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

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has called on the GOP-controlled Legislature to repeal the state’s decades-old ban on almost all abortions, even though the ban is not enforceable under the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.

Whitmer issued a statement after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block Texas’s law banning most abortions. She said that puts in play Michigan’s 90-year-old statutory ban on abortions except those necessary to save a woman’s life.

A respected University of Michigan economic forecast says the state is on track for an almost full recovery of the jobs lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. But that recovery could take a while.

The widely watched UM Research Seminar in Quantitative Economics projects the direction of the US and Michigan economies and, among other things, is used to help determine how much revenue state budget drafters will have to work with.

A Michigan lawmaker says an old marijuana conviction should not stop people from participating in the state’s growing recreational cannabis industry.

Senator Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) says a “moral character” clause in state law can be used to keep out people who were illegally selling marijuana who could otherwise join the legal industry. Irwin says his bill would also align the state’s recreational and medical marijuana laws.

A petition drive took an initial step Thursday toward enacting new voter restrictions.

The Republican-backed signature campaign says it has filed its initiative language with the state Bureau of Elections. It’s a step toward enacting a veto-proof law that would make it harder for some people to vote in Michigan.

State employees are being told they once again have to mask up at the office as a COVID-19 health precaution.

The policy applies to 47,000 state employees who work in an office or other indoor setting.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer said Friday that Michigan will welcome Afghans fleeing their country following the collapse of the U.S.-backed government and takeover by the Taliban.

The governor said – in a statement released by her office – that multiple state departments and agencies are making plans to support Afghan families who arrive in Michigan.

“Michigan embraces the opportunity to welcome Afghan families as they find a new home to begin their lives,” she said.

Businesses could not require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and also could not require unvaccinated people to wear protective masks under a bill that was up for a hearing Thursday before a state House committee. 

The state House voted Tuesday to outlaw hooking up voting machines up to the internet while ballots are being tabulated. The vote showed the stark difference in how Republicans and Democrats view election security.   

Election officials stressed in the leadup to House passage that election machines are not on the internet as people are voting and ballots are tallied. Thus, argued Democrats, the legislation is not needed.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer offered some broad outlines Monday of plans to improve public safety. That’s as crime rates have increased in Michigan and across the country.

The plans include more and better police training, getting illegal guns off the street, and hiring more officers.

“There’s not one solution to this complex problem,” she said. “It’s going to take a comprehensive plan that addresses every part of this complicated equation.”

The governor says she’d also like to offer incentives for officers to live in the communities that employ them.

The state’s workplace safety agency is urging businesses to adopt the CDC’s new mask recommendations to help stave off the spread of new COVID-19 variants. But the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration is not issuing an order to require it.

Sean Egan is MIOSHA’s director of workplace safety. He says MIOSHA is not imposing a rule because businesses know more now about avoiding transmission.

A bipartisan infrastructure bill cleared the U.S. Senate Tuesday with the support of both of Michigan’s senators.

               

“There is so much in this infrastructure bill that is good for Michigan,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat. She pointed to money for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Soo Locks as specific examples of projects to benefit the state.

               

Senator Gary Peters, also a Democrat, shepherded a $1 billion cybersecurity provision as part of the omnibus measure.   

               

700,000 Michigan households will continue to receive additional federal food assistance payments this month. The payments will show up in Bridge card accounts this week.

Alex Rossman is with the Michigan League for Public Policy, which advocates for human services. He said the federally funded extra payment has been re-approved monthly since the start of the emergency in April of last year.

“And it really is just acknowledging what we unfortunately all know, that the pandemic and the economic impacts of it are still happening. Families that were struggling are still struggling, perhaps even struggling more,” said Rossman.

The Michigan Court of Appeals says the state law that punishes intimidation based on gender protects transgender people from threatening behavior.

The case centers on a victim who identifies as female. She was threatened, taunted and shot in the shoulder during an altercation at a gas station.

A Democrat in the state Legislature is asking Attorney General Dana Nessel to issue a formal opinion on whether electronic signatures can be counted on petitions to amend state laws.

The same question is already before the Michigan Court of Appeals. That’s after a lower court tossed electronic signatures gathered by the Fair and Equal Michigan campaign, which is trying to add LGBTQ protections to the state’s civil rights law.

