January is the start of Michigan’s 101st Legislature, which will run through the years of 2021-2022. Since the entire House stood for election last year while the Senate did not — its members face re-election in 2022 — state representatives have spent most of their time so far getting prepared for the legislative season. New members have been getting oriented to their jobs, leadership positions have been filled and committee assignments have been made.
Legislative standing committees are immensely important to the lawmaking process. Once a legislator introduces a bill, that bill is then directed to a relevant committee for consideration. The committee vets that bill by holding public hearings, offering substitutions and amendments. If they approve of it, they send it to the floor of the House or Senate to continue its legislative journey. Nonpartisan analysts in the House and Senate also review the bills to determine how they might affect the state and its residents, and whether the proposal would cost the state money if passed into law.
Committees, therefore, work as gatekeepers for legislation. If a committee thinks a bill is a good idea, they have the ability to send the proposal on to the next stage of the legislative process. But if the committee disagrees, it can effectively kill the bill and stop the proposal from going any further.
Within a committee, a chairman or chairwoman holds the most power. That individual decides which bills are brought up for consideration and which may never get a hearing. For instance, a committee might get hundreds of bills referred to it over the two years of a legislative session, but only have time to consider a fraction of those. With rare exception, all the bills that a committee doesn’t discuss and move to the floor effectively die in committee.
For these reasons, we carefully watch to see who is appointed to the committees that are most closely involved in criminal justice reform in the Michigan Capitol. In particular, we are most interested in the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.
Since the Senate didn’t face elections in 2020, the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee wasn’t reassembled. However, there is one exception, and it happens to affect criminal justice reform in a very significant way.
Former Sen. Pete Lucido (R-Shelby Township) opted to run for Macomb County Prosecutor last year and won his race. Lucido has been an exceptional advocate for criminal justice reform and helped champion Clean Slate legislation and the jails task force bills through the Senate last year. Since he won his election for prosecutor, he had to give up his seat in the Senate — and also his position as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.
Earlier this month, it was announced that Sen. Roger Victory (R-Hudsonville) will take Lucido’s place as the chairman of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. Victory was the sponsor of last year’s Senate Bill 1046 — now signed into law — which allows police to issue appearance tickets in lieu of arrest for some offenses. This was one of the bills related to the Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration and makes us hopeful that he will be open to further criminal justice reform efforts. That said, former Sen. Pete Lucido was such as strong supporter of reform that it is difficult to replace him.
The remainder of the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee will remain the same as last year. Its members are:
- Sen. Roger Victory (R-Hudsonville)
- Sen. Curtis VanderWall (R-Ludington), Majority Vice Chairman
- Sen. Tom Barrett (R-Potterville)
- Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Holly)
- Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake Township)
- Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit)
- Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor)
Changes to the House Judiciary Committee are more substantial, as the entire chamber underwent an election 2020. While there are several familiar faces this session, some former members of the House Judiciary Committee — such as Rep. Vanessa Guerra (D-Saginaw) — are no longer in the Legislature — while others, like Rep. Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain) — are still in the Legislature but just not assigned to the House Judiciary Committee this session. That means that there are several new members to the committee who we will get to know over the coming months.
Rep. Graham Filler (R-DeWitt) will remain the chairman of the committee for the 2021-2022 session. Over the past two years, Rep. Filler has been a good working partner for criminal justice reform advocates. He worked with us to shepherd Clean Slate and the jails task force bills through committee and spoke up in favor of several of the those bills through editorials and media interviews. We’re glad to see him continue on as chairman.
It’s equally good news that Rep. David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids) will continue to serve as the minority vice chairman of the committee. LaGrand received our Gov. William G. Milliken Award in 2019 for his work to advance criminal justice reform, and he has been as strong an advocate for this work as anyone in the Legislature.
Among the others who are returning to the committee this year are Rep. Tenisha Yancey (D-Harper Woods), a former assistant prosecuting attorney in the Wayne County juvenile division who is also a vocal supporter of criminal justice reform. Rep. Yancey has publicly shared the story of her own involvement with the justice system earlier in her life, and how that motivates her desire to change the system.
Newer additions to the committee include Rep. Bronna Kahle (R-Adrian), who has also been friendly to criminal justice reform efforts. Specifically, she sponsored House Bills 5846 and 5853 last year — now signed into law — which ends the practice of drivers license suspension for nondriving offenses, and sets lesser penalties for some lesser traffic offenses, such as illegally using an oscillating light. Her proposal to end driver’s license suspensions as a penalty for non-traffic offenses was a huge win for Michiganders, as more than 380,000 in 2018 alone saw their licenses suspended for nonpayment of court fines and fees alone. Rep. Kahle also joined Safe & Just Michigan on one of our webinars last year to talk about her proposal to end the broadened practice of driver’s license suspensions — you can watch that here.
Rep. Mike Mueller (R-Linden), the new majority vice chairman of the committee, holds a bachelor’s degree in criminology and criminal justice from Eastern Michigan University. He went on to become a Washtenaw County road patrol deputy and then worked in the Livingston County Sheriff’s Department. He co-sponsored several of the Clean Slate bills that passed last year, including the laws that now allow for marijuana- and traffic-related expungements.
The members of the new House Judiciary Committee are (an asterisk denotes a returning member):
- Rep. Graham Filler (R-DeWitt)*, Chairman
- Rep. Mike Mueller (R-Linden), Majority Vice Chairman
- Rep. Steven Johnson (R-Wayland)*
- Rep. Bronna Kahle (R-Adrian)
- Rep. Daire Rendon (R-Lake City)*
- Rep. Ryan Berman (R-Commerce Township)*
- Rep. Douglas Wozniak (R-Shelby Township)*
- Rep. TC Clements (R-Temperance)
- Rep. David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids),* Minority Vice Chairman
- Rep. Tenisha Yancey (D-Harper Woods)*
- Rep. Kyra Bolden (D-Southfield)*
- Rep. Kara Hope (D-Holt)
- Rep. Kelly Breen (D-Novi)
Now that committee assignments have been made, the Legislature is positioned to really get down to business. Safe & Just Michigan looks forward to a busy and productive 101st Legislative session, and we will be highlighting all the developments in regard to criminal justice reform as they happen. Stay tuned!
~ Barbara Wieland