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

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.


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

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.