January, 2021 - Safe and Just Michigan

Many Criminal Justice Reform Bills Signed
Into Law at the Close of “Lame Duck”

Michigan’s “lame duck” legislative sessions — the time between an election and the end of the year — tend to bring a flurry of activity because legislators are under immense time pressure. For some who have been voted out or who are maxing out on their term limits, these are their last days in office, and the last chance they have to move their legislation to the governor’s desk for signing. For others, it is simply the end of a legislative session — the expiration date for bills that haven’t completed their legislative process. Even if a bill has completed all the legislative process except for a final vote, it expires at the end of lame duck and will have to be reintroduced in the new legislative session at the start of the next year.

Fortunately for criminal justice reform advocates, the bills that we have been championing throughout the year did make it to the governor’s desk, and nearly all were signed into law. These new laws stand to make an incredible positive change in the lives of Michiganders in the coming years. Here’s a round up of the recently signed legislation:

Ending Driver’s License Suspensions for
Non-Driving Offenses:

House Bills 5846, 5847, 5849–5852, 6235 and House Concurrent Resolution 29
These new laws will end Michigan’s practice of suspending driver’s licenses for things that were unrelated to driving, such as failing to appear in court or to pay fines. This will have a vast impact on Michiganders, as nearly 358,000 people had their licenses suspended for those two reasons alone.

Reclassifying Many Traffic Offenses as
Civil Infractions

HB 5853
This new law reclassifies many traffic offenses that had been misdemeanors as civil infractions. These include operating a motorcycle without the proper endorsement and allowing an unlicensed minor to drive. Making these offenses civil infractions makes them ticketable offenses, sparing people from arrest and jail.

Eliminating Mandatory
Minimum Jail Sentences

HBs 5844 and 5854–5857
          Offenses covered under these new laws: operating a motor vehicle while impaired, operating a vehicle without a license, fraudulently using a teaching certificate or college degree to get a job, poaching, and offenses related to railroad switches and devices.

Tickets in Lieu of Arrest

Senate Bill 1046
This new law expands law enforcement officers’ ability to issue tickets instead of arresting people for minor offenses. This is critically important, as even short jail stays can lead to job losses and other significant financial consequences.

Summons Instead of Arrest

SB 1047
This law ensures that for the first-time instance of failure to appear in court, a summons will be issued rather than a warrant for arrest.

Presumption of Non-Jail Sentence

SB 1048
Under this new law, judges are directed to issue sentences other than jail, such as probation or community service, for most misdemeanors and some felonies.

Age Expansion for Youthful Trainees

SB 1049
With this law, the upper age limit for the Youthful Trainee Act is expanded to 25. This gives more young people an alternative to a jail sentence.

Probation Reforms

SB 1050
Many changes are made to probation with this new law, including tailoring the terms of probation to each individual; reducing probation lengths; and capping jail sanctions when probation terms are violated.

Parole Reform

SB 1051
Similar to SB 1050, this new law will require terms of parole to be tailored to each individual.

“Good Moral Character” Professional and
Occupational Licensing Reform 

HBs 4488–4492 and SB 293
Until now, professional and occupational licensing boards have used the “good moral character” clause to summarily deny licenses to people with a criminal record. That changes with these new laws, which direct the boards that having a record alone is not proof of a lack of moral character. However, it can be taken into consideration in some instances — for instance, someone who has a conviction for child abuse could be denied a license to operate a child day care center.

Clean Slate for Kids

SBs 681-2
This will seal the juvenile court records from public view and creates a process to automatically expunge those records for youth who do not commit future offenses.

Limiting the Use of Juvenile Detention

SB 700, 893-4
These laws remove running away from home as a crime and limit the use of secure juvenile detention facilities for offenses that are not crimes. SBs 893-4, related to youth boot camps, mirror changes to juvenile detention centers made above.

Food Assistance for Justice-Involved People

SB 1006
This law ends the lifetime ban on SNAP food assistance to people who have a conviction for a drug-related offense. This is critically important especially now, as Michigan is undergoing a recession and many people are out of work — and because people who have a criminal record contend with an unemployment rate that is always much higher than the national average.

Governor Vetoes DUI Expungement

In a very disappointing move, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer opted to veto a bill that would have made it possible for people with one drunk driving conviction to seek an expungement. Unfortunately, she gave no explanation for her veto, so we don’t know why she objected to the law, or how that objection might be addressed. This is a crushing disappointment, as driving under the influence convictions are among the most common offenses in our state, complicating the lives of thousands upon thousands of Michiganders — many of whom have no other criminal record. We are hopeful this bill will be reintroduced in the new legislative session and that another attempt will be made to get this proposal signed into law.

Mark Your Calendar for A Day of Empathy on March 2

We hope you’ll make plans now to join us March 2 for a Day of Empathy. This annual event, sponsored nationally by #Cut50, highlights the humanity of people with a criminal record and the challenges and hardships that having a record brings. It also challenges lawmakers to reflect on our justice and corrections system and consider whether they succeed in their missions to reform people who are incarcerated and to make our communities safer.

While our plans for the day aren’t yet final, Safe & Just Michigan will be marking the day with a series of panel discussions that we hope you’ll join via Zoom. We’ll be sharing information on the speaker lineup as soon as that becomes available. To find out more, be sure to follow us on our social media channels — on Twitter @safeandjustmi and on Facebook at facebook.com/safeandjustmi — and sign up for our monthly e-newsletter at bit.ly/sjmsignup.

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