Cheyna Roth

Capital Reporter

Cheyna Roth

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR.

Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN.

Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker.

Ways to Connect

Infant death rates in Michigan are down overall. But race and income still seem to make a difference in whether children live past their first birthday.

The Michigan League for Public Policy released a study Wednesday. It compares infant mortality trends from 2010 (2008-2010, three-year average) and 20-15 (2013-2015, three-year average).

While overall, the death rate is down, the mortality rate for Hispanic babies rose during the time of the study. The study also found that black babies die at over twice the rate of white infants.

Michigan environmental groups are frustrated with Ontario’s support for keeping an oil-and-gas pipeline running beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

The province’s Ministry of Energy sent Michigan a letter earlier this week that stressed the importance of Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline to Ontario.

Environmental groups say this flies in the face of their efforts to shut down the pipeline. Line 5 carries crude oil and liquid natural gas under the Straits of Mackinac. Activists say it’s a massive environmental risk.

LGBT activists say the state’s civil rights law is too vague when it comes to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Now they’re calling on the Michigan Civil Rights Commission to clarify the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. The Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act lists attributes people can’t discriminate for – like race, religion and sex.

Governor Rick Snyder has signed into law controversial changes to the state’s public school employee retirement system.

Starting in February of 2018, new teachers will get a new choice about their retirement savings. They’ll automatically be put into a straight 401(k) plan. But they can enroll in a hybrid plan if they want. That hybrid plan also includes a pension, but it’s more expensive for the teacher.

Senator Phil Pavlov (R-St. Clair) says 401(k) plans are the way of the future.

State lawmakers passed legislation to give big tax incentives to a handful of large employers Wednesday.

The bills would let approved companies keep all or part of the state income taxes withheld from their employees’ paychecks. The companies would have to meet job-creation targets and pay their workers average or above-average wages.

Governor Rick Snyder advocated strongly for the bills, but some members of his own party were not on board. Representative Martin Howrylak (R-Troy) opposed the bills. He said the incentives take from taxpayers and give to wealthy businesses.

The state House meets Wednesday and Governor Rick Snyder hopes they will vote on a controversial set of business tax breaks.

Governor Snyder is trying to salvage a business tax incentive deal that he says could mean thousands of jobs for Michigan. He met Tuesday with state House Speaker Tom Leonard and several other Republican House members.

The use of Native American logos and images for school mascots is once again in the spotlight.

On Thursday, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette weighed in on whether the State Superintendent can withhold money from schools that refuse to change their mascots. In the opinion, Schuette says there’s no rule or portion of the school code that lets the Superintendent keep money from schools as a penalty for their mascot. 

Cheyna Roth

New public meetings began Thursday about the controversial Enbridge Line 5 pipeline. Several state agencies and the authors of a report suggesting alternatives to the pipeline gave a presentation and took questions. 

 The pipeline sends oil and natural gas across sections of lower and upper Michigan and under the Straits of Mackinac.

The new state medical marijuana licensing board met for the first time Monday.

The meeting was mainly for the board to hear public comment about how the new medical marijuana program should operate. It won’t start issuing licenses until next year.

John Kroneck came to the meeting to represent the Michigan Prevention Association. That group is concerned about potential consequences of expanding the medical marijuana system.

The latest version of changes to the state’s teacher retirement plan passed full chamber votes Thursday.

This came after major changes were announced late Tuesday and received committee hearings early Wednesday morning. The House and Senate adopted identical amendments to bills their respective chambers had already introduced.

Zero tolerance in Michigan schools is out. Now the State Board of Education is working on revising the Model Code of Student Conduct to reflect the change.

Last year Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation effectively getting rid of zero tolerance in schools. Schools now have to consider things like age, student’s disciplinary history, and seriousness of a violation before they can expel or suspend a student.

State Superintendent Brian Whiston said the revision is a good idea.

A deal for the state’s budget and teacher retirement has been made.

Top Republican lawmakers and Governor Rick Snyder have been in a stalemate over what to do with the teacher’s retirement plan, but now a deal is in place.

The current teacher retirement plan gives teachers the option between a straight 401(k) and a hybrid 401(k) and pension-type plan.

