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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

Governor Snyder at the Mackinac Policy Conference in 2014
flickr user A Healthier Michigan / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Governor Rick Snyder spoke out against a toxic political culture that he says it’s getting in the way of practical problem-solving.

           

The governor was speaking to a gathering of business and political leaders at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual policy conference on Mackinac Island. The conference’s organizers put civility in politics on the agenda.

 

Thomas Marthinsen / Flickr

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says his office is treating cases of fatal drug overdoses as murder investigations.

 

He says four attorneys have been assigned to help prosecute cases against opioid and heroin traffickers, including two instances where alleged suppliers are accused of second-degree murder.

 

A ballot campaign to make Michigan a part-time Legislature state could be on the horizon - an effort, perhaps, to make state government more efficient, but the effort carries at least a whiff of gubernatorial politics.

An elderly woman
Chris Goldberg / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Some Democrats at the state Capitol say it’s time to take a new look at services for the elderly in Michigan, especially nursing home care. They say the need will become more critical as more Michigan residents get older and require assisted living.

State Representative John Hoadley, D-Kalamazoo, says a study on the issue is a good first step.

church exterior
Flickr user: richevenhouse

The Michigan Court of Appeals has put a lawsuit regarding state money for private schools on hold while it decides who can be part of it.

The court will decide whether a group of Republican lawmakers and Catholic school parents can challenge Michigan’s ban on public money for private schools. And they want to join the lawsuit as defendants, not plaintiffs.

A petition campaign that collapsed in scandal last year is re-launching and some GOP leaders are concerned the issue could threaten Republican control over Lansing.

Ben Simo / Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder says he will spend the summer months developing a recycling strategy to be rolled out in the fall.

“We need to do better in recycling,” he said. That is an area where I wanted to see more improvement, and we haven’t kept up the pace that we have in many other areas.” 

He says Michigan’s residential recycling rate of 15 percent is among the lowest in the country, and the state has not met a goal of doubling that.

person writing on paper
LucasTheExperience / Flickr

Two more petition campaigns were given the go-ahead Thursday by a state elections panel to start collecting signatures, including one to legalize recreational marijuana in Michigan.

The Mackinac Bridge connects Michigan's upper and lower peninsulas
flickr user Always Shooting / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The Mackinac Bridge will be closed to most vehicle traffic the morning of Labor Day. The bridge authority made that decision today. Their concern was the risk of a terrorist attack on the Labor Day bridge walk, which attracts thousands of people.

The decision means no vehicles will be allowed to cross the bridge from 6:30 a.m. to noon except for busses and emergency vehicles.

Michiganders could decide next year whether to legalize marijuana in the state and many politicos are wondering how that ballot question could affect the 2018 election.

Trial attorney Geoffrey Fieger appearing on Off the Record with Tim Skubick.
WKAR-TV

The 1998 Democratic nominee for governor of Michigan says he may try again next year.

Well-known trial attorney Geoffrey Fieger appeared on Michigan Public Television’s Off The Record program.

Fieger gained fame as the firebrand lawyer for assisted suicide Doctor Jack Kevorkian. He came out on top of a crowded field to win the 1998 nomination for governor, but lost to Republican incumbent John Engler.

Fieger says he thinks the public is more receptive to his message now.

Mental health administrators Nicole Lawson, Christina Nicholas, and Jillian Trumbell demonstrate at the Michigan Capitol
Rick Pluta / MPRN

There was a big rally at the state Capitol Wednesday to support improved mental health services and to oppose Governor Rick Snyder’s plan to overhaul how those services are paid for.

           

The Snyder administration and publicly funded mental health agencies have been at odds over an overhaul plan. It would allow private insurance companies to manage $2.5 billion in Medicaid funds earmarked for mental health.

State Rep. John Kivela, D-Marquette
John Kivela's office website

There were tears and hugs on the floor of the state House today as colleagues got word that state Rep. John Kivela, D-Marquette, took his life – one day after his second arrest on a charge of drunk driving.

“I’m sure today is the toughest day we will experience this term together,” House Speaker Tom Leonard told his colleagues in the House. “And I truly have no words about the loss of our dear friend, John Kivela.”

Joan Larsen
University of Michigan Law School / screen grab from YouTube video

UPDATED @ 8:48 on 5/9/17

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen has been chosen by President Trump to serve on the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Trump once put Larsen on his list of judges and lawyers he would consider naming to the U.S. Supreme Court.

 

There’s a face off between Governor Rick Snyder and Republican leaders over an issue that’s not even at the top of anyone’s to-do list.

The state Legislature is working away on the state budget and Republicans have been cutting Snyder’s budget proposal. They’re squirreling away money but they haven’t decided what to do with it yet.

user eljoja / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A petition campaign wants to allow marijuana retailers in Michigan communities that will permit it, and for people to grow their own at home. The campaign has submitted its petition for approval by a state elections board.

Jeff Irwin is the campaign’s political director. He says the proposal would regulate recreational marijuana using a system similar to the one for selling beer, wine, and alcohol. He says outlawing pot has been a failure.

Schools in Michigan are not supposed to start the year until after Labor Day.  It is state law.

