Rick Pluta | Michigan Radio

Rick Pluta

Reporter / Producer - Michigan Public Radio Network

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He 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-hosted 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

Hand holding rainbow LGBTQ flag
Stavrialena Gontzou / unsplash.com

The campaign to add LGBTQ protections to Michigan’s civil rights law has appealed a court decision that stalled the petition drive. The Fair and Equal Michigan campaign filed its paperwork Monday with the state Court of Appeals.

sandhill crane
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Court of Appeals has returned a case to a lower court for a closer look at the level of risk during an organized hunting event.

The case from Alpena County pits a father against a son, who lost two fingers as the result of an accident during what’s called a “European-style” pheasant hunt.

According to the appeals court opinion, this type of hunt involves several two-person blinds arranged in a circle around a tower. Pheasants are released into the air from the tower and the hunters try to shoot as many as they can until they’re called off.  

close up of Gretchen Whitmer
Photo courtesy of www.senate.mi.gov/whitmer

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has toured much of the state this week to build support for using American Rescue Plan funds for affordable housing.

Whitmer’s stops included Detroit, Jackson, and Kalamazoo. She’s hoping to win legislative approval to commit $100 million from the federal government for housing.

She says that could leverage another $380 million dollars in private sector investment.

“Right now, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to give thousands of Michiganders a safe place to call home,” she said at the Detroit event.

stock photo of surgical masks on a table
Macau Photo Agency / Unsplash

Governor Gretchen Whitmer says she’s not about to announce new mask mandates in Michigan.

That’s despite new guidance from the CDC that people should mask up while indoors in areas that are COVID-19 hotspots.

Whitmer says she’s very concerned about how variants may develop, but she thinks there are better options right now than new state orders.

Hand holding rainbow LGBTQ flag
Stavrialena Gontzou / unsplash.com

UPDATED 7/28/21 @ 4:00 pm 

The Michigan Supreme Court is the next stop for the petition campaign to add LTBTQ protections to the state civil rights law. That’s after a bipartisan state board unanimously agreed that Fair and Equal Michigan’s petition drive fell short, largely based on its collection of electronic signatures.

Fair and Equal Michigan wants to get its initiative before the Legislature or on the 2022 ballot.

Hand holding rainbow LGBTQ flag
Stavrialena Gontzou / unsplash.com

A state board will meet Monday to determine whether an initiative to expand Michigan’s civil rights law to include LGBTQ protections will move ahead.

michigan state capitol building in lansing, mi
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A law Governor Gretchen Whitmer used to issue emergency orders during the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic was repealed Wednesday by a vote by the state House of Representatives.

Republicans were frustrated by Whitmer’s continued use of unilateral COVID orders.

Representative Andrew Fink (R-Hillsdale) said Whitmer used those powers in defiance of the wishes of the Legislature.

The state Senate will begin hearings soon on a proposed overhaul of how Michigan offers publicly funded mental health services. There are lots of different ideas on how to fix the system, but there is one area of wide agreement: The current approach is not working.

A mental health system overhaul is a key area of interest for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), who says the quality of care right now depends largely on where a patient lives. The system is managed by county mental health boards.

a nurse holds a vial of one of the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Spectrum Health

There could be money in getting vaccinated.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced the first four $50,000 COVID-19 vaccine “MI Shot to Win” lottery prize winners Wednesday. There will also be a $1 million drawing, a $2 million drawing and scholarship prizes.

someone holding a clipboard while another person signs a petition
Svetlana / Adobe Stock

The campaign to expand Michigan’s civil rights law has been given more time to show it has collected enough signatures to qualify for the statewide ballot.

The Fair and Equal Michigan campaign wants to add LGBTQ protections to the civil rights act.

The campaign is challenging a finding by the Michigan Bureau of Elections that it fell short of the necessary number of signatures of registered voters.

Democratic state lawmakers called again Tuesday for a bipartisan commission to examine the involvement of Michiganders in the January 6th attack on the US Capitol. The event was timed to coincide with the six-month anniversary of the insurrection.

Eleven Michigan residents face federal charges related to the US Capitol attack.

LGBT Pride Flag
Tyrone Warner / flickr

The Michigan Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether Michigan’s civil rights law protects people from discrimination based on sexual orientation.

That order was made public today.

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights is appealing a lower court ruling.

The question is whether Michigan’s civil rights law protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

striped safety cones on a road
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The state Legislature is on a summer break with much of the state budget still unfinished. That includes revenue sharing payments to local governments, as well as plans for using federal pandemic aid.             

While local governments rely on revenue sharing payments, an even bigger deal is approving the state’s allocation of American Rescue Plan funds.             

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s K-12 schools can expect a big spending boost as they prepare to welcome students back to classrooms.

Snapchat and other social media apps
Christian Wiediger / Unsplash

The Michigan Court of Appeals says a trial can go forward against a university student accused of making a threat of terrorism via a social media post. The decision was released Friday.

