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

A taxpayer-financed prison from the tough-on-crime era is back in the news. The Northlake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Michigan has been a conundrum for taxpayers since it was opened in 1999 (amid more than a little controversy).

Gov. Rick Snyder said in a press release: "Heidi [Grether] has decades of experience in environmental quality issues, and has effectively served during times of crises and recovery."
Michigan Radio

Democrats in the Legislature say they’ll try to stop the state from spending taxpayer dollars on Governor Rick Snyder’s criminal defense team.

State Rep. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, says the state is responsible for defending the governor against civil lawsuits. But he says the governor should pick up the costs of his own criminal 

“You know, I would suggest the governor do what other elected officials have done and create his own legal defense fund, which the law allows for, and do it that way, and not use our taxpayer dollars for criminal defense lawyers.”

Kevin Rosseel / morguefile

Two prisons would close under a plan adopted today by a state Senate budget subcommittee.

The budget proposal does not specify which prisons would be closed. That would be up to the Department of Corrections.

The proposal also calls for the state to lease a privately owned prison in the northern Michigan town of Baldwin that’s currently used to house out-of-state inmates. The move is a response to a decline in the number of prison inmates.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan health and environmental department chiefs were in Washington today  to explain the state’s response to the Flint water crisis to members of Congress.

Nick Lyons directs the state Department of Health and Human Services. He said it’s plain the state should have done more sooner.

“I know the people of Flint are hurt,” he said. “They are upset. I know there is anger and mistrust. Rightfully so.”

But state and federal officials say they can’t predict how long it will take before the water is drinkable without being filtered.

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan Republicans are meeting in Lansing this weekend to select delegates to the party’s presidential-nominating convention this summer in Cleveland.

The delegates are divided between billionaire Donald Trump, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and Ohio Governor John Kasich.

There was concern about schemes to recruit shadow delegates who would not represent their declared candidates’ interests beyond voting for them on a first ballot in a deadlocked convention.

“We’re taking the Ronald Reagan strategy – trust but verify,” says Scott Hagerstrom, Trump’s Michigan director.

Michigan Supreme Court
photo courtesy of the MI Supreme Court

The Michigan Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could set some parameters on state-appointed emergency managers’ authority to change public employee contracts.

Back in 2012, the city of Pontiac was broke, and under the control of an emergency manager. The city missed a promised $3.5 million payment to a union-run police and fire retirees’ health insurance fund. So the emergency manager issued an executive order skipping the payment after the fact – as well as future payments.

The barge in the middle of the Straits of Mackinac.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The state of Michigan is extending the deadline for bids to study an oil and gas pipeline that runs along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac. The pipeline is known as Enbridge Line 5. 

The study will include a risk analysis of the 60-year-old pipeline, and alternatives to shipping oil and gas beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

“The key is, how do we reduce that risk?" said James Clift of the Michigan Environmental Council. "How do we protect the lakes?”

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The state has a $75 million federal grant to help people struggling with their home loans. But it will use the lion’s share of it to tear down abandoned structures in Detroit and 

Kevin Elsenheimer is the director of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. He says that should improve the quality of life and property values in those cities. Elsenheimer says this money is mostly going to Detroit and Flint because they have the most abandoned 

As if their relationship wasn’t complicated enough already, now Flint Mayor Karen Weaver is threatening to take Governor Rick Snyder and the state of Michigan to court.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver (right) stands next to the lead drinking water line that was pulled from a home in Flint.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Flint’s mayor has notified the state a lawsuit is in the works over the city’s water crisis. The notice of intent to sue names the state of Michigan, the state Department of Environmental Quality, and four DEQ water officials.

Ari Adler is Governor Rick Snyder’s communications director. He says if the lawsuit is filed, that would complicate discussions between the state and the city.

State Senator Virgil Smith, D-Detroit.
senatedems.com

State Senator Virgil Smith has turned in his resignation and averted an expulsion drama. The Detroit Democrat turned in a one-sentence letter this afternoon (Thursday) quitting the seat.

 

flickr user Joe Gratz / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A group challenging Michigan’s emergency manager law is asking a federal appeals court in Cincinnati to order a trial in the case.

A federal judge in Detroit threw out most of the lawsuit. But attorney John Philo of the not-for-profit Sugar Law Center says the emergency manager law raised new issues that courts have never decided.

“The power to make laws is reserved to elected officials. That’s what our democracy is   founded upon,” Philo said.

The committee heard from Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who helped bring attention to the elevated blood lead levels in the children in Flint.
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

There were some angry and emotional moments at a hearing today in Flint. A joint legislative committee heard from local officials and residents on the city’s water crisis.

Lee-Anne Walters is a Flint mom who tried to call attention to tests that showed high lead levels in her drinking water. Walters says one of her children asked if he was going to die because of the lead in the water.

“They just turned five last week. I have twins,” she told the committee. “One’s 56 pounds. One’s 35. He hasn’t grown in a year.”  

