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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Michigan is offering $50 million as start-up money for upgrading the Soo locks in the Upper Penisula. 

 

It’s part of a budget deal between Gov. Rick Snyder and legislative leaders. They announced the earmark at a conference on Mackinac Island this week.  

 

Snyder says there’s only one lock that can handle the largest freighters traveling on the Great Lakes. 

The state Department of Civil Rights is now accepting complaints from people who say they’ve faced discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. It’s also getting ready to defend its right to do so.

 The Michigan Civil Rights Commission this week changed its interpretation of the state’s civil rights law. It now includes being refused housing or employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity as forms of sex discrimination.

The Michigan Supreme Court will decide whether police officers illegally searched the backpack of a passenger in a stopped vehicle. The passenger says officers should have first asked his permission.

Larry Mead was riding in a vehicle stopped for an expired plate. The driver gave permission for police to search the vehicle, where Mead left his backpack. The officers found methamphetamine in the backpack.

Inmates sent to prison as children can sue the state over sexual abuse and other alleged misconduct, under a ruling from the Michigan Court of Appeals.

The lawsuit claims minors aged 13 to 17 who were sent to prison were beaten and sexually abused by adult inmates and prison staff. The state tried to get the lawsuit dismissed under a 1999 amendment to Michigan’s civil rights act that barred legal actions filed by inmates under that law.

The court struck that down.

More local governments are getting money to create better systems to make sure every criminal defendant has a properly trained lawyer through every step of the legal process.

Local courts resubmitted their proposals after the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission rejected most of the funding requests back in January.  This time, most of the re-worked plans won board approval.

Judge Thomas Boyd is a commission member. He said the need to ensure adequate representation is so great, the board must make sure none of the money is wasted.

The state House has approved a bill to require vehicles to keep a distance of at least three feet when passing bicyclists.

 

The legislation is largely a response to a fatal accident two years ago near Kalamazoo.

 

Governor Rick Snyder has signed a budget bill that accelerates spending on road repairs in time to help with the spring and summer construction season.

 

The bill shifts $175 million from next year’s construction season to use this coming spring and summer to fix roads.

 

Chuck Grimmett

Michigan State University’s interim President John Engler criticized state lawmakers last week for a package of bills that would give sexual assault victims more time to file lawsuits, among other changes. 

Bills to address campus sexual misconduct have stalled in the state Senate.

The bills are the Legislature’s response to Michigan State University’s handling of the sexual abuse allegations against disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar and complaints about sexual misconduct on college campuses.

The Legislature has sent a bill to Governor Rick Snyder that forbids local governments from adopting ordinances dealing with questions employers may ask in job interviews. It’s an effort to preempt local rules that bar asking about salary histories and criminal backgrounds.

There are no such local regulations in Michigan, but they have been adopted in other states.

Morgan Springer

The state House has adopted bills that would allow prisoners in advanced stages of illness including cancer and dementia to be paroled for medical reasons.

 

The House split on the bills with Republicans and Democrats voting on both sides of the issue.

Many survivors of Larry Nassar’s abuse don’t just blame him. They also blame MSU officials for failing to act even after multiple complaints.

The scandal forced MSU President Lou Anna Simon to step down last week, followed by Athletic Director Mark Hollis, and there could be more resignations coming.

The school’s Board of Trustees has also come under withering attack for actions that seemed to focus more on limiting the school’s culpability than on supporting victims.

“My voice should have been louder much sooner..." says MSU Trustee Dianne Byrum. She adds that she’s learned from this horrible experience.

Nine cities and counties from across Michigan are taking drug companies to court. From the Upper Peninsula to Detroit, they are trying to recover many millions of dollars in costs related to the opioid crisis.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court Monday night. It claims manufacturers, distributors and pharmacy chains misled doctors and the public about the dangers of opioids. And the legal actions also say the drug companies failed to follow safeguards that would have reduced the number of people addicted to opioids.

UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN STUDY VIDEO

The state of Michigan is imposing some new conditions on the operation of a controversial oil and gas pipeline. The actions include replacing a portion of Enbridge’s Line 5 that runs beneath the St. Clair River. 

The new line will be in a tunnel beneath the riverbed. The state will also look at doing the same thing with the portion of the line that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac. 

State officials say they’re troubled by a new safety report from Enbridge Energy on Line 5. The report says there are more spots that have been laid bare to the metal because its safety coating has worn off.

Enbridge reported that to state officials Monday.  

The company is being called before the Michigan Pipeline Safety Commission next month to give a status report on Line Five.

Guy Jarvis of Enbridge says Line Five is safe, but the company has done a poor job of sharing details on how it’s managed.

The ranking Democrat on the US House Oversight Committee wants to subpoena Governor Rick Snyder. Rep. Elijah Cummins (D-MD) says the governor has not been forthcoming about when he first knew about a fatal outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease in Genesee County.

From Cummins’ letter to committee chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC):

Michigan State Police Kriste Etue will work five days without pay after Governor Rick Snyder decided that will be the penalty for a controversial Facebook post.

Colonel Etue shared a Facebook meme that called NFL players who take a knee during the national anthem “anti-American degenerates” and “millionaire ingrates.” She quickly took it down, and apologized, but still came under a storm of criticism.

The governor continues to resist calls for her to step down. From a statement released by his office:  

Governor Rick Snyder says he’s concerned that President Trump’s decision to end subsidies that help low-income families pay for health insurance could make rates unaffordable.

Snyder says more study is needed to determine the state’s next move, but he hopes Congress will act quickly to settle things.

Michigan State Police

Governor Rick Snyder says there is no reason to fire State Police Colonel Kriste Etue over a controversial Facebook post. Etue has apologized for sharing a meme on her page that called NFL players who take a knee during the national anthem unpatriotic and “degenerates.”

Snyder says the post was “inappropriate,” but he considers the matter settled.

Michigan’s energy chief says damage to the protective coating on an oil and gas pipeline that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac was worse than initially reported.

The state is ordering Enbridge Energy to take swift action to fix portions of the Line 5 energy pipeline that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

Enbridge reported to the state that small portions of enamel coating were accidentally removed in two places. The coating protects the oil and gas line that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac from corrosion.

Melody Kindraka of the state Department of Environmental Quality says there’s no immediate threat to the Great Lakes, but it’s concerning that the problem was the result of human error.

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.        

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