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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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. 

Politics & Government
6:13 am
Wed June 11, 2014

Right-to-work part of discussions on roads package

Credit Matthileo / Flickr

Negotiations between Republicans and Democrats at the state Capitol over road funding may have resurrected the controversy over Michigan’s right-to-work law.

There’s a lot of deal-making happening in Lansing as the Legislature enters the final days before its summer recess. The two biggest issues are finishing the state budget, and coming up with more than $1.2 billion new dollars a year for roads – Governor Rick Snyder’s top priority before lawmakers leave Lansing.

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Prisons
6:05 pm
Mon June 9, 2014

Reform group calls for end to "adult-time-for-adult-crime"

Credit Brian Turner / Flickr

A new report by the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency is calling for an end to the state’s policy of automatically charging 17-year-olds as adults, and sending them to prison – even for non-violent offenses.

The Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency says teens sent to prison are more likely to re-offend after they’re released. The vast majority of teens sent to prison are 17 and the average stay is five years.

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It's Just Politics
1:52 pm
Fri June 6, 2014

Why presidential politics could stall a deal in Lansing to fix our roads

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

With money to fix roads hanging in the balance, presidential politics could stand in the way of the new trend of bipartisan action on big, controversial issues.

But, really, any notion that there’s a new era of bipartisanship at the state Capitol should be shelved, despite the Democratic and Republican coalitions in the Legislature that pushed through deals on increasing the minimum wage and the Detroit rescue package. And that’s because each was an anomaly that brought Democrats to the bargaining table in Republican-controlled Lansing.

When you break down the Detroit votes, for example, you see two very different pictures in the House and in the Senate. In the House, almost all the Republicans voted for the rescue. A few Democrats were the holdouts. In the Senate, Democrats made up the difference as most Republicans -- 16 out of 26 -- voted “no” on the main bills in the Detroit package.

What this says is the parameters of each deal were different (even when we’re talking about the exact same legislation) depending on whether it’s the House or the Senate.  For example, a larger proportion of the Republicans in the Senate have serious primaries.

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Courts
5:35 pm
Thu June 5, 2014

Schuette turns up the heat on energy company with criminal charges

Credit (courtesy Michigan Attorney General's office)

 

The state says Chesapeake Energy signed lease agreements with eight landowners, assuring them that mortgages on the property would not be a problem.  The options shut out competitors from buying leases. The allegations say Chesapeake then used the mortgages as a pretext to cancel the contracts.

Chesapeake is the nation’s second-largest producer of natural gas. In a statement, the company says the charges are “without merit,” and will fight them in court.

Chesapeake is also facing a separate criminal lawsuit in Michigan. It alleges the company was part of a collusion scheme to keep down the cost of leases up for auction. The other company that was charged has pleaded no contest.

Courts
6:19 pm
Wed June 4, 2014

Michigan Supreme Court names workgroup to improve system for collecting fines

State court officials are looking at the fines and fees they levy against poor criminal defendants.
Credit Joe Gratz / Flickr

A group of judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys goes to work Thursday on finding new and better ways to collect fines and fees from defendants, and to ensure that people are not sent to jail because they don’t have the money to pay.       

An NPR investigation identified Michigan as one of the states where judges sometimes send defendants to jail for failure to pay – even when that’s not because they won’t pay, but they can’t. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that’s unconstitutional.      

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Environment & Science
6:51 am
Tue June 3, 2014

DEQ chief wants flexibility to deal with EPA carbon standard

DTE Energy's St. Clair power plant
Credit user cgord / wikimedia commons

Governor Rick Snyder’s administration will argue for flexibility to meet proposed new federal standards for greenhouse gas emissions. The rule was made public today by the EPA. It calls for a 30% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, compared to emissions in 2005.

“We support that goal. We think it’s a legitimate goal. Our issue is – and there’s a lot of detail yet that we haven’t gone through – will the state be given the flexibility, and will it be an orderly transition?” said Dan Wyant, the director of the state Department of Environmental Quality.

He says the state is already on a path to meet the 10 percent renewable energy target required by a 2008 state law. But he says future goals should be broader than forcing a transition to alternative fuels.

“We know it can be disruptive – reliability and affordability can be impacted if we go too fast, too hard, too soon,” said Wyant. He said, for example, Michigan will ask the Obama administration to count utilities’ efficiency efforts against emissions targets.

