In this issue of Lansing Update:
- Lame Duck Session Awaits Executive Order Cuts
- House Passes Juvenile Life Without Parole Sentencing Reforms
- Smoking Ban Legislation Sent to Conference Committee
As this year’s legislative session comes to an end, both the House of Representatives and State Senate await Executive Order budget cuts deemed necessary to alleviate the state’s $400 million shortfall.
Executive Order budget cuts originate in the governor’s office and must be approved by both chambers’ appropriations committees to take effect. The Granholm administration and legislative leaders are reportedly collaborating on exactly what those cuts will include. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) stated this week that the Senate would not act on any legislation in the lame duck session until the E.O. cuts are issued.
Previous executive orders slashing the state budget have been controversial due to the programs they affect. While Michigan’s dismal, and worsening economic condition has impacted hundreds of thousands across the state, Michigan Catholic Conference staff advocacy efforts will focus on diminishing any detrimental affects the cuts will have on the state’s poor and vulnerable population.
Efforts are under way in the legislature to amend guidelines for juveniles sentenced to life in prison without the opportunity for parole. House Bills 4402-4405 , supported by Michigan Catholic Conference, passed the House this week and have been transmitted to the State Senate.
Arguments in support of the legislation focus around the notion that youths tried and convicted as adults should be given the opportunity to reform and have a second chance at life through the possibility of parole. MCC staff distributed a memo to all members of the Michigan House of Representatives that read, in part, as follows: “To treat all juvenile offenders as adults is simplistic and negates the importance and possibility of correction. Judges should have flexibility to view all of the circumstances of a particular crime, and to mete out justice accordingly.”
Problems with the current law include the following:
- The message it sends to youth is that they are beyond redemption.
- Not all youth offenders are violent “super-predators,” who were the target of the tougher sanctions imposed in the 1980s.
- Offenders should be held accountable for their crimes, but in a manner that reflects their special capacity for rehabilitation.
- In Roper v. Simmons (2005), the United States Supreme Court abolished the death penalty for juveniles, citing the emotional/maturity difference between adult and juvenile offenders. Should not this same logic apply in the application of LWOP?
There are over 150 individuals in Michigan serving life without parole who were under the age of 17 at the time of their crime/sentencing. Michigan ranks third in the nation in terms of the number of individuals sentenced, and third in the range of 14–17 year olds per 100,000.
The legislative package must be approved by a Senate committee, the full chamber and the governor before taking effect, which is unlikely in the lame duck session. Efforts to enact such measures will likely be re-introduced in the next legislative session.
A smoking ban in public places has been a controversial topic in the legislature this year despite an overwhelming level of support among the public. Legislation that would ban smoking in public areas such as restaurants, bars and even Detroit casinos passed the State Senate earlier this year, and the House of Representatives passed a similar measure while carving out exemptions for casinos and cigar bars.
Now, a conference committee has been created to address the two chambers’ differences.
This week the House of Representatives sent House Bill 4163 to a conference committee and named as conferees Representatives Brenda Clack, (D-Flint), Andrew Meisner (D-Ferndale), and Dave Hildenbrand (R-Lowell). Despite an outpouring of support from health related organizations, along with the director of the Department of Community Health and numerous doctors across the state, the Senate has yet to name its conferees to the committee.
Michigan Catholic Conference has sent to its legislative advocacy network a message asking for phone calls to be made to the office of Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop urging for Senate conferees to be named and acted upon. More information may be found on the Catholic Legislative Advocacy Network. [Link no longer available —Ed.]