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
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.

Breaking
4:25 pm
Fri March 2, 2012

Santorum campaign requests investigation of Michigan GOP

Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign has formally asked the Republican National Committee to investigate the actions of Michigan GOP leaders following Tuesday’s presidential primary.

The Santorum campaign delivered a letter to the Republican National Committee requesting the inquiry.

Santorum says it appears supporters of Mitt Romney engineered a rule-change after Tuesday’s vote to ensure Romney got more delegates than he deserved following a very-thin victory in the overall Republican primary vote.

The letter offers a list of six questions that were raised concerning how the Michigan Republicans decided to award 16 delegates to Romney and 14 to Santorum.

The letter says the issue is not who should get a delegate, but the openness and transparency of the process.

Michigan Republican leaders say the rules were not changed after the fact, but the party did a poor job of explaining its plan on how delegates would be allocated.

Politics
6:22 am
Fri March 2, 2012

MSU edits public copy of lawmaker’s traffic stop

Republican state Representative Bob Genetski
Photo courtesy of Rep. Genetski's office

Michigan State University has cut portions of a videotape and police report on the arrest of a state lawmaker who is a key decision-maker on higher education spending. State Representative Bob Genetski was stopped last month on the MSU campus and arrested for drunk driving.

The news service M-Live requested the police report and video after the full versions were used in a public hearing. MSU at first refused, but later provided versions that redacted Genetski’s responses to field sobriety tests such as reciting the alphabet, counting, and standing on one leg.

Michael MacLaren is the executive director of the Michigan Press Association. He says MSU’s action undermines the public’s trust in open government.

“It’s very troubling. And I worry about the pattern of behavior that would ensue from this. It just doesn’t smell right.”

An MSU spokesman says the redacted portions would have needlessly invaded Genetski’s privacy and that every freedom of information request to MSU is reviewed by a lawyer. Genetski chairs the House higher education budget subcommittee.

You can find the incident report (with portions cut out) here.

Breaking
1:17 pm
Thu March 1, 2012

Michigan Republicans give Romney 16 delegates, Santorum 14

Update 5:11 p.m. - Santorum camp questions legitimacy of Michigan's Republican Party leadership after delegate flap

The Michigan Republican Party has awarded both of Michigan’s statewide at-large delegates to the Republican national convention this coming summer to Mitt Romney.

The decision by the Michigan Republican Party’s credentials committee was based on Romney’s slim majority of the popular vote in Tuesday’s primary.

But some people are crying foul. They say Rick Santorum’s close runner-up finish entitles him to one of the at-large delegates. And they say the rules were changed at the last minute to benefit Romney.

Matt Frendeway, spokesman for the state Republican Party, says that’s not true.

“Even before Tuesday night’s vote, this is exactly the way we intended to allocate the delegates. There’s no backdoor deals, no smoke-filled rooms, as some people might allege,” said Frendeway.

A spokesman for the Rick Santorum campaign says the decision calls into question the “legitimacy” of the state’s Republican Party leadership.

1:17 p.m.

This just in from Rick Pluta, Michigan Public Radio Network's Lansing Bureau Chief:

The Michigan Republican Party has awarded both the state's at-large national convention delegates to Mitt Romney, despite a close vote in Tuesday's primary.

A spokesman for top rival Rick Santorum says the decision by party leaders calls into questions the "legitimacy" of the Michigan Republican Party.

Former state Attorney General Mike Cox chairs the state GOP credentials committee and is a Romney supporter. But he tells the news service MIRS.dot.com that the committee's decision is "kind of like third world voting." Santorum and Romney evenly split the state's congressional districts -- and the delegates that go with them. That makes the delegate count 16 for Romney and 14 for Santorum.

Late yesterday afternoon it looked as thought the delegates would be evenly split - 15 to 15 - between Romney and Santorum. The official voting totals from Tuesday's presidential primary have not yet been certified by the Secretary of State.

Election 2012
7:10 am
Thu March 1, 2012

Santorum claims partial Michigan victory

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum’s campaign says it’s wrong to call Mitt Romney’s slim edge in the popular vote in the Michigan primary a victory when they might both wind up with the same number of delegates. The latest count shows Romney and Santorum both winning seven Michigan congressional districts and the delegates that go with them.

“Strategically, we were targeting delegates more than anything else. Based on all those premises, you can only look at Michigan and move it to a tie,” says John Brabender, a senior Santorum campaign official.

The vote tally is still being finalized, but Braybender says Santorum and Romney should both qualify for 15 delegates. Romney has complained that Santorum called on Democrats to vote in the state’s GOP primary.

