Rick Pluta | Michigan Radio
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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

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The Michigan Senate adopted a bill Wednesday that would exempt in-person high school graduation ceremonies from gathering limits in state emergency health orders – a measure Governor Gretchen Whitmer says is unnecessary.

Senator Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) sponsored the bill. He said now is the time to adopt the bill as more vaccines are available and graduation season approaches.

COURTESY OF SPECTRUM HEALTH

A new federal policy announced Tuesday by the White House could send some COVID-19 vaccines earmarked for Michigan to other states where the demand is greater. The re-targeted deliveries are part of a federal effort to get the most vaccine doses to where they’ll be used. After an initial surge in vaccinations, people aren’t lining up in the same numbers. Part of that is because the people who were the most willing were the first in line.

Robert Gordon at a press conference wearing a mask
michigan.gov

Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s former cabinet-level health chief confirmed Thursday that he left over differences about the state’s response to COVID-19. That was part of former Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon’s testimony before the state House Oversight Committee.

Gordon said he was asked by Whitmer to quit because she wanted to “go in a different direction.” That was at the same time the administration was easing some COVID restrictions.

governor gretchen whitmer standing at a podium
michigan.gov

Governor Gretchen Whitmer plans to get her second Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Thursday at a vaccine clinic in Grand Rapids.

State capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

There was action Tuesday in Lansing toward setting stricter ethical standards for legislators and the support appears to be bipartisan.

Republicans and Democrats on the House Committee on Elections and Ethics approved a bill to forbid lawmakers from voting on bills that would benefit themselves, family members, or business associates.

It’s not clear what the penalties for violating the standard would be. That bill now goes to the House floor.

a gloved hand holding a vial of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine
Mohammad Shahhosseini / Unsplash

Health care providers in Michigan have been given the go-ahead to administer the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. That’s as Michigan faces some of the worst coronavirus hotspots in the country.

Michigan health officials lifted a pause on the J&J vaccine based on advice from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC determined getting more people vaccinated outweighs the very remote risk of developing a blood clot.

exterior photo of a bar, BS & Co in wolverine, MI
Google

The owners of a Cheboygan County bar can be sued for failing to protect a patron from racist assaults on the sidewalk in front of the business. That decision came from this week from the Michigan Court of Appeals.

The two assaults occurred outside B.S. & Co. in Wolverine. Details that were part of the written opinion say the victim stopped by the bar to pick up a pizza and was taunted by a patron, who used the “n” word, followed him outside and punched him unconscious.

State capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The state House Oversight Committee approved a subpoena Thursday to require former state health department director Robert Gordon to testify.

Republicans have questions on the use of confidentiality agreements when Governor Gretchen Whitmer and top administration officials parted ways. Also whether Gordon differed with Whitmer’s decisions on the state’s COVID-19 response.

map of Line 5
Enbridge Energy

The Michigan Public Service Commission will consider the environmental impact of greenhouse gasses in its decision on the future of Enbridge Energy’s Line 5. That’s part of an order issued Wednesday.

The Public Service Commission decision is one of several administrative and legal challenges faced by Enbridge. The company wants approval for a plan to bury a replacement section of the pipeline inside a tunnel, and continue to use it to convey petroleum products beneath the Great Lakes.

gretchen whitmer sitting at table
State of Michigan

Governor Gretchen Whitmer said Tuesday she will veto Republican-sponsored election bills if they are sent to her desk. But she does not expect that will end the fight. The bills would, among other things, require voters to show IDs at polling places or to get an absentee ballot. They would also limit the use of ballot drop boxes.

Whitmer registered her opposition during an online interview with The Washington Post.

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

The Michigan Bureau of Elections says a petition campaign to initiate a law to curtail the governor’s use of emergency powers has gathered the signatures it needs.

The bureau used a sample of petition signatures to estimate 460,358 of the names collected by Unlock Michigan are from registered voters. The campaign needs 340,047. The next step is for the bipartisan Michigan Board of State Canvassers to vote on certifying the petition signatures. The board is expected to meet Thursday.

person receives COVID vaccine shot
Adobe Stock

Governor Gretchen Whitmer continued to push back Sunday morning against calls for her to re-impose more COVID-19 restrictions in the face of a third surge. That’s as Michigan has led the nation in new cases per population for two weeks.

Michigan still requires masks, distancing and limits on gatherings, but the governor said on NBC’s Meet the Press that her options to do more are limited, partly due to court decisions.

Courtesy of Jewell Jones

State Representative Jewell Jones has been released on a personal bond and ordered to submit to random drug and alcohol testing.

That’s after a probable cause hearing on Friday.

A magistrate determined there’s enough evidence for a case to proceed against the lawmaker – who is charged with drunk driving and resisting a police officer stemming from an April 6 crash along Interstate 96 in Livingston County.

absentee ballot
Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio

Hearings are expected to begin soon in the Michigan Legislature on a 39-bill Republican election package aimed at reversing absentee ballot access and early voting policies in the battleground state.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, on Thursday slammed the bills, describing them as a response to a problem that doesn’t exist, and that would tamp down legal voting.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer elbow bumps a guest during a tour of the COVID-19 vaccine site at the Eastern Michigan University Convocation Center in Ypsilanti.
Rick Pluta / Michigan Radio

Governor Gretchen Whitmer said Monday a ban on most in-person office work will be extended, although largely as a measure to preserve the state’s options amid a surge in COVID-19 cases.

