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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Law
5:14 pm
Wed June 27, 2012

Court says state agency can impose welfare time limits

The Michigan Court of Appeals says the state Department of Human Services can cut off cash assistance welfare benefits to people who hit the federal time limit – even if they have time remaining on their state benefits.

The ruling was a mixed bag, but mostly bad news for the people fighting a state policy regarding time limits for cash assistance. The rules for cash assistance are complicated. There’s federal as well as state money that goes into the payments.

The Court of Appeals said the Michigan Department of Human Services can decide whether it wants to operate under the state’s time limits on cash assistance or the federal limits. That means the agency may order an end to the payments after a family has reached the federal 60-month cap on benefits, even if that family would still qualify under the state’s separate time limits. But the court also said the department never went through the state’s process for making a new rule, which it has to do to end the state’s portion of the benefit.

Either side could appeal the decision to the Michigan Supreme Court.

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Law
5:03 pm
Wed June 27, 2012

Court says Michigan and U.S. constitutions include right to bear tasers

A handheld stun gun which discharges high-voltages to penetrate clothing, followed by low-voltages to cause Neuromuscular Incapacitation.
user Rama Wikimedia Commons

A court has ruled Michigan’s ban on private citizens owning Tasers and stun guns violates the right to bear arms that is protected in the state and federal constitutions.

Michigan’s ban on Tasers and stun guns will be relaxed come August. That’s when a new state law will allow people with concealed weapons permits to carry the devices. These cases date back to 2011 and 2010. A convenience store worker was arrested for carrying a stun gun on the job; another person was arrested in his home for possession of an illegal weapon.

The non-lethal devices rely on a surge of electricity to disable their targets. The Michigan Court of Appeals says the weapons are not sufficiently dangerous or unusual to be banned. The court did not address restrictions like Michigan’s new concealed weapon license requirements.

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Law
5:21 pm
Tue June 26, 2012

Michigan prepares to re-sentence juvenile lifers

Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility
Michigan Department of Corrections Facebook.com

Arrangements are being made to return more than 350 Michigan inmates to the courts where they were sentenced. The prisoners will get new sentences under a U.S. Supreme Court decision this week. The court struck down mandatory sentences of life without parole for people convicted of crimes committed when they were juveniles.
    
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is advising the state Department of Corrections on how to proceed. He says Michigan will comply with the ruling, but prosecutors will make sure judges are reminded of the crimes the inmates were part of.

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Law
4:47 pm
Mon June 25, 2012

State laws allowing life sentences without parole for juveniles unconstitutional

The U.S. Supreme Court
User kconnors MorgueFile.com

The U.S. Supreme Court this morning struck down state laws that allow juveniles to be sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole. The ruling says life without parole for crimes that occurred when a felon was younger than 18 is excessive and violates the Eighth Amendment.

Michigan is one of several states that allowed juveniles to be sentenced to life without parole. The state has more than 350 people in state prisons serving life without parole for crimes committed as juveniles.

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Economy
6:09 am
Mon June 25, 2012

Detroit to host Midwest regional jobs fair for veterans

A jobs fair for veterans in Detroit this week is expected to draw thousands of job-seekers and prospective employers from across the Midwest.

The event is sponsored by the U.S. Veterans Administration.  The need in Michigan and surrounding states was a big reason to hold the event in Detroit.

Jason Allen is the deputy director of the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. He says more than one in 10 Michigan veterans are unemployed and looking for work.  Employers from across the Midwest will be interviewing for 22,000 openings.  

Allen says other sessions will help small business owners who are veterans with advice and help winning government contracts. They’ll also connect veterans with benefits they’re due for their service.

“We’re, unfortunately, not utilizing our G.I. Bill. We’re not utilizing our pensions and compensations, and we’re not using our health care.”

Allen says Michigan ranks last out of all the states, Washington D.C., Guam, and Puerto Rico in veterans using their government benefits.

It's Just Politics
8:45 am
Sun June 24, 2012

Romney changes his economic message, The Vagina Monologues comes to MI, and ballot-mania continues

Every week in It's Just Politics, Rick Pluta and I sit down and take a look at what's been making news in state politics. On tap for this week's extended edition: the Romney campaign shifts its economic message as state economies see improvement, Vagina-gate continues at the state Capitol, Democrats in the state's 76th District find a candidate to run against former-Democratic Rep. Roy Schmidt, we update the latest news on the state's many ballot proposals, and remember two state lawmakers who recently passed away.

