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
4:27 pm
Tue March 27, 2012

Snyder on Detroit consent agreement: "Not about running an entire community."

From the governor's official website

Governor Rick Snyder said he still hopes to reach a deal with Detroit officials that would avert the naming of an emergency manager to run the city.

The governor said the agreement has to include specific targets for the city to meet, but he said a deal could keep much of the day-to-day operations under control of city officials.

“Part of it is it’s difficult to explain in some context because we’re still working on the agreement, but when it comes out I think you’ll see it’s really about project management assistance and really good oversight to make sure projects get done,” Snyder said. “It’s not about running an entire community.”

But not meeting the terms of a consent agreement would trigger the law that allows the governor to place an emergency manager in control.

The governor also said he is not yet satisfied with the level of savings he’s seen in bargaining with city employee unions.

The Detroit city council is working on a plan to borrow money to help meet its cash crisis. The plan would require the approval of the state.

Politics
8:41 pm
Mon March 26, 2012

Michigan Supreme Court upholds Oakland Co. redistricting

The Michigan Supreme Court - in a decision that breaks along party-lines -  has upheld a state law that will let Republicans on the Oakland County Commission redraw their district lines. The Supreme Court says the law complies with the state constitution, regardless of whether it was designed to give one party a political advantage. The Supreme Court's three Democrats dissented from the decision.

Last week, Zoe Clark and I took a look at the political shenanigans behind the Oakland County controversy. You can find that story here.

Read more
Politics
6:43 am
Mon March 26, 2012

Michigan Attorney General counsels wait and see approach on federal healthcare law

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette
Corvair Owner Flickr

Michigan is one of 26 states challenging federal health care reforms in a case that goes before the U.S. Supreme Court today. But there is also a stalemate in state government over moving ahead with an online healthcare exchange that is part of the law that would help consumers shop for coverage.

Deadlines set up in the health care law are drawing near.

The state Senate has adopted a measure to create the exchange. The House has put the question on hold until after the case is decided.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says the state should wait.

“I would caution people, there’s no rush. I think the healthcare exchange should not go forward and I think a lot of people in the Legislature agree with me.”

But Governor Rick Snyder, also a Republican, does not. He says the healthcare exchange is a good idea that would save consumers money regardless of how the Supreme Court rules. He says - if Schuette’s challenge fails - the delay could also cost Michigan millions and force the state into a federal bureaucracy instead of a system of its own design.

Politics
4:13 pm
Sat March 24, 2012

Supreme Court refuses domestic partner benefits challenge

FB user sarawestermark

The Michigan Supreme Court will not hear a challenge to benefits that cover the live-in partners of state employees. That ruling means the challenge will have to go first to the state Court of Appeals. This is the newest wrinkle in the legal and political drama playing out over allowing benefits that cover public employees’ unmarried partners, including people in same-sex relationships.

Read more
Politics
5:01 pm
Thu March 22, 2012

Appeal coming as Michigan governor's office pursues consent agreement for Detroit

Spirit of Detroit
(Michigan Radio)

Aides to Governor Rick Snyder say the state will ask the Michigan Court of Appeals to lift a judge’s order that prohibits a deal between Michigan and Detroit to resolve the city’s budget crisis.

An Ingham County judge says the state cannot make any deals with Detroit until he decides late next week whether a state team reviewing Detroit’s finances broke Michigan’s open meetings law.    Monday is the deadline for the review team to give Governor Snyder its recommendations.

Read more
Politics
4:55 pm
Thu March 22, 2012

Michigan lawmaker proposes expanding LGBT protections

antiochla.edu Antioch University

At the state Capitol, a Democratic lawmaker has called for expending Michigan’s civil rights law to protect people who are gay, lesbian or transgender from many types of discrimination.

State Senator Rebekah Warren says expanding the civil rights law would send a message that Michigan is trying to attract creative workers and entrepreneurs.

Read more
Politics
3:52 pm
Tue March 20, 2012

Medical pot opponents target glaucoma

Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

Update:

The state Senate could vote this week on the first major amendment to the Michigan medical marijuana law since it was adopted by voters in 2008. A measure approved Tuesday by a Senate committee would remove the eye disease glaucoma from the list of conditions that would qualify a patient for a medical marijuana card.

Doctor David Newman is the president of the Michigan State Medical Society. He says glaucoma never should have been part of the proposal.

“The medical marijuana act was approved by public referendum but the language presented to the voters presented unclear information and, in this case, was contrary to the medical evidence on glaucoma,” Newman said. 

Newman says marijuana, at the most, can only offer very short-term relief from the symptoms of glaucoma. He says the bigger problem for doctors is that patients use it instead of proven medical strategies for controlling the condition and preventing blindness.

