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Cheyna Roth

Capitol Reporter

Cheyna Roth

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR.

Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN.

Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker.

Ways to Connect

Michigan's Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) has wrongly accused tens of thousands of people of cheating on their unemployment claims.
Bytemarks / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A group of experts will try to figure out how a state computer glitch wrongly accused thousands of people of fraud.

 

Between October of 2013 and August of 2015, the agency’s processing system wrongfully accused tens of thousands of people of unemployment fraud. The agency had been almost exclusively relying on a computer program to determine unemployment fraud with very little human verification.

Flickr user Frank Juarez / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

As the state School Reform Office moves closer to potentially closing multiple schools across Michigan, a bill ending the law is being hotly debated in the Legislature.

Republican Senator and chair of the Senate Education Committee, Phil Pavlov, is sponsoring a bill that would repeal the law allowing the SRO to close consistently low performing schools.

During last week’s meeting about the new bill, the School Reform Office was criticized by school administrators and parents. They said there is not a consistent method for measuring school progress and quality.

michigan state capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Education, public safety, and paying down the long term debt will be Governor Rick Snyder’s top priorities when he unveils his 2018 budget Wednesday.

Some Republicans in Lansing are really hoping to make some aggressive tax cuts this year. Especially since Michigan has a $330 million surplus in the budget.

But as Governor Rick Snyder gets ready to roll out his budget plan, he’s shying away from major tax cuts.

State Budget Office spokesperson Kurt Weiss said tax cuts need to be balanced with replacement revenue, even though there is a hefty surplus.

Flickr user lanier67 / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Cities cannot refuse to sell tobacco products to people between the ages of 18 and 20. That’s coming from state Attorney General Bill Schuette who issued an opinion today.

State Senator Rick Jones asked the Attorney General for the opinion. He says he got a lot of calls about the ordinance from concerned constituents.

An empty big box store - a former K-Mart in Grand Blanc Michigan
Michigan Municipal League

The city of Escanaba is taking on big box stores in the Michigan Supreme Court. The city says the home improvement store Menards is dodging taxes.

It’s called the “dark store” loophole, and it’s been used more often in recent years by the Michigan Tax Tribunal when assessing property taxes. It determines property taxes for fully-functioning retailers like Target and Wal-Mart based on nearby empty stores.

Tampons.
user m.p.3. / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The so-called “tampon tax” has got to go. That’s the message of lawmakers in both chambers of the state Legislature.

Democrats and a couple Republicans are teaming up to get rid of Michigan’s use tax and sales tax on feminine hygiene products.

Michigan exempts food, medication and other necessities from taxes, and lawmakers argue feminine hygiene products are just as essential. 

bottom of chalkboard, with an eraser and chalk sitting on the ledge
User alkruse24 / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Lawmakers are considering a repeal of a law that allows the state to shut down low-performing schools.

The so-called “failing schools law” determines Michigan’s worst-performing schools based on their test scores. Schools on the list for too long could be closed for good.

Although many were in favor of getting rid of the “failing schools law,” some lawmakers say they’re concerned about how schools would be held accountable without the law.

Prison fence barbed wire
Kevin Rosseel / morguefile

Michigan senators are making a big push for prison and parole reform this year.

Over 20 of the 52 bills introduced during session last week were about criminal justice changes.

Several of the bills focus on probation and parole violations. They would change penalties for probationers that commit technical probation violation and discontinue services to parole absconders.

Republican Senator Rick Jones is the main sponsor of a couple of the bills and a former sheriff. He said they have been working on the package for a while.

Cheyna Roth / MPRN

From Detroit to Kalamazoo, thousands of people have turned out at rallies for women's rights, social causes and peace.   The marches were in response to the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

An estimated 7,000 men, women, and children were at the State Capitol Saturday for the Women’s March on Lansing. It was a sister rally to the Women’s March in Washington D.C.

bottom of chalkboard, with an eraser and chalk sitting on the ledge
User alkruse24 / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The Michigan Department of Education released the state’s School Score Cards and the “Top to Bottom” list today. The Top to Bottom list is used by the School Reform Office to identify low-performing schools.

