The following article explains five bills that have been introduced, passed or signed into law by the Michigan State Legislature or Gov. Gretchen Whitmer throughout the month of November.
Every other Friday, The Michigan Daily publishes a compilation of bills being floated around in the Michigan state legislature for students at the University of Michigan to know about.
1. The Reproductive Health Act
Status: Introduced in the House
A group of Democrats in the Michigan House unveiled seven bills on Nov. 10 that seek to ensure access to safe, legal abortions in Michigan.
Rep. Laurie Pohutsky, D-Livonia, chairs the PWC. Pohutsky sponsored House Bill 5542, which would create the Reproductive Health Act. In a tweet from the Michigan House Democrats, Pohutsky emphasized the importance of such legislation in the current political climate.
“Now more than ever, there is a need for us to defend Reproductive Rights,” Pohutsky said in the tweet. “I want the people of the state to know that the legislative Democrats and our reproductive justice partners in Michigan will not stop fighting. Not now, not ever.”
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer shared similar sentiments in a September statement, calling on the state legislature to repeal the Michigan Penal Code, a 1930s law criminalizing abortion. The law is not currently being upheld due to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion across the country. However, it remains codified in law and would go into effect for all Michiganders if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned.
House Bills 5543-5548 seek to address the 1930s law by revising it and other existing acts to ensure that Michigan law would align with the provisions given by the Reproductive Health Act.
This legislative package comes just a few months after the Texas Senate Bill 8, which bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, took effect. Since then, Republican legislators in Ohio and Florida have introduced similar bills while lawmakers in several other states have expressed interest in doing the same.
The Supreme Court, with a 6-3 conservative majority, is currently hearing an abortion case that could overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling. The case involves Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, a law that directly challenges Roe v. Wade’s standard of allowing abortions up to the fetal viability period.
After being read in front of the House, the package was referred to the Committee on Health Policy.
2. Ban on messaging apps attempting to avert FOIA requests
Status: Passed by both chambers
House Bill 4778 was passed in both chambers of Congress with bipartisan support. If signed by Whitmer, the bill would impose a ban on the use of messaging apps that permit the deletion of messages by state agencies that use them to avoid Freedom of Information Act requests. The FOIA, enacted in 1977, provides citizens with the legal right to request and access public agency records or information.
Rep. Steven Johnson, R-Shelbyville, cited the use of messaging app Signal by the Michigan State Police as motivation for the bill.
“It deletes the whole purpose of FOIA if you can permanently delete something,” Johnson said.
The Detroit Free Press first reported on these findings in January after the MSP admitted to the use of Signal on state-issued phones by top officials in a civil lawsuit.
The bill has been sent to Whitmer’s desk for approval.
3. Expanding voting access
Status: Introduced in the House
House Democrats introduced a nine-bill package aiming to expand access to elections for Michigan voters, covering a range of election-related issues.
House Bill 5513 would ensure that absentee ballots postmarked by election day and received within 72 hours are counted, while House Bill 5519 would require at least one drop box for absent voter ballots in all Michigan cities and townships. Other bills in the package would provide more time for absent voter counting boards to tabulate votes and decriminalize the hiring of transportation assistance for those who are otherwise unable to go to polling stations.
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson expressed support for the legislation in a tweet.
“When lawmakers work with & listen to election officials & voters we can actually develop solid, data driven policies that truly increase the security & openness of our democracy,” Benson said in the tweet. “Proud to support this collection of bills that bolster the integrity of our elections in Michigan.”
The package has faced criticism from Republican lawmakers, who say the move is motivated by partisan attitudes rather than a desire to improve election integrity. State Rep. Ann Bollin, R-Brighton, chairwoman of the House Elections and Ethics committee, released a statement criticizing the proposal’s execution.
“Some of the ideas in this plan have merit … (but) other parts of the plan are clearly unworkable because they disregard important checks and balances that protect the integrity of our elections,” Bollin said in the statement. “This was nothing but a political stunt.”
This package comes a year after the 2020 presidential election, which saw widespread claims of voter fraud and calls for election reform by conservatives across the nation. Just three weeks ago, Whitmer vetoed several Republican Party-led bills attempting to impose stricter voter ID requirements.
Given Republicans’ continued efforts to tighten election security with stricter voting laws, the House Democrats’ voting rights package will likely have trouble advancing through Congress, which is currently under GOP control.
Each bill in the collection was read before the House and referred to the Committee on Elections and Ethics.
4. Acceptance of mental health-related absences in school attendance policies
Status: Introduced in the House
Rep. Sarah Anthony, D-Lansing, introduced House Bill 5497 to the state legislature on Oct. 28. The bill proposes that Michigan students should be granted five excused absences for mental health concerns.
If passed, this bill would ensure Michigan students could take a “mental health day” and receive the opportunity to make up any missed work due to the absence. Anthony’s bill also states that no doctor’s note will be necessary to justify the student’s absence.
Anthony said she thinks these days are necessary, particularly after mental health in children has declined as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a statement, Anthony said she believes it is important for the House to pass the bill to protect the already endangered mental health of students.
“This bill would signal that there’s nothing wrong with taking some time and space to get help — something far too many of us could benefit from — no matter our age,” Anthony said.
The bill was referred to the Committee on Education.
5. Revocation of medical license due to sexual assault records
Status: Passed by the House
Rep. Annette Glenn, R-Midland, sponsored House Bill 4875, which would revoke medical licenses for individuals “convicted of sexual conduct under pretext of medical treatment.” The bill unanimously passed the House on Nov. 10.
Glenn’s legislation is part of a package formed to hold medical professionals accountable for breaking the law, following loopholes that were widely publicized after the 2018 Larry Nassar investigation, which reviewed the various sexual assault allegations against Nassar under the guise of his medical treatment.
The bill and legislative package await further consideration by the Senate.
Glenn said in a press release passing this bill would support efforts to protect the rights of sexual assault victims.
“These bills are an important step in the right direction – helping ensure that a medical professional who violates the trust of a patient in this horrific way cannot practice again and is held accountable for their crimes,” Glenn said in the release.
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