Criminal justice bills would define problems to help solve them

By LAINA STEBBINS

Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan’s recidivism rate is significantly higher than the national average. Or is it?

No one knows for sure, supporters of a criminal justice revamp package say, thanks to a lack of agreement among state agencies about which measurements to use in defining how often convicted criminals go on to commit future crimes. And that’s just one part of the problem.

A piece of legislation defining recidivism and how to calculate a rate is one of 20 bills in a package that supporters say would enhance the efficiency of Michigan’s criminal justice system. The package awaits approval from Gov. Rick Snyder after clearing the House and Senate with bipartisan support.

The bills would institute changes throughout the system: Reforms to data tracking, prison time, probation and parole policies, and reentry approaches are included. Continue reading

Bill would “level playing field” in human trafficking cases

By LAURA BOHANNON
Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan ranks seventh nationally in reports of human trafficking, and a lawmaker wants to give prosecutors more tools to combat those crimes.

Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, has introduced a bill that would allow certified experts to testify about telltale signs of deviant social behavior demonstrated by human trafficking victims.

Bringing in experts to testify about a victim’s behavior allows judges and juries to receive informed opinion that the victim has, in fact, been subject to human trafficking.

Human trafficking is defined as forcing or deceiving a person to perform labor or a commercial sex act, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline website, which is run by Polaris, a nonprofit group fighting slavery. Continue reading

Senate amendment would add LGBT to state hate crime law

By CAITLIN TAYLOR
Capital News Service

LANSING — Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, said he has felt compelled to include sexual orientation and gender identification in Michigan’s hate crime law since 2015, when eight gay men, including a friend of his, were targeted in Lansing.

“Two thugs found out eight different men were gay by going onto computer dating sites,” Jones said. “They beat these men bloody, tied and chained them up and robbed them. When they were captured, they made a confession to the police department that they hated gays and hope they die.”

A year later, Sen. Steven Bieda, D-Warren, introduced an amendment to Michigan’s hate crime law — cosponsored by Jones — to include additional penalties for crimes motivated by a victim’s sexual orientation and gender identification. It never got a hearing.

On Feb. 8, Bieda re-introduced the amendment, cosponsored by Jones, Sen. Tory Rocca, R-Sterling Heights, and seven Democrats. State and local LGBT advocates are praising the bipartisan group of senators who support the legislation.   Continue reading

Michigan lags in solitary confinement reform

By RAY WILBUR

Capital News Service

LANSING — Prison reform advocates worry that the lack of policies for solitary confinement in Michigan prisons has exacerbated violence and mental health problems among inmates.

Michigan has no age or time limits for putting inmates in administrative segregation,  commonly known as solitary confinement. And while almost half the states ban solitary confinement for juveniles, Michigan does not.

“We need to have some sort of blanket reform here,” said Kristen Staley, deputy director of the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency. “This is a big fight, but it has to happen.”

Some prisons have tried to reduce the use of solitary, said Staley. But that patchwork change is slow and that makes it ineffective. Continue reading

Court upholds $10,000 fine, restoration order in wetlands case

By ERIC FREEDMAN

Capital News Service

LANSING — Property owners who converted wetlands to a horse pasture without a state permit must restore the site and pay a $10,000 civil fine, the Court of Appeals has ruled.

The three-judge appeals panel unanimously upheld a trial judge’s order that Hernan and Bethany Gomez remove 1.2 acres of fill material they illegally placed in a wetland on their 54-acre Livingston County parcel between 2005 and 2010.

The Gomezes said they did it because they wanted to construct a “working ranch” with horses next to their new house.

Wetlands are continuing to disappear in Michigan, according to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The state’s current 6.5 million acres of wetlands is down from 10.7 million acres before European settlement. Continue reading

Anti-overdose medication may be authorized for schools

BY CAITLIN DeLUCA

Capital News Service

LANSING — A drug used to counteract the effects of an opioid overdose could be on hand in Michigan schools free of charge.

The drug, called Naloxone, is currently not available without a prescription.

The Senate recently passed legilslation which would allow schools to decide to have the drug on hand for free as long as training is received by a registered nurse.

The bill now goes to the House.

Opioid addiction has been tackled before in the Legislature, including requiring life support vehicles, like ambulances, to carry the life-saving drug.

More than 1,000 opioid-related overdose deaths were reported in Michigan in 2014 by the Department of Health and Human Services. Continue reading

Facial recognition technology still a concern but Michigan a national leader

By BRIDGET BUSH

Capital News Service

LANSING– Michigan State Police get such high marks for overseeing automated photo searches for criminals, according to a recent report by a national group examining privacy and law enforcement, that the state is a model for the nation.  

But the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology also recommends that using driver license photos in such searches, as the Michigan State Police does, should only occur after state legislatures vote to allow them. And if allowed, the states should notify the public of their use, the study said.

Right now police must provide “appropriate justification for use,” said Lori Dougovito, public affairs representative for the Michigan State Police. That means that law enforcement police can only search the database under reasonable cause or in the case of a citizen-filed complaint to remove their image. Continue reading

Dozens of new sheriffs will take office in January

By KAREN HOPPER USHER

Capital News Service

LANSING — In 139 years, Michigan has never had more new sheriffs than the state will get after Tuesday’s election.

At least 26 counties will get new top cops in January. The Michigan Sheriffs’ Association said that’s a record since it was formed in 1877.

Some are running unopposed. In other counties, two newcomers are runningf. And the turnover could be even greater because an additional 17 incumbents face challengers. If all of them lose those races, then 43 of Michigan’s 83 counties will have new sheriffs.

Of course few incumbents may lose. But regardless of the result of Tuesday’s election, turnover is high.

One reason: some Vietnam-era veterans who went into law enforcement in the 70s are reaching retirement age, said Terrence Jungel, executive director of the organization. Continue reading

Michigan would ease bank taxes if bill passes

By BRIDGET BUSH

Capital News Service

LANSING– If you’re a bank in Michigan, the state takes a slice of your foreign revenue that other states and even the federal government leave untouched.

That could change with legislation sponsored by Sen. Darwin Booher, R-Evart,  that would revise definitions and tax liability for financial institutions operating outside the U.S. Booher and other experts say they expect the House to pass it by year’s end.

But Michigan’s Department of Treasury opposes the measure that could cost the state $13 million in revenue each year.

Booher’s bill came out of discussion with the banking industry. In addition to the foreign taxation issue, it addresses how capital numbers used to calculate the institutions’ tax base are figured and the period that the tax base is determined. Continue reading

Future of ballot initiatives uncertain

By KAREN HOPPER USHER

Capital News Service

LANSING — For the first time since 1968, Michigan voters won’t face a statewide ballot question when they cast their votes in the presidential election.

In 2012, voters turned down all six ballot questions they saw. Only 1968 with eight and 1980 with seven had more.

“The ridiculous thing to me,” said Dana Nessel, president of Fair Michigan, which tried to get sexual orientation and gender protections into the state constitution, “I kept hearing that there were going to be too many ballot initiatives” in 2016.

Experts told her voters wouldn’t know what to do with so many ballot questions, so they would just vote “no” on all of them, she said.

Fair Michigan didn’t get enough signatures and never turned in its petitions to the Board of Canvassers.

Twelve groups started the process of putting a statewide question on the 2016 ballot. Only one turned in signatures to the Board of Canvassers. Continue reading