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.

Pages

Election 2012
6:22 am
Mon August 29, 2011

Snyder endorses Hoekstra

Former Republican West Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra (pictured) will be endorsed later today by Michigan Republican Governor Rick Snyder.
Republican Conference Flickr

Update 3:23

Michigan Public Radio's Laura Weber covered today's announcement. She reports Hoekstra says he and Snyder became friends after running against each other in a “hard-fought” primary for Governor last year:

“Isn’t it great that two people can go through a campaign, they can go through a primary, and at the end of that process they actually like each other, they actually have respect for each other, because they went through it in a way that the people of Michigan respected.”

Hoekstra said he does not think Snyder’s sinking approval rating will have a negative impact on his campaign for Senate. In his remarks, the governor reciprocated Hoekstra's admiration. Snyder said the experience of gave him respect for Hoekstra:

"Being one of our senators is critically important to our state, so I felt it was appropriate to speak up on this. And it was so easy to speak up. This is a case where we have a compelling candidate.”

6:22 am

Governor Rick Snyder has scheduled a press conference today to endorse former Congressman Pete Hoekstra in the race for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination. Michigan Radio was first to report the endorsement earlier this month.

Snyder and Hoekstra first got to know each other last year as rivals for the Republican nomination for governor. Snyder won, but people close to the governor say he walked away from the campaign with respect for Hoekstra. They say Snyder praised Hoekstra as a results-oriented congressman with a history of rising above partisan interests to get things done.

The endorsement will put the governor at odds with other Michigan Republican power players. Billionaire Betsy DeVos, Republican National Committeeman Saul Anuzis, and ex-Senator Spencer Abraham – all former GOP party chairs – are backing school choice advocate Clark Durant.

Former Judge Randy Hekman, anti-gay rights activist Gary Glenn, and Roscomman businessman Peter Konetchy are also vying for the nod to face incumbent Senator Debbie Stabenow next year.

Politics
12:33 pm
Fri August 26, 2011

Court rules Michigan legislature illegally quashed pay raise

The Michigan Court of Appeals says the Legislature violated the state constitution by illegally taking money from state employee paychecks to cover retirement health care costs.

State employees are in line to get back $60 million dollars that was withheld from their paychecks if this decision stands.

The court of appeals says then-Governor Jennifer Granholm and the Legislature could not take three percent of state employee salaries for retirement costs after lawmakers failed to block three percent pay raises.

The pay raises were approved by the independent state Civil Service Commission, and could only be reversed by super-majorities in the House and Senate.

The appeals court said that was just another way to take away the pay raise, and violated the process set up by the state constitution.

Governor Rick Snyder says the money is needed to help cover a shortfall in the state employee retirement fund. He could ask the state attorney general to appeal the decision to the Michigan Supreme Court.

*Correction - an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the current Michigan legislature and Governor Snyder "adopted the plan earlier this year that requires state employees contribute 3 percent of their paychecks toward their retirement health care costs."

The plan was adopted under a previous legislature and then-Governor Granholm.

The headline has been changed as well. (previous headline "Court rules Michigan legislature and Gov. illegally quashed pay raise").

We regret the error.

 

 

State Recalls
7:45 am
Wed August 24, 2011

Scott recall effort appears headed for November ballot

The campaign to recall the Republican chair of the state House Education Committee is a step closer to appearing on the November ballot. The state Bureau of Elections has informed state Representative Paul Scott that the campaign to recall him appears to have gathered enough valid signatures to get the question on the ballot.

The recall campaign needed to gather 9,600 signatures from registered voters in the Genesee County state House district. Elections officials determined the campaign gathered more than 11,000. Representative Scott has two weeks to file any challenges to the signatures. The Secretary of State will make an official decision by September 9th. Scott is also challenging the recall campaign in court.

The Michigan Education Association made Scott a top recall target over cuts to schools and the new tax on pensions. Scott is the only state lawmaker potentially facing a recall question on the November ballot. But there are two dozen other recall petitions circulating. The recall is also considered by many to be a local referendum on the record of Republican Governor Rick Snyder.

Politics
5:04 pm
Tue August 23, 2011

Appeals to the federal court that struck down affimative action ban

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission is fighting state Attorney General Bill Schuette in court.

Schuette wants to restore the voter-approved ban on affirmative action in university admissions.

The commission has filed a brief with a federal appeals court saying the court made the correct decision.

A panel of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the ban on affirmative action in admissions policies last month.

The Michigan attorney general is now asking the entire court to reconsider and reverse that decision.

He says the court should give deference to the wishes of Michigan voters who approved the ban in 2006.

The Civil Rights Commission is an independent agency. The members of the commission were all appointed in recent years by Democrat Jennifer Granholm when she was governor.

