Safe & Just Michigan - December, 2020

Lame Duck Update: Good News! Many Criminal Justice Reform Bills Pass

The Lame Duck session that takes place after an election but before a legislative session comes to a close at the end of that year is often a busy time at the Michigan Legislature, and 2020 was certainly no exception. Fortunately for criminal justice reform advocates, this Lame Duck session provided a bright spot in a year that was often challenging.

In fact, Lame Duck itself proved to be a challenge. When a COVID-19 outbreak erupted in the House, the chamber had to close for a week in early December. That shaved a week of valuable time off the Lame Duck calendar - a critical loss because bills that fail to complete the legislative process by the end of Lame Duck are declared dead at the end of session. If legislators want to revive them, they must be reintroduced when the following legislative session begins in 2021, and all the work must begin anew.

Luckily, that didn’t happen to most of the criminal justice reform bills.

Jails Task Force

Throughout the 2019-2020 legislative session, the work of the Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration stood out as an example of how bipartisanship is a powerful tool for achieving policy goals. That continued to be true in Lame Duck, as both Democrats and Republicans came together to move the 18 bills of the jails task force package across the finish line.

They include:

Bills removing mandatory jail sentences for certain misdemeanors (House Bills 5844 & 5855-5857).
Bills to end the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for things unrelated to unsafe driving (HBs 5846-5854).
Bills encouraging alternatives to arrest, jail incarceration or probation (Senate Bills 1046-1051).

All of these bills wrapped up the legislative process and are headed to the governor for a signature. While they haven’t yet been signed, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer formed the jails task force and has been a strong supporter of its work, so it’s likely she will support the bills.

Professional Licensing

In order to take many kinds of jobs in Michigan, ranging from being a barber to selling homes or doing carpentry work, people need to hold a professional or occupational license issued by a state licensing board. These licenses contain a “good moral character” clause, which up to now has been used to screen out people with a criminal record.

HBs 4488-4492, passed in early December, will end that practice. They prevent licensing boards from using a conviction as sole proof of a lack of good moral character. However, if a license relates to the conviction, such as a childcare license and a child abuse conviction, it could be taken into consideration.

These bills have yet to be signed into law by the governor, but there is no indication she will veto them.

DUI Expungement

When the Legislature voted on Clean Slate legislation in September, some lawmakers and Michigan residents alike voiced disappointment that DUI offenses wouldn’t be made eligible for expungement, either through a petition before a judge or through Clean Slate's automatic process. In fact, that’s why some legislators, like Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain) cited the lack of DUI expungement as their reason for voting against Clean Slate.

Thankfully, LaFave didn’t stop there. He introduced HB 6453, which allows people to petition for the expungement of a first DUI offense. Because the House had to shut down for a week because of COVID-19, a copy of the bill was introduced in the Senate, Sen. Ed McBroom’s SB 1254 (R-Waucedah). During the House’s down week, the Senate hurriedly passed the bill and sent it over to the House, where it completed its journey.

The bill has yet to be signed, but no opposition to it has been raised by the governor’s office.

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