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
4:41 pm
Wed October 12, 2011

Michigan Secretary of State outlines new election proposals

Michigan Secretary of State outlined new election proposals today.
Flickr

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson said Michigan should allow anyone to vote by absentee ballot without having to give a reason why they cannot make it to a polling place on Election Day.

It’s one of several election proposals she outlined today.

They also include cleaning voter rolls of dead people, those who have moved, and non-citizens. 

Johnson said people should be allowed to cast absentee ballots without giving a reason why they cannot show up at a polling place on Election Day.

She said people who vote absentee would face the same identity requirements as people who cast ballots on Election Day.

"We need the same level of security in our elections whether it's absentee or it's people who come to vote at the polls. Michigan is a state where you must show an ID, a photo ID, or sign an affidavit of identity. We would require the same standard for the no-reason absentee," said Johnson.

Chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party Mark Brewer says the Republican’s election plans provide less ballot access than what’s being done in other states.

 "Many other states, including those run by Republicans, on a bipartisan basis are adopting reforms like early voting. They’re letting people register to vote on Election Day. All these are designed to make and have made it much easier for people to vote," said Brewer.

Brewer also said voting by non-citizens is not a big problem because they would risk deportation.

He said the effort to stop non-citizens from voting plays to racial fears.

Johnson does not favor early voting or Election Day voter registration as methods to spur more voter participation.

She has called for a federal law to give her office access to immigration and Social Security records that would help clear non-citizens off the state’s voter list.

She said going forward the state will also require people to promise they are U.S. citizens before they can vote.

Politics
5:56 pm
Tue October 11, 2011

Fight brews over possibility of state windfall

Lester Graham Michigan Radio

A legislative agency says the state is taking in a lot more money than it expects to spend as the books are about to close on the last fiscal year. The revenue estimates from the state House Fiscal Agency say the state appears to be in line to reap $285 million more than expected.

That includes a $145 million windfall for the School Aid Fund. Some Democrats say a portion of that money should be used to restore cuts to K-12 schools.

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Politics
3:37 pm
Mon October 10, 2011

Legislation would block local protections for gays, lesbians

Republican state Representative Tom McMillin has proposed a law that would forbid civil rights protections that are more expansive than Michigan’s civil rights law.

The measure would apply to local governments, school districts and state agencies. Its aim is to block ordinances that offer legal protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Right now at least 18 Michigan communities have such laws on the books.

Critics say the measure appears to violate the rights of local governments to conduct their own affairs. 

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Politics
6:28 am
Mon October 10, 2011

Black lawmakers in Michigan to ask federal court to throw out new district maps

A coalition of African-American and civil rights groups is expected to challenge Michigan’s new congressional and legislative district maps approved earlier this year by the Republican-controlled Legislature. The leader of a group of African-American lawmakers say he expects the lawsuit to be filed in federal court by the end of the month.

State Representative Fred Durhal chairs the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus. He says the new maps violate voting rights laws. He says that’s because they diminish the voting power of urban minority voters – and the evidence of that is how many Democratic incumbents from minority districts will be forced next year to run against each other.

“We want to see new lines drawn that are more fair than the lines that we have and that recognize and allow  all African-American and minority citizens in this state to be able to participate in the franchise.”

Republican leaders say a court challenge to any redistricting plan is normal, and was entirely expected. GOP leaders say the maps reflect population shifts, and that they were very careful to comply with the law.

A lawsuit is the only way to challenge the new political map. A technicality in the law makes it immune to a voter referendum.

Politics
12:23 pm
Sat October 8, 2011

Justice will not remove himself from emergency manager challenge

Justice Stephen Markman
(official court portrait)

A state Supreme Court justice is refusing to remove himself from hearing a challenge to the Michigan’s tough new local emergency manager law. Supreme Court Justice Steve Markman says he has no conflict of interest even though his wife worked on a challenge to the law in federal court.

Kathleen Markman is an assistant state attorney general who did what was described as procedural work to defend the law against the federal court challenge. She has since been removed from the case.

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Politics
1:43 pm
Thu October 6, 2011

Governor Snyder lays to rest one-term-and-out speculation

Governor Rick Snyder put aside speculation that he might not run for a second term.
Russ Climie Tiberius Images

Governor Rick Snyder has laid to rest speculation that he might not seek a second term. The governor told a collection of local government officials his plan is to serve eight years, if voters let him.

