Rick Pluta

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.

Rick was one of the first Michigan political reporters to write about “pay-to-play” fundraising, and the controversies surrounding recognition of same-sex relationships. He broke the news that Gov. John Engler was planning a huge juvenile justice overhaul that included adult-time-for-adult-crime sentencing, and has continued to report since then on the effects of that policy decision.

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.

Follow him on Twitter at @rickpluta

A state House committee is expected to vote Tuesday on bills that would set tougher ethics standards for lawmakers.

The package has bipartisan support and it’s expected the bills will be sent to the House floor.

The legislation would require both the House and the Senate to create bipartisan ethics committees, with the chairmanship rotating between Republicans and Democrats every six months.

A commission has recommended salary increases of 2% a year for the governor, legislators and other state elected officials.

The State Officers Compensation Commission adopted the proposal Friday. The increases would take effect in 2023 and 2024, after next year’s elections.

But it’s not a done deal. An amendment to the Michigan Constitution requires the Legislature to ratify the recommendation. And that hasn’t happened in a while.

COVID-19 conspiracy theories and misinformation were prominent in the Michigan House Oversight Committee’s first hearing Thursday on a bill that would preemptively outlaw government-sponsored “vaccine passports.”

The bill’s supporters expressed concern about privacy and government overreach if people are required to prove they’re vaccinated.

“Although the conversation at this point in time is specific to a COVID-19 vaccine passport, we must ask ourselves the question: if this is allowed, what might the next step be?” said Representative Sue Allor (R-Wolverine), the bill sponsor.

The Michigan Senate adopted a bill Wednesday that would exempt in-person high school graduation ceremonies from gathering limits in state emergency health orders – a measure Governor Gretchen Whitmer says is unnecessary.

Senator Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) sponsored the bill. He said now is the time to adopt the bill as more vaccines are available and graduation season approaches.

A new federal policy announced Tuesday by the White House could send some COVID-19 vaccines earmarked for Michigan to other states where the demand is greater. The re-targeted deliveries are part of a federal effort to get the most vaccine doses to where they’ll be used. After an initial surge in vaccinations, people aren’t lining up in the same numbers. Part of that is because the people who were the most willing were the first in line.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s former cabinet-level health chief confirmed Thursday that he left over differences about the state’s response to COVID-19. That was part of former Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon’s testimony before the state House Oversight Committee.

Gordon said he was asked by Whitmer to quit because she wanted to “go in a different direction.” That was at the same time the administration was easing some COVID restrictions.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer plans to get her second Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Thursday at a vaccine clinic in Grand Rapids.

There was action Tuesday in Lansing toward setting stricter ethical standards for legislators and the support appears to be bipartisan.

Republicans and Democrats on the House Committee on Elections and Ethics approved a bill to forbid lawmakers from voting on bills that would benefit themselves, family members, or business associates.

It’s not clear what the penalties for violating the standard would be. That bill now goes to the House floor.

Health care providers in Michigan have been given the go-ahead to administer the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. That’s as Michigan faces some of the worst coronavirus hotspots in the country.

Michigan health officials lifted a pause on the J&J vaccine based on advice from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC determined getting more people vaccinated outweighs the very remote risk of developing a blood clot.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer said Tuesday she will veto Republican-sponsored election bills if they are sent to her desk. But she does not expect that will end the fight. The bills would, among other things, require voters to show IDs at polling places or to get an absentee ballot. They would also limit the use of ballot drop boxes.

Whitmer registered her opposition during an online interview with The Washington Post.

The Michigan Bureau of Elections says a petition campaign to initiate a law to curtail the governor’s use of emergency powers has gathered the signatures it needs.

The bureau used a sample of petition signatures to estimate 460,358 of the names collected by Unlock Michigan are from registered voters. The campaign needs 340,047. The next step is for the bipartisan Michigan Board of State Canvassers to vote on certifying the petition signatures. The board is expected to meet Thursday.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s office has confirmed she traveled out of state more than a month ago to visit her father. This was before the governor was vaccinated against COVID-19.

A statement says: “The past six months, she has left the state three times, once for the (Presidential) inauguration, once to assist her elderly father who is battling a chronic illness, and once to visit with Michigan’s National Guard troops. All trips were very brief, two days or less, closely followed public health guidelines and were made when Michigan’s daily positivity rates were in the single digits.”

State Representative Jewell Jones has been released on a personal bond and ordered to submit to random drug and alcohol testing.

That’s after a probable cause hearing on Friday.

A magistrate determined there’s enough evidence for a case to proceed against the lawmaker – who is charged with drunk driving and resisting a police officer stemming from an April 6 crash along Interstate 96 in Livingston County.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer continued to push back Sunday morning against calls for her to re-impose more COVID-19 restrictions in the face of a third surge. That’s as Michigan has led the nation in new cases per population for two weeks.

