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

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Prisons
10:07 pm
Mon July 21, 2014

AG prison report cites human, technology errors as prime cause of inmate escape

Credit Photo courtesy of Michigan's Attorney General office / michigan.gov

A report by the Michigan Attorney General's office has found both human and technology failures played a part in the prison escape of a convicted murderer.

Michael Elliot slipped out of the Ionia Correctional Facility last February 2 by crawling under fences during a heavy snowfall. He wore white clothes to blend into the snow. He was captured about 24 hours later in Indiana.

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It's Just Politics
12:11 pm
Fri July 18, 2014

Spying on candidates may be unsettling, but is it really such a bad thing?

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

Cue the James Bond theme as we take up electoral espionage. We’re talking campaign black ops. Political spying.

We learned this week that Republicans here in Michigan sent two young operatives equipped with a tiny video camera in a pair of glasses to infiltrate a Mark Schauer for Governor campaign event -- looking for whatever they might find. And what did they get? Found out.

Our ace operatives bungled the job. Dropped the disc with the video where it was found by Democrats. Who, then, made it public, including their brief conversation with Dem lieutenant governor candidate Lisa Brown.

Republicans didn’t deny the operatives were theirs.

Democrats and the Schauer campaign cried foul calling it sneaky, dirty tricks. They got some newspaper headlines. Effective messaging helped along by the fact that it fit did neatly into a narrative courtesy of some missteps -- or what seemed to be missteps -- by Governor Rick Snyder’s campaign.

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Environment & Science
5:40 pm
Thu July 17, 2014

DEQ says “no” to pet coke along the Detroit River

Pet coke piles on the Detroit River, before they were relocated.
Credit James Fassinger Stillscenes

State environmental officials have rejected a plan to allow piles of petroleum coke to be stored at a location along the Detroit River.

Pet coke is an oil refinery by-product that’s used as an industrial fuel.

The state Department of Environmental Quality said the proposal by Detroit Bulk Storage did not address problems with blowing black dust.

Complaints about dust plumes were among the reasons why Detroit ordered the open piles of pet coke removed from a riverfront location in the city.

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Environment & Science
2:58 pm
Thu July 17, 2014

Public hearings on proposed "fracking" rules wraps up, ballot campaign could follow

Member of the public with a “No Fracking” sticker on her clothes as she testifies before a panel of environmental regulators.
Credit Rick Pluta

State environmental regulators will put the finishing touches on new rules regarding “fracking” now that public hearings have wrapped up. They expect to have the new rules adopted by the end of the year, but the state’s rules may not be the final word on the controversial drilling process

“Fracking” is a drilling method that pushes water and chemicals into wells to force out oil and gas deposits.

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Labor
5:40 pm
Tue July 15, 2014

Non-union builders challenge local wage floors

Many Michigan cities have prevailing wage ordinances.
Credit Daniel Parks / Flickr

An association of non-union construction companies has asked the state Supreme Court to strike down local prevailing wage laws. The Associated Builders and Contractors says a state law preempts the ordinances.

Nearly two dozen Michigan communities have their own prevailing wage ordinances. They’re supposed to ensure that workers on city-financed projects are paid something close to union wages.

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It's Just Politics
2:05 pm
Fri July 11, 2014

Signed a petition to oppose Asian carp? You actually signed a petition to allow wolf hunting

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

This week, pretty much unnoticed, the deadline came and went for opponents to file challenges to petitions filed by the Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management campaign to initiate a law. This is part of the ongoing political battle over wolf hunting in the Upper Peninsula.

The CPWM petition drive would create a new version of the law to allow wolf hunting, and it would take future decisions on designating game animals and put it with the state Natural Resources Commission instead of the Legislature.

Now, not everyone may recognize that petition campaign. But, if you signed a petition to oppose Asian carp in the Great Lakes, you signed a petition to allow wolf hunting in the UP. If you signed a petition to allow active duty military personnel to get free hunting and fishing licenses, you signed a petition to allow wolf hunting.

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Politics & Government
11:43 am
Wed July 9, 2014

Activist groups complain that Michigan Legislature circumvents petition drives, elections

The group "Keep Michigan Wolves Protected" gathers signatures.
Credit Keep Michigan Wolves Protected / Facebook

A coalition of activist groups is trying to make an issue of the Legislature passing laws to bypass petition drives and ballot measures.

The groups say Republicans at the state Capitol have circumvented voters on questions including the emergency manager law, the minimum wage, and wolf hunting. In each of those cases, the Legislature passed laws that ran contrary to the results of an election or a petition drive.

Danielle Atkinson is with the campaign to increase the state minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. She says the Legislature acted legally, but violated the spirit of the Michigan Constitution’s power to use the ballot to initiate or challenge laws.

“This is not what the drafters of the state constitution intended when they gave people the right to petition their government.”

