Legislative Update: New laws to help families, veterans and communities

The Michigan Senate Republicans have accomplished much already in 2016 to help support our families, veterans and communities. Here are some highlights of legislation recently signed into law and previously approved laws that are going into effect in July:

Helping communities respond to disasters and emergencies
The governor has signed Senate legislation to allow the state to better respond to emergencies.

Ensuring more funds are available in the event of an emergency or natural disaster will allow the state to react fast and better protect Michigan families.

Public Act 220 of 2016, sponsored by Sen. Mike Nofs, increases the amount the state can hold in its Disaster and Emergency Contingency Fund from $4.5 million to $10 million. The fund has been used to help cover the cost of response efforts in Flint and for severe storm cleanup in parts of the state when federal emergency reimbursement is not available.

Standing up for foster siblings
Gov. Rick Snyder recently signed legislation to help ensure the best care and placement for foster children.

“I am glad to see the governor signed this legislation to help protect the cherished bond between siblings in foster care,” said Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, sponsor of the bill. “As a foster grandparent and a former member of law enforcement, I have seen both the good and bad of family life. I’ve seen young children endure terrible situations. I’ve also seen the strength of children who overcome tough challenges and the positive impact of siblings in persevering — which is what this new law seeks to preserve.”

Public Act 191 of 2016 puts a greater emphasis on sibling placement and visitation with siblings. If siblings cannot be placed together, then a priority of sibling visitations and ongoing interaction will be arranged to ensure a sibling bond. The new law requires frequent visitations between non-custodial, biological parents and their children unless the court determines that the parenting time would be harmful to the child.

Increasing oversight, accountability in veterans facilities
The Michigan Senate Republicans stood up for our heroes — securing more funding to assist homeless veterans and create a new Michigan Veterans Facility Ombudsman to ensure our veterans receive the proper care they earned serving our nation.

Michigan’s military veterans have given so much in the service of our country, and an independent ombudsman will be able to identify, investigate and recommend fixes for problems at the state’s veterans homes, so we can ensure that our veterans have safe and secure places to enjoy their retirement.

Public Act 198 of 2016, sponsored by Sen. Peter MacGregor, requires that the Legislative Council appoint an ombudsman to investigate complaints filed by resident veterans, their family members or legal guardians, or a legislator and then report the findings and recommendations.

The ombudsman will investigate Michigan veterans facilities for acts or conditions that allegedly violate law or policy or that pose significant health or safety issues. The ombudsman will be able to inspect a facility at any time, on its own accord or by request, and conduct investigational hearings and subpoena individuals and documents.

Ushering in new state laws in July
Several important new laws take effect this month:

Public Act 85 of 2016, sponsored by Sen. Margaret O’Brien, establishes the CARE Act to help train and support in-home caregivers. Under the new law, hospitals are required to allow patients to designate a caregiver and develop a discharge plan to help the caregiver provide after-care assistance.

• Public Acts 87 and 88 of 2016 increase protections for pregnant women by expanding the penalties for assaulting a pregnant woman. The crime would be treated as a domestic violence crime with stricter punishment, especially for repeat offenses.

• Public Act 62 of 2016 raises public awareness about human trafficking. The law requires the National Human Trafficking Hotline number (1-888-373-7888) to be posted at rest stops and welcome centers, bus and rail stations, airports and other places in the state.

National Police Week

Law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day to keep our communities safe and respond in times of crisis. They help keep our neighborhoods safe so we can go to school, work and enjoy time with our families. They also spend long hours away from their own loved ones in often dangerous places and situations. Sadly, many of them never return home.

To salute the dedication and sacrifice of law enforcement officers and their families, in 1962 Congress established May 15 as National Peace Officers Memorial Day and the week on which it falls as National Police Week.

It is a time for communities across the country to honor and remember the officers who were killed in the line of duty. It is also a time to reflect on how blessed we are to have such amazing and selfless officers here in Michigan.

The Senate Republicans have worked to increase support for our state and local law enforcement. The Senate’s approved 2016-2017 budget plan dedicates additional funding for public safety and more state troopers.

The debt we owe to fallen officers cannot be fully repaid, but National Police Week offers us a chance to honor their service and sacrifice.

In observation of police week, we encourage you to take a moment to thank our outstanding law enforcement officers for all they do to make our state and communities safe.

If you would like to learn more, visit PoliceWeek.org.

May is National Foster Care Month

There are about 14,000 children in foster homes in Michigan and about 300 kids who are waiting to find one.

In each case, the goal and most common outcome is for foster youth to be reunited with their families. But sometimes foster kids find a permanent home with foster parents. There is always a need for good foster homes and Michigan offers resources for adults interested in providing safe, nurturing homes.

In the Senate, Republicans are working to improve the lives and outcomes for our foster youth.

Sen. Rick Jones, who is a foster grandparent, has legislation that would ensure the best care for foster children by placing a greater emphasis on sibling placement and visitation with siblings.

If siblings could not be placed together, then a priority of sibling visitations and ongoing interaction would be arranged to ensure a sibling bond. The bill would require frequent visitations between non-custodial, biological parents and their children unless the court determines that the parenting time would be harmful to the child.

