Every two years, at the end of a legislative session, the Legislature has a post-election “lame duck” session, where the election results are known, but the existing Legislature has several weeks of session remaining in their terms. The lame duck session tends to be chaotic — particularly when there is an impending change in control in one of the Houses of the Legislature or in statewide office. The outgoing Legislature may have priorities that the incoming Legislature or governor may not share.
In addition, because bills that do not pass the Legislature must be reintroduced in the next session, there tends to be a scramble to push bills through during lame duck. This can result in lawmakers making deals with one another to get bills moved through the House of Representatives and the Senate in order to meet the deadline that looms at the end of the year.
This year, there are a number of bill packages that advocates will attempt to move during lame duck.
A long-awaited bipartisan package of bills (House Bills 6455-63) to limit pretrial detention of people who are unable to pay money bail was introduced in October 2018, and is pending in the House Judiciary Committee.
Among other things, the package would ban bail schedules, eliminate interim bond, expand authority to use “appearance tickets” instead of custodial arrest for almost all misdemeanors, create a presumption of release on personal recognizance (“PR bond”), and bar courts from authorizing pre-trial detention based solely on a person’s ability to pay money bail.
The package is expected to receive attention in committee but is not likely to pass both chambers of the Legislature during the lame duck session. If it does not pass, it will be reintroduced early next year.
Occupational Licensing Reform
During lame duck, the Senate is expected to take up a bipartisan package of bills (HB 6110-13 & 6381) to reform the “good moral character” requirement in many of Michigan’s licensing laws. This requirement has been used to exclude people from licensed professions based on a past criminal conviction without regard to a person’s present ability to do the work in a lawful manner. Among other things, they will limit exclusions based on criminal histories to convictions that provide specific evidence of a person’s fitness to perform their job (e.g. past embezzlement from a client is relevant to fitness to practice law), and will put the burden on the licensing agency to justify the exclusion.
These bills sailed through the House during the abbreviated Fall session, and are expected to pass the Senate during lame duck.
“Raise the Age”
The campaign to “raise the age” of criminal responsibility from 17-years-old to 18-years-old will continue to push for a vote out of the House Law & Justice Committee. This is a large package of bills, and a full summary of bill numbers and descriptions can be found here. This legislation, which addresses numerous issues related to youth in prison, has been pending in committee for most of this session.
The bill package was held up initially by a cost study conducted by the Criminal Justice Policy Commission, and more recently by discussions about how to fund the transition of 17-year-olds to the juvenile system. A proposal about how to fund the transition has been introduced (HB 6396), but the funding required to implement this proposal has not gone through the appropriations process yet, and at this stage would need to be a supplemental appropriation.
The bills are expected to receive additional attention in committee during lame duck but the package is unlikely to pass the Legislature this session.
The proposal (HB 4101-02 & 5245) to create a “compassionate release” for medically frail prisoners (i.e. prisoners that are mentally or physically incapacitated) that have not served their minimum sentence was pared down significantly in the House, and even further in the Senate Judiciary Committee. In spite of this, it still got stuck on the Senate floor before the summer break and it has not been brought up since.
The bill sponsors are expected to try to get this legislation out of the Senate during lame duck. The bill will have to pass through the House again, since there were amendments in the Senate. It is unclear whether this will happen, and advocates are split on whether passing the narrow bill now is preferable to restarting the process with a broader bill in the future.
Other criminal justice bills may be brought up during lame duck, which is often unpredictable, and we will try to provide updates on these and other relevant criminal justice issues as the lame duck session progresses.