Rick Pluta | Michigan Radio
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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

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

A state elections board is going to work on new rules to govern petition drives that want to get issues before the Legislature or on a ballot.

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers faces a complicated situation. Last year, Republicans in the Legislature adopted a law to make it harder for petition drives to succeed. Earlier this year, Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel issued a formal opinion. It strikes down much of what Republicans enacted. Republicans are now challenging that opinion in court.

Apple with books
Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has asked a federal court to accept her arguments supporting a group of Detroit parents who have sued the state. The families want the court to rule that their children have the right to good schools and an adequate education.

The families lost their challenge in a lower court and the case is now before the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

people in voting booths
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Republican leadership in the state House and Senate has filed a challenge to a recent opinion by Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel.

The law in question makes it more difficult to put a measure on the state’s ballot. The law was enacted during a hectic lame duck session last year.

In May, Nessel issued a formal opinion that said that portions of the law were unconstitutional – in particular, a portion that limits the number of signatures a measure can have from a given geographic area.

map of Line 5
Enbridge

In a new report, the National Transportation Safety Board blames human error that led to equipment failures for an anchor strike in April 2018 that dented the Line 5 twin pipelines. Attorney General Dana Nessel says the report is evidence the pipelines need to be removed from the Great Lakes.

The NTSB report says the vessel was short staffed during the Easter weekend as mistakes were made that allowed an anchor to drag on the lake bed. It struck Line Five and the pipelines were dented.

A diver inspects Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac for a possible dent.
Enbridge inspection video shared with the state of Michigan

Governor Gretchen Whitmer says she will meet this week with Enbridge Energy executives. Her goal is come up with an agreement to remove the Line 5 gas and oil pipeline from the Great Lakes.

“I am still talking with Enbridge," Whitmer said. "My hope is that we have a date certain that the pipeline comes out of the water, and we’ve got a resolution to this in the very near future.”

striped safety cones on a road
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Governor Gretchen Whitmer used the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual policy conference on Mackinac Island to lobby for her proposal for a 45 cent increase in the fuel tax to pay for road repairs. She challenged Republicans to offer an alternative if they don’t like her plan.

She says the two and a half billion dollar price tag is big because the problem has been ignored for so long.

Mike Shirkey speaking
senatormikeshirkey.com

The leader of the state Senate says he wants to enact changes to Michigan’s term limits amendment.

Gretchen Whitmer signing bill
Zoe Clark / Michigan Radio

Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a law today to roll back the rates paid by drivers for personal injury protection in their auto insurance.

The savings would come by capping medical benefits that are currently unlimited. The governor and the Legislature’s Republican leaders acknowledged the negotiations were difficult. But Whitmer says the experience could set a pattern for other bargains.

Whitmer for Governor

Governor Gretchen Whitmer used a business conference on Mackinac Island to unveil a contest on Wednesday. The goal is to develop the next generation of vehicles that will move people from place to place.

The Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce always puts the future of transportation and the auto industry at the center of the discussion at the Mackinac Policy Conference.

Whitmer says this was the right place and time to throw down a challenge with development money to back it up.

A diver inspects Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac for a possible dent.
Enbridge inspection video shared with the state of Michigan

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel says she’s ready to go to court to force Enbridge to shut down a pipeline, Line 5, that moves oil and gas on a route that runs through the Straits of Mackinac. That’s if the energy company and the state don’t reach a deal by the end of June.

people collecting signatures
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Update: Thursday, May 23, 5:25 p.m.

The future of a ballot-signature law passed last year is unclear.  On Wednesday, Attorney General Dana Nessel said that parts of the law that adds requirements to the ballot signature process are unconstitutional. Now Republican lawmakers and others are working on their next steps.

ceremony
Unsplash

The state Court of Appeals says a commitment ceremony does not equal a marriage in Michigan.

An ex-husband is challenging a lower court ruling. He says his former wife’s commitment ceremony with her partner relieves him of an expensive spousal support obligation.

City of Detroit

The Detroit City Council green-lighted a deal with Fiat Chrysler Tuesday that should bring around 5,000 new jobs to the city, and represents the largest investment in auto manufacturing within Detroit city limits in decades.

Rep. Larry Inman (R-Williamsburg)
Michigan House of Representatives

State Representative Larry Inman (R-Traverse City) has been voted out of the House Republican caucus by his fellow GOP legislators.

Inman was charged on May 15 with soliciting a bribe, extortion, and lying to the FBI. He is currently scheduled to be arraigned in federal court in Grand Rapids. 

Money
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

An international trade war could reduce how much money Michigan has to spend on roads, schools, and health care. That’s the word from economists who testified on Friday before a state budget panel that included the state treasurer, and state House and Senate budget directors.
               
The panel’s job is to determine how much revenue is available as the governor and the Legislature put together the state budget. The picture is stable at the moment as the economy hums and employment is high. 

Car accident
PhotoSpirt / Adobe Stock

The state Legislature’s Republican leaders say they will delay sending bills to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to change Michigan’s auto insurance system.

Republicans were poised to send the bills to Whitmer’s desk despite her vow to veto them, but Republican leaders say they’re still hopeful a deal can be reached that’s acceptable to all sides.

