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

A crowd marched Tuesday on the United States Supreme Court. The rally drew people from Detroit and other parts of Michigan.

They chanted: “What do we want?” “Affirmative action!” “When do we want it?” “Now!” and “They say ‘Jim Crow!’” “We say, ‘hell no!’’’

“They say ‘Jim Crow!’” “We say, ‘hell no!’’

The protest was aimed at Michigan’s ban on affirmative action in university admissions. It was approved by voters in 2006. And it took place as the Supreme Court heard a legal challenge to the amendment.

A federal judge in Detroit is going to take more time to decide whether to uphold or strike down Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage. Judge Bernard Friedman set a February trial date to get expert testimony.

The further delay was a disappointment to gay marriage supporters, who’d hoped for a decision Wednesday. There were same-sex couples lined up at some county clerks’ offices anticipating a decision in their favor.

For the second time in a decade, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether Michigan's university admissions policies are constitutional. Ten years ago, the challenge was to the University of Michigan's use of affirmative action to ensure diversity on campus. Tomorrow, civil rights groups will argue against the state's voter-approved ban on affirmative action.

State Treasurer Andy Dillon will resign his position. In a statement released Friday, Dillon cites the media attention from a messy divorce as his primary reason for stepping down.

Dillon says it would be unfair to both his family and Michigan residents to continue as treasurer amid the controversies and litigation surrounding an acrimonious divorce. He has also struggled with drinking. Dillon says his family deserves privacy, and Michigan residents deserve to know their treasurer is not distracted.

The prison in Baldwin will remain closed for now. Michigan will not allow the privately run, for-profit prison in northern Michigan to house about a thousand inmates because there would be no savings to taxpayers.

The state turned down two bids. In both cases, the contracts would have cost more than what the state pays right now.

The Florida-based GEO Group was hoping to re-open an empty prison it owns in the town of Baldwin. Utah-based Management and Training Corporation also submitted a bid.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is siding with city employees and pension funds that say those benefits should not be part of Detroit bankruptcy proceedings. Schuette plans to be in court Monday to file a request to join the case.

The Attorney General says the Michigan Constitution specifically protects public employee pension benefits from being impaired or diminished.

A federal judge is allowing a legal challenge to Michigan adoption laws and its ban on same-sex marriage to go forward. The judge turned down the state’s request to dismiss the lawsuit.

In a written order, Judge Bernard Friedman says the U.S. Supreme Court decision last week striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act has left unanswered questions that could be addressed by this case.

A federal judge has struck down a Michigan law which prohibits public employers from offering health coverage and other benefits to the unmarried, live-in partners of their employees. In a preliminary ruling, U.S. District Court Judge David Lawson says the law serves no compelling public interest, but it does deny equal protection to people in same-sex relationships.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions on gay marriage don’t really change the legal status of same-sex couples in Michigan. In 2004, voters amended the Michigan Constitution to enact a sweeping ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions.

But there’s a lot happening on the issue in courts, the Legislature, and on the campaign trail. The Supreme Court’s decision returns gay marriage battles to Michigan and the 34 other states that prohibit same-sex marriage.

The nation’s highest court has agreed to decide whether the state can challenge a tribe’s right to open a casino in the northern Michigan town of Vanderbilt.

The U.S. Supreme Court accepted the case today, which will place it on the docket for the upcoming term.

The issue is whether state Attorney General Bill Schuette has the legal standing to challenge the casino. The Bay Mills Indian tribe says he does not – that the Vanderbilt property is part of the tribe’s independent territory purchased with money from a land settlement with the federal government.

Five Michigan Indian tribes have decided to challenge the state’s decision to hold a wolf hunt in the western Upper Peninsula this coming fall.

The tribes of the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority say the state did not consult with them in a meaningful way before establishing a gray wolf season, and that’s required by a 2007 consent decree.                                                            

Aaron Payment, chair of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, says the wolf is sacred in tribal culture and the hunting season disrespects that.

A referendum on wolf hunting in Michigan will be on the November 2014 ballot, but the vote will not stop a wolf hunting season in the Upper Peninsula scheduled for this fall.

