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. 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.

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Politics
4:20 pm
Tue December 6, 2011

Michigan Governor Snyder signs anti-bullying legislation

Update 4:20 p.m.

The Governor's Office sent this press release after Governor Snyder signed the anti-bullying bill:

Michigan will become the 48th state to require schools to develop and enforce policies to protect students from harassment, intimidation and physical violence under anti-bullying legislation signed by Gov. Rick Snyder today.

The governor called on lawmakers to pass the legislation as part of the education reform plan he proposed in April, saying students need to feel safe in the classroom so they can focus on learning.

“This legislation sends a clear message that bullying is wrong in all its forms and will not be tolerated,” Snyder said. “No child should feel intimidated or afraid to come to school.”

The governor said having a clear policy in place will give teachers and administrators the tools they need to deal with bullies, but he added that parents can help by ensuring their own children do not engage in or encourage others to bully.

House Bill 4163, sponsored by state Rep. Phil Potvin, is known as “Matt’s Safe School Law” in honor of Matt Epling, a Michigan teen who ended his life in 2002 after enduring severe bullying.  The legislation gives schools six months to develop clear anti-bullying policies so they will be in place by the start of the 2012-2013 school year.  The bill is now Public Act 241 of 2011.

A detailed description of the bill’s requirements may be found online at www.legislature.mi.gov.

3:50 p.m.

Governor Rick Snyder has signed the law that requires schools to adopt anti-bullying policies. Family members of children who committed suicide looked on as the governor signed the measure. Until today, Michigan was one of three states that did not have an anti-bullying law.

Courts
4:31 pm
Mon December 5, 2011

Computer glitch leads to challenge before Michigan Supreme Court

Joe Gratz / flickr

The Michigan Supreme Court will hear a case tomorrow where an African-American man claims he was denied a fair trial because of a computer error. The error caused fewer jury notices to go to households in African-American neighborhoods.  

Ramon Bryant is challenging his convictions on charges of criminal sexual conduct, stealing $90, and possession of marijuana. Bryant says he was denied a trial before a jury of his peers that is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.

The question is whether the unintentional exclusion of African-Americans from the jury pool entitles Bryant to a new trial with a new jury. A computer error caused fewer jury notices to be sent to ZIP codes in Kent County with higher minority populations.

Bradley Hall is with the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan. He says the law requires juries be a “fair cross-section” of the community.

"Excluding of a minority population from jury service does not create a fair and reasonable representation of the community," said Hall. “"So it sort of happened by happenstance but there's no question it's systematic."

The prosecutor argues the mistake was accidental, and that there are other explanations as to why so few African Americans reported for jury duty.

Michigan's Attorney General says Bryant's conviction should stand. The AG's office contends the jury chosen made its decision based on the evidence.

Politics
5:10 pm
Fri December 2, 2011

Michigan legal activists push for improved indigent defense

Ken Mayer flickr

A state commission heard testimony today that inadequate legal representation for poor defendants results in wrongful convictions and unfair sentences. Commissioners were also told that failing to invest in indigent defense costs taxpayers money.

Peter Cunningham is with the Michigan Campaign for Justice. He said the poor economy is no excuse for failing to fix the system.

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courts
5:21 pm
Wed November 30, 2011

Court upholds parole, over sentencing judge's objections

s_falkow flickr

The state Court of Appeals has upheld the parole of a convicted murderer over the objections of the judge who sent him to prison. 

Phillip Paquette was convicted of stabbing a man to death at a party in the summer of 1994. Paquette maintains to this day he is innocent and acted in self defense. While in prison, Paquette committed a string of infractions, but the pattern of misconduct ended in 2004.

Paquette became eligible for parole last year, and the Michigan Parole Board granted his request to be released.

The judge that sentenced Paquette objected, citing Paquette’s record of misconduct and insistence that he’s innocent. 

Paquette took his case all the way to the state Supreme Court – which returned the case to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals noted Paquette went six years without a violation, and has expressed sorrow for the killing. The appeals court reversed the judge and said Paquette is to be paroled.

Politics
5:03 pm
Wed November 30, 2011

Governor Snyder to outline Michigan workforce training plans

Gov. Rick Snyder
Tiberius Images / Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder will deliver his fifth special message of the year tomorrow at Delta College near Saginaw, where he is expected to outline a strategy to better match the skills workers have to positions that are available right now.

The governor is looking for ways to bring down Michigan’s persistently high unemployment rate.

