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 & Government
8:54 pm
Fri December 27, 2013

Snyder signs bill to allow bigger political donations; preempt issue ad disclosure

sushi ina flickr

Governor Rick Snyder has signed a law that outlaws efforts to require disclosure of the donors behind so-called “issue ads.” It appears to be a reversal of one of his campaign pledges.  

The governor came out against anonymous issue ads in a 2010 campaign white paper. Issue ads tell people to “call” or “contact” a politician without expressly advocating for how they should vote.

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Politics & Government
5:24 am
Fri December 27, 2013

Schuette expects Detroit pension case to reach nation's highest court

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says he thinks the U.S. Supreme Court will eventually have to decide whether Detroit’s public employee pensions are protected from bankruptcy.  

Schuette is challenging a federal judge’s decision that cutting pension benefits is on the table as part of the bankruptcy.

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Environment & Science
1:46 pm
Wed December 25, 2013

Weather, altered behavior could be reasons few wolves killed in state hunt

The federal government wants to turn management of gray wolves in the western Great Lakes over to the states.
USFWS

The state Department of Natural Resources says hunters are unlikely to bag the limit of 43 wolves before the season ends on December 31. In fact, it’s been two and a half weeks since the last wolf was taken on December 5.        

State wildlife officials say an extreme cold snap in the Upper Peninsula may be responsible. They say it’s also possible wolves have learned to avoid hunters.

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Law
5:37 pm
Mon December 23, 2013

6th Circuit puts parole hearings for juvenile lifers on hold

Mich. Atty. Gen. Bill Schuette says the Supreme Court ruling should not apply retroactively.
(courtesy Michigan Attorney General's office)

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has delayed an order that Michigan make a plan to hold parole hearings for prisoners sentenced as juveniles to life in prison for murder.

A federal judge ruled last month that Michigan is taking too long to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court decision. It said automatic life without parole for juveniles is “cruel and unusual punishment.”  

Deborah LaBelle is the attorney representing a group of juvenile lifers who sued the state. She says the Sixth Circuit decision is a disappointment.

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Politics & Government
4:56 pm
Fri December 20, 2013

Board approves $350 M loan deal for Detroit

Peter Martorano Flickr

A state board says the city of Detroit may borrow up to $350 million to pay off investment swaps that went sour. But the deal still needs the approval of a federal bankruptcy judge.

State officials say the deal to refinance the debt, if it’s approved, will free up money the city can use for police, fire, lighting and other services.

The international bank Barclays would lend the city the money to pay off two other banks.

But federal bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes has not given his OK. He says the city should push for better terms to terminate the deal with Bank of America and UBS that turned out to be a financial disaster. It costs the city about 5% of its annual revenue, and state and city officials say it played a big part in driving Detroit to bankruptcy.

The arrangement was made in 2005, while Kwame Kilpatrick was mayor. If the banks don’t agree to renegotiate, the city could also try to challenge the legality of the arrangement.

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It's Just Politics
2:09 pm
Fri December 20, 2013

Republican angst over gay rights in Michigan continues

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

The Republican angst over gay rights continues this week.

Driven and riven by the continuing commentary on the topic by Michigan’s Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema, in this case on AIDS and partner benefits. “Folks they want free medical because they’re dying between the ages of 30 and 44 years old… For me it’s a moral issue. It’s a biblical issue,” Agema told a local Republican holiday gathering last week in West Michigan (thanks to the Herald Palladium for audio of remarks).

And, as they often do, Agema’s comments have already gotten a lot of attention; inciting what has become a now-predictable ritual of condemnation from Democrats and Republicans. However, Republicans are complaining not so much about what Agema said but, instead, how he said it.

This is not the first time that Dave Agema has made comments like this. There is a history here. Agema has always made it plain he considers homosexuality to be nothing but a deviant lifestyle. His detractors say he’s a bigot. His supporters - and he certainly has them within the state Republican Party - say he’s a truth-teller. In fact, former state Representative Jack Hoogendyk, a prominent Tea Party leader, recently called him “a prophet.”

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Politics & Government
6:16 pm
Wed December 18, 2013

Commission delays decision on state employee benefits

Unionized state employees picket outside a meeting of the Michigan Civil Service Commission.
Rick Pluta MPRN

The Michigan Civil Service Commission has delayed until mid-January a decision on new state employee contracts. The commission was supposed to have the final say in a fight over wages and benefits – especially health care coverage. But the commission deadlocked.

