Criminal justice reforms signed by Gov. Snyder

LANSING, Mich. — Gov. Rick Snyder on Thursday approved a bipartisan criminal justice package that seeks to reform the entire system by providing resources that would assist in reducing recidivism rates and helping prisoners transition back to society.

“The vast majority of the 42,000 people currently in our state’s prison system will one day be released and return to our communities,” said Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton. “The bills focus largely on rehabilitation as a way to keep costs down, as well as provide prisoners with better opportunities after being released.”

The legislation will make reforms throughout the entire criminal justice system. The multi-bill package addresses issues concerning prisoners, individuals who are on probation or parole, and those working on integrating back into society.

Among the reforms included in the package are ways to expedite medical commutation hearings and encourage volunteer programs that can better prepare prisoners for their transition back to society.

The legislation would also reform the probation process by limiting the revocation time that a probation violator would serve for technical violations, allowing judges to shorten a probation term as a result of good behavior and offering an incentive to probation agents and supervisors to keep probationers on a good path.

Schuitmaker says these reforms will ensure that taxpayer resources are dedicated to protecting society from the most dangerous criminals.

“Our criminal justice system relies on the premise that the time spent in prison will leave a lasting impression and motivate prisoners, helping prevent them from engaging in behavior that could send them back,” she said. “Unfortunately, what we are seeing is increased recidivism rates and an overcrowded prison system that takes away resources from the truly dangerous inmates.”

Thursday’s bill signing took place at the Walnut & Park Café in Kalamazoo. The café is a project of the Kalamazoo Probation Enhancement Program and employs probationers and parolees.

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Editor’s note: A print-quality photograph of Schuitmaker at Thursday’s bill singing is available by clicking on the image or by visiting the senator’s website at www.SenatorTonyaSchuitmaker.com. Click on “Photowire” under the Media Center tab.

Phone scams on the rise during tax season

During tax season, there’s an increase in scam phone calls from criminals claiming to be tax officials asking for cash payments through a wire transfer or prepaid debit card. The Michigan Department of Treasury reminds taxpayers that the agency will never:

  • Initiate a phone call to ask for personal information;
  • Call to demand immediate payment from a prepaid debit card, wire transfer or gift card;
  • Threaten to immediately arrest the taxpayer;
  • Demand that taxes be paid without an opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed; or
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

Taxpayers who receive a call from a scammer should report the case to the IRS by calling 800-366-4484.

Schuitmaker legislation continues the fight against prescription drug abuse

LANSING, Mich. — State Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker on Thursday joined Gov. Rick Snyder, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, colleagues from both the House and Senate, along with members of Gov. Rick Snyder’s Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Taskforce to address additional measures to help curb the epidemic currently facing our state.

“Cases of addiction and overdoses have increased exponentially since the early 2000s,” said Schuitmaker, R-Lawton. “The Legislature is quickly acting to curb the problem as much as possible, but we need help and we have a lot of work to do.”

Schuitmaker argues that the situation cannot be addressed only through legislation. There are multiple pieces of legislation in the works that seek to attack this problem from all angles, but she argues that additional resources are necessary.

“Several of the attendees at Thursday’s conference served on the task force and represented their respective professions very well,” Schuitmaker said. “These are doctors, judges, addiction specialists and family members that have gone through this. This diverse group of individuals brings a great deal of additional resources to the table, and that gives us in the Legislature a true look at how various pieces of legislation can be effectively implemented.”

The Southwest Michigan senator is among the most active voices against the opioid epidemic. She was instrumental in getting legislation that made naloxone available to law enforcement and families of at-risk individuals to the governor’s desk for approval. Naloxone is a life-saving drug that has been proven to successfully reverse the effects of a heroin overdose.

She is also the lead behind legislation that would require doctors who prescribe Schedule II through Schedule V controlled substances to use the Michigan Automated Prescription System, a system designed by the state aimed at reducing illegal diversion between doctors, pharmacists and patients.

“MAPS is a great tool that unfortunately, many physicians don’t use at all, or don’t use properly,” Schuitmaker said. “A new and improved version of the system is going live next month and my bills would require doctors to keep thorough records of their patient’s prescriptions through the new and improved database.”

The other main theme repeated by the governor and others on stage was that we need to work on a culture change. He stressed the importance of education and the importance of people getting the help they need before they fall into the criminal justice system.

Schuitmaker agreed.

“In an effort to attack this issue from yet another angle, I recently introduced Senate Bills 236 and 237, which would facilitate the development of a lesson plan that outlines the dangers of prescription drugs to be used in our schools,” she said. “Our children are unaware of the dangers that prescription drugs can present due to the misconception that they are safe since a doctor prescribed them. In order to educate our communities, we need to focus on this connection between prescription drugs and heroin.”