More than one in 10 working-age people in Michigan are out of work and actively seeking jobs. Governor Snyder says one big problem is too few people with skills that match positions that are available in fields like welding and software design.

Sara Wurfel is the governor’s press secretary, and she says the governor believes employers will respond if workers pick up new, in-demand skills. 

“(The governor) believes the number one most-important recourse Michigan has is its talent, its people, and the skills and the background that they bring.”

The governor is expected to say the state and educators need to do a better job of identifying employment trends and the skills businesses will be looking for. Snyder’s predecessor, Governor Jennifer Granholm, also made job training a high priority.

Crime
10:47 am
Wed November 30, 2011

Convicted murderer to be released despite judge's objection

The state Court of Appeals has upheld the parole of a convicted murderer over the objections of the judge who sent him to prison.

Phillip Paquette was convicted of stabbing a man to death at a party in the summer of 1994. Paquette maintains to this day he is innocent and acted in self defense. While in prison, Paquette committed a string of infractions, but the pattern of misconduct ended in 2004.

Paquette became eligible for parole last year, and the Michigan Parole Board granted his request to be released.

The judge that sentenced Paquette objected, citing Paquette’s record of misconduct and insistence that he’s innocent. Paquette took his case all the way to the state Supreme Court, which returned the case to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals noted Paquette went six years without a violation, and has expressed sorrow for the killing.

The appeals court reversed the judge and said Paquette is to be paroled.

Politics
4:25 pm
Mon November 28, 2011

Michigan Governor Snyder could veto first bill this week

Governor Rick Snyder
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder could veto his first bill this week. He faces a Friday morning deadline to sign or a reject measure sent to him by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The bill would make it difficult for state agencies to enact rules that are stricter than federal standards without first getting permission from the Legislature.

Sara Wurfel is the governor’s press secretary.

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Politics
10:33 am
Thu November 24, 2011

Michigan families will find out soon if they're cut from cash assistance

About a thousand Michigan families will find out on Monday or Tuesday whether they will be cut off of cash assistance welfare benefits for hitting a four-year cap.

The state Department of Human Services is holding two days of “rocket docket” hearings.

People challenging their cutoff are expected to show up first thing in the morning, and wait their turn to make their case to a magistrate and a caseworker.

They will be told before they leave whether they still qualify.

Gilda Jacobs directs the Michigan League for Human Services, which opposes the policy. 

“I guess it’s kind of letting people know right away to try to reduce their anxiety, but it’s going to be creating a lot more panic and anxiety if folks find out they’re going to reach that hard cap,” said Jacobs.

The director of the Department of Human Services says the “rocket docket” is meant to end drawn-out appeals.

 Unions are planning to stage protests at some DHS offices.

Offbeat
5:40 pm
Wed November 23, 2011

Michigan Governor Snyder cooks turkeys, roots for Lions

Governor Rick Snyder says he’s responsible for his family’s Thanksgiving feast this year. But he says working in the kitchen is a lower priority than another holiday tradition – the Detroit Lions Thanksgiving Day football game.

“I’m cooking. I’m doing two turkeys. Actually, we’re cooking them on Friday, though, because I’m hoping – the family’s all going to the Lions game. So, go Lions – We’ve got a great chance to beat those Packers,” said Snyder.

That could cost the governor some support in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where many sports fans have regional loyalty to Green Bay.

The governor has predicted the Lions will be in a Super Bowl before he leaves office.

Politics
5:31 pm
Wed November 23, 2011

Court upholds convictions of prominent Detroit political consultant

The state Court of Appeals has upheld the firearms and assault convictions of a prominent Detroit political consultant accused of attacking his girlfriend – a former state lawmaker.

Ex-state Representative Mary Waters returned home to the apartment she shared with Sam Riddle and found him in bed with another woman.

The couple fought.

She left andcalled 9-1-1 after he pointed shotgun at her.

Waters later tried to recant her accusation, but the prosecutor went ahead with the trial and Riddle was convicted.

Riddle challenged the convictions on several grounds – including Waters’ statement that she never actually feared being hurt.

The appeals court said that’s not relevant –what matters is whether a rational person might reasonably have feared the situation.

Riddle is currently in a federal prison serving a simultaneous sentence on bribery and extortion convictions.

Waters has tried to retract her guilty plea to corruption charges.

