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.

Ways to Connect

The Michigan Supreme Court will decide later this year whether the right-to-work law applies to state employee unions. The court just heard the legal challenge to the law filed by state employee unions. They say the state civil service authority supersedes the law adopted by the Legislature in 2012.

William Weirtheimer is a union attorney. He says it’s in the Michigan Constitution – the state Civil Service Commission is in charge of civil service workers.

Governor Rick Snyder has signed legislation to raise $1.2 billion to repair roads. But, the money all depends on voters approving a tax hike.

One of the bills signed by the governor will guarantee that all state taxes paid at the pump will go to roads. Increasing the sales tax by a penny on every dollar to 7 percent would ensure schools, local governments and mass transit don’t lose money. A sales tax increase requires a statewide vote.

Governor Rick Snyder has vetoed legislation that would have relaxed restrictions on guns that use air-power to shoot pellets, BBs, paintballs, and other projectiles.

The legislation was supported by the NRA and gun rights groups, but opposed by many local government officials who would have lost a lot of authority to regulate air guns within their borders.

The NRA says Michigan is one of only four states that classify air guns as firearms.

Larry McGahey / USFWS Headquarters

State wildlife officials say they’re disappointed in a court decision that restores federal endangered species protections to the gray wolf in Michigan and other Great Lakes states.

A federal judge ruled Friday that the wolf was improperly removed from the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s endangered species list. State wildlife officials say the decision not only blocks future wolf hunt seasons in Michigan, it denies farmers and dog owners the ability to kill wolves that threaten pets and livestock.

Michigan has filed its response with the US Supreme Court to the legal challenge to the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. The state is asking the court to take the case, and uphold the US 6th Circuit Court’s decision that voters and legislators – not judges -- should decide the question.

“This case comes down to two words: who decides,” is the opening to the state’s brief. “The history of our democracy demonstrates the wisdom of allowing the people to decide important

issues at the ballot box, rather than ceding those decisions to unelected judges.”

The Michigan Supreme Court will decide next year whether the state’s right-to-work law applies to unionized civil service employees.

Four unions representing 35,000 state civil service workers filed the challenge. They say the right-to-work law does not apply to them because of the Michigan Constitution and the independent authority it gives the civil service system.

Michigan Public Radio Network

  The legal team for April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse filed its appeal today (Mon.) with the US Supreme Court. They want the court to rule that Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage and others like it across the country are unconstitutional.

Fast track

This is speedy timing as Supreme Court appeals go. The US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled less than two weeks ago, upholding same-sex marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

The Ohio and Tennessee same-sex marriage appeals were filed last week. Now, Kentucky and Michigan have filed. The goal is to get the case on the Supreme Court’s calendar in the current term.

“We’re very, very hopeful that the Supreme Court will take one of our cases,”said Dana Nessel,  an attorney for DeBoer and Rowse, the lesbian couple from Hazel Park who sued the state of Michigan over its same-sex marriage ban. The two nurses want to get married so they can jointly adopt the children they’re raising together.

A debate is shaping up in the Michigan House on whether Michigan’s civil rights law should be expanded to protect gays, lesbians, and bisexuals from discrimination. There’s also a fight brewing on whether those protections should extend to transgender people.

And House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) said he would only support adding “sexual orientation” (but not “gender identity”) to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act if the Legislature adopts a law to grant exceptions for many people with religious objections.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Michigan voters will get to weigh in on two laws that allowed wolf hunting in the Upper Peninsula. The Humane Society just started airing ads aimed at persuading voters in the closing days of the campaign season. But whether people vote “yes” or “no” on wolf hunting, the two ballot questions are not the final word on the issue.

That’s because the ballot campaign on its own will not determine the future of wolf hunting in Michigan.

Governor Rick Snyder and former Congressman Mark Schauer met in their only scheduled joint appearance of the campaign season last night.

Governor Snyder is the Republican incumbent. Schauer is the Democratic challenger. The pair tangled on budgets, Detroit, and education spending. Schauer also reminded people the governor is, officially at least, defending the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear seven same-sex marriage cases. And that leaves the fate of Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban with the US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

A decision from the Sixth Circuit could come at any time. The case was argued in August. Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee are also waiting on the ruling. A decision to uphold same-sex marriage bans in those states and Michigan would create a conflict between different circuits that could land the case before the Supreme Court.

Michigan Public Radio Network

  

  You can also watch a video of the program here.

  The Republican and Democratic candidates for Michigan’s open U.S. Senate seat both say they would consider banning travel to and from countries experiencing Ebola outbreaks.

The first case of Ebola in the U.S. was recently confirmed by health officials in Texas. The man had come into contact with the virus in Liberia before traveling to the U.S.