Politics
8:28 pm
Fri June 22, 2012

Republican member of the Board of State Canvassers resigns

Republican member of the Board of State Canvassers Jeff Timmer resigned this week without giving a reason. The Board of State Canvassers decides whether petition drives qualify for the state ballot.

Timmer is a partner in Sterling Corporation, a Republican political consulting firm, that represents ballot campaigns that are expected to appear before the board. Timmer also voted to keep the emergency manager challenge off the November ballot - even though his firm represents the campaign against the emergency manager referendum.

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Law
3:43 pm
Fri June 22, 2012

Snyder-appointed commission recommends better public defense for poor

User southernfried MorgueFile.com

A state commission adopted recommendations this morning to help ensure fair trials for people who can't afford to pay for an attorney.

Michigan's county-by-county indigent defense system is considered one of the worst in the country. The report calls for an independent agency to be a watchdog on counties' public defender systems -- and to step in when they fall short. It also calls for more training for public defenders, limiting caseloads and better compensation.
    
Judge James Fisher chaired the Michigan Indigent Defense Advisory Commission. He says the agency would set standards for every county to follow, “so that we can ensure that people have attorneys representing them who are capable, and adequately compensated, qualified, experienced, so forth.”

And the state should step in, he says, when counties don’t live up to the rules.

Republican state Representative Tom McMillin served on the commission. He says the Legislature will begin hearings on the recommendations this summer.

“When we’re looking at taking away somebody’s liberty and putting them in jail, I think that that’s an extremely, extremely high priority to ensure that we have as much equal justice as possible," he said.

He says it’s also critical to ensure that attorneys are independent from the judges hearing their cases.  

“When an attorney is counting on satisfying judges for their next appointment," he said, "there’s a question on whether that attorney is serving the best interests of the client who may end up in jail, or is some of that interest in satisfying the judge?"

McMillin and Democratic state Representative Ellen Cogan-Lipton say they’re already drafting legislation to create a commission and an agency to oversee indigent defense. 
       
Now, it’s up to the Legislature and Governor Snyder to enact the recommendations. Hearings could begin this summer. Fixing public defense in Michigan could cost taxpayers $50 million dollars.
   

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It's Just Politics
1:33 pm
Fri June 22, 2012

Romney shifts campaign message as state economies improve

Mitt Romney in DeWitt, Mich. on last week's bus tour
Rick Pluta Michigan Radio

Today on It's Just Politics, co-hosts Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta discussed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's Michigan campaign tour this week.  Romney also made campaign stops in Michigan last month, during which, Pluta says Romney's grim assessment of the Michigan economy created some friction with Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's more positive message of economic recovery in the "comeback state."

"We've talked about this before," said Pluta, "this tension between the messaging of a Republican governor, like Rick Snyder, who's saying, 'Look, we're making changes; things are improving; what we're doing is working,' and Mitt Romney coming into the state and saying, 'You're not doing that well.' It's basically a message of pessimism, and making the case for change."

On his tour this week, Pluta says, Romney has changed tones. The presidential hopeful lauded Snyder, saying he would do for the country what Snyder has done for the state.

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Politics
9:58 am
Fri June 22, 2012

Changing Michigan's indigent defense system

User: holder MorgueFile.com

A state commission is expected to adopt recommendations this morning to help ensure fair trials for people who can't afford to pay for an attorney. Michigan's county-by-county indigent defense system is considered one of the worst in the country. The report calls for an independent agency to be a watchdog on counties' public defender systems - and step in when they fall short. It also calls for better training for public defenders, and limiting caseloads.

Law
8:02 pm
Tue June 19, 2012

Gov. Snyder signs bill outlawing designer drugs

Gov. Rick Snyder, (R) Michigan, signs legislation outlawing designer drugs
courtesy of Gov. Snyder's office

On July 1, the state will launch a crackdown to clear store shelves of a type of synthetic marijuana called K2.

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Politics & Government
3:16 pm
Tue June 19, 2012

Romney attacks Obama in Michigan appearances

Rick Pluta Michigan Radio

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney wraps up a day-long campaign swing through Michigan tonight with a rally at the Holland State Park on the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Romney began the day in Frankenmuth, where he went on the attack against President Obama on the state of the economy, the new health care law, and energy policy.

“He may want to make things better. He just doesn’t know how to do to it," said Romney of Obama. "I think in order to create jobs in the private sector, it helps to have had a job in the private sector and I have.”