“Everyone should care about this because all Michigan citizens deserve to have decent healthcare coverage,” said Ray Holman from UAW Local 6000, which represents thousands of state foster care and human services workers. “And the thing about it is, right now, the state is sitting on a huge surplus.”

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Economy
5:57 pm
Wed December 18, 2013

Unemployment rate drops as fewer compete for jobs

Unemployment benefits will run out for millions of Americans this spring if Congress doesn't extend the unemployment insurance program (an unemployment line in California in 2007).
Michael Raphael Flickr

Michigan’s monthly unemployment rate is down, but it’s because fewer workers are competing for jobs.

About 17,000 people dropped out of the workforce and gave up their search for a job. That nudged the state’s unemployment rate down by two-tenths of a percentage point, to 8.8%.

There was a bump in manufacturing jobs last month, but that was offset by layoffs in hospitality and government employment.

Hiring is up, though, from where it was at this point a year ago. An additional 60,000 people are employed, mostly in manufacturing, business services, and healthcare. 

About 413,000 Michiganders are still out of work and looking. The state’s rate of unemployment and under-employment is 14.5%.

Politics & Government
6:30 pm
Tue December 17, 2013

State rolls out violence reporting hotline

The "OK 2 Say" program will be run out of Attorney Gen. Bill Schuette's office
(courtesy Michigan Attorney General's office)

Governor Rick Snyder has approved a program to create a multi-platform tipline for students and others to report suspicions that a school could face a violent threat. It’s called “OK 2 Say” and it will allow for anonymous reporting via phone, text, e-mail or a message on a website.

“It means preventing school violence before it starts. It means a confidential tipline 24/7/365, an emergency response mechanism, kind of a sentry system, an early warning system,” said state Attorney General Bill Schuette, whose office will run the program.

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Environment & Science
5:32 pm
Mon December 16, 2013

Governor to release energy plan this week

warrenski Creative Commons

Governor Rick Snyder intends to deliver the broad outlines of an energy plan for Michigan this week.

In a message delivered in November of 2012, the governor focused on energy efficiency. This year, the governor is expected to put more attention on renewable energy.

The state Public Service Commission released a report last month. It says Michigan utilities could afford to generate almost a third of their electricity using wind, solar, and other renewable resources.

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It's Just Politics
2:07 pm
Fri December 13, 2013

Fight over veto-proof abortion law not over; groups going to work to overturn

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

What is it about Decembers in Lansing? Last year, it was right-to-work. This year, the controversy is over a petition initiative, a veto-proof law that will require people to buy separate insurance for abortion coverage. It could not be part of a basic health insurance package in Michigan.

It was an initiated law, put before the GOP-led Legislature by the very, very influential anti-abortion group Right to Life. As we’ve noted before on It’s Just Politics, Right to Life is virtually unrivaled in its ability to organize a petition campaign, and to squeeze votes out of the Legislature, especially when Republicans are in charge.

So, that’s it, right? Law is passed. All done.

Well, not so fast. Because what is begotten by a petition drive can be challenged by a petition drive. Michigan’s pro-choice movement thinks it can take down this new law with a referendum. In fact, meetings have started to try to organize a ballot drive.

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Law
4:21 pm
Thu December 12, 2013

Groups already considering challenge to Michigan’s new abortion insurance rider

Rick Pluta Michigan Public Radio

Wednesday's vote by the Legislature to enact a law to require people to buy separate health policies to cover abortions may not be the final word on the question.

There are meetings underway to organize a referendum challenge. Abortion rights advocates are putting together a coalition to launch a petition drive. They want to challenge the new law with a referendum on the ballot next November.

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Politics & Government
5:38 am
Tue December 10, 2013

Law enforcement asks Legislature to go slow on landline overhaul

splorp Flickr

Law enforcement groups have joined the effort calling on the Legislature to slow down approval of a bill that would make it easier for phone companies to end traditional landline service, and switch customers to internet phones.

Robert Stevenson of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police says there are still too many problems with voice-over-internet ensuring reliable 911 service -- especially in rural areas.

