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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It's Just Politics
3:19 pm
Fri September 13, 2013

What are Democrats willing to give up in order to get out the vote?

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

While Republicans wrestle with their Tea Party issues, Democrats here in Michigan are not without malcontents within their own coalition. And, with more than a year out from the 2014 election, that discontent could have some bearing on how the Ds do next year as they look to shift the balance of power in Lansing. We mention all this as the AFL-CIO labor umbrella group wraps up its national convention in Los Angeles.

The last two and a half years in Lansing have not been terribly kind to labor, capped last December when Michigan shocked the nation by becoming a right-to-work state. We’ll see how that law affects union membership in the coming year. It’s widely expected that union rolls - and revenues - will suffer as it becomes easy for workers to opt out of union membership.

Labor, still the core constituency of the Democratic Party, is looking to lawmaking and political action to accomplish what it got in the past through collective bargaining. But to do that, Democrats have to win elections starting next year. In this regard, history does not offer much comfort to Democrats. Michigan governors typically win second terms and the party in the White House typically gets clobbered in the mid-term election of a President’s second term.

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Politics & Government
2:14 pm
Fri September 13, 2013

State Bar asks for reversal of disclosure rule

Michigan Supreme Court building.
Michigan Supreme Court court.mi.gov

The State Bar of Michigan says it’s time to end anonymous campaign spending in elections for judges and Supreme Court justices.

The State Bar is asking Michigan’s top elections official to require committees that pay for so-called “issue ads” to reveal their donors. That would require Secretary of State Ruth Johnson to reverse a 2004 rule issued by her predecessor that says the independent committees can keep their donors secret.        

Bruce Cortade is the president of the State Bar of Michigan. He says anonymous campaign spending undermines confidence in the legal system, and it's growing more common.

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Law
10:49 am
Thu September 12, 2013

High Court order guarantees interpreters in legal proceedings

Courts in Michigan guarantees interpreters for non-English speakers.
user: steakpinball Flickr

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young says language should not be a barrier to justice. He says the wave of immigration has made the need to address the problem more urgent.

“We have a great deal more non-English-speaking citizens and non-citizens in our state that are involved in our legal system either the civil or criminal side of it,” said Young.

Young says advances in technology have also made interpreter services more available and affordable.  

The rule says criminal defendants and witnesses will never have to pay for an interpreter. In some cases, courts could try to recover interpreter costs from parties to a lawsuit.

Justice Bridget Mary McCormack helped draft the rule. She says some counties in Michigan already supply interpreters. Some, she says, are not doing a very good job.

McCormack says cost should not be an issue.

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Politics & Government
10:10 am
Thu September 12, 2013

State employees take right-to-work challenge to Michigan Supreme Court

Jake Neher MPRN

State employees are taking their right-to-work law challenge to the Michigan Supreme Court.

They hope for a decision that will reverse lower courts and say state civil service rules trump Michigan’s new right-to-work law.

State employees lost last month in the Michigan Court of Appeals, which ruled the right-to-work law applies to every workplace, including state offices.

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Politics & Government
9:33 pm
Tue September 10, 2013

Unions, Snyder administration can’t agree on who should attend contract talks

Gov. Rick Snyder (R) Michigan (file photo)
Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder’s administration and state employee unions are arguing about who should be in the room during contract bargaining.

It’s thrown a wrench into talks on contracts that will begin in 2015 for 35,000 union-represented workers including Department of Human Services caseworkers, environmental scientists, and corrections officers.

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Law
8:00 am
Sat September 7, 2013

Michigan Supreme Court asked to decide fate of “medibles”

(file photo)
Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A medical marijuana cardholder has appealed a drug possession conviction to the Michigan Supreme Court. The appeal seeks clarification on how the law views putting marijuana or its active ingredient into baked goods.

   Earl Caruthers hopes the state’s highest court will reverse the Michigan Court of Appeals in his case.  He was stopped with some THC-laced brownies in the back of his car. He also had some pot in plastic bags, and was driving on a suspended license. But he’s only challenging a conviction related to the brownies.

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It's Just Politics
2:03 pm
Fri September 6, 2013

Can a bill collector beat a reindeer farmer in GOP primary?

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

The theme of the 11th Congressional District Republican establishment for the past couple of years might be “I Hope That Somethin’ Better Comes Along.” (We have kindly provided a link to that tune from “The Muppet Movie” sung by Rowlf the Dog and Kermit the Frog here. But we digress.)

The usual poobahs and potentates of the Oakland and Wayne county GOP circles have had to live with Rep. Kerry Bentivolio as their Republican in Congress since November of last year. But, this week, to the surprise of absolutely no one who has been paying attention, that Establishment may have gotten its wish when businessman/attorney David Trott announced he will challenge Bentivolio in a Republican primary.

And, in this case, the challenger probably starts with the advantage.