Rep. Larry Inman (R-Williamsburg)
Michigan House of Representatives

A federal grand jury indicted state Rep. Larry Inman on charges of attempted extortion, soliciting a bribe and lying to the FBI.

Inman is a Republican from the Traverse City area who is serving his third term in the House after decades as a local official in northern Michigan.

The Michigan House of Representatives in Lansing
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio file photo

Republicans in the state Legislature have set the stage for a showdown with Governor Gretchen Whitmer over bills to ban an abortion procedure.

Majorities in the House and the Senate adopted bills on Tuesday to ban the dilation-and-evacuation procedure. It is typically used in second-trimester abortions.

State Senator Kim LaSata (R-St. Joseph) says she regrets her attempt years ago to terminate a pregnancy that ended in a miscarriage.

congressional districts map of Southeast Michigan
Michigan House of Representatives

Michigan’s top elections official says the Legislature should act quickly to draw new maps for legislative and congressional districts.

A federal court struck down Michigan’s district maps as too partisan. The court ruled Michigan’s lines provide an illegal advantage to Republicans in many districts. Republican leaders in the Legislature say they will appeal the ruling.

close up of crashed car
ABS Free Pic

Governor Gretchen Whitmer says she will veto either of the plans Republicans in the Legislature have rolled out to deal with the high cost of auto insurance in Michigan.

Whitmer says she will only accept a plan that rolls back rates immediately, and relies on driving records to set rates, not where people live.

The Democratic governor also says the Republican bills should make the rollbacks permanent.

Money
Andy / Flickr

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has signed a new law that says police departments cannot keep assets seized as part of an investigation unless the owner is convicted of a crime.

Prosecutors have used civil actions to seize assets as part of a strategy to combat drug dealing. But critics says the seizures violate due process rights.

Car accident
Kadmy / Adobe Stock

Updated: Thursday, May 9 at 6:30 a.m.

The Republican-led state House early Thursday approved an overhaul that would let people opt out of mandatory unlimited medical coverage for car crashes. The Senate passed a plan earlier this week.

Inside the doctor's office.
Jennifer Morrow / Flickr

The fight over abortion rights has resumed in the state Legislature. A state House committee opened hearings Wednesday on legislation to ban the dilation-and-evacuation abortion procedure. Similar bills are up for a hearing Thursday before a state Senate committee.

The bills would call the procedure “dismemberment” abortion in state law, and make it illegal.

Republicans say this would be allowed under the Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision, although similar laws have been blocked by federal courts in other states.

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

Republicans and Democrats in the state Senate have voted to get tougher on retailers that sell nicotine-infused vaping products to minors.

But Angela Clock with Tobacco-Free Michigan says that only creates an illusion of being tough on a public health threat.

She says whether they’re smoking or vaping, people are inhaling nicotine.

Attorney General Dana Nessel
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel says a new unit in her office will focus on businesses that illegally classify their workers as independent contractors to reduce their costs.

The Democratic attorney general says it’s a growing trend around the country. Nessel says the scheme is used to avoid paying workers the minimum wage as well as health and unemployment benefits they’re entitled to. She says it cheats other employers who play by the rules and shoulder those costs.

A long table surrounded by red chairs in a school classroom.
BES Photos / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A state lawmaker wants to make sure consent is taught as part of sex education classes.

State Senator Curtis Hertel (D-East Lansing) has sponsored a bill to make that a requirement. He says testimony last year from college and university officials outlined different ways the current system does not prepare high school students for living away from home. 

“And the number one thing they’re not prepared for is education about consent and that it’s the heart of solving our cultural issues on sexual assault.”

pothole
Peter Atkins / Adobe Stock

The state House Transportation Committee meets on Tuesday to continue hearings on fixing roads.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has called for phasing in fuel tax increases totaling 45 cents per gallon. Republicans control the Legislature – and say they will propose their own plan.

State Representative Jack O’Malley (R-Lake Ann) chairs the House Transportation Committee, and says he will hold an accelerated schedule of hearings.

“What we’re going to do with roads is being talked about and decided now,” he says.

Livingston County

The Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission says a judge in Livingston County should lose her job due to serious misconduct on the bench. The commission sent its recommendation to the Michigan Supreme Court following an investigation into the conduct of 53rd District Court Judge Theresa Brennan. 

John Nevin is the communications director for the state Supreme Court. He says Brennan will have a chance to respond before justices decide.

Dave Nakayama / FLICKR - http://bit.ly/1xMszCg

The state House Judiciary Committee is considering changes to the law that requires juveniles charged with serious crimes in Michigan to be tried and sentenced as adults. There’s wide agreement the law doesn’t reduce future offenses, and it is costly to taxpayers.

Richard Griffin told the committee he turned his life around after being sentenced to 16 years to life in prison for a drug-related murder. He says other teenagers deserve the same chance.

A Catholic priest
Adobe Stock

Michigan’s attorney general wants to use the state’s share of a national bank fraud settlement to investigate sexual abuse allegations against Catholic priests.

State Attorney General Dana Nessel says this would be the best use of the money collected from Wells Fargo for misleading and improperly charging fees to customers.

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