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

Pages

Politics
2:56 pm
Mon April 30, 2012

Industrial tax roll back headed to Michigan Senate

Andrew Jameson Wikimedia commons

A plan to roll back taxes...that some criticize, but others rely on...is expected to clear a major hurdle this week. A legislative committee is expected to wrap up hearings on the plan, and send it to the floor of the state Senate.

Maufacturers say there would be more hiring and investment in factories if not for Michigan’s unique tax on industrial equipment. The Senate plan would phase out the tax – starting next year -- by 2022.

But the Republican proposal would not replace all the revenue lost to local governments that rely on the tax as a source of funding for services. Communities with a big industrial presence would be hit the hardest.

They say with no guarantee that all the revenue will be replaced, they could be forced to cut services more than they have already, or increase other taxes to make up the difference.

Politics
4:50 pm
Tue April 24, 2012

Michigan Senate adds exemption to workplace smoking ban

user RyAwesome fotopedia

The state Senate has amended a budget bill to add a new exception to Michigan’s workplace smoking ban.

The Senate version of the human services budget would prohibit spending money to enforce the smoking ban against an annual charity cigar dinner in Traverse City and other events like it.

Republican state Senator Howard Walker sponsored the budget amendment.

"It has to do with non-profits that have been in business for over 10 years for their charity which will help some of the needy folks in the community,” Walker said.

Specifically, the amendment would allow the Father Fred Foundation cigar dinner to go forward without running the risk of a citation.

Organizers have been trying to find away around the smoking ban since 2010.

Right now, the only exceptions to the smoking ban are the casinos in Detroit and on tribal land.

Anti-smoking groups oppose the exception.

Politics
3:01 pm
Mon April 23, 2012

Gov. Snyder: More urgency needed to fix Detroit's problems

Michigan Municipal League Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder said he wants to see a stronger sense of urgency for action in Detroit.

He outlined his vision for the city in a speech to business leaders today.

Snyder’s vision includes Detroit being a manufacturing center that exports goods across the world; and a welcoming place for immigrants.

He said the city also needs to reverse the trend of young families fleeing the city.

“If we’re going to succeed, we have to have neighborhoods where people want to raise a family. They want to live there. They want their kids going to school. And they want an environment to say, ‘When you grow up, you can have a house in this neighborhood,’ because you can have your grandkids nearby. That has to be part of the vision,” said Snyder.

Snyder said the two groups that left Detroit in the greatest numbers over the past decade were adults aged 25 to 29, and children between five and nine.

The governor said progress is being made, but he wants to see a greater sense of urgency.

“But I’m not seeing it across the board yet about approaching problems. But why do we need that sense of urgency? One is it’s the best way to do things, is to just go after it. But one thing we need to recognize is that every day we don’t take action to move Detroit forward, we are moving backward,” said Snyder.

The governor said municipal bankruptcy is still not out of the question for Detroit.

Education
6:30 am
Mon April 23, 2012

Governor’s annual education summit to meet in East Lansing

The 17th annual Governor's Education Summit is set for today in East Lansing
WoodleyWonderWorks Flickr

State officials, teachers, school administrators and researchers will mingle today at a day-long education conference in East Lansing. This will be the 17th annual Governor’s Education Summit.

Last year, Governor Rick Snyder called for an overhaul of education and how teachers do their jobs.

A lot of the sessions will focus on flexibility in classrooms and helping teachers and students meet new performance expectations. Also, strategies to create an education system that starts with pre-school and continues through college or job training.

Democrat John Austin is the president of the Michigan State Board of Education. He says Michigan needs to do a better job of making education past high school accessible and worthwhile.

“We said everybody needs a post-secondary degree, not a high school degree, and we’ve been dis-investing in our community colleges and our universities in this state for a dozen years," Austin says.

Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Calley will also address the conference on different strategies for improving Michigan schools.

