LANSING, MICH. - The House gave final passage Thursday to a pair of bills that make female genital mutilation a state crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
“If it’s going after the medical licenses, criminal penalties or parental rights, these are the things we want to get as many members involved (in) so we stop this heinous crime,” said state Rep. Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Township.
“Yes there are federal crimes with a five-year penalty but we’re going to take it a step further. We don’t want to be known as the place to go for female genital mutilation. We will not tolerate that.”
The bills were passed on a vote of 105-2, with state Reps. Martin Howrylak, R-Troy, and Rose Mary Robinson, D-Detroit, voting no. They were passed unanimously in the Senate in May, and are now on their way to Gov. Rick Snyder.
Under the proposed legislation, female genital mutilation would be considered a felony in Michigan, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. That's a harsher penalty than the 1996 federal genital mutilation law, which includes a sentence of up to five years in prison. If the bills become law, Michigan would join at least 24 other states that have passed anti-genital-cutting laws over the last two decades.
The Senate on Thursday also voted unanimously on bills that would provide penalties for transporting a person to a state for the procedure, extend the statute of limitations for the crime, revoke the medical license of a person who performs the procedure, allow for victims to file civil lawsuits and create an education outreach program to inform the public about the health risks of female genital mutilation.
The bills have to go back to the House for concurrence on technical changes before heading to Snyder.
The bills arose out of the case of two doctors and a physician's wife, who are facing federal charges for their alleged roles in the genital cuttings of two 7-year-old girls from Minnesota at a clinic in Livonia in April. The defendants, who have all denied engaging in genital mutilation practices, are part of a small Indian Muslim sect that was at the center of a prosecution in Australia last year that ended with three people each getting 15-month prison sentences.
A fourth person also has been charged in the case and federal authorities said they think there could be many more victims.
Howrylak said no one thinks female genital mutilation is OK, but he favors an approach that takes into account cultural differences.
“Will families avoid medical care for fear of being penalized and having their kids taken away and possibly being deported for something that where they grew up was a way of life and they didn’t know anything else?” he said. “Why don’t we just rely on the federal crime?”
He also noted that the bills were so broadly written that they could ensnare people who are either intersex or who have had gender-reassignment surgery.
“We want to encourage people who came here from a way of life where that was normal, to embrace our world view, instead of scaring them and recoiling from society,” Howrylak added.
Snyder will make a decision on the bills after reviewing the legislation, said his spokeswoman Anna Heaton.
The bills making female genital mutilation a state crime are SB 337-338. The bills still requiring House concurrence are HB 4636-4641, 4661 and 4690.
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