The “Priority List” is made up of the lowest-performing five percent of schools in the state, and schools that were previously in the five percent and haven’t improved enough to get off the list.  Schools on the list for three years could be subject to closure.

U.S. Supreme Court

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has filed a brief against the American Bar Association. A discrimination case was filed last month in the United States Supreme Court.

This is the third brief Attorney General Bill Schuette has filed in the case going back to 2011.

Angelo Binno of Michigan is legally blind. He is suing the American Bar Association for disability discrimination. Binno says he was rejected from every law school he applied to because he couldn’t draw diagrams for the “logic games” portion of the L-SAT and scored too low on the test.

(Support trusted journalism like this in Michigan. Give what you can here.)

Bottled water.
John McDonnell / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A Michigan department needs to do more to follow its own regulations on bottled water inspection.

That was the message of an audit released today by the Office of the Auditor General. The report found that the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development did not always perform timely inspections of water bottles and places with water dispensing machines.

Governor Rick Snyder
Rick Snyder for Michigan / Facebook Page

Governor Snyder focused much of the annual address on his achievements as governor, while also, insisting there is more work to be done.

Unlike last year, when the Flint water crisis took center stage, this year, Snyder did not address Flint until halfway thru his speech.

During the short time he did spend on Flint, he spoke about the work that has been done.

Senator Debbie Stabenow
USDAgov / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

With President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration just days away, some Michigan Congress members are speaking out about his latest Twitter feud.

Georgia Congressman John Lewis called Trump an illegitimate president during an interview with NBC News. Then, days before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Trump fired back at the civil rights hero on Twitter saying he was “all talk”.

Now Lewis and over twenty members of Congress are speaking out against Trump by boycotting his inauguration.

sign that says "vote here"
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Some Michigan House Democrats are making voter reform a primary goal for the new session.

With only two session days of the year under their belt, several lawmakers have introduced legislation that would, among other things, allow no reason absentee voting and automatic voter registration.

State Rep. Abdullah Hammoud, D-Dearborn, is a bill sponsor. He said these bills packages are long overdue.

michigan state capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Michigan legislature is back in session yesterday. The House of Representatives formally welcomed 42 new state representatives, chose their seats, and formally elected new Speaker of the House Tom Leonard. 

Bipartisanism was Leonard’s main message, and the session started in that spirit with Leonard’s nomination. Democratic Leader Sam Singh seconded Leonard’s nomination also urging bipartisanism during the term.

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

Lawmakers, business experts, and school superintendents are tackling Michigan’s schools from multiple angles in the first weeks of the New Year.

On the first day of session, Senator Phil Pavlov plans to introduce a bill to get rid of Michigan’s so-called “failing schools” law. The law determines Michigan’s worst-performing schools and puts them under the supervision of a state school reform officer.   

Sen Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Twp., is the bill’s sponsor. He says the current law was passed with good intentions, but has not worked.

 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

In the days leading up to president-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration, Michigan doctors and parents are speaking out against one of his biggest promises.

Trump and many Republicans in Congress are promising to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act.

Those against “Obamacare” say its premiums are too high and it doesn’t provide enough choice. But at a press conference on Monday, several Michigan doctors and patients spoke out in favor of the Act, particularly how it helps children with cancer.

Drinking water fountain.
Gabrielle Emanuel / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder signed a bipartisan bill Friday that will require public water supply systems to tell customers about elevated lead levels. The law would require notification within three days of discovering lead levels are above the federal action level. Notification is already required – but the three-day rule is new.

Governor Rick Snyder said the bill is an important first step.

 

I-94 in Michigan
Corey Seeman / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Gov. Rick Snyder is letting Michigan drivers go a little faster.

Snyder signed a package of bills Thursday that will, among other things, raise the speed limit on certain roads to 75-miles per hour.

The legislation also calls for lower speed limits on certain gravel roads and allows school district superintendents to adjust when speed zones are in effect around the schools. 

Speed limit increases on certain freeways will only happen after a speed safety study is done by the Michigan State Police and Michigan Department of Transportation.

Marijuana plants
Flickr user A7nubis / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Governor Rick Snyder has just a few bills from last session left to consider.

Among them is a bill that would allow landlords to include a provision in their leases preventing tenants from smoking or growing medical marijuana.

