole board agreed to a hearing.

“White Boy” Richard Wershe has spent nearly three decades in prison. Wershe acknowledges he was a drug runner for a Detroit gang, but never a drug kingpin as he was portrayed in the media and by prosecutors. And he says he continued in the drug trade at the urging of law enforcement officers who used him as an informant.

James F Clay / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A left-leaning group has filed a lawsuit to find out how often Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and his aides used private e-mail accounts to discuss public business.

The group Progress Michigan filed the lawsuit in the Michigan Court of Claims. That’s after the Republican attorney general refused a request for private e-mails, saying the messages don’t exist. But Progress Michigan says it has two dozen such messages in hand that it acquired through other channels. 

School bus
Bill McChesney / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Volkswagen emissions scandal settlement from earlier this year could mean new school buses for thousands of Michigan students.

School officials in the state have put together a proposal asking for almost $30 million to be used to replace aging diesel busses. They say there are more than 5,000 diesel buses in Michigan that are more than 10 years old that should be replaced with vehicles with cleaner-running diesel engines or powered by natural gas.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

The state departments of education and civil rights are asking school administrators to be prepared if immigration authorities arrive at their doors.

Agustin Arbulu is the director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. Right now, immigration authorities don’t go to schools. But Arbulu says school officials should know their rights and responsibilities, and be ready to answer parents’ questions.

Money
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A campaign committee controlled by Republican leaders is facing fines and questions over how it lost track of many thousands of dollars during the last election.

The center strikes back. We are seeing a resurgence in the power of moderate Republicans in D.C. and Lansing.

Courtesy frankieleon / Creative Commons -- http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Governor Rick Snyder says current efforts to curb opioid abuse and addiction in Michigan aren’t working as nearly 2,000 people a year in the state die from overdoses.

“Far too many lives have been either lost, damaged, injured in some fashion because of these drugs,” he said. “We need to do more in our state.”

Snyder says a big part of the problem is over-prescribing painkillers. He says prescriptions have spiraled in recent years.

What caused the Flint water crisis?
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Federal money to upgrade water systems is on a fast track toward Flint. The state House has agreed to spend $100 million dollars from the EPA and kick in another $20 million from the state.

This is unusually fast action. The federal government approved the money just last week.

“People have been thirsty for action inside the city of Flint,” said state Representative Sheldon Neeley (D-Flint). He says it’s true the city’s water now meets federal safe drinking water standards, but people don’t trust the water is safe.

An empty big box store - a former K-Mart in Grand Blanc Michigan
Michigan Municipal League

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers and local officials will try again this year to shut down a tax break that’s allowed big box stores to cut their property taxes.

 

The so-called “dark store” loophole allows open and functioning big-box stores to base their property taxes on the value of stores that have been shut down. The value of the empty stores can be further reduced by restrictions on who can buy them.

The effort to allow any Michigan voter to request an absentee ballot may be close to critical mass in the state Senate. That’s as more Republicans are accepting the idea that anyone who wants to mail in or drop off their ballot should be allowed to without having to lie to do it.

(Support trusted journalism like this in Michigan. Give what you can here.)

Governor Rick Snyder
Flickr user Michigan Municipal League / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Governor Rick Snyder and other Republican governors are asking congressional GOP leaders for a do-over on the health care overhaul. Four GOP governors say the plan to be voted on next week falls short.

Anna Heaton is Snyder’s press secretary. She says the plan jeopardizes Michigan’s Medicaid expansion by choking off money for the program.

“Basically, what it does is it shifts the full costs of Medicaid to the states, so it would just be unsustainable and we likely wouldn’t be able to enroll anyone else in our Healthy Michigan program.”

Alex Proimos / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Pressure’s growing on Michigan’s congressional Republicans who have to make a decision whether to support a healthcare overhaul that could be voted on next week.

AARP of Michigan says the proposed replacement to Obamacare would mean higher costs for older people.

“It is simply unacceptable,” said Paula Cunningham, state director of the AARP of Michigan. She says the proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act would mean higher costs for older people.

“Do the math,” she said. “You know, what does that do to their income?”

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

The Michigan State Board of Education is trying to pressure schools to drop team mascots and nicknames that are offensive to Native American tribes.

The board is asking the Legislature to adopt budget sanctions on schools that won’t scrap offensive Native American mascots.

“We want to make sure that students are able to go to school and to learn and be in environments that are conducive to learning, and so that is why it’s quite important,” said Pam Pugh, a Democratic board member.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Some state lawmakers got an early peek at Governor Rick Snyder’s new lead rules that are supposed to be rolled out this week.l A top state environmental official shared some details in testimony before a state House budget subcommittee.

 

What’s a Republican governor to do when his own political party is the problem?

We’re hearing a lot about the divide among Republicans in D.C. over the “repeal and replacement” of Obamacare.

President Donald Trump and the House Republican leadership have a plan. But, conservatives don’t like it. Democrats don’t like it. Interest groups like the AARP are already piling on, and let’s add to the list: Republican governors like Ohio Governor John Kasich and Michigan’s own Rick Snyder.

Andy Thomas

A storm that hammered the entire state with hurricane-force winds has left behind an unprecedented number of downed poles and power lines. And that poses a new danger for people still without power with the onset of freezing temperatures.

Peeling lead paint.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder will create a commission this week that has the mission of tackling the problem of lead exposure. A top administration official says the governor will also ask the Legislature to pass a law to make the commission permanent until the problem is solved.

 

Handguns
user Joshuashearn / wikimedia commons

A group of gun control advocates was at the state Capitol to lobby against a proposal to allow people to carry concealed weapons without a permit.

               

Courtesy photo / Holland BPW

The state is close to running out of money to clean thousands of abandoned, polluted properties all across Michigan.

The state spends about $15 million a year cleaning up abandoned industrial sites. The money comes from bond sales approved by voters back in the 1990s. That pot is almost exhausted.

Governor Rick Snyder has proposed a one-time shift of money to pay for the cleanup program in the coming fiscal year. The money would come from the fund that pays for decontaminating underground fuel tanks that’s financed by a portion of gas taxes.

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In elections, it’s all about who shows up.

And last year, Democrats didn’t.

The Democrats’ historic loss in Michigan is due pretty much to the fact that too many voters who would typically vote Democratic simply sat out Election 2016. While Republicans, true to form, showed up at the polls.

bottom of chalkboard, with an eraser and chalk sitting on the ledge
user alkruse24 / Flickr

The state is giving 38 of Michigan’s worst-performing schools 60 days to come up with a turnaround plan, and avoid closure – at least for now.

Under the so-called "partnership model," schools would get support from the state, district and outside groups to help them address weak areas. 

The schools would have to meet benchmarks at 18-month intervals, or they could still face closure after three years.

The plans would have to be approved by the state Department of Education and the School Reform Office.

Wilson Hui / Flickr

A bottled water company wants to speed up the pace of its business. Nestle is asking the state for permission to pump more water from the Muskegon River watershed.

The company has already started construction to upgrade its water bottling plant in Mecosta County.

Environmental groups are asking the state Department of Environmental Quality to slow down the approval process.

Jeff Ostahowski is with the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation.

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