“I know the positive impact of keeping siblings together,” Jones said. “A bond between siblings is one of the most cherished parts of a family.”

Foster youth often face disadvantages most others do not. For example, 70 percent of the teens who emancipate from foster care report that they want to attend college, but fewer than 10 percent who graduate from high school ever enroll in college. A growing number of Michigan youth are reaching adult age while in foster care and have no resources to attend college when they age out of the system.

Michigan taxpayers would be able to donate a portion of their tax return to the Fostering Futures Scholarship Trust Fund under a bill introduced by Sen. Peter MacGregor.

The fund provides eligible foster youth with scholarships to assist with tuition, room and board and other costs associated with enrollment. Scholarships are available for students enrolled in Michigan degree-granting colleges and universities.

“My bill would provide the scholarship trust fund with another source of much-needed revenue so more foster youth can attend college,” MacGregor said. “It would also make it easier for residents to show their support by donating a portion of their tax return with a simple checkbox.”

In celebration of National Foster Care Month and foster children through our state, we encourage residents to consider making a difference in the life of a child by becoming a foster parent.

Flash-forward & Flashback Friday: The Senate Judiciary Committee

The Michigan Senate Republican Blog recently sat down with Sen. Rick Jones, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to discuss the issues the committee has already faced and issues that will be coming up in the near future.

Items the committee will take up in 2016:

A bipartisan domestic violence protection package: House Bills 4476-4481 and 4788 seek to establish clear and sensible protections for victims or potential victims of domestic violence. HB 4481 would allow a victim of sexual assault that results in pregnancy to present “clear and convincing evidence” for the purpose of having the right to parenting time and custody taken away from the assailant.

The bill compliments Senate Bill 629, which would allow a court to terminate a rapist’s parental rights to a child based on the court’s determination of “clear and convincing evidence” that the sexual assault occurred, similar to other reasons for losing parental rights, such as domestic abuse.

Other bills in the package would require that a court not order mediation in cases of domestic violence unless both parties agree to mediation and would allow for someone with prior assault convictions to be charged with a felony for assaulting a pregnant woman.

Arson prevention bills: Senate Bills 696 and 697 would aid in the prevention of arson and increase the effectiveness of arson investigations.

SB 697 would help prevent arson for the purpose of collecting insurance money. Under the bill, an insurance company would not have to pay a claim on a building’s fire damage if it’s determined not to have been accidental, until it receives a sworn statement from the insured party that they had nothing to do with the fire.

SB 696 would help law enforcement by requiring medical professionals to report treatment of burn victims, especially in the cases where an accelerant helped cause the injury — creating reasonable suspicion that the patient committed arson.

Keeping police body cams private: There are many private moments that are filmed by police body cameras that should remain private. This purpose it to protect people against nosey neighbors who might try to use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to get the video of police visiting someone’s house at night and then post it on the Internet for their entertainment and their neighbor’s embarrassment.

Jones is working with the ACLU on Senate Bill 634 to exempt certain recordings by police body-worn cameras from FOIA. Recordings from body-worn cameras will still be able to be subpoenaed for court proceedings.

Issues the committee has already taken up this term:

Reducing state judgeships: The State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) recommended in 2015 a reduction of nine trial court judgeships and the addition of three, for a net cut of six trial court seats. Senate Bill 709 would make these changes through attrition — by not replacing judges who retire or leave for other reasons.

The plan would save money and put resources where they are needed. According to the SCAO, 25 out of the previously approved judgeship eliminations from 2011 and 2013 have taken place, saving taxpayers more than $6.1 million.

If all the recommendations are fully implemented, taxpayers would save $7.4 million annually, with estimates that over time the cumulative savings would reach nearly $200 million.

Stopping drugged driving: The Michigan Senate recently approved legislation to create a pilot program enabling certain law enforcement officers to conduct roadside saliva tests on motorists suspected of being under the influence of controlled substances.

Drugged driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving. This legislation is about helping keep Michigan roads as safe as possible by making it easier for law enforcement to crack down on driving under the influence of a controlled substance.

Under Senate Bill 207, a pilot program would run for a year in five counties. Drivers in the participating counties who are stopped under reasonable cause would have their mouths swabbed to test saliva for the presence of a cannabis, opiates, cocaine and methamphetamine.

Cracking down on senior exploitation: Last year, the Senate unanimously approved legislation to protect Michigan seniors from being financially exploited by a family member.

Senate Bill 270 would allow Michigan judges to take jurisdiction in guardianship cases if certain criteria are met. Jones sponsored the bill and said it was inspired by a real case here in Michigan.

“An elderly woman from mid-Michigan was taken by her son to another state, where she was put on drugs that she did not need and deemed incompetent. A judge then appointed her son as her guardian, who proceeded to drain her bank accounts,” Jones said. “Thankfully, the woman’s family in Michigan was successful in getting her back home and off the unnecessary medications. Once off the drugs, it was clear that she didn’t need a guardian. However, when she asked a Michigan judge to declare her competent to be her own guardian, she was told there was nothing the judge could do.”