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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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.  

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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