The campaign to add LGBTQ protections to Michigan’s civil rights law has appealed a court decision that stalled the petition drive. The Fair and Equal Michigan campaign filed its paperwork Monday with the state Court of Appeals.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has toured much of the state this week to build support for using American Rescue Plan funds for affordable housing.

Whitmer’s stops included Detroit, Jackson, and Kalamazoo. She’s hoping to win legislative approval to commit $100 million from the federal government for housing.

She says that could leverage another $380 million dollars in private sector investment.

“Right now, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to give thousands of Michiganders a safe place to call home,” she said at the Detroit event.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer says she’s not about to announce new mask mandates in Michigan.

That’s despite new guidance from the CDC that people should mask up while indoors in areas that are COVID-19 hotspots.

Whitmer says she’s very concerned about how variants may develop, but she thinks there are better options right now than new state orders.

The Michigan Court of Appeals is the next stop for the petition campaign to add LTBTQ protections to the state civil rights law. That’s after a bipartisan state board unanimously agreed that Fair and Equal Michigan’s petition drive fell short, largely based on its collection of electronic signatures.

Fair and Equal Michigan wants to get its initiative before the Legislature or on the 2022 ballot.

A state board will meet Monday to determine whether an initiative to expand Michigan’s civil rights law to include LGBTQ protections will move ahead.

A law Governor Gretchen Whitmer used to issue emergency orders during the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic was repealed Wednesday by a vote by the state House of Representatives.

Republicans were frustrated by Whitmer’s continued use of unilateral COVID orders.

Representative Andrew Fink (R-Hillsdale) said Whitmer used those powers in defiance of the wishes of the Legislature.

The state Senate will begin hearings soon on a proposed overhaul of how Michigan offers publicly funded mental health services. There are lots of different ideas on how to fix the system, but there is one area of wide agreement: The current approach is not working.

A mental health system overhaul is a key area of interest for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), who says the quality of care right now depends largely on where a patient lives. The system is managed by county mental health boards.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

There could be money in getting vaccinated.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced the first four $50,000 COVID-19 vaccine “MI Shot to Win” lottery prize winners Wednesday. There will also be a $1 million drawing, a $2 million drawing and scholarship prizes.

The campaign to expand Michigan’s civil rights law has been given more time to show it has collected enough signatures to qualify for the statewide ballot.

The Fair and Equal Michigan campaign wants to add LGBTQ protections to the civil rights act.

The campaign is challenging a finding by the Michigan Bureau of Elections that it fell short of the necessary number of signatures of registered voters.

Democratic state lawmakers called again Tuesday for a bipartisan commission to examine the involvement of Michiganders in the January 6th attack on the US Capitol. The event was timed to coincide with the six-month anniversary of the insurrection.

Eleven Michigan residents face federal charges related to the US Capitol attack.

The Michigan Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether Michigan’s civil rights law protects people from discrimination based on sexual orientation.

That order was made public today.

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights is appealing a lower court ruling.

The question is whether Michigan’s civil rights law protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The state Legislature is on a summer break with much of the state budget still unfinished. That includes revenue sharing payments to local governments, as well as plans for using federal pandemic aid.             

While local governments rely on revenue sharing payments, an even bigger deal is approving the state’s allocation of American Rescue Plan funds.             


Michigan’s K-12 schools can expect a big spending boost as they prepare to welcome students back to classrooms.

The Michigan Court of Appeals says a trial can go forward against a university student accused of making a threat of terrorism via a social media post. The decision was released Friday.

Lake Superior State University student Lucas Gerhard faces the criminal charge because of a post on Snapchat. According to the facts described in the decision, he was holding an AR-15 rifle with a bayonet attached. The caption said: “Takin this bad boy up, this outta make the snowflakes melt, aye? And I mean snowflakes as in snow,” followed by a winking-face emoji.

The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission wants more time to do its job.

Attorneys for the commission made their case Monday before the Michigan Supreme Court. They say the problem is the court won’t get all the U.S. Census data it needs in time to meet its deadlines, because the COVID-19 crisis has delayed sharing those numbers.

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