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Politics & Government
9:14 pm
Fri December 6, 2013

Governor says Prison upgrades are on the way

Governor Rick Snyder

Gov. Rick Snyder says state prisons are overdue for an overhaul. He told a graduating class of corrections officers today that the recession delayed critical improvements.

“It has be understood that when we go through tough economic times, people look for places to cut back,” Snyder said. “And, too often, legislators, other leaders in the state, and the public look to corrections as a place to cut back. That wasn’t a wise decision.”

The state has cut $250 million from the corrections budget since Gov. Snyder took office.

The governor says prisons need security upgrades and more cameras, among other things. He says the state must also invest in better mental health services. 

It's Just Politics
1:44 pm
Fri December 6, 2013

'Blue State' project targets Snyder, other GOP governors in states Obama won

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

We’re into the 2013 winter holiday season, which means we’re just a few weeks away from 2014 and a new round of big statewide elections.

That includes Governor Rick Snyder’s reelection bid -- which isn’t quite “official” yet, despite an active campaign committee, ads, and political consultants.

Still, it’s good to be a Republican governor these days. The presidential race is in the rearview mirror, the economy’s ticking up slowly, and people are looking at Washington and seeing nothing but gridlock and dysfunction.

But Democrats still see opportunity for putting one of their own into the governor’s office in Michigan, as well as eight other states that President Obama carried in 2008 and 2012. Politico says the Democratic Governors Association has secured a commitment from President Obama to fundraise, campaign, and provide material support to help pick up those states.

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Politics & Government
8:14 pm
Thu December 5, 2013

Abortion rights advocates push lawmakers to put question on ballot

File photo
Rick Pluta Michigan Public Radio

Abortion rights advocates were at the state Capitol to ask lawmakers to sit on petition-initiated legislation, which would send the controversial measure to the ballot.

The petition-initiated bill would require consumers who want abortion coverage to buy an additional insurance policy.

“Our folks will be out there and letting legislators know that this is a vote that they will not forget, that this is something that we will remember in the next election,” said Meghan Hodge Groen is with Planned Parenthood.

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Politics & Government
8:36 pm
Tue December 3, 2013

Governor pleased EM law was upheld

The federal judge who allowed Detroit to proceed into bankruptcy also upheld Michigan’s emergency manager law as part of the decision. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes said the law is constitutional, and Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr was legally named to run the city.

If Rhodes had ruled otherwise, the bankruptcy could have been derailed. The legal challenge said the state has no right to override the authority of local elected officials.  

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Law
6:00 am
Mon December 2, 2013

Tribal sovereignty at issue in US Supreme Court case out of Michigan

US Supreme Court building
Credit Wikimedia

The United States Supreme Court will hear today in a fight over a tribal casino in a small, northern

Michigan town. But there’s more than a casino at stake. The case revolves around the sovereign right of tribal governments to be immune from lawsuits.

The Bay Mills tribe wants to open a casino more than 100 miles from its reservation in Chippewa County in the eastern Upper Peninsula. The state of Michigan says it can’t, and sued in federal court to stop it.

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Politics & Government
3:50 pm
Fri November 29, 2013

Casino gambling won't stop this weekend, despite the expiration of some tribal gaming compacts

Know when to hold them, know when to fold them
beautifulhustle.com

Casinos operated by six Native American tribes in Michigan will continue to operate even though the gaming compacts that allow them expire this weekend.    That will gives the state and the tribes more time to negotiate new compacts.

The agreements were originally made 20 years ago.

John Wernet is the legal counsel for the Sault Sainte Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.   He says casinos are a critical source of revenue for the tribes.

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It's Just Politics
11:08 am
Fri November 29, 2013

Dems cry foul over pay raises for state's investment managers

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

This week, on our tryptophan recovery edition of It’s Just Politics, we’re talking money: salaries, wages, and how they’re becoming an issue in the campaign for governor.

Last week, gubernatorial-hopeful and former Democratic Congressman Mark Schauer, called for an increase in the state minimum wage. Schauer wants to increase the rate to $9.25 an hour over three years.

And, like we talked about last week - this is a subtle twist, not just hammering Governor Rick Snyder over his support for a pension tax, and school funding, but trying to give voters something to support, not just be against.

But giving voters things to be against is still an important part of any campaign narrative, and this week, for Democrats and Mark Schauer it was all about serendipity; a nexus of timing and opportunity.

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