Crime
5:00 pm
Fri April 20, 2012

It’s now against the law to lie to police officers in Michigan

user GPDII wikimedia commons

According to a new state law signed today, it's now illegal to lie or conceal facts from Michigan police officers who are investigating a crime.

The law says people do not give up their right to remain silent, but if they do talk, they have to tell the truth.

Sergeant Dwayne Gill is with the Michigan State Police.

“This law kind of mirrors the federal law on lying to federal agents. When we’re interviewing individuals, it’s a tool that law enforcement can use to elicit the truth in investigating crimes.” 

The American Civil Liberties Union says the law appears to be constitutional.

But a spokesperson says the ACLU is concerned about unintended consequences -- such as people not reporting crimes, or witnesses who refuse to cooperate with authorities because they’re afraid of being charged if they make a mistake.

Environment
2:14 pm
Thu April 19, 2012

New outdoor burning law limits what can be torched

A tool often used to burn refuse in rural areas. A new law puts limits on what can be burned.
joelk75 Flickr

A new law will soon limit the types of waste that can be thrown into pits and barrels to be burned. Plastics, chemically treated wood, and electronics are among the types of trash that cannot be burned.

The new rules don’t go as far as some people wanted, which was to ban outdoor burning altogether.

There were fights between neighbors about drifting smoke  -- in some cases, causing or aggravating asthma attacks.

But burning waste is so common in parts of rural Michigan that a compromise was struck. Some of the most toxic materials are banned, but grass, leaves and other yard waste can still be burned.

The director of the state Department of Environmental Quality Dan Wyant said he hopes this is the beginning of a culture change in rural Michigan.

“We’ll go out, and we’re trying to educate,” said Wyant. “We’re not trying to be heavy-handed in our enforcement, but we will communicate about the law, and we do want to move away from outdoor burning.”

The new rules become enforceable in six months.

Politics
5:35 pm
Tue April 17, 2012

Republican state lawmakers plan phase-out of Michigan tax on industrial property

automotiveauto.info

The first hearing will be held tomorrow on a Republican plan to phase out taxes on most industrial equipment in Michigan.

Local governments collect about $400 million in revenue a year from the industrial property tax.

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley helped design the plan to get rid of the tax over the next several years. He says Michigan is unique in how it taxes industrial property -- and he says it’s driving investments to other states and countries.

“So at the end of the day, it’s about jobs and removing the penalty for investing in Michigan,” Calley said.

But local leaders say the way the phase-out is drafted now, it would force disinvestment in schools, and city services. That’s because it does not replace all the revenue lost to local governments.

Some state lawmakers like Senate Democratic leader Gretchen Whitmer agree.

“At best, they only intend to replace 81 percent of the dollars,”Whitmer said. “So does that mean that they are going to cut our fire services 19 percent? They’re also going to cut our police service 19 percent? They’re going to cut our schools an additional 19 percent? How is that made up?”

The communities that would be most affected are industrial cities with the most factories. That includes Michigan's third-largest city, Warren.

Warren mayor Jim Fouts says the city stands to lose $12 million a year in revenue if the tax is repealed.

“It would be absolute disaster," said Fouts, who said he'd be forced to cut public safety and other vital services. 

"It’s a good example of short-term thinking without looking at the long-term consequences, which are draconian consequences.”

Fouts says Lansing has recently shifted more costs and mandates to local governments, while also cutting off their sources of revenue. He sent a letter expressing his concerns to Governor Snyder.

Politics
6:10 am
Mon April 16, 2012

Dems see political opportunity in tax deadline

Allieosmar Flickr

Democrats in Lansing plan to use this week’s tax-filing deadline to re-open the debate about last year’s tax overhaul at the state Capitol.

Democrats think the tax issue will help them in elections this year. Seniors born after 1946 have their pensions taxed for the first time. Deductions and tax breaks for many charitable donations will be gone when state taxpayers file next year. At the same time, taxes were lowered for many businesses.

