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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

What caused the Flint water crisis?
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Federal money to upgrade water systems is on a fast track toward Flint. The state House has agreed to spend $100 million dollars from the EPA and kick in another $20 million from the state.

This is unusually fast action. The federal government approved the money just last week.

“People have been thirsty for action inside the city of Flint,” said state Representative Sheldon Neeley (D-Flint). He says it’s true the city’s water now meets federal safe drinking water standards, but people don’t trust the water is safe.

An empty big box store - a former K-Mart in Grand Blanc Michigan
Michigan Municipal League

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers and local officials will try again this year to shut down a tax break that’s allowed big box stores to cut their property taxes.

 

The so-called “dark store” loophole allows open and functioning big-box stores to base their property taxes on the value of stores that have been shut down. The value of the empty stores can be further reduced by restrictions on who can buy them.

The effort to allow any Michigan voter to request an absentee ballot may be close to critical mass in the state Senate. That’s as more Republicans are accepting the idea that anyone who wants to mail in or drop off their ballot should be allowed to without having to lie to do it.

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Governor Rick Snyder
Flickr user Michigan Municipal League / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Governor Rick Snyder and other Republican governors are asking congressional GOP leaders for a do-over on the health care overhaul. Four GOP governors say the plan to be voted on next week falls short.

Anna Heaton is Snyder’s press secretary. She says the plan jeopardizes Michigan’s Medicaid expansion by choking off money for the program.

“Basically, what it does is it shifts the full costs of Medicaid to the states, so it would just be unsustainable and we likely wouldn’t be able to enroll anyone else in our Healthy Michigan program.”

Alex Proimos / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Pressure’s growing on Michigan’s congressional Republicans who have to make a decision whether to support a healthcare overhaul that could be voted on next week.

AARP of Michigan says the proposed replacement to Obamacare would mean higher costs for older people.

“It is simply unacceptable,” said Paula Cunningham, state director of the AARP of Michigan. She says the proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act would mean higher costs for older people.

“Do the math,” she said. “You know, what does that do to their income?”

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

The Michigan State Board of Education is trying to pressure schools to drop team mascots and nicknames that are offensive to Native American tribes.

The board is asking the Legislature to adopt budget sanctions on schools that won’t scrap offensive Native American mascots.

“We want to make sure that students are able to go to school and to learn and be in environments that are conducive to learning, and so that is why it’s quite important,” said Pam Pugh, a Democratic board member.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Some state lawmakers got an early peek at Governor Rick Snyder’s new lead rules that are supposed to be rolled out this week.l A top state environmental official shared some details in testimony before a state House budget subcommittee.

 

What’s a Republican governor to do when his own political party is the problem?

We’re hearing a lot about the divide among Republicans in D.C. over the “repeal and replacement” of Obamacare.

President Donald Trump and the House Republican leadership have a plan. But, conservatives don’t like it. Democrats don’t like it. Interest groups like the AARP are already piling on, and let’s add to the list: Republican governors like Ohio Governor John Kasich and Michigan’s own Rick Snyder.

Andy Thomas

A storm that hammered the entire state with hurricane-force winds has left behind an unprecedented number of downed poles and power lines. And that poses a new danger for people still without power with the onset of freezing temperatures.

Peeling lead paint.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder will create a commission this week that has the mission of tackling the problem of lead exposure. A top administration official says the governor will also ask the Legislature to pass a law to make the commission permanent until the problem is solved.

 

Handguns
user Joshuashearn / wikimedia commons

A group of gun control advocates was at the state Capitol to lobby against a proposal to allow people to carry concealed weapons without a permit.

               

Courtesy photo / Holland BPW

The state is close to running out of money to clean thousands of abandoned, polluted properties all across Michigan.

The state spends about $15 million a year cleaning up abandoned industrial sites. The money comes from bond sales approved by voters back in the 1990s. That pot is almost exhausted.

Governor Rick Snyder has proposed a one-time shift of money to pay for the cleanup program in the coming fiscal year. The money would come from the fund that pays for decontaminating underground fuel tanks that’s financed by a portion of gas taxes.

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In elections, it’s all about who shows up.

And last year, Democrats didn’t.

The Democrats’ historic loss in Michigan is due pretty much to the fact that too many voters who would typically vote Democratic simply sat out Election 2016. While Republicans, true to form, showed up at the polls.

bottom of chalkboard, with an eraser and chalk sitting on the ledge
user alkruse24 / Flickr

The state is giving 38 of Michigan’s worst-performing schools 60 days to come up with a turnaround plan, and avoid closure – at least for now.

Under the so-called "partnership model," schools would get support from the state, district and outside groups to help them address weak areas. 

The schools would have to meet benchmarks at 18-month intervals, or they could still face closure after three years.

The plans would have to be approved by the state Department of Education and the School Reform Office.

Wilson Hui / Flickr

A bottled water company wants to speed up the pace of its business. Nestle is asking the state for permission to pump more water from the Muskegon River watershed.

The company has already started construction to upgrade its water bottling plant in Mecosta County.

Environmental groups are asking the state Department of Environmental Quality to slow down the approval process.

Jeff Ostahowski is with the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation.

