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

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.

Picture of the Lansing capitol building
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Supreme Court will weigh in on how Republicans in the Legislature dealt with a voter-initiated measure to increase the state minimum wage. GOP leaders also asked the Supreme Court to issue an opinion on the new law that requires employers to offer workers paid sick leave.

The minimum wage and paid sick leave measures were headed to the ballot last November. But Republicans in the Legislature adopted the laws first and then changed them after Election Day, before adjourning for the year. The new laws were more employer-friendly than the original versions.

Democrats say the GOP actions circumvented the will of the voters.

marijuana bud
Pixabay

A state agency has issued its first official advice to help businesses that want to get into the marijuana business.

The first bulletin from the Michigan Bureau of Marijuana Regulation deals largely with cannabis oils and lotions that have little to no THC. The bureau says it’s not going to adopt rules on marijuana products that have miniscule amounts of the compound. 

bathtub faucet running
Jacob Barss-Bailey

Michigan will not wait for the federal government to establish drinking water rules when it comes to PFAS chemicals. That’s the class of chemicals that has been linked to a variety of health issues, including kidney cancer.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced Tuesday that she is ordering the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to start its own rule-making process.

Area Agency on Aging of Northwestern Michigan Director, Heidi Gustine, cautions that the state is about to reach a tipping point, as more baby boomers reach retirement age.
BORYA - CREATIVE COMMONS / HTTP://MICHRAD.IO/1LXRDJM

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel plans to roll out a task force on Monday to develop a strategy to deal with the problem of elder abuse.

Kelly Rossman-McKinney is the attorney general’s communications director. She says an estimated 73,000 older people in Michigan are victims of some type of elder abuse. She says that number is probably on the low side because the scope of the problem isn’t known yet, and she says it takes many forms.

marijuana leaves
user eljoja / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The head of Michigan’s marijuana program says he intends to watch and learn as the state figures out the rules for future sales of recreational marijuana.

Andrew Brisbo testified before a legislative committee on the future of marijuana in Michigan Wednesday. That’s after voters approved recreational marijuana use last fall.

profile shot of Gretchen Whitmer
Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is traveling the state to sell her plan to raise the gas tax by 45 cents per gallon. The fuel tax increase would go to fix roads, and to stop using the state General Fund for that purpose.   

The governor says the current plan has not kept pace with wear and tear on roads. She says that’s cost drivers more in repairs and deprived the state of economic opportunities.

Whitmer says calling for a tax increase is a last resort.

Jocelyn Benson
Benson for Secretary of State

Michigan’s new secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson, has released details of her personal finances. She says this sort of disclosure should be required of all state elected officials.

She made more than $370,000 last year as the CEO of a not-for-profit organization and a law professor. That was before she took office in January. She has called for a law to require other state elected officials to make public their income sources and potential conflicts.

Dayron Villaverde / pixabay

Governor Whitmer says she agrees with a federal judge that a computer system that’s supposed to help kids in foster care needs to be fixed or scrapped.

A report to a federal judge says the problems include drastically undercounting the number of kids who were abused while they were supposed to be under state protection.

Michigan governor's office

Governor Gretchen Whitmer will share details of her first proposed budget this week. The centerpiece will be her campaign promise to fix roads and improve other infrastructure.

Most of the Michigan budget is earmarked for specific purposes. The governor says the share of the budget that’s adopted by the Legislature and the governor has gone almost unchanged in two decades.

The MDEQ's Bay City Business Center
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality

Governor Gretchen Whitmer wants to re-organize the department that enforces environmental rules. Senate Republicans are opposed to the Democratic governor's executive order to do that.

The Republican-led state Senate Oversight Committee has 60 days to make its recommendation on whether the Senate should accept or reject the order, one of the first signed by Whitmer since she took office.

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

A federal judge in Detroit has ruled the government cannot threaten Iraqi detainees with indefinite detention or prosecution to get them to sign a document saying they want to leave the US. The government is trying to deport the Iraqis, who say they face persecution or death if they return to Iraq.

ACLU attorney Miriam Aukerman says the detainees are being denied legal assistance.

Rick Pluta / MPRN

A state elections board has complied with a court order to place a question on the November ballot.  It would change how congressional and legislative district boundaries are drawn.

A jubilant crowd broke out in cheers as the Board of State Canvassers voted to put the Voters Not Politicians question on the November ballot. Voters Not Politicians leader Katie Fahey says the group has already started voter outreach efforts.

“We are eager and excited to go fixing our state,” she said. “…We look forward to being in the November 6, 2018, ballot.”

Allan LEONARD / Flickr http://bit.ly/1xMszCg

The ACLU was in court Monday trying to get a federal judge to issue an order that immigration officers cannot threaten or coerce detained Iraqis into signing a document that could help deport them.

The proposal to change how Michigan draws the lines for congressional and legislative districts is about to go on the ballot. But, will it stay there?

The question to create an independent commission to handle the job of redistricting is poised to become Proposal 2 on the November ballot. The group that gives the OK to what questions make it on the ballot meets Wednesday.

Mackinac Bridge
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 could be moved into tunnel running 100 feet beneath the bottomlands of the Straits of Mackinac. Or it could be encased in a concrete and stone. Those are two options put forward today by the company as alternatives to allow it to continue to rest on the lakebed beneath the straits.

Enbridge’s report says either option virtually eliminates the risk of an oil spill in the Great Lakes.

michigan state capitol building
Brian Charles Watson / wikimedia commons

The Michigan Legislature has officially begun its summer vacation. Before they left, legislators considered a number of complicated issues, including Medicaid work requirements and school safety proposals. 

To sort out the latest from the state capitol, Michigan Radio’s Morning Edition host Doug Tribou spoke with Rick Pluta, the Lansing bureau chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network.


Update, June 13 at 10:30 a.m.:

The group Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution has filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court and asked the justices to put an immediate hold on the lower court decision that would place the question on the November ballot.

Drew, Cooper & Anding / YouTube Video

A new law extends the statute of limitations for victims of sexual assaults to file lawsuits, and for suspects to face prosecution. It was signed Tuesday by Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley while Governor Rick Snyder is out of the country.

The legislation had an army of advocates behind it – the survivors of 20 years of sexual abuse by disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar. But they also say the new law is not enough.

GabiSanda / pixabay

The Legislature has sent Governor Rick Snyder the new state budget, including a provision that attempts to cut funding to Planned Parenthood.

Snyder and the Legislature disagree on the provision, which could lead to a showdown on whether it will be enforced.

The provision in the budget would require county health departments to favor family planning clinics that don’t also offer abortions. State law already forbids the direct use of public money funds for abortions, so this would apply to money for services unrelated to terminating a pregnancy.

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