But some glaucoma patients like Barbara Knox showed up at a state Senate committee meeting to oppose the bill. Knox says she uses marijuana along with her prescribed medication.

“If you had my eyes, would you not do everything you could to prevent blindness?” Knox asked. “The thought of going blind just terrifies me. Please, please help me save my right to use an alternate medicine to aid in the treatment of my glaucoma.”

Knox says her doctor would prefer she not use marijuana.

Amending the voter-approved medical marijuana would require super-majorities in the House and the Senate.

3:52

A state Senate committee has voted to strip glaucoma from the list of conditions that qualify a patient for a medical marijuana card. The state Senate could vote on the amendment to the voter-approved medical marijuana law later this week.

More details to come soon.

Politics
9:49 am
Mon March 19, 2012

Collective bargaining ballot question goes before state election board

A union-led effort to amend the Michigan Constitution to guarantee labor bargaining rights will go before a state elections panel today.

The Protect Our Jobs campaign will ask the Board of State Canvassers to pre-approve its petition to get on the November ballot.

Read more
Auto/Economy
8:29 pm
Sat March 17, 2012

Michigan's governor flies to Europe in hopes of boosting trade

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

Governor Snyder’s focus will be on automotive and alternative energy companies on his first official business trip to Europe.

Transportation equipment and chemicals account for more than half of Michigan’s $6 billion in annual exports to Europe.

The governor will start out in Turin, Italy, meeting with executives at Fiat and other companies. Fiat is the parent company of Chrysler.

Politics
6:47 pm
Wed March 14, 2012

Michigan legislature may tighten rules for ballot question petitions

What's on the ballot?
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

People who want to put a question on the ballot could soon have to get their petitions pre-approved by a government panel before they could gather signatures. That’s under a measure that cleared the state House today on a party-line vote.

The measure could force current petition drives to get state approval and then start over. The petition drives would guarantee union organizing rights, require disclosure of businesses’ political spending, and boost renewable energy requirements on utilities.

Read more
Economy
11:11 am
Wed March 14, 2012

Coleman: Michigan's universities will compete for federal infrastucture grants

University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman says Michigan’s higher education institutions will make a strong bid for federal grants to develop the infrastructure to support alternative energy vehicles.

“The president just announced a $1 billion commitment back on Friday and, believe me, we at the University of Michigan and Michigan State and Wayne State and other also with some of our other universities will be front and center to try and get some of that money,” said Coleman.

Coleman was on a panel in Lansing talking about the re-invention of the state’s economy.

The federal grants will go toward making 10 to 15 communities across the country models for how to create the infrastructure for cars and trucks powered by electricity, the sun, natural gas or some other alternative energy source.

Coleman says the cooperative arrangement between Michigan’s three big research universities makes the state a strong contender.

Politics
5:05 pm
Tue March 13, 2012

Michigan House passes ban on threats to coerce abortions

The state House has approved measures that would make it a crime to threaten or coerce a woman to have an abortion.

The measures would cover threats of physical violence, but also withdrawing housing or financial support if a woman does not end a pregnancy. 

Republican state Rep. Bruce Rendon spoke in favor of the measures.

“When a woman or a young girl is threatened of losing a lifeline, whether it’s shelter, financial support, or even a brief period of calm between incidents of emotional or physical abuse, let’s be clear, that is extortion,” Rendon said.

Critics of the measure say it should offer similar protections to women who are threatened or assaulted if they want to end a pregnancy.

The package now goes to the state Senate.

Politics
5:33 pm
Mon March 12, 2012

Abortion debate to resume in Michigan with vote on coercion bill

The debate over abortion is expected to resume tomorrow at the state Capitol.

The state House is expected vote on measures to make it a crime to intimidate or coerce a woman into aborting a pregnancy.

The legislation would create a new crime of coercing a woman to have an abortion against her will. It would cover anything from the threat of violence to refusing to pay child support or getting a woman fired from a job.

No one is arguing in favor of allowing people to intimidate a woman into having an abortion. But opponents of the package say it should not single out as victims only women who are coerced into having an abortion. They say women who are threatened because they want to end a pregnancy should have the same protections.

There is also a fight over the use of the phrase “unborn child” in the legislation to define the fetus. Abortion rights supporters say that’s a loaded term and it should be not be used as a legal definition in a state law.

State Legislature
6:34 am
Mon March 12, 2012

Senate vote on autism mandate expected

Ifmuth Flickr

Measures on the state Senate calendar this week would require health insurance plans to cover autism treatments for children. Supporters of the autism mandate say early treatments can ensure children transition into healthy adults, and ultimately save money on health care costs.

There are an estimated 15,000 children in Michigan diagnosed with autism. But some mental health advocates say there are many more children with other brain disorders – such as severe depression or bi-polar disorder – who would similarly benefit from coverage.

