WUOMFM

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

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.

Are you persuadable? A persuadable voter, that is. The research says, probably not.

There’s new research by political scientists at Berkeley and Stanford that says voters in general election campaigns are largely unpersuaded by political ads. And a lot of political pros say this matches with their experience in recent years.

Boat on Northport Bay, Lake Michigan
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

A fight is brewing at the state Capitol over whether the Legislature should preempt local rules on expensive rental properties.

Local governments and neighbors say short-term vacation rentals are changing the character of neighborhoods. The battle is getting particularly fierce in Great Lakes shoreline communities where rental properties can go for thousands of dollars a week.

Lucy Welch lives in Spring Lake on the Lake Michigan shoreline. She says neighbors recently started renting out their home to vacationers.

It’s not always gridlock and stalemate in Lansing. The left and right seem to have come together to solve a lingering controversy. But, can it last?

A plan in the state Legislature that would hurry up getting rid of driver responsibility fees appears to be on a fast track in Lansing. These fees are surcharges tacked onto traffic fines. Lawmakers approved them in 2003 in order to fill what was then a big hole in the state budget.

Flickr/jnn1776 / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Michigan State Police Col. Kriste Etue faces an internal review by the professional standards division of the department she leads over a controversial Facebook post.

The post called NFL players who take a knee during the national anthem “millionaire ingrates” and “degenerates.” Col. Etue took the post down after it went public and apologized for sharing it.

Sam Kim / Flickr

A plan to grant amnesty to people who owe sometimes thousands of dollars in unpaid driver responsibility fees is in the works.  A bipartisan group of state lawmakers rolled out the proposal today (Thu.).

The bills would not only accelerate the phaseout of the fees, they would forgive $630 million dollars in unpaid fees.

House Speaker Tom Leonard says it’s unlikely most of that money would ever be collected, but he says hundreds of thousands of people are saddled with the hardship of being unable to legally drive.

American flag fluttering against a blue sky
Corey Seeman/Flickr / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

A group of state House Democrats linked arms today during the Pledge of Allegiance on lieu of putting their hands over their hearts. They said it was to show support for the right of NFL players to take a knee during the national anthem. And to protest a Facebook post by Michigan State Police Col. Kriste Etue that called the players “degenerates.”

duncan c / Flickr

Survivors of last year’s deadly bike crash near Kalamazoo testified today before a state Senate committee in support of safety legislation.

Paul Gobble was one of four people injured when a pickup truck plowed into a group of bike riders. Five people were killed. The driver was charged with second-degree murder.

Gobble told lawmakers a “culture change” is needed between drivers and bicyclists sharing the roads.

“There’s a lot of animosity toward cyclists,” he said. “The drivers, there’s a great deal of them that are just angry out there.”

Governor Rick Snyder says there is no reason to fire State Police Colonel Kriste Etue over a controversial Facebook post.

Etue has apologized for sharing a meme on her page that called NFL players who take a knee during the national anthem unpatriotic and “degenerates.”

Snyder says the post was “inappropriate,” but he considers the matter settled.

“She came out and apologized, and she’s done great service for the state,” Snyder said. “The way I view it is people make mistakes, she recognizes that, and let’s keep moving forward.”

Judge's gavel
(loveamourlove.com)

A federal judge in Detroit has ordered the government to provide immigration files to Iraqis being detained while they fight deportation. The detainees have been held for months in facilities all across the country while they wait on records needed to go to immigration court.

Miriam Aukerman is an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. She says hundreds of detainees were being held with no end in sight while the federal government slow-walked their records.

“People are literally in jail because there’s a line at the photocopier,” she said.

Michigan Republicans have packed their bags - and their hangovers - and returned home after a weekend of politics and partying on Mackinac Island.

There was a lot of celebrating over the GOP sweep in 2016, including President Trump winning Michigan, the first Republican to do so in 28 years.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A new plan by state lawmakers to bring down Michigan’s expensive auto insurance rates is in the works. A rollout of the plan is expected as soon as tomorrow.

State House Speaker Tom Leonard dropped some hints as to what might be in the proposal this past weekend. He was a on a panel at a Republican Party conference on Mackinac Island.He said giving consumers the option to choose how much coverage they can afford, and limiting what hospitals can charge for treating accident victims are both important.

michigan.gov

Governor Rick Snyder says the ongoing Flint criminal cases are dragging on too long, and it’s affecting the ability of the state to recruit and retain public servants.