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Politics & Government
7:30 pm
Wed September 4, 2013

Governor Snyder says some Medicaid savings could go to roads

Gov. Rick Snyder (R) MI (file photo)
Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder says extending Medicaid to more working poor people will save the state a lot of money – maybe $130 million next year. That begs the question of what to do with the budget windfall.

   The Snyder administration says the Medicaid expansion to 320,000 working poor people will help reduce uncompensated hospital care and other things that drive up the cost of health care. But the state should also see direct savings by shifting costs like prisoner mental health services to the Medicaid program.

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Politics & Government
10:31 am
Mon September 2, 2013

Michigan lawmakers return to work in Lansing this week

(file photo)
Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The Labor Day weekend signals an end to summer, and this week the Legislature returns to a full-time schedule.

The first order of business is final votes on expanding Medicaid.

Legislative leaders hope to wrap up the controversial question of expanding Medicaid to thousands of working poor people. The Senate has to vote on whether the coverage will begin January first, and a House vote is needed to send the bill to Governor Rick Snyder.

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It's Just Politics
1:28 pm
Fri August 30, 2013

Tea Party looks to fight over every step of Medicaid expansion

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

"War." That was the headline on the conservative blog “Right Michigan” following the state Senate’s vote this week to approve the Medicaid expansion. The GOP right, the Tea Party, say this is a vote that will not be forgotten – political collusion with the loathed and dreaded Obamacare by eight Republicans who voted with Democrats to get it passed.

Make that nine Tea Party targets if you count Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley, who was not forced to but stood ready to cast a tie-breaking vote if it was needed to get the expansion passed.

Last week, we outlined the political challenges facing Calley and, since then, a Tea Party opponent emerged. Wes Nakagiri says he is putting together a campaign to oust and replace Calley next year at a Republican state convention.

Calley, meanwhile, has gone on counter-offense, adopting the vernacular of the Tea Party, and sending out communications heavily laden with words like “freedom,” “liberty,” and “conservative.” He is also touting the endorsement of Congressman Justin Amash, a favorite of the “liberty” wing of the Republican coalition.

All of this is an effort to begin to re-set the conversation after the Senate vote. But there is still more road to travel before the Medicaid expansion is complete. The state House must adopt the Senate version to get it to Governor Rick Snyder’s desk.  The governor is actually delaying a trade-building mission to China and Japan to be on hand. (Remember, he rushed back from Israel after the Medicaid expansion stalled in the Senate earlier this summer.) It’s a good bet he’d like to sign the bill before joining the trade trip later in the week.

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Politics & Government
11:25 am
Fri August 30, 2013

Gay rights leaders welcome IRS tax ruling, say Michigan will need to address confusion

Domestic partner benefits include benefits to gay and non-gay couples.
user dbking Flickr

The IRS says same-sex couples legally wed in a state that allows it will be recognized as married for federal tax purposes -- even if they reside in a state like Michigan that does not allow same-sex marriage.

It’s not clear yet how the state will deal with the ruling.

Gay rights leaders say the IRS decision is very good news.

Emily Dievendorf is the director of Equality Michigan.

“So, while the federal government is now helping to provide some equality in federal income tax credits and child tax credits, Michigan tax credits do not apply to same-sex couples and families,” said Dievendorf.

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Law
4:29 pm
Tue August 27, 2013

Hearing held in Lansing on how to rework Michigan's juvenile lifer law

Michigan AG Schuette is appealing the federal court ruling.
Rick Pluta MPRN

Families of murder victims were among those who packed a legislative hearing room today. The hearing was on how to fix Michigan’s juvenile lifer law to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The court held that automatic life without parole for juveniles is unconstitutional.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette showed up for the hearing. He says the law should only apply to future cases, and not to the roughly 350 inmates already sentenced as juveniles to life without parole for first degree murder.

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Politics & Government
7:04 pm
Mon August 26, 2013

Tea Party activist to challenge Michigan's Lt. Gov. for Republican nomination

Wes Nakagiri
Wes Nakagiri/Facebook

Tea Party favorite Wes Nakagiri says he will challenge the re-nomination of Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley at a Republican convention next summer.

Tea Partiers have demonstrated their ability to dominate Michigan Republican conventions and cause heartburn for party leaders. Three years ago, they almost denied Rick Snyder his choice of Calley as a running mate after failing to stop Snyder from winning the Republican primary.

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It's Just Politics
12:50 pm
Sat August 24, 2013

Can Snyder/Calley ticket survive the Medicaid fight?

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley is trying to burnish his conservative credentials as the Snyder administration takes on the Tea Party in the Medicaid expansion fight.

“I’m a voice on the inside that comes from the right side of the political spectrum,” said Calley on the Michigan Public Television show “Off The Record.”

Calley is trying to erase the political target on his back. He has become the focal point of Tea Party rage over the push for expanding Medicaid to cover more working poor people and other centrist sins of the Snyder administration, deemed by many Tea Partiers as insufficiently conservative. 

