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

Peter Payette

Michigan voters have soundly rejected Proposal One, Governor Rick Snyder’s $2 billion dollar plan to fund road repairs without siphoning money from schools and local governments. The loss sends the governor and the Legislature back to the bargaining table because almost everyone still agrees the roads are bad.

    

Rick Pluta

Michigan is now waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to make its decision on same-sex marriage bans like the one adopted by voters 11 years ago.

Thousands of demonstrators for and against same-sex marriage pressed up to the steps of the Supreme Court and cheered and jeered as the litigants emerged.

The state of Michigan says it’s an issue for voters to decide. The challengers says there’s no reason for Michigan and other states to deny same-sex couples the right to marry.

April DeBoer says she’s optimistic the court will allow her to marry her partner, Jayne Rowse.

Paul Maritinez/Flickr

In one of many concessions to the budget crisis of the 1990s, the state Capitol in Lansing was closed to the public on weekends. Now, almost 20 years later, finances have improved, and the historic building will re-open to visitors on Saturdays.

The decision was made by the Michigan Capitol Commission, which governs operations of the Victorian-era structure listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

The decision to close the Capitol on weekends came as the state was in a deep recession and short on money.

Timo Newton Syms/Flickr

The Michigan Senate has taken an initial step toward overhauling Michigan’s no-fault auto insurance system.

The legislation would set limits on what hospitals could charge insurance companies. It would also cap what insurers can be charged for in-home care for people severely injured in car accidents.

“The best approach to bringing down insurance rates in Michigan is to get costs out of the system – to get costs out of the system,” said state Senator Joe Hune (R-Fowlerville), who chairs the Senate Insurance Committee,

Michigan’s unemployment rate has dropped to 5.6 percent. That’s a reduction of three-tenths of a percentage point, which is a bigger-than-usual adjustment.   

But that decline in the monthly rate is due to a reduction in the workforce, as it’s measured by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and the state Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives. Actual month-to-month new hiring was flat, but there were fewer people competing for those jobs.

That didn’t stop Governor Rick Snyder (R) from trumpeting the new jobs numbers in a prepared statement:

The campaign to ban the drilling process known as “fracking” plans to launch a petition drive next month. This will be the third time the anti-fracking campaign has tried to get lawmakers or voters to adopt a ban.

Earlier efforts fell short, but LuAnn Kozma of the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan says the ongoing controversy about drilling has helped the cause.
“I think people are getting it,” she said. “When they hear about fracking, they don’t want it.”

New York Department of Environmental Conservation

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has put the northern long-eared bat on the “threatened” species list. The agency stopped short of saying the species is in danger of being wiped out by white-nose bat syndrome. The fungus has already killed millions of bats across the country.

Dan Kennedy is an endangered species expert with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. He says the decision gives state wildlife officials more time to plan while the bats hibernate.

  Gov. Rick Snyder says there’s no backup plan to boost road funding if voters reject a sales tax increase in May.

Snyder urged listeners to vote “yes” on the measure during an appearance on Michigan Public Radio’s statewide call-in program “Michigan Calling.”

Legislation that would allow faith-based adoption agencies to refuse to work with LGBT couples or anyone else based on moral or religious grounds is headed to the floor of the state House.

A state board has approved taking on debt to come up with $50 million dollars to help 18 Michigan community colleges ramp up their career and technical training, including Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City and West Shore Community College in Scottville.

Gov. Rick Snyder Snyder (R) has made career tech training a high priority. He says that’s because employers are looking for skilled workers, and most states have fallen behind in meeting the demand.

“So we’re going to keep growing in the skilled trades,” he says. “We’re going to be Number One.”

  The Mackinac Bridge was closed for about a four and a half hours today (Tue.) due to a blizzard and a multi-vehicle crash. One person was injured.

High winds kicked up snow off the frozen Straits of Mackinac causing a white-out on the bridge, says James Lake of the Michigan Department of Transportation.

“The crews were able to get all the crashed vehicles off the bridge, get that scene cleared,” he says. “But then we still had to wait a couple more hours for the weather to shift and the white-out conditions to improve.”

UPDATE 2/9/15: Governor Rick Snyder was released from the hospital this morning. The governor has been advised to curtail unnecessary travel and keep the weight off his injured leg. The governor does plan be at the state Capitol Wednesday to present his budget proposal to lawmakers.

Governor Rick Snyder’s public schedule has been cleared after he was suddenly admitted to a hospital in Ann Arbor with a blood clot in his leg.

It’s a lingering effect of an injury to his Achilles tendon. That injury has required him to keep his leg largely immobile for several weeks.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

More than 300 gay and lesbian couples in Michigan are legally married now that Governor Rick Snyder has decided not to contest a court order. It says the state has to recognize the marriages that took place last spring.

But, the state will continue to defend the same-sex marriage ban in a case before the US Supreme Court.

It was Snyder’s call whether the state would appeal after a federal judge ruled that more than 300 same-sex couples are legally married and told the state to treat them as married.

A federal appeals court says a former assistant state attorney general owes millions of dollars for stalking and harassing a gay student leader at the University of Michigan.

The episode has already cost Andrew Shirvell his job as a lawyer for the state. Now, he also owes $3.5 million to former UM student body president Chris Armstrong.

Shirvell challenged the jury award. He said he was exercising his First Amendment right to protest against a public figure. He also said the judgment was excessive.

Michigan Public Radio Network

  Governor Rick Snyder took a swipe at Washington Tuesday in his State of the State speech -- and said Lansing could serve as an example to the federal government on how to solve problems. But the governor had to spend a portion of his own speech dwelling on some things he wanted to fix last year that didn’t get done.

The newly reelected governor had to share the political spotlight as President Obama delivered the State of the Union speech the same evening. But Governor Snyder seized the moment. 

Jake Neher / Michigan Public Radio Network

A federal judge says the state must recognize the marriages of 300 gay and lesbian couples. They were married last year during a one-day window in Michigan when it was legal.

 Read the opinion here.

This preliminary ruling was handed down as the justices of the US Supreme Court could be about to decide whether to hear a challenge to same-sex marriage bans in Michigan and three other states.

The Sierra Club is suing the federal government to get an order for an environmental risk study of an oil pipeline that runs through some sensitive areas.

The Sierra Club is disputing a US Fish and Wildlife Service decision to allow Enbridge Energy to continue pumping oil through the 1,100-mile line that connects Minnesota to Ontario through Michigan and Wisconsin. The Enbridge Energy line runs across the Upper Peninsula, under the Straits of Mackinac, and through the Lower Peninsula to Sarnia-Ontario.

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.

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