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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

marijuana bud
Pixabay

The Michigan Board of Canvassers approved a petition Thursday to place an initiative on the state’s November ballot that would legalize marijuana possession and consumption for all adults 21 years and older.

The board ruled that the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol collected 277,370 valid signatures, more than the 252,523 signatures needed to make the ballot.

Students sitting at desks in a classroom with a teacher at the front of the room
NeONBRAND / pixabay

The Legislature opened hearings today  on plans to make schools safer from guns and violence. It’s the first actions in Lansing since the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

But there’s little agreement on what to do. School and law enforcement officials opposed plans to put metal detectors in schools. Michigan State Police Lt. Amy Dehner testified before a state House committee. She said grading schools on their security arrangements, and making the grades public is a bad idea.

The Chevrolet Bolt, a long-range electric car
GM

US carmakers are preparing for the possibility that some regions may eventually outlaw the internal combustion engine.

Britta Gross is with General Motors. She says more than a dozen cities, countries, and the state of California are talking about a phase-out of gas or diesel cars and trucks.“So, we’re talking some of the 2050, some of them 2040. Some of them more near-term. Some are not getting any traction. But it’s something that’s out there on the horizon. It’s a conversation that some communities are having,” Gross said.

Shri Thanedar
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Millionaire businessman Shri Thanedar filed petition signatures Monday to appear as a candidate for governor on the Democratic primary ballot in August.

Thanedar is a PhD who made his fortune in the chemical testing industry after immigrating from India.

“In 1984, I got my green card, which made the way for me to become a U.S. citizen. So, I owe tremendously to Michigan," he says. "I want to give back. And this is my chance, so I am really excited today to make that happen.”

There is a legal question about whether Democrat Abdul El-Sayed is eligible to run for governor. But one thing that is not a question is the fact that the question is not settled, no matter how much the El-Sayed campaign might want to believe that’s the case.

marijuana
flickr user Dank Depot / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The state is looking for ways to help medical marijuana businesses that are having trouble finding a bank or a credit union.

Rick Johnson chairs the state medical marijuana licensing board. He says most financial institutions won’t work with marijuana-related businesses because the drug remains illegal at the federal level. He says that means the businesses don’t have checking accounts and can’t easily handle electronic transfers.

Abdul El-Sayed
Bridge Magazine

The state says now is not the time to rule on whether a candidate for governor is eligible to run.  

That could mean the question will wait until after Democratic voters make their choice in the primary.

The state constitution says a candidate for governor must have been a registered voter in Michigan for at least four years before the election.

Democratic hopeful Abdul El-Sayed voted in New York in 2012, and the question is whether that invalidated his Michigan voter registration until he re-registered here in 2016.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley
Michigan House Republicans

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley filed petition signatures Tuesday to appear on the Republican primary ballot in August. He’s running to replace Governor Rick Snyder, who cannot run again due to term limits.

Calley says he wants to keep up the work started by Snyder over the past seven years. He says that’s fueled Michigan’s recovery from the Great Recession.

“I’m running to continue this comeback. I’m running to add the next half a million jobs. I’m running to hit new lows in unemployment, and new highs in income growth.”

School desks
Flickr user Frank Juarez/Flickr / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Governor Rick Snyder released a plan Monday to improve school safety following the Parkland, Florida shootings.

The plan calls for boosting security at hundreds of schools, and expanding an anti-bullying tip line. A task force would also come up with more ways to improve school safety between now and the end of the year, when Governor Snyder steps down.

Snyder says these are things he believes could result in a consensus in Lansing.

The proposal also includes more active-shooter training for law enforcement, but does not include any plans directly related to guns.

Update, Friday, April 27 at 10:40 a.m.:

On Thursday, Michigan Board of Canvassers approved the petition to place the marijuana legalization initiative on the November ballot.

House Speaker Tom Leonard says he doesn't foresee the Legislature adopting the measure in the next 40 days. 

"There is not much support it in the caucus," he said. "I do not personally support it, so I think this something that ultimately voters are going to have to decide.”

Original story from Monday, April 23:

profile shot of Gretchen Whitmer
Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Former state Senate Democratic leader Gretchen Whitmer filed petition signatures today to get her name on the August primary ballot as a candidate for governor.

Whitmer is running on her experience as a legislator in the House and Senate. She also says she’s not happy with the cutthroat turn political campaigns in both parties have taken.

guns in holsters on two people
Lucio Eastman - Free State Project - PorcFest 2009 / CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27373086

The Michigan Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday about two school districts' policies that ban guns from school property.

flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The debate over firearms and school safety found its way Wednesday to the Michigan Supreme Court.

The court must decide whether schools can ban firearms, or if that’s preempted by state law. The court heard more than an hour of arguments from both sides.

At issue is a state law says cities, townships, villages and counties cannot adopt their own firearms ordinances. But the law is silent on school districts.

School officials say that means they can adopt policies that don’t permit firearms in schools. Gun rights groups say schools are skirting the intent of the law.

The fight for the Democratic nod for state attorney general has gotten nasty with less than a week to go before Michigan Democrats decide on a candidate.

A string of rainbow flags against a blue sky
Chomiji / flickr

A federal judge in Detroit has dismissed a lawsuit filed against three social media companies by survivors of some of the 49 people killed in a Florida nightclub shooting.

The lawsuit was filed in Michigan because one of the victims was from Saginaw. The families accused Twitter, Google, and Facebook of providing a platform that the shooter used to view videos posted by ISIS. They say that radicalized him to the point of carrying out the massacre.