"I'm not announcing my candidacy yet, but as a practical matter I do intend to be around for eight years, assuming the voters go along with that and the family is supportive, which they have been consistently," said Snyder.

There was speculation the governor would choose to serve only one term based on remarks he made last month on Mackinac Island.

The governor said he would consider serving a single term if he accomplished his entire agenda in four years. Snyder said today those remarks were "misinterpreted."

Courts
5:35 pm
Wed October 5, 2011

Screen at issue in state Supreme Court case

Joe Gratz flickr

The state Supreme Court will decide whether a man charged with sexually assaulting two children was denied a fair trial because one of the victims testified from behind a screen. The screen shielded her view of the defendant. But he could still see her.

The defendant's attorney, Scott Grabel, says the screen made the jury more likely to believe his client was guilty:

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Transportation
5:38 pm
Mon October 3, 2011

Michigan close to buying rail line for higher-speed travel

The state is close to finishing a deal with a freight rail company to buy a 140 mile stretch of track between Detroit and Chicago.
user amtrak_russ Flickr

The state is very close to finalizing a deal to buy almost 140 miles of railway that would complete a high-speed connection for passengers traveling between Detroit and Chicago.

The state could announce a bargain with the Norfolk Southern Railroad as soon as this week.

The cost will be about one million dollars per mile of rail. Most of the money will come from the federal government.

Hugh McDiarmid is with the Michigan Environmental Council, one of the groups supporting the project. He said the rail line could be the first leg of an eventual statewide rapid transit network.

"Right now, someone from Traverse City would have to drive down to Kalamazoo or Detroit or something to hop a train to Chicago and that’s not very convenient," said McDiarmid. "But this is moving us a little bit closer to the day when hopefully we’ll connecting Traverse City to Detroit; we’ll be connecting Kalamazoo to Traverse City to Chicago."

Once the purchase is wrapped up, the state will go to work on upgrades that will allow trains to travel at speeds of up to 110 miles per hour between Dearborn and Kalamazoo. The Kalmazoo-to-Chicago stretch is already upgraded.

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Politics
7:08 am
Mon October 3, 2011

Supreme Court won’t hear drugmaker immunity challenge

Michigan Supreme Court Building
Subterranean Wikimedia Commons

Michigan will be not able to recover millions of dollars by spent by the Medicaid program on the drug Vioxx. The Michigan Supreme Court has refused to hear the appeal of a lower court ruling that said the lawsuit is barred by the state’s drug company immunity law.

Michigan has a one-of-a-kind law that shields drug manufacturers from product liability lawsuits as long as the medication was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The law was enacted in the 1990s to help make Michigan more attractive to drug makers. Vioxx was a controversial medication used to treat asthma, but it was pulled from the market in 2004 after it was linked to an increased risk of heart attacks and complaints that Merck tried to cover up the dangers posed by the drug.

Michigan’s lawsuit claims Merck failed to warn the state of the potential dangers when the drug was approved for use by Medicaid patients. The Supreme Court’s rejection lets stand a lower court decision tossing the case.

Politics
6:02 pm
Fri September 30, 2011

New welfare limits in Michigan take effect Saturday, lawsuit seeks to stop them

A group of families on welfare has filed a class-action lawsuit in an effort to block a new limit on benefits that takes effect tomorrow. The rule sets a 48-month cap on cash assistance payments.

Thousands of families will lose cash assistance payments because they have hit the four-year maximum on collecting benefits.

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Politics
4:18 pm
Fri September 30, 2011

Michigan Film Office suspends incentive applications

The Michigan Film Office is suspending applications for film incentives in the state until the guidelines for new incentives are more clear.
user reinistraidas Flickr

Update 4:18 p.m.

Carrie Jones, director of the Michigan Film Office posted a letter on their website explaining their decision to suspend film incentive applications.

