Whitmer proposes $6.3M to address backlog of 6,200 felony cases

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday proposed spending $6.3 million in federal rescue funding to reduce a backlog of felony cases in Michigan courts that was caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The governor's office said there are more than 6,200 cases, the most common being gun cases, that have been awaiting adjudication for roughly five months or longer. 

The funding, if approved by the Republican-led Legislature, would be used to create "virtual backlog reduction dockets" -- teamed by visiting judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, court clerks, probation officers and other staff.

Whitmer, a Democrat, first outlined the need to cut the backlog in August as part of a $75 million proposal aimed at reducing violent crime. She provided details Thursday while celebrating the opening of a new state police facility in Grand Rapids.

"We've got too many cases that are awaiting action that are firearm-related," she said, noting people who have been convicted are awaiting sentencing. "It's piled up during the pandemic. By making this $6.35 million investment, we can bring it down. I know that the Legislature and I can come together on this shared priority."

So far, Whitmer and lawmakers have allocated about $800 million of the $6.5 billion in discretionary federal COVID-19 aid for Michigan that was enacted by Congress and President Joe Biden in March. Whitmer wants to return to the negotiating table following the recent completion of the annual state budget.

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GOP leaders did not immediately comment on spending to address the backlog. 

But House Appropriations Committee Chairman Thomas Albert of Lowell said Whitmer's separate announcement Thursday to restore prevailing wages for state construction projects makes it harder to find a consensus on budget issues.