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Breaking
4:46 pm
Tue July 8, 2014

Michigan Supreme Court rules juvenile lifers not entitled to re-sentencing hearings

Credit user FatMandy / flickr

The Michigan Supreme Court says felons sentenced as juveniles to life without parole won’t get new sentences.

That’s despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that says it’s cruel and unusual punishment.

The question was whether the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Miller vs. Alabama applies retroactively in Michigan to more than 300 inmates sentenced as juveniles to life without parole, or if it only applies to future cases.

A four-to-three majority on the state Supreme Court says it would present too many financial and logistical barriers to go back and find lost witnesses and evidence for new sentencing hearings.

The Miller decision says mandatory life sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional because they don’t take into account each child’s circumstances.

States have split on how to handle the Miller decision, which suggests the issue could yet be headed back one day to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Environment & Science
5:31 pm
Wed July 2, 2014

Appeals court says no drilling in Pigeon River forest

Pigeon River State Forest
Credit michigan.gov

The Michigan Court of Appeals says state regulators were correct to deny a drilling permit to developers who want to put oil wells on private land surrounded by a state forest.

The developers said the state should either grant the permit, or compensate them for their lost investment. They want to put 11 wells on private property surrounded by the Pigeon River Country State Forest in northern lower Michigan. The state Department of Environmental Quality said the wells were either in designated no-drill zones, or were too close to water.

“The takeaway from this decision is that you can’t drill an oil well just any old place in the state of Michigan,” said DEQ spokesman Brad Wurful. “There are some areas that are off limits.”

And the decision says since that was clear up front, the developers don’t get a payback from the state.

“What the court said was, everybody knew this beforehand going into this and it was clear,” Wurful said. “Nobody got surprised here. They simply wanted to do something that was not allowed and the court upheld that. We’re pretty pleased with the decision, obviously.”

The developers can file a new permit request with plans to use different technology, like directional drilling. They can also take their case to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Politics & Government
5:05 pm
Tue July 1, 2014

Snyder: Prison food contract troubles are “unacceptable”

Maggots were found in the meal area at a prison in Jackson recently.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

Governor Rick Snyder says a deal with a private contractor to provide food for state prisons could be terminated if there are future problems with the company. Aramark Food Services was awarded the $145 million, three-year contract last December. But the arrangement has been beset by problems since then.

Aramark has been fined by the state for unapproved menu changes and running out of food. Also, 70 Aramark employees are banned from state prisons for inappropriate relationships with prisoners.

Most recently, maggots were found in the meal area at a prison in Jackson.

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Courts
10:24 pm
Mon June 30, 2014

Court decision could affect health care, right-to-work cases

Credit U.S. Supreme Court

A U.S. Supreme Court decision that limits how unions can organize many workers who are paid with public money also upholds a two-year-old Michigan law. And it could have an effect on the ongoing litigation over home health care workers.

Unions saw an opportunity to increase their ranks by organizing home health care assistants – independent contractors, often family members, who provide home care for elderly people, patients in recovery, and children. 

Republicans in the Legislature outlawed mandatory union membership for publicly paid home health assistants in 2012. That same year, voters also rejected a ballot proposal to allow it.

“And this really settles the issue in Michigan and nationally,” said Patrick Wright. He’s an attorney with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which filed a lawsuit against the organizing effort. “The United States Supreme Court has looked at something that we said was illegal and said, yes, this is illegal across the entire country.”

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It's Just Politics
6:01 pm
Fri June 27, 2014

Detroit Mayor gets a lot from Lansing in his first six months, but will it last?

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark Rick Pluta

It’s been almost six months since Mike Duggan took over as mayor of Detroit. He took over a city however, run by someone else: state-appointed Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr.

But, that doesn’t mean Duggan has been denied all the rites of passage of the job including the schlep to Lansing to ask the state Legislature for something. Every mayor has to do it. And Duggan had to go to Lansing with a really big ‘ask.’ We’re talking about the $195 million dollar rescue package for his city (that’s right, ‘rescue,’ ‘settlement.’ Just don’t call it a ‘bailout.’)

Getting the Republican-led state House and Senate to go along with sending almost $200 million dollars to a Democratically-controlled city was not an easy task.

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Crime
11:09 pm
Thu June 26, 2014

Governor signs law to speed up rape kit tests

Credit Washtenaw County Prosecutor's Office

Governor Rick Snyder has signed a law that requires police and hospitals to handle rape evidence kits in a timely fashion. It’s a response to the discovery in 2009 of 11,000 abandoned evidence kits in a Detroit police warehouse.

Governor Snyder says the Michigan State Police is on track to clear the backlog by next May. But the goal of the new law is to ensure future backlogs don’t happen.

