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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

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
gophouse.com

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.

Helping your adversary to help yourself.

It’s a political tactic and we’re seeing it right now in Michigan’s Republican primary for governor.

Lt. Governor Brian Calley is running for governor. But, it looks like he’s polling behind fellow Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette.

Schuette has been touting his conservative credentials including an endorsement from President Donald Trump.

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

Returning money to taxpayers was the talk as the Legislature opened its 2018 session today. One of the first orders of business is dealing with an issue created by the federal tax overhaul, which zeroed out the personal exemption. That could result in Michiganders paying $840 million more in 2018 state taxes than they would otherwise.

Senate Democratic Leader Jim Ananich says the question is how to deal with it.  

Governor Rick Snyder has proposed a plan to offset tax increases on Michigan families as a result of the federal tax overhaul. The main component is to allow Michigan taxpayers to continue to claim a four thousand dollar personal exemption on their state taxes.

As voters pass judgment in the first mid-terms of the Trump era, many are wondering if Michigan will be a congressional battleground in 2018.

There’s a lot of talk about the possibility of a wave-election come November as Democrats prepare for their “wait-til-next-time” moment after the Trump upset of 2016 when Michigan played a central role.

And after last fall’s gubernatorial wins in New Jersey and Virginia and the Roy Moore drama in the Alabama Senate race, 2018 is shaping up to be a doozy of an election year.

A Michigan State Police file photo.
Michigan State Police

The state is appealing a federal court order that says it cannot suspend the driver’s licenses of people who don’t pay traffic fines.

The Michigan Secretary of State says it’s not possible to comply with the decision.

young kids playing with toys on floor
Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

The state Supreme Court will decide whether schools can legally ban guns on school property. The court has agreed to hear the case, in which gun rights groups are challenging gun bans in Ann Arbor and Clio. They say state law preempts school policies, and that gun bans don't keep schools safer.

“You’re going to keep the good people out, but if you’re not going to do anything to keep the people out that truly are intent on harm, the ones we truly need to worry about, then what are we doing here?” said Tom Lambert of Michigan Open Carry. 

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

A federal judge in Detroit has promised a ruling soon on whether roughly 300 Iraqi Christian detainees will be released while they wait for their immigration cases to be re-opened.

The detainees face deportation orders for crimes, often committed many years ago. They would like their cases re-considered because they say they face persecution if they are returned to Iraq.              

Miriam Aukerman is an ACLU attorney. She says the families are hoping for a Christmas gift.

The Michigan state capitol building
Thetoad / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A petition campaign to overhaul the process for drawing the boundaries of legislative and congressional districts took a critical step today. Campaign volunteers turned in 188 boxes with more than 400,000 signatures. They are trying to get a proposed amendment to the state constitution on the ballot.

We could see the most dramatic change to Michigan politics since term limits. This afternoon, an all-volunteer group is one step closer to overhauling how redistricting is done in Michigan.

MSU President Lou Anna Simon
File photo / MSU

Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon has apologized to survivors of sex assaults by sports doctor Larry Nassar.

Simon made the apology during a Michigan State Board of Trustees meeting Friday. The university faces complaints and lawsuits that claim they ignored warnings that Nassar was abusing girls and women who were his patients. Nassar has pleaded guilty to multiple counts of sexual assault.

Michigan State University

A medical school dean who supervised a Michigan State University sports doctor convicted of sexually abusing patients is stepping down.

Troy Holden / flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The state accepts the first applications for people who want to get into the medical marijuana business starting tomorrow. The licenses will allow businesses to legally grow, process, transport, or sell marijuana to patients who have medical marijuana cards. 

David Harnz works for the Michigan Medical Marihuana Licensing Board.  He says it will take three or four months to process the applications.

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

The Legislature has sent Governor Rick Snyder a set of local retirement bills that passed by wide margins once they were stripped of controversial provisions.

The bills stalled last week as local governments and public employee unions protested measures that would give the state sweeping authority over local budgets. 

Those were taken out, and now local governments will have their retirement plans assessed by the state Treasury, says state Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive.

MSU President Lou Anna Simon
File photo / MSU

State House Speaker Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt, says it’s time for Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon to step down.

It's part of the growing chorus of criticism of how MSU has handled a sex assault scandal.

Leonard says MSU has not been forthcoming about who knew what and when as far as suspicions that a university sports doctor was sexually abusing athletes.

“Best case scenario, they have shown they are grossly negligent. In worst-case scenario, something is being covered up,” Leonard said.

FLICKR USER MARIO.Q / FLICKR

Trade unions plan to launch a petition drive tomorrow to shield Michigan’s prevailing wage law from another petition drive.

The effort is a response to another proposed initiative. It would ban a requirement that contractors pay union-level wages on state-funded construction projects. That’s led by non-union contractors. They say prevailing wage drives up their costs.         

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 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

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