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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

Shawn / flickr

The state of Michigan is dropping charges and arrest warrants against nearly 200 people accused of illegally collecting unemployment benefits.

The warrants were issued against people who never showed up for court hearings after they were accused of defrauding the unemployment system. In many cases, the accused never knew they were charged with a crime.

The Michigan Talent Investment Agency asked for the arrest warrants to be dismissed because there’s a good chance the people accused actually didn’t do anything wrong.

Bytemarks / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The Michigan Court of Appeals dismissed a lawsuit claiming the state wrongfully accused thousands of people of unemployment fraud.  

In 2013, the state started using an automated system to flag fraud cases. But the system wrongly identified tens of thousands of people – and some of them sued to get their money back, plus fees and interest.

But the court says they waited too long to file the lawsuit.

Joan Larsen faces a tangled path to a plum spot on a federal appeals court. The only thing standing in her way is Michigan’s two U.S. Senators.

Kid Rock, the singer whose career has spanned rap, hard rock and country music, is fueling the speculation that he intends to announce a bid for the U.S. Senate next year to challenge incumbent Democrat Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. That is unless it's all a publicity stunt.

Chalkboard
user alkruse24 / flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Michigan’s education chief forecasts some contentious negotiations with federal officials on the state’s plans for identifying and helping struggling schools.

A hospital emergency room entrance.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Health care providers and patient advocates in Michigan are watching to see what’s in a re-vamped Republican health care overhaul once it’s rolled out in Washington.

RoAnne Chaney is with the Michigan Disability Resource Center. Chaney says she’s very concerned about potential cuts to Medicaid. She says an overhaul could affect whether people with disabilities can remain in their homes.

Michigan’s long-time and highly regarded elections director is retiring with a dire warning about “dark money.”

“Clearly those who give money, I think, have more influence, doors open easier,” former Michigan Elections Director Chris Thomas told It’s Just Politics. He says secret donations are undermining fair and honest elections.

Michigan Supreme Court
photo courtesy of the MI Supreme Court

The Michigan Supreme Court says religious schools cannot claim a blanket exemption from being sued for violating anti-discrimination laws.

A family sued a Catholic high school in Oakland County. They say the school violated an anti-discrimination law by refusing to admit their daughter because of a learning disability. Among other things, the school argued its operations are protected by religious freedom rights.

Doctor Jim Hines climbs aboard his campaign bus with a box of petition signatures to be dropped off with state elections officials.
Rick Pluta / Michigan Radio

A doctor from Saginaw Township is the first candidate for governor to file petition signatures to appear on the ballot next year.

Doctor Jim Hines filed more than 22,000 signatures to appear on the August 2018 Republican primary ballot. It takes 15,000 signatures to qualify. The petitions must still be checked and certified by elections officials.

Hines says he’s a fan of President Trump and Governor Rick Snyder, who were also political novices when they first ran for their jobs.

Governor Rick Snyder was overseas last week as his top legislative priority tanked in the state House. And now he has to pick up the pieces.

'Good jobs'

The state’s economic developers have big dreams of landing big employers offering thousands of workers big paychecks. So, they hatched this idea of letting big businesses keep the state income taxes paid by their employees in exchange for creating jobs in Michigan. The legislation is known as “Good Jobs for Michigan.”

Children walking down a path together
public domain

Negotiations will continue through the summer on legislation to change the rules on how child custody is determined in divorces.

State Rep. Jim Runestad’s (R-White Lake) bill would make equal custody the default position in divorces. He says, right now, judges have too much discretion and the proof of that is wide disparities between counties in how custody is granted.

“It’s a horrible, horrible system for kids and it’s got to change,” he says.

Runestad says the current system invites conflict between parents vying to win custody.

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley
Photo courtesy of www.governorelectricksnyder.com

The ballot campaign to adopt a part-time Legislature amendment in Michigan decided to skip getting its petition approved by a state elections board. The leader of the campaign, Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley, says he’s comfortable fighting any challenges in court.

Getting a petition form pre-approved is a voluntary step that’s supposed to avoid legal hassles later on. But Calley says he doesn’t think a court battle can be avoided.

A diver inspects Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac for a possible dent.
Enbridge inspection video shared with the state of Michigan

The state of Michigan has scrapped a risk study on Enbridge’s Line 5 and fired the contractor just a week before a first draft of the report was to be released.

The state Capitol in Lansing.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Political intrigue is being blamed for the collapse of a deal for the state to offer big tax breaks to employers who bring a lot of jobs to Michigan.

An angry state House Republican leader abruptly canceled a vote Tuesday shortly before midnight on Governor Rick Snyder’s top priority for the Legislature’s spring and summer session. House Speaker Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt, accused the governor’s bargaining team of making side deals with Democrats and unions without informing GOP leaders.

exterior of the Michigan state capital
Pkay Chelle / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

These are busy days in Lansing. Among other things, the legislature is working out the final details of the state budget before its summer recess. Last week, state Attorney General Bill Schuette charged a number of current and former officials with crimes related to the Flint water crisis.