The final version of the rule won’t be adopted until next year following a public comment period.  A legislative workgroup is starting to plot Michigan’s next energy strategy. Michigan is also part of the Midwestern Power Sector Collaborative, which is pondering a regional approach to complying with the new emissions standards.  

It's Just Politics
2:32 pm
Fri May 30, 2014

Despite waffling, Snyder did join call to add LGBT protections to state's civil rights law

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

This week at the annual Detroit Regional Chamber’s policy conference on Mackinac Island, Governor Snyder joined the chorus of people calling for an update to Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights act to include protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people… sort of.

There is a lot of spoon-feeding to the press here on the Island – a litany of press conferences and media scrums. And, yesterday, one of those press conferences was held by a group of business leaders who want LGBT protections rolled into the civil rights law.

Meanwhile, at almost the exact same time as these business leaders were making their announcement, the Governor was talking to us, telling us he thought the legislature ought to take the issue up.

But, did he actually endorse it? “I’m encouraging them to say there’s been a lot of dialog and discussion on this. It’s been healthy in the public and I think it could be an appropriate topic for the legislators to take up. I would appreciate that,” the Governor said. And, that statement is fairly typical of the multiple exchanges we had with the governor on this topic.

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Politics & Government
10:27 am
Thu May 29, 2014

Gov. Snyder says he wants Legislature to add LGBT protections to civil rights law

Credit Guillaume Paumier/Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder says he’d like the Legislature to amend Michigan’s civil rights law to add protections for gays, lesbians and transgendered people.

“I don’t believe in discrimination and I think it would be great if they, the Legislature, looked at it later in the year,” said Snyder.

The governor says he’d lawmakers to first deal with the Detroit bankruptcy and road funding. But he thinks action on the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act could take place before the end of the year. The governor is attending the Detroit Regional Chamber Policy Conference on Mackinac Island, where a group of business leaders has endorsed adding LGBT rights to the civil rights law.

Politics & Government
12:47 pm
Tue May 27, 2014

The Michigan Senate will decide the fate of the Detroit rescue package

Inside the Michigan Senate.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The $195 million Detroit rescue package moves to the Michigan Senate this week after easily clearing the state House by wide margins.

Gov. Rick Snyder is hoping for speedy action to get the deal wrapped up no later than early June.

“I would remind people our work is not done,” Snyder said. “I’d like to thank the House for their wonderful work, but we still have work to get done in the Senate. Hopefully, we can get that done in a prompt fashion, but this is a great opportunity to move Michigan ahead.”

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Politics & Government
4:29 pm
Fri May 23, 2014

Judge: Conyers will be on Aug. primary ballot

Veteran Congressman John Conyers’ name will appear on the August primary ballot. That’s the ruling of U.S. District Judge Matthew Leitman, who struck down Michigan’s requirement that only registered voters can circulate candidate nominating petitions.

Earlier today, Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson ruled that a problem with petition circulators threatened to bring an end to Conyers’ almost 50-year congressional career. Judge Leitman quickly followed with a ruling that requiring petition circulators to be registered voters violates free speech rights, and is not consistent with other court decisions. 

Also, Michigan does not have the same requirement for people who circulate petitions to put a question on the ballot.

Leitman issued an order that puts Conyers name into the Democratic primary, where he’ll face Detroit pastor Horace Sheffield.

If Conyers is reelected, the icon of the civil rights movement will be the dean of the House.

Politics & Government
2:56 pm
Fri May 23, 2014

State aid to Detroit gets overwhelming support from Republicans (yes, you read that correctly)

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

In Lansing yesterday with the state House approving that $195 million for Detroit, a lot of us were anticipating a close vote. A very close vote.

There was a lot of back and forth about how many votes the Republicans would have to put up and how many the Democrats would have to put up. But, in the end, it wasn’t even close.

Other than the dust-up over the Detroit Institute of Arts millage the package passed by big lopsided margins and overwhelming Republican support. Which, when you think about it, is a very interesting dynamic: overwhelming GOP support for the state coming to the aid of a city run by Democrats.