The letter explains that they are waiting for direction from Michigan legislators. She says Senate Bill 569 lays out the parameters of the new $25 million incentive program, but it has not been acted on. From her letter:

Recognizing there are many projects currently planning to submit applications on October 1, we feel this is the best course of action for several reasons – the primary of which are ensuring certainty and consistency within the Michigan film incentive program. With everything in SB 569 subject to change at this stage in the process, we simply do not yet have answers to many of the most basic questions projects have when applying for the film incentives. We also want to ensure all projects approved under the new funding are approved using the same set of criteria regardless of when in the fiscal year they apply.

Jones writes that she knows the legislature plans to take up SB 569, but she does not know when. SB 569 was referred to the Senate Committee on Economic Development last July.

3:56 p.m.

The Michigan Film Office says it is not taking any more applications for movie incentives because there are no guidelines for the program.

The director of the film office released a statement today saying all applications are on hold, and will likely have to be re-submitted after the Legislature passes a new law outlining new incentive guidelines.

Governor Rick Snyder's administration is backing away from Michigan's old program of generous tax breaks for filmmakers. The state has set aside $25 million to support filmmaking in the fiscal year that begins tomorrow (Saturday, October 1), but film office director Carrie Jones says she needs guidance on how that money is to be spent.

Politics
5:30 pm
Wed September 28, 2011

Abortion bill heads to Governor Snyder

A bill to enact a state ban on a controversial abortion procedure is on its way to Governor Rick Snyder for his signature. The procedure is already illegal under federal law, and the governor has gone on record saying he’d rather avoid controversial social questions while he focuses on a jobs-creation strategy.

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Politics
5:12 pm
Tue September 27, 2011

No-fault insurance coverage could not cover medical marijuna under Michigan bill

People injured in auto crashes would not be allowed to use their no-fault coverage to pay for medical marijuana to treat chronic pain under a bill approved by a legislative committee.

The measure is one of several proposed new restrictions to Michigan’s medical marijuana law.

The law was enacted by voters in 2008.

Peter Kuhnmuench is with the Insurance Institute of Michigan, which supports the measure. He says insurance coverage was not supposed to be part of the medical marijuana law.

"So I think it’s pretty clear, yes, they want to utilize this is as a medical procedure, but at the same hand, not force any carrier to cover it as a covered service."

Kuhnmuench  says the bill would not prohibit someone from buying additional coverage that might pay for medical marijuana.

Medical marijuana patients say the law should not specifically ban one treatment for people facing chronic pain from an injury.

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Politics
4:56 pm
Tue September 27, 2011

Bill would circumvent light bulb efficiency standards

Federal policies will begin the phase out of the energy inefficient incandescent bulb in 2012.
user whizzer's place creative commons

The state House could vote soon to let Michigan companies ignore new federal efficiency standards for incandescent light bulbs. But they could ignore the law only if they sell the bulbs exclusively to Michigan customers.

That’s because the federal government regulates interstate commerce.

The new federal standards for incandescent bulbs will start to phase in next year.

State Representative Tom McMillan says if his bill passes, it might mean Michigan manufacturers will jump into the incandescent bulb business.

"So I think there's a chance. There's no chance if we don’t pass this. If we do, I think there's a very legitimate chance."

There are currently no factories making incandescent bulbs in Michigan. There is at least one making the new energy-efficient bulbs.

*Correction - This story has been corrected to clarify that the new federal efficiency standards do not ban the sale of incandescent bulbs. The new standards will, however, phase out the common incandescent bulb as we know it.

Education
8:19 pm
Mon September 26, 2011

Senate committee to look at lifting the state limit on the number of charter schools

Students arrive for the first day of school in Lansing
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The state Senate Education Committee will launch two days of hearings Tuesday focused on school choice and ways to encourage more charter academies. A Senate Republican education package would lift the statewide cap on the number of charter schools academies that can be sponsored by public universities. 

The Senate GOP package would also allow more online charter schools and make it easier for parents or teachers to ask a school district to convert a traditional school to a charter.  

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Politics
5:00 am
Mon September 26, 2011

Jennifer Granholm looks back at her years as Michigan's Governor

Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm recounts her time in Lansing.

Former Governor Jennifer Granholm’s book, “A Governor’s Story: The Fight for Jobs and America’s Economic Future,” is on bookstore shelves. It offers her perspective on eight years in the job she described as the toughest facing any governor in the U.S.

