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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

There’s a new battle in Lansing pitting business groups against unions and it could wind up playing out next November with dueling ballot proposals.

A group of trade unions will launch a petition drive tomorrow to try and preserve Michigan’s prevailing wage law. This is the law that requires contractors to pay union-scale wages on state construction projects.

Larry Nassar in court in recent months with his attorneys, Shannon Smith and Matthew Newburg.
Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

A lawyer for Michigan State University tells Attorney General Bill Schuette that no MSU officials knew about the predatory behavior of a former sports doctor on its faculty.

The letter from former federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald says MSU officials first learned of allegations regarding Larry Nassar last year from newspaper reports.

Click here for a timeline detailing Nassar's history

Kevin Rosseel / morguefile

The state Department of Corrections says Michigan taxpayers spend millions of dollars on healthcare for terminally ill and medically fragile inmates. The department wants the Legislature to adopt bills that would allow the Michigan Parole Board to grant medical releases for prisoners who would otherwise not be eligible.

Chris Gautz is with the Michigan Department of Corrections. He says these are felons who are so frail they no longer pose a threat to the public.

Michigan’s Legislature does not like voters checking its work. Case in point: lawmakers are back to referendum-proofing controversial legislation.

Referendum-proofing is a maneuver that’s become common in the Rick Snyder years in Lansing. If lawmakers pass legislation that has some kind of money involved in it - an appropriation - voters can’t repeal it.

Michigan Legislature
Michigan Municipal League

The state would evaluate retirement funds in every Michigan city, township, village, and county under a legislation rolled out today by Republicans in Lansing. Communities with under-funded liabilities would have to fix that, or a state-appointed financial management team would step 

House Speaker Tom Leonard says local governments would have a chance to reach a consent agreement to fund pensions and retiree healthcare. But the team could impose its own plan if no agreement is reached. He says that could include forcing a community to sell assets.

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

Hundreds of police officers and firefighters rallied today at the state Capitol. They are trying to protect retirement benefits that include health care coverage. The Republican-controlled Legislature is expected to adopt some changes soon to shore up local employee retirement plans that are under-funded.

Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller says fixing the problem should not be at the expense of retired first responders.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley
Michigan House Republicans

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley has launched his long-anticipated bid for the Republican nomination for governor.

The Republican launched his long-expected candidacy Tuesday while vowing to continue an economic rebound that has resulted in the addition of more than a half million jobs in Michigan.

Calley is a former legislator who has served as Governor Rick Snyder's Number Two since 2011.

Katie Wheeler / Flickr

Millionaire businessman Sandy Pensler has joined the group of Republicans who want to be the nominee to run against incumbent Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow. 

Pensler says he is a trained economist and an entrepreneur who understands how to drive job creation. He also says he’s a big fan of President Trump’s efforts to reduce regulations on businesses.

“President Trump has been trying to roll it back," Pensler said. "I think they’ve done a good job with that, and I want to support that and a lot of the other policies that he has provided.”

It’s always hard to save money. We know that’s true for many people, and it’s true for Lansing, as well.

And, politics makes it even harder.

A recent report by the nonpartisan Citizens Research Council says Michigan is not ready for another recession. The report says lawmakers are short-changing the state’s savings-account, officially known as the Budget Stabilization Fund, but commonly referred to as the “rainy day” fund.

Mackinac Bridge
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

State officials say they’re troubled by a new safety report from Enbridge Energy on Line Five. The report says there are more spots that have been laid bare to the metal because its safety coating has worn off.

Enbridge Energy delivered that report to state officials Monday.

Was last year’s Trump-wave a one-time deal? This past Tuesday’s election results are a hint at what might be in store for Election 2018.

Democrats pretty much ran the table last week in Virginia and New Jersey so Republicans have to face some tough political truths. That President Donald Trump has a very low approval rating. That voters upset with him were motivated to get out and vote. And, that it’s tough in mid-terms to be the party that controls the White House and Congress.

