Safe & Just Michigan - December 2022

Election Brings Change to Lansing

Buoyed by record-setting turnout for a midterm election, Democrats won control of both chambers of the Michigan legislature for the first time in nearly 40 years. Democrats also successfully defended their statewide offices — governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and secretary of state — and majority on the Michigan Supreme Court (4-3). Collectively, these results give Democrats complete control of state government.

The Democrats’ legislative majorities are narrow — 56-54 in the House and 20-18 in the Senate — but their dramatic, unexpected victories have positioned Democrats to set the agenda in Lansing for the first time in decades.

Leading these efforts will be Rep. Joe Tate (D-Detroit), who has been elected Speaker of the House, and Sen. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids), who has been elected Senate Majority Leader. Rep. Matt Hall (R-Comstock Township) and Sen. Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton) were selected to become the House and Senate minority leaders, respectively. Further, while committee assignments have yet to be made, it is expected that Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) will be named Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and that Rep. Kelly Breen (D-Novi) will be chair of the House Judiciary Committee. We will keep you posted as committee assignments are made.

So, What Do These Developments Mean for Our Priorities?

There is no doubt that Democratic control is a more favorable environment for criminal justice reform, and we expect important reforms to pass in the 2023-24 session.  However, for several reasons, it is important to set expectations about how many bills will pass and how quickly they will move:

1. Democrats’ legislative majorities are very narrow — they cannot afford to lose more than one vote without needing Republican support.
2. Because it has been 40 years since Democrats had full control, almost every stakeholder and issue area have important priorities to address, and Democrats have major staffing needs to fill in both chambers.
3. As things stand, other policy areas — labor, education, gun control, etc. — are higher priorities for Democrats than criminal justice reform, which may delay or even derail our criminal justice reform priorities.
4. The onslaught of crime-related campaign ads that Democrats faced this Fall could make them reluctant to take “hard votes” on criminal justice reform bills in 2023-24 to help protect their majorities heading into the critically important 2024 election. It will be incumbent on organizations — especially those led by the justice-impacted community — as well as organizers and justice-impacted people to fight back against tough-on-crime narratives as the 2024 election season starts in earnest.

All of these things being said, we are very excited by what is possible with full Democratic control and are looking forward to the 2023-24 session, which starts in January. Our legislative priorities include bail reform, ending juvenile life without parole, “second look” sentencing, eliminating prison and jail phone fees, and establishing a sentencing commission.

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