Politics
6:14 pm
Tue November 22, 2011

Governor extends benefits to foster kids who "age out"

Governor Rick Snyder signed a law today to extend benefits for children who grew up in foster care after they turn 18 years old. The new law will allow foster kids to continue to receive a housing subsidy and health coverage until the age of 21, and to continue to work with foster care caseworkers.

The extended benefits will be available to young adults who are enrolled in college or job training, or working at least 80 hours a month.

The governor says Michigan owes it to children who would otherwise lose their support system when they become legal adults.

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Politics
4:15 pm
Mon November 21, 2011

Snyder to sign law nudging foster kids to college

Foster kids who used to “age out” of the system at 18 years old will continue to get state financial support under legislation Governor Rick Snyder is expected to sign tomorrow.

The measure is designed to help more college bound foster children maintain a support system after they become legal adults.

Jack Kresnak directs the advocacy group Michigan’s Children.

“The state is taking an important step forward to help the young people that we as a society have taken out of their parents’ care and placed in the state’s care succeed – this will help many, many more young people succeed,” Kresnak said.

The new law means young adults who grew up in foster care will continue to qualify for a housing subsidy and Medicaid health coverage. 

Kresnak said he would like to see the law amended in the future to give former foster kids who opt out of going to college a chance to change their minds and reenter the system. He said colleges and universities can also do more to help former foster kids succeed.

Politics
6:23 am
Mon November 21, 2011

Governor, Legislature need to find $60 million to balance budget

When the Legislature returns to the state Capitol next week, there will be another item added to its to-do list. That is: coming up with millions of dollars to fill a budget gap created by the state Supreme Court decision on Michigan’s new pension tax. The court upheld the tax on pensions, but said denying a tax break to some higher-earners effectively created a graduated income tax.

A graduated income tax is not allowed under the state constitution. That part of the decision also blew a $60 million hole in the state budget. Sixty million dollars is a small part of a general fund budget that exceeds $8 billion.

But it is an amount the governor and the Legislature will need to make up to meet their obligation under the state constitution to have a balanced budget. One possibility would be to use a projected surplus from last year’s budget to fill the gap. That number becomes official in January. But it appears the surplus will be somewhere near $400 million.

Lawmakers are already fighting over what to do with that money. Democrats say it should be used to restore some budget cuts to schools. Republicans say it should go into the state’s “rainy day” savings fund, or to pay down debt.

Politics
11:57 am
Fri November 18, 2011

Michigan State House Speaker: No additional money for cash-strapped Detroit

State House Speaker Jase Bolger
user: mimem flickr.com

Republican state House Speaker Jase Bolger said Detroit should not anticipate more money from Michigan taxpayers to help fix the city’s financial troubles. Detroit Mayor Dave Bing said this week that Lansing should keep a promise made in the 1990s to boost revenue sharing payments if the city cut its income tax.

Bolger said that promise did not come from any Republicans currently serving in Lansing, where lawmakers have made tough choices to balance the state budget.

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Politics
11:43 am
Wed November 16, 2011

Michigan appeals court allows blurted confession

The state Court of Appeals has ordered a new trial in the case of a man charged with murder during a robbery gone awry.

The court says a detective investigating the case did not violate the man’s Fifth Amendment rights by continuing a conversation after the defendant invoked his right to remain silent.

The detective stopped asking questions once Kadeem Dennis White invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, but the detective continued to try to engage White in a conversation.

During that brief conversation, White blurted out that he never intended to shoot the victim.

The prosecution tried to use that admission against White in court, but the judge ordered the statements could not be used. The court of appeals reversed that decision, and said White knowingly waived his right to remain silent when he spoke to the investigator.

It was a two-to-one split decision by the appeals panel.

One dissenting judge argued that continuing to try to engage White in a conversation was the functional equivalent of an interrogation that should have stopped once the defendant said he would remain silent.

The defense could appeal the case to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Politics
6:16 am
Tue November 15, 2011

Governor, House leader split on timing of health coverage exchanges

Inside the state Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
Cedar Bend Flickr

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to hear a challenge to the federal Affordable Care Act has Republicans in Lansing divided on whether to adopt a state mandate in the law. It requires states to create health coverage exchanges for people and business owners to comparison shop online for insurance. It’s become a point of controversy between the governor and the state’s legislative Republicans.

Republican Governor Rick Snyder says the health care exchanges are a good idea that will benefit businesses and consumers regardless of how the Supreme Court rules. The governor says he’s also afraid Michigan would be thrown into a federally designed system if the Legislature does not act quickly. 