Michigan State University is asking a court to decide whether it has to release police and arrest records related to a highly publicized investigation. The records are related to the criminal investigation into an alleged sexual assault that may involve members of the Spartan football team.

The sports network ESPN filed a request for the records under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act. But the Ingham County Prosecutor’s office says releasing the records could interfere with the criminal investigation.

The Flint water treatment plant
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The state Legislature has finally approved a $100 million grant to help Flint replace lead pipes and other water infrastructure. The money originally came from the federal government, but had to be approved by the Legislature as part of a larger budget bill.

That got delayed for weeks as the House and Senate argued over the separate question of money to help Macomb County deal with a giant sinkhole.

State Senator Jim Ananich says he’s glad it all finally got resolved.

Two dogs fighting (or playing, it's hard to tell)
Alex Proimos / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A dog in Michigan is not considered legally dangerous until it bites or attacks someone. That’s the word from the state Court of Appeals.

An Eaton County couple was charged with knowingly owning a dangerous animal after their dog got through a fence and attacked a lawn care worker employed by a neighbor. The dog was shot to death by a police officer who said he felt threatened.

There was evidence presented at trial that some neighbors were nervous about the dog, and that it could sometimes behave aggressively, such as attacking a lawnmower and biting the tires.

Dzidzernagapert, Armenian genocide memorial in Armenia.
z@doune / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Michigan’s official ceremony commemorating the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide included 39 Jewish survivors who lit candles in the Rotunda of the state Capitol.

There was music, speeches, prayers to remember the millions of victims of genocide.

State officials were joined by Holocaust survivors on a candle-lighting ceremony that took place in the Capitol rotunda.

As a young girl, Esther Posner and members of her family hid during the German occupation of the Netherlands.

Flickr user David Drexler/Flickr / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A federal judge has thrown out the state’s challenge to a Traverse City business that trademarked a highway sign.

The company brands t-shirts, water bottles, wine, and other merchandise with the M-22 logo. Attorney General Bill Schuette said a company can’t do that because the sign belongs to the public. But a federal judge said the state couldn’t show how its interests are harmed by the trademark.

“It’s a major sigh of relief for us. Finally, there’s a decision in our favor. It’s what we’ve always believed,” said M-22 business owner Matt Meyers.

Lead pipes
Mitch Barrie / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Governor Rick Snyder plans to take executive action on tougher standards for lead in drinking water in the face of foot-dragging by the Legislature.

The Legislature’s Republican leaders have been cool to Governor Snyder’s proposed new lead-in-water rules, which would be tougher than federal standards. The governor says the federal rule is weak and confusing, and partially responsible for the Flint water crisis.

Fraser home falling into the sinkhole.
Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio

State lawmakers are back at the Capitol following their spring break. One job facing them is ending a standoff over money to help Macomb County deal with a giant sinkhole.

The sinkhole is as big as a football field and displaced two dozen families after an underground pipe collapsed on Christmas Eve in Fraser. Now, the disaster threatens to rupture sewer lines that could send a giant mess into Lake Saint Clair, which is part of the Great Lakes system.

The state House approved a $3 million dollar grant before the spring break. But the Senate wants the money to be a loan.

person using a computer
Christopher Schirner / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A Republican state lawmaker says Michigan should protect people’s internet privacy if the federal government won’t.

State Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, has asked for bills that would restore privacy protections for people in Michigan. That’s after Congress voted to block a rule that would have required internet service providers to get customers’ permission before selling their data.    

“So now, if you go on an internet service provider, or if you go on a search engine, anything you look at can be retained and it can be sold,” Jones said.

A third Snyder term?

Apr 17, 2017

Rick Snyder cannot run for governor again because he’s term-limited.

But that doesn’t mean Michigan’s CEO Governor isn’t working on a succession plan. Snyder’s Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley seems to be making moves toward a run for the top job.

flickr user FatMandy / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Michigan’s longest-serving juvenile drug offender may have a chance at freedom after the state parole board agreed to a hearing.

“White Boy” Richard Wershe has spent nearly three decades in prison. Wershe acknowledges he was a drug runner for a Detroit gang, but never a drug kingpin as he was portrayed in the media and by prosecutors. And he says he continued in the drug trade at the urging of law enforcement officers who used him as an informant.

James F Clay / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A left-leaning group has filed a lawsuit to find out how often Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and his aides used private e-mail accounts to discuss public business.

The group Progress Michigan filed the lawsuit in the Michigan Court of Claims. That’s after the Republican attorney general refused a request for private e-mails, saying the messages don’t exist. But Progress Michigan says it has two dozen such messages in hand that it acquired through other channels. 

School bus
Bill McChesney / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Volkswagen emissions scandal settlement from earlier this year could mean new school buses for thousands of Michigan students.

School officials in the state have put together a proposal asking for almost $30 million to be used to replace aging diesel busses. They say there are more than 5,000 diesel buses in Michigan that are more than 10 years old that should be replaced with vehicles with cleaner-running diesel engines or powered by natural gas.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

The state departments of education and civil rights are asking school administrators to be prepared if immigration authorities arrive at their doors.

Agustin Arbulu is the director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. Right now, immigration authorities don’t go to schools. But Arbulu says school officials should know their rights and responsibilities, and be ready to answer parents’ questions.

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