It’s been almost two weeks since the Legislature approved a state license plate in order for an anti-abortion group to fundraise off it, but the legislation still hasn’t been put in front of Governor Rick Snyder for his signature.

The Michigan Constitution says a governor has two weeks to sign or veto a bill once it’s adopted by the Legislature and placed before him. But there is no timeline for when the Legislature, once it’s approved a bill, has to actually send it to the governor.

Rick Pluta / MPRN

A group marched on Governor Rick Snyder’s office Tuesday to call for faster work fixing Flint’s water system.

About 50 demonstrators delivered more than 11 hundred empty water bottles with messages from Flint residents curled inside each one.

Nayyirah Shariff with the group Flint Rising led the march. She says the demands include picking up the pace of replacing lead pipes, and a moratorium on city water bills until the work is done. Shariff says the process of replacing the water pipes should not take years.

A diver inspects Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac for a possible dent.
Enbridge inspection video shared with the state of Michigan

Enbridge Energy says it’s pressure testing the structural integrity of Line Five beneath the Straits of Mackinac. The company says the results appear to show the oil and gas pipeline does not pose a serious threat to the Great Lakes.

The company tested the first of two underwater pipes over the weekend.

The fiercest rivalry in Michigan politics right now is between two candidates for governor who still have not actually announced they’re running.

We are seeing this rivalry play out between Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley in the nascent petition drive to make the state legislature part-time.

jessica / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The Michigan Democratic Party must pay a $500,000 fine for violations related to bingo games that were used as political fundraisers. The fine is one of the largest ever assessed by the Federal Elections Commission.           

The violations were self-reported to the government by then-party chair Lon Johnson.

“I’ve always believed that how you run a campaign or how you run a political party is indicative of how you will govern, and I think it’s important that we follow the law,” he said.

teacher with two students
department of education / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Top lawmakers in the state Legislature have reached a tentative agreement with Gov. Rick Snyder about changes to the state’s teacher retirement system.

 

House Speaker Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt, and Senate Majority Leader Meekhof, R-West Olive, have been aggressively pursuing a plan to shut down the state’s hybrid pension and 401(k) system. Meekhof and Leonard want to put all new hires into a 401(k) plan.

child in doorway
Caro / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

An advocacy group for kids says a court-ordered report shows Michigan has a long way to go before it can guarantee the safety and welfare of children in foster care.

 

The monitors report says problems include the state not doing background checks on many relatives who take in foster kids, and not investigating credible allegations of abuse or neglect.

 

The Michigan state capitol building
Thetoad / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

There’s no end yet to the standoff between Governor Rick Snyder and the Legislature’s Republican leaders that’s delayed wrapping up the state budget. But they are talking again.

 

 

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

  A state House committee has adopted bills that would require local officials to help enforce federal immigration laws.

 

Opponents filled the hearing room and spilled into an overflow room. Some cheered or applauded testimony opposing the bills. No one testified in favor of or showed up to support

Handguns.
user Ben Re / Flickr

Some Democrats in the Legislature are calling for a law that would allow authorities to seize the firearms of people who threaten to commit suicide or hurt others.

 

State Rep. Robert Wittenberg, D-Oak Park, sponsored a bill that would allow a judge to issue an “extreme risk protection order.” The order would have to requested by a family member or a law enforcement official. And it could last no more than a year.

child's drawing on chalkboard
iRon leSs / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

State lawmakers say they will look into reports the Michigan agency that handles child abuse and neglect cases fudged its numbers to make it appear it was complying with a court order.

 

Everyone’s back to the political games in D.C. and Lansing now that lawmakers are back from the annual Mackinac Island Policy Conference where one of the agenda items on the to-do list was restoring political civility.

Soo Locks
Jim Newsome / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Michigan’s congressional delegation is getting ready to fight for a big piece of federal spending on infrastructure. They want roughly $1 billion to upgrade the shipping lanes of the Soo Locks.

“There’s been no comprehensive improvement in the locks in over 50 years, and we are concerned we are on borrowed time,” said  Senator Debbie Stabenow.

The locks in Sault Sainte Marie don’t have enough room to handle modern, larger ships. The locks also have a lot of aging components. 

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley
Michigan House Republicans

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley is raising his profile ahead of an anticipated run for governor next year.

Calley used a conference of political and business leaders this week to roll out a government reform agenda.

The plans include making it easier to get information from the government, forbidding elected officials from going directly into lobbying the state, and financial disclosure by politicians.

Travis / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Governor Rick Snyder is pushing for quick approval of a controversial tax break to help lure large employers to the state.

Snyder said although Michigan has been adding jobs, “they tend to smaller businesses. Now, we’re finding success in larger organizations saying they want to come to Michigan. We need to have another tool in our tool kit to make sure we can get them in our state.”

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