Michigan still requires masks, distancing and limits on gatherings, but the governor said on NBC’s Meet the Press that her options to do more are limited, partly due to court decisions.

Hearings are expected to begin soon in the Michigan Legislature on a 39-bill Republican election package aimed at reversing absentee ballot access and early voting policies in the battleground state.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, on Thursday slammed the bills, describing them as a response to a problem that doesn’t exist, and that would tamp down legal voting.

Copyright 2021 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit Michigan Radio.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The commission that manages the common areas of the Michigan State Capitol adopted a policy Monday that bans openly carrying guns throughout much of the building, but with little hope that the decision satisfies the needs of many.

The Michigan State Capitol Commission voted 6-0 to adopt the new policy following the armed assault on the U.S. Capitol last week and protesters with guns swarming the statehouse last April.

Michigan state Rep. Cynthia Johnson, a Black Democratic lawmaker who faced lynching threats and harassment following an Oversight Committee hearing last week where she leveled fierce criticism against President Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, has been punished by House Republican leaders for a video she posted to Facebook on Tuesday. Republicans say that's because in the video she appears to threaten supporters of the president.

Johnson has been stripped of her committee assignments, including her position on the House Oversight Committee.

APRIL BAER / MICHIGAN RADIO

A Wayne County judge says certification of election ballots will go forward on schedule. He issued the decision Friday on whether or not to order a delay in certifying election results.

That delay request came from plaintiffs who are challenging how ballot counting was handled in Detroit.

President Donald Trump’s campaign has also filed a lawsuit in the western Michigan U.S. District Court to attempt to stop the certification of the state’s election results.

Michigan Judge Strikes Down Open Carry Ban At Polling Places On Election Day

Oct 27, 2020
(AP PHOTO/PAUL SANCYA)

BREAKING: A Michigan judge has struck down Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s ban on the open carry of guns at polling places on Election Day. Court of Claims Judge Christopher Murray issued the decision Tuesday. Unless it’s reversed by a higher court, it applies to voting places and absentee counting boards next Tuesday. The only exception would be churches and other places that are already allowed to forbid the open carry of guns. 

Judge Christopher Murray acted just a few hours after hearing a challenge from gun-rights groups. They said Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, had exceeded her authority in banning people from openly carrying guns within 100 feet of polling places. Critics argued that Benson failed to go through a formal rule-making process as required under state law.

Michigan's Attorney General intends to appeal. 

JOELLE SEDLMEYER / GETTY IMAGES

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has issued an order to allow more in-person visits with people in nursing homes. The order applies to facilities in counties the state has identified as “low risk.”

A Michigan Court of Appeals panel says a lower court judge got it wrong by refusing to enforce an order to shut down Owosso, Mich., barber Karl Manke, who gained fame or notoriety for cutting hair in defiance of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's COVID-19 emergency orders. The orders include a ban on barbers and hair salons doing business during the declared crisis.

Copyright 2020 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit Michigan Radio.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, HOST:

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) says term limits have created more problems than they solved. For one thing, he says lawmakers quickly start eyeing post-political careers as lobbyists. He’s hoping the Voters Not Politicians campaign will get on board to help fix that by supporting his goal of extending or eliminating Michigan's current term limits.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced Tuesday that almost every school in Michigan has access to reliable, high-speed internet service.

She says there are still 10 school districts, mostly in rural areas, that don’t have high-speed internet in every classroom.

The U.S. Supreme Court says the Michigan Legislature does not have to immediately draw new congressional and legislative district lines. That decision was expected after the Supreme Court rejected efforts in other states to redraw boundaries.

Updated October 30, 2019, 2:30 p.m.:

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has signed House Bill 4325. It ensures that Licensed professional counselors are still able to treat and diagnose patients. 

Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Legislature’s Republican leaders met Thursday. They are trying to find common ground this week following the governor’s sweeping line-item budget vetoes.

No agreements were reached, but all parties say the fact that the talks are continuing is a good sign. However, there is a growing sense of urgency among the people who run programs that are affected by the budget cuts. Those include local jails, human services, and charter schools.

There could be another budget showdown looming in Lansing.

Republicans in the Legislature have set the stage for a showdown with Governor Gretchen Whitmer over 147 line-item budget vetoes. GOP lawmakers have drafted new budgets that would restore many of the vetoes.

The state House adopted a bill that’s supposed to settle a controversy over mental health services in Michigan. The bill would stop proposed changes in a state rule on what licensed professional counselors can do. The bill says counselors could diagnose conditions and help develop treatment plans. That would also allow them to be reimbursed by insurance companies for their work.

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