Rick Pluta

MPRN Capitol Bureau Chief

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. 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.

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Kid Rock, the singer whose career has spanned rap, hard rock and country music, is fueling the speculation that he intends to announce a bid for the U.S. Senate next year to challenge incumbent Democrat Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. That is unless it's all a publicity stunt.

The operators of the Mackinac Bridge are warning there could be big traffic backups on Labor Day. That’s because the bridge will be closed to vehicle traffic for about five and a half hours during the annual Labor Day bridge walk.

The Mackinac Bridge Authority made the initial decision in May because of security concerns after terrorists drove cars and trucks into crowds in London, Stockholm, and Paris.

The Michigan Supreme Court says religious schools cannot claim a blanket exemption from being sued for violating anti-discrimination laws.

A family sued a Catholic high school in Oakland County. They say the school violated an anti-discrimination law by refusing to admit their daughter because of a learning disability. Among other things, the school argued its operations are protected by religious freedom rights.

A doctor from Saginaw Township is the first candidate for governor to file petition signatures to appear on the ballot next year.

Jim Hines filed more than 22,000 signatures to appear on the August 2018 Republican primary ballot. It takes 15,000 signatures to qualify. The petitions must still be checked and certified by elections officials.        

The state of Michigan has scrapped a risk study on Enbridge’s Line 5 and fired the contractor just a week before a first draft of the report was to be released.

The state Department of Environmental Quality said a conflict of interest on the part of one of the researchers called the independence of the study into question.

University of Michigan study video

Enbridge Energy says pressure tests on two sections of Line 5 that runs under the Straits of Mackinac show the pipeline is well-maintained and does not pose a threat to the Great Lakes.

Enbridge says a test over the weekend of the line that runs under the west bay of the Straits of Mackinac showed no signs of leaks or breaks. Enbridge ran a successful test of the east line earlier this month.          

Andrea Bitely

Two high-ranking state officials in Michigan face serious charges for allegedly keeping an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease in Flint a secret.

Involuntary manslaughter is the most serious criminal charge filed yet related to the Flint water crisis.

A group marched on Governor Rick Snyder’s office Tuesday to call for faster work fixing Flint’s water system.        

About 50 demonstrators delivered more than 1,100 empty water bottles with messages from Flint residents curled inside.

Enbridge Energy says it’s pressure testing the structural integrity of Line Five beneath the Straits of Mackinac. The company says the results appear to show the oil and gas pipeline does not pose a serious threat to the Great Lakes.

The company tested the first of two underwater pipes over the weekend.

An advocacy group for kids says a court-ordered report shows Michigan has a long way to go before it can guarantee the safety and welfare of children in foster care.

The monitors report says problems include the state not doing background checks on many relatives who take in foster kids, and not investigating credible allegations of abuse or neglect.

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.

State lawmakers say they will look into reports the Michigan agency that handles child abuse and neglect cases fudged its numbers to make it appear it was complying with a court order.

A state House committee held its first hearing Wednesday on legislation that would outlaw “sanctuary cities” in Michigan. The bills would ban local ordinances and rules that police officers says cannot ask about the immigration status of a suspect or a witness unless it’s tied to their investigation.

The Republican sponsors say local governments should not have rules against enforcing federal immigration laws.

The Mackinac Bridge will be largely closed to vehicle traffic the morning of Labor Day.

It’s an additional security measure adopted by a unanimous vote of the Mackinac Bridge Authority to help ensure the safety of people attending the annual bridge walk amid concerns of terrorism.

There were tears and hugs on the floor of the state House today as colleagues got word that state Representative John Kivela (D-Marquette) took his life – one day after his second arrest on a charge of drunk driving.
 
House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt) announced that Tuesday and Wednesday sessions would be cancelled to mourn Kivela’s passing.

“I’m sure today is the toughest day we will experience this term together,” said Leonard. “And I truly have no words about the loss of our dear friend, John Kivela.”

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen has been chosen by President Trump to serve on the Sixth Circuit US Court of Appeals. Trump once put Larsen on his list of judges and lawyers he would consider naming to the US Supreme Court.

Teachers don’t have to wait if they want to drop out of their union. That ruling was handed downWednesday by the Michigan Court of Appeals. The court said the Michigan Education Association can’t force teachers who want to leave to wait until an August “opt-out period.”          

The ruling would also apply to other unions that would want to restrict when members could exit.

Michigan State University

Michigan State University is asking a court to decide whether it has to release police and arrest records related to a highly publicized investigation. The records are related to the criminal investigation into an alleged sexual assault that may involve members of the Spartan football team.

The sports network ESPN filed a request for the records under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act. But the Ingham County Prosecutor’s office says releasing the records could interfere with the criminal investigation.

A campaign committee controlled by Republican leaders is facing fines and questions over how it lost track of many thousands of dollars during the last election.

Paul Maritinez/Flickr

A campaign committee controlled by Republican leaders is facing fines and questions over how it lost track of many thousands of dollars during the last election.

The Michigan State Board of Education is trying to pressure schools to drop team mascots and nicknames that are offensive to Native American tribes.

The board is asking the Legislature to adopt budget sanctions on schools that won’t scrap offensive Native American mascots.

“We want to make sure that students are able to go to school and to learn and be in environments that are conducive to learning, and so that is why it’s quite important,” said Pam Pugh, a Democratic board member.

A state elections board officially declared Republican Donald Trump the winner of the presidential election in Michigan. That starts the clock on a request for a statewide recount that has been called for by Green Party candidate Jill Stein. The campaign has until 2 o’clock Wednesday afternoon to file the request.

There's an unusual fight underway in Michigan over a simple black-and-white sign that identifies a state highway. That highway runs through a popular vacation region. And one business claims it has the exclusive right to use the road sign as a product brand.

But the state disagrees, and the trademark dispute is now in federal court.

Rick Pluta

There are now two desks on the floor of the state House draped with black ribbon and bedecked with flowers.

Lawmakers returned to the state Capitol Tuesday to the news that state Representative Peter Pettalia (R-Presque Isle) was killed Monday evening in a motorcycle crash. The desk of state Representative Julie Plawecki (D-Dearborn Heights) also remains vacant after she died this summer from a heart attack.

The northern Michigan lawmaker who sponsored the bill to repeal Michigan’s mandatory helmet law has died in a motorcycle crash. It’s not known if state Rep. Peter Pettalia (R-Presque Isle) was wearing a helmet when he died.

Authorities are releasing few details. Pettalia was riding on  M-33 in Montmorency County. The Michigan State Police and the Montmorency County Sheriff say they will release more information in the morning. 

Pettalia's district included much of the northeast part of the Lower Peninsula, including Alpena. He chaired the state House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He was serving his third and final state House term, and briefly considered a run for Congress earlier this year. Pettalia was 61 years old.

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