“Before the end of the year would be best in terms of being prepared.”

But Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger says he’s in no hurry and would rather wait for the Supreme Court to decide one way or the other.  

“I don’t expect the House to act until or unless we have to act.”

Bolger says he, like many Republicans, believes the federal law is unconstitutional and is likely to be struck down by the nation’s highest court. A decision is not expected before next summer.

Politics
4:26 pm
Mon November 14, 2011

Dems call for hiring tax break, credit help for small businesses

Democrats in Lansing have outlined a package to help small businesses grow and hire unemployed people.

The plan includes taking a portion of the money that’s in a state trust fund and investing it in local banks and credit unions to make small business loans.

State Representative Vicki Barnett said that will help small businesses having trouble getting credit from larger banks and investment funds.

“We know that a very teeny investment can have huge dividends in terms of job creation and access to capital,” said Barnett.

“There is no other state that I know of that is taking this approach to aggressive investment – doing things they already do with taxpayer money and targeting it to grow jobs in their own state,”she added. 

The Democratic package would also allow small banks and credit unions to pool their finances to invest in larger projects.

Barnett says that would make larger loans possible while allowing the institutions to share the risk.

The plan also calls for a tax credit for small businesses that hire long-term unemployed people and veterans.

Republicans shy away from job creation credits. They say the state should not single out specific businesses for tax breaks.

Politics
5:03 pm
Thu November 10, 2011

Michigan State Senate adopts health care exchanges

The state Senate has adopted a bill to create a statewide health coverage exchange where people and businesses could comparison shop for insurance.

Republicans were divided on the question, and whether a vote for it was an endorsement of the federal health reforms. 

Some Republicans argued they should take a principled stand against the federal law by refusing to enact any portion of it.

Others, such as Senator Bruce Caswell, argued the state should not risk being forced into a federal bureaucracy.

Without action, the state would be forced into a federal exchange system.

“I do not support putting this state in the position of having the federal government come in and basically take over regulation of health care,” said Caswell.

Caswell says Michigan can always shut down the exchange if the federal law is repealed or struck down.

Democrats, such as Senator Rebekah Warren, used the debate to defend the federal law.

“The solution that we have in front of us today guarantees that constituents in every one of our districts will have access to more affordable healthcare, so I urge my colleagues to please support this bipartisan compromise that’s in front of us now,” said Warren.

The measure now goes to the state House.

Republican Governor Rick Snyder says the statewide coverage exchange is a good idea with or without the federal mandate. He has asked the Legislature to send the bill to his desk before the end of the year.

Politics
5:09 pm
Wed November 9, 2011

Michigan Republicans say they will stay the course despite Scott recall

Republican leaders at the state Capitol say the recall of Representative Paul Scott will not change their approach to education or economic policy.

State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville stated:

“You’re not going to see a loss of momentum here. I see just the opposite, that we’re going to continue – we’re not going to slow down. We’re going to keep up the same pace. Nothing is going to change about what we’re doing or how we’re going to do it.”

The election for southern Genesee County voters to choose Scott’s replacement will be February 28th of next year. The winner will serve the final seven months of Scott’s House term.

House Speaker Jase Bolger said Republicans will mount a strong effort to keep the seat.

“The voters have a chance to speak in February in a different opportunity than they had this time,” Bolger said. “This time, they had to say yes or no to recalling one person. In February, they’ll have two cases presented to them on how they want to see the future of the state go. So, they’ll have that opportunity in February and we look forward to them expressing their voice.”

The local Republican and Democratic parties must choose their candidates for the special election no more 15 days after the results of the recall are certified.

Politics
4:17 pm
Wed November 9, 2011

Paul Scott is first Michigan lawmaker to be recalled in three decades

Rep. Scott's official website

The vote was close, but it was not close enough to rescue Representative Paul Scott (R-Grand Blanc) from losing his job. Scott is 29 years old and once was pegged as a rising Republican star. He told a group of supporters that he and Republican reformers in Lansing are the targets of special interests.

“We took the state by storm and we made fundamental changes and we had the establishment government unions living in our community, trying to overturn the will of the voters and we just came up a little bit short in that fight,” said Scott.

All told, $225,000 or more was spent by both sides in the campaign, making this a very expensive legislative race. South Genesee County residents were bombarded since August with TV and radio ads, brochures stuffed in doors, and mailings.

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