The order from the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration will be extended by six months, she said, to give the state time to develop a more-comprehensive back-to-work plan.

Judge's gavel with books on a desk
Pixabay.com

A new law makes it easier for people to have criminal convictions erased from their records. The law allows the expungement to take place automatically in many cases, rather than requiring someone to formally request it from a court. The new law also allows more people to apply to courts to have their records cleared.

“These are offenses that we characterize as indiscretions, as opposed to things like violent offenses and things that develop a pattern,” said State Court Administrator Thomas Boyd. The former judge says this means a second chance for thousands of people who committed non-violent offenses, including teens and young adults.

Gretchen Whitmer wearing black mask in pink coat receives shot from doctor in white coat.
State of Michigan

Michigan is facing some of the nation’s worst COVID-19 numbers. Governor Gretchen Whitmer acknowledges it’s becoming harder to get a restriction-weary public to follow health orders.

So, instead, she’s trying to persuade vaccine skeptics to get their shots.

testing swab
Shutterstock image

High school basketball finals are happening this week in Michigan.

That’s despite the fact that the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has recommended that Michigan, among other states, restrict indoor youth sports.

vaccinator giving someone a covid vaccine through the window their car
Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio

State workers who can do their jobs remotely are being told to stay home longer while Michigan gets the spread of COVID-19 under control.

Office workers were supposed to head back to their offices May 1st. Now they’re being told to expect TO work remotely through at least mid-July.

a man wearing a mask cuts the hair of a man not wearing a mask
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The attorney for Karl Manke says the Owosso barber won’t pay $9,000 in fines ordered by a state professional board. The board found Manke violated state COVID-19 restrictions as well as other health rules.

Half the citations were aimed specifically at a protest last May. Manke and other barbers and stylists cut hair in front of the state Capitol.

elderly person in wheelchair holding hands with another person
Adobe Stock

Democrats are blasting a Republican-backed budget bill that would give local prosecutors money to investigate Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID-19 response.

Republicans say the $1.25 million measure is necessary because they’re not getting the information needed to investigate nursing homes deaths. Democrats say that’s because the evidence does not exist to back the GOP claims.

File photo. State of Michigan

Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday resubmitted 17 appointments to state boards and commissions that were rejected earlier by the state Senate.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Governor Gretchen Whitmer said Wednesday in a veto letter to the Legislature that she won’t sign away her administration’s power to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.

Republicans are still trying to rein in the different ways Whitmer has employed emergency powers to address COVID-19 in Michigan. This latest effort tied the power to spend $300 million in federal COVID funds with the state health department returning to the Legislature every 28 days to seek approval of COVID-related emergency orders.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s appointment of the state health department stands confirmed. The state Senate had until Tuesday to reject the appointment of Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel.

Hertel is a department veteran who’s already played a major role in the Whitmer administration’s COVID-19 response. And that’s rankled Republicans who say the Whitmer administration’s used health orders to circumvent the Legislature.

The Michigan State Capitol.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

This is the last week before the Legislature is expected to take its spring break.

The Legislature’s Democratic leaders said that recess should not begin without a vote on appropriating another round of federal COVID-19 response funds.

House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Township) said that money could help schools pay for COVID safety measures as they’re being asked to offer at least 20 hours a week of in-person learning.

"This money is what public schools need now, that they should have received by today for a safe return to in-person learning," she said. "Not tomorrow, or a week from now. Today."

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The state will soon require weekly COVID-19 tests for student athletes aged 13 to 19.

Previously, tests were only required for sports like wrestling and swimming, where masks could pose a hazard.

Doctor Joneigh Khaldun is the state's Chief Medical Executive.

“Due to the many outbreaks linked to sports, this new order requires youth athletes aged 13 to 19 years old to take part in the weekly testing program to participate in athletic practices or competitions.”

a person holds a vaccine vial
Adobe Stock

Ford Field will serve as Michigan’s largest mass COVID-19 vaccination site starting next week.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced Thursday the home of the Detroit Lions is one of 20 federally designated mass vaccination centers across the country. 

Tens of thousands of vaccine doses beyond Michigan’s regular allotment should be available over the next eight weeks.

The Michigan State Capitol.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Republican-led Legislature voted Wednesday to send Governor Gretchen Whitmer a new round of COVID-19 response bills that are very similar to versions she’s already vetoed.

This is the latest episode in the ongoing the back-and-forth between Republicans and the Democratic governor over her use of emergency powers – and her ability to use them again in the future.

Republicans say the governor’s abused her authority and slowed the recovery from COVID. 

VINCENT DUFFY / MICHIGAN RADIO

The Legislature is moving closer to adopting a package that would place lawmakers and the governor under open records laws, but it’s not enough to stop a progressive group from going ahead with plans to launch a petition campaign.

The Senate Oversight Committee held its first hearing Tuesday on measures to expand open records laws with an eye toward a vote next week. The state House has a similar package teed up for floor votes.

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