The brief filed by the commission says universities, not voters, should be trusted to make decisions in the best interests of their students, and it was unconstitutional to single-out admissions policies dealing with race and gender diversity on the ballot.

There is no word on when the court may decide whether to reconsider the decision.

Politics
4:24 pm
Tue August 23, 2011

Michigan legislature to vote on changes to healthcare benefits

The legislature will vote on changes to health care benefits for public employees tomorrow.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Thousands of teachers and local government employees will have to pay more for their health care benefits under a plan to be voted on tomorrow at the state Capitol.

The plan limits what school districts and local governments can pay for health benefits.

A legislative committee approved the measure today. It's expected to be voted on tomorrow by the House and the Senate.

It will require local governments to pay no more than 80 percent of their employee health care costs, or limit the payment to $15,000 a year per family.    

Read more
Economy
6:39 am
Tue August 23, 2011

Report: Traffic crashes add up to $4.8 billion a year in economic costs

ChazWags Flickr

A new State Police report says traffic crashes in Michigan carry a price tag of $4.8 billion dollars a year. The report says the cost of traffic crashes in Michigan exceeds the cost of crimes.

Researchers used data from 2009, when the human toll of traffic crashes was 937 deaths and more than 70,000 injuries. They put the economic damage for those crashes at $4.8 billion dollars. That includes the cost of medical care, property damage, and lost earnings, among other things.

The institute also used data on jury awards to put a value on pain and suffering caused by traffic crashes, which put the number over $9 billion dollars. The study compared the dollar loss from crashes to the cost of violent and property crimes that are tracked by the state, and found the costs of crime are dwarfed by the costs of traffic crashes.

The report was commissioned by the state Office of Highway Safety Planning and was conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

Politics
5:57 pm
Wed August 10, 2011

Seniors challenge pension tax

seemann MorgueFile

Groups representing seniors and public employees filed briefs Wednesday with the state Supreme Court challenging Michigan’s new tax on pension income. The court will hear arguments in the case early next month .

Extending the income tax to pensions was part of Governor Rick Snyder’s budget proposal that was adopted earlier this year by the Legislature’s Republican majorities.

Eric Schneidewinde is with the AARP of Michigan. He says the tax violates a part of the state constitution that protects the pension income of teachers and other retired public workers.

“They cannot be taken away by just a law,” Schneidewinde says.

Republicans say the tax treats everyone the same, so it does not specifically target public employee pensions. Schneidewind says the AARP and other senior advocates are plotting ways to repeal the pension tax altogether.

Governor Snyder asked the state Supreme Court to rule on the pension tax before it officially takes effect in January.

Read more
Politics
5:48 pm
Wed August 10, 2011

Attorney general wants medical marijuana law changes

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says opportunists have hijacked the state's medical marijuana industry.
kconnors MorgueFile

State Attorney General Bill Schuette is backing proposed changes to Michigan’s voter-enacted medical marijuana law. He says it’s been “hijacked” by people trying to make money, rather than offering relief to people facing terminal disease or a painful chronic illness.

Schuette says the result of a poorly written ballot initiative is the proliferation of shops that make a business of selling marijuana to people with easy-to-acquire medical cards.

Read more
Politics
5:25 pm
Tue August 9, 2011

Governor Snyder approves redrawing Michigan's political map

Governor Rick Snyder has approved measures that redraw Michigan’s legislative and congressional districts. The new maps were approved by the Legislature’s Republican majorities in an intensely partisan battle. But this may not be the final word on the state’s new district maps. 

Michigan loses a congressional seat in the new maps to reflect the loss of population in the most recent census. The new lines throw at least two incumbent Democrats into the same district.  

Read more
Education
6:22 am
Fri August 5, 2011

NMU will not face sanctions related to tuition increase

Photo courtesy of Northern Michigan University

Governor Rick Snyder’s budget director has given his OK to Northern Michigan University’s tuition increase for the fall term. The decision means the public university in Marquette will not face sanctions for exceeding the state’s tuition increase cap of 7 percent. NMU said the university’s rate increase should not be measured against the fall 2010 rate after students got a discount. The university reduced student costs last year based on a windfall of federal stimulus dollars.

A spokesman for Budget Director John Nixon says he does not put Northern’s tuition hike in the same category as fall increases at Wayne State and Michigan State universities. He says MSU and Wayne State technically complied with the law, but violated the intent of efforts by Governor Rick Snyder and the Legislature to hold down tuition increases despite budget cuts to higher education.

Politics
3:19 pm
Wed August 3, 2011

Wayne State defends tuition hike, may face budget cut

User dctennis Flickr

Michigan State and Wayne State universities could face budget sanctions for violating tuition restraints. 