She battled budget shortfalls, Republicans in the Legislature, and skeptics of federal efforts to bail out the Detroit auto industry.

Granholm and her co-author, former First Gentleman Dan Mulhern, spoke with me about the book and her legacy.

Jennifer Granholm says she wrote “A Governor’s Story” to offer her  prescription for the nation’s economy to lower taxes and smaller government. She says it’s based on her experience, and an often trial-and-error road to an economic strategy that can work for the entire nation.

“We’ve got a story to tell. So for everybody who cares about how to crack the code to create advanced manufacturing jobs in the American economy, we’ve got the story to tell.”

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Politics
5:05 pm
Fri September 23, 2011

Opponents of Michigan's emergency manager law hope to collect enough signatures for challenge

The city of Benton Harbor is under the control of an emergency manager.
Flickr

The legislative sponsor of the state’s six-month-old emergency manager law says it has cleared the way for the decisive actions needed to help severely stressed cities.

State Representative Al Psholka’s district includes the city of Benton Harbor.

He says Benton Harbor’s emergency manager did not have the authority he needed to fix the city’s finances before the new law took effect in March.

 “We’ve seen some rapid progress in Benton Harbor. There's challenges there, but if you look at the budget, the budget is balanced. There is a projected surplus next year of $400,000. Yes, they had to make some tough choices, but Benton Harbor is in a much better position: a position to go back to local control with a balanced budget," said Psholka.

Psholka was on the Michigan Public TV show “Off the Record.”

Opponents of the law say it robs citizens in takeover communities of their right to choose their local officials.

Organizers of a petition drive say they are close to collecting enough signatures to put a challenge to the emergency manager law the ballot.

A referendum on the law requires opponents to gather more than 161,000 signatures.

Amy Kerr Hardin is with the “Stand Up for Democracy,” the coalition trying to repeal the law. She says the state-appointed emergency managers are given too much power.

 "It takes away our elected officials. It’s crazy the stuff an emergency manager can do just by fiat," said Hardin. "They don’t have to ask any public opinion, and they don’t have to tell the public until after the fact – when they’ve done whatever it is they’ve done."

 Hardin says the campaign expects to turn in sufficient signatures by the end of October. That would put the question on the February 2012 ballot.

It would also suspend the law until the election.

The cities of Benton Harbor, Ecorse, Pontiac and the Detroit school district are being run by emergency managers.

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Economy
4:29 pm
Fri September 23, 2011

Snyder to promote Michigan agricultural products on Asian trip

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder
Michigan Radio

Gov. Rick Snyder departs Saturday on a week-long Asian trade mission with stops in Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai and Seoul.

The governor will attend a meeting of the Japan Midwest U-S Association early next week. His itinerary also includes lots of private meetings with business executives in Japan, China, and Korea.

But the governor says he does not anticipate many big announcements. 

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Law
5:29 pm
Thu September 22, 2011

Michigan Supreme Court to hear challenge to sex offender's plea deal

The Michigan Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether a convicted child molester should be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea because he did not know it would subject him to a lifetime of electronic monitoring.

The state Supreme Court is being asked to decide whether David M. Cole entered a “knowing, intelligent, and understanding” plea.

Cole plead “no contest,” which is essentially a guilty plea, to two counts of having sexual contact with a child younger than 13 when he was in his late 20s. His plea deal included an agreement that he would eligible for release from prison within five years.

But Cole says that he was never told his conviction on second-degree criminal sexual conduct charges requires that he wear an electronic monitoring device for the rest of his life.

Cole was denied permission to withdraw his plea to try and make a new deal.

Prosecutors say their deal was only on prison time, everything else was not part of the negotiation.

Election 2012
4:44 pm
Thu September 22, 2011

Clark Durant to formally launch Senate bid

Clark Durant will officially announce his candidacy for U.S. Senate tomorrow.
Clark Durant Facebook page

Former Michigan State Board of Education President Clark Durant says he will formally launch his bid for the U.S. Senate tomorrow in Detroit.

Durant is seeking the Republican nomination to face Democratic incumbent Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) on the November 2012 ballot.

Durant is a former president of the state Board of Education. He made a failed attempt to win his party’s U.S. Senate nomination 20 years ago.

He also ran unsuccessfully for the state Supreme Court. 

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