Psychologist Judith Kovach says autism coverage is a good start – but singling out one condition isn’t fair to other families affected by mental illness.

“What do we say to those parents – your children don’t matter?”

Kovach appeared on Michigan Public TV this past weekend. The autism mandate is backed by Gov. Rick Snyder and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who has a daughter with autism. They do not support expanding the requirement to cover all brain disorders.

Politics
3:58 pm
Fri March 9, 2012

Detroit Mayor Bing floats the idea of a $150 million state bridge loan

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing.
Kate Davidson Changing Gears

Update 3:58 p.m.

Mayor Bing's office issued this statement in response to today's reports:

Mayor Bing has not asked Gov. Snyder for a loan from the state for  $125-$150 million. In response to a reporter’s question about whether he would ask Gov. Snyder for bridge funding for the city, the Mayor simply replied, "That's possible." When the reporter later asked how much he would like to ask for, the Mayor responded with the above mentioned range.

“The city continues to implement the financial restructuring plan the Mayor announced in January to save $102 million this year and $258 million in 2013,” said Kirk Lewis, Mayor Bing's chief of staff. “The savings to keep the city financial solvent will be achieved through the plan, including the ratification of previously announced tentative agreements with the city’s labor unions.”

1:44 p.m.

There’s discussion today about whether Detroit might ask taxpayers to help Michigan’s largest city through a cash crisis.

The city could run out of money in May, or sooner.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing said he might or might not ask the state for a $150 million bridge loan.

He said earlier this week in his State of the City address that some assistance from Lansing will be necessary to fix Detroit’s finances.

Governor Rick Snyder said he hopes a legally binding plan to get Detroit’s  spending under control will avert a state takeover.

Geralyn Lasher is the governor’s communications director.

“From the governor’s perspective, you have to have it to be a complete plan. Certainly, the dollars at the state level are extremely limited. We need to be very smart and efficient in how the dollars are spent.”

Lasher says a short-term cash infusion is out of the question without a long-term plan to balance the city’s budget.

Republican leaders have reacted skeptically to the idea. A state review team is expected to make its recommendations by the end of the month on whether the governor should name an emergency manager to run the city.

Politics
6:48 pm
Tue March 6, 2012

Ballot drive launched to push back against "anti-labor measures"

Unions and progressive groups have launched a ballot drive as a push back against what they say is a wave of anti-labor measures from Republicans in Lansing.

The campaign wants to put a proposed amendment to the state constitution on the November ballot.

It would prohibit Michigan from becoming a "right-to-work" state that allows employees to opt out of paying union dues. It would also pre-empt a host of other laws that would restrict union organizing and fundraising.

Jeff Bean, a teacher’s union member from Flint, said union rights helped build the middle class.

"A strong middle class is the backbone, especially here in Michigan, but I would say nationwide – of our economy, of our process, of our culture, so I think it’s something that deserves a constitutional amendment for that reason," said Bean.

Opponents of the ballot drive said it’s motivated more by a desire of union leaders to drive voter turnout in November than to guarantee workers’ rights.

Governor Rick Snyder’s spokeswoman says a fierce debate over "right-to-work" and other labor issues won’t help Michigan rebuild its economy.

The governor has said he hopes the Legislature will put off a measure that would outlaw compulsory union membership or dues to hold a job.

The governor’s spokeswoman, Geralyn Lasher, said Gov. Snyder is equally skeptical of a ballot drive to guarantee union organizing rights in the state constitution.

"The 'right-to-work' issue, everything about that is so divisive, it’s not something Michigan needs to be focused on right now. We have so many other things that we can work on cooperatively. We’ve seen a lot of success with collective bargaining. We want to continue to move forward. We don’t really see a lot of positives from this battle on either side of the issue," said Wurfel.

Union and progressive groups launched the ballot drive today.

They have until July 9 to collect enough signatures of registered voters to qualify for the November ballot.

Read more
Election 2012
6:35 am
Tue March 6, 2012

Santorum rally in front of GOP headquarters fizzles

A rally was scheduled for last night to protest the Michigan Republican Party’s decision to award both of the state’s at-large national convention delegates to Mitt Romney. Supporters of Rick Santorum say he was denied his fair share of the delegates because he won almost half the statewide vote.

But only a handful of people showed up at the state Republican headquarters in Lansing, and they were quickly invited inside for a closed-door meeting with party officials. One of them was Spencer Austin, who said he was with Students for Santorum.

“I’m here to, uh, I’m not going to say protest -- because I think that’s a flaky term – I’m here just to prove a point: I feel that Santorum was cheated out of delegates," Austin said.

Matt Frendeway is a spokesman for the state Republican party.