A Michigan State Police file photo.
Michigan State Police

The Michigan Supreme Court will decide whether police officers illegally searched the backpack of a passenger in a stopped vehicle. The passenger says officers should have first asked his permission.

Larry Mead was riding in a vehicle stopped for an expired plate. The driver gave permission for police to search the vehicle, where Mead left his backpack. The officers found methamphetamine in the backpack.

Prison bars
flickr user Thomas Hawk / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The Michigan Court of Appeals says inmates sentenced to prison as children can sue the state over allegations they were beaten and sexually abused. The lawsuit says the assaults were committed by other inmates and prison staff.

The state tried to have the case dismissed under a 1999 amendment to Michigan’s civil rights law. The court said it’s unconstitutional to bar inmates from filing civil rights claims against the state.

Deborah LaBelle is an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Democrats are practically giddy about their prospects for taking control of Congress. They see a blue wave on the horizon, and the next 225 days until November 6th cannot come soon enough for them.

Shredded dollar
TaxCredits.net / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Attorney General Bill Schuette is being asked to decide whether a state-sponsored tax-exempt college savings plan can also be used for private K-12 school expenses. The new federal tax law allows it. But the Michigan Constitution says the state cannot provide direct or indirect financial support for private or religious schools.

Gov. Rick Snyder has asked for an official opinion on whether holders of Michigan Education Savings Program accounts can use them for private school tuition.

marijuana
flickr user Dank Depot / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The state medical marijuana board has deadlocked on the first two applications for licenses.

The issue was how to deal with old criminal convictions. 

One applicant thought his marijuana conviction had been expunged from the record. In another case, the applicant had a 20-year-old misdemeanor. 

Michael Densmore says it’s all a misunderstanding. 

pixabay

Governor Rick Snyder has signed a budget bill that accelerates spending on road repairs in time to help with the spring and summer construction season.

The bill shifts $175 million from next year’s construction season to use this coming spring and summer to fix roads.

“You’re going to see a lot of (orange) barrels in every corner of Michigan,” he said.

But this spending on repairs is still not expected to keep pace with the rate at which roads are crumbling following a freeze-and-thaw winter’s that’s been brutal on pavement.

People who remember, remember Republican John Engler as a blunt, pugnacious governor. And, before that, the same as state Senate majority leader.

Michigan State University interim President John Engler scolded lawmakers today over bills that would make it easier for sexual abuse victims to file lawsuits.

He says the debate is affecting settlement negotiations with victims of former sports doctor Larry Nassar.

Engler appeared before a Senate universities budget subcommittee. He told the committee chair the bills could also drive up tuition. 

“Your legislation would certainly probably do that," he said. "I don’t know if it would force bankruptcy or not. I hope not.”

Michigan superintendent Brian Whiston
Michigan Department of Education

State schools superintendent Brian Whiston is stepping down and taking long-term disability leave so he can focus on fighting cancer.

Whiston made the announcement today at a meeting of the Michigan State Board of Education.

Whiston set a goal of making Michigan one of the nation’s top 10 states when it comes to the quality of schools. He says plans that have been put in place to turn around struggling schools make that possible.

“They’re just now in progress, and it’s just very sad to me that I won’t be part of seeing whether they all worked or not,” Whiston said.

Michigan Supreme Court
Michigan Supreme Court / court.mi.gov

The Michigan Supreme Court will decide whether it’s legal for judges to order defendants to pay fees and court costs.

One defendant is challenging the practice, which he says violates the state constitution.

Shawn Cameron Junior was ordered to pay more than $1,600 in court costs after he was convicted of assault. He says that amounts to a tax, and only the legislature can enact taxes. Cameron says courts can also be arbitrary in how they set the charges.

The legalization of marijuana in Michigan is emerging as an issue in the race for the state's next attorney general.

Attorney General candidate Patrick Miles, an Obama-appointed official who served six and a half years as the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, has taken a position on legalization of marijuana in Michigan. He said last week, upon further reflection, he’s for it.

Michigan Legislature
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The state House has sent a bill to Governor Rick Snyder that forbids local governments from adopting ordinances dealing with questions employers may ask in job interviews.

The bill would expand an existing ban on local regulations that limit the information employers can ask for. It’s an effort to preempt local rules that bar asking about salary histories and criminal backgrounds. There are no such local regulations in Michigan, but they have been adopted in other states.

Razor wire on top of chain-link fence.
Robert Hickerson / Unsplash

The state House has adopted bills that would allow prisoners in advanced stages of illness including cancer and dementia to be paroled for medical reasons.

The House split on the bills with Republicans and Democrats voting on both sides of the issue.

Gun laws across the country are under the microscope at state capitols. And Michigan is no exception. But the reality is, we’re not seeing a re-thinking of gun policy. Instead, everyone’s just returned to their corners.

There’s increasing pressure for Lansing to do something following the school shootings in Parkland, Florida.

Michael Tapp / Flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Democrats at the state Capitol are calling for background checks on everyone who buys a firearm. That would include in-store purchases and person-to-person sales.

They say that would help ensure that people prone to violence won’t be able to legally get hold of a firearm.

State Rep. Tim Griemel, D-Auburn Hills, says the state should require checks for in-store and person-to-person gun sales.

“This is the best, most common-sense way to ensure that guns are not in the hands of those who are prone to violence,” he said. 

Republicans are not on board.

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