A table filled with bottles of Flint water (both clear and brown)
Flint Water Study / Facebook

Governor Rick Snyder has signed a spending bill that includes more money to prosecute members of his administration for their roles in the Flint water crisis.

The $600,000 will go to state Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office. State Health and Human Services Department Director Nick Lyon and Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells are among those charged.

“It is paying for prosecutions," said Andrea Bitely with the attorney general’s office. "It is paying for expert witness fees. It is paying for travel expenses. It is paying for any number of things.”       

mr.smashy / Flickr

The state Senate has adopted bills that would allow concealed pistols in schools, churches, and other places where they are currently banned. The bills also forbid the open carrying of firearms in those places.

State Sen. Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-Olive Twp., says he thinks people are actually less safe in an area where concealed guns are not allowed.

“It’s a target-rich environment for people that don’t abide by the law, and people should have the ability to protect themselves, wherever they are,” he said.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement - or ICE - agents
U.S. Air Force / Creative Commons / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The ACLU is trying to force the release of Iraqi detainees being held by federal immigration authorities. The civil liberties group filed a motion today with a federal judge in Detroit.

This is happening as the first round of detainees are getting their government files, which will allow them to start the process of having their cases re-opened.

Miriam Aukerman is an ACLU attorney. She says hundreds of detainees have been locked up for four or five months without a hearing.

It is petition signing time in Michigan.

When you go vote tomorrow it is very likely that you will be greeted by a petition circulator.

These circulators look for registered voters because they need to submit enough signatures to the state in order to quality for next year’s ballot. Maybe you’ve already met folks trying to get you to sign onto a petition regarding marijuana legalization, redistricting, or whether Lansing should move to a part-time Legislature.

The Kent County Prosecutor has warned Zach Sweers to stop his video vigiliantism for fear of the dangers involved
Wikimedia user Colin / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A law that takes effect today creates the Michigan Cyber Civilian Corps. The team will be called up if the governor declares an emergency if there is a cyber-attack or some other internet threat looms. The group will be made up entirely of volunteers who are experts in cyber-security. They will have to pass criminal background checks.             

http://www.senatorjimmarleau.com/

A state lawmaker could be in trouble for failing to explain thousands of dollars in expenditures by his campaign committee.

The Detroit Free Press reports that state Sen. Jim Marleau, R-Lake Orion, used his campaign fund to pay $114,000 on his personal credit card. Filings by his campaign committee often did not provide details on what the cards were used for.

We are now a year away from Election 2018. It’s the time when the concept of who a candidate might be is starting to create the reality of who that candidate will be.

We are in the period of time when candidates running for office in 2018 are trying to solidify their status as the front-runner, figuring out who’s got that all important political momentum.

These types of supports have been installed over the last 12 years.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Enbridge Energy reported today that damage to anti-corrosion coating on Line 5 occurred in 2014, but the company never told the state. The reason? Enbridge engineers who found the damage never told higher-ups about it. They said the pipeline was safe, so there was no reason.

But state officials say this is one more instance of Enbridge not sharing information about the line that carries oil and gas beneath the environmentally sensitive Straits of Mackinac.

Governor Rick Snyder
Rick Snyder for Michigan / Facebook Page

The ranking Democrat on the U.S. House Oversight Committee wants to subpoena Governor Rick Snyder. Rep. Elijah Cummins, D-Maryland, says the governor has not been forthcoming about when he first knew about a fatal outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in Genesee County.

From Cummins’ letter to committee chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC):

Judge's gavel
Pixabay.com

A former tribal official plans to appeal to the state Supreme Court after lower courts ruled he’s not eligible to run for a local city council.

At issue is a provision in the state constitution. It says public officials convicted of fraud and other crimes cannot seek another office.

The Michigan Constitution says public officials who violate the “public trust” are barred from holding an elected or appointed government office for 20 years.