Democrats intend to remind voters of that as they try to win an additional nine seats in November to take control of the state House. They say more than a dozen swing districts will be the target of fierce campaigning on the issue of taxes.

Republicans says there are elements of the tax overhaul that were unpopular, but necessary to streamline and simplify tax filing and to make Michigan a more business-friendly state.

Politics
4:43 pm
Fri April 13, 2012

Ballot box politics: Conflicts of interest for Michigan's Board of State Canvassers

user wasted time R wikimedia commons

Playing politics with the ballot: conflicts of interest for Michigan's Board of State Canvassers

A second potential conflict of interest has appeared on the Board of State Canvassers. That’s the bipartisan state panel that approves petitions and decides whether questions will go on the statewide ballot.

In both cases, the panel members have business or employment interests in the issues put in front of them. They’re big, too, and controversial – a potential challenge to Michigan’s emergency manager law and a preemptive strike at “right-to-work” legislation.

Read more
Politics
9:23 am
Fri April 13, 2012

Gov. Snyder repeals Michigan's mandatory motorcycle helmet law

Michigan Municipal League Flickr

Michigan is the 31st state to allow motorcyclists to ride without helmets. Gov. Rick Snyder signed the bill to lift the requirement on riders 21 years and older last night.

The new law allows motorcyclists 21 years and older to choose whether to wear a helmet. They must carry an additional $20,000 in insurance for "first-party medical benefits," and have passed a motorcycle safety course or have had their motorcycle endorsement for at least two years.

Motorcycle passengers must also be 21 years or older and carry the additional insurance.

You can read the law here.

Gov. Snyder issued this statement after signing the bill:

“While many motorcyclists will continue to wear helmets, those who choose not to deserve the latitude to make their own informed judgments as long as they meet the requirements of this new law,” Gov. Rick Snyder said. “There is no substitute for proper training, education and awareness when it comes to operating any motor vehicle. We must continue working together to keep our roads safe by making sure that everyone who gets behind the wheel of a car or on a motorcycle has the proper skills. Traffic safety is a responsibility shared by all motorists.”

Update 11:57 a.m.

A group supporting Michigan's new helmet law, American Bikers Aiming Toward Education, or ABATE, issued a statement in support of the change in Michigan. Vince Consiglio, President of ABATE said:

“On behalf of all ABATE’s members statewide and motorcyclists around the country who can now travel into Michigan and enjoy this great state with or without a helmet, I want to extend our gratitude to all of the legislative officials and Governor Rick Snyder who courageously supported freedom in the face of an onslaught of baseless and emotional arguments perpetuated by our opponents,” Consiglio added.

*Share your thoughts with us. What do you think about the motorcycle helmet law?

Politics
4:35 pm
Wed April 11, 2012

Michigan teachers oppose proposed cuts to pensions, retirement health benefits

Mercedes Mejia Michigan Radio

Teachers turned out by the hundreds in Lansing to oppose legislation that would force them to pay more for their pensions and retirement health care, or have their benefits reduced.

Some of them protested outside a state Senate committee hearing today on the legislation.

One of them was Pinckney teacher Sam Ziegler. He says the measure would break a promise to his profession.

"I knew I wasn't going to be a millionaire teaching," Ziegler said. "But it was something that was worthwhile that benefited others and myself, and I was told that I'd have a pension to go to and now it’s just slowly eroding and I see the danger that it will keep eroding away."

But some Republicans like state Senator Patrick Colbeck says the public school employee pension fund has liabilities so big the system could go insolvent if nothing is done. 

"Somebody’s got to pay for that eventually, later and right now that’s being pushed off because – if we’re talking about dealing with unfunded liabilities – being pushed off to the same kids that we're working hard to educate right now," said Colbeck.

Teachers say state government has increased the stress on the system with budget cuts that reduce districts capacity to pay into it, and forced layoffs that mean fewer people paying into the system.

