Michigan House passes bill for prison reform, steep hill to climb

- The folks pushing for prison sentencing reform did not crack open the champagne bottles but there was reason to celebrate after the Michigan House, on a strong bi-partisan vote, popped a bill allowing some inmates to get out of the slammer after serving their minimum sentence.

This is the measure that the crusading state attorney general labeled as putting the system on "automatic pilot." But A.G. Bill Schuette didn't stop at that as he crafted another message.

He offered on statewide Public TV that some of this legislation was an outgrowth of what he termed, "an anti-cop sentiment and anti-law enforcement sentiment."

Some in town scratched their heads over his linkage statement.

Others did more than scratch. They complained out loud.

Rep. Kurt Heise (R-Plymouth) was at the top of the list. He helped to write the new legislation that he claims has plenty of protections to make sure the really bad guys don't get back on the streets. He rejects the automatic claim from his fellow Republican and was "offended" by the crack about this being somehow connected to any "anti-cop" motivation.

And then capitol scribes found out the top Republican in the Michigan Senate placed a protest phone call to his fellow Republican Mr. Schuette.

Sen. Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) called it "over-the-top" rhetoric and then served what amounted to a verbal cease and desist order on the state's top lawyer. "It's probably not a wise idea to talk the way he talked about the caucus on the other side….He doesn't make public policy. He just follows what we do," and finally, while conceding the A.G. does have free-speech rights, "if he wants to get public policy done, the best effort would be to work with people." And for good measure he suggested an apology to house members was in order. End of lecture.

Ouch.

Nobody in town can remember the last time a senate GOP leader called out any attorney general on anything, so tongues were wagging. And it should be noted that these two may meet again as Mr. Schuette and Mr. Meekhof could run against each other for governor in 2018. But we digress.

Mr. Schuette, however, scored a victory of sorts after the house-passed plan got a review behind closed doors in the senate GOP caucus.

"The review did not go well?" was the question and the answer was, 'that would be an extreme understatement. It was a complete blow-up," reveals an insider. Apparently a host of GOP senators trashed the measured as they worried about sex-offenders and other unsavory types being plopped back on the streets.

It got so bad that some said the bill should never come out of committee and in fact later that day a meeting to consider the bill was scrubbed at the last minute. Hardly a positive sign.

The GOP lawmakers noted that the A.G., sheriffs and the chiefs of police are against this so why do it?

Leaving one observer to conclude, "it has very little chance of passage."

This despite the fact that the governor and the GOP house speaker have warmly embraced the sentencing reform measure.

"No prisoner would be guaranteed parole and no parole decision would be automatic," the Gov. Rick Snyder advised his lawyer without mentioning his name.

"Contrary to many reports," Speaker Kevin Cotter indicates, "the proposed bill simply requires parole boards to give a compelling reason to deny parole when prisoners with a high probability of success have completed their minimum sentences."

Republicans fighting each other is nothing new but in this case, it's all out in the open for the whole world to see and it ain't (sic) very pretty sport fans.

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