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Politics & Government
10:24 pm
Thu May 22, 2014

Detroit aid package clears first major hurdle in Lansing

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The $195 million state contribution to the Detroit bankruptcy settlement cleared its first major hurdle today, as the state House approved the payment by a wide margin.

Applause erupted as the final bill in the Detroit package was approved by a lopsided majority. 

There were plenty of complaints about parts of the bills – such as years of post-bankruptcy state oversight, and the big withdrawal from the state’s “rainy day” savings.

The package also includes financial oversight requirements that could last for many years.

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Economy
9:17 pm
Wed May 21, 2014

House committee could vote on minimum wage bill soon

Credit user cedarbenddrive / Flickr

There could be a vote this week on a bill to increase Michigan’s minimum wage – even though almost no one is happy with what the legislation would do.

The measure would boost Michigan’s minimum wage to $9.20 an hour, but potentially short-circuit a petition drive to raise it even higher – to $10.10 and index it to inflation. The bill cleared the state Senate last week, and hearings just opened before the House Government Operations Committee.

Business groups are in a bind. They don’t like the petition drive, but see the Senate bill as barely an improvement.

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Politics & Government
9:11 pm
Wed May 21, 2014

Detroit bills could be on fast track through state House

Credit Thetoad / Flickr

UPDATED AT 10:30 on 5/22/14 with a correction.

Legislation providing $195 million to the Detroit bankruptcy settlement is on its way to the floor of the state House. A state House committee approved its part of the so-called “grand bargain” today. It’s designed to help pull the city out of bankruptcy, guard against the sale of city owned masterpieces at the Detroit Institute of Arts, and minimize cuts to pensions.

But timing is becoming tight for the Legislature to approve the state’s part in the so-called “grand bargain.” 

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Politics & Government
8:46 pm
Tue May 20, 2014

Committee vote expected in Detroit aid agreement

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan wants the city to be able to get out from under state oversight if it's managing its finances.
Credit Mike Duggan

There could be a first vote tomorrow in the Legislature on an almost $200 million deal to aid the city of Detroit. Mayor Mike Duggan was one of those who testified prior to the historic vote. Duggan says, overall, he supports the plan.

“I want you to be comfortable we’re not going to be coming back in two years, four years, six years – that we’re going to solve this once and when we do solve it once, you’re going to be proud of how progress is made,” Duggan told the House Committee on Detroit’s Restructuring and Michigan’s Future.

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Politics & Government
7:19 pm
Fri May 16, 2014

Conyers asks Secretary of State to State to put him on ballot

U.S. Congressman John Conyers is challenging the decision to bump him from the August primary ballot on a couple of fronts.

Congressman John Conyers is asking Secretary of State Ruth Johnson to put his name on the August Democratic primary ballot. The veteran lawmaker is asking the state’s top elections official to reverse a decision by the Wayne County clerk.

In the filing, Conyers' legal team says two nominating petition circulators should not have been disqualified for not being registered voters.

Conyers says they were registered, but, in fact, that shouldn’t matter because the requirement itself is unconstitutional, a violation of the First Amendment.

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It's Just Politics
2:38 pm
Fri May 16, 2014

Rumors of the demise of minimum wage petition drive are greatly exaggerated

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

So now that the Michigan Senate has approved a new, higher minimum wage, with bipartisan support (14 Rs, 10 Ds) no less, this is practically a done deal. Right?

Not so much. The headlines and stories that said it would “kill” the petition drive are speculative and premature.

This Senate bill is – at the bottom of it all – an effort to pull the rug out from under the ballot drive to raise the Michigan minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. It's a cause beloved by Democrats and progressives.

So why then did 10 out of 12 Senate Democrats go along with it? Particularly after some had already blasted the proposal as a gimmick and too paltry – especially for workers earning the lower tipped wage?

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Politics & Government
6:11 pm
Thu May 15, 2014

Michigan’s economy improves, but at a slower pace

Credit Matthileo / Flickr

The long, harsh winter slowed the state’s economic recovery. And it took a bite out of tax revenues, leaving Gov. Rick Snyder and the Legislature with less money to work with as they put the finishing touches on a new state budget.

A budget conference today looked at all kinds of factors affecting the state’s economy, to come up with a new revenue forecast for lawmakers to use.

There are still a few variables that could affect the state’s short and long-term economic future. New home building is one. The auto industry is another.

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