Romney acknowledged Michigan’s economic recovery and said he would do the same for the rest of the country if he wins the election. He opposed federal aid for the Detroit auto companies that are still the dominant force in the state’s economy.

Romney says he can be the first Republican nominee in 24 years to win Michigan.

“It is essential for America to grab that torch and hold it high," he said. "We’re that shining city on a hill. We’re going to do it with your help. I’m going to win Michigan with your help. We’re going to take back the White House. We’re going to get America on track and keep it the hope of the Earth.”

Romney was born in Detroit and is the son of former Governor George Romney.

Protesters also showed up at the Romney campaign stops but were kept at a distance. Democrats sponsored their own bus tour of the state yesterday.

"If you listen to a Mitt Romney speech, you’ll hear almost nothing about his plans, almost nothing about his time as governor of Massachusetts, and almost all about distorting the President’s record," said Brad Woodhouse of the Democratic National Committee. 

From Frankenmuth, Romney went to DeWitt, Mich.

Election 2012
1:52 pm
Tue June 19, 2012

Mitt Romney campaigning in DeWitt, Mich.

Ann and Mitt Romney
Rick Pluta Michigan Public Radio Network

Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney began speaking a short time ago to a crowd in DeWitt, Mich. Michigan Public Radio Network's Rick Pluta sent along these photos. Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith will be in Holland this evening covering Romney's campaign stop in West Michigan.

Politics
7:05 am
Tue June 19, 2012

Democrats, protesters prep for Romney visit

Mitt Romney plans to visit Michigan today
Gage Skidmore Flickr

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will be in Michigan today to wind up a tour of battleground states. The states were all won by President Obama four years ago, and Republicans need to flip one or more of them to win the White House.

Republicans like their chances in Michigan. Romney and his wife were both born here. His father served as governor. Some recent polls suggest the state’s a toss-up.

But no Republican presidential nominee has won the state since 1988, and Romney opposed much of the auto bailout that’s credited with leading the state’s economic recovery.

So Democrats sponsored their own bus tour with stops not far from where Romney will appear.

“One of the things we wanted to do is greet Mitt Romney with some headlines about what we think his policies will do to Michigan, and so we wanted to get out ahead of him," says Brad Woodhouse of the Democratic National Committee.

The liberal group MoveOn.org plans have protesters waiting for Romney at each stop in his tour, which will wind up with a rally near Holland on the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Politics
6:34 am
Tue June 19, 2012

“Vagina Monologues” attracts thousands at state Capitol (Slideshow)

Thousands of people gathered last night at the state Capitol to protest with a staging of the "Vagina Monologues."
Rick Pluta Michigan Public Radio Network

A few thousand people crowded onto the lawn of the state Capitol last night to protest last week's silencing  of two female state lawmakers, and to watch a performance of “The Vagina Monologues.”

Michigan Public Radio Network's Rick Pluta was there and reports that, "the word 'vagina' was everywhere – emblazoned on signs and t-shirts. 'Vagina,' and virtually every slang variation, was part of the theatrical performance. People shouted it out and waved their fingers in Vs. 'Gimme the three Vs! Vagina! Voice! Vote!'

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Politics & Government
3:29 pm
Mon June 18, 2012

Protest performance of Vagina Monologues planned at Capitol

Eve Ensler, writer of "The Vagina Monologues" will attend the protest performance tonight in Lansing
Justin Hoch Wikimedia Commons

There will be a protest performance tonight of “The Vagina Monologues” at the state Capitol. Female legislators and author Eve Ensler will read from the play that was first performed in 1996.

The event is a response to state House Republican leaders’ decision to bar two female lawmakers from speaking on the floor last week. It was a punishment for comments made by state Representatives Lisa Brown and Barb Byrum during a debate.

Brown says she has heard from people in virtually every state of the union. 

“You know what? I think it has triggered an outrage amongst the American people," she said. "Not just women, but men as well and to see this kind of disregard, the disrespect and it really is a war on women. It’s not just a sound bite.  There really is a war on women.” 

Brown will be one of the performers tonight.

More than 3,500 people have posted on Facebook that they plan to attend the event.

Politics
5:40 pm
Thu June 14, 2012

Michigan legislature sends tax reductions to Gov. Snyder

Capitol Building, Lansing, MI.
Matthileo Flickr

The Legislature has sent election-year tax reductions to Governor Rick Snyder for his approval.

