Don’t deny citizens a second chance

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer got it very nearly right this week in terms of criminal justice reform. The governor signed a package of bills aimed at keeping those who present no threat to public safety out of jail.

The legislation, stemming from a task force she appointed, reduces a number of traffic crimes to civil infractions and reduces parole and probation for any defendants, among other cases. They are smart reforms aimed at reducing recidivism and keeping one-time mistakes from ruining lives. The governor deserves credit for making it happen.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

But she fumbled the ball on another key reform that would have allowed first offenders to have their drunken driving convictions expunged.

The governor signaled she won’t sign the bill, which in effect kills it through a pocket veto and without an explanation of her objections.

Lawmakers sent her the bill with strong bipartisan support. It passed the House on a 96-8 vote and a 32-5 vote in the Senate.

That level of consensus backing should have swayed the governor, who has faced legitimate criticism for disregarding the will of the Legislature on a number of issues.

Beyond that, it was a good bill that fit well into her own overall criminal justice reform agenda.

Its aim was to not let a single offense, never repeated, haunt an individual’s future.

It would have allowed a one-time offender who took steps to change his or her behavior to petition a judge to set aside a drunken driving conviction. Clearing the record would aid in gaining employment, as well as lifting other barriers such a case might present.

The conviction would not entirely disappear. Police would still have access to the record for guidance should a subsequent drunken driving arrest occur. A second conviction would not be eligible for expungement.

Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, one of the sponsors, said the governor’s pocket veto risks “abandoning a very significant portion of our population who needed mercy, needed compassion because of this issue.”

He’s right. Drunken driving is a very serious offense. It’s also one a number of people make and learn from. Once the fines are paid and corrective steps taken, there should be room for a second chance.

Redemption should be a key piece of Michigan’s Corrections system. This bill would have furthered that cause. Whitmer should reconsider her decision to not give it her signature.

— Detroit News


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