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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

Boat on Northport Bay, Lake Michigan
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

A fight is brewing at the state Capitol over whether the Legislature should preempt local rules on expensive rental properties.

Local governments and neighbors say short-term vacation rentals are changing the character of neighborhoods. The battle is getting particularly fierce in Great Lakes shoreline communities where rental properties can go for thousands of dollars a week.

Lucy Welch lives in Spring Lake on the Lake Michigan shoreline. She says neighbors recently started renting out their home to vacationers.

It’s not always gridlock and stalemate in Lansing. The left and right seem to have come together to solve a lingering controversy. But, can it last?

A plan in the state Legislature that would hurry up getting rid of driver responsibility fees appears to be on a fast track in Lansing. These fees are surcharges tacked onto traffic fines. Lawmakers approved them in 2003 in order to fill what was then a big hole in the state budget.

Flickr/jnn1776 / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Michigan State Police Col. Kriste Etue faces an internal review by the professional standards division of the department she leads over a controversial Facebook post.

The post called NFL players who take a knee during the national anthem “millionaire ingrates” and “degenerates.” Col. Etue took the post down after it went public and apologized for sharing it.

Sam Kim / Flickr

A plan to grant amnesty to people who owe sometimes thousands of dollars in unpaid driver responsibility fees is in the works.  A bipartisan group of state lawmakers rolled out the proposal today (Thu.).

The bills would not only accelerate the phaseout of the fees, they would forgive $630 million dollars in unpaid fees.

House Speaker Tom Leonard says it’s unlikely most of that money would ever be collected, but he says hundreds of thousands of people are saddled with the hardship of being unable to legally drive.

American flag fluttering against a blue sky
Corey Seeman/Flickr / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

A group of state House Democrats linked arms today during the Pledge of Allegiance on lieu of putting their hands over their hearts. They said it was to show support for the right of NFL players to take a knee during the national anthem. And to protest a Facebook post by Michigan State Police Col. Kriste Etue that called the players “degenerates.”

duncan c / Flickr

Survivors of last year’s deadly bike crash near Kalamazoo testified today before a state Senate committee in support of safety legislation.

Paul Gobble was one of four people injured when a pickup truck plowed into a group of bike riders. Five people were killed. The driver was charged with second-degree murder.

Gobble told lawmakers a “culture change” is needed between drivers and bicyclists sharing the roads.

“There’s a lot of animosity toward cyclists,” he said. “The drivers, there’s a great deal of them that are just angry out there.”

Governor Rick Snyder says there is no reason to fire State Police Colonel Kriste Etue over a controversial Facebook post.

Etue has apologized for sharing a meme on her page that called NFL players who take a knee during the national anthem unpatriotic and “degenerates.”

Snyder says the post was “inappropriate,” but he considers the matter settled.

“She came out and apologized, and she’s done great service for the state,” Snyder said. “The way I view it is people make mistakes, she recognizes that, and let’s keep moving forward.”

Judge's gavel
(loveamourlove.com)

A federal judge in Detroit has ordered the government to provide immigration files to Iraqis being detained while they fight deportation. The detainees have been held for months in facilities all across the country while they wait on records needed to go to immigration court.

Miriam Aukerman is an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. She says hundreds of detainees were being held with no end in sight while the federal government slow-walked their records.

“People are literally in jail because there’s a line at the photocopier,” she said.

Michigan Republicans have packed their bags - and their hangovers - and returned home after a weekend of politics and partying on Mackinac Island.

There was a lot of celebrating over the GOP sweep in 2016, including President Trump winning Michigan, the first Republican to do so in 28 years.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A new plan by state lawmakers to bring down Michigan’s expensive auto insurance rates is in the works. A rollout of the plan is expected as soon as tomorrow.

