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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

Shemaiah Telemaque/iadMedia / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A federal appeals court says the Jackson County Commission regularly violated the U.S. Constitution by opening its meetings with a Christian prayer.

In a 2-1 ruling, a panel of the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals held the commission violated the Establishment Clause.  The Establishment Clause says government bodies cannot favor one religion over others.

Governor Rick Snyder has laid out his budget plan for the coming year. He wants the state to save more, pay down debt and spend on infrastructure.

Republicans in the Legislature are not necessarily opposed to those ideas, but many of them are also calling for tax cuts, which means less money for those things Snyder wants.

people in voting booths
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s elections chief says it appears there were 31 instances of people casting two ballots in the 2016 election, but it doesn’t seem to have changed any results. That was the finding of audits of the election results, as well as a separate inquiry into ballot irregularities in Detroit.

What impact would having part-time Legislators have on Michigan?
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio file photo

There could soon be tighter restrictions on the public’s access to information in bids for state business. A state Senate committee has adopted a bill that would shield information on bidders’ trade secrets and finances.

State Senator Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) says the Freedom of Information Act discourages businesses from bidding on government work. Jones says his bill matches a standard used in 42 other states and by the federal government to protect confidential information.

A legal battle over redistricting in Michigan could soon be underway.

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Letters are being sent to some 60 attorneys, legislators and ex-legislators, staffers and ex-staffers, Governor Rick Snyder, and many others, telling them: Anything you have related to the 2011 redistricting process, you better keep it. We’re talking drafts of maps, emails, instructions, and confidential analysis.

Flickr user Still Burning / Flickr Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The state Senate has adopted a criminal justice overhaul that aims to improve public safety by sending fewer people to prison. The 21 bills passed with almost unanimous support from Republicans and Democrats.

While crime and the number of prisoners is on its way down, state Senator John Proos (R-St. Joseph) says the state can do better. He says the key is making sure inmates succeed once they are released.

michigan.gov

Governor Rick Snyder’s chief of staff has taken a new job at the White House. Jarrod Agen is the new communications director for Vice President Mike Pence. Agen was Snyder’s communications director before assuming the position of chief of staff 13 months ago. Agen helped shape the “Grand Bargain” that led to the Detroit bankruptcy deal, and he was a central figure in the Snyder administration’s response to the Flint water crisis.

Government records revealed under the Freedom of Information Act.
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Michigan and Louisiana are the only two states that don’t apply their public records laws to the legislature and the governor’s office. A bipartisan group of Michigan lawmakers have rolled out bills to change that.

Michigan is ranked among the worst states in the country when it comes to government ethics and access laws.

The Michigan State Capitol
Aunt owwee / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Governor Rick Snyder says he’s trying to learn more about President Trump’s executive order on immigration. But he says it’s the start of a national discussion on the subject. Snyder says he is reaching to other governors and the Trump administration to better understand the order and its effects.

  

The governor released a statement this morning while he is overseas on a trip to Israel.

  

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley is in charge while the governor’s away. He says criticism of the order is overblown.

Photo courtesy of the Snyder administration

There’s a split emerging between Governor Rick Snyder and Republican leaders in the Legislature over cutting taxes.

Governor Snyder will present a budget next week for the coming fiscal year. Some Republican leaders in the Legislature are pushing for tax cuts. That includes an income tax rollback and some lawmakers are taking aim at the tax on pensions.

Snyder is pushing back. The pension tax was one of his first budget reforms after he took office in 2011. Snyder says that was only fair to people who were paying taxes on 401 (k) and other retirement plans.

Thousands of protesters gathered yesterday at Detroit Metro Airport and in Dearborn, Hamtramck, Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor to demonstrate against President Donald Trump’s ban on immigrants from seven majority Muslim countries.

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Caleb Pluta

Governor Rick Snyder says enforcing immigration laws is not a top priority of state and local police in Michigan. That’s after President Donald Trump signed executive orders to curtail immigration from majority Muslim countries, and targeting immigrants in the country illegally.

“I don’t see that as one of their primary functions. We’re actually doing very well bringing violent crime down within the state of Michigan,” he said. “I appreciate the great work of the State Police and or local partners, and we’re going to continue to work hard on making Michigan a safer place.”

Caleb Pluta

State officials say any federal investigation will not turn up widespread vote fraud in Michigan, despite unsubstantiated accusations by President Trump that millions of people voted illegally.

President Trump says illegal voting kept him from winning the popular vote, but there’s no evidence of that. State officials – who are also Republicans – say that’s certainly not true in Michigan.

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

More than a decade since Michigan last replaced its voting machines, the state is spending up to $82 million on new voting machines over the next two years.

“You know, they’re computers, right?” says Chris Thomas, the Michigan elections director. “And like any kind of hardware and software, they’ve got a shelf life.

“It’s pretty standard across the country that 10 years is when you start reaching that outer limit and start seeing a few more problems on Election Day and whatnot.”

Photo courtesy of Michigan's Attorney General office / michigan.gov

A federal judge has turned down Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s request to file a brief supporting a group of pastors suing the state over the Flint water crisis. He says it’s Schuette’s job to represent the state in the case.

Schuette's office is defending the state and Governor Rick Snyder in the lawsuit. Schuette also tried to file a separate argument backing the group suing the state. Judge David Lawson rejected the request, saying Schuette can’t be on both sides of the case – that crosses an ethical line that undermines his client’s position.

“Our goal should be, we can reach 10 million people again.”