Wayne State officials were called in to testify today before a legislative subcommittee.

Wayne State officials said there was no intent to evade tuition restraints, echoing a similar claim by MSU officials when they were called in to testify earlier this summer.

Most public universities increased their fall rates at or below the 7% cap set by the Legislature compared to tuition set for the fall term of last year. But MSU and Wayne State compared their fall tuitions to summer rates, which had just been increased.

That did not sit well with state House universities budget chair Bob Genetski. 

 “This has been really unpleasant for everybody and our intent was really to protect Michigan families from tuition increases and, uh, our relationship’s been damaged.”

“They know that the very spirit of the legislation has been violated and that our efforts to protect kids in tuition-paying families were violated, as well.”

Genetski says he hopes MSU and Wayne State will reconsider their tuition hikes. If not, Genetski says he’d support going back and cutting state funding for the two schools even more.

Politics
8:41 am
Wed August 3, 2011

Snyder recall will not meet Friday deadline

Gov. Rick Snyder
Tiberius Images Flickr

The campaign to recall Governor Rick Snyder says it will fall short of the number of signatures it needs to gather by Friday to qualify for the November ballot.

But organizers say they will press on in an effort to qualify for the next election in February.

A recall spokesman says the drive got off to a slow start, and did not attract much attention until recently.

Bill Ballenger is the editor of the Inside Michigan Politics newsletter. He says recalling the governor is a huge challenge.

“You need so many signatures. You need over 800 thousand signatures – minimum. And you really have to have some padding because obviously Republicans and lawyers are going to challenge the petitions when they’re turned in. Some will be thrown out. So, realistically, you’d have to have, I say, over a million signatures.”

The recall drive says its new goal is to gather a million names by late September.

There are also petitions being circulated to recall more than 20 other legislators.

Ballenger says if one of those gets on the ballot, it would be a referendum on Snyder.

Politics
2:01 pm
Fri July 29, 2011

Michigan Supreme Court rules on prison rape

Joe Gratz Flickr

The Michigan Supreme Court has dismissed the civil rights lawsuit filed by a woman who was raped by a sheriff’s deputy while being held in jail. 

The victim sued Wayne County and the Sheriff’s Department after she was harassed and raped by a deputy while being held in jail for not paying child support.

The deputy – Reginald Johnson – was fired, charged with a crime, and convicted of rape.

The victim said the county and the sheriff’s department should be held responsible because Johnson could not have attacked her unless he was a deputy assigned to the jail.

The county argued there was no way the sheriff could have known or should have known the deputy was a sexual predator.

The court’s Republican majority ruled that Johnson acted outside his professional responsibilities and in direct violation of department policies.

Democrats on the court dissented. They said the majority decision undermines protections for victims of discrimination and harassment, and weakens Michigan’s civil rights law.

Legal
10:57 am
Fri July 29, 2011

Michigan Supreme Court rules on sexual assault case

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled on a sexual assault case today.
Michigan Supreme Court

The Michigan Supreme Court has ruled that a woman who was raped by a jail guard while she was being detained is not entitled to file a civil rights and sexual harassment lawsuit against the county. The court said the local government is not responsible for the behavior of a public worker who acted outside the scope of his employment. The court's Republican majority split with Democratic justices, who say the decision undermines previous rulings that protect victims of discrimination.

Read more
Politics
4:17 pm
Thu July 28, 2011

Clinic offers pot to customers who register to vote

A medical marijuana clinic owner offered pot to customers who also registered to vote
User Eljoja Flickr

Authorities are looking into whether a Lansing medical marijuana clinic broke the law by offering free pot to customers who stop by and register to vote.

The owner of the clinic opposes Lansing’s new restrictive medical marijuana ordinance and has called for the ouster of city council members who supported the ordinance.

The Your Healthy Choices Clinic advertised on its web site that customers who stop in and register would get a half-gram of pot or a marijuana-laced snack item. 

It also encouraged people to vote against city council members who supported Lansing’s medical marijuana ordinance. Authorities say that may have put the clinic afoul of state election laws.

John Sellek is the spokesman for Attorney General Bill Schuette. He says clinics have mushroomed far beyond what Michigan voters intended when they approved the medical marijuana law in 2008.

“And they certainly didn’t plan for those pot shops to be handing out marijuana as party favors essentially for their own political, personal agenda.”

“Certainly in Michigan, it is illegal to pass out some kind of gift or a party favor to encourage someone to vote a certain way or to vote at all, and that is concerning to the attorney general.”

Schuette is looking into filing criminal charges. The clinic owner told a Lansing TV station there was no attempt to buy votes – only to get people to register.