“Republicans, from time to time we have disputes, we have disagreements, but we settle it within the family. We’re focused on November. We’re focused on defeating President Obama. And we’re going to sit down and talk about any differences we have and we’re going to settle them because, most importantly, we’re going to focus on November," said Frendeway.

A Facebook posting by a rally organizer says the effort is focused instead on recruiting people to run as delegates to the Michigan Republicans’ statewide convention in May that will decide who goes to the Republican  national convention.

State Republican Chairman Bobby Schostak has sent a letter to party activists apologizing for the confusion over how the delegates were allocated.

Politics
4:12 pm
Mon March 5, 2012

Ballot campaign seeks to stop Michigan lawmakers from enacting "Right-to-Work" law

A campaign to keep Michigan legislators from enacting a "right-to-work" law is holding a rally tomorrow in Lansing. The "Protect Our Jobs campaign" is hoping to put a constitutional amendment proposal on the November ballot that would "protect collective bargaining rights."

If passed, a "Right to Work" law would allow workers individually to opt out of paying union dues.

Workers in union represented workplaces in Michigan today are required by law to pay dues.

They can opt out of the union, but they still have to pay "an agency fee." As Michigan Radio's Lester Graham reported, "that fee covers the cost of the union’s collective bargaining and grievance handling processes."

From the Protect Our Jobs campaign's press release:

Working men and women from across Michigan will gather at the state Capitol in Lansing tomorrow to formally launch the “Protect Our Jobs” campaign. Grassroots volunteers will begin gathering signatures tomorrow to place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to protect collective bargaining rights, and strengthen the middle class.

Here's more from MPRN's Rick Pluta:

A ballot drive will launch tomorrow to try to guarantee collective bargaining rights in the state constitution.

The so-called Protect Our Jobs campaign will be run by a coalition of unions and progressive political groups. The campaign wants to put a question on the November ballot asking voters to approve an amendment to the state constitution.

The amendment would preempt about 80 measures pending before the Legislature that would restrict union organizing, dues collections, and how political donations are collected. It would also block efforts to enact a right-to-work law in Michigan.

The campaign would have until July 9th to collect more 323,000 signatures of registered voters to make its goal of qualifying for the November ballot.

Organizers also hope the question would help boost turnout by Democratic voters in the election.

Election 2012
7:48 am
Mon March 5, 2012

One week after the MI primary, Santorum continues to dispute results

Gage Skidmore Flickr

Though the state's primary was almost a week ago, the Rick Santorum campaign is continuing to dispute the primary's results. The campaign has taken their fight over the way the Michigan Republican Party apportioned two of the state's at-large delegates to the Republican National Committee.

The campaign is also organizing a rally to be held later today in front of the Michigan Republican headquarters in Lansing. Santorum supporters will call on Michigan GOP leaders to reconsider their decision to award both the party’s statewide delegates to Mitt Romney.

They say party leaders changed the rules to avoid awarding one apiece to Romney and Santorum, who ran a close second in last week’s Michigan primary and won half of the state’s congressional districts.

Last week, after the committee voted in favor of giving the two at-large delegates to Romney, Mike Cox, the state's former Attorney General - and Romney supporter - called the decision, "kind of like third world voting."

A state Republican spokesman says that decision is now in the hands of the national GOP and calls the rally a needless distraction from the focus on helping Republicans win in November.

We took a closer look at the controversy over so-called "dele-gate" on Friday. You can take a listen at the link above.

Environment
5:20 pm
Fri March 2, 2012

Michigan Court upholds exotic swine ban

opencage.info

Update 5:20 p.m.

A Michigan Court of Appeal ruling today upholds a ban on exotic swine breeds. It was adopted in an effort to halt the spread of feral swine that are tearing up farms and woodlands.

Opponents of the state’s new ban on about 130 swine breeds said they are not giving up their fight as April 1 approaches.

That’s when the state Department of Natural Resources and Environment will start to enforce the ban.

Scott Everett represents breeders and hunting ranches that are regulated by the order. He predicted there will be unintended consequences once it takes effect.

“The DNR is using the invasive species act to define certain animals that are invasive species and you can’t just say it’s only those animals that are on the hunting preserve operations – it’s all the swine that the DNR  thinks are invasive species," said Everett.

He said it will also affect hundreds of boutique farms in Michigan that raise animals for specialty meats for high-end restaurants.

There are still other legal actions pending challenging how the order will be enforced, and whether the state is illegally seizing property.

10:10 a.m.

The Michigan Court of Appeals has upheld the order that outlaws raising and possessing some breeds of exotic swine.

Hunting ranch operators and breeders challenged the order by the state Department of Natural Resources and Environment.

The state will start enforcing the ban in less than a month.

Pages