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

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.

Tom Carr

Governor Rick Snyder says he’s troubled by legislation headed his way that would regulate nicotine vapor devices – or e-cigarettes.

That may be a signal the bill is headed for a veto, but the governor says he’s not ready to announce his decision – only that the bill is in for some “special attention.”   

“Well, I don’t normally say that so that let you know that it’s going to get some extra review,” he says. “I have concerns about what happens next because one of the real issues is, is it a tobacco product or not and should it be treated like a tobacco product?”

Rick Pluta / Michigan Public Radio Network

Negotiations between Republicans and Democrats at the state Capitol over road funding may have resurrected the controversy over Michigan’s right-to-work law.

There’s a lot of deal-making happening in Lansing as the Legislature enters the final days before its summer recess. The two biggest issues are finishing the state budget, and coming up with more than $1.2 billion new dollars a year for roads – Governor Rick Snyder’s top priority before lawmakers leave Lansing.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has accused an energy company of scamming some northern Michigan landowners out of oil and gas lease payments. The attorney general’s office filed criminal charges today in Cheboygan.

Tim Pearce/Flickr

A group of judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys goes to work Thursday on finding new and better ways to collect fines and fees from defendants, and to ensure that people are not sent to jail because they don’t have the money to pay.       

An NPR investigation identified Michigan as one of the states where judges sometimes send defendants to jail for failure to pay – even when that’s not because they won’t pay, but they can’t. The US Supreme Court has said that’s unconstitutional.

Governor Rick Snyder’s administration says it will ask for a lot of flexibility to meet new federal clean air goals. The federal government wants to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent over 15 years.

Dan Wyant, director of the state Department of Environmental Quality, says the goal attainable if the federal government lets Michigan figure out how it’s going to get there.

Paul Maritinez/Flickr

Republican leaders in the Legislature say they can see adding civil rights protections in housing and employment for lesbian, gay, and transgender people happening before the end of this year. That’s after Governor Rick Snyder said last week that he’d like lawmakers to take up the question.

State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says he also thinks it’s time.

Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr is warning there will be dire consequences if the city’s bankruptcy settlement falls apart. He told a crowd on Mackinac Island that pensioners who live all across the state will suffer the most if the deal fails. 

Orr was addressing a Detroit Regional Chamber conference. He said he’s very concerned that misinformation is being circulated about the so-called “grand bargain” as the state Senate is getting ready to vote on it. He says pensioners are also being misled by opponents of the deal.

The American Civil Liberties Union has asked a federal court to order the state to recognize 300 same-sex marriages performed in Michigan last March.

“These marriages happened during a window when it was legal to get married in Michigan, and 300 couples were married lawfully,” says  Kary Moss of the ACLU. The marriages took place back in March, the day after a federal judge struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage and before that order was put on hold by an appeals court.

Governor Rick Snyder says he wants the Legislature to add protections for people who are lesbian, gay, and transgender to the state’s civil rights law. The governor joins business leaders attending the Detroit Regional Chamber conference on Mackinac Island in calling for a change to the law.

The Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act already has protections based on race, national origin, marital status, gender, and weight, among other things. Governor Snyder sent the strongest signal yet that he’d look favorably on adding LGBT rights to the law.

Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development

Three weeks after a state panel voted on new Right to Farm rules, there’s still a lot of confusion about what’s allowed and not allowed for people raising chickens, goats, bees and other livestock in residential areas.

Jamie Clover Adams is the director of the state Department of Agriculture & Rural Development. She sat down with Michigan Public Radio’s Rick Pluta to explain where things stand. Adams says this is not the final word on backyard livestock rules in Michigan – they will be reviewed and very likely updated again in 2015.

Job growth in professional and financial services offset layoffs in Michigan’s auto industry to push the state’s unemployment rate down for the eighth month in a row. The new rate of 7.4 percent is one-tenth of a percentage point below where it was last month. And it’s one and a quarter percent below where it was a year ago.

Governor Rick Snyder says the numbers also show more people are looking for work.

Peter Payette

The state House has adopted legislation to allocate about $450 million dollars for road repairs and maintenance. It’s being applauded as an initial step, even though it falls short of the $1.2 billion dollars Governor Rick Snyder says is the minimum needed. 

But this a good first step, says Representative Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City), who chairs House Transportation Committee.

“It’s simple,” he said. “Good roads equal good jobs, and a strengthened economy, so let’s work together to put Michigan back to work.”

Detroit’s finances would be under the scrutiny of an appointed board for as long as 20 years after the city’s bankruptcy under a new package of bills before the Legislature.

The bills outline the state’s role and its conditions for committing almost $200 million dollars from the state’s “rainy day” savings to Detroit’s bankruptcy settlement. That money would help preserve retiree pension benefits, and ensure the assets of the Detroit Institute of Arts aren’t auctioned off as part of the bankruptcy.

Two state House panels have adopted what could be the first part of a comprehensive plan to pay for road repairs. The plan would generate most of the money by re-directing sales and use taxes collected at the pump to transportation. The plan also collects fuel taxes based on a percentage of every sale instead of a fee paid on every gallon. That would allow revenue to rise with gas prices.

State House Transportation Committee Chairman Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City) says the bills are a good start.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has filed a brief with a federal appeals court seeking to overturn a judge’s decision to strike down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. In the filing, Schuette says the case is about voters’ rights, not the right of same-sex couples to get married.

An energy company has agreed to pay a $5 million dollar fine and plead no contest to a misdemeanor anti-trust charge as part of a plea deal. Under the bargain, Encana Oil & Gas USA also promised to help the state pursue legal action against another oil company.