Read more
Education
2:14 pm
Thu July 28, 2011

State Budget Director says MSU and WSU did not violate tuition cap

State Budget Director John Nixon says Michigan State University and Wayne State University did not violate the state's tuition cap of 7 percent when setting fall tuition rates and they will receive their full state aid payments. Nixon still needs to make a decision on whether Northern Michigan University exceeded the cap. 

Politics
6:09 pm
Tue July 26, 2011

State opens contract negotiations with employees

Governor Rick Snyder’s administration and state employee unions have begun a new round of contract negotiations.

The Snyder administration has set a big savings target -- $265 million - or an average of about $6,000 per state worker.

Jan Winter is the governor’s lead negotiator. She says saving $265 million in employee costs will be tough.

“Go the table, work as hard as you can. A lot of things can happen and we’re counting on working out good deals here.”

Winter says one idea is to ask state employees to pay more for their benefits.

“One of the things that we have looked at, clearly, moving to something like an 80/20 split on a health plan would mean well over $100 million in gross savings. We have a lot of ideas, and we’re hopeful the unions have lots of ideas, too.”

Cindy Estrada is the lead negotiator for UAW Local Six Thousand, the biggest state employee union.

She says workers are also looking to fix the state’s budget troubles.

“We want to create a Michigan, a state that in 10 years to come is more efficient, has better quality for the citizens that receive those services, and I think we can do that – if workers and management get together and we look for new solutions and we be really creative and stick to the commitment that we’re going to make structural changes, we can get there, definitely.

But Estrada says the savings should not come out of state employees’ benefits or paychecks since they’ve given up nearly $4 billion in concessions over the past decade.

The unions say state government could find big savings if it reduced the number of managers and outside contracts.

Politics
9:04 am
Tue July 26, 2011

Courts say same-sex partners do not have custody rights

The state Supreme Court has refused to take the case of a lesbian woman who wants the right to visit the children she helped raise with her ex-partner.

The court’s decision lets stand a lower court ruling that same-sex partners do not have custody rights in Michigan.

Renee Harmon and Tammy Davis were together for 19 years, and during that time started a family together. Davis served as the biological mother via artificial insemination to their three children. After the relationship broke up, Harmon was denied visitation and sued for parenting time.

Michigan does not recognize same-sex relationships - nor does it allow unmarried couples to adopt.

The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled Harmon lacked the legal standing to sue.

The state Supreme Court allowed that decision to stand by refusing to take the case.

The court divided on party lines in its decision. Republican majority voted not to take the case. Democrats said the court should.

In her dissent to the order, Justice Marilyn Kelly wrote the case raises so many questions regarding the state constitution and parents’ rights that it “cries out for a ruling from the state’s highest court.”

Read more
State Law
6:32 am
Tue July 26, 2011

State attorney general files charges under state’s new human trafficking law

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette in Lansing on Inauguration Day. (Jan. 1st, 2011)
Covair Owner Flickr

The state attorney general’s office has filed the first charges under the Michigan’s updated law against human trafficking. A man is accused of forcing two teen-aged girls in Detroit to become prostitutes.

The man is charged with two counts of inviting teen-aged girls to parties and then forcing them to work as prostitutes, collecting all of the money, beating them for not earning enough, and sexually assaulting them himself. The attorney general’s new Human Trafficking Unit is trying to extradite him from California.

A study done last year for the Michigan Women’s Foundation found as many as 160 cases a month of girls being sold online or through escort services in Michigan. The study did not track how often teen-aged girls and boys are offered on the streets or in hotel rooms. But human trafficking is becoming more common across the country.

The Michigan Women’s Foundation says the new charges and penalties are useful – but the state should also have a “safe harbor” law that ensures people forced to become prostitutes are treated as victims and not as criminals.

Politics
6:49 am
Mon July 25, 2011

State to open contract talks with request for concessions

State Capitol Building, Lansing, MIchigan
Aflyingpsychofly Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder’s administration and state employee unions will open contract negotiations this week. The first topic of bargaining will be whether state workers will give up the salary and benefits they’ve already been promised.

The new state budget is not balanced yet. For one thing, the budget assumes millions of dollars in savings in employee costs. State state worker unions have yet to agree to those cuts. In fact, the state can’t even begin to negotiate unless the unions agree to re-open the current contracts. Kurt Weiss is with the state Department of Technology, Management and Budget.

“We know it’s a significant number. We know it’s a painful number.”

Weiss says the alternative to concessions is layoffs and privatizing services. The largest amount of money would come out of the state Department of Corrections.

State employee unions say state government is currently top heavy with managers and has too many contracts – and the Snyder administration should look those first before looking to squeeze more from frontline workers or lay them off.

Pages