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

Rex Roof / Creative Commons

Grocers and distributors who sell cans and bottles of soda and beer want a bigger share of the money left over when people don’t cash in returnables.

They say now is the time because they expect a surge in returns. The state allowed bottle returns to resume in mid-June, but the retailers and distributors say there’s still a backlog of cans and bottles that have yet to be returned. 

Gretchen Whitmer at a podium
michigan.gov

An executive directive signed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer declares racism a public health crisis in Michigan.

The directive creates a Black Leadership Advisory Council to identify resources within the executive branch to attack the problem of systemic racism, especially when it comes to health care.

The council will be lead by Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist. He says the council will identify ways that bias contributes to health disparities.

You can return your ballot to a drop off box like this one in Ann Arbor.
April Baer / Michigan Radio

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson says it may take a few days to know all the results of Tuesday's election – but it appears polling places were safe and well managed.

Benson said counting absentee votes will take longer than usual, but the system was able to handle the large number of ballots that were mailed in or dropped off.

“And what that shows us is what to expect when you’ve got 1.6 to two million ballots sent through the mail. This is what the system can provide. In November, we will have potentially as many as three million sent through the mail.”

State capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The state House and state Senate have canceled plans for in-person meetings this week in Lansing. That’s after a Republican lawmaker tested positive for COVID-19. Senator Tom Barrett (R-Charlotte) said he’s not experiencing significant symptoms, but is self-isolating. 

ballot drop off box
April Baer / Michigan Radio

Don’t wait. Drop off your ballot in person. It’s too late to put it in the mail if you want it to be counted. That’s the advice elections officials are giving voters in advance of Tuesday’s primaries when a record number of votes will be cast via absentee ballot.


MICHIGAN.GOV

Governor Gretchen Whitmer says beginning Friday, indoor gatherings statewide will be limited to 10 people and bars will be closed for indoor service across the entire state, including in Regions 6 and 8 (the Traverse City area and the Upper Peninsula). 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at a press conference holding a "vote" sign
State of Michigan

Governor Gretchen Whitmer says she’s aware there’s a growing urgency to making back-to-school plans. But she says it’s still too early to make final decisions on a return to in-school learning. Whitmer said those decisions will depend on the rates of COVID-19 deaths and infections in different parts of the state.

Attorney General Bill Schuette
Bill Schuette

The Michigan Supreme Court says a progressive group can seek emails that could show then-Attorney General Bill Schuette and members of his staff trying to shield some of their activities by using private accounts.

The attorney general office’s denial said the communications either did not exist or were exempt from disclosure because they were sent via private e-mail accounts. The A-G’s office also said Progress Michigan made technical errors that dragged the request past the statute of limitations. 

Adobe Stock

The Michigan Libertarian Party held its nominating convention this past weekend in Gaylord. That’s in time to meet Monday’s deadline to turn in to the state a slate of candidates for the November ballot.

person with head in hands looking at eviction notice
Nito / Adobe Stock

Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s moratorium on people being evicted from homes and apartments for non-payment of rent expired Thursday.

It’s being replaced with a new program with financial assistance to help renters and landlords catch up with overdue rent and avert evictions.

MICHIGAN.GOV

Governor Gretchen Whitmer says Michigan is seeing an uptick in new COVID-19 cases.

The latest numbers show Michigan has more than 71,000 confirmed cases and 6,085 deaths, and the pace of known new infections is picking up.

She says the reason is people are starting to abandon precautions to slow the spread of the disease.

absentee ballot
Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio

The League of Women Voters of Michigan says it will appeal a Michigan Court of Appeals decision that says absentee ballots that arrive at clerks’ offices after 8 p.m. on Election Day won’t be counted.

The ruling says the Republican-controlled Legislature did not violate the state constitution when it added new restrictions to absentee voting.

The Flint water treatment plant
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A federal appeals court won’t give former Governor Rick Snyder a new hearing in a class action lawsuit over the Flint water crisis.

That means the lawsuit filed against Snyder and former state Treasurer Andy Dillon can go forward.

Michigan flag.
Wikimedia Commons / http://bit.ly/1xMszCg

The Michigan Civil Service Commission has adopted a rule that says state employees must decide every year whether they will pay union dues. A lawsuit is possible because state employee unions say the rule violates existing collective bargaining agreements.

The rule will also eliminate the fee paid by employees who opt of the union but are still represented in contract talks.

toll road.  This shows the two common methods of collection of tolls: toll booth (on right) and electronic toll collection (on left).
Wikimedia Commons

The Michigan Department of Transportation will hire an outside firm to study the potential of converting some freeways into toll roads. That’s under state Senate Bill 517 signed Wednesday by Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

The governor is looking for ways to generate more revenue to fix roads. Legislative leaders rejected Whitmer’s call for a gas tax increase to pay for road repairs. But some GOP lawmakers have expressed an interest in toll roads. The bill to study tolls as an option was sponsored by state Senator John Bizon (R-Battle Creek).