Politics
5:28 pm
Wed February 29, 2012

One step closer to public vote on Michigan's emergency manager law

A protest against PA 4 at Governor Snyder's residence in January.
Laura Weber MPRN

Opponents are a step closer to a public vote on Michigan’s law that gives state-appointed emergency managers sweeping authority over local governments faced with a financial crisis. They filed petitions today that would put a referendum on the law on the November ballot.

State elections officials have 60 days to determine if the ballot drive collected enough valid signatures of registered voters. To succeed, they need more than 161 thousand names.

Brandon Jessup is a leader of the drive. He said now the group is gearing up for a fall campaign.

“It’s all voter outreach, definitely. We are going to now begin an education phase to reach out to our broader base and make sure everyone knows about the dangers of this unconstitutional dictator bill,” said Jessup.

Jessup says the law robs local voters of the right to choose their leaders. If the petitions are certified, the law will be suspended until after the election in November.

But state Representative Al Psholka says a stop-gap plan may be needed to ensure stability in takeover communities. 

“If we needed to do something on a temporary basis, I think that would be a good idea not to leave these communities without any protection,” said Psholka. “Because what we’ve found is the taxpayers have not been protected for a number of years. PA 4 didn’t cause all of these deficits and didn’t cause them to be in the condition they’re in.”

Psholka is the sponsor of the emergency manager law.

There are five Michigan cities or school districts currently under the control of emergency managers.

Election 2012
8:01 pm
Mon February 27, 2012

Ron Paul speaks out against undeclared wars at campaign stop

Ron Paul "'backstage' before the CNN / Tea party debate.
Facebook

Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul spoke out against undeclared wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Federal Reserve system and the federal war on drugs to a packed auditorium at Michigan State University this afternoon.

"We still have enough freedom to wake this country up and change the direction, but it has to come from the people. It won’t come top down. It has to come from the people because government reflects the values of the people, so if that’s what you want and you speak and you do your job, Washington will change."

The Paul campaign says he has a good chance of picking up some delegates in Michigan’s primary tomorrow.

Paul says Michigan and other states should have the right to enact medical marijuana laws without worrying about interference from the federal government.

The Obama administration has taken a hands-off policy on enforcing drug laws against most medical marijuana users.

Politics
5:01 pm
Mon February 27, 2012

Some Michigan Democrats hope to sway Republican primary

user plougmann creative commons

Some Democrats hope they can play a decisive role in Michigan Republican presidential primary.

Robo-calls and e-mail blasts to Democrats are encouraging them to vote for Rick Santorum to help him beat Michigan native son Mitt Romney. Other party activists say Democrats should vote for Ron Paul.

David Doyle is a political consultant and former Michigan Republican chairman. He said it is possible for voters who are not Republicans to swing the primary results.

“Well, as close as this primary appears to be, it may be decided by one or two points. Very few Democrats and independents could have an impact. The problem is, right now, the Democrats seem to be very divided.”

But Doyle said that impact would be diluted if those voters split their votes among the Republican candidates.

Election 2012
6:21 am
Mon February 27, 2012

Romney name doesn't guarantee ballot magic In Michigan

Originally published on Mon February 27, 2012 1:37 am

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney plays up his Michigan roots when he talks to voters in the state where he grew up.

In 2008, Romney won the Republican presidential primary in Michigan. On the campaign trail, he likes to tell stories about his father, George, who was an iconic governor of Michigan in the 1960s:

"He said, 'It sure is great to be in Mount Clemens today,' even though he was in Mount Pleasant. My mother was sitting behind and said, 'George, it's "Pleasant." ' He said, 'Yes, it's pleasant in Mount Clemens.' "

Read more
Politics
4:02 pm
Fri February 24, 2012

State law quickly passed to allow Highland Park students to transfer

Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder has signed a law that allows students in Highland Park to transfer to another district or charter school now that the Highland Park district has run out of money. The Legislature approved the measure Thursday.

The Highland Park school district could not meet this week’s payroll, although at least some teachers still showed up for work.

The new law allows several hundred Highland Park students to make a mid-year transfer to another district or a charter school, paid for with a $4,000 state grant.

It’s not known how many students and their families could or would take the opportunity.

Highland Park schools were under the control of a state-appointed manager, but the manager had to step down after a judge ruled the review team that recommended a state takeover violated Michigan’s open meetings law.

It will be next week before the governor can re-appoint the emergency manager.

After that, the new law also allows the emergency manager to use the per-student stipend to pay another district or a charter school operator to hold classes in Highland Park schools.

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