State House Speaker Tom Leonard dropped some hints as to what might be in the proposal this past weekend. He was a on a panel at a Republican Party conference on Mackinac Island.He said giving consumers the option to choose how much coverage they can afford, and limiting what hospitals can charge for treating accident victims are both important.

michigan.gov

Governor Rick Snyder says the ongoing Flint criminal cases are dragging on too long, and it’s affecting the ability of the state to recruit and retain public servants.

The governor’s remarks at a Republican conference on Mackinac Island this weekend seemed to be a poke at state Attorney General Bill Schuette, who filed the criminal charges against 15 current and former state employees. They include former Flint emergency managers and the director of the state health department. 

LGBT Pride Flag
Tyrone Warner / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

The ACLU is challenging Michigan’s policy of allowing faith-based adoption agencies that accept public funds to turn away same-sex couples.

The lawsuit says the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is violating its own contracts with those agencies, which prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. It also says the department’s policy violates First Amendment and equal protection rights in the U.S. constitution.

Kristy Dumont and her wife say they were turned away by two Catholic adoption agencies when they tried to adopt.

Michael Dorausch / Flickr, http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Voters might have the chance to decide a pair of workers’ rights questions next year.

A petition campaign to require businesses to offer employees paid sick and family leave has launched its signature-gathering drive. On the same day, a state elections board approved the form of a campaign to increase the state minimum wage to $12 an hour, which plans to start gathering names next month.

The minimum wage campaign would also require employers pay the $12 an hour even to workers who count tips as part of their earnings.

Bill Schuette

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission is asking state Attorney General Bill Schuette for a formal ruling on whether it has the authority to extend housing and employment protections to gay, lesbian, and transgender people. That’s after an attorney from his office torpedoed a proposal the commission was on the cusp of adopting.

The commission had just wrapped up a two-hour public hearing and weeks of work on the request from a gay rights organization. The group asked the commission to determine whether protections against sex discrimination apply to LGBT people.

S(c)huette and Trump

Sep 18, 2017

Apparently, President Donald Trump and Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette agree: Spelling counts in their “winning” strategy.

Schuette announced this past week that he’s running for Governor in 2018 and Trump tweeted, and then had to retweet, a message of support.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement - or ICE - agents
U.S. Air Force / Creative Commons / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Some Iraqi immigrants who are being detained while they fight deportation have gone on a hunger strike.

It’s not clear how many detainees are refusing to eat. Family members and the ACLU say it might be as many as 50. 

Many of the detainees are from metro Detroit and are being held at a federal facility in Youngstown, Ohio.

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

Michigan’s energy chief says Enbridge downplayed the significance of damage to the protective coating on its oil and gas pipeline that runs under the Mackinac Straits.

Parts of the coating were removed while workers installed safety anchors on a portion of Line 5 that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

The patches where the metal was scraped bare are close to a foot in diameter. That's much larger than Enbridge initially reported.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

U.S. Rep. Dave Trott, R-11th District, says he will not seek reelection next year and will retire after four years in Congress.

Trott says he always intended for his congressional career to be brief. He said in a written statement he’s ready to return to the private sector and spend more time with his family. But he possibly faced a tough reelection bid next year, and The New York Times reported over the weekend that Trott was growing increasingly frustrated with President Trump. He recently advised Trump in a tweet to spend more time on the golf course and stay away from microphones.

Trott’s decision will set off a scramble among Republicans and Democrats to find nominees to replace him. Michigan’s 11th District leans Republican, but even Republicans acknowledge it’s possible for a Democrat to take it.   

It's Just Politics Logo
It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

Representative David Trott announced Monday morning that he will not seek reelection in 2018. The announcement comes after speculation by various pundits and the retirement of two other Republican congressmen last week.

Brian Turner / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is backing changes to how counties deal with the property of people who’ve died. That's after news reports outlined how some attorneys appointed by the attorney general’s office to deal with unclaimed property have abused the process. They’ve taken control of property before families have filed with the local probate court, and charge large fees to sell and administer the property.

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

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen faced members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee today. The committee held a hearing on Larsen’s nomination to the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. 

