Whitmer signs dozens of criminal justice and jail reform bills

By: - January 5, 2021 2:08 pm

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To start the year, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a number of bipartisan criminal justice and jail reform bills into law Monday.

“Despite the challenges 2020 presented, I am proud of the incredible work we have done as a state to reform our criminal justice system,” said Whitmer. “After establishing the bipartisan Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration we were able to make real and meaningful change that will impact the lives of thousands of Michiganders. I am eager to continue to work with the legislature in the new year to create a healthy and strong Michigan.” 

The task force, which was formed in July 2019 to help reduce jail populations and expand alternatives to incarceration, found that low-level infractions, like driving on a suspended license, violations of probation, and other misdemeanors, were exhausting public safety resources and impacting hundreds of thousands of Michiganders each year.

“I’m extraordinarily proud of our collective work over the last two years to understand and improve the criminal justice system,” said Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist, who co-chairs the task force. “Before Governor Whitmer and I took office, the system didn’t work for families, communities, or our state as a whole, but we made a conscious effort to make our state a national leader in reform, and the results speak for themselves. We must continue to work together to find ways to provide second chances through a smarter, safer, and more effective justice system.” 

Whitmer signed 20 bipartisan bills aimed at expanding the use of jail alternatives and reserve jail for public safety risks and eliminating and reforming low-level criminal penalties. 

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According to the governor’s office, the bills were vetted by lawmakers and refined by prosecutors, judges, sheriffs, crime victims, reform advocates and members of the public.

An eight bill package, House Bills 5846, 5847, 58495852, 6235 and House Concurrent Resolution 29, sponsored by a number of House Democrats and Republicans, eliminates license suspension for violations of the law unrelated to dangerous driving. 

The legislators who sponsored the bills are Reps. Bronna Kahle (R-Adrian), Luke Meerman (R-Coopersville), Mike Mueller (R-Linden), Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor), Tenisha Yancey (D-Harper Woods), Lori Stone (D-Warren), Cynthia Neeley (D-Flint) and Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain).

House Bill 5853, sponsored by Kahle, reclassifies many traffic misdemeanors as civil infractions. 

Another bill package signed by Whitmer, House Bills 5844 and 58545857, eliminates mandatory minimum jail sentences in the Motor Vehicle Code, School Code, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, Railroad Code, and Public Health Code. 

The bill package was sponsored by Reps. Tim Sneller (D-Burton), Tommy Brann (R-Wyoming), Steven Johnson (R-Wayland), Jack O’Malley (R-Lake Ann) and Joe Bellino (R-Monroe).

Senate Bill 1046, sponsored by Sen. Roger Victory (R-Hudsonville), expands law enforcement discretion to issue citations for most misdemeanors and presumes citation in lieu of arrest in many cases. 

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Senate Bill 1047, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), ensures summons are used for most first-time failures to appear and allows defendants to resolve low-level warrants without being arrested. 

Senate Bill 1048, sponsored by Sen. Sylvia Santana (D- Detroit), creates a presumption of a sentence other than jail for most misdemeanors and certain felonies. 

Senate Bill 1049, sponsored by Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit,) expands eligibility for deferred judgment of guilt to 24- and 25-year-olds under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act. 

Senate Bill 1050, sponsored by Sen. Michael MacDonald (R-Macomb Twp.), reduces probation terms, tailors probation conditions to address risks and needs and caps jail sanctions for technical probation violations. 

Senate Bill 1051, sponsored by Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan), tailors parole conditions to address risks and needs. 

“These bills take important steps toward ending Michigan’s overuse of jails, and will protect thousands of people in Michigan from unnecessary arrests and incarceration for low-level misdemeanors and technical probation violations,” said John Cooper, executive director for Safe and Just Michigan. “These reforms will help thousands of people in Michigan get to work and keep their jobs instead of unnecessarily cycling through Michigan’s jail system, thereby improving both economic outcomes and public safety in our state.” 

Former House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) and current Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) praised the bipartisan work done to pass these bills. 

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Chatfield called it a “perfect example of putting people before politics.”

“This is not reactionary policy – it’s thoughtful and purposeful,” Shirkey said. “These bills are rooted in data, informed by research, and built on the consensus and compromise of a diverse group of stakeholders.” 

Another one of the criminal justice reform packages Whitmer signed is the Good Moral Character package, composed of House Bills 44884492 and Senate Bill 293. This legislation reforms occupational licensing to expand opportunities for Michiganders post-conviction or post-judgment and limits a board or agency from considering criminal convictions and civil judgments when determining if an applicant is of “good moral character.”

SB 293, sponsored by Sen. Jeremy Moss (D- Southfield), amends the state’s Occupational Code to require the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) to annually report to the legislature regarding the applications for occupational licenses that were denied based on the applicant’s lack of good moral character. 

Whitmer also signed the Clean Slate for Kids package, Senate Bills 681 and 682, which reforms the state’s juvenile criminal justice laws to seal juvenile court records from the public as of Jan. 1 and creates a process to automatically expunge juvenile records for those who don’t commit future offenses.  The bipartisan package was sponsored by Irwin and former Sen. Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Twp.).

A few more bills to reform juvenile justice and rehabilitation also passed the governor’s desk Monday. 

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Senate Bill 700, sponsored by Santana, amends the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act to limit the use of secure juvenile detention facilities for young offenders who are under the jurisdiction of a court for repeated offenses that are not crimes, like running away. The bill also adjusts the list of offenses a juvenile may be detained for while a hearing is pending, removes the status offense of running away from home and adds the violation of a court order. 

Senate Bills 893 and 894, sponsored by Santana, amend the Youth Rehabilitation Services Act and the Juvenile Boot Camp Act to change citations to the law to reflect changes in SB 700, also sponsored by Santana. 

“If we want to fix the school-to-prison pipeline, it starts with fixing our judicial system and investing in education,” Santana said in a statement Monday. “With today’s bill signing by the Governor, Michigan took a huge step forward in these areas by changing how we handle juveniles who run away from home, skip school, and disobey their parents.”

Whitmer also signed Senate Bill 1006, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint), which amends the Social Welfare Act to allow individuals who committed a drug-related offense, or have outstanding drug-related to access the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other food assistance programs. 

Ending the lifetime ban on SNAP food assistance for certain drug felons, the juvenile record expungement bills and the legislation to improve access to occupational licenses for justice-involved individuals effectively eliminate some of the unofficial and lifelong punishments that currently come with a criminal record,” Michigan League for Public Policy External Affairs Director Alex Rossman said. “These changes have the support of the business community and offer the opportunity and stability justice-involved individuals need to truly move on from their past mistakes.” 

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.

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