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

absentee ballot
Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Senate adopted a bill Tuesday that would allow many local governments to prepare absentee ballots the day before Election Day. They could then be opened and counted starting on Election Day.

That rule would only apply to cities of 25,000 or more residents.

Local clerks say that alone could shave hours off the process of tallying the ballots.

The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 2000.
Joshua Schwimmer / Flickr

The state of Michigan owns public parks, roads, buildings, and even some historic artifacts. Among those artifacts are the original architectural drawings of the World Trade Center.

This is a story of how the state of Michigan – its taxpayers – came to own the works.

Thousands of people visit the 9-11 Memorial in New York every day.

Children play by the fountain that surrounds the footprint of what once were the world’s tallest buildings. Some people take the time to read at least some of the names of the people who died here on 9-11.

Gretchen Whitmer at a podium
michigan.gov

Governor Gretchen Whitmer leveled harsh words Thursday against President Donald Trump over his handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

She called Trump “the biggest enemy of the state” over an interview taped by journalist Bob Woodward.

In it, Trump said he downplayed the danger of COVID-19. The governor said, if that is true, the President prolonged the crisis.

Gretchen Whitmer at a podium
michigan.gov

Governor Gretchen Whitmer told a business group Wednesday that she can’t predict exactly how long her emergency measures will be required to address the COVID-19 crisis.

That was at roughly the same time those powers were being challenged in the state Supreme Court.

The governor has issued more than 170 COVID-19-related executive orders. The governor has withdrawn and re-issued orders, she says, to meet changing circumstances.

MICHIGAN.GOV

Governor Gretchen Whitmer said Friday that she’s concerned gatherings over the three-day Labor Day holiday weekend could lead to a spike in COVID-19 cases in the state.

The governor has relaxed some restrictions to allow more school sports and the re-opening of gyms and pools. At the same time, she extended the state of emergency in Michigan to October 1st.

Rodrigo Sarsfield / Unsplash

Gyms and pools in Michigan can re-open next week, but with new rules to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. That’s under two executive orders signed Thursday by Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

She is also allowing organized sports practices and competitions to resume in regions where they’ve been banned.

free weights and exercise machines inside gym
Mark Bertulfo / Unsplash

Governor Gretchen Whitmer said on Wednesday that she will announce a decision “soon” on allowing gyms to re-open and for more school sports to resume.

But Whitmer did not say exactly when she would reveal those plans.
 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The state will try to order the company that owns the Edenville and Sanford Dams to fix failures that caused extensive flooding along the Tittawabassee River in May.

That action was announced Tuesday by the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE).

Picture of the Lansing capitol building
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A state House committee will hold its first hearing tomorrow on bills to offer more protections to businesses from COVID-19-related legal actions.

Business groups say among the uncertainties created by the COVID-19 is a new risk of lawsuits filed against them by customers, employees, and vendors.

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.

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