State House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt) is figuring out his next move after his income tax rollback tanked in the House last week. It was an embarrassing defeat largely the result of putting the bill up before the Speaker knew the votes were there. And he ran into a hard-dozen fellow Republicans who, along with all but one of the Democrats, torpedoed what was supposed to be a marquee moment in the early days of this session.

Gerrymandering allows political parties or groups to gain some political advantage by manipulating district boundaries. Some critics argue that it distorts the real views of the voters.
wikimedia user Jeremy Kemp / Public Domain/http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

A citizens group wants to change how political boundaries are drawn in Michigan. Right now, the Legislature draws new lines for legislative and congressional districts every 10 years following the Census.

John Hanieski is an economist who says, right now, the numbers don’t add up. He says the state is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. But he says the GOP wins a lot more seats. 

He says the current system allows lawmakers to put their interests ahead of their constituents.

The Washington Writer's Academy in Kalamazoo
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Lawyers for Saginaw and Kalamazoo school districts say the state does not have the authority to close four of their low-performing schools.

The complaint was filed late Wednesday on behalf of the two school districts and more than a dozen parents. They argue the governor violated the state constitution when he signed an executive order in 2015 moving the School Reform Office into a department under his control, instead of the state superintendent and the education department.

The office is considering closing 38 schools.

Michigan Attorney General's office

A former sports medicine doctor for Michigan State University and the U.S. Olympics gymnastics team faces another 22 felony charges of sexually assaulting his patients.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced the new charges today. He says five of the charges are related to victims who were younger than 13 years old.

“I cannot imagine the heartbreak, and the anger, and the heartache experienced by parents who took their child to a physician, seeking help, who then sexually assaulted their daughter,” Schuette said.

State capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A survey of local officials across the state finds wide interest in overhauling Michigan’s emergency manager law.       

The survey of officials from 1,300 cities, counties, townships, and villages was conducted by the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy.

There was no consensus on what to about financially struggling local governments, says survey director Tom Ivacko. But he says says there was general agreement that emergency managers have too much power.

There’s a battle over taxes emerging in Lansing.

Is it real? Or is it actually a proxy for other looming political fights?

Tax rollback

We could see action soon on a plan that would begin to rollback and eventually, after four decades, completely eliminate the state income tax.

But this idea from state House Republicans is getting the cold shoulder from Governor Rick Snyder, a lot of state Senate Republicans and, not to mention Democrats.

Shemaiah Telemaque/iadMedia / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A federal appeals court says the Jackson County Commission regularly violated the U.S. Constitution by opening its meetings with a Christian prayer.

In a 2-1 ruling, a panel of the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals held the commission violated the Establishment Clause.  The Establishment Clause says government bodies cannot favor one religion over others.

Governor Rick Snyder has laid out his budget plan for the coming year. He wants the state to save more, pay down debt and spend on infrastructure.

Republicans in the Legislature are not necessarily opposed to those ideas, but many of them are also calling for tax cuts, which means less money for those things Snyder wants.

people in voting booths
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s elections chief says it appears there were 31 instances of people casting two ballots in the 2016 election, but it doesn’t seem to have changed any results. That was the finding of audits of the election results, as well as a separate inquiry into ballot irregularities in Detroit.

State capitol building in Lansing
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio file photo

There could soon be tighter restrictions on the public’s access to information in bids for state business. A state Senate committee has adopted a bill that would shield information on bidders’ trade secrets and finances.

State Senator Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) says the Freedom of Information Act discourages businesses from bidding on government work. Jones says his bill matches a standard used in 42 other states and by the federal government to protect confidential information.

A legal battle over redistricting in Michigan could soon be underway.

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Letters are being sent to some 60 attorneys, legislators and ex-legislators, staffers and ex-staffers, Governor Rick Snyder, and many others, telling them: Anything you have related to the 2011 redistricting process, you better keep it. We’re talking drafts of maps, emails, instructions, and confidential analysis.

Flickr user Still Burning / Flickr Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The state Senate has adopted a criminal justice overhaul that aims to improve public safety by sending fewer people to prison. The 21 bills passed with almost unanimous support from Republicans and Democrats.

While crime and the number of prisoners is on its way down, state Senator John Proos (R-St. Joseph) says the state can do better. He says the key is making sure inmates succeed once they are released.

michigan.gov

Governor Rick Snyder’s chief of staff has taken a new job at the White House. Jarrod Agen is the new communications director for Vice President Mike Pence. Agen was Snyder’s communications director before assuming the position of chief of staff 13 months ago. Agen helped shape the “Grand Bargain” that led to the Detroit bankruptcy deal, and he was a central figure in the Snyder administration’s response to the Flint water crisis.

Government records revealed under the Freedom of Information Act.
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Michigan and Louisiana are the only two states that don’t apply their public records laws to the legislature and the governor’s office. A bipartisan group of Michigan lawmakers have rolled out bills to change that.

Michigan is ranked among the worst states in the country when it comes to government ethics and access laws.

The Michigan State Capitol
Aunt owwee / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Governor Rick Snyder says he’s trying to learn more about President Trump’s executive order on immigration. But he says it’s the start of a national discussion on the subject. Snyder says he is reaching to other governors and the Trump administration to better understand the order and its effects.

  

The governor released a statement this morning while he is overseas on a trip to Israel.

  

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley is in charge while the governor’s away. He says criticism of the order is overblown.

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