SBs 166 and 167, which would require doctors to use MAPS when prescribing certain medications, were introduced on Feb. 15 and have been referred to the Senate Committee on Health Policy.

SBs 236 and 237 were introduced on March 14 and were also referred to the Senate Committee on Health Policy.

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Editor’s note: A print-quality version of the above photograph is available by clicking on the image or by visiting the senator’s website at: www.SenatorTonyaSchuitmaker.com/photowire.

Photo caption: Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, attends a press conference with fellow legislators, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, Gov. Rick Snyder and other Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Taskforce members to discuss the importance of ending the opioid overdose and abuse epidemic in Michigan.

Schuitmaker, Jones introduce bills expanding FOIA to include Legislature, governor

LANSING, Mich. — State Sens. Tonya Schuitmaker and Rick Jones turned in legislation on Tuesday that would expand the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to include the governor’s office and the Legislature.

“People have a right to know what their government is doing, and that includes the governor and Legislature,” said Schuitmaker, R-Lawton. “This legislation would give citizens a better window into the activities of their elected leaders.”

Jones agreed.

“It is important to make state business transparent to the taxpayers,” said Jones, R-Grand Ledge. “We need to bring Michigan in line with other states across the country.”

The bills would remove the current FOIA exemptions for the governor, lieutenant governor, and executive office employees and create a new part to the act, the Legislative Open Records Act, which would subject the Legislature to the disclosure provisions of FOIA.

“I have always supported increased government transparency and I publicly supported the House version of this legislation last year,” Schuitmaker said. “I look forward to once again working with my colleagues in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle to finally take this important step.”

Records currently exempt from disclosure under FOIA would remain exempt. Communications between constituents and legislators would also be exempt.

The timely introduction of these bills is appropriate as March 12 through March 19 is nationally recognized as “Sunshine Week,” which is an effort to promote open government.

Schuitmaker previously received the Michigan Press Association’s Sunshine Award in 2015 for her past efforts to promote openness and accountability. Jones received the award this year for introducing the Student Free Press and Civic Readiness Act in 2016. He intends to reintroduce the bill this year.

Senate Bills 246 and 247 will be formally read into the record on Wednesday.

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Senate committee approves Schuitmaker plan to reduce truancy, chronic absenteeism

LANSING, Mich. — The Senate committee on Families, Seniors and Human Services approved Legislation Wednesday that would update and clarify Michigan’s truancy laws.

Senate Bills 103-106 would amend Michigan law by clearly defining both “truancy” and “chronic absenteeism” in the state’s school code. The bills define truancy as having a minimum of 10 unexcused absences in a school year, while defining chronically absent as being absent for at least 10 percent of the scheduled school days in a school year, including both excused and unexcused absences, and absences due to disciplinary reasons.

“Our school administrators and courts deserve to have clear and consistent definitions of these terms and guidance on how violations should be addressed,” said state Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, who sponsored SBs 103 and 104. “Not having clear guidelines for students who fall into either category is a failure on the state’s part and does nothing to keep kids in the classroom.”

Schuitmaker argues that some prosecutors are hesitant to assist with truancy cases because the law is silent on what truancy means. Schools that do the work of tracking attendance should be assured that there is a plan in place to help address attendance problems.

“More often than not, a student who fails to show up to class is punished with expulsion or out-of-school suspension, which only further removes the child from the educational environment,” Schuitmaker said. “These bills would prevent a child from being suspended solely for being truant or chronically absent and outline solutions that facilitate a working relationship between the parents, the schools and the courts. The goal is to find out why the issue is occurring in the first place and how it can be corrected.”

Few people would disagree that students who miss school tend to struggle academically and are more likely to drop out. Data has shown a concrete link between excessive absences and low graduation rates and delinquency.

Schuitmaker says she feels something needs to be done because addressing a child’s struggles at an early age is a surefire way to curb the “school to prison pipeline.”

“Of the 8,800 people sentenced to prison in Michigan in 2012, 49 percent did not have a GED or high school diploma. It’s simply a fact that dropouts are less likely to be employed, and are often more likely to face poverty or prison time,” Schuitmaker said. “When you then consider that each prisoner costs the state about $37,500 per year, you can see that we have a vested interest in keeping our kids in the classroom and teaching them the value of a good education.”

SBs 103-106 will now go before the full Senate for further consideration.

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Editor’s note: A print-quality version of the above photograph is available by clicking on the image or by visiting the senator’s website at: www.SenatorTonyaSchuitmaker.com/photowire.

Photo caption: Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, and Midland County Probate Judge Dorene Allen testify before the Senate Committee on Families, Seniors and Human Services regarding the importance of Senate Bills 103-106.