That was Governor Snyder’s goal delivered at his 2017 State of the State speech Tuesday night.

The Michigan State Capitol
Aunt owwee / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Pay rates for workers on publicly funded construction projects could be an issue this year in the Legislature. Bills to repeal Michigan’s 50-year-old law that requires contractors to pay union-scale wages on public projects were among the first to be introduced this year.

Republican leaders in the Legislature support the repeal. But Governor Rick Snyder does not. He says prevailing wage encourages people to consider careers in the building trades. 

Rick Snyder / michigan.gov

Governor Rick Snyder has set a goal of getting Michigan’s population above 10 million people before the next U.S. Census. It was part of the governor’s seventh State of the State address delivered at the state Capitol.      

It’s been 10 years since more than 10 million people called Michigan home. Thousands fled the state through two recessions, and the near-collapse of the auto industry.

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

Attorney General Bill Schuette says the state should have to deliver water to every household in Flint that doesn’t have water filters properly installed.

That position puts him at odds with Governor Rick Snyder’s administration, which is trying to have a court order requiring the deliveries dismissed. 

Noah Hall is Schuette’s attorney in the case. He says the state caused the problem, so it has a responsibility to Flint residents.

Congressman Dan Kildee
Photo courtesy of the Office of Congressman Dan Kildee

As Governor Rick Snyder prepares to deliver his seventh State of the State address, a potential candidate to replace him has called for ethics rules that would align Michigan with what the federal government requires.

Congressman Dan Kildee (D-Flint) has proposed a federal law to require state lawmakers to disclose their sources of income and possible conflicts of interest. That’s the same standard applied to members of Congress.

Betsy DeVos
betsydevos.com

Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos faces questions this week on her work to advance school choice and charters. She is to appear at a Senate confirmation hearing as President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to be the next U.S. Education Secretary.

The hearing was originally scheduled for last week, but was postponed because DeVos' ethics review had not been finalized and there were possibly scheduling conflicts with other hearings.

The former state Republican Chairwoman is an advocate for school choice and charter schools in Michigan, which will be an issue in the hearings.

We used to be a pretty big deal in Congress but, now, Michigan’s House delegation is in a re-building season.

A new session of Congress has been sworn in in D.C. and for the first time in generations none of our Michigan Representatives are committee chairs.

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Michigan Sen. Gary Peters.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to be the next transportation secretary faced a U.S. Senate panel. Senator Gary Peters, D-MI, sits on the Senate Transportation Committee and says he likes a lot of what he heard from Secretary-designate Elaine Chao – especially when it comes to the auto industry and next-generation autonomous vehicles, an important issue for the Detroit car makers.

The U.S. Capitol.
Crazy George / Flickr

The Affordable Care Act is shaping up to be one of the first big battles of the new congressional session. Republicans have promised to repeal it. Democrats are girded to defend it. And there’s a lot at stake for Michigan.

Republicans have still not agreed on what will replace Obamacare. But they say something needs to be done to make healthcare more affordable, and the law has not solved that problem.

The new president, Congress and state Legislature still haven’t been sworn in but Campaign 2018 is already underway.

Former state Senator Gretchen Whitmer is the “first” candidate to launch a 2018 campaign for governor of Michigan. Whitmer is a Democrat who spent more than a dozen years in the state Legislature before being term-limited out in 2014.

http://whitmer.senatedems.com/

Former state Senator Gretchen Whitmer is the first candidate to formally announce that she will run for governor of Michigan in 2018. The former Senate Democratic leader sent an e-mail today declaring her plans.

The job will be open because Michigan’s term limits do not allow Republican Governor Rick Snyder to run again.

Whitmer may have competition for the Democratic nomination as Congressman Dan Kildee weighs a bid. On the Republican side, Attorney General Bill Schuette and Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley are potential candidates. 

Looking up into the rotunda of the Michigan Capitol.
user cedarbenddrive/Flickr / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Governor Rick Snyder says he’s ready to work with President-elect Donald Trump once he takes office later this month.

      

Governor Snyder says Trump has not responded to his congratulations messages, but he has heard from the transition team.  Snyder and Trump both share the experience of being business people without prior experience running for office.

Snyder says Trump needs to understand that governing is different than campaigning. And, Snyder says the chief executive needs to respect that most government workers know what they’re doing.

Capitol Building in Lansing, MI
Matthileo / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A new state law bans the use of restraint or isolation to discipline students.

  

The law was recommended by a task force looking at reforms in special education. Students with physical or developmental disabilities are more likely to face the use of restraint or seclusion.

  

Advocates for special education students say harsh disciplinary measures have been used by teachers and administrators who did not know how to handle students with disabilities. Calley says the new law shows times are changing.

Plastic bag caught in a tree.
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley is signing bills into law while Governor Rick Snyder is out of the state for the winter holidays. One of the laws he signed preempts local ordinances that ban or restrict plastic bags used by retailers.

Business groups say a patchwork of local rules on plastic bags would place a burden on retailers.

But local government officials say it should be up to them to decide how to handle litter and other problems with the common use of plastic bags. 

A lot of attention is being paid today to the usually almost-anonymous job of being a presidential elector.

This afternoon at the state Capitol, in the state Senate chamber, Michigan’s 16 votes for president will be cast by presidential electors - one vote for every congressional district in the state, plus two at-large electors.

It’s a little-noted honor to be an elector. Typically, it’s held for party stalwarts looking to be a footnote to history.

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