Petitions to let voters decide whether the law should remain on the books were certified Wednesday by a state elections panel. The “Keep Michigan Wolves Protected” ballot campaign says allowing the gray wolf to be hunted could return it to the endangered species list.

The Michigan Supreme Court will let stand a policy that allows most state employees to enroll live-in partners on their health plans.  The court today declined to hear a challenge to live-in partner benefits.

The court issued a brief order simply stating the justices saw no reason to take the case.

A state House committee has approved a measure that would change how hunting is managed in Michigan, and bypass a referendum on wolf hunting if it’s on the ballot next year.

Two questions dominated the hearing on the bill: whether hunting is an appropriate part of plans to manage wolves in the Upper Peninsula, and whether the Legislature should approve a new law to allow wolf hunts before the referendum.

A special Michigan grand jury, including members from Grand Traverse County, will investigate meningitis deaths and illnesses linked to tainted steroid injections. The grand jury will look into whether any laws were broken in connection with an outbreak that has killed 16 people in Michigan. To people have died from the tainted injections since the request for a grand jury was originally filed. 

The U.S. Supreme Court will review Michigan’s ban on race- and gender-based affirmative action in university admissions. Arguments in the case are expected to take place next fall.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is defending the amendment to the state constitution, which was adopted by voters in 2006. Schuette says race and gender should not be part of the decision on who gets to attend a public university.                

A decision on whether Michigan’s gay marriage ban is constitutional will wait until this summer. A federal judge in Detroit says he wants to see how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a pair of gay marriage cases before he makes his ruling.

The case from Michigan started out as a case on adoption rights for same-sex couples. Jayne Rouse and April DeBoer are raising three children together. But under the law, they don’t share joint legal rights and responsibilities.   

The U.S. Supreme Court is about to hear two cases dealing with gay marriage.

At the same time in Michigan, a federal judge could rule as soon as Thursday on a challenge to the state’s ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions. In that case, a lesbian couple sued not because they want to be married, but because they want to be parents.

Governor Rick Snyder has picked a judge and former Republican candidate for county prosecutor to fill a vacancy on the Michigan Supreme Court. Judge David Viviano opposed abortion and same-sex marriage and favored the death penalty during an unsuccessful run for Macomb County prosecutor. He says those questions did not come up during interviews for the job of justice.

Viviano says one of his priorities is to update courts’ technology so the public has easier access to the system.

There’s a hearing this week in Lansing on legislation that would stop the state from setting aside hundreds of acres strictly for the purpose of nurturing native plants and animals.

Opponents and supporters of the legislation packed a hearing last week on the measure.

“To do away with that designation, to me, is a big step backwards in the protection of what makes Michigan ‘Pure Michigan,’” says Democratic state Senator Rebekah Warren.

American Indian tribes of Michigan are part of a coalition that’s looking to reverse a new law that allows for a wolf-hunting season in the Upper Peninsula. The coalition, unveiled Tuesday, is trying to put a referendum on the 2014 ballot.

Aaron Payment, chair of the Sault Sainte Marie (soo saynt MAH’-ree) Tribe of Chippewa Indians, says a wolf hunt would be an affront to tribal culture.

Larry McGahey / USFWS Headquarters/Flickr

A new ballot campaign seeks to overturn a state law that opens the door to a wolf hunt in the Upper Peninsula. The campaign Keep Michigan Wolves Protected will appear before a state elections board Thursday to get its petition approved for circulation.

Elenah Neshcuet/Flickr

A divided Michigan Court of Appeals panel has upheld extending health benefits to the live-in partners of state employees. The court’s majority rejected the argument that the benefits violate the state’s ban on gay marriage and civil unions.

The court said the state Civil Service Commission offers the benefits equally to people in both same-sex and heterosexual relationships.

Legislation that could allow a limited wolf hunt in the Upper Peninsula cleared the state House during this last week of the lame duck session. The Legislature has adjourned for the year.

It’s now up to Governor Rick Snyder to sign the bill into law.

“This is an animal that just came off the endangered species list,” says state Representative Jeff Irwin. The Democrat from Ann Arbor voted against the change. “The (wolf) populations are not even healthy or even abundant, and I don’t think it’s the right time to talk about shooting wolves in northern Michigan.”