Now, the Tea Party doesn’t really harbor hopes of knocking down Governor Snyder with a primary challenge next year. But it does believe the Tea Party is a necessary element of any coalition to ensure a Republican victory next year, and it knows, that (even if Rick Snyder is pretty much guaranteed re-nomination in a primary election) Calley – or whomever the lieutenant governor candidate will be – has to be nominated at a state party convention.

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Law
3:46 pm
Fri August 23, 2013

Michigan Court of Appeals rules in favor of minister who didn't report suspected child abuse

(file photo)
Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The Michigan Court of Appeals says a minister cannot be charged with failing to report child abuse based on conversations with a parishioner.

The court ruled those were privileged conversations.

This particular question had never been litigated before. And it is how far do privacy protections for clergy extend when it comes to reporting child abuse?

In this case, a woman went to her pastor, John Prominski, for advice when she suspected her husband was abusing her daughters. Their first talk was in 2009.

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Politics & Government
1:02 pm
Wed August 21, 2013

State will step in to certify Detroit election results

Had the votes been discarded, Mike Duggan (right), would have placed second in the Detroit mayoral primary.
Sarah Cwiek Michigan Radio

The state will take the extremely rare step of stepping in to certify the results of Detroit’s mayoral primary. That’s after a Wayne County elections board refused to count 18,000 write-in ballots because they were improperly marked by poll workers. Michigan’s Elections Director Chris Thomas says those ballots should be counted.

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Law
9:29 pm
Mon August 12, 2013

Federal judge says hundreds of Michigan's juvenile lifers should be eligible for parole

(file photo)
Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A federal judge says 363 inmates in Michigan prisons sentenced to life without parole as juveniles should get parole hearings.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that laws like Michigan’s that automatically send some juveniles to prison for life with no chance of parole are “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Attorney General Bill Schuette has been trying to limit the scope of the ruling to five inmates who challenged their sentences and to all future cases. He says families of murder victims deserved the certainty of knowing those sentences would stand.

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It's Just Politics
1:44 pm
Fri August 9, 2013

For politicos, Election 2014 isn't so far away

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

Tuesday’s local primaries have come and gone. The November runoffs are set. But don’t think people, political people, aren’t looking ahead even further… to next year’s primaries and beyond.  We have big statewide races for governor and an open U.S. Senate seat, and some big congressional races.

At this juncture, it still looks like Democrats are succeeding in their plan to avoid expensive, bitter primaries in their big, key races. In the “D” column, former Congressman Mark Schauer looks uncontested as the candidate to face Governor Rick Snyder. Congressman Gary Peters is in line to be the Senate nominee without a fight. And, this week, in northern Michigan, retired general and former Kalkaska County Sheriff Democrat Jerry Cannon announced his plans to challenge Republican Congressman Dan Benishek. The First Congressional District is one of the state’s very few true toss-up races and Democrats have big hopes to win it come 2014. In fact, the campaign arm of the House Democratic conference is already airing radio ads in northern Michigan. The First is considered winnable by the right pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, conservative Democrat. And, interestingly enough, Democrats think their chances in this seat will actually improve next year without President Barack Obama at the top of the ballot.

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Law
1:20 pm
Fri August 9, 2013

Grand juror clears Bolger, Schmidt of crimes in election scandal

Roy Schmidt and Jase Bolger.

There will be no criminal charges in the election-rigging scandal that embarrassed state House Speaker Jase Bolger and cost another lawmaker his job. Judge Rosemarie Aqualina in Lansing says there’s no evidence any crimes were committed.

This wraps up a year-long inquiry based on a complaint filed by Democratic leaders.

The investigation focused on the leap by state Representative Roy Schmidt of Grand Rapids from the Democrats to the Republicans.

Bolger encouraged and helped arrange the party switch, which added one more vote to his House Republican majority.

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Law
6:06 pm
Thu August 8, 2013

Michigan Supreme Court says children in custody battle will stay with foster family

Michigan's Supreme Court.
photo courtesy of the MI Supreme Court

The Michigan Supreme Court has ordered a grandmother to return four children who are the center of a custody dispute to their foster family while it decides whether to take the case.

The Michigan Court of Appeals awarded custody of the four children to their grandmother last June. The court said Michigan law automatically gives preference to relatives when parents' rights are terminated -- especially relatives with an existing relationship with the children.

In this case, the appeals court found the grandmother, who lives in Florida, to be in good health, employed as a registered nurse, and can meet the children's needs.

But the Muskegon County prosecutor and a court- appointed guardian argued the children were already in a stable environment with a foster family and shouldn't be moved.

In a brief order and without further explanation of its reasons, the Supreme Court said the children should be returned to the foster family they were living with while it makes further decisions in the case, including whether to hear the appeal.

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