Environment
3:19 pm
Tue April 10, 2012

Michigan officials take first legal action under recent exotic swine ban

Russian boars at Harvey Haney's farm in Linwood, Michigan.
Peter Payette

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has filed its first legal action under an order that outlaws some breeds of exotic swine.

The Michigan DNR has filed a legal action in Cheboygan County against the Renegade Ranch Hunting Preserve for refusing entry to state inspectors and harboring prohibited breeds.

This is the first legal action taken by the Michigan DNR since the state started enforcing the order on April 1.

*Correction - An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Michigan DNR is banning "some species of exotic swine." The MDNR is banning certain breeds not species.  It has been corrected above.

Politics
2:54 pm
Tue April 10, 2012

Who's behind the group Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility?

Bob LaBrant
The Sterling Group

The former longtime head of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce’s political action group is now raising money for the group challenging the petition to repeal the state’s emergency manager law.

For 34 years Bob LaBrant raised money for the Michigan chamber’s political action committee. Last month he retired; about the same time the ballot committee known as Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility was formed by LaBrant, Michigan Bankers Association Vice President of Government Relations John Llewellyn, and Larry Meyer; former CEO of the Michigan Retailers Association who's now retired.  

Read more
Politics
4:45 pm
Mon April 9, 2012

Opponents of emergency manager ballot drive to challenge petition

Update 4:45 p.m.

Opponents of the effort to call a referendum on Michigan's emergency manager law plan to file a challenge today to the petitions turned in last month.

The group Michigan Forward turned in almost 237,000 petition signatures to state elections officials last month. The group wants to get a question on the November ballot asking voters to overturn the state’s local emergency manager law.

Michigan Forward opted not to get its petition pre-approved by state elections officials.

And now opponents of the referendum drive say they've found what they're calling a "fatal error" on the petitions.

The group Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility says the petition itself is printed in the wrong type size, which is contrary to state law.

The group will ask a bipartisan state elections panel to throw out all the petitions at a hearing expected to be held later this month.

The campaign to reverse the emergency manager law did not have an immediate response. 

3:44 p.m.

Opponents of the effort to call a referendum on Michigan's emergency manager law will file a challenge to the petition this afternoon. The group Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility says the petition itself is printed in the wrong type size, which is contrary to state law. The group will ask a bipartisan state elections panel to throw out all the petitions. The campaign to reverse the emergency manager law did not have an immediate response.

Politics
6:04 am
Mon April 9, 2012

Hurdle today for group trying to recall Michigan's governor

A yard sign from the unsuccessful first attempt to recall Gov. Rick Snyder
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A group that wants to oust Governor Rick Snyder will launch its second effort to collect enough signatures to put a recall question on the November ballot.

It will go before an election commission this afternoon looking for permission to let the petition drive go forward.

The group Michigan Rising gathered half a million signatures last year, but that was well short of the 800 thousand names of registered voters needed to put a recall question on the ballot.

The group will ask an elections panel in Washtenaw County – where the governor lives – to approve its petition. By law, the panel may only rule on whether the petition clearly states the reasons for the recall.

Michigan Rising cites the state’s emergency manager law and cuts to school funding as the reasons to recall the governor. If the petition is approved, the recall campaign will have six months to gather signatures.

Governor Snyder’s spokesman says he is focused on his on his job and expects this recall effort – like the one before it – will fail because people will see he is making tough-but-necessary choices.

Politics
1:13 pm
Thu March 29, 2012

Michigan legislature poised to pass autism treatment bill

user blwphotography Flickr

The state House has approved a measure that will require insurance companies to cover autism treatments for children. The state Senate is expected to concur with the House action later today and send the bill to Governor Rick Snyder's desk.