U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island,,said he’s concerned that a right-leaning group funded a media campaign to win support for Larsen’s nomination.

“What did they think they were going to get for their investment in your candidacy for this court, Miss Larsen. Why would they be spending this money if they did not see some return?”

It’s been 15 years since Michigan lawmakers reversed a Governor’s veto but it could happen again this week when the Legislature returns to Lansing from its summer recess.

Some members of the GOP are getting a little fed up with their fellow Republican Governor Rick Snyder and they want to try and muster the two-thirds majority needed to override his veto of a bill they passed earlier this year. It was a pretty innocuous piece of legislation that accelerated tax breaks for car buyers who trade in their vehicles.

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 is ordering Enbridge Energy to take swift action to fix portions of the Line 5 energy pipeline that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

Enbridge reported to the state that small portions of enamel coating were accidentally removed in two places. The coating protects the oil and gas line that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac from corrosion.

Melody Kindraka of the state Department of Environmental Quality says there’s no immediate threat to the Great Lakes, but it’s concerning that the problem was the result of human error.

Protesters waved American flags and said the president's executive order and deportation of people living in the U.S. illegally contradicted American values.
Tyler Scott / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Parole Board has agreed to conduct a full-but-speedy review of pardon requests from Iraqi nationals threatened with deportation.

The board agreed to review nine of nearly 70 requests that have been received since federal immigration authorities began detaining Iraqis with criminal records. Most of the offenses were years ago.

The Iraqis seeking pardons were detained because they have some type of criminal records. In most cases, the offenses occurred many years ago. A federal judge temporarily halted the deportations last month.

Prison bars
flickr user Thomas Hawk / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A former prison food services worker says he was fired because he would not serve rotten potatoes to inmates. Steve Pine worked at the Kinross Correctional Facility in the Upper Peninsula until this past weekend. He was employed by Trinity Services Group, a private contractor that provides food services to state prisons.

Pine tells The Detroit Free Press that he refused an order to have inmates sort through the potatoes. He was afraid that would lead a disturbance like one that occurred at the prison last September. 

Imagine a blind date without someone in the other chair. This week, we are on the political dating circuit, meeting some of Michigan’s statewide hopefuls who will not appear on next year’s August primary ballot.

We’re talking about ticket-building and why some candidates for statewide office aren’t waiting until after next year’s primaries to go public with their aspirations.

Ex-state Senator Virgil Smith, Jr.
senatedems.com

Wayne County’s prosecutor has until Monday to appeal a court ruling that allows a former state lawmaker to run for the Detroit City Council.

Former Senator Virgil Smith promised not to run for anything for five years as part of a plea deal.

Smith pleaded guilty to shooting his ex-wife’s car. A judge threw out part of the plea deal that said Smith can’t run for anything while he’s on probation.

Can a politician who breaks the law be forced to quit his job and be ordered not to run again?

That question could interrupt the Michigan Supreme Court’s summer recess.

Vishal Wagh / Flickr - http://bit.ly/1rFrzRK

The Michigan Court of Appeals has struck down a rule that says bars and party stores can’t sell “narcotics paraphernalia.”

In 2013, the state Liquor Control Commission sanctioned a Montcalm County party store for selling bongs and pipes commonly used to smoke pot.

A Liquor Control Commission rule says bars and party stores can’t sell –quote- “narcotics paraphernalia.” There’s no specific definition of that phrase in the rule, though. The appeals court says that leaves owners with no real guidance on whether they’re breaking the rule.

map of michigan w/ inspection details
Office of the Auditor General

Michigan needs more asbestos inspectors but doesn’t have the funding to pay for them, according to the Legislature’s auditor general.

The audit released today says the asbestos program has fallen behind in inspections and follow-up reports on projects that require asbestos removal, as well as whether the cancer-causing fire retardant is properly disposed of in landfills. In some cases, the reports were cursory.

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