Young partiers under the age of 21 got a gift from Michigan's Legislature on New Year's Day: a second chance.
A new law went into effect on Jan. 1 that changes the charge of minor in possession of alcohol from a misdemeanor to a civil infraction that carries a $100 fine. Under the old law, the misdemeanor carried a sentence of up to 90 days in jail.
It's a charge that ensnared 4,408 kids in 2016, many of them in college towns, according to statistics from the Michigan State Police.
"As a former police officer, I would never try to put something in a law that would encourage young people to drink. But when college students go out to drink, they don't think about committing a misdemeanor," said Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, sponsor of the package of bills. "That misdemeanor follows them for life and could prevent them from getting a job.
"This gives young people between the ages of 17 to 20 one chance to make a mistake and they will have a civil infraction, not a criminal history."
But it is just one chance. The second offense would be a misdemeanor punishable by 30 days in jail and a $200 fine. A third offense would carry a sentence of up to 60 days, a $500 fine and possible revocation of the offender's driver's license.
Offenders younger than 17 are considered juveniles and their infractions are dealt with in probate court, where judges have much more leeway in how to deal with them.
From 2009-2013, 38,499 people under 21 were arrested for some sort of minor in possession charge, according to Michigan State Police. Counties with college towns racked up some of the biggest numbers, including Ingham County, home of Michigan State University, with 863 citations in 2013; Washtenaw County, home to the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University, with 401 citations, and Isabella County, home of Central Michigan University, with 233 citations.
The law is one of two dozen that will take effect this month after the Legislature passed and Gov. Rick Snyder signed 267 bills during 2017.
And while young people getting MIP tickets will get a break, people with unpaid parking tickets will get the hammer. The state was supposed to increase the number of unpaid tickets that would cause the secretary of state to refuse to issue or renew a drivers license from three to six on Jan. 1. But the Legislature passed a law in December that keeps the number at three, meaning that you better pay up after three parking tickets.
The city of Detroit, which received $13 million in parking ticket revenue in 2016 from tickets that start at $45, pushed for the legislation, and the Legislature complied in December.
Another bill that took effect Jan. 1 was the first of a package of bills that will address problems with the computer system in the Unemployment Insurance Agency that ended up falsely accusing more than 20,000 people who were getting unemployment benefits of fraud. The state garnished wages and seized income tax refunds to satisfy millions of dollars in penalties imposed on those who were wrongly accused and ended up refunding about $21 million to people. This particular bill requires more timely responses from employers to the UIA.
Other bills taking effect this month range from the weird —increasing penalties for deer, elk, caribou and moose carcasses from other states —to the mundane: making changes to the Firefighters Training Council and allowing people to ride electric bikes on trails.
- Some bills carry a hint of controversy. One bill would protect the confidentiality of parents who surrender custody of their newborns, without fear of prosecution, at places where the babies will be taken in and cared for, such as fire or police stations, and ultimately put up for adoption.
- Another would establish tougher regulations for mixed martial arts contests in an effort to increase the safety of the sport, while a pair of bills mandates training in identifying concussions in student athletes and determining when the athlete can return to their sport.
- The state also wants to crack down on bad cops, so a law that takes effect on Jan. 15 requires that law enforcement agencies maintain records of employees who are dismissed from their jobs and make those records available to other agencies that might want to hire that employee.
- In another tip of the hat to law enforcement, a bill will go into effect on Monday that will exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act video footage taken by police officers who are wearing body cameras and investigating incidents.
- Addressing security concerns at the state and local level, the Cyber Civilian Corps., a volunteer group that will help with trying to prevent cyber breaches, will begin on Jan. 15.
- And for folks who find stale beer at their local market, bills going into effect Jan. 15 will allow retailers to get a refund from a beer or wine manufacturer if they find stock that is out of date, defective or likely to spoil in the off-season.
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