Senate bills 414, 415, and 981 would require the following, according to the House Fiscal Agency:

  • Require group and individual health plans to cover services for autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in a manner similar to physical illnesses.
  • Allow health plans to limit coverage for ASD treatment to a yearly maximum based on age, and limit coverage to children 17 years of age and younger.
  • Allow insurers to request, among other things, a review of ASD treatment.
  • Provide a limited exemption for qualified health plans offered under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
  • Create the Autism Coverage Incentive Act and the Autism Coverage Fund.
  • Establish the Autism Coverage Incentive Program, under which insurance carriers could seek reimbursement from the Fund for expenses incurred in providing coverage for ASD.

The House Fiscal Agency writes:

The Governor's FY 2012-13 Executive Budget Recommendation for the Department of Community Health includes an increase of $34.1 million Gross ($10.1 million GF/GP) to fund autism spectrum disorder treatment for the Medicaid and MIChild eligible children under the age of six.

The report indicates that approximately 2,000 kids under the age of six would meet the criteria that would be established with the new policy. 2,000 kids with an "average expenditure of $17,000 per child."

The Autism Coverage Incentive Program is expected to cost the state between $500,000 to $1 million to administer.

Politics
5:22 pm
Wed March 28, 2012

Michigan's motorcycle helmet repeal sent to Gov. Snyder

Mike Babcock Flickr

It’s now Governor Rick Snyder’s decision on whether to repeal Michigan’s motorcycle helmet law.

The state Senate has approved a measure to end the requirement, and it will soon be on the governor’s desk.

Governor Snyder has not said one way or the other what he intends to do. The Senate bill would allow people 21 and over to ride without head protection – if they carry extra insurance coverage.

But that did not persuade state Senator Roger Kahn, who is also a doctor. He says helmets save lives and protect against injuries that would otherwise be more severe.

“You take ‘em away, the accidents increase, the deaths increase, the costs increase – to `what end? To have your hair blow in the wind?”

Advocates for repealing the law say safety training is more important than head protection. People in Michigan’s hospitality industry also support the repeal. They say there will be more Michigan motorcycle tourism without the helmet requirement.

Politics
1:06 pm
Wed March 28, 2012

Michigan legislators vote to repeal motorcycle helmet law

The Michigan Senate has sent a measure to repeal the state's motorcycle helmet law to Governor Rick Snyder's desk. The measure would allow riders 21 years old and older to take off their helmets. They would also have to carry an additional $20,000 in personal injury coverage.

Politics
10:45 am
Wed March 28, 2012

Court to take up hearing on GOP votes

A political fight between Republicans and Democrats at the state Capitol has landed in court. Democrats in the state House say Republicans in the majority are violating the Michigan Constitution. The lawsuit says the House GOP majority refuses to hold recorded votes on a procedure that requires super-majorities to pass. It allows bills to become effective upon being signed by the governor.

Otherwise, bills cannot become law until 90 days after the end of a legislative session. The minority party often uses that to slow down controversial measures.

“We feel the constitution’s been violated over the past year plus and we have not been allowed to have immediate effect votes," says House Democratic Leader Rick Hammell.

A judge has ordered Republicans to show up in court on Monday to explain why they won’t hold recorded votes on the procedure. Democrats will ask the judge to order record roll call votes.

Republican leaders say they have complied with the constitution.

Politics
4:41 pm
Tue March 27, 2012

State Senate set to vote on Michigan motorcycle helmet law.

Ildar Sagdejev wikimedia commons

The Michigan Senate is expected to vote tomorrow on a measure to repeal the state’s motorcycle helmet law – and send it to Governor Rick Snyder’s desk.

The measure was stalled because Governor Snyder wants the helmet law to be part of a larger discussion on finding savings in Michigan’s no-fault insurance system.

State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said he wants to get the law on the books in time for the new motorcycle riding season.

“It doesn’t seem fair that a group of people who just want the freedom to choose whether to have a helmet or not are being held back because a couple other groups aren’t getting along or coming around to a compromise,” Richardville said.

Governor Snyder has not said what he would do if a helmet law repeal reaches his desk.

Supporters of the helmet law say it saves lives and prevents expensive-to-treat head injuries.

Pages