Democrats in the Legislature say women should get 90 days advance warning if their employers are about to drop contraception coverage from company-provided insurance policies.

The legislation is a response to the US Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case. The court said business owners don’t have to cover contraception if they have a sincere moral objection.

State Representative Gretchen Driskell (D-Saline) says women deserve time to make other arrangements if that’s the case. She says birth control drugs have more medical uses than just stopping pregnancies.

Todd Courser

  It looks likely there will be more Tea Party Republicans in the Legislature next year. And one of the likely new Tea Partiers in the state House says they may want one of their own to be the new Republican leader. Todd Courser (R-Lapeer) won the GOP primary in a very Republican-leaning seat, which means he’s probably likely headed to Lansing next year. And he says Tea Partiers in the Legislature will be looking for something different in the new House leadership team.

The Michigan Senate has said “yes” to a petition-initiated measure to allow wolf hunting in the Upper Peninsula. It would also overhaul Michigan’s wildlife management rules to let a state commission decide which species can be hunted. And the measure would circumvent two ballot challenges to wolf hunting laws.

The Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management gathered almost 300,000 signatures of registered voters to put the question to the Legislature.

Environmental groups have asked the state to reverse a permit that allows a commercial fish hatchery to expand on a legendary northern Michigan trout stream.

The Grayling Fish Hatchery is located along the AuSable River, which is renowned for its trout fishing. The Sierra Club and other environmental groups say that trout population could be threatened by pathogens and parasites from a fish farm that’s allowed to raise as much as 300,000 pounds of fish.

“Frankly, we think it’s a lousy, lousy place for a commercial fish operation,” said the Sierra Club’s Marvin Roberson.

Rick Pluta / Michigan Public Radio Network

  The future of Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage is in the hands of a federal appeals court. Michigan was one of four states before the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati Wednesday, arguing to keep their bans in place.

If the Potter Stewart Federal Courthouse had a theater marquee, it might have proclaimed a full-fledged “Legalpalooza” with six cases from four states playing in one marathon session. Some people, about a half a dozen, even spent the night outside the courthouse in hopes of getting a seat to the show.

Linda Stephan

Until recently, businesses in Michigan had to pay taxes on almost all their equipment. Not surprisingly, they didn’t like this tax. The state Legislature has done its part to phase out the Personal Property Tax but the rest is up to voters when they decide the fate of Proposal One on Tuesday’s ballot.

Paying Year After Year

The state Superintendent of Public Instruction met behind closed doors Monday with some of Michigan’s largest charter school authorizers. The meeting was intended to review the rules that are supposed to ensure charter academies are doing what they’re supposed to do.

It’s the first of two meetings this week with the entities that are supposed to hold charter schools accountable. There are very few details about what happened at this private gathering with representatives of universities, community colleges, and other charter authorizers. 

A workgroup of lawmakers and educators is using the Legislature’s summer recess to try to develop an “early warning” for schools in financial trouble.

A year ago, two small Michigan school districts, Inkster and Buena Vista, were dissolved because they had run out of money.

State Senator Howard Walker (R-Traverse City) leads the workgroup. Walker says his goal is to create an “early warning” system that would allow the state to step in more quickly when a district shows signs of financial stress.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and the state Department of Environmental Quality have officially told Enbridge Energy the company has to do a better job of securing an oil pipeline that runs through the Straits of Mackinac.

The pipeline is part of a 1,900-mile network that runs from North Dakota to Sarnia, Ontario.

DEQ Director Dan Wyant says a state inquiry found the 61-year-old Enbridge pipeline that runs through the Mackinac Straits has fewer supports anchoring it than what’s called for in its lease with the state.

An appeals court ruling Tuesday out of Washington DC could jeopardize tax subsidies that help nearly 240,000 Michiganders buy health coverage under Obamacare.

A report by the Michigan Attorney General's office has found both human and technology failures played a part in the prison escape of a convicted murderer.

Michael Elliot slipped out of the Ionia Correctional Facility last February 2 by crawling under fences during a heavy snowfall. He wore white clothes to blend into the snow. He was captured about 24 hours later in Indiana.

Rick Pluta / Michigan Public Radio Network

UPDATE 2:35PM: Our story has been corrected because the ballot campaign is now looking to get a voter initiated law, not a constitutional amendment.

State environmental regulators will put the finishing touches on new rules regarding “fracking” now that public hearings have wrapped up. They expect to have the new rules adopted by the end of the year. But the state’s rules may not be the final word on the controversial drilling process

“Fracking” is a drilling method that pushes water and chemicals into wells to force out oil and gas deposits.

The Michigan Supreme Court says felons sentenced as juveniles to life without parole won’t get new sentences. That’s despite a US Supreme Court ruling that says it’s cruel and unusual punishment.

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