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

Michigan’s Republicans and Democrats finalized their November tickets this past weekend with party conventions.

There was no roar of the crowds as the nominations, speeches and voting all took place online due to COVID-19. The conventions chose their candidates for the Michigan Supreme Court, three public university boards, and the Michigan State Board of Education.

jocelyn benson at podium
michigan.gov

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson testified remotely Friday before a congressional committee. The topic was ensuring the November elections are handled safely and securely.

Benson joined other state elections officials before the House Homeland Security Committee. She said Michigan’s August primary served as a useful trial run. But many more people are expected to vote in November. And Benson said many more people will either mail in or drop off their ballots because of COVID-19 concerns. That, she said, presents a challenge.

gretchen whitmer sitting at table
State of Michigan

The Legislature’s Republican leaders have taken their challenge to Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s use of her emergency powers to the state Supreme Court.

prison bars
Flickr / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The union that represents corrections officers in state prisons has called for Corrections Director Heidi Washington to be fired.

The 6,000 member union outlined its list of grievances in a letter to Washington it also shared with Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Byron Osborn is the president of the Michigan Corrections Organization.

an absentee ballot on an envelope
Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

A Michigan Court of Claims judge has ruled Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson was allowed to send every voter in the state an application to vote absentee instead of in-person. The judge rejected a legal challenge that said Benson, a Democrat, acted outside her authority as the state’s top elections official.

The ruling says the mailing sent to 7.7 million voters before the August primary did not infringe on the Legislature’s lawmaking authority. It says that’s because Benson was executing the will of voters who adopted no-reason absentee voting in 2018.

Lance McCord / Flickr, http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The governor set a goal of vaccinating an additional one million people in Michigan compared to last year.

She said Tuesday that the upcoming colder months represent a double threat.

She said an increase in serious flu cases would make it tougher for hospitals and other health care providers to handle an expected uptick in COVID-19 cases. Whitmer said it’s also not fair to expose health care workers to the double threat.

taxcredits.net

A state budget panel has determined that Michigan’s budget picture is bleak, but not as bad as forecasts from earlier this year.

The numbers are still being finalized, but budget cuts for the upcoming fiscal year will be less than a billion dollars. That’s largely due to rounds of federal assistance that led to unexpected levels of spending by Michigan consumers, including car and truck purchases.

Vera Davidova / Unsplash

Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced Friday that a new partnership will help get about four million protective face masks to people who might otherwise have trouble procuring them.

The arrangement is between the state, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Ford Motor Company.

It will focus on getting masks to schools in low-income areas, as well as distributing them through federally qualified health centers and community groups.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The director of the state Department of Health and Human Services testified Thursday before a Legislative committee examining Michigan’s COVID-19 response.

Director Robert Gordon was called to explain a contact tracing contract with a firm that does political work for Democrats.

The contract was cancelled by Governor Gretchen Whitmer in April after it became public.

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.

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.

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