The state is hammering out its budget. And lawmakers are having a sharp disagreement with the governor’s office over one of Michigan’s biggest price tags – the corrections budget. Both sides agree rehabilitation and lowering recidivism is the way to go. But they can’t agree on how much money to spend this year.

At stake are programs – like the Vocational Village in Ionia – that have helped lower the state’s incarceration rate.

Some Democrats in the Legislature are calling for a law that would allow authorities to seize the firearms of people who threaten to commit suicide or hurt others.

State Representative Robert Wittenberg (D- Oak Park) sponsored a bill that would allow a judge to issue an “extreme risk protection order.” The order would have to requested by a family member or a law enforcement official. And it could last no more than a year.

Lawmakers in the state House and Senate are once again calling for more legal protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Lawmakers have tried for years to expand the state’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include legal protections for LGBT people.

Previous attempts have failed to make much progress, due in part to a Republican legislature.

A showdown is brewing in Lansing over the fate of teacher retirements. 

Teachers can currently choose between a full 401(k) type plan or a hybrid 401(k) and pension plan.

Many Democrats, like Senator David Knezek oppose the legislation.

Controversial legislation on state regulatory rules is making its way through the legislature.

The House approved a bill Thursday to prevent the state from being tougher on things like environmental and workplace safety than the federal government.

Gun rights are up for debate in the state legislature again.

A set of bills to get rid of a permit requirement to carry a concealed pistol was up in front of a House committee Tuesday.

Advocates say the legislation is long overdue and the legislation wouldn’t take away the regulations on who can carry a firearm.

But opponents say it erodes gun safety.

Morgan Springer

A battle is heating up in Lansing over the state’s corrections budget.

Republican Senator John Proos’ subcommittee on corrections passed a budget that cuts the Department of Correction’s budget by about 40 million dollars. Proos said because the prison population is down, continuing to spend about the same amount each year means they are spending too much per prisoner.

Michigan’s attempts to privatize prison food services is still running into problems. The legislature approved outsourcing prison food service in 2012 to cut costs. But it canceled its first contract with Aramark in 2015, after numerous problems.

Reports obtained by the liberal watchdog group Progress Michigan show the prisons are still having problems with spoiled food and outside staff.

Progress Michigan also wants the legislature to stop outsourcing services. Spokesperson Sam Inglot said this “failed experiment” needs to end.

Governor Rick Snyder has chosen the newest member of the Michigan Supreme Court.

Judge Kurtis Wilder is the first of a couple appointments Governor Snyder has to make in the coming weeks. He will replace Justice Robert Young who retired from the court in April to return to his former law firm, Dickenson Wright.

Wilder is a former Chief Judge of the Washtenaw County Trial Court. He currently serves on the state Court of Appeals.

Governor Snyder said Wilder has already done great work to help the state.

Cheyna Roth of MPRN

Democrats in Lansing have renewed their mission for a Voter Bill of Rights.

Democrats in the state House attempted to pass a resolution to amend the Michigan Constitution last year. This time, State Representative Jon Hoadley is spearheading the effort.

Paul Maritinez/Flickr

Lawmakers are moving fast to ramp up prison time for female genital mutilation.

Removing or altering the genitalia of a minor female for non-medical purposes is already a federal crime with a five-year penalty. But a state Senate committee just passed bills to make it a state crime as well – with up to 15 years in prison as a penalty.

Lawmakers in Lansing might not try to do away with the state income tax after all; but, they are still looking to reduce it.

A new version of the bill would gradually cut the tax from 4 point 25 percent to 3 point 9 percent.

Bill sponsor Representative Lee Chatfield says he is happy with the changes.

The presidential candidates and their surrogates swung through Michigan on the final day before the polls opened.

President Obama was in Michigan as part of a tour of battleground states. The president tried to drum up support for Hillary Clinton and the rest of the Democratic ticket during a rally in Ann Arbor.

Obama spoke to a crowd of about nine thousand people at the University of Michigan. He told first-time voters in the audience that this year has been a strange one in politics. The president said he’s been frustrated by a lot of the news coverage of the campaign.

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