The governor’s remarks at a Republican conference on Mackinac Island this weekend seemed to be a poke at state Attorney General Bill Schuette, who filed the criminal charges against 15 current and former state employees. They include former Flint emergency managers and the director of the state health department. 

LGBT Pride Flag
Tyrone Warner / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

The ACLU is challenging Michigan’s policy of allowing faith-based adoption agencies that accept public funds to turn away same-sex couples.

The lawsuit says the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is violating its own contracts with those agencies, which prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. It also says the department’s policy violates First Amendment and equal protection rights in the U.S. constitution.

Kristy Dumont and her wife say they were turned away by two Catholic adoption agencies when they tried to adopt.

Michael Dorausch / Flickr, http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Voters might have the chance to decide a pair of workers’ rights questions next year.

A petition campaign to require businesses to offer employees paid sick and family leave has launched its signature-gathering drive. On the same day, a state elections board approved the form of a campaign to increase the state minimum wage to $12 an hour, which plans to start gathering names next month.

The minimum wage campaign would also require employers pay the $12 an hour even to workers who count tips as part of their earnings.

Bill Schuette

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission is asking state Attorney General Bill Schuette for a formal ruling on whether it has the authority to extend housing and employment protections to gay, lesbian, and transgender people. That’s after an attorney from his office torpedoed a proposal the commission was on the cusp of adopting.

The commission had just wrapped up a two-hour public hearing and weeks of work on the request from a gay rights organization. The group asked the commission to determine whether protections against sex discrimination apply to LGBT people.

S(c)huette and Trump

Sep 18, 2017

Apparently, President Donald Trump and Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette agree: Spelling counts in their “winning” strategy.

Schuette announced this past week that he’s running for Governor in 2018 and Trump tweeted, and then had to retweet, a message of support.

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

Some Iraqi immigrants who are being detained while they fight deportation have gone on a hunger strike.

It’s not clear how many detainees are refusing to eat. Family members and the ACLU say it might be as many as 50. 

Many of the detainees are from metro Detroit and are being held at a federal facility in Youngstown, Ohio.

A diver inspects Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac for a possible dent.
Enbridge inspection video shared with the state of Michigan

Michigan’s energy chief says Enbridge downplayed the significance of damage to the protective coating on its oil and gas pipeline that runs under the Mackinac Straits.

Parts of the coating were removed while workers installed safety anchors on a portion of Line 5 that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

The patches where the metal was scraped bare are close to a foot in diameter. That's much larger than Enbridge initially reported.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

U.S. Rep. Dave Trott, R-11th District, says he will not seek reelection next year and will retire after four years in Congress.

Trott says he always intended for his congressional career to be brief. He said in a written statement he’s ready to return to the private sector and spend more time with his family. But he possibly faced a tough reelection bid next year, and The New York Times reported over the weekend that Trott was growing increasingly frustrated with President Trump. He recently advised Trump in a tweet to spend more time on the golf course and stay away from microphones.

Trott’s decision will set off a scramble among Republicans and Democrats to find nominees to replace him. Michigan’s 11th District leans Republican, but even Republicans acknowledge it’s possible for a Democrat to take it.   

It's Just Politics Logo
It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

Representative David Trott announced Monday morning that he will not seek reelection in 2018. The announcement comes after speculation by various pundits and the retirement of two other Republican congressmen last week.

Capitol Building in Lansing, MI
Matthileo / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Michigan lawmakers are back in the capital after a two-month summer break, and they have a long list of items on their legislative to-do list. Among them are an overhaul of no-fault auto insurance, new recycling standards, and the possibility of a rare veto override. 

Michigan Radio Morning Edition host Doug Tribou spoke with the Michigan Public Radio Network's Lansing Bureau Chief Rick Pluta about the Legislature’s top priorities this fall. 

Brian Turner / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is backing changes to how counties deal with the property of people who’ve died. That's after news reports outlined how some attorneys appointed by the attorney general’s office to deal with unclaimed property have abused the process. They’ve taken control of property before families have filed with the local probate court, and charge large fees to sell and administer the property.

Pages