Jeremy Hiebert / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The state Senate has approved legislation that would allow schools to hold children back if they’re not reading proficiently by the end of the third grade.

But this bill is not as stringent as earlier versions.

It allows parents and a school superintendent to decide whether to let a child who is not reading at grade level to move onto the fourth grade.             

  

Senate Education Committee Chairman Phil Pavlov said the new version puts more resources into early intervention and parental involvement, instead of simply holding kids back.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder
Gov. Rick Snyder

The next phase of Governor Rick Snyder’s plans for Flint include enforcing drinking water standards that are stricter than federal requirements.

Governor Snyder has complained the federal rule designed to keep lead and copper out of drinking water is confusing and difficult to follow.

There were political fireworks at two hearings in Washington D.C. last week that overshadowed the almost simultaneous beginning of hearings by a state legislative committee on the Flint water crisis.

According to the poll, Governor Snyder's approval rating has fallen to 39.7%.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder and EPA Adminstrator Gina McCarthy are about to go on the hot seat as they take their turn in front of a congressional panel looking into the Flint water crisis.

Remember that time when there was just nothing better than being a Republican governor? When it was almost a given that the next Republican candidate for president would come from the current or former GOP Gubernatorial ranks?

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

Four Republican presidential candidates spent a scant seven and a half minutes talking about Detroit, Flint, and manufacturing at a debate held in Detroit Thursday night.

Jake Neher / MPRN

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is taking aim at free trade deals like NAFTA and the recent Trans Pacific Partnership. He says they’ve cost the country millions of jobs. And he says it’s a critical difference between him and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“Our trade policies have failed,” Sanders said at a press conference today.

Sanders is looking to shore up support among unions and blue collar workers, and says he’s not opposed to trade deals but how they’ve been negotiated by Republican and Democratic administrations. 

People voting.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

There are seven primaries or caucuses between now and next Tuesday’s Michigan primary. But candidates and campaigns are already eyeing Michigan as a place to continue their roll or change their fortunes.

It is arguable that no candidate has more at stake in Michigan than Ohio Governor John Kasich. Trailing in the delegate count and yet to win a single primary or caucus, the Republican hopeful needs a win to gain credibility as the not-so-angry alternative to the Donald Trump juggernaut.

New emails from the Snyder administration about the Flint water crisis have been voluntarily released and the revelations have not been kind to Governor Snyder and his inner circle.

Jake Neher / MPRN

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders brought his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president to Flint today.

An enthusiastic crowd packed church pews for the town hall meeting. Sanders said the Flint water crisis is a tragedy, but said the city’s not alone. He says cities across the country face a “collapse” of their infrastructure and if a city and the state can’t handle it, then the federal government needs to step in.

“It is my hope the American people will look at Flint and say never again can we allow a community to undergo this,” Sanders told the crowd. 

Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
Matthileo / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Democrats in the state Legislature say it’s time to restore citizen oversight panels to supervise air and water programs in the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

The independent, appointed panels were eliminated 25 years ago by Republican Governor John Engler and were never brought back under his Democratic successor, Governor Jennifer Granholm, nor by Governor Rick Snyder.

But some lawmakers say now the Flint water crisis and air pollution surrounding an oil refinery in Detroit show it was mistake to scrap the boards.

WMUK

Accused Kalamazoo shooter Jason Dalton was formally charged today with murder, assault with intent to commit murder, and weapons charges. That’s in connection with a weekend shooting spree that left six people dead and two critically injured.

flickr user Joe Gratz / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A survey of courts across the state has found gaps in what’s being done to ensure poor defendants get proper legal assistance from public defenders.

  

The survey found big differences in how public defenders are retained, paid, and trained. Some courts don’t have private spaces for attorneys to meet with defendants.

Some folks profoundly unhappy with Governor Rick Snyder’s handling of the Flint water crisis will make another attempt at launching a petition drive to recall him.

A mugshot and RAP sheet of Jason Dalton, who police say went on a shooting spree that lasted for hours in Kalamazoo, Mich., on Saturday.
Kalamazoo Public Safety

The suspect in a mass shooting over the weekend in Kalamazoo is expected to be arraigned Monday.

The Michigan House of Representatives in Lansing
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A state House committee has OK’d an emergency spending measure to help Flint residents with a portion of their water bills. The budget would reduce the water portion of Flint residents’ future water and sewer bills.

The $30 million dollar appropriation is on a fast track to be approved by the entire state House. 

The budget measure was adopted and sent to the House floor by the GOP-controlled House Appropriations Committee. But not without attempts by Democrats to add money to forgive all of Flint residents’ water bills, instead of just 65 percent.

Famartin / Wikimedia Commons http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A package of bills to allow speeds of up to 80 miles an hour on rural highways in Michigan has stalled in the state House. A key bill in the package came a few votes short, which stopped the rest of the bills because none can become law if they all aren’t passed.

Supporters like state Representative Brad Jacobsen say they’ll regroup and try again soon.

He says people are already traveling faster than the current 70 mile-an-hour limit.

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