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has signed a directive that will require health care professionals to be trained in ways to guard against bias as a condition of being licensed or re-licensed to practice.

She says that will include courses offered by state-licensed medical schools.

Water running from tap
jordanmrcai / Creative Commons

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has extended a moratorium on water service shutoffs for non-payment through the end of the year.

The new executive order continues earlier protections against water shutoffs for non-payment.

The order also requires public water utilities to try to find customers who’ve lost service for non-payment.

Dana Nessel
Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

Michigan has joined four other states and Washington, D.C. to challenge how the U.S. Department of Education is allocating money for schools.

The funds come from the CARES Act to assist schools with their COVID-19 responses.

straight-party voting
Lars Plougmann

A campaign to outlaw a controversial method of extracting oil and natural gas from the earth is asking a judge to strike down a Michigan election law. The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan is challenging the 180-day limit on signature-gathering. The group also wants a judge to set a deadline of July 26 for the state to act.

wood gavel in front of book
sergign / Adobe Stock

A federal judge has dismissed a legal challenge to Michigan’s voter-approved commission to draw new district lines for legislative and congressional seats.

Elizabeth Battiste is with the Voters Not Politicians campaign. She says lawsuits to block the commission have failed at every level so far. And that means recruiting people to sit on the commission will continue.

Sarah Brown / Unsplash

A new law takes effect Wednesday that allows drivers to opt out of personal injury coverage in their auto insurance.

Drivers still have to carry liability coverage -- but now can choose how much medical coverage to buy.

Before now, state law required insurers to provide unlimited medical benefits if someone was injured in a crash.

The U.S. Capitol
user kulshrax / creative commons

Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Legislature’s Republican leaders say they’ve reached a deal to bridge a $2.2 billion budget deficit in the current fiscal year. The revenue loss is due to the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis.             

The deal bridges most of the shortfall with only three months left in the current fiscal year. It calls for a freeze on new hiring and staff promotions. The state will also pull $350 million from its Budget Stabilization Fund. This would be the first time in six years the state’s raided the fund informally dubbed the “rainy day” savings account.

ROV footage of the pipeline along the Straits of Mackinac.
EGLE

Updated 1:14 p.m., June 25, 2020: 

Ingham Circuit Judge James Jamo Thursday ordered Enbridge to fully shut down the Line 5 pipeline at the bottom of the Mackinac Straits within 24 hours.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel requested the shutdown after Enbridge reported damage to an anchor support.

unemployement insurance form on a clipboard
Vitalii Vodolazskyi / Adobe Stock

The director of the state unemployment agency appeared Wednesday before a joint House and Senate committee.

He answered questions about a backlog in resolving unemployment claims.

Agency director Steve Gray said so many people filed for unemployment that it also jammed the programs to protect against fraud.

kids with backpacks on going back to school
WavebreakmediaMicro / Adobe Stock

Governor Gretchen Whitmer is expected to roll out her plans next week on re-opening schools in the fall. Tuesday, the Legislature’s Republican leaders outlined their proposed back-to-school plans.

Kindergarten-through-fifth graders would have to have some classroom time, while more resources would also be devoted to at-home learning. But it’s still a work in progress, especially when it comes to paying for back-to-school plans. Some of the money would come from the federal government.

unemployement insurance form on a clipboard
Vitalii Vodolazskyi / Adobe Stock

The state unemployment agency says the number of people waiting to have claims processed is growing. The agency says the backlog is largely due to suspected instances of fraud.

As the COVID-19 crisis has spurred furloughs and layoffs, complaints from people waiting for their jobless benefits have grown.

person signing a piece of paper
Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

A state board is giving a campaign to outlaw an abortion procedure another chance to prove it has enough petition signatures. Right to Life of Michigan wants the Legislature to adopt a veto-proof initiative.

The bipartisan Board of State Canvassers told the Michigan Bureau of Elections to draw a larger sample of signatures. That’s after an initial sample showed the signature campaign fell short.

Adobe Stock

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Wednesday that Michigan schools may reopen under Phase 4 of the state's Safe Start Plan. 

The governor says she is optimistic schools will be able to reopen in the fall, with proper safety measures.

“Our students and educators have made incredible sacrifices these past few months to protect themselves and their families from the spread of COVID-19,” said Whitmer in a statement. "Schools must make sure to enact strict safety measures to continue protecting educators, students, and their families."

Michigan State Capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Governor Gretchen Whitmer and state lawmakers may give themselves more time this year to put together a state budget.

A bill moving through the Legislature would create a one-year reprieve from the July 1 budget deadline.

That date aligns with the fiscal years of local governments and school districts.

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