Governor Whitmer signs bills into law to create jail alternatives, help juveniles

On Monday, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed into law a bipartisan package of criminal justice...
On Monday, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed into law a bipartisan package of criminal justice reform bills.(Michigan Executive Office of the Governor)
Published: Jan. 4, 2021 at 4:00 PM EST
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - On Monday, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed into law a bipartisan package of criminal justice reform bills.

Started in summer 2019, this is a joint effort from the Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration. The bipartisan package aims to create other alternatives to jail, change the penalty for traffic offenses, and challenge the ticketing system.

“As a former prosecutor, I recognize how critical it is to take steps toward a smarter and more equitable justice system that not only saves taxpayer money, but keeps people in their communities,” said Governor Gretchen Whitmer. “Over the last two years, we’ve worked with leaders on both sides of the aisle to make Michigan a national leader on criminal justice reform. I want to thank Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist and Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack, along with the bipartisan members of the task force, for their leadership in this effort. Today proves that it is possible to make tremendous progress to improve our state when we work together to get things done.”

The 20 bills, passed by both Republican and Democratic state senators and representatives, are based on policy recommendations from the Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration. Through a study, the Task Force found that low-level infractions such as the following: driving on a suspended license, violations of probation, and other misdemeanors, were affecting Michigan natives each year.

What they found is that communities were not getting any safer even though jail populations had tripled in less than 40 years.

“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 II. “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.”

“This first set of bills will help end the vicious cycle that so many people are trapped in — being poor, not being able to pay your fines, having your license suspended and a warrant issued for failing to come to court,” said Amanda Alexander, Executive Director of the Detroit Justice Center and a member of the Task Force. “At the Detroit Justice Center, we are eager to see this legislation make a difference in people’s lives, and we are committed to continuing the fight alongside our movement partners for more widespread change.”

The bills include the following:

  • HB 5846, Rep. Bronna Kahle (R, District 57), HB 5847, Rep. Luke Meerman (R, District 88), HB 5849, Rep. Mike Mueller (R, District 51), HB 5850, Rep. Rebekah Warren (D, District 55), HB 5851, Rep. Tenisha Yancey (D, District 1), HB 5852, Rep. Lori Stone (D, District 28), HB 6235, Rep. Cynthia Neeley (D, District 34), and HCR 29, Rep. Beau LaFave (R, District 108) eliminates license suspension for violations of the law unrelated to dangerous driving
  • HB 5853, Rep. Bronna Kahle (R, District 57) reclassifies many traffic misdemeanors as civil infractions
  • HB 5854, Rep. Tim Sneller (D, District 50), HB 5855, Rep. Tommy Brann (R, District 77), HB 5856, Rep. Steven Johnson (R, District 72), HB 5857, Rep. Jack O’Malley (R, District 101), and HB 5844 Rep. Joe Bellino (R, District 17) eliminates mandatory minimum jail sentences in the Motor Vehicle Code, School Code, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, Railroad Code, and Public Health CodeSB 1046, Sen. Roger Victory (R, District 30) expands law enforcement discretion to issue citations for most misdemeanors and presumes citation in lieu of arrest in many cases
  • SB 1047, Sen. Jeff Irwin (D, District 18) ensures summonses are used for most first-time failures to appear and allows defendants to resolve low-level warrants without being arrested
  • SB 1048, Sen. Sylvia Santana (D, District 3) creates a presumption of a sentence other than jail for most misdemeanors and certain felonies
  • SB 1049, Sen. Stephanie Chang (D, District 1) expands eligibility for deferred judgment of guilt to 24- and 25-year-olds under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act
  • SB 1050, Sen. Michael MacDonald (R, District 10) reduces probation terms, tailors probation conditions to address risks and needs, and caps jail sanctions for technical probation violations
  • SB 1051, Sen. Ed McBroom (R, District 38) tailors parole conditions to address risks and needs

Additionally, Governor Whitmer also signed a series of bipartisan bills, including the Good Moral Character and Clean Slate for Kids packages to further advance criminal justice reform in Michigan. These bills will help ensure a fresh start for youth exiting the juvenile justice system by giving them access to licensed professions and benefits like SNAP. 

“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 Governor 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.”

House Bills 4488-4492 and Senate Bill 293 comprise the Good Moral Character Package which reforms occupational licensing to expand opportunities for Michiganders post-conviction or post-judgment. 

  • House Bill 4488 limits the situations in which a licensing board may consider criminal convictions and civil actions in determining an applicant’s good moral character. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Brandt Iden (R-Kalamazoo)
  • House Bill 4489 clarifies that the adjustments made in HB 4488 do not apply to determining “good moral character” for admission to the State Bar of Michigan and that for those purposes, good moral character would be determined by the Board of Law examiners. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Joe Bellino (R- Monroe County)
  • House Bill 4490-92 revise the definition of “good moral character” within specific acts to align with the changes in HB 4488. The bills were sponsored by Rep. Michele Hoitenga (R- Manton), Rep. Beth Griffin (R- Mattawan), and Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D- Detroit)
  • Senate Bill 293 amends the Occupational Code to require the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) to report annually to the legislature regarding applications for occupational licenses that were denied because of an applicant’s lack of good moral character. The bill was sponsored by Senator Jeremy Moss (D- Southfield)
  • Senate Bills 681 and 682 comprise the Clean Slate for Kids package which aims to ensure a fresh start for youth exiting the juvenile justice system. The bipartisan bill package would reform Michigan’s juvenile criminal justice laws to seal juvenile court records from public view and create a process to automatically expunge juvenile records for those who don’t commit future offenses
  • Senate Bill 681 allows for the expungement of traffic offenses for juveniles and automatic expungement for certain offenses committed by juveniles. The bill was sponsored by Senator Jeff Irwin (D- Ann Arbor)
  • Senate Bill 682 makes juvenile court records nonpublic beginning January 1, 2021, as well as expands the categories of people deemed to have a “legitimate interest” and therefore eligible to see closed court hearings and nonpublic documents. The bill was sponsored by Senator Peter Lucido (R- Shelby Twp.)

Governor Whitmer also signed the following criminal justice reform legislation into law:

  • Senate Bill 1006 amends the Social Welfare Act to allow individuals who committed a drug-related offense, or have outstanding warrants for such offenses, to access the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other food assistance t. Senator Jim Ananich (D- Flint)
  • Senate Bill 700 requires the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act limit the use of secure juvenile detention facilities for status offenders. The bill also adjusts the list of offenses for which a juvenile may be detained pending a hearing, removing the status offense of running away from home and adding the violation of a court order. The bill was sponsored by Senator Sylvia Santana (D- Detroit)
  • Senate Bill 893 amend the Youth Rehabilitation Services Act to change citations to the law to reflect changes in Senate Bill 700. The bill was sponsored by Senator Sylvia Santana (D- Detroit)
  • Senate Bill 894 amend the Juvenile Boot Camp Act to change citations to the law to reflect changes in Senate Bill 700. The bill was sponsored by Senator Sylvia Santana (D- Detroit)

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