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 past month.
Twice a month, The Michigan Daily publishes a compilation of bills in the Michigan state legislature for students at the University of Michigan to be aware of.
1. Stricter distracted driving laws
Status: Passed by the House
On Jan. 25, the Michigan House of Representatives passed H.B. 4277 – 4279, a three-bill package that would qualify any phone usage as distracted driving. If signed into law, the bills would expand the definition of distracted driving to include any activity with a mobile device that involves the usage of one or more hands. Currently, Michigan law only explicitly outlaws texting while driving.
State Rep. Mari Manoogian, D-Birmingham, introduced the first bill in the package and co-sponsored the other two. After working for years to reduce distracted driving, Manoogian shared her excitement when the House passed all three bills in a tweet.
“Honored to share that we passed legislation that would modernize Michigan’s distracted driving laws,” Manoogian wrote. “This legislation serves as both a way to encourage better behavior from drivers and allows our law enforcement to keep those who are driving distracted in check.”
In a speech on the House floor, Manoogian mentioned Mitchel Kiefer, who was killed in an automobile accident caused by a distracted driver in 2016.
“What better way to honor Mitchel’s life and legacy than to work to ensure that no other family feels the pain that his family … has felt every day since his passing?” Manoogian said.
The first bill passed the House in a vote of 75-26 and the other two passed 76-25, all with bipartisan support.
After passing out of the House, the bills were referred to the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.
2. Eliminating life without parole for juveniles
Status: Introduced in the Senate
S.B. 848 – 851 seek to abolish life sentences without parole for crimes committed by individuals under the age of 18 in Michigan. This legislation would instead designate a maximum prison sentence of 60 years, with the possibility for parole review after 10 years in prison.
Currently, 25 other states and the District of Columbia have banned juvenile life without parole. In the 2012 Miller v. Alabama case, the Supreme Court ruled that juvenile life sentences without the possibility of parole were unconstitutional. Despite the ruling, some states, including Michigan, retain the possibility of juvenile life without parole in their state laws. Over 360 juveniles in Michigan are currently serving life without parole, the second highest number in any U.S. state.
State Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, introduced S.B. 848 on Jan. 27 and co-sponsored the other three bills. In a Jan. 31 press release, Irwin said Michigan state law needs to be amended to be in line with the Miller v. Alabama ruling.
“Now that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that our harsh laws amount to cruel and unusual punishment, Michigan law needs to recognize that juvenile offenders deserve a chance at rehabilitation,” Irwin said. “We shouldn’t turn our backs on juvenile offenders and throw away the key. Instead, we should ensure that Michigan’s juvenile justice system provides a chance for rehabilitation, reintegration and redemption.”
After being introduced to the Senate, all four bills were referred to the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.
3. Increased penalties for violence against healthcare workers
Status: Introduced in the House
State Rep. Mike Mueller, R-Linden, introduced House Bill 5682, which would amend Michigan penal code to expand penalties for assault and battery assault on emergency room personnel. In addition to imprisonment for up to 93 days, the bill specifies a fine of no more than $1,000 for violence against on-duty emergency workers, up from a $500 fine for assaults against other individuals.
This legislation comes after a rise in violence against healthcare workers by patients in Michigan and throughout the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers in healthcare and social service settings account for over 70% of workplace illnesses or injuries due to violence reported annually, a number that has been on the rise since 2011.
Mueller’s bill was referred to the Committee on Government Operations.
4. Postsecondary education and career information for students
Status: Passed by the House
First introduced by state Rep. David Martin, R-Davison, House Bill 4953 would require the Department of Education to develop and provide an informational packet regarding higher education and post-graduation career prospects to all Michigan school districts.
H.B. 4953 would aim to provide Michigan high school students with more information about college graduation rates and the costs of attending college. In addition, it would feature a section on jobs in Michigan in high demand and their average salaries from the previous year to feature a variety of post-graduation tracks.
State Rep. Sarah Lightner, R-Springport, voted in favor of the bill. In a press release, she emphasized the need for greater awareness about the wide range of post-secondary education options beyond the traditional four-year college route.
“Success in life is not dependent on spending four years or more and tens of thousands of dollars on a four-year degree,” Lightner said. “Careers in the trades are in demand and they offer a competitive salary. Young people should be presented with all of their options.”
The bill passed by a margin of 94-11 and has been sent to the Senate for further consideration.
5. Civil rights protections for medical condition and vaccine status
Status: Introduced in the House
State Rep. Ryan Berman, R-Commerce Township, introduced a bill that would designate medical condition and vaccine status as categories protected under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
The Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, first established in 1976, prohibits discrimination in Michigan on the basis of “religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, or marital status” in education, housing, employment, public service, and the use of public accommodations.
This proposed legislation comes amid nationwide debate over COVID-19 vaccine mandates. If signed into law, this bill would prohibit Michigan employers from terminating employees based on their vaccination status.
On Jan. 14, the Supreme Court blocked President Biden’s vaccine mandate for workers at large companies, but upheld the mandate for healthcare workers in medical facilities in the Medicare and Medicaid programs such as Michigan Medicine.
After being read in front of the House, the bill was sent to the Committee on Judiciary.
Daily Staff Reporter Irena Li can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.