Governor Rick Snyder’s election seven years ago was supposed to represent the political triumph of “economic gardening,” the idea that government doesn’t offer big incentives to land big companies and, thus, pick winners and losers.

Instead, the idea goes, economic gardening works to create an overall environment that allows businesses and startups to grow organically. The benefits are supposed to be fairness to both small and large businesses and that tax breaks and incentives are more across the board.

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

Local governments in Michigan have won a major victory in a property tax fight with big box stores.

Millions of dollars in revenue for local governments – or tax savings for big box stores – are at stake.

In this case, now three years old, the retailer Menards wanted a property it had vacated in Escanaba to be taxed as closed and empty. But Menard’s property deed says it cannot be sold for a similar use, making it nearly impossible to redevelop.

The city said that’s not fair, and wants to tax it for its most-valuable use, including retail.

Michigan State Police Colonel Kriste Etue will work five days without pay after Governor Rick Snyder decided that will be the penalty for a controversial Facebook post.

Colonel Etue shared a Facebook meme that called NFL players who take a knee during the national anthem “anti-American degenerates” and “millionaire ingrates.” She quickly took it down, and apologized, but still came under a storm of criticism.

The governor continues to resist calls for her to step down. From a statement released by his office:  

Michigan's Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) has wrongly accused tens of thousands of people of cheating on their unemployment claims.
Bytemarks / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has come up with plans to overhaul the state’s Unemployment Insurance Agency in hopes of stopping future efforts like one that led to thousands of people being wrongly accused of fraud.

A workgroup developed the plan in response to a scandal at the agency -- an agency computer system erroneously said 37 thousand people collected benefits they weren’t entitled to. The state then sanctioned them quadruple damages.

Bills that would forgive driver responsibility fees owed by more than 300,000 Michigan residents were approved today by a state House committee. But they’ve stalled now because they’re opposed by the state Treasury.

The problem is the fees generate about $80 million a year. The fees were approved in 2003 to help keep the state budget balanced during the recession.

State Rep. Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, says that shouldn’t matter. He says drivers who commit moving violations already pay plenty in fines.

Governor Rick Snyder says he’s close to a final decision on what disciplinary action – if any – will be taken against the leader of the Michigan State Police over a controversial Facebook post.

Colonel Kriste Etue is facing a review after she shared a Facebook meme that called NFL players who take a knee during the national anthem “degenerates” and “unpatriotic.” She quickly took down the post and issued an apology.

Snyder repeated that Etue will not lose her job over the incident.

Photo of Gov. Rick Snyder
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder says he’s concerned that President Trump’s decision to end subsidies that help low-income families pay for health insurance could make rates unaffordable.

Snyder says more study is needed to determine the state’s next move, but he hopes Congress will act quickly to settle things.

“I think there are reforms needed to the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “Some parts have worked well, others need more work, and the part that needs more work has been in the insurance markets. This makes it more challenging, but hopefully it gets to the point where Congress could hopefully do some bipartisan actions to improve things.”

About 156,300 Michigan consumers have subsidized health plans. It’s estimated the loss of the subsidies would cause their rates to spike by 28 percent.

The subsidies are already the subject of lawsuits. And there could be more legal action to challenge the presidential order to immediately end the subsidies.

Amazon
User soumit / flickr.com

Tuscon, Arizona, uprooted a 21-foot-tall saguaro cactus and tried to have it delivered to Amazon’s Seattle headquarters. Birmingham, Alabama, constructed giant Amazon boxes and placed them around the city. The mayor of Kansas City bought a thousand items online from Amazon and posted reviews of each one.

The retail giant Amazon is looking for a second home and there are a lot of contenders trying to land the project being called “H-Q-2.” At stake are many thousands of jobs and a new economic anchor for the winner.

Here’s a scoop: We already know who’s on the ballot next year. Even though you won’t see their names in the voting booth.

Election 2018 is a little more than a year away but we are looking forward to the past.

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