Bill sponsor Republican Senator Rick Jones said the legislation protects fellow tenants and landlords from smoke and damage to buildings.

“No one needs to use medical marijuana in a smoking form,” he said. “If they have a prescription, they can use it in many other ways – edibles, creams, oils, and even vaporizers.”

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Changes are coming to a tribal agreement with the state and Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi that would help schools change their mascots. 

The amendment will put money into a new Michigan Native American Heritage Fund. The fund is run by a board that will send the money to private and public schools that want to, “promote positive relationships with and understanding of the history and role of Michigan’s Indian tribes,” the tribe said in a press release. 

NHBP Tribal Chair Jamie Stuck says there is a cost barrier associated with changing a school’s mascot.

military veterans
John M. Cropper / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Governor Rick Snyder is expected to make a decision soon on changes to Michigan’s veterans’ homes.  

Before the end of session, the Legislature sent him a package of bills that would create a new Veterans Authority. It could create more veterans homes in the state – currently there are only two. The authority would be run by a board and they would be required to give annual reports to the governor and Legislature. 

Bill sponsor Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, said the legislation creates a modern authority with people who understand healthcare. 

House Democrats

“Well, that was fast.”

That’s how twenty-two year-old Lauren Plawecki began her farewell speech a few weeks ago.

Plawecki took over for her mother after she passed away suddenly in June. Plawecki says she took the position in part to finish some of the work her mother started.

“I knew that she had a lot of things in the works,” she said. “I mean I was there when she was working on them, I wanted to be the person that could see them across the finish line.”

Judge's gavel
Flickr user Joe Gratz / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

The Michigan Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on the rights of criminal defendants to have an attorney during their preliminary exam.

Gary Lewis was convicted of multiple arson charges in 2014. During his preliminary examination, Lewis’s attorney was taken off the case, but the preliminary exam continued anyway.

Now, the Michigan Supreme Court is going to hear arguments on whether Lewis’s conviction should be overturned. He was found guilty at trial.  

Wolf prints in the snow.
Rolf Peterson

Don’t grab your rifle just yet. Wolves are still on the federal endangered species list, so the law won’t take effect until they’re removed.

A 2014 state law allowing wolf hunting was recently struck down by the Michigan Court of Appeals on a technicality.

And at the polls, voters have said “no” to similar legislation multiple times.

Jill Fritz is the director of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected.

“We’re appalled at the open contempt for Michigan voters that Governor Snyder demonstrated by signing this third wolf hunting bill into law,” Fritz says.

michigan.gov

Governor Rick Snyder has increased his legal defense budget for one of his private attorneys to $3.5 million dollars.

Snyder hired Warner, Norcross & Judd LLP last spring to represent him in the investigations into the Flint water crisis.

The contract for their firm at the time was for 249-thousand dollars. Over time, that cap rose to 2 million dollars before its most recent increase.  

Spokesperson for Governor Snyder, Anna Heaton, said as long as the Attorney General’s investigation is ongoing, there is legal work to be done.

Protestors outside the Capitol in Lansing encouraging electors to not vote for Donald Trump.
Cheyna Roth / MPRN

Protestors are gathering outside the State Capitol today before the state's Electoral College electors meet there.

While traditionally the electors – who are chosen by the state’s winning party – vote for the state’s winner, some protestors are trying to urge them to break tradition.  

Jessica Prozinski is a founder of Stop Trump Ann Arbor. She says president-elect Donald Trump is unfit for the presidency. Prozinski says the electors have a “constitutional obligation” to prevent a Trump presidency.

School desks
Flickr user Frank Juarez/Flickr / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Schools might get more freedom in how they discipline students in the future. Legislation that would alter Michigan’s zero-tolerance policy in schools is headed to Governor Rick Snyder’s desk.

The legislation would, in part, give schools options besides automatic expulsion or suspension when bringing potential weapons into schools. Proponents say it would help reduce the number of students out of school because of suspension or expulsion.

Gray wolf
Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians

Wolves are on the federal endangered species list. If they are ever taken off the list, the legislation would allow them to be hunted. 

Two years ago, voters rejected wolf hunting in a statewide referendum. Another effort to allow wolf hunting was struck down in court.

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