Seventeen-year-olds are not adults

It would be easier to praise Michigan lawmakers for doing the right thing if the bad things they do were not so breathtakingly awful.

On Wednesday, the Senate Government Operations committee did what everyone — the business lobby in particular — expected it to do and, on a party-line vote, gutted the citizen initiatives to raise the minimum wage and to mandate paid sick leave.

After activists raised hundreds of thousands of signatures to get the two issues on the November ballot, the Legislature acted quickly to pass the two initiatives. The One Fair Wage initiative would have raised the minimum wage to $12 by 2022 and would have raised to minimum wage of tipped workers as well. The sick time proposal would have required employers to provide one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked.

That’s what lawmakers approved in September.

Lame ducks in the committee Wednesday stretched the minimum wage increase out to 2030 and all but dropped the tipped workers’ increase. They cut the paid sick time in half.

Lawmakers moved quickly in September so that they could change the initiatives with simple majorities. If the proposals had reached the ballot, they would have been much more difficult to tinker with. Expect the bills to pass quickly and make it to the governor’s desk before he leaves office.

So much for justice and democracy.

A different sort of legislative spinelessness, though, might bring a little justice to Michigan.

Politicians want to look tough on crime. So, beginning about three decades ago, Michigan has worked to lock up as many teenage offenders as possible. That also happened elsewhere, but most states have seen the folly of automatically charging 17-year-olds as adults.

Michigan is one of only four states that considers 17-year-olds adults in criminal courts. They are still children when it comes to signing a contract, deciding whether to stay in school, serve on a jury, vote in elections, use tobacco, purchase fireworks, get a tattoo or buy a lottery ticket.

A package of bills to fix that passed out of a House committee Wednesday morning. If passed, it would treat 17-year-olds charged with most crimes as children. Eighteen-year-olds could be tried in adult courts and sent to adult prisons.

Prosecutors would still have the discretion to petition some younger teen offenders to adult courts, depending on the nature of the offense. And certain serious offenses would automatically shift to the adult system.

— Times Herald (Port Huron)

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