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.”