Lake Superior State University student Lucas Gerhard faces the criminal charge because of a post on Snapchat. According to the facts described in the decision, he was holding an AR-15 rifle with a bayonet attached. The caption said: “Takin this bad boy up, this outta make the snowflakes melt, aye? And I mean snowflakes as in snow,” followed by a winking-face emoji.

voting booths
Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

Senate Republicans who investigated Michigan's presidential election say there was no widespread or systemic fraud.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission wants more time to do its job.

Attorneys for the commission made their case Monday before the Michigan Supreme Court. They say the problem is the court won’t get all the U.S. Census data it needs in time to meet its deadlines, because the COVID-19 crisis has delayed sharing those numbers.

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

Almost all COVID-19 restrictions in Michigan will be lifted Tuesday, but that won’t put an end to arguments in Lansing about how the crisis was handled and what should happen next.

Republican lawmakers say the decision is overdue and that the Legislature will continue its inquiries into the administration’s handling of COVID, including restrictions on gatherings and businesses.

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

The Republican-controlled Michigan Senate adopted bills Wednesday to expand ID requirements to vote in person or to get an absentee ballot.

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

There appears to be a deal between Democrats and Republicans in Lansing on plans to make early childhood programs more available and more affordable to more families.

The deal includes using federal COVID-19 funds to make childcare more affordable and regulatory changes to encourage more providers to enter or remain in the field.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Governor Gretchen Whitmer outlined plans Monday to use $1.4 billion dollars in federal COVID-19 funds to expand childcare in Michigan.

The governor traveled to a childcare center in Oakland County to present her plan, some of which will require approval from the Republican-controlled Legislature.

elderly person in wheelchair holding hands with another person
Adobe Stock

The Legislature is expected to act quickly on recommendations released Thursday on ways to better protect elderly people who require assistance from professional guardians or conservators.

If the recommendations are adopted, Michigan would certify professional guardians and conservators. There would also be limits on how many clients professional guardians could take on.

The task force includes Republican and Democratic legislators, elder care experts, and Attorney General Dana Nessel.

Prison wall
Microsoft Images

A task force will look for more ways to change the state’s juvenile justice system to help young offenders avoid jail time and criminal records. Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order creating the task force Wednesday.

“We need to start focusing on uplifting our young Michiganders, and treat them with dignity and respect and, first and foremost, recognize that they are children,” Whitmer said. “We cannot allow an early mistake to define the rest of a child’s life, especially if it’s a non-violent offense.”

Children in a classroom
Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has called for a dramatic expansion of the Great Start Readiness preschool program. She rolled out a proposal Tuesday to use $405 million in state and federal funds to make the program available to every eligible four-year-old in Michigan.

police stop
Adobe Stock

A bipartisan effort to create standards for law enforcement training and conduct – particularly on the use of force – continues Tuesday with the goal of having legislation sent to the Michigan Senate floor next week.

The bills under discussion include stricter limits on the use of “no-knock” search warrants, creating a duty for officers to report police misconduct, training in recognizing implicit bias, and requiring every law enforcement department to adopt use-of-force policies.

pile of one dollar bills
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Governor Gretchen Whitmer outlined economic recovery plans Thursday that include state support for wage hikes and child care.

The plan would use federal dollars to help businesses boost pay rates to $15 an hour for three months to help businesses attract workers. But business owners would have to promise to continue that pay rate for an additional three months.

a passport, mask, and vaccination record card on a table
Evgenia Parajanian / Adobe Stock

The state, local governments, and school districts could not require people to show proof they’ve been vaccinated under a bill approved Wednesday by the state House, although the bill seems unlikely to become law.

The legislation says public entities cannot refuse to serve people based on their vaccine status. And it says the state cannot create or adopt a vaccine “passport” for people to prove they’ve been vaccinated.

Adobe Stock

New anti-bias rules were made final and official Tuesday by the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. The rules require licensed or registered health professionals to undergo training to help recognize and weed out implicit bias.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer traveled to a Lansing health clinic to make the announcement. She said the pandemic in Michigan is being tamed, but the COVID-19 crisis laid bare disparities in who has access to the best health care. 

designer491 / Adobe Stock

People who receive unemployment payments must once again prove they’ve engaged in some type of state-approved job search activity or risk losing the benefit.

The rule had been suspended since March of 2020 because of the COVID-19 crisis. It was reinstated May 30.

Now, people will need to again show proof every week they’ve applied for a job, been through some type of training, or engaged in some other type of work-search activity.

michigan quarter in a pile of change
calvste / Adobe Stock

A respected University of Michigan economic report says Michigan’s post-COVID-19 recovery is already underway and will likely continue.

But it also says a full recovery may take a while.

Gabriel Ehrlich leads the U of M Research Seminar in Quantitative Economics. State government relies heavily on it in its decisions.