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Politics & Government
7:07 pm
Wed June 25, 2014

MEDC creates fund to leverage crowdsource money

Beautification projects could get a boost with a new state crowdfunding initiative.
Credit James Marvin Phelps / Flickr

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation has created a fund to help leverage more money for public beautification projects. It’s a partnership with a crowdsourcing website to help local governments raise funds for parks, sculptures, tree-planting and similar projects.

Mike Finney is the director of the MEDC. He says it’s a new way to attract private investments in public projects.

“It’s a great way to stretch our dollars much further than they would otherwise if this had to be a public sector project in and of itself,” Finney said.

The state will match up to $100,000 for approved projects raised through the website, crowdfundingmi.com. Finney says this is the first time that he’s heard of the public sector using crowdfunding to raise money for local beautification projects.  

Politics & Government
6:59 am
Wed June 25, 2014

Gov. Snyder wants more transparency in spending by schools, but not charter companies

Credit gophouse.com

Governor Rick Snyder says he’s for more transparency in school spending, but he’s not ready to apply those standards to private companies that run charter schools.

A Detroit Free Press series on charter schools found, among other things, that private management companies that run charters are not required to explain how they spend state payments. Governor Snyder says he could support stricter disclosure requirements for all schools – not just charters – but not necessarily the private companies that run charter academies.

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Detroit bankruptcy
6:08 pm
Fri June 20, 2014

Snyder signs Detroit rescue package, stresses city’s recovery

Credit JSFauxtaugraphy/Flickr

Gov. Rick Snyder has signed legislation that authorizes the state’s $195 million contribution to the Detroit bankruptcy settlement. The governor says the settlement is a good deal for taxpayers because it sets the stage for the city’s comeback.

Gov. Snyder called Detroit’s bankruptcy the “darkest chapter” in the city’s history. But he says the taxpayer donation shows the entire state is behind the Detroit recovery effort.

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Law
10:40 am
Thu June 19, 2014

Judges can't order convicts to pay court costs in all cases

Judges may not impose court costs on all persons convicted of a crime, says Michigan Supreme Court.
Credit Joe Gratz / Flickr

The Michigan Supreme Court says judges can’t order people convicted of a crime to pay the costs to the legal system – unless it’s been specifically allowed by the Legislature.
   
It’s been routine in Michigan for judges to order defendants to pay prosecution and court costs as a part of sentencing.

In this case, Frederick Cunningham was convicted in Allegan County of a prescription drug offense. The judge ordered Cunningham to pay $1,000 in unspecified “court costs.” But Michigan’s prescription drug law doesn’t mention court costs.

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Law
6:16 pm
Mon June 16, 2014

Democrats sponsor bill to roll back abortion insurance law

A law that requires women to purchase a separate insurance policy to cover abortions remains controversial.
Credit user cedarbenddrive / Flickr

Democrats in the state Legislature have rolled out a bill to repeal the state’s petition-initiated law that requires people who want abortion coverage to buy a separate insurance policy. They acknowledge they don’t have the votes to repeal the law that was approved just last year by the Legislature. They say they’re hoping to open a public conversation on the law and its effects.

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It's Just Politics
1:34 pm
Fri June 13, 2014

Here’s why the state Senate couldn’t pass road funding

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

"Unfortunately, this is an issue that I would admit there are too much politics going on." That was Gov. Rick Snyder last night, after it became clear that a major roads funding package was not going to get passed in the state Senate.

"...If we were sitting at the kitchen table as a big family,” he continued, “and you looked at this issue, we would have solved this problem.”

Sure. Or our big family would fight about who wrecked the roads in the first place and that it was your fault – you and your big truck – which is why we can’t have nice roads and don’t you know I have a primary and, by the way, I haven’t forgotten who wrecked the roads that you won’t fix because you should.

But, we digress.

There were a lot of reasons why this road-funding deal failed to come together, despite some recent instances of actual bipartisanship, like increasing the state’s minimum wage and the Detroit rescue package. But those were exceptions in this era of Republican hegemony in Lansing.

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Law
6:44 am
Fri June 13, 2014

Michigan Supreme Court takes two more medical marijuana cases

Credit USFWS

The state Supreme Court has agreed to hear two more medical marijuana cases. Two medical marijuana cardholders want the state’s highest court to rule that a voter-approved law shields them from criminal charges.

In both cases, the defendants say the fact that they have medical marijuana cards should protect them from prosecution even if they did not abide by the letter of the law.

In one case, a cardholder who was also allowed to provide marijuana to two patients was charged after he sold pot to an undercover police officer posing as a patient. In the other case, the cardholder had more marijuana than he needed for his patients, and the plants were not kept in a separate locked location.

They both say the medical marijuana law offers sweeping protections to state-issued cardholders from criminal charges. Michigan’s medical marijuana statute was approved by an overwhelming majority of the state’s voters in 2008. More than 130 thousand Michigan residents have registered for cards. 

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