The measures would accelerate a reduction in the state income tax rate, and increase the personal exemption. That’s after a tax rate rollback was delayed last year.
    
The House also approved a measure to continue rolling back income tax rates through 2018.
    
Democratic state Representative Vicki Barnett was one of just a handful of “no”’ votes.

She says the six-year rollback is poorly planned, and could force more cuts down the road to schools and public safety.

“The numbers don’t work. I’m a financial planner in my private life. I’ve looked at the numbers. The numbers don’t work. I would love to be able to return excess money to the taxpayer, but after we fund critical services to the level they should be funded at," said Barnett.

The Legislature begins its summer break today. The state Senate could take up the six-year rollback later this year.

Politics
5:01 pm
Thu June 14, 2012

Women Reps in Michigan barred from speaking, one for "vagina" mention

Democratic State Representative Lisa Brown addressing the floor of the assembly
Jeff Winston YouTube

Update 4:57 p.m.

Here is the latest from Rick Pluta:

Two women serving in the state House have been barred from participating in floor debates for one day. The sanction is a punishment for things they said during a debate on anti-abortion legislation.

State Representatives Lisa Brown and Barb Byrum are both Democrats. Brown made a reference to her vagina in a floor statement.

“I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina,” she said, “but 'no' means 'no.'”

Byrum shouted at the presiding officer after she was not recognized to speak. 

Ari Adler is the spokesman for the House Republican leadership.

“It is the responsibility of every member who serves in the House of Representatives to maintain decorum on the House floor and when they do not do that, there can be actions because of that. And the action today is to not recognize either representative to speak on the House floor," he said.

Brown was speaking during a debate on anti-abortion bills, and has no apologies for what she said.

“I used an anatomically correct word. I said ‘vagina,'" she said.  "Can I not say ‘elbow?' I don’t see what the difference is."

This is the first time in memory that lawmakers have been formally barred from participating in floor debates.

Update 1:10 p.m.

Watch footage of the Lisa Brown speech here:

12:32 p. m.

Two Democratic lawmakers say they have been barred from speaking during House debates.

The House Republican leadership confirms that state Representative Lisa Brown will not be recognized during debates as a sanction for mentioning her vagina during a debate on anti-abortion legislation.

State Representative Barb Byrum also says she has been barred from speaking in the future because of an outburst after she was not called on during the abortion debate.

A House Republican spokesman could not confirm whether that's true.

Politics
1:02 pm
Thu June 14, 2012

Emergency manager referendum headed for November ballot, for now

The referendum on the state's emergency manager law is headed to the ballot...for now.

The state Court of Appeals has refused to convene a special panel that could have reversed a precedent that says the referendum campaign met the minimum requirements to qualify for the ballot. That could have prevented the proposal from appearing on the November ballot. 

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Politics
5:58 pm
Tue June 12, 2012

Abortion debate heats up at state Capitol

Amanda Kennedy of Mason and Susie Simons of East Lansing were among the hundreds of protesters at a rally on the Capitol lawn. Kennedy and Simons oppose a package of anti-abortion bills to be voted on this week by the state House.
Rick Pluta Michigan Public Radio

Protesters in pink shirts filled the lawn of the state Capitol and packed the gallery of the state House today.

They were protesting a group of anti-abortion bills to be voted on this week by the House. The legislation would outlaw terminating a pregnancy after 20 weeks. It would also require clinics to be inspected, and impose new restrictions on abortion providers.           

“Frankly, these bills terrify me,” said Susie Simons of East Lansing. I’m completely afraid to get pregnant if these bills pass because if anything happens to me past 20 weeks I either have to die or carry a dead baby. So, I’m really terrified for my safety and for so many other women.”

A group of about 20 abortion opponents also lined up on the other side of the walkway leading to the Capitol.

“I am a strong believer in life and I believe the baby’s rights should be protected and I really want these bills to go through because I think they are also helping women. They are protecting them at the same time as the baby, too,” said Jennah Sailor, a member of the University of Michigan chapter of Students for Life.

The measures would forbid terminating a pregnancy after 20 weeks, and would impose new restrictions on clinics and abortion providers. Abortion rights advocates say the measures would force some clinics that provide an array of services to women to shut down.

The measures are up for House votes as soon as tomorrow.

They are expected to pass since a substantial majority of state House members are endorsed by anti-abortion groups.

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